Day 19, Last Day, Florence

It all begins to come to a close now. It's interesting looking back as the retrospective window is drawing closer and closer. I've loved every minute here...well thats a lie, but I've loved it here overall. Its been eye opening in somethings, good for reflecting in most, and interesting overall. Something I've still struggled with is trying to take it all in and be able to process it all. I doubt I'll really every get to a point where I feel like I can process any of this well. 

      I'm currently sitting in my hotel room in Florence, the evening before flying home and I'm trying to think back over the past few days and start thinking out loud with the thoughts about going home and that whole missing home attitude. I didn't really think about it too much till today, but I guess that is something worth reflecting over.

      There have been so many differences, and for all the stupidity that sums up the USA, there are so many things I didn't count to be so deeply ingrained in me. I miss a lot of even little things. Like understanding whats going on around me, knowing where to get good food...How we do taxes, or how we handle food and for that matter give free refills, and  things simply like being able to say hello and understand the greeting back more than simply a word of response but as an actual phrase that has meaning. I don't know if that last one makes a ton of sense, but knowing the words for hello or good day is a lot different than understanding all its nuances and all its deeper meanings, and contexts and tones of voice.

      The idea of just not double guessing yourself is going to be great. I think its a stresser more than we often give it credit, the simple innate life taught skills of interacting with people. It's so very cultural, and while I've been blessed to know how to do so through opportunities my parents have provided whether intentionally or not, it still is subconsciously difficult to know when and how do say/ do and be certain things at certain times.

      I'm going to miss this, and I know I'll feel like I haven't let myself really get deep in this country and culture... I've been timid, but then again I know myself and I've pushed myself and I have high expectation because without them I know I wouldn't push to do much at all. High aims are the means of great accomplishments I think. Anyways, I'd love to spend more time here, more in each place. Its hard to sort out the attraction to different areas. To talk about how the country is so different than the USA becomes factual, though its lived. I try and put it into words and I come up with lists that don't come close to describing the difference in the air of Italy (literally and metaphorically). 

       For those who may be curious here is a quick rundown of my favorite places in order: 

  1. Assisi and Castelrotto tie, though Assisi is a bit bigger so long run it may be easier to do things there, and these two fit me to a T...so quiet and naturalistic...and old.
  2. Florence- beautiful and the Duomo still slaps me in the face every time I come around that corner...takes my breathe away and I will truly miss it
  3. Cinque Terre- fun and beautiful...gorgeous depsite it being a tourist trap.
  4. Venice, though my experience there was humid and crowded getting away was awesome though and the canals and buildings just have a charm to them.
  5. Rome- big city for me, and the history and buildings are what draw me in
  6. Milan- big city with little remaining history so it feels too modern to keep me wanting to be there.

      I guess I could go and ramble on some more, but I am frustrated I can't pull enough thoughts together to make this more reflective. I'm definitely ready for home. I can tell it even in my lack of new material to write about. I guess its an issue when you process on the go so much, by the time you're ready to write its all been answered or shelved...or thats just me making up something crazy. Regardless this will be the last post.. I guess I'll write one on the plan, but that won't get posted till I'm back in good old Spring Arbor or Grand Haven. 

To Italy, I say farewell, You'll be missed, and I've loved the impact and lessons you've taught me. It will leave an unspeakable, unexplainable mark on me mentally, physically, and emotionally. Good-bye.

Day 18


Last day in Venice. This place is growing on me, and I’m glad it is. Waking up, relaxing and then heading over to Murano, the Glass Blowing Island was the change in pace, the change in atmosphere that I needed. Venice hopefully as you’d all assume is a Tourist trap… its been so crazy packed on the streets here. Yet, there are still areas that seem left on touched and naturally Venice.

The Island was cool, It looked more like the Venice I expected when I first came here. The shops were filled with glass, and that’s about it. It’s pretty amazing. All the windows were filled with shining glimmers. The light catching the glass was so awesome. The weather was more of the same, humid and hot, and not great for pictures. Yet, it was the right pass for me, I got to enjoy the city and just the people, though again it was nearly all tourists.
            Gondolas, yes, though no one was probably wondering if I had an experience with those and yes I did. I rode them, they were fun. Honestly the best part of was hearing the Gondoliers talking and joking back and forth. That felt authentic. It was locals, talking together. Also, they are incredible drivers. They never hit anything, they could squeeze through anything and avoid the walls by inches.
            (prepare for another quick swing in thoughts) Image is everything here. I don’t know how to really put it. They are very sexual and they are good at using it. America seems to be very blatant about it, and not as smooth at sneaking it in there. Here the clothes are very form fitting, or they are very breezy. The breezy dresses generally aren’t over anything but a bra here. That is different for sure, and its been weird to try and understand as a normal. It’s not good regardless, but it isn’t weird here.
Walking down the tight streets today I would see so many girls that would be wearing loose shirts that showed way too much. It becomes a much more obvious attack on the morals of a Christian guys. I won’t go that direction much more, but I have noticed that hear it seems more normal. Words like slut don’t seem to fit at  all here. Even the advertisement is subtle and normally sexual.
All ads seemed to include attractive women, doing thing that had a sensual undertone. I say this and I know many people will come up with a more wild visual, but when I say subtle I mean that. The simplest things were definitely designed for the sake of selling sex. It’s been an interesting thing to be thrown into here, and I definitely feel like its teaching me to be more discerning.
Despite these issues, I’ve loved so much about the time here (I’ll wait till the next couple post to really wrap this all up). Venice will be missed, sadly not as much as it should be, but it will be. Tomorrow we head back to Florence. Two more days. I definitely need to soak in these last moments. I feel like I think through so much, yet can never get it all down. I need to get much more down when I write…imagine that thinking this when there is only a couple days near the end. We’ll see what thoughts I’ll get down in the next post. Hopefully more of those moments of profound ideas or perspective changes.

Day 17


Venice I think is much better than I thought…but I still don’t believe it personally. I think its because today it was ridiculously hot out and very humid. Also it was so humid out that you couldn’t really see much, thus pictures were pretty hard to get anything worth. As I walked around the island, and through the canals I was reminded why I dislike, greatly dislike, tourists/ people and tight streets. It is all just a bit more than I can honestly handle long term. It is beautiful here, but it is often still overshadowed by the business and the people that can’t walk in a straight line.
            I felt myself on edge often today. It was just a lot all together, and it definitely wore me thin. I am noticing that I’m definitely missing home, and the relaxing it has even when I’m busy. I’ve mentioned in the past that certain things remind me of home, and I did that again today. Walking along the canal reminded me of home, Grand Haven. It’s a stretch I know, but with the smell of water, the sound of waves, the boat motors and the smell of food outside reminded me of walking along the channel back home. I think its safe to say most of these similarities are because I enjoy home, and its been nearly 3 weeks away from home, always with people and always on the move. I just have to make the most of the next few days.
            Something I was talking about today with a friend of mine, is completely unrelated to that last paragraph but I can remember it and I can hopefully convey it. We were talking, squeezing our ways along the narrow roads and as we passed a church, he stopped and dropped something. He dropped a few coins. He didn’t do it by accident, but he dropped a few coins a mans cup. The man was worn out, the man was blind…He was a begger and fit it to every way.
            After he did this we began to talk about how when are we supposed to give to the hands of those on the street. We’ve passed so many people like him, some looking in need others like they’re lazy. But, the question we asked was does it matter and when should we give them even a few coins. If some are simply asking for handouts, should we give money to them, but then when do we know. We both concluded that it may be that we are simply called to be responsible to take the opportunities presented. We aren’t perfect at discernment, but we don’t have to be necessarily.
            My friend mentioned how Jesus was taken advantage of a ton, yet he gave. I think its something to think about. We should give, maybe not to everyone but shouldn’t we give more freely? It struck me that maybe my idea of discernment, edges on stinginess. Should I give more freely? I think its important to have discernment. Yet, I think giving it was the right move. My friend gave/ he took the opportunity to obey Christ’s command and example and who knows what it will lead to. They guy could abuse the money, or he could survive another day, maybe make that fateful encounter that will lead him to God. I don’t want to idealize it, but we aren’t in God’s shoes and he may do something with it all.
            I guess this is a different type of post, and I know it isn’t exactly what I’m supposed to write about. Yet, this what I discovered to be the only truly useful lines of thought today. It’s interesting to take that step back and really see things as it should be. I think I could definitely do more to fit the example Christ gave me. Today was an excellent/ maybe harsh chance to do that. Hopefully this was another signpost a push/ nudge when I get home or even still here to fit into God’s example and path for my life. 

