Saturday, November 26, 2016

Padua and Venice 2015

So the last travel post was about Turin, after which we drove all the way to Padua and after roaming around at night, eating ice cream 
we came back to Tulip Inn, our hotel in Padua. After the complimentary breakfast, we set out to visit
San Antonio's shrine, the shrine where the tomb of St. Antony is located.
We celebrated mass in an adjoining chapel there, 
We weren't allowed to take pictures in the main shrine, but I surreptitiously managed to take this one. After walking around and praying in this huge church, we then went to the shrine shop. Among all the places we visited, the stuff I've seen at the Padua shrine shop, is really good. One of the best places to shop for souvenirs, everything is so pretty and well made. I had visited Padua in 2013 with Antonio and Nameeta, and Antonio picked up a really cool looking black ring with the Our Father inscribed on it in Latin...
He rarely wears it, so I started wearing it...
Picked up this cream and chapstick at the Padua shrine shop too, and I still have them... I use them sparingly, the cream smells so good. I don't know whether it is because the smell reminds me of those days... in the bus and being alive... looking at the beautiful and bountiful landscapes passing by, eagerly waiting to see which place we would explore next... the smell of this cream takes me back to that... the happiness, the excitement... the smell of adventure. 
The cobbled streets of Padua...
Leaving the shrine for the half hour ride to 
Venice, a gloomy overcast Venice. As soon as we reached, we got swindled into buying umbrellas and raincoats; from 3 euros, they started selling them for 5 Euros in a matter of seconds. Walked a bit in the rain and then...
We took the ferry to St. Mark's square, and I just walked around... Again they were doing a lot of unnecessary drama before entering the church, not allowing us to carry our backpacks. I remember in 2013, my sister waited outside while I went inside St. Mark's church. This time I waited it out while the rest of the group went in. 
I just walked around clicking pictures 
and taking in the scenes of a decrepit Venice. 
I don't know why people rave about this place, it is decaying eerily.
Windows seem devoid of curtains, flowers or life... Yet at the surface the city is bustling and everybody seems unaware 
that a spell of uneasiness permeates the air... Or, is it just me, I don't know...
Smiling breads, to lighten up the mood...
Shopped for magnets, and other souvenirs, then one last glimpse of Venice before we started on our trip to Loretto.
Stopped on the way at an Indian restaurant for lunch and 
drove some more...
Till we reached our destination for the night, Hotel San Gabriele in Loretto. 
And at a stone's throw away from the hotel is the Church of the Black Madonna
A small chapel in the hotel
A statue of black Mother Mary with child.
Refreshed in our rooms and then gathered for dinner
Some pasta 
with pork, potatoes and wine. 
As usual our group of night explorers set out to see Loretto by night...
It was really love at first sight, the whole atmosphere of Loretto at nighttime...
It was captivating...
There were hardly any folks around... it was just our group walking around, drunk by this quaint little place. As usual we bought ice cream and frozen cold coffee, walked and talked in bliss... 
View of the dome from our rooms...
Fell, into a deep deep deep sleep here.. wine is always a good idea after a long day on the road. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

I AM

Since the beginning of time battles have been waged and lives have been lost in the pursuit of fame, glory and power. And this hasn’t really changed much, the current crisis in the war-ravaged zones of Syria, Iraq and the like have all begun because of vested interests by the super powers in these oil rich lands. So while it may seem that these super powers are intent on destroying the radical groups which they inadvertently created by their (hardly justified) invasion, at the same time these terrorists are being funded behind the scenes by the same superpowers. It’s all a really complex and ugly reality that will continue to go on cause let’s face it, the world economy is ruled by a few corporate superpowers. They pull strings and run this big giant show on planet earth and we are just pawn pieces on their black and white chess board.

We can either be depressed and lose hope in everything, or we can learn to live in the moment, in the now. Cause that is the only way to live life in this complex world we inhabit. We might not be able to physically go to these war-ravaged zones and help the people there, but the least we can do is pray for them every single day. Pray for all the children displaced and orphaned by ongoing conflict; one can only imagine what horrors these innocent ones are paying for the greed of mankind. We are all connected, whether we believe it or not, our thoughts are powerful and one conscious act of goodwill or gesture will go a long way and create a ripple effect. We might not be able to stop these wars but we can spread positivity and good healing thoughts. We can raise the vibration of our surroundings by being aware and attentive to our fellow beings, by always trying to raise the level of our human experience to coincide with the divine plan for us.

I think this is what Jesus meant when He said, ‘I Am’. He was showing us a way to live, in the now, otherwise the futility of trying to make sense of our human existence would be too daunting. He also meant that we are all part of the living God, we all make up His divine form which is always there, I Am, existing in the now in each one of us. We have to strive more to listen to the divine presence in us, then collectively we will begin to manifest Him. Which is precisely what He meant by when two or three gather together in my name, I Am present… gather together and spread His love by thoughts, words and deeds; then the world will reinvent itself by the power of the Great I Am.

My article for the November edition of the church magazine...

