Day 8 and 9: Rome if you want to

ImageOur final day in this beautiful country is upon us.  Today was Day-o-Roman Churches.  But first it was to the Coliseum.  Bridgett had brought with her a Traveling Curious George doll so he became really good buddies with our Traveling Knight, WT.  There was a courageous battle between the two at the Coliseum and in the end our valiant Knight was victorious.  It was fascinating to learn the Coliseum is nearly 2000 years old and on Good Friday the Pope will perform the Procession at the cross at the base of the Coliseum.

From the Coliseum we strolled the same paths of Caesar and visited the forum ruins which served as the social and political center of Rome.  Caesar was cremated there as well.

We were then bussed to San Clemente church which has the same history as Spirito DiVino.  It is a church built on top of another church.  The original church is 3 floors below where the present church stands.  It remains at the foundation of Rome’s original ground level and every step felt like going back in history.

We had our final lunch together near San Clemente which included Bucatini Amatriciana, Straccetti beef, fried pan cicory and tiramisu.  For some of us it was our final coffees.

After lunch we visited 3 more Roman churches; The church where the Pope functions as the Bishop of Rome, a church which holds a piece of the cross Jesus was crucified on, and a round church with frescos portraying the different ways the Christian Martyrs were tortured or killed.  This church was unique not only because it was round but because the modern renovations of it revealed bits and pieces of the original building.

By this time we were churched out and had made our way back to the hotel to pack, prepare for our dinner gala and to get our last gelatos.

Dinner started with an antipasti platter, pesto fettuccini, chicken and peppers, and ending with a fruit and ice cream dessert.  We also had a sampling of prosecco, and red and white wines.

We did a toast to our wonderful guide, Tiziana, for putting up with all our shenanigans, requests, tardiness, and questions.

The next day we had an opportunity to sleep a little bit longer before our ride to the airport.  Which allowed a few of us, Heather, Bridgett and I to get breakfast gelatos.  This place did have a cereal gelato and an egg gelato but they weren’t the items chosen for our final stop.  Getting through the Rome airport and JFK was a bit frustrating but the flight was actually quite pleasant.  Dr. DeSanctis and I were greeted by Gannon alum and newly appointed Board of Trustee member, Richard Orlando.  Him and his wife were flying back after taking cooking classes along the Amalfi coast.  What an unexpected surprise.

Final thoughts:  The Year of Faith started the day we arrived in Rome.  We narrowly missed an audience with the Pope as he addressed a crowd at Saint Peter’s Square to proclaim the beginning of this year of faith which is an opportunity for Catholics to experience a conversation and deeper relationship with Jesus.  What an amazing experience it would have been to have witnessed this moment in history.

I found it interesting every day at every hotel the continental breakfast was exactly the same; scrambled eggs, fried ham, cereal choices, fruit choices, the same 3 types of the same brand of yogurts, rolls and deli meats and cheeses, and croissants with various jams and Nutella. 

Bathrooms were hard to adjust to as the logistics of them were different than the American style.

The inaugural Gannon alumni group travel trip to Italy was an experience to remember; a whirlwind of action and adventure.  From the sights, sounds, educational history, and food we were transformed through learning the culture and sampling the gifts Italy loved to show off.  We all came back 10 pounds heavier than we had arrived and not just in luggage full of souvenirs. 

Final trip quotes that didn’t make the posts brought to you by Chris Sekerak and Becky Sheehan.

“I thought about buying olives but then I’d just eat them and they’d be gone.” Chris Sekerak
“This umbrella makes me feel smarter.” Chris Sekerak
“Life is too short to not own a scarf.” Becky Sheehan

