Category Archives: Travel

Exploring Tuscany

We drove south from Florence and made a stop at the Florence American Cemetery, where more than 4,000 Americans are buried. This cemetery is maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Our guide, who was from New York, shared the history of the cemetery and told a few stories of the service people buried there. Then we had some time to walk through the grounds.

It was now the end of the day, and our guide asked if we would help her take down the flag. We walked to the flagpole as Taps played from a loudspeaker.

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This happned to be on Veterans Day, November 11, 2022.

A day in Florence, Italy

Our walking tour in Florence began on top of a hill outside the city.

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We walked through the Rose Garden, and even though it was November, roses were still blooming. The garden is maintained by volunteers, and I imagine in summer it is full of color and scent.

Given my love for whimsy in the garden, I could not resist cozying up to the man on the bench (our tour guide said this man was known for bringing luck in love–still waiting).

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Our Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) tour group posing with a whimsical suitcase photo frame.

From the Rose Garden, we walked down the path and through the gates into Florence.

Italian marble quarries

Our first excursion outside Lucca was to the Carrara Marble Quarries, about an hour’s drive northwest. I had never given any thought to where marble comes from, so I was awestruck when I learned that what I thought was snow on the mountain top was actually a mountain of marble.

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We were greeted by the company’s owner and given hard hats.

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And then we walked inside the quarry. As in the limestone quarry in Les Baux, I was entranced by how high the quarry walls are. In this working quarry, we learned about the history of marble and watched marble being cut into huge slabs.

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Looking up along the saw blade, inside the quarry.
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A wall of marble

True love lasts a lifetime

True love lasts a lifetime, Emma Thompson declares in Love Actually, (my second favorite movie) referring to her love of Joni Mitchell, a love I share.

My favorite movie, though, is Dirty Dancing, and I have loved it since it was first released in 1987. Dancing-in-the-basement was part of my teen years in my working-class neighborhood in Detroit, and, well, Patrick Swayze as a dancing, working-class hero hooked me.

Soon after the movie was released, a woman I knew through work wanted me to apply for a job in Atlanta, where she lived. Atlanta didn’t particularly attract me, but this woman had grown up in Houston, near Patrick Swayze, and had taken dance classes with Patrick’s mother. She actually knew Patrick Swayze!

I said that if she could arrange lunch with Patrick I would move to Atlanta (my decision-making criteria was fairly superficial). She could not pull that off, but a few months later, this picture arrived in the mail.

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The inscription is faded; it reads “To Madeline, Best wishes, Patrick Swayze.”

I was in heaven. A signed photo from Patrick Swayze. I have carried this picture with me through all my moves and placed it on my desk at every job. True love does last a lifetime.

All of this came back to me when I was in Lucca, Italy, buying a scarf at Zazzi Dalamano. Vladimir is one of the company’s owners, and he was in the store the day I bought my scarf. When Vladimir discovered I was from Michigan, he gasped and said his favorite singer is from Michigan.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“Madonna,” he said, with a sigh that reminded me of how I say Patrick Swayze’s name—somewhat dreamy and wistful.

The person I was travelling with, also from Michigan, actually lived near Madonna and went to the same high school although not at the same time. This information brought another gasp from Vladimir—his connection to Madonna had just gotten closer.

He then told us the story of how he has loved Madonna since he was eleven years old and how he took the train to Rome (about three hours away) to see Madonna in concert when he was eleven. He didn’t say he used his First Communion money, but where else would an eleven-year-old get money to buy a train ticket and a concert ticket?

Anyway, he told his mother he was going to Rome to see Madonna, and she didn’t believe him. I can imagine her rolling her eyes and saying, “Of course you are going to take the train to Rome to see Madonna,” her voice dripping with skepticism.

But he did it, and he has not missed a Madonna concert since then.

I offered to try to connect with Madonna and have her visit his store the next time she is in Italy.

“Oh, no, don’t do that,” he said. “I would have a heart attack and die if Madonna walked into my store.”

Okay, then, I will try to get a signed picture.

True love does last a lifetime.