Day 16



Leaving Castelrotto was tough today. It’s always interesting when you look and realize how attached you get to a place. I’m not sure how to put the type of attachment it was, but it was this feeling of home. I mentioned it before but it was hard not to see it as home/ familiar. I left the place, missing the mountains and missing that place of awe. I think it was also impart because it felt like we just finished our trip with this beautiful 4 star place, and it wasn’t. I’m not beginning this with complaints about Venice at all, but Castelrotto was where my heart was recharged and I felt most at peace.
So, Venice started with the trains. I think its important to talk a bit about the train rides, because we’ve lived on the trains the past couple weeks. They were our way around as well as a chance to see how people interact. Personal space is smaller in Italy…It’s not as big a deal, and that is for sure the opposite back in the states. Only in Italy (not true, but its different than America) you’ll have all the seats, as well as open floor space filled with strangers. Everyone seems to have a common decency about it as well. I never noticed any sighs, or angry looks. I guess it’s a bit in part to it being daily life, but I’d also believe its just how people are raised to know community, and to be respectful for the sake of face/ honor.
(I’m currently having issues trying to figure out what to talk about too so my thoughts may begin to get scattered).
Oh here’s something to talk about, education. I’ve discovered things are drastically different. So besides the basic same thing through early elementary, kids here have to/ maybe it could be seen as get to, choose their direction for careers so much earlier. It through me for a loop to discover that when they are about the same as half way through high school they are put on tracks based off of test scores and interests. Though that sounds all good and fine, it was interesting to hear that it sort of becomes the only option. If one goes into technology, they can’t go into teaching, that sort of thing. If your in the science, your in the science. That seems like so much on a person. I don’t want to get emotionally involved, but it does strike me as controlled to not train the child with a strong foundation and then let them try things out. I don’t know if I’m right or not since I’m not studying education, but its interesting to see. They are much more deep in studies much earlier on.
Something else that I’ve been noticing and thinking about lately, Is the way teens act. Facts like how they don’t get involved in sexual acts until their near 20, compared to the 15-17 years old for Americans. To the fact they frequent bars starting at age 16, sometimes 14. It’s interesting. Kids seem to do a lot of the same things we do back home, shopping, sports, relaxing, and the like, but they do them differently. It still blows me away when I see kids smoking in the streets like its normal. I ask myself where is the balance? Where are they getting things right here, compared to back home? I think the structure back home is safer, but then again I notice the trends here show kids not being as extremely stupid as the one back home can trend. It’s another random thought I’ve been tossing around… I don’t know where I’ll end and right now I can’t thoroughly think through it, but it keeps blipping up in my thoughts. So, I shared that blurp.
So after that I guess I could also talk a bit about Venice. It does not come off like it does in the movies. I know the place is always in repair, but I thought it would look more clean and beautiful. It is I should say….but… it’s a charm rather than a true architectural beauty I think. This place is full of alleys, expected, and it narrow pretty much ever. Yet,  here the buildings look their age…peeling paint and rotting wood. I don’t want to take away from the charm of the city on the waves, but it’s a real place with real people.
I’m excited to go out tomorrow and check out the rest of this place, and hopefully find more about it like I’ve dreamt of doing. Something else that I need to do is to start seeing the difference in the tourists and the locals. It may be harder here, but there are also more Americans which means it could be easier to notice how Americans do fit into their world seen stereotype. 

Day 15


Well its interesting trying to think of things to write about on your day off. Chillin in Castelrotto is great, though I’m sure you’ve all heard that already from me. This place has been great, and the people are friendly.
            I guess what I can write about it the relations I’ve been seeing around and what has been provided through lectures. Like I mentioned before the families seem very tight, and that is well known of Italy. I went out to draw today, which I might add has been great even though they are simply sketches. As I would be sitting it was great to watch people walk by, families with kids. It was so interesting, because I know I’ve been raised in a loving family, but to see the higher level of physical signs of love has been different. It’s refreshing in a way to see it. It was also neat to see dads with their small kids out and about in the later afternoon, something that is widely missing in the States.
            The next level of relationships that is interesting to learn on can be based in this tightness of family. It’s the friendship. I’ve always had an issue with this idea of friends for the road. I don’t like it, because it leaves me feeling like I’ve lost an important influence, or bigger yet that I didn’t invest in it as I should especially if there was a problem. It think Italy and me would more or less agree there.
            Friendship here is a very close thing. If you become friends here, as in spend more time, get to know each others families, you are almost like family. It becomes a bond like that, or so the lecture seemed to say. I think its interesting. At least I want my friendships to be like that. Though I know it will take much intentionality on my part to do that. I guess its just one of the few things floating through my head on this relaxing day.
            I needed it, that is for sure. Getting to do laundry, sit around with people, wander the town, eat on the hillside…chill some more…a really rejuvenating time. I hope it prepares me well for the next few day of this trip, because we are off for Venice tomorrow. The city of cannels, which at first I was crazy excited for, now I can see the signs of fatigue…Let’s get ready!.. hopefully. I will for sure miss this beautiful mountain side though. It’s been such a peaceful place to recharge and just soak in God’s art.

Day 13: Castelrotto


Where do I begin in a place like this. It’s hard to put all my thoughts together it seems, though I’m going to try here. To answer the un spoken question of where I’m at, the answer is Castelrotto near the Switzerland border of Italy. This place is incredible. I’m in a four star hotel roughly 1000m ( I’m not converting it because I’m lazy, and it only shows the meters since this is Europe) up in the mountains. It’s gorgeous. The light that comes cascading down through the broken clouds today, seem to caresses the hills that are covered in the textures of green found in the evergreens and the shades found in the fields of grass up here. Talking with one of my friends up here shortly after arriving, we came to the agreement that this place is beyond beautiful and it blows all the man made marvels we’ve seen out of the water.
I’m trying not to ignore the observations I should be making concerning culture, though it is easy to do so in such beauty of these rolling and cutting mountains. So, here we go, this is my attempt to get down to more serious stuff…ish.

The town here is so much removed from anything Italian its hard to believe this is Italian. If you were to come to Italy through the north, you’d never assume you were actually in Italy till you reach the base of the mountains. Up here it looks so much more German, or even Swiss. The buildings are decorated in the German colors, the German roofs, and the classical paintings telling the stories of famous saints such as St. George who bested the Dragon.
I fell like I’m getting two countries in one with this place. As I sit in the lobby even, the languages around me are German, Dutch, and I’ve heard some Swiss, but no Italian. It’s great, I’ve gotta admit its nice feeling a bit more removed from the same old fast pace travelling and cities we’ve been in the past two weeks. I couldn’t imagine any place more fitting to rest up in than the Alps, and where else are we than that.
It has me curious to see how the rest of this time here in Castelrotto will be, since it is obviously more influenced by the north rather than its Italian nationalism. I was talking earlier while on the cliff side path with a friend, how its seems easier now to look back and appreciate places as busy and dirty/ cluttered as Rome or Milan. (Clean Air here is incredible, and I didn’t think I’d notice such an obvious difference in air.) I think the value of those cities is found in their history. The history there is the basis of everything they do, yet they are so transformed from what they once were. I don’t really want to dig too deep into that in this post, simply because it would take much longer than I think I can focus on doing.
But, I do believe I need to at least note that it seems that the cities are much more a product of the every changing world than these towns.. I guess that’s rather obvious. So maybe I should talk a bit more about it. Rome for instance was very much a city that capitalized on its history. It builds anew all around the old. It’s a culture that respects and honors its past it seems, but the people are modernized in the sense it fits in with many other major cities. The people are from all over, its family oriented, but its also forward looking. Milan too, that was very much future focused. While I saw many families relaxing around the parks, the businesses were built around historical sights to grow from that it seemed.

