Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy

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Exploring the small town of Orvieto, Italy ranked as one of the top highlights of my trip to Italy in 2017. On the last day of our 12 day tour, my daughter, grandson and I soaked up the gorgeous views and fascinating culture of this gem in the Umbria region.

Read the highlights of that day HERE. Then read on for fun facts about Orvieto Italy.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy title meme

Getting to Orvieto Italy

Orvieto rests on a rock cliff formed from a volcanic butte, 1000 feet above the valley below. Considered one of the most striking towns in Italy, Orvieto sits in the middle of the country, less than 90 minutes from Rome.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy

This ancient city of about 21,000 people features an old and new town. Visitors arrive in the new town where they leave their cars or exit their tour buses. To gain entrance into old town they must ride an escalator up or take a funicular (trolley type car) to the edge of town. There buses transport guests up into the city.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy cliff top
Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy – the city perches on a cliff 1000 feet above the valley.

Etruscan Roots

The Etruscan civilization predates the Romans. Orvieto, known as Velzna then, was the most important town in the Etruscan territory. The Etruscans inhabited Orvieto until the 3rd century BC, when the Romans invaded.

The Duomo

This magnificent cathedral, one of the finest in Italy, took 300 years to complete. Think about it. The United States, founded in 1776, has yet to reach its 300th birthday. Generations of builders worked on this masterpiece.

Pope Nicholas IV laid the cornerstone for the Duomo on November 15, 1290. Completion occurred in 1591.

Inside, visitors appreciate the tall ceilings and black and white striped columns. Within the Duomo is the Chapel of San Brizio, featuring Luca Signorelli’s paintings, Day of Judgment and Life After Death. Some find the works of art creepy, with their depictions of hell and flying demons, while others declare them stunning.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy chapel
Fun facts about Orvieto Italy – the Duomo took 300 years to complete. Interior view.

Papal Residence

Outside of Rome, only Orvieto and two other cities contained papal palaces. During the sack of Rome in 1527, Pope Clement VII sought refuge in Orvieto.

Fearing the water supply might not last, if the city went under siege, the pope commissioned a 62 meter deep well. The Pozzo di S Patrizio, or Well of St Patrick, contains a central well shaft surrounded by stairways in a double helix design. The staircases allowed one way traffic, with empty water jars going down one set of stairs and full ones coming up the other.

Visitors may climb down into the well and toss coins into the water.

Underground Labyrinth

Beneath Orvieto lies a labyrinth of Etruscan caves and tunnels. The underground city boasts 1200 passageways, galleries, wells, stairs, cellars, cisterns and rooms.

Noble families living above were equipped with escape tunnels that wound from their homes through the labyrinth below, emerging at safe exit points outside the city walls.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy street
One of the gorgeous streets in Orvieto.

Oldest Church in Orvieto

San Giovenale claims the title as the oldest church in the city. Built in 1004, on the site of an Etruscan temple, the building contains many 13th century frescoes.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy oldest church
Fun facts about Orvieto Italy – the oldest church was built in 1004.

Etruscan Necropolis

Orvieto contains one of two Etruscan cemeteries in Italy. This one is 2,500 years old and located on the northern side of the cliff face. The tombs resemble houses, neatly arranged in rows.

Middle Ages Fortress

Built in the 1300s, Albornoz Fortress stood at the edge of the city on the site of an Etruscan temple. It’s purpose was to keep the city secure. Today it’s mostly in ruins and used as a public garden with an amphitheater for performances.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy fortress ruins
Fun facts about Orvieto Italy – the fortress was built on the site of an Etruscan temple.

Torre del Moro

The 47 meter tall clock tower in central Orvieto contains 236 steps that visitors may climb for spectacular views of the city and valley below. Originally built in the 13th century, the tower belonged to the pope. Today its clock and bells tell time.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy clock tower
Fun facts about Orvieto Italy – the clock tower is the tallest structure in the city.

White Wine

The soil around Orvieto contains rich minerals, producing grapes that give wines a clean, crisp finish. Orvieto is known for its white wines and Grechetto and Trebbiano grapes.

Fall in Love with Orvieto

We loved this beautiful old city at the top of the world. We spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the narrow streets and taking in the sights. Cafes, shops, historical buildings and attractions offer much to visitors.

I’d love to return and spend a long weekend there, experiencing more of the people, the history and the culture.

Have you visited Orvieto, Italy?

