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Today would have been my dad’s 83rd birthday. It seems like a long time since Alzheimer’s disease claimed his life, but really, it hasn’t been. Grief never goes away, no matter how many cute baby photos of Jacob Henry I post. Jacob Henry is a year and 5 months old now, and my dad never got to meet him, but I’m sure if he did, he would have loved him.
I was showing Jacob letters the other day and spelled out his name and was tickled when Jacob was able to identify and say the letter “A” without prompting.
I studied the word “Henry” and considered its meaning to me.
Henry T. Akao was my dad.
Henry H. Akao was Grandpa Henry.
My husband and I didn’t want to make Henry Jacob’s first name, because that would make him Henry III, and that would be confusing.
But I’m happy I gave Jacob the middle name, Henry, because after all, he is a Henry. He’s stubborn, like my dad. He’s really smart, like my dad. He as Asian eyes, like my dad’s.
He even has allergies, like my dad and I have. The Akao genes are strong.
Sometimes when I miss my dad, I read this Bible verse and it provides a bit of comfort:
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4
Some day I believe I will see my dad again.
And Jacob will get to meet him.
Sunday was our last day of our Cosmos tour. Our bus driver, Ferdi, took us to the peaceful hillside town of Assisi.
We visited Saint Francis Basilica, where several people prayed with reverence inside.
We explored the crypt of Saint Francis downstairs but no photos or videos were allowed. We ascended the stairs to the upper church and admired the view.
We only had an hour but had just enough time to walk up the hills and down the passageways. I could almost feel the spirit of my dad shining down on me.
We even passed a poster advertising an upcoming comicon.
We made it to the bus on time and Ferdi drove us several hours back to Rome. We arrived around 4pm with enough for one more stop at the Navona Fountain in Rome. On the second day of our tour, one of the men in our group had proposed to his girlfriend of eight years at the Navona Fountain.
At ambasciata di Capri Restaurant we savored our last dinner in Rome with our tour group. The appetizer included mixed veggies, eggplant, fresh tomato, and a ball of pizza pasta fried.
A musician performed several songs in Italian and a few in English. I recognized several songs the Three Tenors used to perform. The owner even serenaded us with a special ballad at the end.
Homemade pasta with meat sauce, tomato and mozzarella cheese and pasta with zucchini, smoked cheese, parmesan and basil was our first course.
I ordered a vegetarian option for the main course, which included Zucchini Parmigiana with mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce and parmesan cheese served with salad and roasted potatoes. I tasted some red wine with our meal.
Ursula made sure Steve and I received a lemon and cream dessert with a candle to celebrate our honeymoon. We have had many wishes come true already!
After a good night’s sleep, Steve and I returned to the airport on Monday, March 27th. We couldn’t have dreamed of a better honeymoon! We got to do everything we had possibly wished for in Italy and can’t wait to return!
We headed back to Venice by motor boat this morning.
Ursula lead us back past Saint Mark’s square to see a glass blowing demonstration.
It takes at least 15 to 20 years to perfect glass blowing and we were impressed how quickly the the maestro created a glass horse.
At last at 11am Steve and I enjoyed a 30 minute gondola ride.
A talented troubadour and accordion player serenaded us as we took pictures.
The oars man navigated from behind past the other gondolas.
The weather was warm an sunny. This was the first gondola ride for both me and Steve, a wonderful way to celebrate the day he proposed two years ago on March 25th.
We stood in line for free admission to see the inside of San Marco Basilica, which has gilded ceilings but where we were not allowed to take pictures or video. The story goes that Saint Mark’s corpse was transported to Venice in a barrel of pork fat to avoid Muslim inspection at customs.
We finished our souvenir shopping and met our tour group at 5pm to head back to the hotel for a complimentary three course dinner that began with salad.
Chicken, peas and mashed potatoes.
And pane cotta with chocolate sauce for dessert for me as a nut free alternative to the cake others ate.
We left Montecatini and headed to Pisa. On the way there Ursula pointed out the Roman aqua ducts.
We only had a few hours to spend in Pisa, but the souvenirs are affordable so we finished getting the gifts to bring home to family and friends.
I was surprised to see that the Leaning Tower of Pisa was much shorter than I imagined.
Steve and I took turns taking pictures of each other pretending to hold up the tower or tilt it down.
After Pisa we traveled to Venice and checked into our hotel. Ursula surprised Steve and I by giving us the honeymoon suite! I was particularly impressed with how ornate the bathroom was.
At 6pm we met the tour group to enjoy a dinner in town. We took a motor boat to the water city.
Ursula guided us to Saint Mark’s Square, where we took a few pictures.
At the restaurant we enjoyed a three course meal starting with Caprese salad.
Spaghetti and vegetables.
Beef and potatoes.
And tiramisu to top it off, with one candle for the Australian couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary and for us celebrating our honeymoon.
