Barcelona Me Encanta! The Magic is Back

I am on a high speed train heading from Barcelona to Madrid. My first week back in Spain was fantastic. Barcelona is enchanting. I learned a lot of Spanish in a week of intensive study and look forward to this coming week of study in Madrid.

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I visited with Emma and Ester, who I met and walked with on part of the Camino. The were wonderful hosts.

I never had a chance to study abroad in college and 30 years later I am making up for it. It is an incredible learning experience on many levels. Barcelona is 2,000 years old, unlike Madrid, which was somewhat of an undistinguished city until the King Philip II moved the government from Toledo to Madrid in 1561.

There is so much to see and do in Barcelona. The city is rich in museums and buildings designed by Gaudi, parks, bars, cages, restaurants, cathedrals and magical little alleyways. Barcelona is also one of the world’s most densely populated cities. It is expensive, and the people of Cantaluna are very proud of their culture.

In addition to studying like mad, highlights of the week included touring Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece, which is only 60 percent completed. They expect to complete it by 2026 in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. I visited El Parc Guel and three houses that Gaudi designed. He was simply a genius. I am reading a biography of him in Spanish, which is a great way of learning the language and culture.

image(2)I found an outlet store named after Zabriskie Point and had the taxi stop and let me out so that I could photograph it. The museum of Cataluna was fascinating. The Museo Historio de La Ciutat is built over the largest underground Roman ruins in the world. I enjoyed walking through them.

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I love art. It feeds my soul. Walking through the Picasso Museum and the Joan Miro Museum as well as the Museo National de Cataluna was like drinking from a fountain of culture. Listening to the audio guides in Spanish was also a great way to learn new worlds and attune my ear to Spanish sounds.

image(10)I am a foodie and ate the best flatbread style Catalan piazza on the planet. Crema Catalan rivals creme brule as a fantastic dessert. I enjoyed a flaming drink called Calmada, which is made with coffee beans and liquor.

Last night I watched in a bar as the world’s two best soccer teams – Barcelona and Real Madrid faced off in El Clasico, the great rivalry image(12)between these incredible teams. The country shuts down to watch it. We will post more photos from Barcelona on my blog this week, if you care to see them.

With love and prayers,

Marek

Monserrat – A Monastery on a Mountaintop

Today I took the world’s slowest train from Barcelona to Manresa – less than 90 minutes from Barcelona, and then rode a gondola to the top of the mountain.

image (0)I spent the day visiting Monserrat – a monastery that was built in the 11th century surrounded by incredible rock formations. The black virgin is kept here and was said to have been carved by St. Luke himself, though carbon-dating suggests that it comes from the 12th century. Sorry Luke.

Pilgrims come from all over rose it and to visit this Christian center, but I found it overrated and overrun by tourists or what the Beatles called day trippers. It is hard to appreciate anything in a huge crowd, especially anything spiritual.

 

The first crowds to overrun the monastery were Napoleon’s soldiers who destroyed the monastery in 1811, if my memory serves me correctly. Fortunately, it was rebuilt and occupied again by monks.

image (1)Monserrat is well marketed, but I felt oddly claustrophobic atop the mountain until the crowd started to dissipate. I enjoyed a competition of human castle building, which is a major cultural activity and competitive sport in Cataluna – the region of Spain where Barcelona is.

A majority of citizens in Cataluna want to be independent from Spain, but the European Union recently announced that if Cataluna breaks off from Spain it will cease to be recognized as any country by the rest of Europe.

I hiked up the mountain, but lacked time to complete my hike, after a slow but wonderful late lunch that began with shaved foie gras and ended with a delicious goat leg. The wine was superb – a crianza.

image (6)The museum was blissfully quiet. It has some wonderful art. My favorite painting was of an old fisherman by Picasso when he was thirteen. It was astonishingly good for a teenager to have produced. Picasso soon moved to Barcelona to study painting and was greatly influenced by Barcelona and Cataluna. He was born in Malaga, which is a major city in the very south of Spain.

image (3)After sitting through an exceedingly boring Mass in Catalan, the language of Cataluna, I came back to the basilica and listened to the first part of a glorious vespers service, where the monks and the world famous Escolana Choir of children, who live, study and are trained to be one of the best boy choirs in the world, were singing.

Both the monks and the Escolana were superb. Here was a special moment after the hoards of day trippers who moved like barbarians had left. This was a sacred moment, and then I had to run to catch the last funicular off the mountaintop.

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I studied a lot of Spanish today on the train, boning up for my entrance exam tomorrow morning. I am going to work hard and learn as much grammar as possible, build my vocabulary and speak and listen to as much Spanish as I can.

My host is Jose, an economist who takes in language students to supplement his income. I have a nice, simple room, a shared bathroom and a fix your own breakfast and a prepared dinner at 9:00 pm each night. Spaniards eat late. There is a German student here with an unusual name and a young woman from South Korea, who speaks little Spanish just arrived.

With blessings,

Marek

Back in Spain – Time to Study

I am safely back in Spain. I arrived in Madrid and dropped my backpack off at a hotel I know and took a great walking tour of the churches and convents of Madrid. Madrid has some of the most beautiful churches and cathedrals that I have ever seen tucked away on side streets and hard to find.

I met my Spanish host and then went on a walking tour of Barcelona with a friend that I met on the Camino. We saw the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar, which was incredibly beautiful.

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There was a wonderful concert taking place. We also saw the Barcelona Cathedral, which is stunning.

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Barcelona is a charming city. It will take a while to get a sense of how to get around. It’s small alleyways are different than Madrid, which doesn’t seem to have nearly as many old churches and buildings.

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We had tapas for dinner – the best that I have had in Spain. Now I am a believer in tapas.

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Intensive Spanish studies start on Monday morning. I am already studying hard. Tomorrow, I hope to visit Montserrat.

The End of the World is Outstanding

Finisterra literally means “the end of the world,” and it is the furthest point west in Spain. This is where they thought that the world ended.

image (0)I originally was going to hike here, but decided to rent a car and spend three days driving along the northwest coast of Spain, which is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever visited.

This is a statue of Santiago making his way to the end of the world.

This is a statue of Santiago making his way to the end of the world.

A ritual exists that if you burn some or all of your clothes that you wore on the pilgrimage, bathe in the sea and sit and watch the sunset, you will awake the next day a new person. You can see areas where pilgrims have burned their clothes. I kept mine on.

My last stop of the day was Muxia, where legend has it that the Virgin Mary appeared to Santiago in a stone ship when his courage failed him during a missionary journey.

She certainly got around. The coastal point is breathtaking and full of large boulders, which are said to be the remains of her ship.

There is one famous one that resembles a stone sail. If you pass nine times under it it is said that you won’t have kidney problems and it will cure your rheumatism.

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I climbed way out on the stones to where the ocean was crashing in on the boulders. It was an impressive sight, but as the sun set and it became pitch black, making my way back was harder.

I continued the adventure my eating octopus flambé in cognac. Anything is worth trying once.

I continued the adventure my eating octopus flambé in cognac. Anything is worth trying once.

The main course was "secreto de credo," which the waiter explained to me was the armpit of a pig - another thing to say that you have eaten but not acquire a great desire to eat on on regular basis.

The main course was “secreto de credo,” which the waiter explained to me was the armpit of a pig – another thing to say that you have eaten but not acquire a great desire to eat on on regular basis.

Earlier in the day, I drove along a spectacular section of the coast from from Noia to Murps to Cee and on to Finisterra.  I heartily commend it to you. It reassembles Scotland.

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The waves were great. Each wave was different. It could have watched them all day. This is usually a very popular area for surfing.

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Lunch was great – fish and a glass of white wine and the local cheese cake.

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This gentleman gave the most engaging tour of a small fishing museum in Finisterra, explaining each of the very old fishing tools and how squid, octopus and fish were caught in abundance.

All in all, it was a spectacular day – a great day to be alive.

With love and prayers,

Marek

 

A Time of Saying Farewell

10.2photo(10)This is Martin, whom I had breakfast with on my last day of hiking. He biked all the way from Switzerland to Santiago in a month and speaks beautiful Spanish as well as English, French, German and Swiss.

This fountain was built in 1694, just four years before St. Thomas Church was started.

This fountain was built in 1694, just four years before St. Thomas Church was started.

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There were memorials to pilgrims who died along the way. This one, I believe was for a man who was only 52 and died just before reaching Santiago.  It reminds of of our mortality and how much family means to us.

In Santiago, I constantly ran into pilgrims I had met along the way.

This was the young woman who was so faint or ill in the Meseta that I had to call a taxi to take her to the nearest town. It was good to see that she made it.

This was the young woman who was so faint or ill in the Meseta that I had to call a taxi to take her to the nearest town. It was good to see that she made it.

These were folks from Aspen, Colorado and New Zealand with whom I had dinner last week. We reunited in the cathedral after the service yesterday, where I con-celebrated as was asked to read the Gospel in Spanish. Distributing Communion to my fellow pilgrims was a powerful experience.

These were folks from Aspen, Colorado and New Zealand with whom I had dinner last week. We reunited in the cathedral after the service yesterday, where I con-celebrated as was asked to read the Gospel in Spanish. Distributing Communion to my fellow pilgrims was a powerful experience.

This was a wonderful Frenchman, who I hiked with one morning.

This was a wonderful Frenchman, who I hiked with one morning.

These two woman - Diana (Delafield) Muir and Holly Jobe - are from Fort Washington, Pennsylvania and recognized me at the altar.  The world is truly small.

These two woman – Diana (Delafield) Muir and Holly Jobe – are from Fort Washington, Pennsylvania and recognized me at the altar. The world is truly small.

I was so happy to see Diego and his son Alvaro. We shared a drink together.

I was so happy to see Diego and his son Alvaro. We shared a drink together.

This is Emmasha - a young doctor from  Hungry, who is a person of deep faith. She was departing home.

This is Emmasha – a young doctor from Hungry, who is a person of deep faith. She was departing home.

This couple live in Cadiz, Spain.

This couple live in Cadiz, Spain.

Lane is from England, and her friend from Spain walked with his dog. They tried to get a Campostela for the dog, but he was not deemed to be a true pilgrim.  He was allowed, however, to enter the cathedral.

Lane is from England, and her friend from Spain walked with his dog. They tried to get a Campostela for the dog, but he was not deemed to be a true pilgrim. He was allowed, however, to enter the cathedral.

Here was the line of pilgrims waiting to get their Campostela. Saying good-bye to fellow pilgrims whom I would probably never see again was difficult.

Here was the line of pilgrims waiting to get their Campostela. Saying good-bye to fellow pilgrims whom I would probably never see again was difficult.

Inside this silver reliquary underneath the main altar in the cathedral are said to be the bones if St. James - the first disciple to be martyred.

Inside this silver reliquary underneath the main altar in the cathedral are said to be the bones if St. James – the first disciple to be martyred.

Every pilgrim waits in line to hug a gold jewel-encrusted statue of St. James behind the main altar, which is covered with silver and gold and jewels.

Every pilgrim waits in line to hug a gold jewel-encrusted statue of St. James behind the main altar, which is covered with silver and gold and jewels.

This is one of the old cathedral bells.

This is one of the old cathedral bells.

The stonework is magnificent.

The stonework is magnificent.

We even saw a little sun yesterday.

We even saw a little sun yesterday.

I got my first Spanish haircut and visited a contemporary art museum.

image (24) I got my first Spanish haircut and visited a contemporary art museum.

 

 

 

 

 

The night before, I was able to assist in making a favorite local liquor called Calmada, while the Celtic band played.

The night before, I was able to assist in making a favorite local liquor called Calmada, while the Celtic band played.

Every day is a learning experience and adventure.  Thus Spaniards are warm and welcoming. It is a grace and a joy to be here. I am so grateful to our church for giving me this opportunity to learn, grow, pray and renew.

With every blessing,

Marek

I Arrived in Santiago – The Camino was Great

I am sitting in a small pub in Santiago listening to traditional folk music from Galicia with the gaita (the Spanish bagpipe) and drinking a pint of Guiness. Life could not be better!

The music is very similar to Irish folk music, which I love.

The music is very similar to Irish folk music, which I love.

image (0)Half an hour ago, I stopped by the Peregrinos office, showed them my three credentials with stamps from each town and albergue that I visited and received my Compostela, which actually looks nicer than my Yale Divinity School diploma.

This is my proof that I have walked the Camino. I will frame it and hang it in my office one day.

Getting here was a challenge. I left my fabulous hotel outside of Arzua around 12:15 pm and hiked for ten straight hours through the drizzle and rain. The last ten kilometers were in pitch black rainy weather, which Galicia is famous for providing.

The weather her is like the weather in Edinburgh.  I hiked almost 50 kilometers, which is over 30 miles without pausing, except to call our family, who were gathered in Nashville to enjoy Family Weekend with Marguerite at Vanderbilt.

image (3)Most pilgrims take two days to walk this stretch. When I arrived at Mount de Gozo, which affords pilgrims their first view of Santiago, it was so foggy that I could not see a single light in Santiago – a city of well over 100,000 people.

It was downright creepy to be walking in the fog and to be perhaps the last pilgrim to arrive in Santiago last night. I could see why pilgrims were often attacked and robbed, which led to the creation of the Knights Templar.

I have a great small room in a neat hotel and slept better last night than I have slept in a month.

My feet were very sore today, and my knees felt like the knees of an 85-year-old man. Two days rest will do wonders.

The highlight of today was con-celebrating the Mass in the Cathedral in Santiago with ten other priests from Germany, Poland, Austria, Ecuador and other countries.  I was able to offer a prayer in English, which was appreciated by all of the English-speaking pilgrims.

image (6)Getting ready for worship in the sacristy.  It reminded me of con-celebrating in Subiaco and Monte Casino, Italy with monks in two of the world’s most famous monasteries during my last sabbatical.

The sermon and the Mass were not that riveting, but distributing Communion to my fellow pilgrims – some who made their way specifically to me to receive the Eucharist at the end of a long pilgrimage – was deeply touching. This was Communion!

Then came the botafeimero or the enormous censer, which is world famous. It us used only on major feast days and Sundays and when a group of visitors pays a significant amount of money to see it used. Today, was the feast of St. Jerome, who translates the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, so they used it.

image (7)I was afraid that I would not get to see it. Instead I had a front row seat, standing side by side with all of the priests at the altar as this massive silver censer about two-and-a-half feet in size belching incense swung 100 feet on either side of the crossed-shaped transepts in the cathedral six feet in front of me. Twice in history it has managed to break free and sail outside the cathedral.

If you have seen the movie “The Way,” with Martin Sheen, than you will recognize the power of this moment for every pilgrim gathered in the cathedral, which was built over 1,000 years ago over the crispt where the bones is St. James the Great (or Santiago) are buried.

Over 700 pilgrims arrived today in Santiago, including my friend, Jesus, who I was delighted to see. I ran into other pilgrims from various countries that I had met along the way.

I later took a fascinating tour of the rooftop of the cathedral.

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image (11)I will share more tomorrow. For now, I carry each of you in my heart and in my prayers.

With peace and joy and love,

Marek

Bad Pilgrim in Paradise

Last night, I stayed in a “casa rural,” which was like a nice bed and breakfast. They advised me to stay at the Pazo de Santa Maria in Azura, which I have done.

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After 90 minutes of conversation about Spain, I decided that this would be my splurge on the Camino.

The library - it's a wonderful reading room.  I am sitting in the big green chair now. Life is good.

The library – it’s a wonderful reading room. I am sitting in the big green chair now. Life is good.

It’s a splurge, and I know that I am a bad pilgrim to be staying here, but there is a good story to tell as to why I am here. It is a slice of Paradise on the Camino.

Most of the other folks here are pilgrims – high end pilgrims, who walk small segments of the Camino each day and stay each night at nice spots like this. What a pilgrimage!

The balcony down the hall.

The balcony down the hall.

If you doubted whether you could walk the Camino and put up with the snoring of 50 people in a room full of bunk beds in an albergue – well the answer is that you can do the high end Camino and forgo the grunt work of lugging luggage and staying in army barracks.

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The view from the “pazo,” which is a grade above a casa rural.

You can even pay to have your luggage or backpack “muchila” (in Spanish) shipped ahead for you each day. That way you can walk and carry a small daypack as opposed to the small house on an A-frame that I lug on my back each day.

Both are fun, and each has its merits. I arrived not knowing what to expect and was offered a beer by the lovely receptionist – Helena.

The walk today was easy and light. I walked only about 23 kilometers to this inn, which is two kilometers outside of Arzua. Santiago is a very long day’s hike or two short day’s walk from here.

I met Francisco and Dario today, two friends from Spain walking the Camino together. Jesus was suffering from tendinitis and arrived at the same cafe where we were having lunch. I introduced everyone, and we ate lunch and then walked together.

It rained for much of the day as we walked through a forest of eucalyptus trees and across ancient stone bridges.

It rained for much of the day as we walked through a forest of eucalyptus trees and across ancient stone bridges.

This is Francisco carbo-loading with a boccadillo de tostilla, which is more than I could ever imagine eating.

This is Francisco carbo-loading with a boccadillo de tostilla, which is more than I could ever imagine eating.

"Pulpa" or octopus was available for lunch, but I kept on walking. Just because you can catch it doesn't mean that you should eat it.

“Pulpa” or octopus was available for lunch, but I kept on walking. Just because you can catch it doesn’t mean that you should eat it.

The whole pig and nothing but the pig - a meat lover's fantasy.

The whole pig and nothing but the pig – a meat lover’s fantasy.

Pig parts -snouts and all - for sale in a butcher's shop in Melide.

Pig parts – snouts and all – for sale in a butcher’s shop in Melide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only 50 kilometers to go - time to savor every kilometer left.

Only 50 kilometers to go – time to savor every kilometer left.

Stopping to pray.

Stopping to pray.

Apparently, St. James (Santiago) had a dog, who carried bread in his mouth.  His dog resembled a weasel.  My Winston would put this dog to shame.

Apparently, St. James (Santiago) had a dog, who carried bread in his mouth. His dog resembled a weasel. My Winston would put this dog to shame.

The oldest cross on the Camino in Galicia.

The oldest cross on the Camino in Galicia.

With blessings from a pilgrim in Paradise,

Marek

Rainfall – Living with Unpredictability

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After experiencing five weeks with rain only twice in the night, it rained hard all day. Walking in the rain was a completely different experience. At times, the paths were completely flooded.

It was wet, and I was unable to take photographs for most of the day. Hence, I moved quickly.

image (4)After hiking 35 kilometers, I found a little inn for the night. Everything that I own was sopping wet. I paid to have all of my clothes washed.

At dinner, I ate with Kristina Friedel and her husband Jim. They owned the Alpine Inn and Friedel’s Tavern or Bar in Aspen.

Apparently, her dad started the Aspen Ski School and she was the first person to ride the ski lift in Aspen, when she was two years old.  image (5)

They sold their business and moved to Granada, Spain 12 years ago. They love Granada, which is Spain’s most visited cities.

The journalist and author Hunter Thompson used to stop by their bar regularly in the morning for a gin and lemonade and would drive off in his convertible.

With peace and joy,

Marek

 

Walking with Jesus (For Real)

Today was probably the nicest morning that I have enjoyed on the Camino. It began with a long walk beside a river, where the sound of running water filled the air. The trail was bordered by trees and covered with leaves.

image (4)Hedge rows and old trees twisted by time lined the past. The fields were segmented neatly by stone walls. Cows and goats grazed. There was a gentle breeze.

I felt as though I was in a novel by Thomas Hardy or Jane Austin, walking across the English countryside. The landscape resembled Scotland and Vermont at times.

image (5)I eventually ceased walking alone and walked with Stefan – a wonderful retied French mariner from a small village near St. Malo in Brittany. Like all of the French men and women who I have met on the Camino, he was a lovely, intelligent and reflective man.

In April, he walked from Le Puy to St. Jean Pied de Port in France, and on the 24th of August – the same day as me – he restarted at St. Jean walking to Santiago.

We walked by old farms, where ancient farm tools were still used or were on display.

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These "horreros" or Galican granaries are common throughout Galicia.

These “horreros” or Galican granaries are common throughout Galicia.

We are in Galicia, the furthest northwest province in Spain with a climate similar to New England or Scotland.

After two hours of good conversation with Stefan, I began walking with Jesus, who I met in O Cebreiro. Jesus lives outside Burgos and works in Valladolid, where he has an apartment. When he is in his town outside Burgos, Jesus, like many Spanish single persons, he lives with his parents, despite being 39 years old.

image (17)Jesus is excellent company. Like most Spaniards that I have met, his English is weak, so we converse solely in Spanish, but he sings in English – tunes by Queen, U2, REM, music from Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

We visited a wonderful monastery this afternoon in Sarria.

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image (21)I bid good-bye to Diego and Alvaro, who we ran into, but who were not walking far today. Jesus and I trekked 37 kilometers or about a marathon.

We are staying in Portomarin and will probably walk more together again tomorrow. It is nice to walk the Camino with Jesus!

Portomarin is famous fir producing Orujo - a clear liquor made from grapeskins, which takes like "white lightning.".

Portomarin is famous fir producing Orujo – a clear liquor made from grapeskins, which takes like “white lightning.”.

Portomarin was built on a flood plain.

Portomarin was built on a flood plain. The entire city was relocated from the riverside to the top of a mountain overlooking the flood plain, including the 12th century church where I con-celebrated the Mass tonight.

We are now 90 kilometers from Santiago. My pilgrimage is nearing its end. I have already walked over 700 kilometers.  The lower half of my body has been transformed into the body of a 20-year-old.  The upper half is still 53 years old.

I am staying in a hotel in hopes of getting a good night’s rest.

With prayers,

Marek

 

A Pilgrim’s Day

We began walking today before sunrise.

We began walking today before sunrise.

A chicken tried to join us for breakfast.  Animals were in abundance today.

A chicken tried to join us for breakfast.
Animals were in abundance today.

I stopped to see an 800-year-old Chestnut tree.

I stopped to see an 800-year-old Chestnut tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day was full of lovely rural walking, but my feet were sore by the time we reached Samos, our destination 30 kilometers from where we started at O Cebreiro.

The day was full of lovely rural walking, it was like stepping back in time, but my feet were sore by the time we reached Samos, our destination 30 kilometers from where we started at O Cebreiro.

We toured the famous monastery of Samos, which is across the street from my small hotel room. The Vespers and Mass were sung in Latin and were beautiful.  Samos was founded in the sixth century, and was burned down in two major fires – 1558 and 1951 – and rebuilt each time.  It was once one of the most important monasteries in the world.
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This is Spain's largest cloister.

This is Spain’s largest cloister.

image (27)In a reliquary here is the femur of St. Benedict -one of my favorite saints.  I am not big on scattering the body parts of saints or anyone else for that matter, but that could just be another “bone of contention” that I have with Rome.

I wish you peace and joy,

Marek