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy Dayan and Yaya

 

More Tales from Italy:

10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy

Lions of Venice

Things You May Not Know about Michelangelo’s David

Bridge of Sighs

 


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The Bridge of Sighs

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Ponte dei Sospiri…the Bridge of Sighs…just saying the name evokes emotions.

This bridge is one of many such structures that spans Venice’s canals. There are, in fact, 400 plus bridges crossing more than 150 canals in this unique city. Venice, Italy is a collection of tiny islands, connected by canals.

The oft photographed Bridge of Sighs draws a multitude of visitors each year. I enjoyed experiencing the beautiful and sorrowful covered bridge on a visit to Venice in 2017.

Discover the history of this iconic structure and learn how it received its name.

The Bridge of Sighs title meme

The History of the Bridge of Sighs

Built by Antonio Contin between 1600 and 1603, the Bridge of Sighs spans Rio di Palazzo. This baroque style, marble and Istrian stone bridge connects the inquisitor’s offices in the Doge’s Palace to the “New Prison”, a building designed specifically for detention.

Doge (Italian word for duke) Marino Grimani, whose family coat-of-arms occupies the center of the facade, commissioned the bridge.

While Ponte dei Sospiri attracts couples, who enjoy sharing a kiss near the covered bridge, it’s not romantic sighs that begat the name.

The name arose because prisoners stopped on the bridge and sighed at their last glimpse of beautiful Venice before entering the prison. The damp, cold, challenging conditions of the small cells often resulted in the deaths of the prisoners.

Peering out through the stone lattice windows, those escaping sighs surely carried regret, fear and grief.

The Bridge of Sighs closeup
The stone latticed windows in the Bridge of Sighs.

Stories About the Bridge of Sighs

Back to those romantic couples. The tale told is that if a couple kisses beneath the bridge, while riding in a gondola, their love will endure throughout eternity and they will know happiness. Some versions add that the couple must kiss at sunset, while drifting under the bridge, as the bells of St Mark’s Campanile ring out. As you can imagine, this is a busy route for gondolas.

The exterior of the bridge’s arch is adorned with faces on each side. A Venetian lion graces the middle, while ten other faces express anger or sadness. These grim faces supposedly scare evil spirits away. One happy face stands out. It is thought to represent the bridge’s guardian.

The bridge design is intentional, matching the style of the two buildings it connects. The Doge’s Palace, a huge, elegant palace overlooking St Mark’s Square, was the primary residence of the supreme authority of the former Republic of Venice, and the location of the city prison. The palace occupies the site of a former fortress that burned in the 10th century.

The Bridge of Sighs remains the only covered bridge in the entire city. Its passageway is topped by stone, with four windows looking out toward the San Giorgio Maggiore Island and the Lagoon. Very little light passes through the windows to brighten the dim, cool interior.

The Bridge of Sighs canal
The covered bridge spanning the canal.

Visiting the Bridge of Sighs

Views of the bridge are limited. See one of Venice’s most famous landmarks from these vantage points.

  • Admire the bridge from one of two nearby bridges. The Ponte della Paglia is located near the Doge’s Palace, as you stand with your back to the lagoon. The other bridge is the Ponte della Canonica at the other end of the canal.
  •  Enjoy a gondola ride that travels beneath the Bridge of Sighs.
  • Take a tour of the Doge’s Palace. The Bridge of Sighs is included in the tour and you get to walk across it and view the prison located on the other side.

Otherwise, the bridge is not open to the public. While it can be viewed from gondolas and the above mentioned bridges, the only opportunity to step inside the bridge is via the palace tour.

The Doge’s Palace is gorgeous and well worth a visit.

The Bridge of Sighs Doges Palace
A room in the Doge’s Palace.

My Experience Crossing the Bridge

My daughter, grandson and I were part of a travel group touring Italy. Our group enjoyed wandering through the Doge’s Palace with a guide. From an interior room, I got my first up close peek at the covered bridge and snapped a photo.

As we quietly entered the Bridge of Sighs, the energy within settled thickly around my head, shoulders and upper back, sending tingles down my spine.

It’s difficult to see much through the windows, however I paused there to reflect. Over the centuries, many, many prisoners walked this bridge and paused to sigh with despair. The bridge interior is actually divided by a wall down its middle, creating two corridors. That way, prisoners coming into the prison or going back to the courtroom for trial did not meet.

