A Trip To Remember – Part 8 of 8

This is the last in my series of posts from my family’s trip to Italy with the St. Mary’s of the Lake Choir from Skaneateles, NY. If you’d like to check out the earlier posts, you can find them by clicking these links – PART1PART2PART3PART4PART5PART6, PART7

This last post reflects on the last day of the trip, but also on the trip overall. It was such a wonderful experience and something that my family will never forget.

This post covers our last full day in Italy as well as the trip home on July 4th.

Father Bob’s word of the day, appropriate for Venice as a city of canals, was anchor. He said that Christ should be an anchor in our lives.

We started the day in Venice with a trip to the Murano Glass Factory. There we were privileged to watch one of the glass blowing artists create amazing pieces including a replica of the famous Ferrari horse emblem.


We then toured the shopping area and learned more about the glass pieces that were quite beautiful and quite expensive. Knowing my family’s propensity for clumsiness, I was content to find a quiet corner to sit in as I feared that walking around too much might result in unfortunate, and expensive, accidents.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures of video of the original glass work.

We then returned to the boat and left the island of Murano and boarded our boat bound for main island of Venice. We disembarked and began a walking tour of the city with a local guide.

The many sites of the city were quite breathtaking.

The Bridge of Sighs:

One of the highlights of the tour was seeing The Bridge of Sighs.  The enclosed bridge is made of white limestone, has windows with stone bars, passes over the Rio di Palazzo, and connects the New Prison to the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace. It was  built in 1600.

The view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment. The bridge was named given by Lord Byron as a translation from the Italian “Ponte dei sospiri” in the 19th century. the name comes from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells.

Bridge of SighsBridge of Sighs

St. Mark’s Square:

The tour culminated in St. Mark’s square with a tour of the church that we would later sing at a mass at the church, but had the opportunity to tour it first.

The first St. Mark’s was a building next to the Doge’s Palace in 828, when Venetian merchants stole the relics of Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria, and completed by 832. The church was burned in a rebellion in 976 and restored or rebuilt in 978.  In 1063 the present basilica was constructed.

St. Marks

IMG_4663After touring the baslica, we had time for shopping and eating lunch. we were privileged to have Father Bob join us. This was when we realized what a long and busy trip. It definitely affected Lillie who took an opportunity to nap after lunch.


Gondola Ride:

Just before it was time to meet for mass, our guide, Rita, scheduled several groups of six to take a gondola ride. This was a bucket item list for many of us and we were happy to check it off the list. For those of you thinking that it will be a romantic experience, you have to temper your expectations.

The first thing that struck me was the odor coming from the water. It’s not pleasant. The second thing was, even though Venice has many beautiful sites, some of the minor canals pass buildings that are run down and in need of repair. Overall, however, it was fun to do this as a family group.

Mass at St. Mark’s Basilica:

While we were preparing for the mass at St. Marks, it was a bit of a strange scenario. Mass was scheduled for 7PM and, in the square, sound checks for an upcoming concert by the Italian artist, Zuchero, were taking place. This consisted of loud instrumental and vocal music that echoed through the church.

The choir sat in the grotto beneath the main altar where St. Mark is entombed to reflect before the mass with the sound of drums pounding in the background. Amazingly, the sound check stopped just before 7PM and we enjoyed singing at our last mass of the trip.

After the mass, we enjoyed dinner at yet another great restaurant. Our guide mentioned that Venice is known for Risotto. I tried it and was not disappointed. It was the perfect last dinner for a perfect trip. We were fortunate to dine with a large group and the fellowship was enjoyable.

The Journey Home:

The next morning was a hectic mixture of checking out, heading to the airport, going through customs and boarding the plane for home. This group that we had traveled with for the past week was headed home. The flight back to New York’s JFK airport was well ahead of schedule and we were able to return to Jacksonville on the evening of July 4th instead of staying overnight and returning on the 5th as planned.

It was great to get home, but we will always remember this trip.

Thank Yous:

I am going to attempt to call out some people that made this trip extra special for my family and I. I hope I don’t miss anyone, but if I do, please know that the group collectively made this trip very enjoyable.