Today Steve visited Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance. Wakup was at 6:30am and I enjoyed a quick complimentary breakfast of a fruit tart, croissant, cheese, ham, and eggs our hotel in Montecatini.
The view from the only bridge that had survived WWII was stunning.
Our tour group visited a leather shop and saw a brief demo of gold being applied to a piece of leather. Steve and I both treated ourselves to leather jacket and the attendee fussed over us until we found the perfect size.
We caught a guided tour of the Church of Saint Mary of the Flowers, the Duomo.
We didn’t go inside but followed the guided tour past the door of Paradise.
We didn’t get to see the original because it is housed at an academy for safe keeping but we did behold a replica of Michaelangelo’s David.
We closed the day at the hotel restaurant and enjoyed a three course meal starting with pasta e fagioli.
Pasta with pomodoro sauce and sardines.
And a creamy dessert topped with a chocolate glaise.
After dinner Ursula asked permission from the hotel staff if I could play the grand piano, so I played Clair de Lune, Fur Elise, and Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat. The people on our tour group clapped and thanked me.
We had a 6:30am wake-up call to leave Siena and go to San Gimignano, a rural town whose hills are featured in the background of the Mona Lisa. I hadn’t slept because of the cold I had managed to catch. I stayed away from the cookies and opted for eggs, ham, cheese, pears, peaches, and a fruit filled croissant.
We boarded the bus and our driver, Ferdi, took us to the Tuscany region where we tried two types of red wine. Before the wine tasting we enjoyed the garden and area where you can rent castle rooms and have weddings.
Steve and I are not big on wine but tasted the Chanti Classico wines.
We had some free time to explore the shops and take in the beautiful Tuscan countryside.
We enjoyed lunch at a cafe where I ordered rice with saffron and parmigiano cheese.
After lunch we boarded the bus and headed to our hotel in Montecatini.
Because of my cold we opted out of the Tuscan dinner with the tour group and happened upon a small five star restaurant that served hand made fresh pasta with vegetables.
I was too full to finis my second course but took my meatballs to go.
Steve and I departed from Rome on our tour bus and headed for Orvieto, where we visited a beautiful limestone cathedral.
We paid four euros to see inside, where it was very cold.
After the cathedral we grabbed lunch. I had a pizza with tomorrow sauce and lots of garlic, hoping that the garlic would scare away my cold.
We did some shopping and met a store owner who proudly showed us that his antique store is listed in Rick Steve’s guide book and that Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick had visited. We bought a gift and wandered to the next attraction, a church dedicated to Saint Catherine, whose scull was kept inside the church as a relic after she was martyred. Our tour guide explained that Catherine had taken a vow of silence for 5 years and dedicated her life to helping the poor.
We were not allowed to take pictures of the alter where the skull was displayed behind a golden mask of Catherine’s head.
We traveled to Siena and visited the square where horse races take place twice a year.
Dinner was included with our Cosmos tour, so at 6:30pm we headed to the restaurant and enjoyed a meal that started with bread and olive oil and beef and cheese. Next was a delicious spaghetti with cream sauce and carrots.
The main course was beef with cauliflower, carrots and onions.
I enjoyed my ricotta and chocolate chip cake for dessert and got to know three ladies from Houston who sat across from us at the dinner table. Two worked in HR and one was a cousin along for the trip.
Today’s Cosmos tour began with a 6am wake up call and a complimentary breakfast of spinach quiche, scrambled eggs, a custard croissant, ham, cheese, and an assortment of fruit pastries.
Our tour director, Ursula, guided us onto the bus and to our destination, the Castel Sant’ Angelo, where we paid the admission. Diana, a widow from Connecticut, accompanied Steve and I since she was on the Cosmos tour but elected not to go back to the Vatican, which all three of us had seen before in great detail.
This time we got to see the inside of the castle, which had an impressive view of the bridge below from one of its towers.
I especially liked the room with the harpsichord, since I play classical piano.
In the adjoining room housed an unusual painting of a maiden with a unicorn.
Ursula later told us the castle was where the popes could escape to if Rome was under invasion.
We had lunch at a rather touristy place and I was disappointed to taste the most bland red sauce I have had during our trip. However Steve ordered a Hawaiian pizza and said it was some of the best pizza he has had in Italy.
After lunch we finally got to see the destination that Steve and I have both deemed absolutely necessary to visit in Rome–the Colosseum. Our local tour guide greeted us and shuffled us in past the Arco di Tito.
Once inside, I imagined I could feel the fear of those slated for execution at inside the Colosseum walls.
Our tour guide mentioned that lions, tigers, panthers, and other exhiotic animals from Africa and Asia were brought by traders and sold to the Romans for the entertainment of the crowds. The pulleys hoisted the animals into the arena and the entrances were staged with fake props such as a cave entry way for a lion.