The atmosphere within the bridge felt very heavy to me, weighed down by those breathy final sighs. Sadness tinged with the fear of uncertainty surrounded me. The prison cells in the attached building were just as gloomy.

I’m grateful for the redemption of the bridge through its exterior beauty and the promise of romance beneath its splendid arch.

Have you visited the Bridge of Sighs in Venice? I intend to explore this unique city again one day!

The Bridge of Sighs faces

 

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Lions of Venice

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Venice is a magical city, with its lagoon, canals and bridges. I realized a lifelong dream when I visited in 2017 with my grandson and daughter. One of the things I noticed as I wandered around the city was the abundance of lions. The more I looked, the more of the majestic beasts I saw. In fact, the lions of Venice are everywhere, carved in stone, gracing archways and serving as knockers on doors.

The lion symbolizes courage, power and strength, all important attributes for the Venentians. The winged lion, so predominant in Venice, also represents the city’s patron saint, Mark.

Check out some of the stories around the Lions of Venice, in this Tales from Italy post, and a few of my photos capturing them throughout the city.

Lions of Venice title meme

The Lion of St Mark

According to early traditions, each of the evangelists who authored a gospel in the Bible is represented by a winged creature. The winged lion represents Mark. Many of the Venetian lions scattered throughout the city, therefore, display wings and hold an open book beneath a paw. Sometimes the head is wreathed in a halo.

The ancient winged sculpture, atop one of two tall pillars in Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark’s Square), in Venice, has come to symbolize the city as well.

A long history accompanies that bronze statue. Originally created in 300 BC, the winged lion came to Venice in the 12th century. Over the centuries, many repairs occurred around the sculpture’s core. The lion even left Venice for a time, during Napoleon’s conquest of the Venetian Republic in 1797. Badly damaged, it returned after Napoleon’s downfall.

Today the lion presides over the square, and the city, a symbol of strength. The flag of Venice carries the image and a golden lion is given as the prize at the yearly Venice International Film Festival.

Lions of Venice pillars
Lions of Venice – the two pillars in Saint Mark’s Square
Lions of Venice flag
Lions of Venice – gold lion on a red background forms the Venetian flag

Haunted Lions

Near the Arsenal, stone lions stand guard. As part of their plunder, the seated lion arrived in Venice in 1687, after the Venetians battled the Ottomans. Runes decorate the lion’s marble flanks causing the locals to believe that the lion possessed magical powers.

According to the story, in November 1719, after a mighty storm, the torn bodies of two sailors showed up near the lions. A short time later, after another storm, a third body appeared, bearing wounds created by wild animals.

During the next storm, officials hid nearby and watched as a merchant with the reputation of a sorcerer laid his hands on the runes and brought the stone lions to life. He sent the beasts after another victim, however when an official stabbed the merchant with a sword, the lions turned back into statues.

One of the statues continued to roar however. An official cut off the head, to silence it. And indeed, one of the statues obviously wears a head not original to the sculpture. Beware these statues, during stormy nights in November!

Lions of Venice arsenal
Lions of Venice – haunted statues in front of the arsenal

The Lions of Saint Mark’s Square

Although lions adorn buildings, arches and towers all over Venice, one of the best places to spot them is in the city’s huge piazza. Considered one of the finest squares in the world, Saint Mark’s is surrounded on three sides by public buildings. The fourth side is occupied by Saint Mark’s Basilica, the magnificent former chapel of the Doges and the equally impressive palace. Both feature lions, outside and inside.

 

Lions of Venice St Marks Basilica
Lions of Venice – golden lion on Saint Mark’s Basilica
Lions of Venice palace
Lions of Venice – a carved lion over the palace entrance

The brick bell tower for the basilica, called the campanile, is so tall that ships used it to guide them home. Look up high for the lion. This one wears a golden halo.

And the impressive clock tower, built between 1496 and 1499, features a mosaic of gold stars glittering against a blue background. The Lion of Saint Mark was added in 1755.  Two bronze Moors strike the bell to mark the hours. I caught the Moors in action. See the video at the end of the post.

Lions of Venice tower
Lions of Venice – bell tower in the square
Lions of Venice clock bell tower
Lions of Venice – clock tower

And, don’t leave the piazza without getting a selfie with the red lions. Located next to Saint Mark’s Basilica is a little square called Piazzetta dei Leoncini. It is home to two lions sculpted in the eighteenth century from Verona marble. These sturdy lions practically beg for children and the young at heart to climb astride. My grandson and I settled for standing beside one.