Yet, here, the mountains surely are protecting the towns from such growth/ change. I prefer it that way. I love this place, and I hope to come back time and time again if God plans for it. Its trapped in time, while it has modern technologies and luxuries it is almost priding itself through an even stronger honor for its past. There’s a horse competition in the next week that roots itself centuries back, and it carries (well what it looks like through its advetisments) a medieval revival. Its true respect to history.
I know its only the first the first night here, but I feel like it might be safe to assume that here life is strictly about family. That business is less about store fronts and more about feeding the family. It’s a pride in ones own work I think. It looks like the history isn’t necessarily a selling point, but rather it’s a joy that they wish to share, but in a quieter manner. It’s letting the history and nature speak, which I think can be missing in the bigger cities. I love the ancient buildings, and they left me speechless, but I think modern culture has muffled their voices a bit through tourism and marketing. Here their voices ring truer. I hope I’m at least right about the voice of this place if anything, but we’ll see what comes about in the next couple days of relaxing and hiking in the Alps.

Day 12: The End of Millan


Observation of the day….America lives in bounty.. weird to say I know. I guess maybe that’s something that either needs to be taken in a different perspective, or at least unpacked a bit. My example for the trip as a whole. No where do you get free refills…or for that matter (drum roll) free water! Yes I said it, no free water. It’s interesting, and definitely hard to accept that that is normal since I’ve grown up in a country where things like water, and refills…etc. are free.
            I have a few conclusions on the why factor. One more on the cynical side and more for simply getting it out of my system… they’re all cheap. Two, its simply something they can’t afford, based on their standard of living. Three… things are just plan old more expensive. I have a feeling its more around the idea of number two. Regardless it makes me excited when I can sit down…get a water, and get a Pepsi and refill them both for free!
            I think that’s why it speaks to American bounty, because we get that and its expected back home. It’s unusual the more I looked at it why, but I’m not sure. It’s probably because of availability being higher, standard of living may be lower, and/ or simply because our culture tends to be much more about self and catering/ selling to that aspect. I’m not sure yet, but simply this issue with food is an interesting one to contrast.

            Also on the what happened today, We chilled. It was fantastic. Not to say we did nothing, because we crammed stuff in this morning. One was cool and it was climbing the stairs to the top of the late Baroque period Duomo. The views and simply the architecture of the church was astounding. The more incredible thing we did was see Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper….
            It was fantastic, it moved me, and it…wait for it…blew me away. It’s so perfect in its composition. If you know it, which I’m sure you do, look it up and read about how Da Vinci planned it all out and did it because he thought through everything. Though its not at all in its best condition, its composition is one of the most mathematically and aesthetically perfect pieces I’ve seen. I’m not even generally a fan of it, but seeing that 15 foot wide piece blew me away. Such a beautiful piece, especially considering all its survived (again look it up).
            Also on a side note, which was a ton of fun, while exploring and just relaxing around the Sforza Castle in Milan we got to watch, the last leg of the Bike Race…I forgot the name and my cyclist friends while probably remind me later, but it’s the equivalent to the Tour de France for Italy. It was pretty awesome.
           
            Milan’s been interesting, and its definitely not on my top list, just do to its size, business, its appearance driven culture, and its expensive tastes, but it has things I’ve grown to admire and things I couldn’t miss (such as the Last Supper). I’ll be ready to head out though that’s for sure. On to the next location, and doubtfully to wifi…so this will probably be a few more days till its posted.

Day 11: Milan


Whew….

It’s been a whirlwind today. After that brief moment in Florence…with wifi, since it’s hopefully obvious I do not have it for this post. But we safely arrived in Milan, the fashion capital….and let me just say I don’t care what you call high fashion but it should only be called expensive. I’ve seen shirts…shirts for over 300 euros.
            Besides that issue its interesting to be here in Milan, because it is a lot more modern than any of the other cities we’ve visited. It may have something to do to reconstruction after WWII, but its definitely a different place. The part of town we are based in is a bit more of downtown, and with that comes expensive things, rich cars, fancy clothes, and a cleaner/ sharper look landscape. It’s still weird to adjust to, and I definitely notice that It’s not at all my favorite compared even to Rome.

            We managed to get over to their Duomo, which is a late Gothic period and its gorgeous. I stood and walked around it for a good half hour as I studied the sculptures and the beautiful scenes of the birth and death of Christ. The pieces were moving, and it continues to build in me a desire for fine art and excellence in it. I don’t know beyond hard work how to get there, but I hope this trip helps clarify that. These ancient pieces are truly incredible, and they remind me how beautiful and rich (in a non-monetary way) art can be. Even the inside is mind blowing, less ornate than the Basilica’s of Florence or Rome, but the sheer size of them and their stain glasses transform the air of the place. It definitely reinforces worship.
            It was beautiful around the city, and when I went exploring I found beautiful gardens, futurist sculptures, and just new buildings. This is definitely more of a modern city. It’s not even the buildings that show it but just the lifestyles. The people and the things they buy show this modern culture.
           
            Something I noticed today about the people and lifestyle here, probably more in comparison to what I’ve seen thus far.. Appearance is by far the most important thing…well visibly that is. It sort of made me sick and distraught seeing it all. The cars, the clothes, the jewelry, the way people held themselves, and threw their appearance and at the essence of that, their bodies out there. Now, don’t go crazy and think that I’m a strictly Goodwill kind of guy, because I seriously love a good suit, a nice sweater vest and tie, and generally looking sharp. BUT, please take a moment…

Is it necessary?

Is it really necessary, for all of it? I don’t think so, I guess I shouldn’t rush into judgment, and I hope it doesn’t come off that way. I just keep thinking about how this city is a good example of how things in modern cultures, such as ours in American are so consumeristic and so materialistic. Assisi had very little of that. People looked well presented, yet weren’t gaudy, or uncomfortable looking. Beyond the tourists, it almost seemed like everyone was trying to be the next Hollister (American example for the sake of helping you understand this following image),….name some girls fashion brand, or run way model. It was interesting, and on my tired state… I have to admit annoying when it maybe should have been more sad.
            Especially down in the fashion district, I noticed just excess. It got me thinking, and its definitely something I need to be aware of when I’m home. I know I’m not to the level I noticed here, and in truth its subtle here, it seems normal, but still I need to learn to have this type of perspective even on myself. I need to be able to analyze myself.
            It made me enjoy the simplest thing today as well. Walking along a sidewalk with the gentle breeze moving around me and through the dancing trees that shaded the walk next to a artistically done graffiti wall. It smelled like clean air (because if I haven’t mentioned it in any of these….Italians smoke worse that coal plants. I’ve never seen so many walking around with cigarettes even unlit ones just waiting to light up.) It even smelled a bit like home. I loved it. It smelled like my West Michigan, and it smelled like grass and trees, and gentle summer breeze. It felt like walking down any sidewalk back home. I needed it, and I’m grateful that God helps me recognize that He blessed me with that. It was so needed, it rejuvenated me for the day tomorrow (hopefully) so I can enjoy this short time here in Milan before heading off to the Alps!