Lynda and John Parsons:

italyI have known my wife’s sister, Lynda for about 34 years and her husband, John for over 30 years. They are truly family and we have shared many memories with them. It was just over a year ago that Lynda told us about this trip and we immediately wished that we could share the experience. Well, she made it happen and my wife, Caryn, my daughter, Lillie, and my father-in-law, Mike Shurr were able to share in this pilgrimage and build lasting memories.

During the trip, we hung out with Lynda and John quite a bit and enjoyed many laughs, some tears of joy and even a lesson on crossing ourselves from Lynda.

We love you guys and thank you, once again, for including us.

Mickey and Janet Kringer:


During various trips to Skaneateles to visit John and Lynda Parsons, we had the privilege of hearing the choir at St. Mary’s of the Lake. The effort and the expertise that goes into a top notch community/parish choir is something I am familiar with as our little band of singers puts together the 5:15 mass at our own church each week.

The St. Mary’s Choir is the ultimate expression of what church music should sound like. As we got to know Mickey and his family, they are one of the most talented groups of people that i have ever encountered. When you couple that with Mickey’s patience and calmness under pressure, it is  winning combination.

I am just a piano player with a lounge lizard voice (if you heard karaoke) and I am truly grateful for Mickey’s willingness to allow us to infiltrate the choir. We did our best to fit in and improved greatly by the end of the trip. I will take some of the things I learned back to my own choir.

Mickey Lord:

mickey lMickey Lord was the organizer, the caretaker and the photographer of this trip. Many of the pictures I used in these posts (due to my lost cell phone on day 3) came from the wonderful slide show that Mickey put together. This trip was her baby and it became a beautiful child for those of us that participated.

Her quick thinking rescued the trip to Rome allowing us to return and tour the unforgettable St. Peter’s Basilica when it seemed we would miss it.

She was always there to make sure the group was all present and in the right lines at the right time. With a group of this size, it was pretty impressive. I’m glad to consider Mickey a new friend.

Daniel Kringer:

danielMr. Energy. Mr. Talent. These are only a couple of terms to describe this young man. Daniel had a large part in preparing the choir for this trip and his love for music that is evident as he conducts and performs with the group are evident. I learned a good amount about singing in a choir from Daniel in a short period of time.

He is a young man with a lot of knowledge and talent and I look forward to seeing what his future holds.

Father Bob Weber:

IMG_4385Each day, we learned more and more from and about Father Bob. I had the opportunity to speak to him one-on-one a few times and it was a true pleasure. Father Bob made the experience of the masses that we celebrated come through. He celebrated or co-celebrated all of them, even allowing my daughter to be an alter server for some. His words of the day were inspiring and grounded. I hope to see more of Father Bob in the future.

Anna Egert:

Anna is a fellow keyboardist so I had a special affinity for her. Her abilities and talent are plentiful which was evident as she was challenged with different varieties of keyboards from the four keyboard pipe organ at St. Peter’s Basilica to the piano in Assisi and finally, the glorified electronic keyboard at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

Her ability to make them all sound wonderful and to give the choir a solid foundation of accompaniment deserve recognition. I have a great deal of admiration for her.


ritaRita was a fountain of energy. She was our tour guide, counselor, advisor, coordinator and head of logistics. Her knowledge and the love of what she does came through every day. She laughed with us (and probably at us) keeping the trip enjoyable. She has a very large job, but kept a positive demeanor throughout. I will miss her saying “allora” at the beginning of each day’s travel.


diegoDiego was more than a bus driver. He was punctual to a fault, he made sure all of our luggage was on board every time we left a location (at the expense of his own luggage which he left in Florence). We really appreciated him on the day he was off and our plans fell behind as his substitute was not as punctual. He also made sure he was waiting for us at the end of each day with the air conditioning running and cold water in his cooler. He is very good at his job, but also a nice person with endless patience.

My Family:


carynCaryn, my wife, is my partner in all things and has been for the past 34 years. She was all in for this trip even when it seemed like it was not a good idea financially.  We had fun and shared memories that add to our rich time together. She is a trooper and endured the heat and a swollen ankle to power through each day of walking on this trip. It was just another adventure for us that we will remember always.

Mike Shurr:

shurrI have known this man for 34 years and he is not only my father-in-law, he is the person I aspire to be if I ever grow up. He turned 81 on the last day of our trip and was the oldest person that was part of the group. You would never know it, however, as his energy and enthusiasm seemed endless. This is no surprise for anyone that knows him as this is how he approaches life. He was the biggest proponent of joining this pilgrimage and I was glad to have him with us.