Lions of Venice - red marble
Lions of Venice – red marble lions

Lions, Lions Everywhere

Truly, lions lurk everywhere in Venice. Our hotel, a 13th century former palace located next to Saint Mark’s Square, boasted a lion door knocker and doorbell. A carved lion face peered out from the building adjacent to our hotel.

Door Knocker in Venice
Lions of Venice – door knocker
Palazzo Selvadego doorbell
Lions of Venice – our hotel doorbell

In fact, carved lion faces abound in Venice. Some of them resemble mailboxes with open mouths . In the past, a citizen could secretly accuse someone of a crime by writing his name on a slip of paper and placing it in the lion’s mouth. Special magistrates collected the accusations and acted on them.

A stern lion’s face even peers down from the sadly beautiful Bridge of Sighs.

Lions of Venice bridge of sighs
Lions of Venice – bridge of sighs with lion’s head in the middle

Lions of Venice

The lions on display in Venice contribute to its magical atmosphere. It’s fun to look for them and see the variety of sculptures, carvings and paintings. Searching for lions makes a great scavenger hunt for kids and adults. Many of them have ancient stories associated with them.

Have you been to this beautiful city? Did you notice the lions of Venice?

 


 

 

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Love, Laughter, Wine & Good Food

From the title, you might surmise that I have had a really good Monday! However, the reality is that I felt drawn back to the travel journal I am creating, after the recent trip to Italy. As I wrote about previously, I didn’t have time to journal the way I thought I would, during the trip. Instead, I decided to journal about the experience after the fact. 

I am appreciating how the acts of sketching and writing are allowing memories to surface. Like bubbles, they rise up and pop, surprising me and making me smile. 


On day two of our tour, we left Rome, and entered Tuscany. We stopped at the little medieval village of Lucca for lunch, and later enjoyed a wonderful tour and five course meal at a vineyard. As I flipped through photos on my phone today, I felt inspired to capture Dayan’s first Italian pizza in a sketch. I also drew the bell tower of Lucca, with the trees growing at the top, creating the illusion of hair. 

Although I would not learn about the significance of Italy’s bell towers until later in the trip, Lucca’s towers were the first to catch our attention and our interest. 

Love, Laughter, Wine & Good Food
We capped off our day at Fattoria Il Poggio, a Tuscan farm featuring vineyards and olive groves. What a magical evening. Our group dined al fresco, at long beautifully set tables under twinkling white lights. The wine and the food flowed freely. I learned that night that I would be fine, eating plant based in Italy. The food was marvelous. 

Love, Laughter, Wine & Good Food
As I wrote in my journal, I realized the true magic that wove itself through the evening involved relationships. That night, over a long and delightful dinner, strangers became family. Perhaps because of the wine, or the music, or the incredible beauty that surrounded us, 43 people bypassed the acquaintance and friendship stages and connected on deeper levels. 

We laughed, we sang, we danced, we dined on amazing local foods and drank wines created right there at the vineyard. We fell in love with Italy and ourselves and each other. 

The memories from that night warmed my heart and made me smile as I wrote in my journal. 

And then they jostled another memory, that sent me searching for a piece of paper. 

Love, Laughter, Wine & Good Food
My family! My Globus family! Judy and Chelsea and Hilda, Norm and Rohini… We all wrote our names and email addresses on a piece of paper labeled “Traveling Companions”. Let’s all stay in touch, we said. I’ll email you, I promised. 

I have not contacted my traveling companions, my new family, since I have been home. I found my paper with their names and email addresses. Perhaps this is why I was drawn to journal today. Perhaps this memory needed to surface. Regardless, I am grateful for the reminder that this day of the trip was full of so many good things, including gaining 41 new family members. 

I will begin emailing them tonight. It is time to catch up with my family! 

Love, Laughter, Wine & Good Food

Cogli l’Attimo

It has been a month since since my daughter, grandson and I returned from Italy. I still think about that wonderful experience every day. Tonight’s creative project, a piece I called a travel keepsake, was inspired by a phrase our tour director, Fabiola, shared with us on our last day together. 

Cogli l’Attimo. 

Cogli l'Attimo

Cogli l’Attimo is the Italian equivalent of Seize the Day. I looked up the literal translation. The phrase translates as “catch the moment”. When she shared the words with us on the bus, Fabi gave the meaning of “pick up the moment”.

I like that. Catch the moment, or pick up the moment, implies a couple of things. 