Day 10: Back in Firenze


Firenze!

It feels like coming back home. While we are only here one night, it is nice to be back in a city I know pretty well and just relaxing before a busy and full next set of days. Florence is interesting to me. I keep feeling more at home here, and it may be because it was our first place, or it may be simply because it fits nicely in between the big city feel and the small village.

Today was an interesting day, with travelling, and also because people are starting to wear out it seems. I don’t want to assume too much, and by no means am I calling people out. I know I am wearing out a bit too. Yet, today I’ve noticed so many quick comments, American habits showing with no attempt to fit in, and even just frustration. I think its safe to say that all the travelling, the short moments at one place at a time, they wear you out, and there really isn’t any alone space. Sure you can go for a walk or something, but you aren’t truly alone. You’re in a city.

Oh and side note, We climbed to the top of the Duomo today! We climbed inside the dome, in between the interior (painted dome) and the outer dome. Theres an actually good size space between the two. It was pretty crazy to walk where those who built it walked.

            It does bug me a bit, and again I preface this with acknowledgement that I’ve been more annoyed by little things lately, but people have been a lot more unaware today. They’re tired, yet it doesn’t mean one’s focus, and consideration are allowed to disappear. We are visitors, guests, and ambassadors. We can’t just take a break. I’m hoping this turns around soon; that a second wind comes and revives people for the last stretch. I don’t know if I could thoroughly enjoy the rest of the trip if it doesn’t. I miss home. I really do, but I can say that I know this is such a blessing and opportunity, that I wouldn’t want to bail on or not take the opportunity to have.

Also a few things I feel I should add about cultural differences. First the level of appearance. It’s crazy to note how much more well dressed Italians are. Even the youth, while wearing similar things to what we as Americans would wear, they tend to have better quality clothes. It definitely comes through that here, appearance is a huge part of how one is viewed, or at least presented. Also, a more interesting thing, is the level of passion… I sure hope this was just a random thing, since I haven’t seen it all too much, BUT while eating tonight at The Hard Rock Café: Florence, the couple next to us pretty much ate each other’s faces for 10 minutes…I thought they’d be in each other’s laps for sure, thankfully that didn’t happen. I know it is said they are more passionate, but I think this may have been an over the top case…hopefully.

Oh, and our next stop is Milan, where we apparently don’t have access to wifi, so these blogs and the pictures, here, and on facebook might be scattered for a while. 

Day 9: Rome


I’m fairly beyond worn out.

I don’t think I’ve walked that much in quite a while….well I guess I should correct that statement: I haven’t walked that much in the 80+ degree heat in a while, let alone all over Rome. Today I’ve walked about a third of Rome… 8 am to about now…5ish? Long day and total overload. This time with so many ancient places. Pre-tensing this again with there is no good way for me to articulate the awe, the truly amazing and immense things I saw today. We started in the Roman Forum…all the ruins around the Coliseums, which include the Arch of Titus, and many, many columns. From there we managed to fit in, Trajan’s Column, The Victor Emanuel Monument/ Building, The Pantheon (which was incredibly huge, and crazy to realize the age of that temple turned church.), and the Trevey fountain….all by noon.
            That alone was overload for the senses, and even physically, but after that I and another friend, set out to make use of our afternoon and check out some more things. We managed to see the Capuchin monk’s cemetery- bones all over, decorative arrangement ( I have to admit it was really freaky, especially with the hundreds… hundreds of skeletal remains), an amazing exhibit of never before publicly released Vatican documents, (exhibit called, Lux In Arcana), and the incredibly moving and beautiful Bernini sculpture, The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa.
            So Even though I could write a bit about the Sculpture I won’t, its awe inspiring and beautifully moving. That is really all I can actually describe. SO, I plan on letting you all know how cool the exhibit was. It was an exhibit filled with incredible documents often to or from the popes, to everyone ranging from, The Knight’s Templar, Emperor Barabosa, Japanese Emperors, Martin Luther’s ex-communication papers, Abraham Lincoln, letter with seals requesting the acceptance of Charles the VIII’s divorce, to Galileo, to Voltaire, and many more.
            The exhibit was so hard to take in. The amount of important documents there, the simple letters and paper held so much power and influence in history, from things like the Great Schism, to rules of emperors, and beyond. It’s something me and my friend talked about, agreeing that words, especially written ones are too few to share it. I honestly couldn’t handle it, but I did find it amazing to find in particular a document recognizing the rule of the Carolingian line, my family’s roots. That was an amazing, and very personal experience all by itself.
The rest of the museum was so cool itself. It held so much antiquities. From Marcus Arillius’s Equestrian Statue, to The Dying Gaul, and a Venus. It was well worth the time to visit it. It’s sinking in more and more, with not just this visit but this whole trip how much of this is about experiences and just having it locked away to just change yourself rather than to try and vocalize and explain away. There just isn’t a good way to do it. That doesn’t mean I won’t try, but it definitely means its going to be tough.

Something else me and my friend discussed was simply how unique this city, Roma, is. We sat in a park and looked at the Victor Monument, and then along side of it were ruins…Roman Empire ruins. Where else does that happen. This city keeps amazing simply by how it incorporates the two living entities. It so different, and there is and I doubt ever will be any type of thing that will happen in the US. The culture is so built in its past its remarkable. It makes sense I guess, they are completely surrounded by it. Yet, it seems to be more. They are permeated with tradition or maybe better put patterns of the past. Though I don’t see it clearly, it is evident the people must be drastically changed because of this. The city moves in an organized chaos, in a dance that seems well known by everyone. It’s not a system of rules and consequences, of actions and reactions like places like Chicago, Detroit, and New York are, but rather this give and take, fluid quick motion. I think that’s really the only way I can describe it, and I hope it does sink deep into me, and hopefully change me so that when I go home I may not simply slip back into the trend and habits back there.
I don’t want to become what I’ve seen even in some who are with me. They ask what they are allowed, or what is appropriate, yet they don’t respect it. It drives me nuts. You ask how to fit in, then you become so unaware, or so unintentional that you scream selfish American or American fool. That is what trips like this are supposed to remedy, and I keep praying that I grow, and stretch with this chance at a larger perspective on life and people. I truly don’t want to be unchanged or anything less then more aware when I return home.

Day 8: Rome

Rome is growing on me. I have to admit. It’s a big city which definitely puts me on edge, more or less into a intentional and cautious mindset. Besides that what I’ve seen today after the small introduction yesterday is showing me how rich this culture is. Seriously the history of this place is unbelievable. I saw pottery, and armor, and utensils from 300 B.C. I hope that hits you with how old this place is. I know it took a while for the battle I was waging succeeded to pound it into my head. Secondly, this city is so integrated in its history and culture. You walk down streets, with next to no skyscrapers but common big city subways, busy streets and crowded corners, and then around the bend you run into Corinthian columns, or temple ruins just inside parks or tourist sites.

The people seem so used to it, well the Romans, the other Italians seem to share to some degree the shock and awe the rest of us experience. It’s interesting, (see I told you I’d try and integrate the people into this post). The people seem warmer here, maybe it’s a higher level of respect. It’s interesting to watch the subways. You may think that there is no way for people to be civil in the subways, and you are right…there really isn’t. Yet, here I think the level of respect for family, and the just air of, “hey no big deal” is at least enough ingrained in the people that they push and shove, get a bit upset, but its not explosions, its not push people out of the way. It’s simply a moving body, everyone tries to get there own place and other seems to just naturally even in small ways shift to compromise a bit.

