My parents came to visit from Nov 3-Nov 14 and we had a wonderful time. Mike and I even visited some sites we hadn't been, like the Duomo roof.
Unfortunately, the rest of the entry won't have pictures since Mike caught me trying to steal his camera.
After Milan we took a 2.5 hour train to Venice. It was pretty much what I expected it to be: unique. There's nothing like it. But I wouldn't want to live there. Apparently there are more tourists each day than residents, and the effects of this are obvious: you have to look really hard to find a shop that doesn't cater to tourists as its main target, and this means ignoring countless Venetian mask and trinket stores while spending extra long trying to find what a quality meal. That being said, many of the restaurants offer a tourist menu of three courses for a reasonable-for-Italy price of about $15-20 each. If you go to a normal Italian restaurant and order three courses, you're looking at about another $10 each.
Anyway, St. Mark's was awesome. It's a beautifully golden-mosaic'ed Basilica, large enough to impress from the outside but structured so as to remain intimate inside. Probably my favorite church in Italy so far, and by no coincidence it houses St. Mark, my Confirmation saint. Also, Don ("Father" in Italian) Giuseppe led me through the sacristy to a small chapel in the back for 8:00 am daily Mass. How many people get to do that? Yet another benefit of going to daily Mass. (And thanks to Fr. Bill and Fr. Gareth for emphasizing the main points back in freshman year at the UMD Catholic Student Center.)
Assisi was next on the list. All three of us were captivated by the time-travelled medieval aura almost as soon as we arrived. There were very few people around, which isn't a surprise given that this mountain-top city's population is only about 30,000. The few lights enhanced the feeling as we walked through narrow stone alleys gazing at buildings probably dating 200-1000 years old.
During the day, Assisi retains its charm but can't hide the touristy shops that keep the town financially afloat. It's easy to forgive their presence, though, since the Basilica of St. Francis is open only during the day. The massive church houses Giotto's famous frescos comparing the lives of St. Francis and Jesus, along with St. Francis' body in a lower-level tomb.
If you go to Italy, go to Assisi.
Rome was last, and although I had seen much of it already, was still enjoyable as every visit is an opportunity for prayer, education, and graces for saying hi to the many saints buried here. We also had a great tour of Palatine Hill, the original foundation of the Eternal City, which was fortunate because the first tour I had a few months ago left me wondering why the site was even on the map. It's hit or miss with the Colosseum-Palatine combo tours in English.
A few points on studying abroad and parents: it's very easy to get frustrated, restless, and complacent as the study abroad period comes to a close, especially when you haven't had much time to study the language and therefore really get to know the native people and culture. But sometimes you're reminded of the practical side of things-- the experience should be fun, educational, and in every way valuable, but often has to be made, not merely expected-- by those on the outside. In this case my parents are to be thanked.
Also, on this the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a shout out to Mary, Mother of God and the Church, who always brings us to her son. Happy ~2025th Immaculate Conception Day!