Day 7: Quando a Roma

ImageThe day started out with the big guns at the Vatican Museum!  I was surprised at how crowded it was but that is normal.  Over 25,000 people visit it daily.  There were incredible ancient works of art held within.  The  tour lead us right into the Sistine Chapel, which of course is breathtaking and elbow to elbow in there, but worth the crowd.  Then of course the Sistine Chapel directed us right to the pinnacle point of the morning, Saint Peter’s Basilica; the largest church in the smallest country in the world.  It encapsulates magnificent works of art such as Michelangelo’s Pieta and over 148 Pope’s buried within its territory among countless other pieces of information and history.  We spent a great deal of time with jaws agape at the wonder of the building and the incredible history it beholds.
Before heading to lunch we did a little Vatican shopping.  A Pope on a rope hasn’t been located yet but we’re keeping the faith we’ll find the gem.  Although Pope bobble heads are quite prevalent.  Tiziana took us to another local place where we had, in my opinion, the best lasagna I’ve ever had.   This is where we met Rosalia Ciminella ’80.  
Rosalia moved from Italy to Erie in the ’70’s and graduated from Gannon in 1980.  She has lived in many different countries before returning to Italy with her husband to work for the U.S. Defense.  She was a great asset to the group for the rest of the afternoon as she added local insight.  Both her and Tiziana took us to Navona Square where we sampled a different kind of gelato called, Tartufo, which is much like death by chocolate in gelato form.  At Navona Square we were able to view the Fountain of 4 Rivers.  But that wasn’t the only fountain visit of the day.  First the group was lead to the Pantheon where the first and second Kings of Italy and Raphael are buried and was originally a dedication to pagan gods of Rome.  
The famous Trevi Fountain was our next impressive fountain visit.  Again I was overwhelmed with the crowd.  We were warned to guard our belongings carefully as pick-pocketers are prevalent.  Most of us took advantage of the tradition of throwing coins into the fountain over our left shoulder with our right hand; 1 for our return to Italy, 2 for love, and 3 for divorce.  
From that point we were taken to the Spanish steps where our group parted ways.  Some went back to the hotel and some remained to play in the area.  Greg and Marge had a romanic couples day of roaming Rome and gathering Italian delicacies for an evening picnic. 
Rosalia stayed with my group, Kelly, Becky, Bridgett, and Chris, and became our biggest wingman.  Her husband is head of carabinieri (police) and every officer she passed she talked them into snapping pictures with us.  She also took us shopping and sat down for a nice cup of cappuccino with us.  Before she left she  was able to get the address of the restaurant, Spirito DiVino, so we could meet back up with some of the group later that night.  Since it wasn’t a far walk, Kelly, Bridgett, Becky, Chris and I decided to trek it which worked to our advantage as we passed many ancient relics along the way.  It’s fascinating to be in a modern city that is co-existing within ancient ruins.
The restaurant, Spirito DiVino, was recommended to me by my fellow Assistant Director, Tracy Lyons, as she had studied in Rome while in college.  It is located in a tucked away region of Rome called Trastevere.  Heather, Liz and Olga went back to the hotel ahead of us to make reservations for 7:30.  When we arrived at 7:10 we discovered the reservations were unable to be made, however we found out they did try.  We caught the waiter, who I’m going to call, Shaggy, off-guard when 5 women walked in expecting to be seated.  Once we discovered reservations were attempted but were unable to be made for 8 we apologized and admitted he was right.  He answered with, “I know I’m right. My mom is the boss and if I made a mistake like that she would shoot me!”  I did request to see the wine cellar as this is the reason to visit the restaurant.  The foundation below their floor is as old as 83 B.C.  Years and years of Rome’s progress, was built layer by layer on top of each other and each step down to the wine cellar is like taking a step 100 years into the past.  Shaggy being the respectful, kind Italian gentlemen he was walked us to another quaint place around the corner and talked them into letting us in.  He deserves a Scooby Snack for that!  And oh wait, Heather arrives.  She bravely took a cab 20 minutes alone to met us at Spirito DiVino since she was unable to communicate with us she could not get reservations.  She showed up at Spirito DiVino and Shaggy kindly escorted her to us.  Dinner was amazing as usual.  We’re not shy about ordering multiple courses anymore.
Our attempt to get home post dinner provided us with an unexpected adventure.  Trying to navigate the foreign streets took us unexpectedly to the Coliseum.  The group is going there promptly the next morning but it was an added bonus to see the impressive structure at night.  After failing at trying to locate the right bus we gave in and flagged a cab to take us back to our hotel.
I can’t believe we only have 1 more day left in this increasingly incredible country.  We feel so blessed to be here and to experience the tastes, sounds, views and senses of what Italy has to offer.