I was thinking a bit today too back to Assisi especially. The people there are definitely all about the family. So before I go too far I will explain what we learned here. There are a few very important things that define the Italian people. Family is the most important thing to an Italian. They are culturally Catholic, and they are care free about their government while still having a much higher voting rate than the US. They re resilient, and they are care free enough , to say what happens, happens. SO.. back to Assisi. The business were family and generationally owned. The people treat friends like family it seems, and our guide, just by association to her, we were treated like familiars.

It’s interesting comparing these two different places, and just noting that size of the city changes the evidence of that trait. Yet still there is a level of friendly, respect, a more honorable approach of average citizen to average citizen.

Now I don’t want to leave out what I experienced today. Two words... one starts with a C and the other starts with a V…. Any guesses?

Well. Lets just say both are polar opposite for Christianity.

The first, the grand, and massive stadium known as the Coloseum was incredible. This time compared to yesterday, I went down into the Coloseum’s plaza… it was remarkable. I can say today I started to feel that awe.. I’m as always still processing why, but I think maybe I let it finally click to just let it be there, and just take in the moments. Seeing things like the Arch of Constantine, the Christian legalizing Emperor, to entering the arches of the Coloseum to the place where men fought, animals slaughtered, and Christians…martyred. It became much more real then. Me and some of the other guys, talked about it as we stood on the base level, looking out into the underground tunnels. I think we all were in some moment visualizing and hearing the roar of the crowds, the smells of the earth, sweat, and blood, and the prayerful cries of our forerunning brothers and sisters that died at the mouths of beasts, and the hands of men. The place was incredibly, and it was intense to get so close to so much of the action.

If that wasn’t enough, getting to go to thee place of Christian authority, as far as the Roman Catholic’s are concerned, the Vatican was incredible. They have a huge museum which w as incredible.. I got to stand a foot away from St. Jerome by da Vinci! I don’t think you realize how awesome that is, but for me an artist, and a drawing concentration… It was incredible. I caught my breath staring at the unfinished piece. Its something I think so much more meaningful to see all levels of work. It’s just different. You see their mistakes, the hopes and goals, not just what the end presentation is. Its like seeing into their mind and heart a bit more, and the unfinished St. Jerome has a level of rawness that is so very fitting for the subject matter. It is by far one of my favorite pieces.

It can’t be toped though by what was after that….

The Sistine Chapel…. Let that sink in….the Sistine Chapel.

I walked in under the commissioner of the piece, getting eaten by a serpent, due to Michelangelo’s disdain for him. As I moved more into the room I just had to chill. The walls, the ceiling, all of it was covered. My advice…go on the Vatican’s website, and find the virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel. It’s a complete 3D image you can move around and zoom in and out of. I got to see so much. I just stared at the final judgment for so long… moving slowly through the resurrecting souls to the saints being taken to heaven, to those who were damned to hell being dragged down by demons into torment while Christ presides judging the living and the dead by the book of life. It was so incredible. I can only describe its scenes briefly, because it would otherwise take way to much space. It was awe inspiring, and I sat, inside watching creation happen. I watched and felt the sin of our first parents, to the events of Christ’s works on earth. It’s an incredible experience to say the least.

Beyond that St. Peter’s Basilica is incredible as well. Everything in there is huge. I have no other good way to describe it, besides huge. The marble was everywhere it was so incredibly huge. I could have spent hours in here, just sitting and soaking it in, much like I could have in the Sistine Chapel.

Today was overwhelming, but I think God is thankfully helping me just take it moment by moment. I know I won’t be able to comprehend it all, but it’s so awesome to have it all in my head. I can’t wait to look back at the pictures and feel those moments. That “ Oh my God, I thought as I walked into the Basilica, it wasn’t purposeless but a shout to God at its grandeur. It was functional, it definitely had me in awe. That was all before 5:30 even…Thankfully now I get to relax the rest of the day. I need it. Rome has shared some amazing history, and I can’t wait to share more in spoken words.

Day 7: Rome


Well as you can see right now this is roughly 3 days late…I think that’s what it will be by the time I am able to upload this and anyone is able to read it. You may ask, “why so late?” well…I’m in Rome. Yes Rome, I know it sounds weird, listing a major city and then following with this issue of not having a chance to post this- Day 7’s blog (I need to remind myself which day this is supposed to be). Now to answer why, even though I’m in Rome, a major city, with every opportunity for wifi, I can’t post: I’m in a convent.  Our stay for the next two days is a convent, just down the road….like 5 minute walk from firstly Michelangelo’s Moses, a church I can’t remember the name, and can’t Google because I don’t have wifi, and craziest of all, the Colesseum!
            I got to see the Colesseum today! I walked around the corner and there it stood!, It’s enormous, and seriously this is becoming a really obnoxious thing to not putting into words the whole being blown away thing. But, let me put it simply, even our quick preview of where we plan on being tomorrow was incredible, to see its size, that I was roughly 30 feet up from it’s road, and I was still barely over a third of the way up the thing. Anyways, enough of going on about the Colesseum, I actually think I may have more deep…well I’m hoping, but don’t get your hopes up, and more cohesive thoughts together.
           
            Leaving Assisi today was tough. To be honest, I really wasn’t looking forward to leaving, its I think the one place I’d love to move to if I was to move to a non-English speaking country (we’ll see if Venice gets added to that list). The old district was incredible. Besides the spiritual significance, it just fit me…maybe it was too much a comfort zone thing, but regardless it was a God send in everyway. A place of peace, of preparation, and of joy. Then it was off to Rome, after a two hour ride prefaced with an hour train misshape, getting on the wrong one, we made it to Roma!
            City is huge, and I’m not a big city person too much. I can enjoy it for sure, but I’m definitely more on edge and less carefree. I think though the art, and the just massive scale of the historical sites will help counter it…just a bit.
            AND…that brings me back to this very familiar place, of not being sure how I should react and respond to all the information I’m taking in. I think I solved it today, and I’ll preface it a bit. Our first stop after settling into the convent, was a church nearby. A Neoclassical church, with sculptures with a ton of Baroque period influence, and that neoclassical throwback to Greco-Roman architecture, basically everything in Rome past the first millennium.
            I walked in, after being impressed and a bit overpowered by the outsides, and I’m blown away by the extravagance of it all. Two main themes to my thoughts came about within minutes of walking in. 1). This majestic, completely marble, granite, and gold structure was built to prepare a man, broken and earthly, to fear and be in awe of the almighty, all knowing, all present, all just, and all loving God. 2). Fear of how this may have been built more to man with God as the (hopefully) right intention of God but slant to glorify man’s works and take advantage of people.

