Grand Hotel de La Minerve, Roma

I took these pictures last month on my whirlwind trip to the Eternal City. This hotel occupies a sweet spot in my heart.

When my son was 10 years old, I took him on his first trip to Europe. Of course it was to Italy! Where else?! We stayed at this prestigious old hotel, so centrally located, and we have very fond memories.

It was funny because at the time of our visit, some bigwig from Korea was a guest in the hotel. His/her room was opposite ours. There were armed guards watching that room 24/7. When we checked in, the clerk told us that this would be going on. He told us we’d be safer than normal. It was kind of strange, because several men would be sitting in the room across from our door; they would have their door open all the time and were usually playing cards. It reminded me of the mafia.

When I was in Rome last month, the hotel was closed. Is it closed because of Covid, I wonder? I do hope it returns when the world returns more or less to normal!

My son and I also recall fondly that on our first morning on our trip, we woke up really early (jet lag) and left the hotel to go to the Rome zoo. It was the hottest June on record (at the time), and we were at the zoo when it opened. After the zoo, James spotted a stand selling enormous balloons. He really wanted a red one. This was my first trip to Italy after the Euro was introduced and, being bad at math and conversions, I wasn’t sure what the actual cost was. I later figured it out: I paid about $40 USD for that silly balloon!

But, it turned out to be a great investment and he kept that balloon with him on our trip and even took it on the train with him to Florence. When we were at the Minerva, he let go of it accidentally and it flew to the terribly high ceiling of the lobby. We assumed it was gone to us forever, but the hotel staff insisted on finding some long sticks and brought it down for him. I always knew Italian loved children, but this moment is especially sweet in my memory. My blue-eyed, red-haired, beautiful boy was immensely happy at that time.

When you walk out of the Minerva hotel, this is your incredible view! Not bad.

Roma: the Pantheon and the Bernini elephant monument

Last month I had the chance to made a quick survey of the favorite places in Rome, just to see how the Eternal City looked at Christmas (such a luxury to be able to quench that particular thirst).

High on that list is this incredible piazza, set in front of the Pantheon and its adjoining piazza featuring Bernini’s wonderful elephant holding up an Eygptian obelisk on its back. Ah, Roma! What can I say?1 You look good: winter, spring, summer, or fall. I’d happily take any season with you!

Piazza Navona, Roma

Last month I had the chance to made a quick survey of the favorite places in Rome, just to see how the Eternal City looked at Christmas (such a luxury to be able to quench that particular thirst).

High on that list is this incredible piazza, with the Four Rivers Fountain by Bernini. Ah, Roma! You look good: winter, spring, summer, or fall. I’d happily take any season with you!

Meanwhile, here in Florence…

I had a birthday and Omicron this past week. Great start to 2022! Woo hoo! Luckily Omicron wasn’t too bad. Worse than the common cold for 2 days, but then took on the characteristics of a common cold or flu. Luckily I didn’t get a lung infection, which is my norm following a cold. So, all in all, I count myself lucky.

On a recent, very short walk, I enjoyed the sunny afternoon and the beautiful sites in my Borgo:

One last look at the modern side of Florence, the “eye” that was up for the holidays. This was it’s last day before it was taken down.

The Tomb of St. Francis in Assisi

Inside this famous lower church in Assisi lies the tomb of Saint Francis.

You walk through the lower church and on the left side of the nave is this staircase to the crypt:

You can stop and light a candle for any loved ones you may wish:

You go down the stairs and see the tomb from afar:

You walk closer:

You have arrived. The tomb is decorated for Christmas.

RIP Saint Francis.

The story surrounding his tomb is quite interesting: the source:

St. Francis of Assisi is one of the most beloved and venerated saints in the history of the Church. So then how did his body get lost for hundreds of years – only to be rediscovered surrounded by a strange assortment of objects?

The holy founder of the Order of Friars Minor passed away in October of 1226, and less than two years later, Pope Gregory IX declared him a saint. The next day the same pope laid the foundation stone for the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, still standing today.

This is where things start to get a bit hazy about his body. Some sources say that a friar in charge of the basilica’s construction secretly sealed his body into a part of the church to protect it from possible Saracen invaders. Other sources say that Francis’ body wasn’t sealed away until the 15th century, in order to protect it from in-fighting among Italian families.

Either way, by the 19th century, no one was quite sure where the saint’s body was – and no one had known for centuries.

In the early 1800s, Pope Pius VII gave local Catholics permission to search for the body. Fairly confident the body was somewhere in the basilica, the team removed part of the floor in the main church and found a series of iron bars, similar to what was common for protecting tombs in the 13th century. After the whole area was excavated, under a large amount of rock and through a tunnel they found the undisturbed remains of St. Francis.

The saint, however, wasn’t alone. With his body were a few objects: 12 silver coins, 29 beads, a ring, a piece of iron, and a stone on which Francis’ head was resting.

It’s not clear what these objects meant. One source says the coins were there to help date the tomb. Others take a more sinister interpretation, claiming that the friar who sealed Francis’ tomb was an alchemist and that the objects were a part of some sort of ancient pagan ritual. The fact that some of these objects seem to have since disappeared encourages conspiratorial interpretations.

Either way, St. Francis’ body was moved to a public tomb within the basilica and is now open to pilgrims for veneration.

The picturesque train station at Assisi

I travel a lot by train in Italy and I love visiting new (to me) and old towns. No station that I have seen comes close to the picturesque nature of the one in Assisi! I adore it!

Even the script used for signage is charming. It speaks to the Medieval background of this precious place.

The plaque above states (roughly): The itineraries of the great Jubilee of 2000 led to Assisi, the center of Christian faith and spirituality. For this occasion the state railways have restored the old dignity of the station which, in the presence of the Honorable Enrico Micheli, Undersecretary to the President of the Council, handed over to the citizens of Assisi and to the visitors of the Franciscan places.

Interior of station.
Detail of fresco painting in station.
Looking at the ceiling of the exterior roof of the station.
A detail.

I am always highly entertained when I see priests and nuns on the streets of Italy. They are not as common as you would think. Here a group of nuns is waiting for a bus. They travel just like the rest of us!

This last set of pictures is not of the station, but was spotted on an old street in Assisi.