One year ago, we wrapped up the final day of our Italy mission trip with the Tallowood Baptist Church Choir and Orchestra. This mission trip was an 11-day journey, visiting places such as Milano, Cantu, Punto Luce, Bologna, Cinque Terre, Switzerland, Sesto Calende, and Saronno. We were able to visit beautiful places in Rome, Florence, and Pisa after the mission trip was done, but this is a discussion for another day.
On June 23, after a quick layover in Frankfurt, Germany, we arrived in Malpensa and took a train to Milano, our home base for a couple of weeks. We arrived a day earlier than most, so we were able to enjoy some time around Milano before we hit the ground running. Our first Italian meal was at San Pietro, then we were off to see the Duomo de Milano and people-watch at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II while visitors shopped for the world-famous Italian fashion.
We had our first dress rehearsal on June 24, where Daniel and I gathered 2500 programs and 1000 concert invitations for each of the five church venues. The choir and orchestra, even in the smallest room in the hotel, sounded amazing!
Before we knew it, the time for the first concert in Cantu was upon us. The missions pastor and I walked around the local park, hearing different tongues spoken and observing many different cultures. A few people were receptive to our invitation cards, but most of them were skeptical and refused our invitations. Amidst 100° weather, the concert was filled with hundreds of people, lined in rows to enjoy the concert under the beautiful clock tower. People from the surrounding square and restaurants closed their shops and came to enjoy the sounds of powerful music, memorable worship, and heart-warming testimonies.
The next morning, we opted for a “Hidden Treasures Milan Bike Ride”. We were sized for our bike cruisers by a sweet husband and wife duo. The wife, Paulina was our guide for the next three hours, touring us through some of the most interesting places around Milan. She took us to the Bosco Verticale or Vertical Forest, the most amazing residential tower I had ever seen. Later that evening, we had our second concert in Punto Luce. We enjoyed a four-course meal, freshly prepared by the host family. We had fresh fruits, sandwiches, pesto, pasta, cannoli, and piping hot espressos. The concert was a phenomenal experience, there were so many lives touched by the musical experience. Many joined us from the surrounding areas and even a few stumbled from the beer garden across the way.
Our group had a rest on June 27 when we had a bus tour to Bologna. On the route, we saw rows of lush, green vineyards, bright yellow sunflowers, and tall stalks of corn. Upon arrival, we walked around the local markets and delighted in an amazing lunch with fresh loaves of bread and thick triangles of multiple types of cheese. We walked the Torre Asinelli or Two Towers, which consisted of 490 steps. By the time we were all done, we were gasping for air, admiring the overlooking beautiful landscape of Bologna.
The next day a few of us took a pasta and tiramisu cooking class with renowned Chef Nicoletta. She was a short, seasoned woman with salt-and-pepper hair, who spoke zero English. She welcomed us into her home, the extra small apartment, and her very tiny kitchen. We sat down at a small table, where she served us red and white wine. We began with light bites and shortly thereafter began prepping the tiramisu. While there was a mishap with the egg whites meeting her kitchen floor, it was great entertainment! We continued by rolling out fresh pasta into shapes such as ravioli and tagliatelle. We filled our ravioli with pesto and finished our meal with our fresh tiramisu. In the evening, we had a wonderful concert in Milano, which could be the hottest theater I have ever encountered. Although it may have been our smallest concert, people filled the auditorium with joy and excitement and left with tears in their eyes!
On June 29, we enjoyed another concert break. Our group had a bus trip to Cinque Terre where we witnessed huge mountains and peaks of tall trees, kissing the clouds with layers upon layers of forest greenery. We embarked on a boat at La Spezia toward the five villages. It was a gorgeous boat ride along the coast of the Ligurian Sea. We sailed around the Chiesa di San Pietro, a small, restored Catholic Church at the top of Portovenere. We made our first stop in Monterosso al Mare where we ate mouth-watering lasagna with fresh pesto and walked it off along the beach. The water was crystal-clear! Even though it was scorching outside, we enjoyed a macchiato at a local bar called Gelaria Doria. We walked around the shops and I photographed beautiful storefronts with their wild splashes of colors. These shops were filled with different olive oils, all things lemon, and plump Italian women hanging out of their shop windows, selling freshly jarred pesto.
The next day we had a full day off, so Daniel and I took a train to Switzerland to meet with my cousin Rudy. We took the scenic route to Lucerne and stopped for lunch at the Swiss Chalet where Rudy grew up and worked as a young adult. We walked around old Lucerne and dined on fresh fruits, looked at the beautiful clothing, and gawked at the beautifully hand-painted buildings. Rudy took us to his favorite chocolatier where we purchase freshly cocoa-dusted truffles. After saying our goodbyes to my cousin, Daniel and I walked up and down the lakeside, with a few showers along the way. We returned to Old Lucerne as the tall church bells rang on the hour. We stopped as well as at Meza Coffee for a delicious macchiato. We sipped our coffees outdoors and enjoyed watching all the people coming and going. We continued to walk the town and found ourselves at Des Alpes Restaurant where we ordered a massive meat and cheese board for the train ride back to Milano. It was sad to say our goodbyes to Switzerland but we have a feeling we'll be back.
On July 1, we enjoyed pancakes and fresh fruit breakfast at Biancolatte and geared up for the concert at Sesto Calende. To our surprise, thousands of people enjoyed this concert in their massive cathedral. While the church could hold no more people, many stayed outside, listening through the tall doors.
The next day we had our final concert in Sarrano. Unfortunately, due to sickness, there were many musicians out, but God works in mysterious in wonderful ways, so we know seeds were sown with this concert.
On July 3, we enjoyed our last day in Bellagio where we soaked up the iconic scenery such as the winding cobblestone staircases, the lush green Alps, and the clear blue Lake Como. Our friends rented a boat and steered us toward the iconic Villa del Balbianello. For us Star Wars nerds, yes, this is where Anakin and Padme made their vows! We returned to the hotel both tired and full of joy.
We did spend another week as American tourists but there was nothing like being in Italy for our first mission trip. There is so much more to tell with our days in Rome, witnessing the Duomo, the Last Supper by Da Vinci, and the iconic David. We have a hilarious story of our Vespa tour in Tuscany but it's all for another day. For now, I want to give glory to God for giving us the opportunity to witness to the people in Italy, build relationships with others, and learn how to love others well.
While a year has gone by, I am grateful for the friendships which have flourished since our time in Italy.