A Pilgrimage to Krakow: A Review

I fell in love with Krakow when I was teaching English in central Europe from 2002–2004. Part of it was the timing of my first visit. In Prague, where I was living, the Soviet-era project of state-sponsored atheism was largely successful. In Krakow, the Catholic Church had resisted the story told by communism, insisting instead that religion was not something that could be banished to the private sphere and that all humans had inherent dignity by virtue of their being created in God’s image. So when I arrived during Holy Week of 2003, the festive and loving atmosphere in Krakow helped to bring about the spiritual refreshment I needed.

51kbspwg85l-_sx331_bo1204203200_Even though I am not a Catholic, the city had such an impact on me that I returned about six months later. On that visit, my curiosity about the city led me to buy a biography of John Paul II in a bookstore on the main square. John Paul II had been the archbishop of Krakow when he was elected pope, and I wanted to learn more about the relationship between the man and the city.

I wish that City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow had been available then. George Weigel, the author of Witness to Hope, a massive biography of John Paul II, has written (along with Carrie Gress and Stephen Weigel) a wonderful introduction to the city and its surrounding area that focuses on sites that are important to the life of Karol Wojtyla, the man who would become pope. The book is more of a hagiography than a biography; it is written for pilgrims who are looking for edification rather than those who are merely interested in gathering facts. The chapters progress roughly chronologically according to the life of John Paul II; they begin in Wadowice, the small town outside Krakow where he was raised, and end in Zakopane, the town in the Tatras Mountains where a church was built in 1997 out of gratitude for his surviving an assassination attempt 16 years earlier. Each chapter comes in two parts: First, Weigel writes about the significance of a particular place for the life of John Paul II; then, Carrie Gress gives more historical information about the place. Throughout, Stephen Weigel’s black-and-white photographs show what each place looks like; the only color photos are in the middle.

The older I get, the less interested I am in traveling to various places just to have fun and see interesting sights—I am more interested in pilgrimages. Of course, as a Protestant, I have a different idea of pilgrimage than many Catholics might. My idea of pilgrimages is less about going to places that are regarded as “holy” and more about going to places that have particular significance in world history or in my own history. In that sense, I do agree with Weigel when he writes that “read as His-story, history comes into focus as the history of salvation: a history that begins not with randomness but with purpose; a history that ends not with oblivion but with a great, cosmic, eternal party, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, described in the twenty-first chapter of the book of Revelation” (117). While I might question whether there are particular places that should be regarded as holier than others, I agree that traveling to and reflecting in particular places can foster a greater understanding of and connection to the salvation history that lies behind and within world history.

I normally end reviews by saying who I would recommend this to, and this is a difficult one to recommend broadly. The main target audience seems to be Catholics who will soon be traveling to Krakow. But there may be other Christians who, like me, have visited Krakow and want to know how it came to be such a special place, or who want to know more about the relationship between John Paul II and his “beloved Krakow.”

Note: Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this book. I was not asked to give a positive review.

Grandpa’s Notes in a Book about World War II

Today is the 70th anniversary of VE Day, the day Germany surrendered and ended World War II in Europe. It has put me in a reflective mood, since my grandfather, who passed away last September, was in Europe that day. He was in Lippstadt, Germany, a few days away from turning 21 years old.

Grandpa loved to tell stories of his time in the service during World War II, and his family loved to hear them. When I was in Grand Rapids for his memorial service, I pulled out one of his books about the war, Stephen Ambrose’s Citizen Soldiers. I found that he had occasionally underlined and written notes on events in the book that he had a personal connection to, particularly those having to do with Operation Cobra toward the end of July, 1944.


Operation Cobra, July 25, 1944
Operation Cobra, July 25, 1944
Further description of Operation Cobra
Further description of Operation Cobra
Lesley McNair was killed July 25, 1944 near Saint-Lô, France
Lesley McNair was killed July 25, 1944 near Saint-Lô, France

Here is the description of Operation Cobra in my grandpa’s own words, from a booklet of reminiscences that he and my uncle Jim put together several years ago:

I was on guard duty at our airfield as the sun came up one morning probably around the middle to the end of July 1944 when I heard the drone of bombers coming from England. There were probably about 150 planes in each separate formation. They flew over all day about 10,000 sorties in all. They were dropping bombs on the German divisions that were inland about 10 to 20 miles from the Normandy beaches. These divisions were blocking our ground forces who were trying to advance into France and unto Paris.