These moments that tick by, one by one, can be elusive if I am not aware of them. It is so easy for the mind to swing between the past, that is unchangeable, to the future, that is unknown. Dwelling in either wastes energy and prevents me from picking up the present moment and enjoying what is unfolding now. Catching the moment shifts my attention, bringing awareness to the present. 

And the phrase suggests that I have a choice. Catch, and pick up, are actions words. I can choose to bring my awareness to the present moment and I can choose to keep it there. When I pick something up, I examine it more closely, looking at the details. Or I put the object away…put it where it belongs. I like that thought too. Moments tucked away become memories. 

Cogli l'Attimo
Tonight’s artistic project was about picking up a moment, and creating a keepsake, a visual memory. Using the vintage encyclopedias, I removed a map of Italy, to use as a template , and a page of text about the country. I traced the outline of the country on white paper, and after cutting out my templates, traced the map on the page of text. 

After cutting around the second set of tracings, I glued my new map of Italy onto a cream colored background paper, trimmed to fit into a vintage metal frame. I hand lettered the words Cogli l’Attimo across the map, and colored them in with a black prismacolor pencil. 

Cogli l'Attimo

This was a simple project, with deep meaning for me. I displayed the framed artwork with a little color print from the tiny Cinque Terre village of Monterosso, and a cute bowl from San Gimignano that was a gift from our wise director, Fabiola. 

The grouping captures a moment, reminding me of the Italy trip and reminding me of the importance of cogli l’attimo. 

I also remember that as Fabi was talking about cogli l’attimo, I was in and out of paying attention. An email had come into my phone that I was responding to, distracting me from the wisdom being offered. That email could have waited. I am glad that my daughter Elissa was giving her full attention to Fabi and filled in the narrative for me later. 

I am grateful for this phrase. Let go of the past, including the self reproach I feel that I almost missed the sharing of the Italian expression. And let the future unfold. It is my choice. Catch the moment…now. 

Cogli l’Attimo. 

Cogli l'Attimo

Creating a Travel Journal

I had a great idea, before I left on the Italy trip with my daughter Elissa and grandson Dayan. I bought each of us a journal, with unlined blank pages, to use as travel journals. I had a romanticized vision of sitting on a hotel balcony each evening, while in Italy, capturing the day’s memories in delightful sketches and meaningful words and quotes. 

It wasn’t a bad idea. But it didn’t happen. I’ve never traveled before with a tour group. We were busy from early in the morning until late at night, experiencing all that we could of the country we were visiting. I never once sat on a balcony. And although Elissa used her journal to write down thoughts and collect mementos, I never opened mine. At all. 

Creating a Travel Journal
After I returned home, I tucked my unused journal into a drawer…and left it there, until today. This morning, as I asked the Divine, How shall we play today?, the journal came to mind. The answer to my question seemed to be, Create a travel journal…

My response was something along the lines of, I think that horse has already bolted out of the barn… which was a cheeky way of saying, I think it is too late for that. I felt a wee sense of sadness about that fact that I had not used my journal. 

Time has no meaning to the Divine. Was it really too late? My thoughts returned to the journal throughout the day. Create a travel journal…Create A Travel JOURNAL. There is no barn. There is no horse. Create. 

This evening, I pulled the journal from the drawer, grabbed a drawing pencil and began a travel journal. Although I didn’t capture the memories each day while we were in Italy by sketching them, I did capture them. I took photos with my phone. And I wrote a daily blog post. 

Creating a Travel Journal
Creating a Travel Journal
I started with a two page spread of Rome, where our adventures began. I included a quote that I love, We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” Using photos as inspiration, I sketched some of the highlights of that first day of our tour. I reread that day’s blog post and wrote out the phrase that so caught my attention as we wandered through the Vatican, Conquer your own space. 

I sketched quickly, so as not to overthink what I was doing or doubt my ability. I had fun. The images I drew are symbols that remind me of special memories: Dayan’s first morning in Rome, looking out on the city from the hotel window, flowers growing atop a building, the Colosseum, which represents all the historical monuments we viewed, and a statue overlooking the Tiber River. It too is symbolic of the many amazing sculptures we saw while in Rome. 

Creating a Travel Journal
I enjoyed creating a travel journal entry, even if it is after the fact. I know it touched a deep place within my heart, because emotions were evoked. My eyes filled with grateful tears. I’ll include a quote about Rome in the bottom left corner and call these first pages good. As I sketch future pages, capturing the Italy journey day by day, I will be kind to myself and forego criticism. I will have fun, creating a visual representation of a wonderful shared adventure. 

