Thursday, August 1, 2013

Brindisi - Italy

--Há uma versão em português logo abaixo--

Because I knew that my meeting with the Pope would be something simple and informal, I thought it would be known only by my family and friends, and maybe the local newspaper of my city would publish a picture, sent by one of my friends. But I was wrong.  The same afternoon, the Vatican released an article written by the guy I described here as my guide in Santa Marta; he was a journalist and after leaving Saint Peter's Square I had lunch with him and another lady.

It was a laptop lunch - the three of us had our laptops on the table. I was busy translating my Vatican post and saving the pictures, and they were working on their article. We talked, ate and worked at our laptops at the same time.

A lot of newspapers published the story, putting together the Vatican's article and what I'd written here. For me it was funny to see how the same story can be told in many different ways.

In Brazil, where the Pope was awaited, it received more attention. Not only did the local paper of my city write about it, but it was on the front page of the most important Brazilian newspaper.  And the day the Pope arrived in Brazil, a radio station woke me up at 12:30 am, to share some thoughts. I was already back to my "normal" life, so I spoke to them from inside my tent.

In the days following, I received a lot of nice e-mails and messages from people all around the world, many of them coming from the Philippines, which surprised me as I didn't know that Catholicism was so strong there.

Other people's reactions started to change the way I saw that meeting. Even though I'm not Catholic, I was very glad for the opportunity that was given to me to have such an amazing experience, and I was already thankful for that. But the way people were seeing and writing about it really touched me. I not only respect their faith but even feel a little embarrassed when I know that for millions and millions of people such an experience would have had much more importance and meaning.

For me it didn't have any spiritual meaning, but it's definitely an experience I'll always remember with fond memories.

If there is something I won't remember with fond memories, it's what I didn't do in Rome. I arrived in Rome with the idea of getting some rest, organizing the continuation of my trip, repairing my bike and, of course, visiting a lot of historical sites.

The "Pope Plan" took a lot of time and energy, before and after it happened. I stayed for 10 nights in Rome and left with the feeling that I had only spent a weekend there. Even the Coliseum, which had been a big dream for me to visit, I only managed to cycle around.

But at least I got to know the Vatican well. I visited St. Peter's Basilica, which is very crowded every day, and I had to wait in line for an hour to be able to enter. It's an amazing building, with wonderful artistic works. What surprised me the most were the paintings, or what seem to be paintings since they are all mosaics made up of very small pieces, which replaced the original paintings. From the top of the dome you get a great view of Rome.

I also visited the Vatican Museums, a huge collection of art, built up by the Catholic Church throughout the centuries.  The icing on the cake was the Sistine Chapel, which is the place where the election of a new pope takes place, a room decorated with frescoes by Michelangelo, Botticelli, Perugino, and others.

In Rome I stayed in a Czech monastery, arranged by the nun I wrote about on the Czech Republic post. I thought they wouldn't host me for more than a few days, so I would sleep there for a few nights and find a CouchSurfing host after that, but to my surprise they offered me to stay for all the time I needed. I was so grateful that I offered to help in the garden, and I worked there a few times.

I left Rome on the same day as Pope Francis, and we were both heading to Brazil, the difference is that he's already been there and returned, and I'm still on my way.

Leaving Rome, my goal was to cross to the other coast, to Brindisi, and I really thought it would be much tougher and would take much longer, due to the fact that there was an inevitable hilly area to be faced. Fortunately it was not that hard and the only problems I had were with the wind and parts of the road that bicycles were not allowed on.

The further south I got, the nicer the people were. I got used to hearing the cars honking to greet me and people surprised by my bike coming to talk to me, asking questions about my trip that I'd already answered a thousand times but I still love to. And it was much easier to find a place to sleep or camp in the churches (even they didn't know about the Pope). Before Rome, the priests only said "NO".

In a city called Cerignola, the priest was very unusual, not only very nice, but I'd say not so traditional. It seemed that the young people of the church shared the "power" with him. They were really kind to me, and we went to visit a neighboring city that was having a party, which was great.

This is what I find amazing about this trip - it doesn't take much time to create a good connection between me and the people I meet, and after a short while it's like we've already been friends for a long time.

I can't write here about all the people I've met and the experiences I've had, but I take them traveling with me, in my flag, my pictures and my memory.

I haven't been able to write about Venice, Pisa and the other amazing places I've visited in Italy, but they were also great and I promise to talk about it all the next time we meet for a coffee.

This is my complete route in Italy: Muggia, Portogruaro, Venice (Mestre), Rovigo, Bologna (Casalecchio di Reno), Pistoia, Pisa (Madonna Dell'acqua), Castagneto Carducci, Preselle, Montalto di Castro, Rome, Velletri, Terracina, Caserta, Ariano Irpino, Cerignola, Bari, Ostuni, and Brindisi.

And after having cycled for 5 weeks in Italy, today I say good bye to "Bella Italia" and thank you for the wonderful time I spent here. At the end of the day I'll be taking the ferry to Greece, my last country in Europe.

So let's keep going...