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Yesterday, we went to the church of St. Paul Outside the Walls. This church is called “outside the walls” because it is outside the city near where Paul was executed, this was because no executions took place inside the city of the living. It is also the 4th papal church and is where St. Paul’s tomb is currently kept! Along the inside walls of the church, at the top, are pictures of all the popes, the spotlight being on Pope Francis, since he is the current pope. We also discovered, on our way out, that the pope had decreed that pilgrims who come to visit this church are blessed with a plenary indulgence, provided of course, that all the criteria for a plenary indulgence are met in addition to visiting the church. We definitely ceased this opportunity! What a magnificent church it is!
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Today, we went to a general audience with Pope Francis!!! WHAT!!?! Words cannot express the utter joy and peace we felt! We got an early start, the audience was at 10:00 am, we were told by the Swiss guard to get to the square by 8 a.m. So, what did we do? We left at about 6 am, naturally. We wanted to be sure we would get good seats, to be as close to Pope Francis as possible. We were a little frightened by the stories we had heard of people being super pushy, and seeming like they had elbows made of knives when it came to being close to the pope!

After waiting in line for a good while, we were allowed into St. Peter’s Square, we hurried to find some seats. The seats we got were perfect! We were right up against the isle the Holy Father was to pass through! We literally could not have gotten better seats.

During our two hour wait, we met an older couple from Spain. It was so much fun to talk with them (in Spanish) and tell them that we too would be traveling to Spain soon! Making friends in Europe is so much fun, we’ve been meeting the coolest people!

Finally, it was time! The crowd pushed in. People were getting stepped on. Two young American girls right behind us apologized in advance for possibly falling on top of us. They were standing in front of a few nuns who are the pushiest of all when it comes to seeing the pope. We tried to make room for them to squeeze in with us so they would be close also.
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It’s difficult to explain what we felt when Pope Francis drove by. We were right close to him! We couldn’t quite lean over to touch him, but we were close! We could feel his saintly presence and we were bursting with joy!

After he drove by and went up to the front, a passage from the bible was read in many different languages, then Pope Francis gave his address, which was also summarized in various languages, and then his papal blessing, which extended to us, the holy objects we had with us, and our families back at home. ❤

After the audience, we got some pasta for lunch and then, from the recommendations of our friends Nik and Reggie, went to Old Bridge for gelato! This gelato was absolutely amazing, gelato in general is really good, but wow – this was so good! Kathleen got a cone with pistachio & ricotta, blueberry, and yogurt & sweet candy. Ivana got a cup with pistachio & ricotta, chocolate with hazelnut (it had actually hazelnuts in it), and caramel. Yum!
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Ciao!

❤ i&k

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europost_18

Assisi looks like it came out of a movie. A small little town built on the top of a hill, it is probably one of the most picturesque places that we have visited yet. We took a day trip there today.

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Our first stop was lunch, we were both starving. We went to I Monici, a restaurant that Matthew had recommended to us. We had to go half-way up the stone staircase next to the building to get inside. They were just opening so we had the place almost entirely to ourselves. For lunch we split a pizza, the I Monici; it had tomato sauce and mozzarella on a thin pizza crust that was baked until the cheese was melty and delicious. Then the chef put dollops of ricotta cheese which had been mixed with sautéed spinach on top. It was a delightful mix of warm pizza and fresh tasting ricotta cheese, definitely one of our favorite eats by far in Italy.
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We spent the rest of the day exploring the town, there were so many winding paths and staircases, it was amazing that we didn’t get terribly lost… although it was so small, getting lost may not have actually been possible. The first place we went to was the Basilica of St. Francis, this church actually has two churches on top of each other as well as St. Francis’s tomb underneath. This multi-layer church is possible because it was build into the side of the hill. The main basilica is breathtaking, each side chapel is filled with prominent Franciscan saints as well as one special one to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

The tomb of St. Francis was very peaceful. We were able to sit for a while and pray for all of our intentions. All of St. Francis’s companions are buried in the tomb as well. As we were leaving, several nuns came in to pray, they were so cute in their habits. 🙂

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Next, we went to the church that was St. Francis’s home. It was quite small especially compared to his basilica, but we were able to see the small hole where his father had imprisoned him, because Francis was giving away his things and his father thought he had lost his mind. Neither one of us could have fit in there even semi-comfortably, so we couldn’t imagine how Francis, a grown man, fit in there.
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The last church that we visited was the Basilica of St. Clare. This church was also quite large, but it had a small beautiful side chapel where the blessed sacrament was kept. It was nice to escape there from the whirlwind of tourists and tours that were happening within the church at the same time. Down in the crypt were the bones of St. Clare, they are kept behind a statue of St. Clare in her death. The back side of the statue, however is hollow and her actual bones are exposed, but only able to be viewed by the Poor Clare Sisters. In the crypt there were also many second class relics from St. Clare and St. Francis, their original garments as well as many pieces of clothing that St. Clare made for St. Francis after he received the stigmata.