Day 6: All roads lead to Rome

We were sad to leave our gorgeous Villa in Tuscany as we arrived late and left early the next day.  Some of us were really hoping for some spa pampering and a dip in the infinity pool.  We stayed at Hotel II Borgo di Cortefreda.  Look it up at  I think this calls for a revisit.
Tuscany is known for their wine and olive oil production.  So of course we couldn’t leave without making a few local flavor purchases. Image
We were on the road again to Orvieto which is a city situated on the flat summit of  large butte of volcanic tuff.  We visited the Cathedral of Orvieto which houses a miracle; the corporal (cloth) of Jesus’ blood.  It was claimed that during the consubstantion during a mass at Santa Cristina  in 1263 Jesus’ blood dripped from the cloth.  It was brought to the Cathedral and is kept in a shrine above the alter.  The church is beautiful and massive inside and out.
We walked the small quaint streets to see the oldest church in Orvieto situated next to the town hall.  Orvieto is a 3rd Century Medieval town with fortresses so our traveling Knight felt at home.  Did I mention I brought WT with us?  He’s been having a fun time getting to know the local flavor.  You can read his story at
We had a long lunch complete with beans vellutata style, umbricelli pasta and backed lamb with roasted potatoes.  The dessert was an ice cream tiramisu and white wine was served to drink.
Our coach bus delivered us to Rome where we had a quick second to snap a few pictures at Saint Peter’s Square before we had to make it to our hotel.
Most of the party ventured to a local pizza place while Becky, Dr. DeSanctis and I had a very productive and pleasant meeting with representatives with the American University of Rome.  They were quite hospitable and treated us to yet another lavish dinner.   They really would have liked us to see the campus, however our schedule didn’t permit this.  Just another reason for a revisit.
And although I make it a point to have a gelato a day I’ve realized I haven’t had nearly enough coffee.  Every cup is what heaven would taste like in coffee form.  For those of you who know Becky Sheehan, she may never look at a cup of Tim Hortons the same again.  She has been transformed.  As I feel we all have in one way or another.

Day 5: Vino della Cassa

Today gave us a completely new experience away from the touristy crowded streets of popular cities and back into the country side.
We were driven to Assisi to visit the Church of Saint Claire and the Basilica of St. Frances on the slopes of Mt. Subasio.  Our guide, Margherita, lead us up and down the winding and steep streets.  We also witnessed where Saint Frances was kept prisoner by his father to convince him not to become a monk, however his faith was too strong and his  mother set him free with her blessing.  
We had a short lunch then it was back on the road to visit a ceramic studio where we were also given the experience of tasting several olive oils while snacking on treats along the way through different tasting stations.
We were then driven to Lungarotti winery which is owned and run exclusively by 2 women.  They bottle and label the wines there as well.  We were shown their wine library which contained every type of wine they have produced since they began the business. At that point Dr. DeSanctis commented, “This may have been the first time some of you were ever in a library.”  
We were moved to the tasting room for an exclusive tasting lesson.  But of course we could not leave without making our wine quota purchases.  Luckily our guide gave us the contact information of the distributor in Chicago should we ever want a refresh.
Our day ended with an elegant dinner at our hotel nestled in the vineyards and olive tree covered hills of Tuscany.  The views are quite breathtaking.  Dinner tonight included  red and white wine, a tasteful chicken marsala, rice with asparagus and smoked scamorza cheese and roasted potatoes and ending with panna cotta and coffee.
Every experience thus far has been different, new, and exciting.  We’re all in good spirits and excited to discover what every day holds.  Our final  adventure leads us to Rome for 3 days of spiritual enlightenment.


Day 3 and 4: Andiamo!

