… and now it’s time to say “Good-bye”…

We began “The Gospel Comes to Italy” in the south twelve days ago, exploring sites with direct connections to the time before and during Christ’s birth. As we traveled north, we also moved ahead in time, first remembering Paul’s journey to Rome, his imprisonment there, and his impact on First Century believers. The influence of Christianity on culture, geography and politics during the medieval times of Francis of Assisi and the Renaissance in Florence infused our experiences there. Ending in Venice today brought everything together as it became apparent important things were happening in and around this city during ALL those times.

Our guide Marco expounded on history, art, politics, and the daily life of Venetians, giving us the low-down with colorful descriptions and a wonderful dose of occasionally wacky humor.

4. Marco (2)

We began in San Marcos Square, the seat of both cultural and political happenings.

5. San Marco Church

San Marcos Square, named after Mark, the New Testament gospel writer/evangelist, is dominated by Basilica San Marcos.

The basilica, defining and enlivening the culture, is brilliant with golden mosaics. Since we were unable to take photos, a stock picture will have to suffice:

5-1. Basilica interior

Marco kept telling us to look up as we toured the basilica — this view provides some idea why that was good advice.

The Ducal Palace, from where Venice’s leaders (doges) adjudicated and ruled, is filled with striking art as well, chosen and installed to impress and awe anyone that entered. The Golden Staircase, being the first thing a visitor saw, set the mood.5c. Golden Staircase (2)

Of course, the Bridge of Sighs, used by condemned prisoners as they walked from courtroom to prison cell, was a destination. 3a. Bridge of SighsHaving seen the bridge’s exterior from the water as we arrived in the city center, we were treated (It may not have been a treat to those of us that don’t like cramped spaces.) to seeing the water from the bridge’s interior.3b. The view from inside the Bridge of Sighs (2)

Our full day also included gondola rides for all. With six of us per boat, our gondoliers had their work cut out for them, but they poled us through the rios (water streets) smoothly and efficiently.

6c. Gondola jam

At one point, three gondolas of our group members were abreast simultaneously. Amazingly, there were no crashes or even bumps–the gondoliers know what they’re doing.

And now it’s time to say good-bye. Our wake-up call comes early–shortly after 3 a.m., actually–so some farewells have already been said. Trip take-aways for me: new friends, great memories of grand sights, and a deepened appreciation for Italian life and faith throughout time. Thanks for taking this journey with me.2. On Murano at the glass-blowing factory


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Roadtrip to Ravenna

What comes to mind when you hear the Italian city-name Ravenna? My first thought before today was that I must have read it in some Shakespeare drama, but that’s not so. Instead, I learned that it has been a city since long before Christ’s birth, that it was the capital of the Western Roman Empire as well as capital of the Ostrogoth kingdom that followed, that, although it is landlocked now, it was once a seaport, AND that eight early Christian monuments of Ravenna are inscribed on the World Heritage List. Wow!

We arrived in Ravenna around noon today, having left Florence by 9 a.m. this morning, and soon met up with Marina, our local guide. She led us through five of the eight World Heritage monuments, several of which house stunning mosaics — beginning with the Basilica of San Vitale.2. St. Vitale Basilica Ravenna

Local red clay bricks were used to build the basilica in the middle of the Sixth Century resulting in an unassuming exterior. The interior, however, is anything but ….

2-1a. St. Vitale nave

The nave of St. Vitale’s is covered with mosaics, on every surface, in every corner, in a multitude of colors.

Marina mentioned that watching our faces as we entered the basilica brought her such joy — it is an awesome sight.

Our tour included several other points of interest including Dante’s tomb and the mausoleum of Galla Placidia (a Roman princess kidnapped by the Visigoths). We closed with a visit to Ravenna’s round tower

4.  Duomo round bell tower and  Baptistery of Neon

Our group enters the Baptistery next door to the round tower.

and the Baptistery of Neon whose walls are once again covered with spectacular mosaics.

4b. ... and on the men's side

The sequence of mosaics tell the history of Ravenna as well as depicting apostles and prophets AND detailing the life of Christ.