What can I say about Lillie. She is our travel buddy. In her ten years of life she has traveled all over the U.S. and now to Italy. She was the youngest person on this trip, but her personality and love of life let her fit in with the group. Her first two days were mired in jet lag and an upset stomach so I made a promise to her not to try gelato until she felt better. By day 3, she was back to herself and we made up for lost time having gelato at least once per day (if not more). Lillie met many new friends and had the privilege of acting as an altar server in some of the oldest and most beautiful churches in the world. I hope this was just one of many adventures I will share with this beautiful, smart young lady.

A Trip to Remember – Part 7 of 8

This is the seventh in my series of posts from my family’s trip to Italy with the St. Mary’s of the Lake Choir from Skaneateles, NY. If you’d like to check out the earlier posts, you can find them by clicking these links – PART1PART2PART3PART4PART5, PART6

Padua (Padova)

Father Bob’s word of the day was belong. He reminded us that we all belong to God and should reach out to people and invite them in to church.

Padua is a city and in the province of Veneto in northern Italy. It is also the economic and communications hub of the area with a population around 214,000

Padua is on the Bacchiglione River, 25 miles west of Venice and has the University of Padua, founded in 1222, where Galileo Galilei was a lecturer.

We were surprised at how picturesque the city is with large communal piazze, and many bridges crossing the various branches of the river.

Padua is the setting for most of the action in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.

Piazza and Basilica of St. Anthony

We learned that Padua is heavily influenced by Saint Anthony. He was born Fernando Martins de Bulhões (15 August 1195 – 13 June 1231) in Portugal and was a Catholic priest and friar of the Franciscan Order. He was born and raised by a wealthy family in Lisbon, Portugal, and died in Padua. Noted by his contemporaries for his powerful preaching, expert knowledge of scripture, and undying love and devotion to the poor and the sick, he was one of the most quickly canonized saints in church history.  He is also the patron saint of lost things.

The Scrovegni Chapel

The Scrovegni Chapel  contains a fresco paintings by Giotto that were completed in about 1305 and are considered to be an important masterpiece of Western art. They are the first religious paintings of this type to show emotion and the illusion of three dimensions.


Giotto and his team covered all the internal surfaces of chapel with frescos, including the walls and the ceiling. The largest part are extensive panels showing the Life of Christ and the Life of the Virgin. The wall at the rear of the church, through which the chapel is entered, has a large Last Judgement. There are also panels showing the Vices and Virtues.

This was one of the hidden gems of the trip. The paintings in this chapel were painstakingly restored and the environment is heavily controlled only allowing a limited number of visitors that have to go through a ‘cooling down’ period before entering.



A Trip to Remember – Part 6 of 8

This is the sixth in my series of posts from my family’s trip to Italy with the St. Mary’s of the Lake Choir from Skaneateles, NY. If you’d like to check out the earlier posts, you can find them by clicking these links – PART1PART2PART3PART4, PART5


me 40sAfter the simplicity and calm of Assisi, we found ourselves in Florence. The Grand Mediterraneo Hotel was located on a busy street and we were roused from our drowsy state of mind after the bus ride from Assisi to frantically search for luggage. Then we had to take the tiny European elevators to our floors. The elevators said that they held six. As my ten year old daughter, Lillie, and I struggled to cram ourselves and four bags into the elevator, we wondered how small those six people had to be to fit.

At any rate, we got checked in and braced ourselves for the long walking tour scheduled for the next day around Florence. Florence is the capital of the Tuscany region of Italy. It has nearly 400,000 residents. It’s less crowded and frenetic than Rome, but only slightly so.

Our word of the day, as we ventured out, was simple. Father Bob, once again, shared words of wisdom with us and a prayer before we started out day in Florence.

Galleria Dell’Accademia Di Firenze:


TheGalleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, or Gallery of the Academy of Florence, is best known as the home of Michelangelo’s sculpture David. It also has other sculptures by Michelangelo and a large collection of paintings by Florentine artists, mostly from the period 1300-1600. In 2016 it had 1,461,185 visitors, making it the second most visited art museum in Italy, after the Uffizi. The Galleria dell’Accademia was founded in 1784.

