Relocating over to Salerno

Today (Thursday) we headed to Salerno from Brindisi, changing trains in Taranto. See the map below. We are now at the midpoint of the sabbatical time away.

Our travel overview

Imagine an ant walking from the back of your cowboy boot heel, over the ankle and onto the front instep. That’s a little like our journey today. The ankle area was of very rugged low mountains and was beautiful. The first train was a regional train, second class, no assigned seats. The second train was an Intercity, kind of an express train, but with assigned seats in second class.

The Intercity. We were the first to board our car.

We left Brindisi at 10:45, had a two hour wait and lunch in Taranto, and arrived in Salerno after 5:30. Lunch was in a restaurant near the train station. Horse steak was on the menu, but Mei Li had squid calamari spaghetti and I had a few bites of Spaghetti Boulanese.

Lunch menu, English version. Very inexpensive! What would you like?

The Calamari Spaghetti.

The entire train fare package today was about $32 for the two of us. I bought all our train tickets as e-tickets back in August or September on a French-run online ‘ticket office’ called Go Euro. The tickets can be changed or transferred up to the day before departure. In years past we’d buy a Eurail pass, but we learned quickly that buying individual train tickets is far cheaper.

An arrival screen

For those who are curious, at the station you find your train departure platform on the screen in the station. You find the train type and number from your ticket, like our Intercity 702, on the departure screen, and it tells you which binnario (platform) to go to. Then if you have assigned seats, board the right train car in the class of the ticket, and find the assigned seats. On the screens, a train that is sopprosso is cancelled. A train that will leave late is marked ritardo. Most often our trains have been on time, or if not, delayed 10 to 30 minutes. 

I am still under doctor’s orders and stayed in bed again yesterday, Wednesday, with only a couple of short walks with my birthday girl Mei Li in the Brindisi neighborhood. My appetite is still low. I’m supposed to take my meds, eat lots of veggies and broth and avoid breads and cheeses, and drink 2000 mL of water every day. But my appetite is so low I probably have had only 400 calories of food a day the last 4 days. Thank you for your continued prayers for full health recovery. 

The reasons we wanted to visit Salerno are that there seems to be very little Evangelical presence today, but Paestum not far away built a prominent Christian church that is still standing since the 5th century. Another reason is Salerno is very close to the spectacular Amalfi coast, which we have always wanted to see! Paestum is an historical coastal town about 25 miles south of Salerno which was settled by Greek immigrants and later by Christians in the 6th century. Because of a marshy area near there, malaria was a major problem (which explains why immigrants found the land open to them to settle?) and the town, after being built up and well settled, was abandoned. The remaining ruins provide a spectacular snapshot in time, almost as well known here as as Pompeii, which is to the North of Salerno. I’m told Italians prefer it because then they can avoid huge crowds of tourists in Pompeii. We hope to find out ourselves. We’ve been to Pompeii before anyway.

North Americans (except our Bridget, Donna, and Lloyd) often have little understanding of the havoc malaria continues to wreck in many tropical and semi-tropical places of the world. I’ve read a lot of Italians have an immunity to malaria but apparently these immigrants did not. Is it semi tropical in Brindisi and Salerno? Well, if the cacti and palm trees all over are an indication, I’d vote yes.




Fighting a bug but enjoying the waterfront

We walked along the Brindisi waterfront which is still today a busy port with yachts, cruise ships, and ferries to Greece. I could imagine military and trading ships pulling into this port in the first century.

Brindisi Marina near our apartment

This Roman column near the quay marks the start of the Appian Way

We visited the Roman column marking the start of the Appian Way. There used to be a second column next to this one but it was moved to a neighboring town for their heritage. Our apartment is near a major coast guard station. The coast guard in this port and others has been very busy in recent months rescuing sinking boats full of migrants from North Africa.

I spent most of a couple of days in bed fighting an infection which led to dehydration and a trip to the emergency room. They did blood tests and x-rays and were very professional, kind, and funny. Our apartment host’s daughter Francesca took us to the ER and her dad had already called ahead to ask for an English speaking doctor. I didn’t even need the translator app on the iPad.

Waiting for my test results.