Reboarding our trusty bus (driven throughout Italy by our careful driver Mateo), we clocked another two hours to reach our hotel in Mestre on the outskirts of Venice. Tomorrow we catch a train to Venice’s city center, cruise the canals in a boat taxi AND a gondola, and walk the lanes at dusk for a view of Venice at night. Sounds like a lovely way to end our tour.

Jeff Weima, our tour leader, has been using the book of Romans (given that we visited Rome, spending four entire days there discovering what life may have been like for the First Century believers to whom Paul wrote his letter) in our evening study sessions. By design and with artful passion, he preached on the beginning verses of Romans 8 this morning, proclaiming and leading us in celebrating our freedom from sin. It was moving and powerful — and a great way to start the day. Thanks, Jeff!


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An Amazing Day

The Birthplace of the Renaissance, City of Lilies, the Athens of the Middle Ages — all these nicknames apply to Florence, Italy. After touring this city all day, viewing its treasures, I can support all the superlative things said about it. Just take a look:

1b-1. Duomo Baptistry and Tower

The best-known site of Florence is the domed cathedral of the city, Santa Maria del Fiore, known as The Duomo, with its accompanying baptistery and bell tower

5e. Ponte Vecchio II

Looking down the Arno River with Ponte Vecchio in the foreground.

6e. Looking over Florence from across the Arno

Overlooking Florence from Piazza Michelangelo, a park high above the city dedicated to that beloved artist.

We learned from Reino, our guide to all things Florence, that galleries, churches and art academies across town house a multitude of fine works. We could see only a smattering, of which these were memorable:

2. One of four Michelangelo Pietas, this one made when he was 70

One of four Pietas Michelangelo created, this one was sculpted when he was 70 years old.

5a. Adoration of the Magi by Gentile da Fabriano

This vivid Renaissance altar piece by Gentile de Fabriano depicting the Adoration of the Magi was a favorite of Reino, our tour guide.

5f. Michelangelo's Holy Family

A unique Michelangelo view of the Holy Family

In the midst and in between all the art, we dined at a sidewalk cafe, tasted black cherry gelato (a winner, for sure), and explored the use of Sherry’s selfie stick. It was an amazing day!6b. Selfie stick supreme shot



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When the Saints …

Throughout our visit to Italy, we have stepped into many a basilica, church or cathedral dedicated to one saint or another: St. Andrew, St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Clair, and more. Today, however, according to our guide Annie, we met the best-known and most beloved saint in all Catholicism: St. Francis of Assisi.st-francis-of-assisi.jpg

What did he do that sets him apart? He lived out his conviction that evil and sin stem from the accumulation of stuff and that war results from one person desiring the stuff of another (“If we had any possessions, we would be forced to have arms to protect them, since possessions are a cause of disputes and strife, and in many ways we would be hindered from loving God and our neighbor. Therefore in this life we wish to have no temporal possessions.”). He gave up every possession and labored tirelessly to build up God’s church — structure and spirit. It is very unlikely that were he alive today, he would appreciate the large, lavish basilica complex erected over his tomb.1. Basilica complex St. Clair's and St. Frances'.jpg

The charming town of Assisi itself inspires peace and calm, to be sure, and the surroundings are breathtaking, so we focused on those things and enjoyed our visit to Francis’ home and birthplace.

4-1. Umbrian countryside.jpg

The Umbrian countryside from the basilica courtyard

3a. Folks from Assisi have long lives, due in part to all the walking necessary in the town.jpg

Folks living in Assisi do LOTS of walking, including navigating long ascending walkways like this one. No wonder Italians are second only to Japanese in general health and well-being.

3b. Lovely flowers in Assisi.jpg

Assisi lanes are well-kept and often filled with flowers.

Returning to our bus and the freeway, we continued northward and arrived safely in Florence. After settling in our rooms at the Croce di Malta (The Maltese Cross) Hotel, we enjoyed a dinner including some local Gilthead fish and tiramisu 🙂 .

Since buses are not allowed on the city center streets, we are on foot all day tomorrow with many places on our to-see list. According to legend — and Monique, we’ll have to guard against coming down with Stendhal Syndrome ( rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, and confusion from being absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty).  Hmmmm ….