Michelangelo’s David:

This sculpture is definitely the highlight of the museum. It’s an imposing figure with incredible detail. David is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture created in marble between 1501 and 1504 started when Michelangelo was only 26. It is 17 feet in height made from a single block of marble.

What struck me was the painstaking detail, but, when you look at the hands and feet of the statue, they don’t seem to fit the rest of the statue both in size and aesthetic. The guide told us that, because of the time it took to create the details of hands and feet, it was likely that Michelangelo used his own appendages as the models for David’s mismatched features. Michelangelo was known to have unusually large hands and feet. When researching this post, however, there are other various reasons cited for the large appendages. For instance, it is speculated that Michelangelo knew that the statue would be viewed from below. Another explanation is that the immense right hand is a reference to David’s manu fortis or strong hand. Yet another explanation is that the statue is a stylized account of a growing boy’s ungainly limbs.

Of course, there were many other beautiful works in the museum including some unfinished statues from Michelangelo that were emerging from single blocks of marble that gave a glimpse into how his sculptures were created.

An Unscripted Rest:

After the Gallery, a nearly seven mile walking tour of Florence was planned. My wife and I, along with her sister and her husband, saw this as a good time to break away from the group and head back to the hotel for a rest. With the five of us (including my daughter), it was impossible to find a cab that would take all of us and Uber didn’t operate in Florence.

We decided to take the 15 minute walk back to the hotel. It afforded us some additional views of the city and allowed us to do some shopping in a leather store. This turned out to be just the recharging activity that we needed in preparation for our evening concert and mass. We took naps and my wife, Caryn, and my daughter, Lillie, went on a short shopping (and gelato) venture.

Basilica San Marco – Florence:

On this evening in Florence, we were able to participate in a mini-concert and mass at the Bailica San Marco (the 2nd of three churches dedicated to St. Mark that we would visit and perform in on this trip).

basilica san marco frontThe church has a single nave with side chapels designed in the late 16th century  and paintings from the 16th–17th centuries. A further renovation was carried on in 1678 and the current façade was built in 1777–1778.

The five of us that rested at the hotel arrived a bit early to find a man in a priest’s cassock, a sporty hat and vibrant blue glasses rehearsing with a few of the churches choir members. What struck us was the acoustics in this old church along with the strength of the voices.

It turned out that this choir would be assisting us with the mass parts and the man rehearsing them was the charming and appreciative priest that, along with our own Father Bob, would be celebrating the mass. It was at his request that we did a mini-concert prior to the mass.

Concert poster - Basilica San Marco

Basilica san marco - choir

The experience was a special one. The priest from this church had a deep appreciation for music which was apparent as he thanked and shook hands with every choir member after mass. The church’s choir was also very friendly and appreciative. It was an experience that shows how music transcends culture and language.

Florence was a great city, but we would only be staying the night before heading off to our next adventure.

A Trip to Remember – Part 5 of 8

IMG_4356This is the fifth in my series of posts from my family’s trip to Italy with the St. Mary’s of the Lake Choir from Skaneateles, NY. If you’d like to check out the earlier posts, you can find them by clicking these links – PART1PART2PART3, PART4

The word for today, as we made the two hour journey northward from Rome to Assisi was Open. As Father Bob continued his series of talks based on these words, I had no idea the profound impact learning about St. Francis and St. Clare would have on me and how appropriate this word of the day was.

Italian Olive Tree.jpgItalian Olive Tree

The scenery during this trip was beautiful. The rolling hills and mountains of central Italy, with intermittent towns nestled among them, was captivating. We saw many olive trees and we learned some interesting facts about the trees and olives of Italy.

Unlike other countries like Spain and Argentina, Italy prunes their olive trees. As a result, they yield superior olives and their trunks become very large in girth. There are trees in that are over 1,000 years old and the olive oil they produce is superior to that of other countries. It is rare to find real Italian olive oil in the U.S. I checked our containers of olive oil when we got home and, sure enough, my imported oil was from Argentina and Spain.

Our arrival in Assisi was in a bus parking lot at the bottom of a sizable hill. Assisi is a city of hills with just over 28,000 residents. It’s most famous resident and the reason that it is a destination for Catholics is St. Francis.

