Torino, Italy

The Sacra di San Michele

After the 10-day Creative Storytellers Ventures workshops were finished in the South Tyrol, I traveled to Turin, Torino, located in the northern part of Italy in the Piedmont region.  It is surrounded by the alps to the west and north, and the hills of Monferrato to the east.  The countryside is lush and green with little hamlets on the hillsides, and four rivers run through the area: the Po, the Doria Riparia, the Sangone and the Stura di Lanzo.   angel sky
The Sacra di San Michele had been calling to me since last summer.  Also known as Saint Michael’s Abbey, it is a religious complex on Mount Pirchiriano located on the south side of the Val di Susa overlooking the villages of Avigliana and Chiusa di San Michele.  I was not sure why I was pulled to travel there, but I was going, no matter what.
After the workshops were finished, two Italian friends picked me up in Soprabolzano and we drove to the beautiful little town of Avigliana in the Susa Valley.  Avigliana is known for its two lakes: Lago Grande and Lago Piccolo, both a type of lake called maar, a funnel-shaped and hollow crater formed by volcanic explosions.  They were beautiful, surrounded by the picturesque town and its buildings, a castle on a hill.
alps over ssm
We checked into a beautiful bed and breakfast deep in the forest, Il Giardino delle Farfalle.
Owner bnb
The owner, his wife and beautiful young daughter were warm and friendly and their home was inviting.  It was decorated like a fairy tale, my room in pink and white, angels above my bed.  The little girl, Isabella had a chicken that she called gato meaning cat and she followed him around the yard giggling all the while.
After an Italian breakfast of eggs, fruit, homemade breads and espresso, we packed up the car with our luggage, kissed each family member Italian style and said our goodbyes, promising we would return on our next trip.

Before moving on, I want to paint a picture for you so you understand a little about me.

I am one who always questions my life.” What is the meaning of life?”  “Why am I here?”  “What is my purpose?”  ” Where am to go next?”  “Why?”  You get the point.  I can be exhausting!

So days before I was to arrive at the Sacra di San Michele, Saint Michael’s Abbey,  I asked my self these questions over and over again.  I also asked to learn about trust, fear and the biggest one: Who am I?

ssm high up

The Sacra di San Michele is a religious complex located on Mount Pirchiriano on the south side of the Val di Susa and overlooks Avigliana and the Chiusa di San Michele.  The alps in the background paint a breathtaking image as they look down upon the mountains below and the hamlets dotting the countryside.  The abbey was once under Benedictine rule but now belongs to the Rosminians, also called the Fathers of Charity and started by Antonio Rosmini.

We locked the car and made our way up to the abbey.  When it was originally built is a bit sketchy as there are a few different accounts.  One is that it was constructed in the 10th or 11th century.  Over the centuries, it was added on to as other buildings were constructed.  It is an incredible compound, ancient and holy, whether you are religious or not.

My friends Paolo and Maria and I separated as we each started our own personal pilgrimages.  I stopped at the ruins below, the old monastery said to be 12th-15th century.  ssm ruins There, I sat and contemplated what requests I had before I climbed the mount.



Eventually, I walked up the long path, then up the 243 steps, the Scala dei Morti or stairway of the dead (where skeletons of dead monks were once visible, hence the name).

scalla ssm







I arrived at the top, the Porta dello Zodiaco with its 12th century sculptures.

scm door


Then I entered the church with its Romanesque and Gothic architecture.  There were ancient frescoes and paintings inside, some dating back to the 15th century.




smm wall art

I genuflected, crossed myself like I did as a child, and kneeled in the pew as I looked ahead at the high altar where a great crucifix stood against an arched window.  I heard the chanting of monks and fell into silence.

The two hours I spent there were very sacred and private, needing no further explanation; but I will share with you that I stated my wishes.

When we were complete, Paolo, Maria and I hooked back up and walked down the long path to the car.  Once there, we realized all our luggage and my computer was gone.  Someone had broken in and stolen everything!  I was in shock.  I had to sit on the ground to catch my breath.  The next thing I remember was lying down on the cement and closing my eyes.  I remember hearing Paolo placing a jacket under my head, telling me it was going to be all right and Maria holding my hand in hers.  It would take a full week to fully understand the magnitude of what had just happened.  Although I was safe, I still felt violated as I had foolishly made copies of my passport, my US driver’s license, my credit cards and all my passwords.  How foolish I was to have done so!

Note to travelers: Do not make copies of your docs and take them with you.  Put them in the cloud.

