A day in Ravenna (5/23/02)
This will probably be the only mass e-mail I will be sending from Ravenna, where we are only scheduled to spend one full day. Because it is only 3:30 p. m. here and our day is far from over, it will probably also be the shortest such message I have sent out thus far on this trip. I just had lunch with Sheila -- a couple of panini and some acqua minerale purchased at a place across the street from where we are staying -- and in another hour or so I plan to take her to a beach north of Ravenna so she can see the Adriatic, and, as she says, get her feet wet in it. Meanwhile, I am on my way to see the Battistero Neoniano and one or two other places. We had planned to go to San Marino this afternoon -- it is an independent country completely surrounded by Italy, and whose principal industries are tourism and postage stamps -- but we decided that particular jaunt would serve no purpose except to enable us to say we had been there. Besides, Donatella told us the beaches here are better than the ones at Rimini -- where we would have to go before going to San Marino -- and that the Ravenna beaches have the added advantage of not being magnets for tourists and beachcombers.
I spent most of the morning and part of the afternoon wandering around Ravenna, where one combined ticket is good for admission to all of the principal tourist attractions. It costs 8 euros. There is not a lot to see in Ravenna, but what it does offer is fascinating, and I am glad we came here. I visited Dante's tomb this morning, plus San Vitale and the Masoleo di Galla Placidia; but the site I enjoyed the most -- and a must-see if you ever come to Ravenna -- is the Church of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, which dates from the sixth century. Ravenna in general, and this church in particular, is full of beautiful Byzantine art, mostly in the form of mosaics, but including a few frescoes as well. Much of it is absolutely breathtaking -- and keep in mind that this remark comes from someone who is not particularly knowledgeable about art. Unfortunately, I forgot to take the flash attachment for my camera, and as a result will almost certainly not have any good pictures of the art treasures. [Happily, this bit of conjecture later proved to be wrong]. I'll try to bring back some postcards; you simply have got to see these.
I quite like Ravenna, and sort of wish now that I had planned another day here, in which case we almost certainly would have gone to San Marino. Ravenna is a comparatively quiet town of about 90,000, and is not overrun by tourists the way Florence and Rome usually are. (It is a tourist attraction of sorts, though; today, in fact, I ran into a large group from the Utah Valley State College in Provo. The chaperone of the group, who was LDS, told me, incidentally, that Elder Jeffrey Holland had been in Florence only yesterday.) The Byzantine presence in Ravenna arises from the fact that in the fifth and sixth centuries A. D., it was the capital of the Western Roman Empire. I recommend this town to anyone planning to come to Italy. Most of its principal tourist attractions can be seen in a few hours, on foot; but I thought it worthy of an overnight stay, and cannot say that I regret that decision.
I notice that I have to struggle with my Italian when I am tired, and I have been very tired for the past couple of days. The cab driver in Florence who drove us to the train station yesterday told me that my Italian was very good, and he said he was impressed that I was able to use some difficult verb conjugations in my speech; he mentioned specifically that I had correctly used the verb "suppongono." I know I have a long way to go before I can really feel comfortable speaking Italian, but nothing I have experienced during this trip discourages me, and I believe taking it up has been one of the most worthwhile things I have ever done.
FYI, today is our fifteenth wedding anniversary. I asked Sheila this morning if she had ever thought we would be celebrating one of those annual milestones in Italy, and she said no. The stay in Ravenna was intended largely for her benefit, which is why I have decided to skip San Marino and head for the beach. First, though, I have to go to that Battistero, which I propose to do right now. Barring some unforeseen development, the next time you hear from me we will probably be in Bolsena. (Pray that my back will hold up okay tomorrow as I haul the Monster over a good portion of Italy.)