I thought I knew a bit about St. Francis, but I was surprised by the things I did not know. First of all, his name was not Francis. It was actually Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone. He was informally named Francesco, or ‘the little Frenchman’ because of his diminutive stature and his mother’s French heritage.

His family was quite wealthy and he lived a privileged life as a young man in Assisi. It was only after a brief military career and imprisonment that Francis searched for meaning in his life and turned his back on his wealthy roots.

San Damiano CrossSan Damiano Crucifix

One of the profound events that Francis reportedly experienced was a message from God through the Cross of San Damiano, which hangs in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. The crucifix told him to rebuild God’s church. He took this literally, at first, repairing the local church building, but then realized it was a metaphor for rebuilding faith which was beginning to wain among the population at that period in history. Francis inspired many and this new look into his origins and history were inspirational.

We had the privilege of holding a private mass in one of the chapels in Assisi. Again, Father Bob officiated and my daughter, Lillie, and my father in law, Mike, were able to participate as altar server and lector.


Another figure we learned about in Assisi was St. Clare. She was an admirer and follower of St. Francis during his lifetime. She founded the Order of Poor Ladies, a monastic religious order for women in the Franciscan tradition, and wrote their Rule of Life, the first set of monastic guidelines known to have been written by a woman. Following her death, the order she founded was renamed in her honor as the Order of Saint Clare, commonly referred to today as the Poor Clares.

Bailica of St ClareBasilica of St. Clare

Of all of the places we visited in Italy, Assisi would be a place I would choose to live. The views are breathtaking. The atmosphere is one of a simple lifestyle and the history is incredible. It was a stark contrast from the frantic activity and clash of multiple styles of architecture in Rome.



A Trip to Remember – Part 4 of 8

This is the fourth in my series of posts from my family’s trip to Italy with the St. Mary’s of the Lake Choir from Skaneateles, NY. If you’d like to check out the earlier posts, you can find them by clicking these links – PART1PART2, PART3

Word of the Day:

Father Bob started us off with his word of the day which was Communicate. It was an appropriate word as we set off for the Vatican to join people from all over the world in a common form of communication through the mass that would be celebrated.

Mass for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul at the Vatican

programProgram book

On this day we returned to the Vatican in the morning for a mass celebrating the feast days of Saints Peter and Paul. The level of pomp and circumstance, and security, was at a much higher level than two days prior for our audience with the Pope.

We were given program books for this mass (Pictured above) that announced the names of the newly promoted archbishops and had the music and readings for the mass. During this mass, the choir from St. Mary’s of the Lake did its best to join the Sistine Chapel choir in singing the parts of the mass. The interesting thing about it was that the music was in the notation that was used for Gregorian Chant. I hadn’t seen this since my days in music school.


The mass itself was incredible. There was an orchestra accompanying the singing. A young boy with a voice as clear as a bell sang the responsorial psalm. Then, when it was time for communion, an army of priests descended on the square and gave communion to the thousands that were gathered for the mass. It was a powerful experience.

Calling and Audible – Back to St. Peter’s Basilica

After the disappointment of missing a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica because of the early closure on the previous day, our fellow pilgrim, Mickey Lord, called us together for a quick group meeting. We were to tour multiple other basilicas around Rome on this day, but she asked if we would rather forego two of the three basilicas in favor of touring St. Peter’s. The group agreed unanimously to do this. It was a good call.

The church itself is breathtaking. Again, the influence of Michelangelo is everywhere from the famous dome to one of his most famous works, the Pieta. pieta

The Basilica of St. Mary Major (Our Lady of the Snows)

This basilica is one of the oldest and most important shrines in the world dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In fact, it was said to be built at her request.

According to tradition, a Roman Patrician, Giovanni and his wife, were childless and prayed to the Blessed Mother that she would designate an heir for them to bequeath their wealth. They had a vision in which the Blessed Mother told them that she wished to have a church built in her honor on the Esquiline Hill and the sign to verify this dream the prospective layout of the church would be outlined in snow. This in the month of August.

When Giovanni approached his friend, Pope Liberius, with this news he was amazed to find out that on the night of August 4th, 352, the Virgin Mary had appeared to Pope Liberius (352-366) as well. She said a miraculous snowfall would occur that would outline where the church was to be built in her honor.

