Vem Comigo Day 1: FRA > LIS & Batalha

Day one of the pilgrimage is now over and now that I’ve slept, eaten, showered and seen sunlight outside of an airport, I feel better. Plus it helps that this first hotel is pretty dang swanky. For real, I’ll have to show y’all pictures of the bathroom when I’m not already laying in bed.

But for real though, I slept like a rock on that second flight…mostly because the little urchin that wouldn’t stop crying thankfully was not also headed for Lisbon. #DodgedThatBullet I slept so well that my brother woke me up because I was snoring real loud. Good thing though, because I didn’t want to be “that guy.”

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This airport experience has left me with more questions than usual

Anyway, we got off and out of the airport relatively fine. Mom forgot her phone in the bathroom, so that gave us quite a scare. But thank you St. Anthony for putting in work on your own feast day to make sure we got the phone back…and thank God for honest people. I thought we were never going to see that phone again. 10 points for Portugal. Although speaking of St. Anthony, since it is his feast day, there was this whole display in the airport that I wasn’t sure how to feel about. I get the display and the flowers. I can even be on board with the mascot that looked like St. Anthony. I don’t get the candy cane and the raven/crow looking thing. But whatever. Didn’t really have a whole lot of time to think about it because we were running late thanks to the plane being delayed.

We met our tour guide, Luigi, and the bus driver, Pedro, out in the waiting area, and we followed them to our buses. They seem nice, but no one’s ever gonna hold a candle to Deborah and Sebastiano from last year’s pilgrimage…I miss them.

So we began our drive north along the Rio Tejo (Tagus River) to head to our final destination for the night, Batalha. As we embarked on the journey, the highway was lined with white stucco buildings with terra cotta-colored roofs behind the greenery. The blue of the sky and the river layered behind as a backdrop behind this scene. Not long after, the buildings began to look more industrial before disappearing altogether, giving way to the green hilly countryside.

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The Portuguese countryside. A little blurry, I know, but this was on my phone on a moving bus. Sue me.

Although it’s not technically on the Mediterranean, Portugal has a similar climate so many of the crops we saw in Italy also thrive here as well: olives, sunflowers, corn, grapes…and by no means is this an all-inclusive list. Although Luigi mentioned that there’s been a shift from “working with the earth” to working in the cities, so we passed more than a few overgrown olive tree groves and abandoned vineyards.

We wound through the tiny winding roads in hilly villages – which I had forgotten how terrifying it was after last year’s pilgrimage – until we arrived at Batalha. We were originally going to check into the hotel first, but since scheduling was a little tight due to flight delays, Luigi made the executive decision to go ahead and just do the Mass first. We went to Igreja Matriz da Exaltação a Santa Cruz which was being kept open just for our private Mass.

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The interior of the Ingreja Matriz

So backstory on Batalha. Apparently this place only exists because of its monastery. After the Portuguese defeated the Castillians in the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385, it was decided that they would build a monastery on the site of the victory to keep a vow made by King João I to the Virgin Mary prior to the battle. Since the king was dead and heirless, João was the closest thing to a next-of-kin, even though he was the illegitimate brother, so the throne to Portugal was theoretically his. King Juan from Spain didn’t really like this idea and odds were in his favor, so he challenged that idea. King João I prayed for assistance from the Virgin Mary, and when he came out on top, he built the monastery and named it in her honor: Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória. Now the monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage site. In any case, the monastery is this gorgeous Gothic structure visible from miles away. Meanwhile, the Igreja Matriz was built over a century later when Batalha gained the status of Town and needed a parish. Igreja Matriz is a much more modest building, but is stunning in its simplicity. The white stucco walls are lined with yellow, blue, and white patterned ceramic tile. The altar had many more details that  didn’t get time to really appreciate. I guess this just means all the more reason to come back!

After Mass, the bus took us back to the hotel where we freshened up a bit before dinner. Dinner was delicious. To be completely honest, I had no idea what to expect with Portuguese food. I figured it’d be something similar to Spanish, but I was kind of going in blind. This hotel already had points in my book though because it was a buffet, and if you know me, I love me a buffet. I mean it was pretty modest, but a buffet is a buffet. The food was good, but the stars of the show were the little creamy fried potato puff things…yes, very technical, I know. And also, surprise, the carbs stole my heart. But for real though, they were these little pillowy puffs of goodness. The best part: Marissa said she’d made something similar in culinary school, which means that I may get to have these more often! Oooh throw in some rosemary, oregano, and Parmesan…[wipes drool off keyboard]

Once we finished up with dinner, we decided to go for a walk. We heard some lively music and yelling a little ways away, so we walked over and found an outdoor Zumba-style class. According to a billboard nearby, it’s every Tuesday and Thursday. We found it amusing but moved on. We walked around an outdoor gym/track type thing and meandered back to the other side of the monastery. I wish I’d brought my camera with me for that trip, but I’m going back out there at sunrise to take some photos. Speaking of, it’s already 0120, and sunrise is at 0600-ish. I need to go to bed.