             I sure hope it was the first, because honestly I did struggle. I had issues seeing the place and I guess justifying it. St. Francis sure would have had issues with the size, the riches of it all. (Hopefully this will make sense cause I plan on inserting a picture…if not….think a small scale Vatican and you have a decent idea of this place.) Sometimes I do think that too much gold and sculptures, size, and rituals do distract from God. I think that’s an honest and accurate, well let me rephrase that.. a very true and often occurring thing. BUT, I don’t want to take away from the emotional effect it had and the place it brought me.
          (This isn't that church, this is St. Peter's....so incredible)  I hope that doesn’t sound to crazy, using that phrase, “the place it brought me.” If it does, remember I’m an artist, I’m visual, and you need to maybe figure out if your simply not one to be that experiential or possibly you aren’t letting God interact with you in a personal level, or even a extraterrestrial level. I truly feel like that was what I was being blessed with in the Basilica (Church).
            I had reached that same place again, of feeling like my reaction wasn’t enough… I acted out emotions responses trying to get myself to feel them. It worked a bit, but not quite natural as it should be. I was talking to one of my friends, and I said that I’m beginning to realize it might simply be my reaction to overload. It’s not a shut down but a calm, a voidness trying to gather it all in. I hope so because I am honestly scared I’m not being effected as I should be….(self though coming up here) “God…why? Am I supposed to have a huge response to this all? Are you keeping me from it? Are you protecting me? Am I trying to hard? Whatever it is please let it be pleasing to you, enriching to me for your glory.”
            After that realization, I started just soaking in the art. I don’t really have good words but I’m going to hopefully, through scattered sentences and thoughts express where I was at. I thought of the artists. They made beautiful, awe inspiring art as worship, I hope, at the least for other’s worship. It was worship to see it. I began to worship a bit through it. I looked upon the grand frescos in the ceiling, and in the apses and I did feel my heart move. My eyes would tear. I began to just soak it in, but I did notice I had to do it by myself. Maybe art as worship, as truly, 100% impactful takes me being apart from others…We’ll see. The apex of the Basilica had a Byzantine styled mosaic that caught my breath. It glittered in the light, and honestly that was enough. It reminded me of the concept artists created under, that stain glass, or even mosaics with gold leaf was intended to change the light and create a place that felt between earth and heaven. One place that especially did this was a side room in the Basilica. It held a crucifix, but it was in front of gold, it was showered in light through glass, and the dome above it was a ray of gold stretching down with scattered gold inlayed diamond shaped trim. It caught my breath, and me think, “My God, Heaven is going to be more than this. God, you..wow.. I will one day be in a place more amazing than this moment, this second I’m experiencing.”
            On a side note, read Don Miller’s “Searching for God Knows What” because It’s great and it had a line in it today that read like this, “ Everyone in the Bible that met God was afraid of him People were even afraid of angels…It makes you wonder if the first thousand years in heaven will have us running around screaming like we would during a earthquake, the whole time God saying to us in an enormous, booming voice, Calm down, calm down, will you, it’s just me.”  I thought this was fitting to my growing, possibly Holy Spirit moving experience.
            Ok I’ll try to stop soon, I’m writing a ton, and I don’t want to bore any of you or make you not want to read, because to be honest we all get to that point of reading when enough is enough. I just want to convey this idea that we need to really self reflect, get to know who we are, and what we see in God, and how to appropriately react to scenes, art, experiences that are meant to point us to him. I’m definitely learning that.

This trip I know is a lot about cultural learning, and maybe I can argue that my self reflecting is that. To be honest even if these posts aren’t meeting the requirements of sharing more on what I’m learning about the people I’m ok with that... I can always post about that all together… I want to learn and reflect, and grow…so here are questions I almost as prayer wrote down sitting in the middle of this Basilica.

How do I express AWE?
How do I let art, the majestic, the sublime impact me, mentally, spiritually?
How do I convey the jumble of thoughts and emotions?
How should I really be reacting?
How am I to grow?
Why do I experience numbness, and how do I get to trembling awe of my God through all this experience?

I guess I’ll leave it there, maybe the next post, though I know it will be a lot more about art can be a bit more all inclusive about my experience with the people, so I can say I did write a bit about them too.

Also, out of gratitude, I just want to say thanks and a bit of shock that you have made it through all that. Thank you for reading, because my little Google Blogger lets me know someone is looking at these. Thank you also for your prayers if you are one dear to me, or better phrased someone I know personally.

Day 6: Assisi, final day here

My last full day here in Assisi, and it's hitting hard that sadly I don't get to enjoy this village much longer. I have yet to think of anything that I haven't enjoyed about this beautiful and old mountain. After visiting the monastery of Francis I definitely was beginning to have a big perspective change, and then today I was given a chance to just relax.

      Though living in this place for a few days, I only knew a little, and starting from last night my knowledge and comfort grew...well was stretched a bit more then simply grew. We had a guide who came and taught us about the culture, and the people, and specifically their gestures. I'll skip all the boring talk stuff, and just talk about how I was definitely unsure about where I stood on the issues of family, community and religion that she presented. It was interesting to notice. I think it was maybe simply discomfort, but I think a bit of it had to also deal with maybe my upbringing and Christian viewpoint that I've been developing over the past several years.
      It wasn't anything major, but just simply struggling through ideas. I loved it in the end, but it was a struggle. She was interesting, and I think her bluntness and loud nature had a part in my issues with what we talked about.

      So moving from that into this new day, she became an awesome friend and guide for the city. I knew stuff about the city a bit. We had seen some cool Gothic churches, and yesterday as written we were in mass surrounded by beautiful Frescos. We had seem some old foundations, and even a church that was evidentially something before, but we didn't have context set. I'm all about context. It's interesting, but when context is set things click, and I start getting that wow factor (hence why I think I've been wanting historical context over tourist context so much on this trip).
      I got to touch...not saying I was allowed to...but I got to touch a Giotto fresco in the lower cathedral in the St. Francis Basilica. That is how I want to start this idea of context. Anna, our guide, definitely gave me that context today. Hearing the history, and then hearing info I knew from art history classes...IT WAS GREAT!!! That may come off intense, but sadly words here cannot show the look I had on my face well, as I would go wide eyed as we wandered the underground part of the cathedral..oh and when I saw the grave of St. Francis. That moment of seeing his clothes, his handwriting, put everything in to context, and it made things so much more real. I think that's one of those things that is unexplained but  understood, when things just click and become real, because I simply don't have any good words to express it. I wish I could better explain what I feel when I see these pieces of art. Its like an peaceful excitement. It's a bit of awe, but then its also a shock at what I'm seeing.
       Art to me is trying to solve itself in my mind. I have had even as I was trying to talk about it this talks about art. I don't where I land some time on art, but I am discovering a greater appreciation for these frescos.....Why do they move me? Is it just some starstruck emotion, or is this just the message and emotions being conveyed as the artist intended? I don't know. I hope this trip keeps shaping my art, and keeps evolving my eye so that my art grows and becomes clearer and more purposeful with less hesitation and doubt.
      As we walked around I discovered new facts, like some of the roads are Roman Roads...roman.like Roman Republic, and the churches were built on the foundations of the Temples. For instance, that one church I mentioned earlier was actually a temple to Minerva, the Roman goddess.  All this information, despite hearing in the pouring rain, made the place so much deeper and real. I appreciated it, because I could have an true anchor to move me past tourist place to the history of it all.
   
      One thing I noticed that still is a problem here is understanding ourselves as guests, not as tourists. We are definitely American, we refuse (subconsciously, though I hope because I'm aware of it I am less often doing this) really adapt. We are still the loudest at meals, and yes I know we are a large group, and we take up a ton of space while walking. Or even when some wear clothes that are summer clothes in the US, but not here. It comes off as I don't care about where I'm at, this is my trip.... I guess they may be little things but they can come off rude, when this country is so about best presentation and about family. We are coming off individualistic. I think I can say this because when I was attempting communication with some shop keepers, I started working harder at using more Italian, more hand gestures I had been taught, and also just more physical touch and they became warmer, friendlier, and simply more like friends.
      It's interesting to note, and I hope I can keep aware of these and keep working at fixing it. I don't want to go away regretting anything really. To do art, to grow spiritually, to see amazing places and sights, and to gain a larger more full perspective is my goal, and I know it will take hard work that I hope I can drive myself to do. I'll definitely keep it in my prayers.

Side note: I wish I remembered the other two deepish things I wanted to talk about...sigh.. it would have replaced some of that whole how my day was part. Again, while doing this at night provides time, it makes straight though confusing when thoughts are just becoming clouds.

Day 5: Assisi

Sunday, the day of rest, and here...it has not been that one bit, for good and bad I guess. I've enjoyed a ton today, yet I'm exhausted and its barely 5. It's crazy what you can pack into a day.