Turin

So after a long enchanted drive through Switzerland, we reached Turin in Italy quite late, and since we were on a madcap road trip our hotels were usually on the outskirts of town where it would be possible to park our double decker bus, so anyway everything was shrouded in darkness when we arrived late at night. 
Woke up, had a good breakfast and walked out to see fields and fields of (I'm guessing) wheat ... . Then started on or way to see the Shroud of Turin... 
Some cute cops, they seem to be really fit here... they tend to value their bodies. 
A lot of history surrounds the shroud, but it is widely believed to be the shroud that Jesus was laid to rest in the tomb. This is supposedly a rare viewing, the shroud isn't always open to public display. We reach the church, wait in a long queue, go through stringent security checks, and after an evocative video describing the mystery behind this famous shroud and it's patterns of blood they let us file into the darkened church, it is all quite somber and poignant... And finally we see the Shroud of Turin with its characteristic patterns... of course it is all a mystery, no one can be quite sure if this is indeed the shroud Jesus was laid to rest in. There are a lot of theories about carbon dating and stuff claiming that this is indeed the shroud, there are theories refuting the same. Doesn't really matter, what you believe you make it your reality. 
So after a few minutes of quiet reflection we come out and enter the really dark church through the main entrance and see the shroud displayed up front and beautifully lit up, casting a surreal glow over the entire proceeding. After seeing the Shroud, next up on our agenda was the Salesian headquarters in Turin, where St. Don Bosco started his missionary. This whole Europe trip was put together by my Salesian parish priest and a travel agency, so naturally the story of Don Bosco was quite well known among our group.
We had to walk through this market place to reach the church of Our Lady built by John Bosco
This is the Pinardi chapel, the first chapel built by John Bosco
The colourful altar...
Windows inside
The striking holy water font...
The armchair used by the Saint... his relics are housed all over the place.
This is the magnificent Basilica of Our Lady Help of Christians, built by this incredible saint with only a few pennies... that's all he had when he started work on this grand structure. We celebrated mass here, there was some amazing singing going on just before that.
We had some good Indian lunch here... and a gulab jamun for dessert.
Afterwards there was ice cream and wine too... the Salesians sure know how to party. 
The church exterior, Basilica di Santa Maria Ausiliatrice (Basilica of Mary Help of Christians) constructed by John Bosco right in the midst of this bustling locality... After a nice time in Turin, we started on our drive to Padua.
We stopped for dinner in an Indian eatery on the way.
Reached Padua late at night and as usual our little group of night roamers, got together to explore Padua at night. The college crowd here makes this place lively and interesting, we just walked the streets eating ice cream and having a wonderful time. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Switzerland, June 2015 trip

So after seeing the Eiffel Tower in all its sparkling glory we returned exhausted to our hotel rooms, slept soundlessly for a few hours and the next morning we were on the road again to Switzerland. The drive was breathtaking as usual, the mountains and the beautiful fields, the horses and cows grazing away blissfully... it seems like an entire different lifetime, writing about it now, fifteen months after the trip. But I want to leave a record here, to look back years from now. So anyway, drove throughout the day and finally reached Giswil in Switzerland. Mass was held in a small room in the basement of The Grand Swiss Hotel, after which we ate some good Indian food. Half the people in the group stayed at this hotel, the other half had to drive further up the mountains to reach their quaint little cabins at Hotel Twing. Me and my friends were in the latter half, and this drive up the mountains was exhilarating, the snow capped mountain peaks gleamed and glinted as we wound our way up through the surreal darkness slowly descending around us. 
Here we finally reached hotel Twing nestled among the mountain peaks... a lovely place like a dream. Before settling in for the night, I spoke to Diana (the friendly owner of Twing) and enquired about any hidden spots nearby where we could soak in the beauty of the mountains and she told me about a staircase nearby that went up the mountains to a little lake. 
Our cosy little room... we fell into a deep sleep after the long drive.
Woke up quite early the next day and found this staircase leading up into the mountains...
Daisies brightening up the path
The charming little lake at the top

A barn...
The view from the top, it was nature at her finest with little streams flowing here and there... and only me and mom around.
Bunch of daisies
So after taking pictures and after having serious Maria moments, we made our way down to the hotel for breakfast.
This was our mountain breakfast, fruits from around the area... enchanting.
The decor at the dining room in Twing
After breakfast we started on our way to Mt. Titlis, and came across sights like this...
And this... I think angels descend every day to spruce up this part of the globe. 
So anyway, we took a cable car and reached Mt. Titlis, it was my first time seeing snow... It wasn't that cold either despite all this snow. 
I think fresh snow must be beautiful... this was more or less compressed ice, but the views were great. There were a bunch of teenagers, sliding down the snow with their jackets turned backwards... they would slide down the snowy hill with their jackets forming the smooth base. It looked like so much fun, so we (me and two other friends) decided to do that... we slid down the snow and it was quite a rush.
After all that craziness at the snow capped peaks, it was time for lunch and while we were waiting to be seated, this was the view outside...
The beautiful lake Trubsee and a friend seated there... Trubsee is a mountain lake that lies at the foot of the Titlis, and above the resort town of Engelberg, Switzerland.
Lake Trubsee
The mountains and fields of tiny yellow flowers near the lake...
After a nice time in the mountains we took the cable car down and started on our long drive to Turin in Italy. We reached quite late at 11pm and after 
a nice dinner of chicken and potato soup 
With wine, chicken breast, potatoes, peas and some 

pudding for dessert... 
 we were so tired, went straight to sleep in our room in Holiday Inn Express, Turin.