We finished the day by climbing to the top of the hill that Assisi was built on to the fortress called Rocca Maggiore, that is at the top. There was an amazing view, and it was a great place to sit down and rest after a full day of walking around.
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We got stuck on the train again on the way home and that was hard, but what a lovely day to remember our time in Italy by.

Ciao!

❤ i&k

europost_17

Yesterday was another day filled with many blessings! We got to visit the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, and the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. Santa Maria Maggiore is believed to have the actual manger which Jesus was lain in when he was an infant. San Giovanni in Laterano is the church where the Holy Father presides as the bishop of Rome. Santa Maria and San Giovanni are two of the four papal churches in Rome.

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San Giovanni

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Santa Maria

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Santa Croce

We were also able to climb the Santa Scala. This staircase is believed to be the actual stairs which Jesus ascended on his way to Pontius Pilot. They are covered with wood now, but you can still put your hands through and touch the original marble. These stairs can only be ascended on your knees – it really helped get us in the Lenten mindset!

Santa Croce in Gerusalemme is believed to carry parts of the real cross that Christ died upon! It was such a blessing to be able to visit the beautiful churches and feel so close to God.

Today, it is Sunday! For Mass, we joined Kathleen’s friend, Matthew, at the NAC (North American College) for Mass. It was absolutely beautiful! As would be expected, it was filled with seminarians and priests. We appreciated attending Mass in English and it seemed like we were transported to Heaven for a bit! The reverence in which the Mass was prayed and the absolutely amazingly gorgeous music really helped us pray and remind us of why we were here in the first place.
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The view from the top of the NAC

Traveling really takes a lot of energy and sometimes it is really easy to get discouraged and frustrated. All that is needed sometimes is for us to refocus on God, which an event like a beautiful Mass or a majestic church can do for us. It is then that we are reminded of God’s breathtaking beauty and how much we desire Him and hope to grow closer to Him through this trip.

After Mass, we went to St. Peter’s square to pray the angelus with Pope Francis! This was another absolutely beautiful experience. Although the Holy Father was very far above us and we could not see him so very well, it was amazing to be able to pray with him there. We could feel his fatherly love and holiness pouring down upon us. It was an experience that is difficult to explain, but all we can say is that our Holy Pontiff is a vey holy man!
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After the angelus, we enjoyed a rustic pie – it’s a pizza dish that has a top crust on it, forming a pizza pie, hence the name. 😉 It was delicious! Kathleen ordered one with prosciutto and cheese in it, and Ivana ordered one with tomato and mozzarella.
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Well, that’s it for now!

Ciao,
❤ i&k

europost_16

Our second day in Roma was quite eventful. We met up with Kathleen’s friend, Matthew, who is a seminarian at the North American College – one of the seminaries in Rome.

We met up at Piazza Navona, and from there we went to the Pantheon, a Roman Temple to all of the gods. It was raining and we were able to see the rain coming down through the hole in the roof. The Romans, even though there were master architects, were not able to figure out how to complete the dome without it caving in. It has since been converted into a Catholic Church and the tomb of the great painter Raphael lies there.
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Tomb of painter Rafael
We then stopped into Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, a basilica made to show that the Virgin Mary is much greater than the Roman goddess Minerva. This church is absolutely magnificent, a splendid example of gothic architecture. The body of St. Catherine of Siena is there, although her head is kept in Siena. We were able to pray in front of the main alter where her body is kept. It was amazing to be so close to such a great saint and pray for her to grace the rest of our journey as well as for our many intentions that we carry with us to every church.

