I must be absolutely insane to long for the days of employment.
Leaving my career behind when I got married and moved to Italy was an easy decision at the time: I had met my other half, the Angel to my Buffy, the Darcy to my Elizabeth, so what was a little sacrifice?
But it hasn’t been easy. Even now, being in Italy for almost two years, my mind is still trying to force itself into the career-minded mold it lived and thrived in for so long. You must have a career, you’re not contributing to the success of your family unless you’re making money, who are you without a job?! In the U.S. we have this little habit of viewing ourselves as our careers. When we meet someone for the first time the first question we typically ask them is “Oh, what do you do?”.
It is simply not like that in Italy. I’ve had an hour long conversation with someone where work didn’t come up once. My mind is slowly adjusting, and in order to break out of the cycles of worthless doom (can you tell I’m a bit dramatic?) I get trapped in from time to time, I focus on the positives of not having a traditional 9-5. Among them, I get to volunteer, I can work on my voice, I’m on the board of an Expat organization, I have time to write this blog (hey, that’s pretty awesome!), and I get to travel with my Italian when he goes away on business. Major bonus there.
Since business travel doesn’t necessarily cater to the tourist, I get to experience things that I never even knew existed. It’s my own little slice of heaven, and there’s a certain magic to doing it on my own. I can’t rely on my Italian, who is in meetings all day, for directions, translations, or itineraries. It’s all on me…and it makes it all that much better.
One of the treats I recently discovered was Sacro Monte di Orta, a beautiful walking path and garden carved into the side of the mountain overlooking lake Orta and the island of San Giulio. Along this wooded path are twenty chapels full of magnificently carved figures and intricate frescoes that depict, and celebrate, the life of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Sacro Monte di Orta, literally translated as Sacred Mountain of Orta, is one of the nine Sacri Monti (Sacred Mountains) of Piedmont and Lombardy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Each of the twenty chapels portray a different event in the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, a life that is considered by some as being similar to that of Jesus. At the end of the devotional path, you will find the Church of Saint Nicolao, which was reconditioned in the seventeenth century to resemble the Lower Basilica of Assisi.
This site is unique in relation to its Sacri Monti counterparts because it is the only one dedicated to a saint, and not to the life of Christ or the Madonna. Architecturally, the chapels represent many crucial and influential periods. Built between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, you will see aspects of the Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococò periods. The spiral formation of the chapels, as well as the realism with which the figures were created add to the particularity and majesty of Sacro Monte di Orta.
Travel Smart Tips for Sacro Monte di Orta
If you are able, visit Sacro Monte di Orta on a weekday and arrive by 9:00 am. This way you will beat the crowd. Trust me when I say that my visit was that much more inspiring because I was by myself. I had time to sit and meditate and really linger. I sat on every bench and took in every second. By the time I reached the end, around 11:30 am, tour buses were starting to pour in and I was not alone (most chapels have very little standing room). It made me grateful for the early morning time I did have.
Make sure to park to the left, going down the hill and use the restrooms at the parking lot level. They are clean and have actual toilets with seats (this really is a luxury while traveling through Italy for those of you reading and wondering why in the heck I’m telling you to go to the bathroom). A donation is asked to help keep them clean by the nuns that live in Sacro Monte di Orta. (The bathrooms above, near the church and the end of your path, are Turkish toilets. If you are OK standing up going number 1 and 2, by all means. If not, you’ll be grateful for my advice).
Captain Obvious here, but wear sneakers or sandals specifically made for hiking. It’s not a mountain trail by any means, but there are some slippery stone slopes and loose pebbles. There is a small parking lot at the top of the hill for those that need assistance in moving around.
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