Saturday, July 16, 2011

Italy - Where I spent 6 weeks this year

Jocelyn and I arrived in Milan, Italy in the middle of March and were surprised at the warm sunny weather that characterized most of our first two weeks. Perhaps what surprised me even more were the many cherry blossoms in the area in which we lived. In Taiwan, we had only occasionally seen them on mountains several thousand feet above sea level.
Although we were staying on the outskirts of Milan, the business capital of Italy, I did not really venture into the city much at first, and so my experiences at that point were confined to what I saw in the predominantly residential area where we stayed.
With Jocelyn busy with the course that she and five other students were taking, I needed to decide how I would make the best use of the six weeks I had there, given that my work would keep me busy much of the time. When I travel to places I am particularly interested to learn the local language and if possible interact with local people. However, I realized meeting people would not be that easy, especially since I was in a big city and was really unable to take part in the kinds of social activities that might help me meet people. If only I had had a good road bike!
I did have the use of a bicycle, even though it was very old and way too small for me. It had 20-inch wheels and the seat only went up do much, so that I had to ride very carefully so as not to seriously damage my knee tendons. However, the bike did prove very useful, and I could reach the area around the Basilica of San Lorenzo (above) in just about 20 minutes from our accommodation.
Milan Cathedral was huge and I was lucky to be able to at least get a picture of it on a sunny day using a wide-angle lens. However, it was always a magnet for tourists, which meant that one soon got tired of being in that area.
Not far from there, I found the church of San Steffan Maggiore, for which the foundation was laid around the 5th century A.D. From the outside it did not look particularly special, but the inside was amazing. I was also able to find some peace and quiet here, to read and to reflect a little. This is perhaps where I began to realize why I had come to Italy.
This was the inside of a smaller church with more of an emphasis on Mary.
After being in Italy and with Easter soon approaching, I summoned up the courage to attend mass at the church of San Barnabas in Gratasoglio, very close to where we were staying. I was not sure what to expect, since I had not been to a Catholic church since my childhood. At least it was a great way of hearing Italian being read and spoken. The service the evening before Easter Sunday was also particularly good - much work went into planning the mass and it appeared very well orchestrated, with the involvement of many "lay" people.
Perhaps the church I liked most was one with a very long and rich history and a huge building, San Eustorgio. In spite of the very well planned services (the Good Friday service was particularly memorable), the excellent quality of the singing, and so on, there were not that many people (perhaps just a few hundred) in attendance at the Sunday services. I somehow got the impression that most people in Milan did not care to go to church, even though there were so many historical churches there.
I did even get to talk to one of the priests there. He did not mind my attending the services, even though I told him that I stopped attending the Catholic church when I was 17. I was later to learn that the senior pastor (now well into his 70s and who blessed me at the end of one of the services) had helped establish churches all over Italy and in spite of the robes and the relics within the church was a very fervent Christian and church leader. The ambulances in the picture where there because some of the ambulance personnel were participating in one of the services. It was good to see their commitment and enthusiasm.
Milan also has many other buildings of historical interest, in fact so many that it is very difficult to visit them all, and I could more or less write a book on the few that I did get to see.
Well, I did manage to see a few other places besides Milan, although the farthest that I went was to Venice. This is a great destination. It is packed with tourists, but it has that "olde worlde" feel and there are many alleys one can walk down without feeling one is in a tourist destination. And, no cars, too.
San Marco in Venice - It is huge.
A restaurant by a canal in Venice. No, unfortunately Jocelyn and I did not get to eat there. Generally we were on a limited budget while in Italy, and most of our money went on paying the rent. However, the views were priceless, and were almost costless (the train tickets we bought being relatively cheap).
This was a quiet part of Venice overlooking the ocean where I ate the lunch I had brought with me.
Inside a church (Santa Maria di Nazareth) close to the train station in Venice.
During my last two weeks in Italy, I got to visit a few other cities, including Genova (Genoa) in Liguria. I found this a nice city with much of historical interest, and also some astounding churches, including the one above, with its beautiful ceilings (see below).
I feel that Genova would have been a nicer place in which to live than Milan. It is by the sea, is made famous by Christopher Columbus, and is easy to walk around in a day.
A park in Genova.
Inside one of the many churches in Genova. This one benefited from the help of famous European painters in centuries past.
Standing by the Ligurian Sea in the Port of Genoa.
I also went to Torino (Turin) where I visited the royal palace.
This particular church in Torino was devoted to St. John the Baptist.
The Basilica di Superga outside Torino. This is several miles outside the city and at elevation. There is a train service. However, I chose to walk back from the Basilica to the town and it took a good two hours.
A view along the river in Verona, Italy. Jocelyn and I visited this city which is perhaps most famous for the balcony which Romeo was able to climb up to to meet Juliet and which inspired Shakespeare.
The famous churches in Verona all required admission fees, whereas most in the other places I visited were free. This one, Santa Anastasia, had a particularly beautiful ceiling.
Part of the Roman wall in Verona.
Jocelyn and I standing in front of the open door to the balcony made famous by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

In my short stay in Italy, I feel I hardly got to know any local people, but I did make quite a lot of progress with the language, by first of all trying to read bits of newspapers, then attending mass in Italian on several occasions, and reading much of the mass-related material. While I was able to visit several of the major cities in Northern Italy, I feel that the greatest thing I learned during this trip was the relevance that being raised a Catholic had to me as a child, and also now later in life as I reviewed my spiritual pilgrimage over the years. Hopefully, Jocelyn and I will get to go to Italy again and then I can continue to understand more.