The next day August 5th, snow indeed did fall on the Esquiline Hill in Rome in the middle of a heat wave. The people staked off the outline of the future Basilica before the snow could melt. Pope Liberius immediately ordered the basilica to be built. The event provided us with one of Our Lady’s oldest titles, Our Lady of the Snows.

This church had beautiful artwork and also had a relic that was wood from the manger in which the newborn Jesus was laid.

The Trevi Fountain and The Spanish Steps:

We were on our own for a bit and ventured around Rome to two other famous landmarks. First, was the Trevi fountain. The fountain has appeared in several notable films, including Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, the eponymous Three Coins in the Fountain, and Roman Holiday. 

The Spanish Steps are a set of steps  climbing a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, dominated by the Trinità dei Monti church at the top.



A Trip to Remember – Part 3 of 8

This is the third in my series of posts from my family’s trip to Italy with the St. Mary’s of the Lake Choir from Skaneateles, NY. If you’d like to check out the earlier posts, you can find them by clicking these links – PART1, PART2.


The Vatican Museums:

Day 3 was intended for us to visit the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and finish with a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica. We had sung in the Basilica the night before for solemn mass, but didn’t get to see the entire church.

Well, man plans and God laughs. For the first couple of days, our tour bus driver, Diego, was a reliable as can be. He was on time and breaking his neck loading and unloading our luggage. He was able to squeeze the bus into places that were unbelievable and was always pleasant.

IMG_4232This happened to be Diego’s day off. Our substitute driver, Gianni, was not as reliable as Diego and we did not board the bus until nearly an hour later than planned. This was the first of many events that snowballed into a day that didn’t meet expectations at first.

On a positive note, this was the first day that the priest that was traveling with us, Father Robert Weber, gave us a little inspiration with the first of his ‘word of the day’ talks. This day’s word was Determination. Father Bob gave us some personal anecdotes related to the word and then finished with a prayer.

Sculpture on the Museums of VaticanWhen we arrived at the Vatican Museums, there was already a snaking line that seemed to go on forever. We did our best to stick together as our guide, Rita, led us around the crowd and to the entry of the museums.

Once there we were split into two groups and assigned guides. The guide for our group was fantastic. He was an American named Erik who was a college professor and archaeologist that has lived in Rome for several years with the exception of spending time in Austria to earn his PhD. His knowledge was vast and I could have spent hours listening to him speak about the items in the museums.

Unfortunately, the museums were ridiculously crowded and, to top it off, St. Peter’s was closing at noon in anticipation of the next day’s feast of St. Peter and St. Paul and the attendance of a large group of cardinals.

We rushed through the museums in a crowd that was so dense that we were often pushed along. Luckily our guide was quite tall and easy to spot as he tried to corral the 20 of us through the hoards of people.

One of the highlights just before we arrived at the Sistine Chapel was a painting by Raphael, who along with Michelangelo, was commissioned to do extensive work in the Vatican. Apparently, they were competitive with each other and he couldn’t resist depicting his rival in a painting in one of the rooms.Raphael - Michelangelo

The man in blue sitting on the steps is Raphael’s depiction of Michelangelo.

The Sistine Chapel:

By the time we reached The Sistine Chapel, the crowd was becoming hard to deal with. We were literally pushed through the chapel to the exit with little time to gaze at the ceiling. On the way to the Chapel, our guide explained that Michelangelo was approached six times by Pope Julius. Michelangelo refused. He hated painting and did not want the task. The seventh time, troops were sent to retrieve Michelangelo and, in the words of our guide, they made him ‘an offer he couldn’t refuse.’ From 1508  until 1512 he worked on he ceiling under the conditions that he would paint what he wanted and the Pope could not see it until it was finished.

Pope Julius did not like the finished result, but before he could have it destroyed, he died.

The painting in the chapel were restored in 1994 and this resulted in some controversy. I saw it in 1978 and the paintings were dark and dirty due to hundreds of years of candle and oil lamp usage. The restoration resulted in very bright paintings and vivid colors.

before and afterA portion of the restored Sistine Chapel paintings – before and after.

By the time we got through the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s was closed for the day. It appeared we would not get to see the church after all. With slight disappointment, we went back to the hotel to rest and prepare for a mass and concert at the Basilica San Marco in Rome.