I could see the smoke bombs and flares launched by Allied artillery to pinpoint where the front lines were. This enabled the Allied bombers to avoid our forces and drop their bombs on the German forces. The wind however carried some of the smoke back over into the Allied lines and caused our bombers to drop explosives on our troops. The commanding general at the front line of the battle was General McNair. A misplaced bomb killed him that day. A few weeks later I stood at General McNair’s grave in the American cemetery a short way in from the Normandy beach. A small wooden temporary cross listed his name only, not that he was the commanding general. In death he was the same as all of the soldiers he commanded.

I’m thankful that my grandpa loved telling his story. Even from the way these notes are written, it seems to me that he wanted other people to see them. I know that, for one reason or another, many people don’t like telling their stories, especially the parts that are painful to them. My grandpa’s love for telling his own stories serves as a reminder to me that people’s stories are valuable. They help make sense of the world, help other people feel like they are not alone, and especially in my grandpa’s case, help to testify to God’s goodness.

Michael Lewis’s Financial Disaster Tourism

In January I posted on Moneyball, because I had just read the book and watched the movie. I’ve grown to appreciate the writing of Michael Lewis as a result, and over the past few months I have read the series of articles he wrote on the recent financial crisis, mostly in Europe. As is the case with most of his writing, what makes him so interesting to read is that he takes complex economic forces and tells an interesting story about them. The conceit behind these stories is that each country was allowed, between 2002 and 2008, to be left alone in a dark room with a huge pile of money. What they did with it, says Lewis, opens a door onto their national character. He paints with very broad strokes, and can fall into stereotypes as a result, but I still found the articles entertaining.

These articles have been collected into the book Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, but they are also available (for free, as of this writing) on Vanity Fair’s Web site. The articles have different titles than the chapters in the book, so there may have been some editing. And they’re long, so you may have to save them to Instapaper or Read It Later. Here they are:

Iceland: Wall Street on the Tundra
Greece: Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds
Ireland: When Irish Eyes Are Crying
Germany: It’s the Economy, Dummkopf!
California: California and Bust

Why Did the Wall Fall?

Twenty years ago today, the Berlin Wall came down. I don’t remember it. That is, I don’t remember it being a single cataclysmic event which I have a distinct recollection of hearing about, but I do remember hearing about it over and over for months. Perhaps I would have understood its significance more if I had not been 10 years old at the time.

Even if I don’t have a distinct memory of how significant it was, I am now aware of the various causes that people have attributed it to. I read an article today in the NY Times that talks about various answers to the question, “What made the Berlin Wall fall down?” (and what triggered the fall of communism throughout Eastern Europe?)

The article says that “different groups in different countries see the anniversary differently, usually from their own ideological points of view.” The two main points of view mentioned in the article are these:

1. The fall of Communism can be attributed to Ronald Reagan, with his “aggressive military spending and antagonism toward Communism.” Most people in the United States tend toward this view, according to the article.

2. On the other hand, most people in Europe don’t think that Communism fell because the West was hard – they think it happened because the East was soft. It was really Ostpolitik and West German TV that brought about the softening and eventual collapse.

I’m not going to argue for which of these is the correct interpretation. But as a Christian, I wonder: where is the spiritual interpretation of events? I don’t expect the New York Times to come forward with it, so here is a quote from a different article found on a Reuters blog called FaithWorld:

The many anniversary celebrations, documentaries and discussions now underway across Germany seem to focus mostly on how fearless street protesters and astute politicians pulled off the “peaceful revolution” that ended communism. Films and photos of dissidents packed into the Gethsemane Church in East Berlin or Leipzig’s St. Nicholas Church (Nikolaikirche), the leading houses of worship that sheltered them until the Wall opened, are among the trademark images. But those crowded “peace prayer” evenings were only the tip of the iceberg of behind-the-scenes work by pastors and lay people who considered it their Christian duty to promote civil rights and human dignity in a rigid communist society.

