Tag 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.

travel-Florence-Italy

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.

travel-Florence-Italy

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).

travel-Florence-Italy
travel-Florence-Italy

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.

travel-Italy-marble

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

travel-Italy-marble

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.

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

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.

travel-Italy-history
travel-Italy-history
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.

travel-Lucca-Italy
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.

travel-Lucca-Italy

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.

light-mindfulness-vulnerability

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?

light-mindfulness-vulnerability

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?

light-mindfulness-vulnerability

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?

light-mindfulness-vulnerability

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?

light-mindfulness-vulnerability

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).

travel-Italy-tour
travel-Italy-tour
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.

travel-Italy-tour
St. Donato’s gate.
travel-Italy-tour

Last stop in France–Marseille

After disembarking from the AmaKristina in Avignon, we went to Marseille for a couple of days. Marseille is a colorful and fairly hilly city, with lots to see and do near the Old Port.

Marseille-travel-France

Marseille-travel-France
Outdoor market in Marseille
Marseille-travel-France
Marseille Cathedral near the Old Port (not my picture)

Colorful shops and interesting decor are sprinkled throughout the City.

Lots of restaurant options and great seafood in Marseille. The first day, we had a fantastic lunch at La Brasserie de Joliette near the Old Port and the next day another excellent lunch at Nul Part Allieurs, also at the Old Port.

We did the Hop On/Hop Off bus to get a glimpse of the rest of the city and one of the most curious things we encountered was when our bus was attempting to turn right onto a narrow street, and a car was parked right at the corner so we could not get around it.

The bus driver honked several times, expecting someone to come out, but no one did. A few minutes and several honks of the horn later, a passerby saw our predicament and signaled for the bus driver to come to the car, where he pointed out a note on the front window. The bus driver read the note and called the number indicated on the note.

A few minutes later (and by now we have been sitting there for at least ten minutes), a woman sauntered to the car, casually took off her coat and got in, as though parking one’s car on a corner, blocking traffic and going about one’s business is what is done in Marseille–but the bus driver’s reaction clued us in that this was not what one usually does in Marseille. A lesson in French culture.

Last stop–Avignon

The last stop on our Amawaterways river cruise on the Rhone River was Avignon.

travel-France-Avignon
A part of the wall that surrounds Avignon

Our walking tour included the Popes’ Palace, which was built in the 14th century and was the home to Popes for more than 60 years.

travel-France-Avignon
Popes’ Palace

The Palace is massive (160,000 square feet), and parts of it are now being used for art exhibits and as offices. An exhibit of the photographs of Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, called Amazonia, was on display when I visited the Palace.

travel-France-Avignon
One of the photos in the Amazonia exhibit

As I was looking for details about the Popes’ Palace, I came across this entry on a blog called Eurotravelogue which has wonderful pictures and much more information.