Sights on the streets of Lucca

I was in Lucca, Italy, for six days and walked the twisting, turning streets (and often felt lost, although I was following Goodle maps). I enjoyed the sights along the streets and fell in love with the City.

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I thought there might be something magical or miraculous about the water in this fountain, but it is just water the locals drink.

Puccini’s hometown

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), was born in Lucca and spent a substantial part of his life there.

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Statue of Giacomo Puccini in front of the Puccini Museum

In a joint venture between art students and professional artists, twelve store shutters were painted with the women of Puccini’s operas.

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Unfortunately, the exhibit was not meant to be permanent and some of the shutters have been painted over, but here are the ones I noticed as I walked the streets of Lucca.

More light

More light seems to be the theme of this time of year. The winter solstice was the other day, so every day will now get longer; the four candles of the Advent wreath are lit; the Menorah is getting brighter every day; and tomorrow, we celebrate Christmas—more light.

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Thinking about the light of this season makes me think of where I have experienced light throughout the past year.

The first thing that comes to mind is my sister and her two grandbabies. When these babies were born in 2021 (one in November and the other in December), my sister offered to mind them two days a week. Her children took her up on her offer. She asked me to be a back-up, and I happily agreed. Spending Mondays and Wednesdays with my sister and her two grandbabies has brought a great deal of light into my life. The babies are pure joy, and my sister’s generosity inspires me. Every time I see the babies, I see some new development, and they remind me that God is always doing something new—in them and in me.

Was there something new in your life this year that was a bright spot?

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This year has been one of abundant travel, starting in January with a trip to Arizona to hike in Sedona and to visit family. Then in spring, I spent a month in Europe, and then I spent a second month in Europe this fall. In between those European trips, I visited friends in Pennsylvania, and a friend from Delaware visited me. Travel expands me and reminds me of the importance of taking risks in order to keep growing.

Did you have any adventures this year?

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I also completed an Internship in Ignatian Spirituality this year, a program that began in 2020. The program was intensive and arduous, and there were times when I wanted to drop out, but I persisted, and I am glad I did. I learned a lot through all the readings and lectures, and now I have joined a peer supervision group for on-going support and to continue developing my listening skills and ability to accompany people on their spiritual journeys.

What is helping you to grow spiritually?

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Recently, I have been noticing how often I use the word invitation, as in “I got invited to be the guest speaker for a nonprofit fundraiser,” and “I was invited to meet with a nonprofit consulting firm,” and “I got invited to be one of the dancers in a nonprofit’s version of DWTS.” I said yes to all three of these invitations, each of which was a surprise invitation, and each of which challenges me in some way. These invitations remind me that God is still shaping me and that I am still growing into the person I was meant to be, doing what I was meant to be doing. And each invitation reminds me that the best is yet to come.

Where are you being invited to grow?

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Next stop, Tuscany, Italy

After twelve days in France, I flew to Florence for an Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) tour of Tuscany and Umbria. The tour began in Lucca, a walled city about an hour west of Florence.

I arrived three days before the tour began, and I used those days to explore Lucca.

On my first day, I took a walk on the top of the walls and also visited the Palazzo Pfanner, a home and garden inside the walls. Even though it was November, there were plenty of flowers and lemons (I stopped counting the lemon trees at 25. I thought maybe they used all those lemons for limoncello, but I was told they just like lemons).

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Palazzo Pfanner as seen from on top of the city wall. Those are all lemon trees lining the walkways.

I stayed at the San Luca Palace Hotel inside the walls. It was a great location and a wonderful hotel. The staff was extremely welcoming and helpful. Since I was on my own those first few days, I appreciated their suggestions and directions. I highly recommend staying at this hotel because their attention to service was outstanding.

I arrived in early afternoon, and even though it was not meal time, one of the staff offered to make me something to eat (a delicious ham and cheese panini).

Then, I needed a manicure, and the Hotel receptionist recommended a nearby salon. Even though no one in the small salon spoke English, we were able to communicate through gestures, and I got the best manicure I have ever had!

Day one in Italy was the beginning of a wonderful adventure.

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St. Donato’s gate.
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