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Visiting the Vatican

This entire business of the Vatican’s 108 acres of land in the middle of Rome being a separate country is all rather mysterious and unusual, don’t you think? Even though our group may have been a bit unclear of what that meant for us exactly, we had no difficulty appreciating the amazing art collection in the Vatican Museum, being awed by Michelangelo’s craft in painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and enjoying the massive, beautiful work of art that is St. Peter’s Basilica. For over four hours, Alexandra led us up and down staircases, through rooms, and over countless door sills, with each move leading us to ever more impressive and unique sights.

1a. Adoration of the shepherds tapestry

This “Adoration of the Shepherds” looks like a fine painting, but it is actually a detailed tapestry, using Raphael’s work as a model.

1d. Antique map of Italy 1500s

The 40 Sixteenth Century geographical frescoes in the Gallery of Maps delighted us all. Although the text is washed out, the boot shape on this map is a great clue.

2. Canopy of Peter's tomb

We joined thousands of other visitors to St. Peter’s Basilica as this year’s special jubilee of mercy attracts pilgrims from across the globe.

Leaving Vatican City and the many folks with whom we (literally) brushed shoulders, we bused some thirty miles into the Apennines to Tivoli. Second-Century Roman emperor Hadrian (117 – 138 A.D.) built a HUGE villa nearby this mountain city which we spent the afternoon exploring.

3. Alexandra giving us the layout of Hadrian's Villa

Alexandra explains the layout of Hadrian’s Villa on a very helpful model.

3e. At the public baths

These folks are obviously enjoying their tour of Hadrian’s Villa ruins. The huge public bath house looms behind us.

The day ended grandly as we shared dinner together in a restaurant situated in the Antiche Terme di Diana (ancient baths of Diana). The rooms, walls, and accompaniments were all 2000+ years old, but the food was fresh, tasty and such a treat.4. At dinner - Antiche Terme di Diana in Tivoli (2).jpg

Our leader, Jeff Weima, regularly connects what we’re seeing with New Testaments events and passages which enhances our experiences 100-fold. We look forward to our trip north to Assisi and Florence tomorrow.

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The Proper Forum …

If you are a fan of really old things, our stroll through the ancient city of Rome would have been right up your alley. Beginning at the Colloseum1b-2. Imagine the stage covering the entire bottom.jpg

and continuing down the Via Sacre in the Roman Forum, we viewed many ruins and building fragments, some dating back to the time of Christ.

2. Titus' Arch detailing the surrender of Judah-Palestine.jpg

The renowned Arch of Titus erected by Emperor Domitian in honor of his brother Titus’ accomplishments, most notably his conquest of Palestine commemorated here by a frieze of Jewish slaves carrying costly relics from the temple at Jerusalem. The menorah is most easily recognizable.

Our knowledgeable Roman guide Alexandra transmitted copious amounts of information of which I hope I remember at least a small percentage.1a-1. We meet Alexandra.jpg

Many of our group enjoyed a unique lunch in Rome’s Jewish ghetto after which we drove outside the old city limits to tour the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls which was founded in the 3rd Century A.D. by the Roman Emperor Constantine I over the burial place of St. Paul.3a. St Paul's Outside the Walls (3).jpg

In place of our usual study session, Leonardo De Chirico, an evangelical pastor and passionate follower of Jesus, spoke to us about his calling and mission here in Rome. We listened in rapt attention, hearing his story of a perfunctory Catholic childhood, his entire family’s conversion to Christianity, and his subsequent call to the pastorate. We were moved, inspired and touched by his witness to God’s saving grace, ending the meeting surrounding him in prayer, literally and spiritually.

For the first time on our trip, we were then on our own for the evening meal, so we six Alaskans took the advice of our hotel concierge for the best local pizza and beer. He sent us directly across the street to a charming spot for pizza al forno legna (pizza in the baked wood oven) — we enjoyed the food and the ambiance.4. The AKn contingent at dinner.jpg

Tomorrow, the Vatican and Tivoli!

