Among the most frequent of frequent flyers, Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno racks up more than 100,000 miles per year, traveling between two dissimilar yet dramatically beautiful home bases: the Vatican in Rome and the rugged desert of Tucson, Arizona. Consolmagno, staff astronomer and the curator of meteorites at the Vatican Observatory, travels nonstop, delivering 40 to 50 talks annually at universities, schools and parishes around the world. Along the way, he’s learned a thing or two about how to travel like a star. Brother Consolmagno sat down with the Chicago Tribune to share a few tips – everything from hidden gems at the Vatican to don’t-leave-home-without-it travel aids.
Q: For those making a trip to the Vatican, what would you advise them to visit?
A: Well, everyone knows to see St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museum. But most people, when they go to the museum, rush ahead to see the Sistine Chapel and miss out on some wonderful artwork on the way. In particular, I recommend that when you first get into the museum, where the signs all point to the left, turn right instead. This gets you to the coffee shop and the Pinacoteca, the small but wonderful collection of paintings. I find the series of musical angels by Melozzo da Forli are particularly charming. But the best part is a series of eight astronomical paintings by Donato Creti, made in the early 1700s, which show the planets as seen through a telescope. They include the first color depiction of the great red spot on Jupiter. Another wonderful sight, which requires advance reservations, is to explore the Scavi, the excavations underneath St. Peter’s. (http://www.vatican.va)
A: That was 30 years ago, and I know that Kenya has changed a lot since then. What I remember most was how wonderful the people were and how much the countryside reminded me of a Tolkien painting — odd volcanic mountains and glorious but very strange vistas.
Q: What are your five favorite cities?
A. I am quite partial to the United Kingdom, so I would have to start with London, Liverpool and Glasgow. Tokyo is fascinating and continually surprising. I lived many years in Boston and I still love to visit there because it’s full of history, great museums and great food — and you can walk to nearly all of it. But lately my heart has been stolen by New York. As a Jesuit, I get to stay in parishes built to serve immigrants of the 19th century that are now in neighborhoods that are just wonderful to wander around. And, yes, I know that’s six cities.
Q: When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A: One trick I have never heard anyone else describe is that for long overnight flights, I put myself to sleep by listening to favorite audio books. Because I know the book well, it doesn’t keep me awake. And when I realize that I have skipped a few chapters, it relaxes me by letting me realize I really have gotten some sleep.