Perhaps a I’ll sketch next time while sitting in the backyard garden. It is the closest thing I have to a balcony. 

Creating a Travel Journal

The Pilgrimage

On our last day of travel in Italy, as we journeyed back to Rome where our adventure had begun, Fabi our tour director shared a story. She directed our attention out the bus windows to a bell tower in the distance. 

Long ago, she said, pilgrims made their way each year to Rome. Most were on foot. As they traveled, they watched for the bell towers in each village or town to appear. Sighting a tower meant they were close to food and water and shelter. The bell towers became a way of tracking their journey. They knew how far they had come. And they knew how far they still had to go, as they noted the towers. 

The Pilgrimage
I was captivated by Fabi’s tale of pilgrims on a journey. We were traveling to Rome as well, by bus, thankfully, rather than on foot. However, I began to watch for the bell towers as we rolled along, tracking our pilgrimage.

The Pilgrimage          A bell tower in Lucca. 

The Pilgrimage Perhaps the most famous bell tower in the world, the leaning tower of Pisa. 

I realized our Italian journey over the last 11 days could be marked by bell towers also. I had taken pictures of the towers in each city, town or tiny village, without understanding their significance at the time. Most of the towns had more than one bell tower. Previously associated with certain wealthy families in the region, the height of the tower indicated the importance of the family. 

The Pilgrimage            Siena bell tower

The Pilgrimage San Gimignano bell tower in the distance

The villages’ towers were often near the center of the towns, in piazzas. Each one was uniquely different, ancient, and often still in use with working bells. Elissa and Dayan climbed a couple of them, trudging up hundreds of worn steps, rewarded with gorgeous panoramic views at the top. 

I thought about how pertinent the pilgrimage story was to our Italian journey, but also how significant to my life journey as well. 

The Pilgrimage             Florence bell tower

The Pilgrimage         Verona bell tower. 

The word pilgrimage means a pilgrim’s journey, usually toward a holy city, such as Rome. Pilgrim came from the Latin word peregrinus meaning foreign or foreigner. As I discovered during my Year of Journeys two years ago, journey literally means the distance one can travel in a day. 

Pilgrimage then means the distance a foreigner can go in one day, day after day. Or from bell tower to bell tower. The deeper meaning became apparent to me. I am a pilgrim, a foreigner, on a daily trek. In Italy I was a foreigner. And here on the playground that is Earth, I am a foreigner too. My ultimate destination isn’t Rome, or Edinburgh, or any earthly city. It will be a return to the Divine, a return to pure Love. 

The Pilgrimage              Venice bell tower

The Pilgrimage         Burano bell tower. It was leaning too. 

For now though, I travel…to amazing places around the world, and through life. I mark my passage by the events that happen, times of growth or upheaval, the symbolic bell towers showing me how far I have come and how far I still have to go. 

On my journey, I have amazing companions who are traveling alongside. Some have been with me   throughout my lifetime, some walked with me for a short time only. All teach me something about who I am and the journey I am on. 

The Pilgrimage My family in Italy. 

During my time in Italy, I was surrounded by traveling companions. We started off as strangers, except for my daughter and grandson of course. By journey’s end we had become family, a family whose members came from across the globe. Our guides for this part of the journey were a quiet and exceedingly charming man called Luciano, whose driving skills enabled our pilgrimage, and a wise, joyful woman named Fabiola, who introduced us to Italy and deeper aspects of life. 

Like the long ago pilgrims, moving from bell tower to bell tower, we arrived at last in Rome. But that bustling city was not our resting place. Rather it launched us all abroad to continue finding our way in the world. I am so grateful for my Italian travels and the impact it has had on my life and on my journey. 

Onward I go, to the next bell tower. 

The Pilgrimage

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me, touring Italy, was how much I enjoyed visiting the churches in that country. I had the thought, early on, that if you’ve seen one cathedral, you’ve seen them all. And there are many to see. Every city, every tiny village, has at its heart a mighty cathedral or basilica. But how wrong I was in thinking they would be the same, or even similar. 

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty
The first thing I learned from our tour guide is that the word “cathedral” isn’t interchangeable with the word “church”. A cathedral is the seat of the regional bishop. A basilica, a commonly used word for churches in Italy, is defined as a large church. The Italian word for cathedral is duomo. I saw that term used frequently as well. 