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Today, we walked …. and we walked …. and we walked. We fully tested William Bingley’s claim that “Pedestrianism is the most useful mode of travel, if health and strength are not wanting.” We’ll see what our health and strength have to say tomorrow about the 7+ miles accomplished today — there just might be some creaks and groans, even if it was a grand way to experience the parts of Rome we visited,

which began with the St. Callixtus Catacombs. We were moved and informed in seeing and even touching the tombs where some half a million Christians were buried over the centuries. Our Australian guide, a monk of the Salesian order, led us through many twists and turns, lightening the mood with his dry wit. (Since photos are not allowed underground, a stock picture will have to do.)

Catacombs 2

Riding our bus from the catacombs to the ancient city center, we stopped at Ara Pacis (Altar of Augustan Peace), a monument commissioned by the Roman Senate in 13 BC to honor the return of Augustus to Rome after three years in Spain and France. Although the entire thing smacks of rather arrogant self-promotion on Augustus’ part, the altar is an artistic treasure.4. Ara Pacis (2).jpg

Monique led us on a walking tour to highlight the Spanish steps, the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona, and Trevi Fountain. Causing comment in our group was the immensity and grandeur of these sights as we tried to imagine the labor, funds and time needed to build such works of art.

6. Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona.jpg

Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona

5. Rafael's tomb in the Pantheon.jpg

The artist Raphael’s tomb in the Pantheon watched over by “Madonna del Sasso”, a work of one of his pupils.

More pedestrianism took us through a high-end shopping district (We settled for window-shopping. 🙂 ) on our way back to the hotel where Jeff’s presentation on Paul as a master letter-writer informed and challenged us. Dinner and more stimulating conversation closed the evening. We look forward to visiting the Coliseum, the Forum and other Roman ruins tomorrow … more pedestrianism, yes, but less than today — maybe?

4b. Jan and Gerry on Ara Pacis.jpg

Gerry and Jan on the steps of Ara Pacis






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Along the Appian Way

Monique warned us about Monday morning traffic, so the stop-and-go trip from Hotel Forum to the downtown Naples National Archaeological Museum was not a surprise. It was completely worth it, however, as the museum houses amazing relics unearthed from once-buried Pompeii and Herculaneum. Whole statues, vibrant mosaics, complete murals and unbroken household objects greeted us around every turn. We could have spent days there.

1-1. Luciano extolling the characteristics of idealistic Greek-Roman sculpture.jpg

Our guide Luciano extols the perfect characteristics of this idealistic Greek/Roman sculpture.

1c. Lararium -- a shrine to the guardian spirits of the Roman household

A brightly-colored mosaic ably sets off this lararium, a shrine to the guardian spirits of a Roman household.

1f. Musical instruments found in Pompeii

This collection of well-made and still-playable musical instruments certainly drew my interest.

1d. Realistic sculpture of Seneca, Nero's mentor

Contrasting with the idealistic school of Roman art is the realism technique, clearly demonstrated in this craggy, bristly bust of Seneca.

So much to see, so little time! Our goal of reaching Rome by dinner-time called us on to our lunchtime stop further up the coast at Putiola, ancient Rome’s primary port. It is also where Paul’s prison-bound trip to Rome landed (Acts 28:13) after ship-wrecking on Malta, so we gathered on the picturesque shore for a short study session on this story.2. Puteoli harbor where Paul landed on his way to prison in Rome.jpg

The Appian Way, one of the earliest and strategically most important Roman roads of the ancient republic, was our afternoon partner. It once connected Rome to Brindisi, in southeast Italy — we intersected it near Capua on the Tyrrhenian Sea and followed it right into the heart of Rome. We are now comfortably settled in our hotel and look forward to exploring across the city tomorrow.

appian way

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Vulcanology 101

As the ancient ruins of Pompeii are right across the street from Hotel Forum where we’re staying, we had a relatively easy start to the day:  we did not have to be on the bus for an early departure and, since the ruins opened at 9 a.m., we could saunter over at a leisurely 8:45. HOWEVER, on the first Sunday of every month, Italy sponsors a free day at Pompeii for local citizens, so we were certainly not the first or the only folks at the gate — there were many, many others. Not surprisingly, our experience was impacted by these crowds, but we had a wonderful local guide in Luciano who carefully led us through the site, making sure we heard the true stories of Pompeii and saw the most memorable exhibits.