This article was about Christians in Germany. I have read a couple of biographies of Pope John Paul II, and I cannot help but think that the millions of Poles who greeted him on his official visit to Poland in 1979 with chants of “We want God!” had something to do with the fall of Communism in that country (Peggy Noonan wrote an article about it shortly after John Paul’s death in 2005).

When I lived in Hungary, I also learned about Jozsef Mindszenty, the head of the Hungarian Catholic Church and an adamant opponent of Communism.

And I read this in Revelation 8:3-5:

Another angel,​​ who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people,​​ on the golden altar​ before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God​​ from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar,​​ and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder,​​ rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.​

In other words, this passage teaches us that the prayers of God’s people are taken up, filled with fire, and hurled back onto the earth. How many people, both inside and outside of Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe, prayed for the end of Communism?

I don’t think that we will ever know beyond argument what caused the fall of the Berlin Wall. But in all of these debates about who or what caused Communism in Eastern Europe to end, let us not forget the prayers and efforts of thousands of Christians all over the world. They believed that each human being is made in the image of God, and they believed that that image was being squashed by Communism. Before we declare an unqualified victory for Reagan or militarism or Ostpolitik or anything else, let’s remember that.

An Overdose of Hungarian Culture

This story, about the “Hungarian Seabiscuit” (a horse named Overdose) made me smile.

But Overdose’s one setback may have done more to cement his reputation in Hungary than his dozen straight victories. At the prestigious Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp in Paris, Overdose appeared to win the premier sprint race with a time just shy of the 25-year-old course record.

But the seeming victory was nullified because a malfunctioning gate prevented one of the other horses from starting. Overdose’s team decided he had expended too much effort to be allowed to run again. His rival, Marchand D’Or, went on to win the race, and later the title of best European sprinter.

Tivadar Farkashazy, a Hungarian television commentator and journalist, compared the debacle to the Treaty of Trianon, signed in 1920 at Versailles, which whittled Hungarian territory down to a fraction of its size and remains a source of national outrage.

“Again the tough luck, again in France,” said Mr. Farkashazy, who has also written a book about the horse.

It is so appropriate that the Treaty of Trianon is mentioned. In Hungary today, you can walk around and see bumper stickers on cars that have an outline of Hungary – not the way it looks today, but the way it looked in 1914 – before that cursed Trianon!

Holy Crapstone

I love funny place names (like Hell, MI or Intercourse, PA, or even Valentines, VA), so naturally I loved this article from the NY Times on funny town and road names in the UK. Here it is, in full:

January 23, 2009
No Snickering: That Road Sign Means Something Else

CRAPSTONE, England — When ordering things by telephone, Stewart Pearce tends to take a proactive approach to the inevitable question “What is your address?”

He lays it out straight, so there is no room for unpleasant confusion. “I say, ‘It’s spelled “crap,” as in crap,’ ” said Mr. Pearce, 61, who has lived in Crapstone, a one-shop country village in Devon, for decades.

Disappointingly, Mr. Pearce has so far been unable to parlay such delicate encounters into material gain, as a neighbor once did.

“Crapstone,” the neighbor said forthrightly, Mr. Pearce related, whereupon the person on the other end of the telephone repeated it to his co-workers and burst out laughing. “They said, ‘Oh, we thought it didn’t really exist,’ ” Mr. Pearce said, “and then they gave him a free something.”

In the scale of embarrassing place names, Crapstone ranks pretty high. But Britain is full of them. Some are mostly amusing, like Ugley, Essex; East Breast, in western Scotland; North Piddle, in Worcestershire; and Spanker Lane, in Derbyshire.

Others evoke images that may conflict with residents’ efforts to appear dignified when, for example, applying for jobs.