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty          

St Peter’s Basilica, Rome

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty

What I wasn’t prepared for was how incredibly beautiful the cathedrals and basilicas of Italy would be, or how much they would impact me. The architecture was amazing and inspiring. Victor Hugo wrote, “Architecture has recorded the great ideas of the human race. Not only every religious symbol, but every human thought has its page in that vast book.”  

The immensity of the structures was mind boggling, as was the age of many of the buildings and the length of time it took to complete a cathedral. It typically took more than 100 years to build a cathedral, and sometimes 200 to 300 years before the work was finished. Imagine the generations of builders and architects who created such enduring magnificence. 

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty        Siena Duomo

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty Basilica of St Mary of the Flower, Florence

They weren’t all elaborate structures, but each one was unique, and each told a story. As we wandered through the streets of villages, we would suddenly step into a piazza, a square, and there was usually a church housed there. They never failed to capture my attention or my appreciation, these keepers of history and art. 

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty Basilica in Lucca

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty St Francis Basilica in Assisi 

That is what I came to realize about the churches of Italy. They were museums, full of paintings, mosaics, stained glass and sculptures. They housed relics, in some instances. The worn floors told of the passage of many feet. That dark line across the marble was from generations of drowsy heads resting against the wall. 

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty St Peter’s Basilica 

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty Basilica in Ravenna 

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty             Cathedral in Orvieto 

As I entered the cathedrals and basilicas I was often moved to tears. The quiet spaces felt sacred. These churches are still in use. Services are held daily in many of them. However the Divine invitation felt deeper than a call to worship. 

It felt like an invitation to join with the countless souls who had sat or knelt within these walls throughout the centuries, and contemplate the expansiveness of life and the intricacies of the heart. There was the bittersweet realization of the permanence of these gorgeous stone cathedrals and the impermanence of human bodies. 

Oh, how glorious were those places. 

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty
“The cathedrals and churches architecturally prepare our souls for the beauty of the Eucharist.” Allen R Hunt

I love that quote in the context of the cathedrals of Italy. The eucharist is the sacrament of the Holy Communion, the drinking of the wine, the breaking of bread, signifying union with Christ through his sacrifice. 

For myself, viewing the cathedrals of Italy prepared my soul for the wondrous beauty of creative inspiration. And they opened my soul in unexpected ways to a deeper communion with the Divine. 

It was an invitation I was grateful I accepted. 

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty

No Yard, No Problem…Italy’s Gardens

This evening’s post is more a visual story, an opportunity to share a collection of photos showcasing Italy’s love of flowers and plants. One thing I noticed in the cities and villages was a lack of grassy yards. The charming cobblestone streets were lined with interesting shops that opened directly off the lanes. People lived in the floors above the shops. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens
In the more residential areas, large wooden doors also opened directly off of the streets, without porches or yards. There were paved courtyards and wide piazzas made of bricks or stones, but no areas of lawn. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens            Typical residential lane in Lucca, Italy. 

In spite of a lack of yards and green spaces in urban areas, I was delighted to discover that the Italians love their plants and flowers. I only had to look up, away from the ground, to find the gardens of Italy. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens Balconies become miniature gardens in Italy. Geraniums were favorites for containers. Notice Lucca’s bell tower in the background, and in the pic below. There are trees growing atop it! 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens Clever plant holder in the village of Monterosso. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens Vines and containers in San Gimignano. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens Jasmine is very common in Italy, clinging to walls and archways. It was in full bloom when we were there, scenting the air. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens            Beautiful window boxes

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens        Tucked into a courtyard in Venice. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens             Flowers along a Venice canal. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens             Garden in Burano. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens              A street in Orvieto. 

In the Tuscany region, there were fields of vineyards, groves of olive trees and clusters of tall, skinny cedars and umbrella pines. In those rural areas, there was an abundance of flora and lush, green growth. I loved the Tuscan countryside. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens
However, I also appreciated the amazing beauty found in villages and towns…flowers and trees, vines and shrubs, all planted in containers. My gardener’s heart was filled with joy as I wandered the narrow streets. I often lagged behind as our group walked, my head tilted back, taking in the tiny gardens of Italy. 

It seemed there was always a way to bring nature into a space, no matter how small that space. A balcony of flowers here, a single potted plant there, a stone archway covered with sweetly scented jasmine…the people of Italy are people after my own heart. 