       An English Catholic Mass was the start for our day here today. Getting to walk around all of Assisi to get there and to end up at the Basilica that St. Francis is Buried in, was such an incredible experience. I don't know what it was, or what made the mass that way, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It may have been the art, and the more I look at it I definitely think it had something to do with the art of that Basilica. Walking up to the place, it simply looked like late Gothic Basilica, but entering it caught my breathe with the ancient art. Pieces by Giotto filling every inche of the wall, was such a inspiring experience.
      There are those who may argue art shouldn't be in the church, or it is a distraction, or it is an idol...and to you I say you deprived minds, and how blind you must be? The art was functional. It was a story teller, and it was moving, and don't think renaissance, this is gothic, pre renaissance. So beautiful. It definitely led me to prayer. It was cool to see even in such a tradition rich thing like mass could still be enriching.

      From there the day got more impactful, both on my feet and my mind. Mainly because we had to hike a mountain, roughly 2 miles up to the monastery of St. Francis. Not one started after him, but the one he was a part of. Its incredible to think that these people walked that hike every day, everyday, to interact with the people first of all, and secondly it was incredible to see how beautiful it was up there. The monastery was positioned between of the wooded mountains, and the view was spectacular. Looking out let you see the two mountains of trees and the valley between and the farmlands and city was below, and looking back revealed more of the mountain in front of where the sun will set tonight. By that alone the place was a fantastic place to visit, and explore the trails in the ravine and up around the huts, grottos, and hills.
       The part that I did all I could to let it sink it was that I was walking, exploring, sitting, kneeling, crawling, existing in all the same areas that St. Francis of Assisi did. I saw the place where he'd pray everyday, and I got to see the altar of St. Francis among all the marks and signs of the faith scattered around the sight. It was a point so beneficial for reflection and for perspective. To see and get a small window on the life of one of the most famous Christians post the early centuries. I wanted to spend all day there, and just pray, and I should have.
      Although I definitely soaked in a ton while up there, I still feel like I'm not truly living the moments, or finding God's moments of peace and awe. Assisi has helped a ton, and seeing the monastery definitely was an unforgettable experience.  I was just thinking though that one thing that make this so hard to get the right mind set about is that everything becomes a tourist sight... I don't know if that's wrong or not, but maybe its a distraction to me. I see sights and places, not experiences and history as much as I am trying to. We'll see what happens over the rest of this trip.

Oh, and my one complaint, and word of warning to those travelling in Italy. They don't break large bills, or at in majority they don't. They also get this offended look when you try and have them break it. Which means having the right change, and that has proved next to impossible when you use ATM's....sort of a ironic thing, so I'm trying not to hold it against them, but its interesting noticing that they won't take a large bill to break it when you can do that anywhere in American and they can't refuse service simply because you don't have the bill they want. So, the next challenge ahead, break my bill so I can buy things, like food...

Day 4: Assisi

      After a day like yesterday today was such a beautiful relaxing change. Let me just begin by saying that Assisi is so much different than Florence, and for those who may know about Assisi, you may answer....no duh? Well thanks, because yes it is different, and for those who might not realize it...it is very different. Its the difference from going from lets say....Detroit...at the very smallest Downtown Grand Rapids, to the size of lets say..... I don't even know a good comparison.
      Assisi is this beautiful and small village, well old Assisi, where we are, and its built on a large hill/ small mountain..Again Google it. We drove up and up, and then around, and up and around a bit more. Then we came into this amazing court way and here we were, Our stay at Assisi. It is definitely my favorite city so far, and I hope it stays that way.

Assisi was the moment that Italy became Italy for me. I am going to take a couple stabs at it, but I'm still not sure yet about why.

Stab 1: Historical context....ok not the probably the assumed idea of historical context but the fact it still looks like its from that time. All the stone, and all the stone, and all the narrow walk ways...the castle walls maybe, and the stone. It seriously looked like it was right out of the movies, and it bridged the gap I think of what I preconceived Italy as and what it is even today in this modern society. 
Stab 2: The people, they were much more friendly, and that goes a long way. I've noticed that the people here whether its because its a smaller place, more rural, or whatever the reason (probably the ruralness versus the hectic city life is the reason) it is. They'll pull you over to talk, and you can actually make eye contact..imagine that!! lol. 
Stab 3: It simply fits my personality, and this one probably is a mix of all these. I loved arriving here even. I got off the bus, say the streets and the castle and the churches and the wall and the streets and the...I'll stop. I love medieval history. I love the church history, and I love castles, and villages like this place. This place is wonderful.

       I almost wish I could spend the more time here. I find myself enjoying more the area and taking it all it, but I am still aware, or maybe just paranoid that I'm not truly taking it all in. It's hard when you're constantly thinking about plans, or agendas, or feeling like theres too much to do. It sucks. Not to make it sound down, but it is probably the only struggle I've noticed I've had on this trip so far. Assisi might be the cure. I just hope that I can just be aware of the moment, and I know God can do that if I keep my focus on Him. So my list to do: focus on God, pray about this..go where things take me, and stop worrying about getting cool photos because I need pictures to show people and culture, AND more importantly just sit and take in, truly see/ draw the place. So maybe I need to make a list, but hey lets see what tomorrow brings!

Day 3: Pisa and Cinque Terre

When does one day turn into three?

When you spend half of it traveling all over Italy. Today will go down as possibly the most hardtorememberitwasonlyoneday...day. From early starts, to a super late evening; getting in just 30 minutes ago. Its a day of regrets, but of so many opportunities given and thoroughly enjoyed.

       Today we visited The leaning tower of Pisa, which was really cool tons of fun, but definitely a tourist trap...AND the incredibly beautiful villages of Cinque Terre (also a big tourist spot). Like When I say it was beautiful it was beautiful. Google it, because I currently haven't edited any of pictures from it, so I can't show you quite yet (I'll update this post when I do with at least one). Talk about an incredible place to take in the Mediterranean. If I had to choose one place I definitely under appreciated scenery wise...this would be it. I loved every minute of it, don't get me wrong, but I definitely needed to slow down and soak it in more.

      You know those times when you have a list, you have goals, and you have drive and only a day to accomplish your said, "need to do list." Well that was today. Firstly, I have to take a critical look at myself. I wanted photos, and I didn't enjoy the area as much as I know I could, because I was in that photo mode. Also 5 villages in a day trip, plus hiking= a logistical nightmare for a OCD guy like me who wants to do it all in a good way.

        Now on the bright side, of life (song I sang during the hike), I was in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Despite those downsides, God definitely was showing me his art. It was remarkable watching the ground rise and jut out of the sea filling themselves with vineyards and small villages. The colors were astounding, and it left me all in a state of awe when I did have those moments

"!!!...wow"

      Now for the song explanation, and a warning for anyone that venture to Cinque Terre... Don't hike between the 5 village and the 4th unprepared!!!!...seriously me and a couple other guys nearly died from heat stroke..died...like dead and crisping in the sun. I have never been so exhausted from any hike in my life, and I hopefully humbly can consider myself a fairly active and in shape man. We started up the stairs...It was a lot of up and a not a lot of forward...To paint a visual picture: sand and hard jagged, rarely smooth stones attempting to be steps, roughly 1 to 2 feet wide sometimes with room to wander other times with room to fall your death through brush and trees to the rocky shores below. Also it roughly 2 hours of hiking, and moving... no breaks besides the 1 minute kind to catch our breathes. Up and down..so many times. Ok I doubt that painted the picture but again I'll try and post a picture so you can understand the area, or the size of the hike.

      So why was this so important? Besides it being two hours I stretched me. The three of us were so drained, we sweated through all our clothes. we were shaking at the knees, losing vision and hating our collective selves or ever deciding we'd hike to the previous village for fun. ALSO its important because it taught me I guess a bit of a hopefully not so cliche metaphorical idea. The idea of life's journey. Not to go too long on that, but it really put into perspective and reminded me how easy it is to loose sight of the big picture, The coast line and the gorgeous blue water, and get caught up in the hard points, the jagged areas, and the pitfalls. Again I am glad you weren't there to listen to us, we had to drive out adrenaline onwards through agression and anger at this hike. Yes, probably not the best idea.