Silly me I forgot to introduce our characters in this sitcom.
First we’ll start with our group leader, Dr. Michael DeSanctis, the Director of the Honors Program and Professor of Fine Arts at Gannon University.
And in alphabetical order our travelers are:
Elizabeth Lemon ’97, Physician Assistant from Locust Grove, GA
Margaret Liebner, Computer Programmer at IBM from Vestal, NY
Gregory Liebner, Flight Control Systems Engineer at BAE Systems from Vestal, NY
Kelly Matczak, ’04M, Chief Communications Officer, Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County from Boynton Beach, FL
Heather Neu ’07, Attorney Editor at Thomson Reuters from Rochester, NY
Bridgett Passauer, Director of Auxiliary Services at Tidewater Community College from Virginia Beach, VA
Becky Sheehan, ’04/’05M, Physician Assistant at Ronald Clark D.O., Family Medicine, from North Tonawanda, NY
Christine Sekerak, Certified Therapeutic Massage Therapist from Virginia Beach, VA
And Tiziana, our Tour Manager of Kuoni
Well I think it’s safe to say we’ve mastered the meaning of Andiamo as Tiziana knows how to keep us in line and on time for all our adventures.
After a rested night’s sleep we hit the canal early to motor on to Ravenna.  We took a Mercedes Benz coach bus and in case you were wondering, yes, “Call me Maybe” was played yet again.  Italians sure do love American pop music.   After an hour and a half we arrived in Ravenna, known for their beautiful mosaics and where students come to study the art.  Our guide, whom we met there, lead us through the San Vitale church and the Galla Placidia Mausoleum.  We also stopped at Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo before heading to lunch, which consequently was nearly the same meal we had for dinner 2 nights before.  Then it was back on the bus for a 2 hour trek to Florence, which lead us through the Apinines Mountains.
The day started cloudy and a bit sprinkly but the clouds parted just in time to watch the sunset behind the city of Florence at the Piazalle Michelangelo.  Many pictures were snapped.  We arrived to our hotel near the Arno River just in time for another 4 course dinner complete with bread, Tuscan Ravioli with butter and sage followed by beef chiantigiana style and steamed broccoli then ending with a zuccotto (sponge cake, iced mouse).
We figured we needed to walk off the pounds so Tiziana and Dr. DeSanctis took us on a late night stroll along the Arno River to Ponte Vecchio where we sampled gelato in the square. And by sampled I mean we each had 2 scoops, which didn’t help with the walking off the poundages.  Dr. DeSanctis promised to buy the first person who could spot Brunelleschi’s  Dome on the bus ride in and when 6 people all discovered it at once he decided to treat us all.  How nice.  It was such a beautiful, warm night in such a historic city we couldn’t help but to take our time getting back to the hotel, but not before some leather purse purchases were made.  I mean you’re supposed to buy leather here, Ive been told.
The next day we went early to the Academia to visit David.  The place was overcrowded but the view was impressive.  Our guide, Elainia, was quite energetic and expressive with her hand gestures.  She walked us to the Florence Cathedral which is the 4th largest church and holds Brunelleschi’s Dome which is the 3rd largest Dome and is actually 2 Domes.  There is the interior dome painted in extravagant frescos and the exterior, made of brick.  Elaina took us back to Ponte Vecchio and explained to the group it was the original site of David until he was moved inside the Academia to protect him from the weather.  There were many impressive statues in this square regardless.  Our last site with Elaina was Santa Croce where Galileo and Michelangelo are kept in tomb’s along the side of many Saints and historical Italian figures.
And then it was lunch time.  Becky made the astute observation that, “They don’t seem to have a lot of Olive Gardens around here” so Tizianna took us to a local place she likes.  Dante would often be seen plotting just outside the doors and the cafe was chosen specifically for this reason.
The group split and some went to see Ufizzi Art Gallery while most of us took advantages of the bargains in the street markets of Florence known for its abundance of silk and leather goods.
After a long day of shopping and gelato tasting we met back to venture out to dinner.  Six of us chose a spirited place in the square and decided the best thing to do was order something different and share since everything on the menu was whetting our appetites.  We shared, vino della cassa, bruschetta, gorgonzola pear gnocchi, 2 different kinds of pizza,  steak, pesto pasta, and risotto.
Then there were 4 of us who finished out the night with wine and desserts at a different little side street cafe.
Our impression of Florence was historic.  The day started out dreary and rainy but the clouds parted to a gorgeous warm and sunny afternoon followed by a crisp night.
The next day holds yet another totally different but incredible Italian experience in Assisi and the Tuscan hills.

Day 1 & 2: You buy Venetian blinds in Venice, right?

Ciao! Venice is gorgeous.  The weather is perfect with clear skies and low 70’s temps.  Prime for ultimate tourism.  We arrived in Venice at 11:00 a.m. after an overnight flight from JFK.  Unfortunately for Elizabeth her luggage decided to tour New York City a little bit before coming to Venice and didn’t arrive with her.  Luckily she was promised it would arrive the next day, no harm done.  

