Posted by: Peadar Ban | June 30, 2014

Italy: A Vacation That Became A Pilgrimage (Part One)

A Steal of A Deal:

We had returned from our two weeks in Ireland and Germany, parts of which I have told about here ( and not finished telling ) over the past dozen or so months. Winter was settling in with all of winter’s gifts…and woes.  And Mariellen, God bless her, was exploring ways in which we might put it all behind us.  I remained in blithe ignorance of her secret plans and plots; except for the occasional snatch of conversation, that is.  “We had such a wonderful time in Ireland with Carolyn, and wasn’t the week in Cologne and Strasbourg just great?  Where do you think we ought to go next, Dear?”  She would put the question innocently enough, and just as innocently, I would answer without any thought of cost, logistics, planning or execution.

My idea of doing something like what we had just done is along the lines of most ideas I have.  Should I ever be placed in charge of planning something great, like a Presidential Inauguration or a Pontifical High Mass in St. Peter’s I would simply tell folks, “Show up at about 11:00am.  Things should be over at about 1:00pm.  Then we’ll go downstairs for some sandwiches and beer.  No shorts or bare feet.”  Had I planned the Normandy Invasion, a mob of us would have kicked in the door early one morning, and beat the snot out of everyone….in Peoria, I suppose.

Mariellen’s different.  Her Normandy would have taken place after Mass on a sunny day in May.  The Other Guys, having been properly informed of an invasion, would have welcomed us on the beach with some cold cuts and cheese, beer for the enlisted swine and chilled Riesling for the officers; then they would have cheerfully surrendered Europe and gone marching home.  Of course I’m exaggerating, but only a little bit.  The rain does indeed never fall until after sundown when my wife plans.  Her predecessor was of the same smoothly efficient character.  It was Sheila who taught me about “hospital corners”.  Before meeting her I’d as soon have stuffed an undershirt between the mattress and box spring as the edge of a sheet.

Anyway, a week or so after this short exchange, Mariellen wondered aloud if we should think about taking a cruise.  And I wondered right back at her.  Where, my wondering led me to mention, would the cruise take us?  Then she said she had found a very good deal on Norwegian Cruise lines for a 7 day cruise around the western Mediterranean.

Full disclosure, here.  After I left high school I was a merchant mariner for a while.   The months I spent at sea have supplied me with a lifetime of dreams and memories.  I loved the idea of going back and was enthusiastic about going…as soon as possible.  Further full disclosure:  When Mariellen says she has found a very good deal, you can bet it is even better than the deal the Dutch got on Manhattan.

Well, this trip would wait a while.  It was a whole year and a half away, and pretty darn cheap for what they were giving us: seven days at sea, seven ports, a room with a view and slippers at Macy’s basement prices.  I’m lying about the slippers, but we did get cutely folded towels.  The added benefit was that we would have paid for it months before we left for Rome (Italy, not New York.)  We would catch the ship in Civitavecchia, Rome’s port city these days, and sail to seven ports around, really, the northwestern Mediterranean; reaching port in the morning and sailing in the evening.

One of the ports of call, the one that interested me the most, was Barcelona, Spain, the home of the architect Antoni Gaudi and his masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia.  The others could wait.  They would be nice to see, even Rome, I admitted in my quiet moments, but this one place where this one building was, was all that was in my bucket, on my list, when I learned what the tour’s itinerary was.  It didn’t take long to make up our minds and decide to go.

OK, Rome would be nice, but we would be in and out on both ends of the trip.  What would be the sense of investing too much time in thinking what one could do in Rome…the Eternal City, after all…during an afternoon or two.  I began to think of other places we might spend a few days in either before or after the cruise to my own personal Shangri La.

Someone else was also thinking about the same thing.  And, therein lies the tale I hope to tell; a tale of adventures, laughs, great meals in great places, unexpected friends and unexpected enemies, mild difficulties and little discomforts, incredible beauty and surpassing  joy.  I say I hope to tell it because I know the teller of the tale; someone who is easily distracted; distracted by something like this, for instance.


Somewhere at Sea on the Mediterranean



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