My heaven-sent caregivers

Francesca, a Catholic, seemed God-sent to us in her generous care for us. No doubt that was an answer to the prayers of my church family! She came back twice later in the day to check on me and she will bring prayers to God for me tonight at church. The other amazing thing is that with socialized medicine like Canada has, the bill for the hospital was $0. I only had to pay for my meds. I am still under doctor’s instructions and prescriptions for another week to heal. Next stop is Salerno by train on Thursday. I will need a clinic visit there.

At the Brindisi Assembly of God church

Today we walked a couple of miles to the Chiesa Cristiana Evangelica, the Christian Evangelical Church. From an internet search I could only find two evangelical churches here. One is a Waldensian congregation (with no website so we had no idea when the service was and they share a pastor with one or two other congregations) and the other is the Assemblies church. Interestingly, our walk was right along the Appian Way as it leaves the port of Brindisi on the way toward Rome. (See previous post)

Prayer time in church

There were about 65 people there, of all ages. The service was entirely in Italian. A few folks who were able, greeted us in English. It was Communion Sunday. The banner up front says “Jesus is Lord.”

Several things stood out to us. The church is well rooted because we could see their sense of family and shared mission and love for one another. The joy in the Spirit of God and the exalting of Christ was very strong. This is a prayerful and worshipful people. The worship team consisted of a keyboard, a drum set, and an acoustic guitar. The team was very capable. The songs were contemporary praise and worship songs, but thoughtfully selected. We recognized three or four that we sing at Oak Heights.

There were times of free prayer when anyone who wanted could speak out a prayer or lead out above the other voices in prayer and praise. One older woman led a lengthy and spontaneous praise to God. The married and older women typically wore veils, but not all of them. The offering time was lively and praise filled.

The text today was Genesis 22:1-3, where Abraham’s faith is tested with the command to take Isaac and go to Mount Moiah and offer him there to the Lord. While the message was in Italian, we could understand that the pastor was preaching that Abraham by faith presented his precious son Isaac, the son of promise, to God. Abraham believed God (that Isaac, the son through whom a great nation had been promised to come, would be spared from death or brought back to life, whatever God would choose) and it was credited to him as righteousness. God, I think to Abrahams great surprise, provided a substitute for Isaac, a male ram who had his horns caught in the bushes. God presented the sacrifice to Abraham so that Isaac wouldn’t have to die, but live. God presents His Son of Promise to us as our substitute for the penalty for our sin, which is death. God presents to anyone who will believe by faith in the death and resurrection of the Son of God, forgiveness of sins and eternal life. When we present our old dead lives to God through Jesus, God returns our life back to us for all eternity and we are made right (righteous) with God through faith in Jesus. 

The communion table was prepared by women. The table was placed on the floor level of the congregation, whereas the pulpit was raised at the front of the church. Communion was led by the pastor and a couple of deacons or assistants. The worship team was served first. The one usher sent rows of congregants forward, maybe 10-12 people at a time. Each group received a piece of broken bread, and then a single cup of wine was shared. The recipient would take the chalice from the server and take a sip and return it to the server. The server would wipe the rim with a clean cloth and hand it to the next person. When everyone had been served, the group would return to their seats and another group went forward. Finally, the pastor served the assistants, and then he came to the congregation side of the table, and was served there, last of all.

There was much shaking of hands and kissing of cheeks and benedictions at the door to the street after the service. Today, the Gospel is alive and well in that church, just a few steps from the Appian Way in Brindisi, Italy. Jesus, the perfect substitute and Savior, is presented here. Life. Thanks be to God.

We fly south to Brindisi, start of the Roman Road

Today we relocated from Florence to Brindisi for the half-way point of our sabbatical.

On the way to Brindisi

If you can picture Italy in the shape of a boot, then Brindisi is on the boot heel. We are exploring this part of Italy because we have never been this far south in Italy before, and because when the Gospel was first being spread, Brindisi may have been its entry point to Italy and possibly Southern Europe West of Greece.  

The Appian Way

Brindisi was a very key port on the Roman network of roads and ship passages connecting the empire. If you were traveling from Rome going East to Corinth or Athens or Macedonia or Further East to Asia Minor or the Holy Lands, you would likely travel overland on the Roman Road to Brindisi, board a ship here and cross over. Mediterranean winds can be fierce (sciroccos) and rounding the southern end of Italy could be hazardous. It would be safer to go overland from Rome and then board ship in Brindisi or Bari. Even today you can easily take a ferry to Corfu in Greece from Brindisi. 