There was no rest for the weary as our adventure started immediately after our water taxi, vaporetto, delivered us to our hotel along the Grand Canal.  Some of us had less than restful slumbers and were walking zombies but we powered through like champions because we’re Gannon Knights!  We were escorted by our faithful guide, Tiziana, to Saint Mark’s Square for a walking tour where we experienced our first gelato’s, cafe’s and historic views.  We were taken on a guided tour through Saint Mark’s Basilica and the Murano Glass shop.  We witnessed the art of glass making and saw some beautiful glass art.  We walked past the Bridges of Sighs and the Doges Palace.  We were relieved to arrive back to our hotel for a little refresh before dinner.  

The group loves the lobby and feels right at home being able to connect to the free wifi while listening to the musical enjoyment of elevator/Glee like versions of our favorite pop songs.  And did I just hear, “Call me maybe” on our vaporetto on the way back to our hotel.  Yes, I believe I did.

Some of us enjoyed Bellini’s on the rooftop of our hotel for a pre-dinner cocktail complimented with a fabulous sunset view of the city.  A couple of guys shouted “Go Sabres” as they noticed Becky’s Sabres shirt.  It turns out they were from the Buffalo area.  It is a small world!  

Our dinner was a 4 course meal starting with bread, moving on to a creamy pasta, followed by a glazed pork with roasted potatoes, and balsamic arugula.  It was finished off with the most amazing chocolate tort of our lives.  We’re still waiting for something to top it.

Our next day was a day-o-leisure.  Dr. DeSanctis took us to a local parish for a true Venetian mass at Saint Lucia’s.  Tiziana walked us through the winding streets and across bridges back to Saint Mark’s Square.  She lead us to the oldest church in Venice, San Giacometto di Rialto and across the oldest bridge, Rialto, which is the tallest point in Venice.  We also passed the Casino where Tiziana said, “You pay a cover charge and then they give you the fish.” I said, the fish?  She said, you know the the the things you gamble with, to which we all laughed and said, “oh chips!” Later this came in handy, as Kelly attempted to snap a picture with the Police but was denied.  Chris said, “Don’t worry.  There are more chips in the sea.”

Once we arrived back at Saint Mark’s square the group split.  Half went to tour the Doges Palace while the other half decided to take a leisurely stroll back through the winding streets to shop.  I chose the shopping route.  Kelly, Becky, Chris and I took the leisure part a little too seriously as we stopped at a wine bar for a little vino della casa and took a gondola ride.  Chris started her iTunes so we were serenaded by Michael Buble through the watery canals.  Perfecto!

And success!  We’re back at our hotel and Elizabeth’s luggage arrives minutes before we depart for dinner at great little place with some mighty fine gnocchi and tiramisu across the canal from our hotel.

So far Italy is living up to its reputation.  We’re onward to Ravenna next!

By the way, my name is Erin Sekerak, Assistant Director of Alumni Services, Gannon University and I’m typing this on an iPad, so forgive the autocorrections. I’m hoping to connect to a computer in a future hotel to upload pics.  Arrivederci!

About the Inaugural Gannon Alumni Travel Program: Italy


We’ve recognized how worldly our alumni are, so to feed their traveling spirits, the Gannon University Alumni Association has developed Alumni Travel Opportunities as one of the Alumni Benefit Programs.

This first trip takes alumni to Italy’s fabled sites, as led by Gannon’s own Dr. Michael DeSanctis, professor of fine arts and director of Gannon University’s Honors Program. 

Gannon alumni will begin their journey in Venice where we will visit St. Mark’s Square.  From there, we will view the Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna. The next day takes us to Florence for a walking tour along the River Arno to Ponte Vecchio, and tours of art legends such as “David” and II Duoma, “The Gates of Paradise” and “The Last Supper.”  From Florence, we will tour Assisi, the Church of St. Claire and the Basilica of St. Frances.  Travelers will enjoy wine tasting throughout the Tuscan countryside and an elegant dinner overlooking the Etruscan land.  Next, alumni will visit St. Brizio in Orvieto and sample wine.  The final leg of our journey takes us to Rome to see the Vatican, St. Peter’s Square, the Sistine Chapel, a walking tour of the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, the Coliseum, Basilica di San Clemente and Stefano Rotondo.

We invite you to follow our journey and comment along the way if you have shared similar experiences or have advice for the world travelers. Ciao!