Notre Dame Softball Foreign Tour: Rome, SOrrento & Barcelona

Beginning on October 18, the Notre Dame Softball team will embark on a foreign tour of three of Europe's culturally enriching and educational cities. Along the way, the Irish will play an exhibition game, tour numerous sites of historical and religious significance and take part in making (and eating) some of the region's most famous dishes.

The Irish arrived in Rome at 10 a.m. local time Saturday, bright-eyed (and a little sleep-deprived) to a beautiful Roman day. From there, the team divided into four groups and was sent off on a food scavenger hunt. From pizza to gelato to classic Italian pastries, the Irish made their way through some of Rome's most famous cuisine, stopping at some notable landmarks along the way.

Following a long day exploring the streets and historical sites of Rome, the team checked into the hotel for a well-earned rest before a classic Italian feast at a Roman family-owned restaurant. In traditional Italian fashion, the meal consisted of four courses: antipasti (appetizers and charcuterie), il primo (three varieties of pasta dishes), il secondo (a variety of meat offerings) and dessert (tiramisu, ricotta cheesecake and more) with coffee.

To finish the night, the winners of the Roman scavenger hunt received their prize: Roma coffee mugs and Italian chocolate candy for the whole team.

Fresh off a well-deserved night's rest, the Irish boarded the bus on the morning of Day 2 to travel along the Appian Way to the outskirts of Rome. There, a pasta and pizza-making class awaited, where all learned how to properly make a classic Italian pizza (hint: it all starts with stretching the dough) and various forms of pasta shapes, from tortellini to penne and rigatoni.

Quite the contrast to downtown Rome's hustle and bustle, the Appian Way is a quiet road that takes travelers straight through the Roman countryside, just minutes away from the ancient city walls.
Giuseppe, the instructor, gave instructions for the day at the beginning of the outdoor cooking class on Rome's Appian Way.

After the pizza, the Irish took on the pasta, with the help of some professionals.

When all had eaten their fill, it was time to venture back into the city to explore Ancient Rome. From Piazza Venezia, all the way down Via dei Fori Imperiali to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, history was around each corner (and column).

Along with all the fun, the Irish were guest hosts of the NCAA Softball Instagram profile, where players shared the day with lots of virtual followers (@NCAASoftball on Instagram).

With an early-morning wakeup call, ND Softball headed to the Vatican before the sun rose, arriving in St. Peter's Square as the light peeked over the famous colonnades. Waiting for the team was a familiar face: Congregation of Holy Cross priest and team chaplain Fr. Brian Ching C.S.C., who happened to be in Rome. With a priest from the Pontifical North American College, the American seminary in Rome, Fr. Brian led the Irish into St. Peter's Basilica, and underground into the crypt beneath the famous church.

Waiting for the team was a familiar face: Congregation of Holy Cross priest and team chaplain Fr. Brian Ching C.S.C., who happened to be in Rome. With a priest from the Pontifical North American College, the American seminary in Rome, Fr. Brian led the Irish into St. Peter's Basilica, and underground into the crypt beneath the famous church, for a rare opportunity: the chance to celebrate Mass beneath St. Peter's Basilica.

The crypt houses many tombs and small chapels, including one directly adjacent to the tomb believed to be St. Peter's. The group celebrated Mass in the Polish Chapel. Down the marble hallway, multiple other groups celebrated Mass in many different languages. As is tradition in the Catholic faith, all readings and responses are the same in every Mass around the world on a given day, so the Irish celebrated with other pilgrims in St. Peter's Basilica and around the world, hearing and speaking the same words in different languages.
Following the Mass, the team sang the alma mater, Notre Dame, Our Mother, as the closing hymn. Celebrating Mass in the crypt was a rare opportunity, and celebrating with the team chaplain made it all the more memorable.

Following the rare opportunity for Mass in the crypt of St. Peter's, the Irish had another memorable experience waiting just a block away from the Basilica: a tour of the Swiss Guard barracks. The Swiss Guard is a military group tasked with protecting the Pope and all entrances to Vatican City. Comprised of men entering the service after age 19, their history is rich, and the selection process is rigorous. The Irish were guided by Nicolas, a 20-year-old Swiss Guard in his second year of service, through the courtyard, weapon room, chapel and other areas of the barracks.

After a break, it was time for the group to join the masses heading into the Vatican museums. Guided through rooms of ornate mosaics, tapestries, statues and architecture, the Irish encountered famous pieces around every corner, culminating in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel artwork.

From there, it was time to head back into St. Peter's Basilica to explore the massive church further.

Of all the artwork in St. Peter's Basilica, there are only two paintings. All of the other artwork, like the famous piece pictured above, is a mosaic made of hundreds of thousands of small pieces of material.

After a long and memorable day, the Irish departed from the Vatican, concluding their final day in Rome.

The Irish departed Rome early in the morning and headed for the ancient city of Pompei. The city, famously devastated by the volcanic eruption in the first century A.D. About three hours from Rome and near Naples and Sorrento, the Irish arrived in the morning on Tuesday, ready to learn about the ancient civilization.

While the entire city was covered in a thick layer of volcanic ash, it was excavated in recent history and was thought to have been a popular destination for the ancient Romans. The city's population at its height was around 20,000 people, and featured a large forum, many shops and villas, a public bath, a stadium, a theater and a marketplace.

After the morning in Pompei, ND Softball took a ride up the side of Mount Vesuvius for a traditional pizza lunch, where the entire city of Naples can be seen from the overlook. Naples is often considered to be the location of some of the best pizza in the world, and the Irish were happy to give it a taste-test.

Just a short drive from Pompei along the coast of Italy lies the town of Sorrento, where structures are built into cliffs. Throughout history, the city itself was subject to pirate attacks, due to its proximity to water, so the residents moved further up the cliffs for protection. Arriving in the late afternoon, the group caught a beautiful view of the entire coast.