These include Crotch Crescent, Oxford; Titty Ho, Northamptonshire; Wetwang, East Yorkshire; Slutshole Lane, Norfolk; and Thong, Kent. And, in a country that delights in lavatory humor, particularly if the word “bottom” is involved, there is Pratts Bottom, in Kent, doubly cursed because “prat” is slang for buffoon.

As for Penistone, a thriving South Yorkshire town, just stop that sophomoric snickering.

“It’s pronounced ‘PENNIS-tun,’ ” Fiona Moran, manager of the Old Vicarage Hotel in Penistone, said over the telephone, rather sharply. When forced to spell her address for outsiders, she uses misdirection, separating the tricky section into two blameless parts: “p-e-n” — pause — “i-s-t-o-n-e.”

Several months ago, Lewes District Council in East Sussex tried to address the problem of inadvertent place-name titillation by saying that “street names which could give offense” would no longer be allowed on new roads.

“Avoid aesthetically unsuitable names,” like Gaswork Road, the council decreed. Also, avoid “names capable of deliberate misinterpretation,” like Hoare Road, Typple Avenue, Quare Street and Corfe Close.

(What is wrong with Corfe Close, you might ask? The guidelines mention the hypothetical residents of No. 4, with their unfortunate hypothetical address, “4 Corfe Close.” To find the naughty meaning, you have to repeat the first two words rapidly many times, preferably in the presence of your fifth-grade classmates.)

The council explained that it was only following national guidelines and that it did not intend to change any existing lewd names.

Still, news of the revised policy raised an outcry.

“Sniggering at double entendres is a loved and time-honored tradition in this country,” Carol Midgley wrote in The Times of London. Ed Hurst, a co-author, with Rob Bailey, of “Rude Britain” and “Rude UK,” which list arguably offensive place names — some so arguably offensive that, unfortunately, they cannot be printed here — said that many such communities were established hundreds of years ago and that their names were not rude at the time.

“Place names and street names are full of history and culture, and it’s only because language has evolved over the centuries that they’ve wound up sounding rude,” Mr. Hurst said in an interview.

Mr. Bailey, who grew up on Tumbledown Dick Road in Oxfordshire, and Mr. Hurst got the idea for the books when they read about a couple who bought a house on Butt Hole Road, in South Yorkshire.

The name most likely has to do with the spot’s historic function as a source of water, a water butt being a container for collecting water. But it proved to be prohibitively hilarious.

“If they ordered a pizza, the pizza company wouldn’t deliver it, because they thought it was a made-up name,” Mr. Hurst said. “People would stand in front of the sign, pull down their trousers and take pictures of each other’s naked buttocks.”

The couple moved away.

The people in Crapstone have not had similar problems, although their sign is periodically stolen by word-loving merrymakers. And their village became a stock joke a few years ago, when a television ad featuring a prone-to-swearing soccer player named Vinnie Jones showed Mr. Jones’s car breaking down just under the Crapstone sign.

In the commercial, Mr. Jones tries to alert the towing company to his location while covering the sign and trying not to say “crap” in front of his young daughter.

The consensus in the village is that there is a perfectly innocent reason for the name “Crapstone,” though it is unclear what that is. Theories put forth by various residents the other day included “place of the rocks,” “a kind of twisting of the original word,” “something to do with the soil” and “something to do with Sir Francis Drake,” who lived nearby.

Jacqui Anderson, a doctor in Crapstone who used to live in a village called Horrabridge, which has its own issues, said that she no longer thought about the “crap” in “Crapstone.”

Still, when strangers ask where she’s from, she admitted, “I just say I live near Plymouth.”

Day 15 – Rome (part 2)

On Wednesday, June 18, we got up in Rome and had breakfast at the little cafe next to our B&B – a creme-filled croissant and a cappucino. My kind of breakfast. Then we were off to the major sight in Rome that was geographically closest to us: the Basilica of St. John Lateran. The nun who spoke to us the day before at the Pontifical North American College had recommended that we get to the papal audience a couple of hours early, like 8 a.m. But we decided that we would leave the best seats for the actual Catholics, and show up at around 10 for the 10:30 audience.