We proceeded to visit the Roman Forum.
Vestal virgins were condemned to be buried alive if they broke their vows of celibacy.
It was the hottest day we have experienced so far in Rome and I was getting tired because I caught Steve’s cold last night so I was grateful we had a chance to go back to the hotel to rest before our night excursion.
We visited the Spanish Steps, which is where fashion shows used to take place until the fashion shows were discontinued because the models kept falling down the slippery steps. I carefully made my way down.
Ursula led us back to Trevi Fountain, where Ursula gave us the full story of the wishes. The first wish is to return to Rome. The second wish is a personal one. The third wish is optional…but you can wish to be married or divorced.
Dinner included a five course meal starting with bruschette al pomodoro. A flute player and guitar player entertained our tour group with several American love songs and a handful of Italian ones.
The guitar player who sang reminded me of my brother David because of his artsy black attire.
We enjoyed melon and ham.
Pasta with ham, cream sauce and peas.
Chicken and potatoes with rosemary.
Gelato with berry sauce.
And as a special surprise, Ursula asked the waiter to bring us three roses and a piece of cream cake drizzled in chocolate to celebrate the honeymoon Steve and I were finally able to enjoy!
Steve and I had a free day with no scheduled tours, so I had a quick breakfast of strawberries and apple before we hailed a taxi to take us near the Fontana di Trevi.
We stopped in one of the shops and the Brittish sales lady, Bridget, told us we should go back to the fountain and throw in three coins and make a wish. She gave us three coins because she said it is luckiet if someone gives you the coins. She told us that when she was 18 and traveled to Rome the first time, she spotted a handsome young man and wished she could marry him. And her wish came true and they have been married for many years, she gleefully reported. She warned us to hold the coins in our right hand and throw them over our left shoulder or the reverse means you wished for a divorce. Armed with this new information and the coins, Steve and I returned to the foundation to make our wishes.
We continued to the Pantheon, which is free on Sundays.
I marveled at the beautiful ceiling.
The building inside was breathtaking.
Next we wandered until we happened upon a rather unimpressive looking church compared to the others, but we followed a student tour group in and found the interior incredibly ornate.
A few of the paintings required a deposit of euros to illuminate them.
We departed and had lunch at a place that had a wooden oven. I ordered eggplant parmesan.
We happened upon several more impressive buildings.
There was live music in some of the squares, which was an interesting contrast to the fountain below, which depicts a battle with an octopus.
We passed Piazza del Tribunali.
Steve paused in front of the walls of Rome before we got a taxi back.
I have seemed to have caught a mild version of Steve’s cold so we headed back in time for the Cosmos Splendors of Italy land tour check in to meet our tour director for the coming week. Her name is Ursula after the actress in the James Bond movie. Steve and I will need to get up at 6am tomorrow so we turned in early.
Steve and I caught a cab to the Vatican Museum, where we checked in for our City Wonders tour. Our tour guide told us he was working on his PhD. His retention of historical details was amazing. The radios we wore to hear his microphone crackled constantly, so I occasionally unplugged my ear buds to listen in naturally as he described the circumstances around many of the works, including those of Rafael. In the picture below our tour guide described a painting of a saint who was crucified upside down.
Interestingly enough, Leonardo da Vinci was not an artist but rather a scientist so he left many paintings unfinished. The face of the painting below had been stolen but later returned.
From the spiral Bramante Staircase, we enjoyed an expansive view of Rome.
We wandered through the museum for hours. The statue below depicts a Roman athlete cleaning off his sweat.
The people who inhabited Rome before the Romans valued corpulent figures over the muscular ones. The guy in the statue below looks like he needs to go on the Atkins diet.
We wandered through the museum for four hours total but arrived in the corridors of the Sistine Chapel at last. The tour guide told us that the shape of God the Father looks like a brain, an intentional detail that Michaelangelo painted to emphasize the mind and that God is in our thoughts. Instead of painting God breathing life into Adam, which would almost look like a kiss, Michaelangelo chose to represent the giving of life with the touch of the index fingers.
We were not allowed to take photos or video of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel itself but the chambers before it had plenty of painted ceilings.
Once we entered the Sistine Chapel and stared awe struck at the ceiling, I wondered how patient Michaelangelo must have been when he started painting the ceiling, because he was 35 years old, my age, when he started and came back when he was 61 to paint the last judgment portion.
We were allowed about 30 minutes to be memorized by the beauty and grandeur of the ceiling before we had to shuffle out through the crowds to continue past the golden doors of the Basilica.
Once inside I was astounded at how ornate everything appeared.
After our tour Steve and I caught a cab back to our hotel and enjoyed a fancy dinner at a five star restaurant.
Steve savored a pistachio dessert.
I ordered a cannoli, a perfect end to our day.