 

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Andiamo: Venezia e Padova (Day 2)

Unfortunately, this post finds me in less of the best of moods right now. However, 90% of my day was awesome, so I’m not going to let the other 10% cloud the good. I’ll get to what’s peeving me later; for now, let’s talk about the greatness I’ve gotten to experience in Italy.

We woke up from our overnight stay at the Plaza in Venezia Mestre, and began to get dressed, pack up, and head to breakfast. We had to have our check in luggage outside our doors by 0830 so that the porters could put those in storage for us until our bus for the rest of the tour got to the hotel at 1430. Their breakfast was what I’m assuming is pretty basic European continental breakfast fare, but considering I’ve been on pretty much a liquid/mechanical soft diet for the last week, I was relishing the fact that I could have bread again. Either way, delicious.

Then it was time to head back out into Venezia to explore for the morning before we loaded up to go to Padua (Padova). Thankfully the ferrovia (train) was only across the street. The best part was that before we even crossed the street, we already left a guy behind in the bathroom. Hot. Mess. Regardless, we all ended up on the train and headed out for a morning of exploration.

After we disembarked at Venezia Santa Lucia, we started off by going directly to the gondolas so we could get that experience. And if anyone ever tells you, “oh I did that in Vegas,” punch them in the damn face, drag them on the boat, and tell them “your welcome.” It was probably one of the most relaxing things I’ve ever done in my life, and it was definitely a great way to start the morning. The funniest part was that Fr. Roger ended up tagging along with my family for the gondolas, and he looked REAL nervous there for a minute after he actually got on the boat. For those of you that haven’t been on a gondola, or even a canoe for that matter, they’re not the most stable things. So when you step on, you’re gonna dip. For the first five minutes of the trip, I swear his knuckles were going white from holding onto the sides so hard.

Anyway, the tour guide coordinated the ride to come with a singing gondolier. Either only one of them actually could sing, or they didn’t want to be singing over each other because we ended up doing a caravan of gondolas with one of the ones in the middle singing at the top of his lungs. And he was pretty damn good too.

Thankfully, the ride wound us through what I’m assuming is a residential area and not down the Grand Canal. It was awesome to get to see what things were like in an area not inundated by tourists. Although we were met with mixed reactions. Some people were clapping and waving out their windows, and others were shaking their heads as if to say “damn tourists” as they shut their windows. Fun fact, the police station has police boats. So imagine that high-speed chase. I hope the images in your heads are as entertaining as the one in mine.

After the gondola ride was complete, we were in theory going to split up for our own exploration for a few hours. However, considering we’re on a religious pilgrimage right now, and Sta. Lucia’s remains were within walking distance, we all ended up there. We started walking, but my brother, Marissa, and I quickly distanced ourselves after the bulk of the tour group lost their minds over the window display of a bakery. To be fair, the meringues were almost bigger than your head, but still. People, at least act like you’ve been here before.

In any case, we continued the walk to the Chiesa di San Geremia. The tour guide said that it was pretty much straight down the Grand Canal. Although she used the term “straight” very loosely. After wandering up and down roads and foot bridges and alleys, we finally made it. To be fair, she did warn us that when someone tells you to go straight down the Grand Canal, you’re not just walking along the water. But yeah, you just have to remember to look for the signs painted on the side of the buildings.

I’m not going to lie. For a church holding the remains of a saint, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. It was a lot smaller than I expected. To be fair, the remains didn’t start there. After her body was taken from Constantinople, she was kept at her own church until they tore that down for the railway station that bears her same name. Regardless, the church was gorgeous though. The rest of the group wasn’t too far behind, but thankfully we got a few minutes of peace to look around.

Afterwards, we made the trek to the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal. After winding through another maze of alleys and streets, we found it. That one was definitely a disappointment. I later on realized that all of the decent pictures of the bridge were taken on the water because between the shops and construction, I couldn’t get a good vantage point to save my life. And what I didn’t realize was that the bridge itself is lined with little shops too.

We did stop for some gelato not long after because Italy. Just some random spot…I don’t even remember what it was at this point. But all I know is that the tiramisu gelato was delicious. Marissa said the peach was really good too. My brother had the stracciatella, which we all know you can’t go wrong with.

Anyway, after that we crossed to the other side of the Grand Canal to see what the other bank had to offer. Answer: a lot of the same stuff. We did find something that said San Giovanni Evangelista, which we assumed was a church. And considering the parish the three of us call home is St. John the Evangelist, we had to poke our head in. Turns out it wasn’t a church but a scuola. I took it to mean “school,” but apparently it means something more along the lines of a fraternity (NOT like the kinds with the Greek letters in the movies).

