Sausage in Poland, Turkey in Turkey, and Back in America

I’m happy to say that the Ramages are back in the USA and enjoying some needed R&R at grandma and grandpa’s house–a vacation from vacation, as it were. I’m looking forward to resume my theological posts on this blog, but in the meantime I’ll recap the last whirlwind week of our European expedition.

At the recommendation of my students, we flew Ryanair to Krakow and spent a few nights there. What a delight! This is a land of great food (especially its sausage), great saints (JPII, Faustina, Kolbe, Edith Stein, etc.), and important history (for me, especially that concerning JPII and the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Poland). This was one of the experiences we hadn’t planned on having, but it was made by possible by Providence as well as the great exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Polish zloty. I highly recommend traveling to this inexpensive land where most people are Catholic and are proud to say so. Poland has a fairly Western feel, but it gives you a different flavor from countries around the Mediterranean.

Flying back from Poland to Italy, we stayed a night in Bologna and paid homage to the founders of the first university in the world located there. From here we trained back to Florence, spent one last night out on the town, grabbed the rest of our bags from our villa, and flew out to Istanbul the next morning. We had been to Istanbul before the semester began, and now we were back for a couple more days to relax, revisit some favorite sites, find some new ones, and celebrate Thanksgiving. We did not get to eat Turkey for Thanksgiving this year; we just ate in Turkey. Yes, it was kind of weird eating atop of our hotel looking out at the Blue Mosque and eating kebabs, but it was good to do once. On this trip we also took the opportunity to cruise on the Bosphorus between Asia and Europe and see a couple beautiful Byzantine Christian churches–with the exclamation point being a Hagia Sophia adorned with a full rainbow overhead. Finally, we spent a morning negotiating some bargains with the intense merchants of the Grand Bazaar,. I look forward to making use of my new souvenirs from here, in particular playing chess on my new Crusaders and Ottomans set.

Well, there you have it: my last Europe post of the Fall 2012 semester. I hope to be blogging some Benedict XVI soon. Unfortunately, I just found out that the copy of Jesus Vol. 3 I ordered won’t arrive until Christmas or shortly thereafter, so we’ll see what happens..

Arrivederci, Firenze! Our Semester Comes to a Close

This morning our students took their last final of this spectacular study abroad semester. They are all excited to get home to family and the comforts of America. The Ramages have spent our last week mainly relaxing and revisting favorite Florentine sites while also inevitably discovering a few new ones. The photos below come from Florence’s world-famous Uffizi Gallery, the splendid Etruscan and Roman town of Fiesole, Florence’s baptistery of San Giovanni, Santa Maria Novella church and convent, the Dominican convent of San Marco with paintings by Fra Angelico, and the Duomo which we climbed while the kids were babysat.

In a couple days we’re off to Poland and Istanbul before returning to Chicago. So there will be at least one more post of our pictures, and then I’ll return to blogging theology. By the grace of God, Pope Benedict’s final volume of Jesus of Nazareth is due out on Dec. 4, so of course I plan to make it the subject of my consecutive posts.

La joie de vivre

Last week was BC’s Fall break, and many of our group went to France, including us Ramages. After Italy, France is perhaps our favorite country to visit. It has so much culture, so much Catholic history, so much good food, and so much else to offer. Being in France one experiences the joie de vivre, “the joy of living.”

We had planned to visit the prehistoric caves at Lascaux in the south of France, but the trains all got booked up and we “had to” stay in Paris most of the trip except for a day trip to Chartres and our last day in Toulouse. Here are some highlights of the trip, and then you can enjoy the pictures that hopefully tell the story better:

  • Jen and I commemorated our very first date in the same restaurant in Chartres, 6 years and 2 kids later
  • Visiting Toulouse and its Eglise des Jacobins, where we knelt before the tomb of St. Thomas Aquinas and prayed for his intercession
  • Getting to browse Notre Dame cathedral without a tour group and without an agenda. Lots of time soaking in the stained glass and ornate colored wood carvings on the inside, and figuring out the figures and gargoyles carved on the outside. Getting to walk around the grounds meditatively with our family, enjoying the scenic Seine river and the church’s famous flying buttresses.
  • Walking through the Rodin Museum and its lush gardens lined with statues. I was never interested in modern sculpture before, but I developed a fascinating with this 19th-century impressionist sculptor once I learned that some of his key works were inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. The gardens also offer a great view of the Eiffel Tower with The Thinker in the foreground.
  • The astounding stained glass in Sainte Chapelle, a chapel virtually encircled in glass and built by St. Louis to house the crown of thorns.
  • The Cluny medieval museum in Paris where you can see alot of great pieces up close instead of being 100 feet below them. The museum was built on Roman baths, which also gives you an indication of Paris’ place in world history.
  • Eating “fast food” crepes, croque monsieurs, croque madames in Parisian parks, and eating a few nice meals in Parisian restaurant.
  • The Eiffel Tower, sparkling gloriously in the night at the top of evening hours
  • Musee D’Orsay, where we got to spend quality time in front of Van Goghs, Monets, and Rodins among others
  • The Louvure: we spent 7 hours in this place with 2 kids! It boasts collections from Egypt, Rome, Greece, ancient Mesopotamia (biblical period and earlier findings), the Renaissance, and more. Best of all: we got to skip the hour-long security line twice because we had kids.
I have so many pictures relevant to my teaching and to the faith from this trip, I feel sorry for my students who are going to get inundated with all of my glorious illustrations inspired by this trip! Thanks to Benedictine College for offering us the opportunity to be over here, to teach great material, and to be with great students, to be students ourselves for a semester.