So at 8, instead of arriving in Vatican City, we were walking up to St. John Lateran. Of the four basilicas in Rome, it is oldest and ranks the highest. Even though the Pope lives right next to St. Peter’s in Vatican City, his cathedral church is this one – it’s older than St. Peter’s, and the popes even lived in a palace next door until 1309, when the papacy temporarily moved to Avignon, France.

As you can see, the weather was wonderful. And once we got inside, there were very few other people there. There were a few other tourists like us, and a few people who apparently were just stopping in to pray on their way to work. After being in crowded churches for most of our first day in Rome, this was a welcome change.

Even though the church is a very old one, its current construction is Baroque. One of my favorite things about it was the statues of apostles in the nave, like this one, of Philip:

Here is the papal cathedra, located in the apse:

Here is a picture of the nave, with the statues on either side:

After St. John Lateran, we hopped on the metro and went to Vatican City for the papal audience. Whenever he is in town, Benedict gives papal audiences every Wednesday morning. Tickets are free, and we got ours from the Pontifical North American College in Rome. This was the second papal audience I’d been to. The first one, on the trip to Rome when I was 15, was when John Paul II was pope. He was not feeling well at the time, so instead of coming down into the square, he appeared in the window of his apartments above the square and gave his lesson and blessing from there.

This time, it was different. At about 10:30, (the scheduled start time) lots of people began to stand up and look around for Benedict to appear. A few minutes later, he zoomed out from the left hand side of St. Peter’s in his Popemobile, waving and smiling. He goes through and around the crowd once or twice, but no one knows which way he’s going to go for security reasons. We didn’t have the best seats for seeing him when he came by (because we hadn’t gotten there at 8), and here is a picture I took from standing on my seat:

After that, though, his route around the square took him to the very back of the area designated for papal audience spectators. There weren’t many people back there, obviously, so I was able to head back and get a couple of much closer pictures:

After his trip around the square, he sat down under a canopy in front of St. Peter’s and proceeded with the audience. The scripture reading was from the book of Wisdom (sooooo Catholic), and the substance of his message dealt with the example of Isidore of Seville. He gave it first in Italian, then a shorter version of it in several different languages. I can’t remember exactly, but I think the order was German, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish. Do you want to read the whole thing? Of course you do. Here it is, courtesy of the Vatican Web site. We left after the English portion (and before the blessing of young people, sick people, newlyweds and objects), because we had a lot to do, beginning with the Vatican Museum.

The Vatican Museum is one of those museums that seems too big to do justice to in one day. I’ve never been to the Louvre, but I have been to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, and it took three visits before I felt like I had even seen everything. We couldn’t see everything in the Vatican Museum, so we had to make do with the highlights. We started off with the Pinacoteca (Art Museum), and got to see some great Raphael paintings as well as a Caravaggio, a da Vinci, and lots of other great stuff. Then we went to the Ancient Christian part of the museum, and saw a whole lotta tomb reliefs and a few statues. Then we wanted to see the Raphael Rooms, but couldn’t find them at first. We resigned ourselves to following the hordes of people surging toward the Sistine Chapel (the last thing anybody sees before they exit, and presumably the only thing many people come in to see)… We passed by a long corridor with maps on the wall, and a few other long corridors, and we were getting close to the end… But wait! Is that a sign for the Raphael Rooms? Why yes, it is!

So we went into these rooms, and this was really the highlight of the museum for me. This is a series of rooms that Raphael and his school painted frescoes in, and they weren’t crowded at all. The most famous of these frescoes was the one that he painted second, in the room that was once the library of Julius II. It’s called The School of Athens, and depicts Plato and Aristotle in the middle of a crowd of philosophers.

I couldn’t get a good shot of the whole thing head-on, but there are other pictures of it online.

After the Raphael Rooms, we went through the museum’s collection of modern religious art. I thought this was quite good, too, even though I don’t go in much for modern art. But the reason why I don’t go in much for modern art is because so much of it comes across as being so meaningless to me. If it has a religious theme, as these works did, it has a meaning, so I thought it was good. This is me, the art critic.