After that brief detour, we wound our way back looking for a quick bite. We ended up across the canal from the ferrovia, so we decided since we still had an hour, we’d just set up shop at one of the restaurants there. We settled on Da Nino since that was the one we happened to be standing in front of when we made the decision. Earlier in the day, I had asked our tour guide if there were any kind of specialty dishes/drinks for Venice. She suggested the fritto misto as it’s relatively light and the area is known for seafood. It’s basically just a mix of tempura fried calamari, shrimp, and fish. In this case, it was sardines. She also suggested having a spritz. So that’s what I went with. My brother and Marissa ended up going for spaghetti with pesto and spaghetti pomodoro. The calamari and shrimp were pretty basic. The sardines were a little hard to get through. They tasted fine but I’m a huge fan of my food being boneless so the extra work of picking out the bones wasn’t ideal. The pastas were pretty good too. All in all, it was a solid meal. Wouldn’t go out of my way for it, but if I happened to be next to the restaurant and hungry, I’d be willing to stop there.

Anyhoo, so we finished up there and made it back to the ferrovia at 1359 (we were supposed to be back by 1400, and our mother was sending the “Where are you? We’re waiting on you” text messages). We loaded up, but the train car filled up so a few of us spilled over into the next car. Not a big deal except that the tour guide bought all the train tickets and was in the other car, and someone was coming down the aisle checking everyone’s tickets. He got to me and I’m like “Oh no, what do I do? I don’t know how to say anything in Italian that’s actually applicable to this situation.” So I point to the other car, and prayed to God that cognates were on my side and just spit out grupo. Thankfully, gruppo is Italian for group so the guy nodded and moved on. Crisis averted. Because I was really not in the mood to be yelled at by a guy in a language I could only pick up certain words in.

So we stopped back at the hotel to pick up our stuff and load up to head out to Padova for Mass at the Basilica. Aside from Taming of the ShrewPadova or Padua’s claim to fame is St. Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost things. Fun fact, everything about St. Anthony of Padua’s name is misleading. He’s not actually from Padua and his real name isn’t Anthony. He’s from Portugal (but died in Padua) and the name given to him at birth was Fernando, and he took on the name Anthony after being admitted into the Franciscans. Regardless, his body and relics are in the basilica that shares his name, and that was our next stop. Unfortunately, there was an issue about one of the other pilgrim’s bags, but thankfully it was already safe on the bus thanks to either another one of us or one of the porters.

We pull into the bus terminal, and start the walk over to the Basilica. We were to have Mass in one of the chapels there, and as we were making the trek, one of the ladies asked me if I’d be the lector for this Mass. So much for laying low since I don’t even really go to this church. Thankfully, I was actually dressed instead of having things sprung on me while I’m in my airport outfit like the day before. In any case, we go up to the chapel of St. Maximilian Kolbe in the cloister and have our private daily Mass there. Then we go back down to the Holy Door pilgrimage site for the Year of Mercy for a plenary indulgence. That ended up being a little embarrassing because as we’re singing outside of the open door, there is literally a Mass being celebrated inside the church. I was just waiting for someone to come out and chastise us. Thankfully, it didn’t seem to bother anyone inside, so we passed through after a song and a few prayers.

It was really cool getting to see the tomb of St. Anthony. It was covered in lilies as that’s one of his symbols. Funny enough, his feast day was the day of our departure onto this pilgrimage, June 13. He also had three relics there too: his tongue, his vocal cords, and his jaw; all miraculously minimally decomposed. And the church itself was absolutely gorgeous as well. While I understand why no photos were allowed inside, I really wish I could’ve snagged a few because everything was so ornate and majestic.

After we finished there, we loaded up and headed on back to the hotel, coincidentally also named the Plaza. During the chaos that was attempting to unload the bus, I’m pretty sure the porters were cursing all of us out in their minds and under their breath. I wasn’t exactly sure what they were saying but the stank eye and the body language made it pretty clear that they didn’t really like us. And I don’t blame them. The group as a whole pretty much embodied why I feel like everyone hates American tourists. But I’ll get into more detail on that later.

We finally get checked in and go upstairs to drop off our bags before coming back down for dinner at the Antenore Verdi restaurant in the hotel. I think everyone got spoiled by the first dinner because the appetizer this round was described by the waitress a consomme with egg. I’m assuming it was a stracciatella, which is basically an Italian egg drop soup that the gelato flavor was named after. Not the biggest fan, but the broth was good. The main course was what looked like a beef milanese without the breading with tomato sauce and potatoes. That I ate up real quick because how can you go wrong with meat and potatoes? Then the dessert was a lemon panna cotta. Also delicious, also finished the whole thing.

Now the whole downfall of the evening was that many of the more vocal members of the group were dissatisfied with the meal, and while speaking in Filipino for the most part, made it very known that they were displeased. They weren’t overtly rude to the waitstaff (thankfully), but it was one of those things where I was like “THIS is why we can’t have nice things.” But after I downed a good portion of the bottle of the local red wine we had, I was a lot less angry. For real though, everyone needs to pray to St. Anthony to find the manners they all lost during dinner.

I was going to put my rant at the end of this post, but seeing as how WordPress is telling me I’m already at over 2,000, I’ll save it for another post. Tomorrow, we spend the day in Bologna before spending the night in Florence.