Next, we went to lunch, a glorious Italian lunch. For our appetizer we had mozzarella de bufala with prosciutto. This is a small ball of fresh mozzarella with lovely, salty Italian smoked ham. For our main course we shared three different pasta dishes. The first, Macichano, Matthew’s favorite, is a meaty sauce over homemade spaghetti noodles. The second, Bolognaise, is another red sauce over thick linguini noodles. And lastly, (both Ivana and Kathleen’s favorite), the Carbonara, is a white sauce which is made by mixing egg and parmagian cheese and then pouring it over the pasta as it comes out of the boiling water. Bacon and fresh ground pepper are added to finish the dish.

The last thing we did was go to a Norman Rockwell exhibit at the museum. This was definitely a highlight of the trip. Being able to see the original work of such a prolific American artist, was amazing.

We then hopped on a bus to head back to our hostel. When we got back, we were hungry, so we went and got some gelato and ate some dinner from the grocery store.

Ciao!

❤ i&k

europost_15

Well, we’re in Rome! The day started off rainy – there was a thunderstorm with lightning, super exciting…except when you have to wake up at 6 a.m….however, as soon as we were on our way to breakfast, the weather calmed down, making it a much more pleasant day after all; it was still raining, but we didn’t have to worry about getting struck with lightning or anything 😉

We ended up having a glorious day! It started off with a yummy free breakfast, provided for by our hostel, at a nearby pizzeria. Our breakfast consisted of croissants with shredded coconut on top, a cappuccino for Ivana, and tea for Kathleen. Getting a free Italian cappuccino every morning was super exciting for Ivana. 😉 We also hoped that we would get to try a new pastry every morning.

After breakfast, we went to St. Peter’s square to take the Scavi tour beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. We met two American gentlemen who were also in line for the tour. We talked with them for a while and they gave us plenty of information of what we should and should not do in Rome. It was so nice to be in the midst of fellow Americans for a bit and receive some friendly advice.
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The tour itself was absolutely wonderful and very enlightening! Our tour guide was an archaeologist from Israel. We got a lot of history about the excavations done where St. Peter’s tomb still lies today! It was awesome!
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Afterward, we went to a cafe nearby and ordered some yummy pasta. Ivana ordered connollini with spinach and a cappuccino and Kathleen ordered tettuchini with chrimini mushrooms. It was delicious.
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We’ve been learning that in various parts of Europe, the way you order and pay for your meal is rather unconventional compared to what we’re accustomed to. In many places, you order your food, coffee, what have you, and then go up to pay when you’re finished eating. This always seems a little strange and I can’t help but wonder if some customers ever take advantage of this and just leave after they’re finished eating. But it does, however, allow one to eat slowly and enjoy their meal as an experience and not have to worry about paying until the very end. There is no rush – whenever the customers are done, they can simply leave and pay for their experience. It’s actually quite nice!

We then waited in line to reserve tickets for the papal audience on Wednesday! The Swiss guards were very kind and helpful – we almost wished we could stand in their place and have their jobs, even just for a moment – what a blessing that must be for them!

In the evening, we enjoyed gelato at the oldest gelato factory in Rome.

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Ciao,
❤ i&k

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One word to describe our long trip to Rome: horrible, rainy, alone.
I realize this was actually three words but after the last two days they are all kind of blurring together and look like one…. So cut us some slack per favore.

We had realized when planning our agenda that this part of the trip would be the hardest going from Lourdes to Milan and then to Rome the very next night – it was going to be brutal. And it was. Our trip from Lourdes to Milan took all day. We had to travel back to Paris, catch a train in a completely different station across town and then travel seven hours to Italy. Things were going very smoothly, we made our connection and were on our way to Milan. However, as soon as we crossed the border the train stopped because of some sort of accident…we didn’t know where that accident was, but sat back to wait patiently… And then not so patiently for the next two hours. We still had three hours left of our journey and no way to communicate with anyone else; we felt pretty helpless and alone. We couldn’t really even understand the announcements that the conductor was making.

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We don’t really have very many happy pictures from this part of the trip, mostly just ones of us looking tired and sad…. But here is a cute picture of Ivana with her first ever snowman from Lourdes. 😉

We finally made it into Milan. We walked to our hostel with the help of Google Maps, we had saved the directions while we were still in Lourdes. We collapsed on our hostel beds and fell asleep.