After that, we went into the Sistine Chapel. Beautiful, of course. But crowded. And the ceiling is high up, and the Last Judgment is too big to take in in less than a few minutes. When I was there, I was more impressed by thinking of all the papal enclaves that have taken place there over the years. But maybe that was because I’d seen the paintings before.

When we came out of the Sistine Chapel, we went through a long corridor back out of the museum, and stopped by the Archives.

Once out of the museum, we went back to St. Peter’s Square and got in line to go into St. Peter’s. I didn’t remember a line to get in when I was there before, but when we got to the front of the line we saw what the hold up was: security. Once through, we got to stroll on in. The lighting was particularly beautiful on account of the sun setting:

When we got back outside, I took another picture:

Before we went home on our last day before we flew back, we decided to swing by the Spanish Steps – just because they’re a big tourist stop in Rome. We did. There were a lot of people there. It was OK, but not my favorite part of the day. Perhaps I was just tired.

Day 14 – Rome (part 1)

This was the day we disembarked from the cruise ship – not at Rome, technically, but at Civitavecchia, a town on the coast. We ate breakfast, got off the ship, took a shuttle bus to the entrance of the port, and lugged our luggage up the street to the train station. We bought three tickets to the Termini station in Rome, and we were on our way in about an hour in a train packed with commuters and our fellow cruise ship passengers. We got to the train station, bought metro tickets, lugged our luggage down to the metro, and got to our B & B (at the Piazza Re di Roma, just south of the Basilica of St. John Lateran) without incident.

After dropping off our suitcases, we got right back out there to see as much Rome as we could in two days. Our first stop: a church whose name I unfortunately can’t remember. I will have to confer with my fellow travelers, but I am pretty sure that we were looking for a church that was built on the site of a house church from the early days of the Christian movement. I am also pretty sure that we didn’t find it, but went into this church instead. At any rate, I do remember our second stop: the Basilica of St. Peter in Chains. Why this one first, you ask? Well, it is centrally located, just north of the Colosseum. And it has a great horned statue of Moses by Michelangelo.

And of course, those chains, which are supposed to be the ones Peter was brought to Rome in:

We headed south toward the Colosseum, and stopped for lunch along the way. By the time we got there, it was raining:

It ended up raining on and off for the rest of the day, and it was pretty humid. After looking at the outside of the Colosseum, we went over to the Forum and tried to get inside. Turns out you had to get an expensive all-in-one ticket that included the Colosseum, the Forum and something else if you wanted to get in. I had already seen the inside of the Colosseum on a previous trip to Rome, and neither my dad nor Mary wanted to go inside all that badly (especially with the lines, and all we still wanted to do that day.) We ended up walking around and seeing all that we could see from the outside. And that was enough for us.

Then we walked up the Via dei Fori Imperiali (I don’t speak Italian, but I know what that means) northwest. We saw Trajan’s Column:

and we saw the (probably excessive) monument to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of united Italy:

We walked west from there and stopped by the Church of the Gesu, the mother church of the Jesuits:

We headed further west and a little north and stepped inside the Pantheon for a while:

and took a picture or two of the outside as well:

Then we headed west toward Piazza Navona and stopped in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, which is the French national church in Rome. It was designed by Giacomo della Porta, the same guy who raised the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica:

Then we continued on to Piazza Navona. As you can see, the weather was still a bit drab:

Then we turned back east. After stopping to refresh ourselves with some gelato, we went on to the
Church of St. Ignatius, known for its “false” (i.e., painted on the ceiling) dome. The first time I went to Rome, when I was 15, my mom and I sang in a pilgrimage choir sent by our local Catholic church. One evening, we performed a concert in this church.

Then we kept going east and stopped at the Pontifical North American College to pick up the tickets that we had reserved for the papal audience the next day. They were very kind and friendly to us, and a nun explained to us and a few others who were visiting how the weekly papal audiences usually worked. Mary put it well when she said later about our experience there: “This was the first place on our trip that I really felt welcomed.”