Day 5 of Foreign Tour was a free day for the team in Sorrento, and all chose to explore the Amalfi Coast and surrounding islands. Sorrento is located on the western coast of Italy, and is located near towns including Amalfi, Positano, Pompei and Naples, as well as nearby islands like Capri. Known around the world especially for lemons, the Amalfi Coast region is a popular vacation destination.

All the Irish players traveled in two boats to the island of Capri, home to the famous Blue Grotto amid the clear water of the area. They spent time shopping and exploring the island, as well as taking a swim in the Mediterranean Sea.

Meanwhile, the coaches and support staff traveled around the Amalfi Coast to the towns of Amalfi and Positano, touring each town and enjoying some of the lemon-inspired specialties of the region, like lemon cake and lemon gelato. The group also took time for swimming in the Mediterranean.

After all had disembarked from the boats, they rejoined for a team dinner at a local Sorrento restaurant on the dock. Another traditional Italian meal, this featured zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta, mushroom and truffle pasta, steak with spinach and potato and an Italian cake.

On a chilly night on the water, the restaurant staff brought out jackets for patrons to wear.
The Irish finished their last night in Italy in the only acceptable way: coffee!

Notre Dame Softball woke up before the sun on Thursday morning for an early drive to the Naples airport. From there, the Irish took off for the last leg of their foreign tour: Barcelona. After the short two-hour flight, they were welcomed to Spain with sunny skies and the full day ahead.

The first stop for the Irish was Las Arenas, a former bullfighting arena that has since been transformed into a shopping mall. From there, the group embarked on a bus trip around the city, and first went to a spot up on the hill to get a beautiful panoramic view of Barcelona. Along the way, the team encountered two Notre Dame graduates themselves on a visit to see the view.

The tour continued its loop of Barcelona, driving first by the facilities for the 1992 Olympic games, which many saw put Barcelona on the map as a modern city. Many of the training facilities and venues were located at the top of the same hill. Then, the tour proceeded to the Olympic Port, where scores of boats dock each day. Lastly, the tour took the group to Parque Guell, a famous park designed by the famous architect Antoni Gaudi, who also designed the Sangrada Familia church. Known for its abstract yet calculated design, Parque Guell has become a tourist destination for many.

The players and coaches were rocking the cheetah print pattern in Barcelona to reference a favorite movie from their childhood.

After leaving the park in the late afternoon, the group traveled to Las Ramblas, one of the most famous streets in Barcelona. The street itself is pedestrian-only, and is filled with shops, restaurants, performers and Spanish architecture. The Irish stopped for dinner before heading to their final activity of the jam-packed day: a flamenco show.

Flamenco, a traditional Spanish dance style, combines power and aggression with soul and emotion. Dancers wear hard-heeled shoes, as much of the dance is making noise with your feet. The show featured live musicians and singers.

After the show, Notre Dame Softball returned to the hotel for a well-earned night's rest , getting prepared to play the exhibition game the next day.

The first stop on Day 7 for the Irish was the famous Sagrada Familia church, one of the most famous landmarks in Spain. Construction on the storied structure began in the 1920s, and has still not been completed. Designed by Antoni Gaudi, the same man who designed Parque Guell, the inside of La Sagrada Familia is filled with colored stained glass, abstract angles and columns, styles and pieces that seem unexpected in European religious art and architecture.

After the morning at the famous church, pregame preparations began. After a pregame team meal, the Irish boarded a bus for the drive up Montjuic, the site of the Olympic Stadium from 1992m, along with other Olympic training facilities. Notre Dame Softball put on a clinic for local youth softball players at the 1992 Olympic baseball training field. 

After the clinic, the team gifted each participant with a Notre Dame Softball T-Shirt.

After the clinic, it was time for pregame warmups and festivities. Located directly next to the baseball field and in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium, the brand-new Camp de Softbol de Montjuic stands overlooking the city of Barcelona. The matchup between Selecció Catalana and Notre Dame was the inaugural match in the stadium, and many fans and important figures were in attendance, including David Escudé, a city councilman specializing in sports for Barcelona, and presidents of three different baseball and softball organizations in Barcelona. Escudé threw out the ceremonial first pitch of the game, and afterwards, members of the Spanish Synchronized Swimming team were honored by the Catalonian team for their preparation for the upcoming Olympic qualifiers.

The Irish started out strong, with pitcher Payton Tidd striking out the first three batters in the first inning. Notre Dame kept the hold on the game, with pitchers Tidd, Morgan Ryan and Alexis Holloway leading the way to a win in the exhibition game. The Irish defense held Selecció Catalana without a run.

After the game, Notre Dame and Selecció Catalana exchanged shirts and spent time together enjoying Spanish food and music.

On the final full day of the Notre Dame Softball foreign tour, the Irish traveled to historic Montserrat to visit the monastery and hike down the famous mountain, known and named for its serrated peak. Montserrat is also home to the Black Madonna, a statue of the Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus. The original statue was found in a cave, and was thought to have been tarnished form years of wear and ash, gaining its black appearance. The current statue, a replica, is dated almost 1,000 years ago. Legend says that the monks at Montserrat couldn't move the statue, so they built their monastery around it.

The group took the tram up to the top of the mountain, taking in the panoramic views before beginning the hike down.

After the long day at Montserrat, the Irish returned to Barcelona, then headed out to Sitges, a small coastal town, for their farewell dinner. The menu included octopus, mussels, seafood paella, calamari and other seafood traditional to Sitges cuisine.

The Irish headed back to Barcelona for their final night of foreign tour, but not before tuning in to watch their fellow student athletes on the football team take on Michigan at 1:30 a.m. in Spain.