The next day, we checked out by eleven and set out to wander the streets with all of our luggage. The first thing we did was go and buy our tickets to Rome for that night’s red eye, something that we had yet to do, and then we went to find breakfast. We stopped at a cute little cafe called The California Bakery, this place was amazing. We both got a chocolate coffee drink and a bagel with prosciutto on it.
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We sat here for as long as we could, not wanting to venture back out into the cold. Finally, we left and went to find a grocery store. Without internet, we were amazed that we ski ally stumbled upon a market and picked up some cheese, bread and meat for the day.

By the time 5 o’clock rolled around, we were tired and sore, and in desperate need of wifi so that Kathleen could call her bank. We finally went to a restaurant/bar and sat for a good while. Both of us called our parents. Heartbroken after such a difficult day, we each found ourselves holding back tears as our moms encouraged us to push forward.

After leaving the restaurant, we went to withdraw some cash from a bankomat. It was then that we discovered that Ivana’s credit card was missing! We went back to the train station to search her bags, and just as we were leaving, we stopped into the cafe that Ivana had bought water at earlier in the day to ask if they had seen her card. We knew the chance of them having it would be quite slim and Ivana was completely prepared to call her family right away and inform them of the tragedy. However, miraculously, the man behind the counter came to her aid and brought forth the little blue card! She had forgotten it when she had paid! It was the most beautiful sight she had seen all day! Needless to say we were both a bit frazzled, but this discovery raised our spirits quite a bit.

Because our train didn’t leave until 11 that night, we went to find a bench and eat some dinner. The ricotta was particularly delicious, smooth and creamy; it was lovely to dip our bread into it.

We met some fellow Americans who were also going to Rome on the same train as we were. We talked to them while we waited for our train. When it was finally time to board, we found our compartment and settled down to sleep. Luckily our seats kind of reclined and we were able to get a little more comfortable than we would have, had we been sitting upright. We woke up just as our train was pulling into the station. We followed our map to where our hostel was, and while we waited for our check-in time, we had some Indian beef curry for breakfast. So yummy and perfect after a long stressful night of travel.

We arrived at our hostel feeling slightly worse for wear, but grateful to finally have a place to put our luggage and a bed to stretch out on.
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We took a nap and then went to get some gelato. Ivana got limone and Kathleen got Strachiatella. A sweet end to a rocky few days of travel.
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Ciao!

❤ i&k

europost_13

Saturday was filled with so many blessings and graces! We started it off by visiting the Basilica of the Rosary and the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is right behind and above the Basilica of the Rosary. The two churches and the area where Mary appeared form a small village. The Churches were absolutely beautiful!
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The Basilica of the Rosary had little chapels all along the sides and behind the altar of the entire rosary – each mystery is depicted by a beautiful mosaic. What really caught our eye were the many mosaics that had Old Testament stories that pre-figured the New Testament scenes. We had the chance to pray the rosary there by moving along to each chapel – it was absolutely beautiful!!
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We also visited the grotto where Our Lady appeared to Saint Bernadette. Unfortunately, the area was under construction so we couldn’t get as close to the site as we would have liked, but we were still able to see it and lift up special prayers. It was a crazy feeling – standing there and thinking about how Mary had chosen this one, simple spot to grace humanity, through Bernadette, with her presence. We also drank water from the grotto springs. It tasted really pure and refreshing!
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We went down to the crypt where there is a relic of Bernadette, her incorrupt body is at the convent in Nevers, France. Further into the crypt, there is an adoration chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed. It was crazy to ponder on the fact that all of the places we were visiting were all glimpses or images helping us feel closer and be closer to God and yet, here was God Himself, in front of us – no image, no site where he had once appeared, it was actually him – living; body, blood, soul, and divinity! Even crazier was the thought that he is always waiting for us to visit him in every Catholic Church.

After adoration, we went to Confession with a wonderful, kind, Irish priest. The whole experience was very peaceful and left us feeling very joyful. We then went to St. Bernadette’s home where she grew up as a small child.
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For dinner, we went to the grocery store. 🙂 Our simple little meals have been quite enjoyable and are our simple little pleasures to help us wind down at the end of the day.

Sunday, we went to an English Mass in one of the chapels further up the hill from the Basilica of the Rosary. It was a small chapel and a very small community of English speakers that gathered together, which made it very intimate. The priest was very welcoming to everyone and gave us a beautiful sermon. At the end of the Mass, we had a chance to chat with him for a bit and discovered that he knew people from both California and Vermont.

Well, that’s it for now!

Au revoir!
<3i&k