After our stop there, we turned north and went to the Trevi Fountain. Here is a cute couple standing in front of it:

And here were a few of the other people there:

Following our stop at the fountain, we decided to venture onto Rome’s bus system to see if we could make it to another church we wanted to see: St. Mary Major.

We didn’t find it. At least not right away. We got off the bus a few stops too soon, but we did get to see a church at Piazza della Republica that we would not have seen otherwise: St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs, which was designed by Michelangelo and placed within the ruins of the baths of Diocletian.

We did end up finding St. Mary Major, so we walked down there and got inside a few minutes before it closed for the night. There are often things you find out when you get inside one of these huge churches in Rome that you didn’t know before, and the one that we found out here was that Gianlorenzo Bernini is buried inside, to the right of the main altar.

After that, we were spent. We had dinner (pizza and pasta, of course) at a restaurant near Termini, then took the metro back to our B&B. In the evening, we enjoyed watching Italy’s soccer team play France in Euro 2008 on TV. Whenever anything good happened for Italy, you could hear shouting and horns honking up and down the street. Since Italy won that game, there were horns honking well into the night.

As you can see, we did a lot that day. If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this post, I commend you.

Day 13 – Naples

After our day at sea, the ship docked at Naples on the morning of June 16. We had signed up for our fourth and final shore excursion this day – a trip that involved Pompeii, a stop at a cameo company, lunch at a pizzeria, and a trip to the National Archaeological Museum (at least the Naples branch of it; I’m not sure whether there are more elsewhere in Italy).

In the morning, we had breakfast at the pool at the back of the ship, as was our custom. In this picture you can see a bit of Naples in the background.

Then we went down to the Princess Theater to wait for our tour to begin, as usual. One thing about the speedy tour boarding process that I didn’t mention when I talked about it before (Day 6) was the entertaining Shore Excursion Manager who dismissed us from the theater. He was a Mexican guy who could not stand still; he roamed around the theater with a microphone and said things like:

“Ladies, if your husband isn’t here yet, take the man on your other side. It’s time to go. Too bad for him.”

“Santorini is beautiful. I’m going there for my next honeymoon, I guarantee.”

Once we were on the bus, we rode with our tour guide south of the city, past Mt. Vesuvius, to Pompeii. We were at Pompeii for a few hours, and didn’t get a chance to see the whole city. But we saw a lot of it, and this is just one of those tradeoffs you make when you sign up for a tour.

Of course, the fascinating thing about Pompeii is that it was destroyed by an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, and everyday life was going on in the city up until the moment of the eruption. So it is remarkably well-preserved. For instance, you can see speed bumps in the roads (note the ruts from chariot wheels as well):

There are also bodies of those who were encased in lava during the eruption – like this one, laying on the table in the middle of the picture:

Someone pointed out to our tour guide that the bodies looked very small. She said that Romans had an average height that was much shorter than most people today. Julius Caesar, she noted, was only about 5 feet tall.

Our guide also showed us the difference between houses and shops (shops had a groove in the doorway for a sliding door), and pointed out several ancient fast food joints, which all had these bowls in the counter tops next to the street:

Here is our guide in a bakery, with an oven to the left of the picture. There were several pieces of bread found in this oven when it was excavated (they weren’t edible anymore, in case you were wondering):

After we left Pompeii, our tour bus stopped at a company that makes cameos. Cameos were, according to our tour guide, invented in Naples (or at least the Naples region). I knew very little about cameos before we got there. I didn’t even know that they were made from seashells. Mary, recognizing a good gift when she saw one, bought three: one for her mom, one for her sister, and one for her:

Following the stop at the cameo company, we drove all around Naples to get to the pizzeria where we ate our very own Neapolitan “pizza pie” (as our tour guide called it at least a dozen times during our tour). The pizza was also invented in Naples. In addition to saying “pizza pie” so many times, she also would often begin her sentences with “all’ora, ladies and gentlemen…” We asked her at the end of the tour what “all’ora” (sp?) meant, and she said it meant, “and now…” Mary and I now sometimes begin our sentences to one another with this phrase.

