It hasn’t really hit me yet, and I don’t know if it has hit anyone else just yet, but it is over. Tomorrow morning we will get on a bus early in the morning, which has been the story for about half of our trip, but tomorrow’s early journey will be taking us to an airport as we begin our all-day journey back home, a place we last saw on May 22. The tour has been an incredible journey, and though there have been plenty of times where things have not gone exactly as planned, many of us wouldn’t have it any other way.
Today was a total free day for the Cyclones in the city center; we would go into town together and then be cut loose for seven hours. I did not join in on the team’s trip into town, as I got an earlier start so I could go to a Sunday church service. I ended up at San Marco (I was even able to find it), just north of the city center, for an Italian-spoken service. Fortunately my few days of being surrounded by Italian did not doom me too much. It was a great chance to find another beautiful church to visit in Milan without the chaos of tourism that I would inevitably run into later.
I then joined up with the team at Sforza Castle, one of Europe’s largest castles when it was built in the 15th century. This was the kind of castle that matches our “romantic” perspective of what castles are. It was surrounded by a moat (not filled with water for obvious reasons, but it had a lot of cats in them which was … odd), it has a massive courtyard inside, it had various fortresses for protection of specific areas and it had imposing towers that everyone associates with castles.
After we broke up, I immediately journeyed for the biggest attraction in Milan, the Duomo di Milano. An absolutely massive cathedral, the project to build the Duomo di Milano was originally commissioned in the 14th century, but not formally finished until 1965. I was just expecting to walk in, see a church crowded with tourists like I did in Prague and Vienna and be on my way, I was in for something much different.
When I entered a service was just starting, which was really odd to walk into a church that was surrounded by tourists on the outside parts and had a religious service on the inside. Anyway, I was walking around the outside like the other tourists and I looked up to the front and I could not believe what I saw. The service was being given by none other than Cardinal Angelo Scola, one of the most influential men in the Catholic Church. In the last two elections for the new Pope of the Catholic Church, Scola has been among the finalists. I went from tourist to churchgoer and took a seat for the experience. This was an old-fashioned service: spoken entirely in Latin, upwards of 10 ordained ministers taking part, pipe organ, all-male choir, etc. I knew some Latin from my studies during my time at Dowling Catholic High School so I was able to follow along a little, but the experience of being there was the almost surreal.
From there, it was just exploring what Milan had to offer. As most people know, I am not much of a shopper, so I was not giving back to the city center economy much. However, the people watching of was my involvement. The most notable shopping experience of Milan is the “Golden Triangle”. Inside this three-block area are the biggest brands of Italy and the world at their most expensive: Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Giorgio Armani, etc. If you judge your books by the cover, this is what you want them dressed in. I stayed away, but people’s curiosity is as interesting to me as the latest in fashion (I had a professor at TCU who once described my fashion sense as “predictable”. She was doing it to make a point, but there are worse things that can be said about a person).
Once we reassembled as a team, we enjoyed our “Last Supper” (a bad reference to da Vinci’s world famous painting located in Milan that you have to buy tickets to see up to five months(!) in advance) at Fresco and Cimmino. We then went for gelato as a team at Riva Reno before returning to our hotel.
Because this is our final blog, we want to put out some thank you notes to people during the trip who have been very important to our journey. The first, and most important, one goes to our tour guide who was with us every step of the way, Heni. She was extremely busy, balancing her responsibilities with the Hungarian National Teams (both men’s and women’s) and helping manage our trip all while being away from her two children. Heni got along with our players greatly and always worked to keep their best interests. It is going to be weird waking up tomorrow and not having Heni there to show us around and what we have to do.
Thanks to Tim, who has been with us off and no during our journeys through Italy. Tim has played an important role in planning and managing many teams’ trips who are currently in Europe, including Cal, Oklahoma and Ole Miss. He has had a great handle on the Italy leg of our trip, which was the one area Heni was not as familiar with coming into it and he also helped arrange our one match in Italy after some last-minute changes. On that note, thanks to Christina, who was with us for that match in Tim’s place and was incredibly supportive.
Back in Slovenia, thanks to Cory for showing us all the wonderful things Maribor has to offer. It would be a challenge for any other first-timer in Maribor to arrange all the cool things we got to do and we were very fortunate to have Cory on our side. He helped us get the very most out of a place that did not excite many on paper.
Heading all the way back to Prague and the Czech Republic, thanks to Jirka. His knowledge of Prague was amazing and he knew all there was to know. He played an important role in helping arrange and manage our matches there, and he made sure we saw all the sites that Prague had to offer.
Thanks to all of our bus drivers who have had to navigate the tight European streets and highways to get us where we needed to be. Special shout out to the one driver who got Jon Newman-Gonchar his neck pillow back, he would have never lived it down (and he probably still won’t). Thanks to all the teams who came to play us, some on very late notice, we hope you enjoy your Iowa State volleyball shirts! Thanks to all the restaurants who dealt with us Americans in a very polite and respectful manner, especially when there was a communication barrier.
There are probably many, many more we have forgotten to thank, but we are all indebted to those who have helped make this trip a success.
We head back home tomorrow. If all goes as planned (/knocks on all the wood of the planet), we will be back in Ames before midnight tomorrow, or just after. From there, the team will have some time off before June 16, when the June semester of summer school kicks off.