You can see Brundisium (Brindisi) on the map

When Paul was being taken under arrest to Rome for trial, if his ship had not been blown far west of its intended track and been shipwrecked on Malta, he might have arrived in Italy at Brindisi. His group finally connected with the Appian Way near modern day Naples.

Tomorrow we will walk 30 minutes to an Assembly of God church, one of a very few Protestant churches in Brindisi, to participate in worship, though we expect everything will be in Italian!

To the Palazzo Pitti

Today the weather was fair and we walked through town and across the Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palace, which we have never visited.

Ponte Vecchio bridge, crawling with extravagant jewelry stores

Outside the palazzo

It was fairly pricey to get in but the building was so jam packed with paintings and sculpture and rich furnishings that we actually wearied of all the amazing sights.

By the time we got to the third floor we had seen plenty. But I got to see one of my favorite paintings, Ecce Homo. You can just about hear Pilate ask, What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” We hear the shouts of the priests and scribes persuading the crowd to say “Crucify Him!!” And we overhear Pilate’s wife say, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.” (Matthew 27)

Behold the Man, by Cisero

We also saw another artist’s depiction of the same scene, but this time a Jewish scribe and an executioner are with Jesus. This is unlikely as it was Passover and the blood would defile the Jew. Could the Italian artist want to transfer responsibility for Jesus’ death to the Jews? Historically, many have tried. But every one of us is responsible for Jesus’ death. Thankfully, that is why He came and bled and died, to forgive anyone’s sins who will put their whole faith in His blood. Mei Li and I appreciate biblical accuracy in artwork depicting biblical scenes. She has a few words for Michelangelo concerning his famous “David,” which I will not repeat here!

“Behold the Man,” by Cigoli

Mei Li enjoyed this sculpture of an artist’s prayerful grandma.

Wonderful sculpture of a prayerful woman

 We also liked this rendering of Peter and Paul who tradition says we’re both martyred in Rome.

Paul and Peter

Finally we appreciated a painting of the martyrdom of Andrew, and other Biblical scenes. There was also a collection of contemporary fashion pictures, which we didn’t appreciate at all. The stark, gaunt, bony women in these so called glamour photos looked like characters out of vampire movies, Mei Li thought. I agreed. Rubens certainly would have laughed at modern tastes in beauty!

To the Florence duomo and the del Bargello museum

Today it was supposed to be rainy and Mei Li stayed home to read and to give me all the time I could want to linger over sights at two places, a museum and a cathedral. But not just any old museum or dusty cathedral!

Courtyard of del Bargello

The Museo del Bargello specializes in sculptural treasures. It is in one of the oldest buildings in Florence, built in 1255. It was first a police station and prison. “It witnessed sieges, fires, executions, the most famous perhaps being that of Baroncelli, involved in the Pazzi plot against the Medici, which Leonardo also witnessed,” I read.

As you maybe can imagine, there were seemingly a thousand “Virgin and Bambino” pieces in wood, terra cotta, marble, bronze, and paint. The ones I liked emphasized the humanity of their affection and joy in the Father. Our Catholic brothers surely give extra-biblical honor and unscriptural roles to ‘Mary Queen of Heaven,’ ‘Co-redemptrix’ and ‘Medatrix of grace,’ etc. and yet we Protestants give far too little notice of her as a young woman of great faith and obedience, the mother of our Lord, and her amazing role model for discipleship. 

Mother and Child

The angels share the joy!

I especially enjoyed the different artists’ presentation of John the Baptist, who Jesus said was the greatest prophet and whose life was lived to lead people to Him. I usually think of John the B. as a robust, rugged man of the wilderness, but look at how these artists present him! Slender, even undernourished, and somehow burdened. Two of the pieces have John holding a short scroll or document. Is this meant to represent his commission given him before he was born, to “bear witness of the Light, that all through Him might believe, (John 1:7) and “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17)

John the Baptist by da Sangallo

Young John the Baptist by di Bartolommeo 

John the Baptist by Pieratti

And I liked these two portrayals of Jesus. I wonder if the facial features were not influenced by the image on the shroud of Turin? The long, straight nose, deep set eyes, and beard. Early sculptures and paintings of Christ were usually beardless, because of Roman culture norms I suppose.