       One other thing it did, which was possibly just a cry knowing what my mindset should be, or a sign that it was were it should be. I felt like leaned on God a ton on that hike. I listened, I talked, I prayed.... "help." and I just kept letting the Holy Spirit remind me of the beauty I was missing or could be missing around me. The hike was a valley experience and I'm so glad to say I conquered it, the three of us were the only ones. Thank you God I'm alive.

       Before I close, I thought this would be my only thing to talk about, but tonight I felt like I was in Vegas again. The train ride back was something else. Long tiring and on the last leg draining...or maybe revealing..or maybe saddening.  After all day at the villages we go to get back to Florence, and we get on our last train, and its 11...which means the so called, low lives, the drunks, the prostitutes, the angry, the evil....they were surrounding us in a very tight small two car train. When I said the so called.. definitely not what I thought and saw. Next to me as I stood was a girl, a broken girl, a very broken girl who definitely held herself..or lack of that..as a prostitute.

      It broke my heart, and all I wanted to do was bend done onto my knees and ask what I could do for her, that God loves her, that she is beautiful not because of how she looks. I know those were all impractical means, so I prayed.. I prayed a lot for her and it was heartbreaking yet revealing even in myself. I don't know if this was the right way to look at it, some would argue I should have tried and talk to her, but I don't know. Maybe I was too scared, nervous, or simply selfish at the possibility of it not turning out how I "hope/daydream" it would. I'm still praying and thinking through all that, but the truth is I just prayed, which I know is more powerful than anything I could do alone.

        Besides that there were the crazies, the those so lost mentally or simply emotionally they were in a drunken stooper.. There were the lost looking for something "fun....girls" or just something to numb them.. I could see it in their eyes, and It hurt, the men were broken and no longer men, and the girls were that  as well. It was a ride that broke my heart, and definitely revealed a tear of Christ. I hate trying to write this so tired, and while my mind is a blur. But, I'm trying. I want to let you know though, always pray. 

       Today I did it a lot and God definitely gave me moments...maybe to interact and be more than eyes, but at least be eyes in....I'm still working through that back and forth. Thank you for those praying, and especially you who is praying for my eyes to be open and for God to teach and use me. Tonight's train ride was a moment where I just felt the brokenness of this world, and realized how beautiful God is for what he has done. It drained a lot of the others more than they already were, I saw it on their faces, and I know it drained me. Yet, I have this sense that comes and goes, and right now its growing again...that God has a big plan I must figure out, and I pray that I do and am open and willing to take each step towards it... I am a part of his body for however long I'm here on this earth.

And, now that I'm starting to Babble, I hope you've made it this far, I thank you, and will say goodnight, because it is late here and as you can tell a lot physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually has happened. 

Day 2: Florence

Where to start?

      I guess thats a good question to ask yourself on a trip like this, well for that matter any day. What I continue to face is the huge cloud thoughts and ideas that truly overwhelm yet exhilarate me. Second day in and its still not truly hitting me that I'm in Italy.

      Yeah I guess, there are good arguments for why I am in Italy, or why I should feel like I am. Arguments like, the architecture, the ancient buildings, the cobblestone streets, the tiny cars, the narrow roads, the Italian language, the Italian people, the comments about "those americanos," the walking everywhere, the incredible museums, the even more incredible art, and food are all very good arguments. I agree that they should strike me down a bit and remind me I'm in Italy...BUT they haven't done that...ok I lied they have sort of. I'm still stunned to be here. Florence is incredibly beautiful, friendly, regal yet relatable, and best of all artistic.

       The art today was the focus. Visiting churches and walking around more of the city was incredible, but the most impactful and to be honest dumbfounding was the visit to the Ufizi Museo and the Academia Museo. Homes of some of the most spectacular art in the world. To be within a breath of pieces by Michelangelo, or Botticelli or Cimabue was an experience I am scared I haven't let impact me fully though I did all I could to soak it all it.

One moment that particularly stood out in my mind was even within the first few steps into the galleries. I walk in and after being met with Giotto's Madonna Enthroned turning to see his master's same piece. It hit me. The size first hit me, the 12 feet of holy dedicated art. Secondly the beauty of the piece. It caught my breath, and the first thought I had was what would it have been like to enter into a church like this and be greeted by that. I could only stand and thank God for an experience such as that. I kept praying without words, I guess thats the only way to describe it. A piece dedicated to God and something I could definitely worship to. It was incredible. The rest of the museum followed in like as well. It was one overwhelming piece of art after another.
      It definitely focused me on how incredible the gifts of God are, but it more reminded me of how much God expected out of me. To use our gifts, to work on the, to perfect them and hand them back is our calling, and the museum''s ability to leave me stunned by the great masters did a good job of speaking as an instrument to me for the purpose of refocus and praise. It's definitely daunting, and easily distracted from when I think about these pieces have survived up to 800 years, and they still are some of the best.. I'm getting frustrated trying to put it all into words. I should also note, just for fun, seeing Michelangelo's David, was a blast.
   
      I think though that I need to keep perspective, I know in writing right now I can get carried down another train of thought, and I know I have already but I need to remind myself of one thing. To be holistic in perspective. I am being thrown into moments where I must engage the culture, not just "tour" it. I find myself getting frustrated at my own inability sometimes to recall words, and the truth is I just need to work at language more.
      God though is truly awesome, he continues to provide, care, ease, and strengthen me. I know my flexibility with situations and my willingness to do new things can only come from Him. I'm tired, and going to bed, but tomorrow I get a whole new location to explore and enjoy, and I pray that God will not just let this simply be an enjoyable trip, but an enriching, perspective growing, gift building, and appreciation growing chance. 

Day 1: Flying and Florence

      Getting ready for Italy has been interesting. Its the normal mix of stressing, errands, excitedly freaking out when it would manage to rise up and hit me across the face with how awesome it was going to be. The craziest thing of all is that it is here. I'm here. I'm in Italy. Italy. I'm in Italia. After a long grueling day of travelling, I managed to make it to this beautiful city of Florence.

      Travelling usually freaks me out a but, and to be honest it still does even though I'm learning to give up control and just go with the flow. God will take care of things. SO here that goes, from the start of today...well technically yesterday till I go home. God carried me through so much so far the past two days of this trip, but I have to say he definitely was trying to get my attention and keep an eye on how I behave. Am I an ugly American, or am I a friendly and aware sojourner?
      So what was it that really caused me to stop and think about this, well not stop but think about it as I was going about my day? It was loud laughter. It wasn't even laughter, it was simply the volume. Here in the US it can be a problem, but nearly everyone agrees on what is loud. HERE, in Italy its pretty easy to notice what is known as loud to those around, especially when comments are heard like, "dumb americanos."
      That can sorta heart, but to be honest I thought it too. I was at fault a few times, but I definitely noticed that its the simple things that set cultures apart, such as how loud a personal conversation is, or how much space you take up as you walk, or if you pay attention to the traffic around you. That sets the cultures apart. I don't know if it matters, or how dangerous ignoring it can be, but I think it needs to be very seriously looked at. How can one assume its perfectly fine to just act as normal when everything around them is normal. I know we have been "taught" to be aware, but its still something that I think is not quite appropriate or safe/ mending for one to do when in a culture not theirs.
      That's what I've been working through, how do I walk that line carefully? How do I show my interest and excitement for the place, without needlessly offending those who could help or need an example that will help mend the view of the US, which is already pretty tainted.

      I am so excited to see what the days ahead will hold. Florence has blown my mind away, and after the horrible/ less than desirable experience at the Frankfurt airport, Its been a definitely desired. Now to hopefully grasp it all in the time I still have here.