This event changed the course of my trip.  I would not go to Greece, and I would cancel my trip to visit a villa in Tuscany for possible future events and workshops for


Milan, Italy

I contemplated going home to sort out the wreckage.  Paolo drove me to Milano where I could buy clothes and toiletries, a toothbrush, some shampoo, and make my decision.

Milan pom

Mall in Milano, fresh squeezed pomegranate juice


After two days, I still wasn’t sure, but decided to take it day by day until it was revealed to me.  Paolo gave me his new ASUS Transformer Notebook so that I could continue with my work and my writing.  Of course I am still working through the learning curve of the Italian keyboard!  Mama mia!  But I am finally managing, although working a bit slower.  Now you know why I have not posted my blog. I will need to catch up on my work and also my promise to myself to complete the rewrites for The Passions of Roxanna ( a book I published in 2006) on this trip.

Everything happens for a reason and the reason for all of this was that I had asked to know who I was…to have no fear…and to trust.  What better way to know your self than to be stripped of your identity, the clothes you wear because you think that is who you are, the perfume you love because it is your signature, the computer you own because you are a writer and that is what you do every moment.  You capture life through words because that’s how you express yourself and that is what makes your soul sing.  Now, I was left to see who I was without these things.

After two days in Milano, a new suitcase and a few things, Paolo and Maria hugged me and I left for Napoli on the train.  I would return to my island that I must have been born on in another lifetime.  Here, I would meet up with two friends from America and come home to Anacapri and my Italian family and friends I had left eight months ago when I was last here.


Isle of Capri, Italy

My American friends Debra and Yvette met me in the main piazza in the town of Capri (below Anacapri) and took me to the Airbnb we would be staying in for four nights.  c room lightI was still shell-shocked, waking up every few hours in fear, remembering another treasure in my suitcase that was gone forever.  My friends were new to the island and excited, so they took my mind off my worries.



We visited the nicest restaurants and had tea at the famous Quisissana Hotel and cocktails at the Caesar Augustus at the top of the island.



ca caesar 2


We hiked up to the ruins of Tiberius, the Villa Jovis.  Then we hiked down a steep and narrow, winding, wooded path to Villa Lysis.  Jacques d’Adelsward-Fersen, an industrialist and poet and former lover of Marie Antoinette, came to live here for the last half of his life.  It was a beautiful and opulent villa, an architectural marvel decorated with marble floors and columns and beautiful sculptures and paintings.  Oh, and the view was divine.   c view tree






With the air, the sounds and the light Capri is so well-known for, I was starting to feel like myself again.  I continued to still awaken in the night asking myself, ‘Who am I?’  But that would eventually cease.

I was still not sure whether I would go home or stay on the island.  I had no reservation in Anacapri, so if I did not have one by nightfall, I would go home.  I made a deal with my soul.  If I was meant to stay, I would have  a place by nightfall.  If not, I would book an early flight home.  I sat and asked myself for a place overlooking the sea, somewhere light and airy, away from the noise of the village below, a room where I could write, with a veranda I could sit on and watch the sky, the boats and the sea.  I wanted a place where I had to walk a distance to get to so I could do a walking meditation every day.  With the hours I work on my computer, I needed balance daily.

My friend and Italian sister, Marilu, connected me with a friend and my dream magically materialized.  I received everything I had wished for.  You see?  Your dreams do come true.  So dream big and dream often.

up over anacapri

I am cocooned on this enchanted island, high above the village of Anacapri, overlooking the Mediterraneo and Monte Vesuvio, at the Bnb Monte Solaro.   My heart tells me it means something close to ‘mountain of the sun,’ but it is actually the name of the street it rests on.  I have been here for five glorious days already.

My soul is soothed, my ego now trusting.  I am walking up and down the wooded path from the mountain to the village twice daily.  I no longer fear losing everything because I have already experienced loss…the loss of who I thought I was in Turin.  And I survived it.  Everything I needed to get through this, to work, to live and to feel safe with no fear, to trust and to discover who I truly am, I have received easily and exactly when I needed it.

c sunset 2

Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  I am eternally grateful!


PS  Paolo, you know who you are.  I am dedicating this blog to you.  Thank you for your kindness and support!


I am not sure if this will be my last blog post.  I promised myself I could come on this extended trip as long as I could do my work from here, and as long as I completed the rewrites to my book.  If I can achieve these things, then you may see another post from me.

In the meantime, enjoy all that you have…and do not take life too seriously.


Gail Riena


2017-06-30T15:45:45+00:00 May 18th, 2016|Literary Services, Travel Narratives|0 Comments

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