Bust of Christ, by Lombardo

Christ, Emilan sculptor

 Finally, I appreciated this thought-provoking piece of the worldly Augustine, ‘pursued’ relentlessly by the prayers and tears of his mother until finally he came to Christ.

Augustine and his mother, Monica

Next I walked down to the Arno and up to the duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore, Mary of the flowers. How wonderful that the then cutting edge designs of 13th to 15th century architects and artisans is still magnificent today. It is still the third largest cathedral in the world!

Santa Maria del Fiore

I have stood in front of this cathedral, tower and baptistry several times in my life and come away each time more impressed. The architecture, stonework, and colors are stunning.

Baptistry to the left, cathedral straight on with its dome, and the bell tower to right

I was drawn to the amazing painting inside of the dome by Vasari, the Last Judment. In an otherwise ‘plainly decorated’ cathedral, all eyes are drawn upward to this scene. I marveled at how Vasari preaches yet today that the Judge stands now at the door of time. And I watched the expressions of the tourists who, if they were willing to look closely, came face to face with every unbeliever’s future sentencing. And I prayed they could see that today is still the day of salvation, and it is not too late to repent and believe in Jesus for salvation. But tomorrow may be far too late.

The Last Judgment

Jesus, the Judge


Visits to Piazzle Michelangelo and Fiesole

Today we hiked through town and across the Arno river to Piazzale Michelangelo high in the hillside with an amazing view of Florence. On the way we stopped at my favorite Florence church, Santa Croce (Holy Cross) which I will post about separately.

The long hike up to the Piazzle

We had hiked up those stairs to the top 10 years ago and the boys still painfully remember it! The usual tourists and locals were admiring the view. There is a copy of “David” up there but few pay much attention to it as the view is spectacular.

Florence from the Piazzle

Back then, we couldn’t afford to take all five of us to a sit-down cappuccino bar but today Mei Li and I did, although at a more set back shop rather than the front and center extravagant and twice as expensive place. I had my cream filled croissant with cappuccino and she tried the cherry gelato. Did I say it was awesome? And far cheaper than Starbucks or Caribou back home.

Coffee break at P. Michelangelo

Though an amazing city, Florence is a relative newcomer in the area. After the walk back and a rest stop at the apartment, we took a city bus about 5 miles up to a Hutchinson-sized town, Fiesole, that predates Florence. Historians say fiesole was probably founded in the 9th-8th century BC, not long after the time of David. It was an important town, shown by the remains of its ancient walls.


In 283 BC this town, known as Faesulae, was conquered by Rome. Fiesole in 406 was the scene of the Roman victory over the ‘barbarian’ Vandal and Suebi hordes from the north more by depriving them of food sources than in battles. During another war against the ‘barbarian’ Goths in 536-53, the town was several times besieged. In 539 Justinus, the Byzantine general, captured it and tore down its fortress.

Roman ruins in Fiesole

Under Roman rule, Fiesole had a famous school of “augurs,” and every year twelve young men were sent here from Rome to study the ‘art’ of divination. Rome typically drew heavily on the Etruscans for priests and augurs. 

In the early Middle Ages, Fiesole was more powerful than Florence down in the valley below, and there were many wars between them. In 1010 and 1025 Fiesole was overtaken by Florence, and its leading families were forced to move to Florence.

Christianity was introduced to Fiesole by St. Romulus, a disciple of St. Peter. The fact that the ancient cathedral (now the Abbazia Fiesolana) stands outside the city is a evidence that the Christian origins of Fiesole date from the period of the persecution of the Church by Rome. The earliest mention of a Bishop of Fiesole is in the late 5th century and early 6th century.

Local tradition says Christianity was brought to Fiesole in the second century by Romulus, said to be a disciple of Peter. Romulus was apparently martyred by Domitian along with four companions: Carissimus, Dulcissimus, Marchis(i)anus, and Crescentius. In any case, the original duomo stood outside the city walls, suggesting that Christianity started here during persecution of the Church by Rome.