The Basilica San Marco Evangelista Al Campidoglio:

IMG_0939Next on our schedule for Day 3 was a rehearsal for our concert at the Basilica San Marco in Rome. San Marco is a minor basilica in Rome dedicated to St. Mark the Evangelist located in the small Piazza di San Marco adjoining Piazza Venezia. It was first built in 336 by Pope Mark, whose remains are in an urn located below the main altar.

Once we practiced, it was time to grab a quick bite. For us, it was a gelato run (the first of many). The choir area in the church was quite stunning as you can see below:

choir at mass - san marco

The mass was memorable as Father Bob celebrated with the resident priest and he asked my daughter, Lillie to be an altar server and my father-in-law to be the lecter.


The amazing thing about this church was the acoustics. While the original church was built by then, Pope Mark in 226, the current iteration is not exactly new, built from 1735-50. When the choir finished a piece, you could hear the notes resonate around the church for a second or two afterward.

Surprisingly, there was a good-sized local crowd in attendance for the concert and it was very enjoyable to participate in. It made the earlier disappointment of the day seem very minor in comparison.

Concert - san marco

A very exhausted choir walked back to the bus in a misty rain and reflected on the day and the trip so far. We had sung at St. Peter’s, attended an audience with the Pope, and had sung in an ancient church with great acoustics. Not bad so far with several days left in this memorable trip.


A Trip to Remember – Part 2 of 8

This is the second in my series of posts from my family’s trip to Italy with the St. Mary’s of the Lake Choir from Skaneateles, NY. If you’d like to check out the first post, you can find it HERE.

Audience with Pope Francis: The Vatican

IMG_0937Day 2 of the trip found us a bit more rested in Rome but with a big day ahead of us. The day started with an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican. We were there with many other pilgrims on a beautiful cloudless morning.

One of the things that struck me as different from my trip to the Vatican 40 years ago was the presence of chairs in St. Peter’s Square. I remember standing to see the Pope on my last trip and this was a welcome surprise.

The group of people in attendance included groups from all over the world with marching bands, other choirs and church groups.

As we waited for the Pope to arrive, we were shown a live video feed of him in another building within the Vatican meeting with athletes from the Special Olympics and other groups of disabled. He took the time to shake hands and visit with many of them personally. We were a bit confused into thinking this was a recording, but it was not. He got into his vehicle when he was done and was in St. Peter’s Square within minutes.

The excitement was quite palpable as his vehicle carried him around the square. His movement stopped every so often so he could reach out and bless babies that were brought to him. His charisma and magnetism were very evident.


Before the pope delivered his message, each of the groups were welcomed in their native language. He then delivered his message in Italian to the crowd. Even though my Italian is a bit rusty, he spoke clearly enough that I caught some of the messages that he delivered.

One passage in particular was profound:

“Christian life is first and foremost a freely given response to a generous Father. Christians who follow only their “duties” complain of not having a personal experience with that God Who is “ours”. I must do this, this and this… Only duties. But something is missing! What is the foundation of this duty? The foundation of this duty is the love of God the Father, Who first gives, then commands. To place the law before the relationship does not help the path of faith. “

It was quite the experience. One of the sadder aspects of life in and around the Vatican are the many poor that seek out donations from the Christian pilgrims as the mill around. We saw people ranging from the physically disabled to a young mother with a baby attached to her breast walking around asking for handouts.

A danger in the area are the people that our guide referred to as “Gypsies”. These are generally well-dressed young women working in teams. You can spot them because they will often have one or more of their hands covered as they seek to distract and relieve tourists of valuables. We saw some individuals that fit this description and made sure to avoid walking near them.

The term “Gypsy” is a generic stereotype that is used disparagingly in Europe. Gypsies as a people are actually about 36 million in number around the world who make up the various communities that call themselves Roma, Sinti, Manouche, Kale, Gitan and Yeniche.

Pope Francis has actually encouraged his followers to stop their discrimination against them as he seeks to welcome them into the Catholic Church.

Solemn Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica:

After a great lunch and some shopping in and around the Vatican, we returned to sing with the choir at a mass inside of St. Peter’s Basilica. We alternated singing with an all male Italian choir. They were excellent and reminiscent of the Three Tenors. We sang the hymns for the mass while they sang the mass parts in Latin and Italian. We jumped in where we could.