They surround themselves with growing, flowering plants. They surround themselves with incredible beauty. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation?

One of the reasons I switched to a plant based lifestyle last summer was because of the trip to Italy this year. Before I embraced eating healthier, I had trouble walking without pain and I was using a cane. My hope was to walk without a cane and without pain, during the trip. 

If you’ve followed my healing journey, you know my health has been transformed by adopting a plant based lifestyle. No more cane and no more pain have been just two of the positive outcomes as a result. However, as the trip drew closer, I wondered if it was possible to eat plant based in Italy. 

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation
Breakfasts were easy while in Italy. Every hotel we stayed in offered a large breakfast buffet. I could choose from a selection of fresh and baked fruits, juices and even veggies such as green beans, mushrooms and tomatoes. 

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation
But what about lunches and dinners, in a country famous for pasta? A Divine opportunity brought the answer. Because of severe weather in the US and being diverted to London, we missed the welcome dinner the first night of the tour. The next day, chatting with our tour director, Fabi, I asked if it was considered rude to request gluten free pasta at restaurants. 

Elissa, Dayan and I were about to head out into Rome for our first dinner. Fabi happened to be giving Dayan directions to nearby cafes. Otherwise, I would not have asked. And I felt reluctant to ask at a restaurant. I didn’t want to be perceived as a picky eater. That was my issue  though. 

Fabi assured me that most restaurants did indeed offer gluten free pasta and vegetarian or vegan meal options. My first dinner was in a delightful cafe with outdoor seating, located on a narrow street lined with restaurants. I enjoyed roasted potatoes and freshly grilled veggies. No one looked at me oddly or questioned my choice. 

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation
The ease of ordering that first meal encouraged me to stay within my plant based diet during the entire trip. However, I have to praise Fabi for taking charge of my meals. Our tour included some lunches and dinners, at various restaurants and two different vineyards. Without me asking her to, she called ahead to every venue and explained that I was following a restricted diet. 

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation
Without exception, at each place I was served delicious, freshly prepared plant based meals. No gluten. No meat. No sugar, dairy or eggs. Instead of a sweet dessert, I was presented with a bowl or plate of sumptuous fruit. The chefs or head waiters introduced themselves to me before the meal, delivered each course with a flourish and a smile, and checked with me after to make sure I was happy with the food. 

Happy? I was thrilled! And those who brought me my special meals did so with a noticeable sense of accomplishment and pride that was endearing. I felt so well cared for, and not at all a burden. 

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation
When we were free to eat on our own, I did fine ordering from the menu. Dayan noticed the small print that read gluten free available. From Rome to the coastal villages in Cinque Terre to Venice, gluten free pasta and/or vegan options were readily available, making it easy for me to stay plant based. 

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation
Was it difficult, eating differently from everyone else? Not at all. Was it boring? Absolutely not. I enjoyed a variety of delicious foods. And it was crucial for me. If I had abandoned my plant based lifestyle, even for a few days, I would have risked feeling unwell or opened myself up to discomfort. It was important to me to feel my very best. 

And I did do well. I walked with ease, 4-6 miles a day. I flew for hours and hours, without my legs locking up. I climbed stairs, which a year ago would have been impossible. Stairs can still be a challenge for me, due to years of pain and inflammation that has caused muscle tightness around my knees, but I am continuing to improve. I kept up with the tour group and I was extremely pleased with my level of fitness. 

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation
My experience was encouraging. I found that it is possible to eat a plant based diet while on vacation. My tips are: make healthy eating a priority, drink plenty of water, get enough rest, and don’t be afraid to ask for specially prepared meals. 

I am so grateful for Fabi, who went above and beyond to ensure that I ate healthy meals. And I am grateful for each chef who took the time to create magnificent meals for me. I’m also so thankful for my grandson and daughter who frequently asked if I was finding healthy options on the menus and often checked ahead before choosing a cafe, just to make sure I had plenty to eat. 

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation
Surrounded by such caring and conscientious people, how could I not do well on this trip? And that would be my last suggestion for maintaining a diet while on vacation…surround yourself with supportive people. They may not eat what you eat, but they can certainly offer encouragement and love and compassion as you care for yourself.  

Healthy eating is a choice…a daily choice. Whether dining in my own home or in a fine restaurant in Venice, I am the one who decides what I will eat. I chose well. And my body thanked me for it. 

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation