Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Jan. 21, 2002

Holy Trinity seniors take trip of a lifetime to Italy

Holy Trinity seniors Brent Kucera and Brandon Thiemann had the opportunity to visit Italy and see the Pope recently.

The two seniors flew with Kucera's parents, Gerald and Luanne Kucera, and his brother, Jeremy, to Rome in December. It was Thiemann's first trip outside of the country. Kucera had been in Rome once before.

Because he spoke Italian, Kucera's brother Jeremy, a seminarian in his eighth year at St. Thomas, was their tour guide. According to Kucera, some Italians speak English, but the majority of them speak Italian, so communication was difficult.

When asked if they could tell Americans from the Italians, Thiemann answered, "They try to look like us, but they are smaller, and not too many of them are overweight. They like to walk a lot."

As far as the things that they felt were the most notable about the trip, the boys agreed that the architecture in Rome, the Vatican, and the Coliseum were remarkable.

They also commented that they felt very safe, with no violent crimes. The only thing they had to watch for was the possibility of someone pick-pocketing them.

Thiemann could not believe how huge St. Peter's Basilica was. There is not a square in St. Peter that doesn't have some kind of special detailed work.

They hiked to the top of the dome one day and could see the entire city. They also went to St. John Latterin's Basilica. Its steps were protected by wood, and people are only allowed to go up the steps on their knees.

They recalled another tour they took through a building set up by area monks that the boys called the "bone church." It had a long hallway, with different rooms that they could look in.

In each room were bones of human skeletons. There were human skulls in stacks. Some bones were made into designs and some were whole skeletons. At the end of the hallway was a sign that said, "You are what we were and we are what you will be." Thiemann said, 'That really made you stop and think."

Kucera said that he really enjoyed the food. He especially liked gnoochie, which is a cross between a noodle and a potato. Both boys liked the fact that there was no drinking age. McDonalds even had tap beer. Wine was served with all meals.

They rented a car for two days and did a road trip going into northern Italy. One of their first stops was Orvietto, a very quaint little town sitting on top of a small mountain. To get to the town, you need to park your car and ride a series of elevators, escalators, and take lots of stairs.

Their next stop was Sienna, where they roamed around the town for the evening, looking at some of the churches and the Basilica. They stopped at many little shops on their way back to the hotel. They even talked about purchasing another suitcase just to bring items home in.

The next morning, they were off to Florence, which is considered the leather capital of the world.

One leather jacket they found had a price tag of $4,000. It was made out of baby lamb skin and lined with rabbit hair and cashmere. There were more reasonably priced items, but clothes came in metric sizes, which made it a little confusing when looking for their size.

Driving through the countryside, they were impressed with the vineyards where they could see miles of rows of grapevines in the sides of the hills.

They noticed the houses along the way were not taken care of. Most people in Italy live in apartments and do not own their own homes.

Some of the nicer homes there would be considered modest in the United States. Overall, they felt that the country seemed poor and did not have the the same advantages as in the United States.

While they were there, the weather was colder in Italy than it was in Minnesota. They were told that it was the coldest it had been in years.

The average temperature was around 40 degrees. Because of the cold weather, their chance to see the Pope in St. Peter's Square was moved to an auditorium, where they had reserved front row seats.

The Pope arrived early, and he thanked everyone for all of their gifts and wished everyone a Merry Christmas. Both boys agreed that the room seemed to feel holier when he walked in.

When asked if they would go back, Thiemann said, "I think it would be nice to visit there again. There is so much to see that you can't take it all in on one trip. After you've been there, you really appreciate America much more."

Kucera said, "No, twice is enough for me. Since I know how to cook Italian food now, what's the point of going back?"

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