I relegated the taking of pictures to my daughter, Lillie.

Dinner at the Kolbe Restaurant in Rome:

After the mass, which took everyone’s breath away from the awe of being in arguably the most famous church in the world, we went to dinner at the Kolbe restaurant in Rome. We had a great dining area outside and enjoyed the beautiful weather, some great food and wine.

We had live music and even had the opportunity to do some karaoke. With tables full of singers, everyone was scared to start it off so, after a couple of glasses of wine, I kicked it off with a couple of Sinatra standards: New York, New York and Fly Me To The Moon. Even though the musician/karaoke host didn’t speak English, the word ‘Sinatra’ was very familiar to him. Once I finished, some of the younger choir members started in with some opera and Broadway and movie show tunes. Eventually some hotel guests complained and we wrapped up the evening.

Overall, it was a great day in Rome and at the Vatican.



A Trip to Remember – Part 1 of 8

My wife, daughter and I just experienced the trip of a lifetime to Italy. It was memorable on several levels.

First, as Catholics, we were able to journey to the ‘home office’ and experience the rich history and tradition of the religion we’ve belonged to since birth.

Second, as an Italian, I was able to get a glimpse into the history of my ancestors and understand my background just a bit better.

Third, as a musician, I was able to sing with a top-notch choir in some of the most historic churches in Europe.

Last, but certainly not least, I was able to experience the trip through the eyes of my 10-year-old daughter.

I’m going to break the trip down by each day with pictures and anecdotes. As I lost my phone on the third day of the trip, I’m relying on photos taken by many of my co-travelers.

I hope you enjoy reliving the trip with me.

Day 1 – Departure and Rome

We were traveling from the beautiful village of Skaneateles, New York nestled in the Finger Lakes region southwest of Syracuse. The choir from St. Mary’s of the Lake Church, under the direction of Michael (Mickey) Kringer and his son Daniel, has a reputation for excellence. After reviewing the music, I must admit I was intimidated to try to fit in with them. After all, I’m just a piano player with a lounge lizard voice. Luckily, I read music and was able to fit in at our farewell concert in the church on the Friday before the trip.

‘Here we are posing for a group photo before boarding a motor coach for the 5-hour trip to JFK airport in New York City.


After an uneventful bus ride, we arrived a JFK ready to wait for our plane’s departure. We would be leaving at 7:30 PM and arriving in Rome at 11:00 AM. The flight actually arrived nearly an hour early.

International travel is not as bad as I expected. Despite being in coach, we had two meals and free movies for the entire flight. I thought sitting near the restroom would be great, but every time I dozed off, someone would bump me in the dark while making their way to them.

When we landed in Rome, the sun was up and we had a full day of touring ahead of us. That was when we met our guide, Rita. She is a native Italian and lives in Rome. She was an excellent guide that kept us organized and entertained (more on that later).

RitaRita and her infamous flag

After a brief stop for lunch we were headed through downtown Rome by bus on our way to a walking tour that included the Roman Ruins, several other landmarks of ancient and modern Rome with the culmination of the tour at The Coliseum.

Here are some pictures:

One of the highlights was a walk past the Massenzio Basilica. That’s right, there’s actually a basilica in Rome with my surname on it. That sounds great, but there’s some disappointing history to my ancestor, the Emperor Maxentius.


The Basilica Massenzio is the largest building on the Roman Forum. Construction was started by the Emperor Maxentius and finished by Constantine in 315, it originally covered an area of approximately 100 by 65 meters. Maxentius was defeated in battle by Constantine. Actually, ‘defeated’ is a generous word.

The armies of Maxentius and Constantine met north of the city, some distance outside the walls, beyond the Tiber river on the Via Flaminia.  Of the battle itself, not much is known – Constantine’s forces defeated Maxentius’s troops, who retreated to the Tiber, and in the chaos of the fleeing army trying to cross the river, Maxentius fell into the water and drowned. He was the first in a long line of klutzy Massenzios.


Here is an obligatory selfie of the three of us in front of my namesake’s building.

I hope you enjoyed this first installment of my memories of the trip. There will be more to come over the next couple of weeks.