2. Pompeii's amphitheater

A section of Pompeii’s well-preserved amphitheater, with a 20,000-seat capacity.

4a. Versuvius overshadows the Forum

The Roman Forum at Pompeii’s city center perhaps bustled in the First Century A.D. as it did today. Note Vesuvius dominating the background.

The sobering reason Pompeii exists, of course, is the cataclysmic eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D., which covered the city and its 17,000+ inhabitants with volcanic ash, particulated pumice, and deadly gasses. Life came to a screeching halt as folks suffocated on the gas, then were covered with massive amounts of ash contained in the pyroclastic flow. The plaster casts that have been made from the remarkable remains of some Pompeii citizens depict the harsh and overwhelming conditions that caused their deaths.

5a. Cast of person sitting in defensive position

This person pressed himself into a corner, covering his face as he tried to breathe in the midst of deadly circumstances.

Since 79 A.D., there have been some 40+ eruptions of Vesuvius, the most recent occurring in 1945. None have been as devastating as this one that left such a historic record.

When our tour director Monique learned Gerry is a geologist, she asked him to do the “bus talk” as we traveled from Pompeii to Vesuvius. What a treat for him to be able to talk about all those things that he’s been noticing about rock types, local topography and volcanic impact! — and he had a fresh captive audience. What more could a retired professor ask?7d. Vesuvius from the bus 3.jpg

This was a perfect set-up for the group hike to Vesuvius’ crater. Many of our tour-mates asked Gerry questions and he enjoyed trying to answer them. The hike was not strenuous, but with the warm temps and sunny conditions, it was thirsty work. Everyone made the trip up and back successfully.


For any geo-folk reading this, here is a shot Gerry took of a contact between an older crater edge and a newer lava flow. Cool, no? 🙂

Our Sunday ended with worship. We sang together without accompaniment and were led in a helpful consideration of Colossians 1:9-14 by Dr. Weima. His call to observe and follow Paul’s model of both intercessory prayer and thankfulness was winsome and spot-on.

Tomorrow, we leave the Naples area and head to, according to Monique, “the eternal city of Rome”.

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Wandering Down the Amalfi Coast

Hats off to the skilled tour bus drivers of southern Italy who on a daily basis take large cumbersome vehicles on the narrow, winding, steep Amalfi Coast road!Amalfi Coast map.jpg

Our driver displayed focus, patience, and grace under pressure, even gaining rounds of applause on occasion as he brought us safely through challenging and striking topography.

1. Positano on the Amalfi Coast

We drove to and through the town of Positano, stopping only once we reached a spot wide enough for our bus to safely pull over.

We reached the village of Amalfi before noon and spent a lovely two hours wandering the busy lanes, making tasty purchases, and touring St. Andrew’s Cathedral.5. To St. Andrew's.jpg

Even though the streets were bustling, it was serene once we were inside. My favorite view of the bell tower turned out to be one countless other folks have taken — it’s even in the Amalfi visitor’s brochure, something of which I was not aware until I’d taken my picture. Beautiful, any way you cut it:3. St. Andrew's Cathedral tower from the cemetary.jpg

Our afternoon was spent in the 6th Century B.C. Greek colony of Paestum (Did you know the Greeks colonized Italy? It was news to me.). The Greek temple ruins are some of the best preserved in the world and were simply awesome.

6b. Greek temple dedicated to Hera at Paestum.jpg

Paestum’s Greek temple dedicated to Hera, all the columns still intact and standing — wow!

The 29 folks comprising our group are gradually getting to know each other, often happily visiting as we walk from site to site — which is great, except that it tends to slow us down, making our tour guide(s) wait. Guess that’s a positive problem.6d. The group approaches the Greek temple to Athena.jpg

We are enjoying the mild weather. Each day Monique, our guide, gives us the forecast and so far the no-rain-with-temps-in-the-70s agrees with us all.

Gerry is excited about tomorrow as we’ll be visiting the ruins at Pompeii and climbing to the crater’s edge on Vesuvius. Sounds like fun, no?

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