Our final stop for the tour was the National Archaeological Museum, which has lots of art unearthed from the surrounding area, especially Pompeii. One of the most fascinating things (to me) that they had there was the Alexander Mosaic, which was found in the House of the Faun in Pompeii (the House of the Faun is named for a statue of a dancing faun that was found there). Copies of both the faun and the mosaic are in Pompeii, while the originals were relocated to the museum. Here is the whole mosaic, which depicts a battle between Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia:

Here is a detail of Darius, who looks worried:

Following the tour, we returned to the ship and looked around as we sailed away. Here is a picture of Vesuvius. I don’t care whether it IS one of the most closely observed volcanoes in the world; I still wouldn’t build my house that close.

Day 12 – At Sea

The twelfth day of our trip was a good way to relax and catch our breath before our last two stops of Naples and Rome. From Dubrovnik to Santorini, we had had eight straight days of running around ports and trying to do and see as much as possible. But I don’t regret running around at all. I was amazed to talk to some of the other people on the ship, and find that they had been on cruises of the Mediterranean before, and they had been to all of the other ports before except for, say, Dubrovnik. So they took a WHOLE CRUISE just to go to one more port. One couple we met said that they were probably going to stay on board ship while we were in Athens, because they had been there before. STAY ON THE SHIP?! In ATHENS?!?!?!?! This boggled my mind.

During the day at sea, everyone was on the ship, and there was a lot available to do. The first thing we did in the morning was go to an interdenominational worship service in the Explorer’s Lounge. Let me say, first, that I enjoyed the service. We sang some great hymns, and it was good to be gathered together with God’s people wherever you are. But going to seminary can ruin a worship service in a way, since it can make you more inclined to view the service with a critical eye – thinking about where the liturgy came from or what the pastor studied in preparation for the sermon instead of merely being led in worship. Although, as I said, I did appreciate the service, my critical eye wants to point out that this is probably the only worship service I have ever been to that was a combination of the Book of Common Prayer and inspirational forwarded e-mails. But I’ve got to give credit where credit is due: the assistant cruise director, who led the service, is not trained as a pastor, and has obviously not chosen to follow the vocation of a pastor. For someone in that position, I think he did a fine job.

After the service, Mary and I went to a cooking demonstration in the Princess Theater, given by Princess’ head chef. This guy was amazing, and he could easily have his own cooking show.

And he was funny, too. Here are a couple of quotes that I remember:

“Don’t buy olive oil that costs less than $10. That’s not olive oil. It’s jippy loob. You know jippy loob? It’s what you put in you car.”

“Never trust a skinny cook.”

After the cooking demonstration, everyone in the audience was invited to walk through the kitchen in one of the evening dining rooms to see what it looked like (and to get a chance to buy the chef’s book at the end). The kitchen? I’ve never seen that much stainless steel at one time in my life. Andrew Carnegie would be proud.

In the afternoon, we relaxed, ate, and read our books on deck. I went to a lecture in the late afternoon on Broadway musicals in the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s. It was informative for someone like me who didn’t know a whole lot about Broadway musicals. I’m not sure about anyone else. After the lecture, we all went to the fitness center, which is a good place to work out. It’s on deck 16 and you can look out on the water, so you can’t beat the view.

Before dinner that night, we went to a cocktail party in Club Fusion for two groups of people: frequent cruisers and Princess employees (like me!). The first category was by far the larger, and the gathering was really for them. The captain greeted us, we had some drinks (I had a screwdriver, and I’m not really sure how it became green. But it was good), and there were recognitions of the people who had been cruising the most. It’s something to shoot for someday, but I won’t be mentioned in the same sentence as these people until I’ve gone on over 20 cruises. On second thought, maybe I’ll shoot for something else.

After that, we had dinner at Da Vinci’s, and it was our second formal night. Here are a few pictures of us all dressed up:

Then Mary and I watched “The Golden Compass” on deck. I’d avoided seeing it in the theater, mostly because of my policy of not encouraging Philip Pullman or those who would like to make movies out of his books. (I wrote about this earlier, when the movie came out.) Now that I’ve seen it, I must say that I didn’t think it was that great anyway.