Italy Stories and Tips

Rome, Over and Under

La Barca, the Leaky Boat Photo, Rome, Italy

Day 2 in Rome was a morning visiting some other lovely churches and later the San Callisto catacombs. We went to St. Peter in Chains (San Pietro ad Vincula) first to see Michelangelo’s Moses and later to Santa Maria Maggiore which was dark in side but had fabulous 13th century frescos and 16th and 17th century chapels built on either side with very elaborate decoration. The sun was streaming through the old stained glass and I managed to take a couple of pictures of the coloured lights beaming down, spotlighting some people sitting in the pews. I really liked that church and would definitely go back and see it again. There is also a church I had hoped to see that has a false dome painted on the ceiling inside! I had a small guidebook of Rome and had hoped to see a few more things but it turned out with the optional excursions we booked there was less free time than I expected.

The San Callisto Catacombs were just a Christian cemetery, not a refuge for people being persecuted. Very interesting though and the guide that took us must have been Methuselah’s father or one of the original gravediggers! But he was very interesting and really knew his information but you really had to stick with him going through the corridors because you really could get lost in there and it wasn’t a place for claustrophobics. You went down 3 or 4 flights of stairs into narrow passageways that were very high, several stories deep. The graves were dug out of the walls and went up 4 or 5 levels up. Turns out they started at the top and dug down as it got filled up and there are several more levels beneath the one we saw. The graves are now all empty on that level, the bones had been moved to one of the other levels as it would be disrespectful for all these tourists to be gawping at them. There are little family chapels dug in as well with the remnants of decorations on the walls. It was quite cool and self ventilating too which surprised us.

The optional excursion that afternoon after a quick lunch in a cafeteria near St. Peters was to Tivoli to see the villa and gardens and then to have an included dinner at a restaurant nearby. We weren’t really impressed with Tivoli at all. Most of the fountains in the gardens were small mossed-over squirts with just three or four more elaborate fountains though the one of the fertility goddess Diana was amusing as she had about a dozen large breasts, all spouting water. I had to have my picture taken in front of that for Josephine! The villa was empty with just a few frescos on the walls of one or two rooms. The town had nothing memorable in it. We sat and waited in a piazza at our arranged meeting point, discussing our disappointment with other tour members as they wandered back. Dinner at the restaurant was good though and lots of fun as we were entertained by a trio of very enthusiastic singers.

The highlight of Rome had to be the Pope’s blessing! He has been ill and recovering from an emergency appendectomy so his private audiences were cancelled but we were informed that he might do a benediction from his window over St. Peter’s Square if enough people were there. Enough! There must have been tens of thousands there! We went to St. Peter’s Square in a taxi with an Irish mother and daughter who were travelling together. That taxi ride was quite something! It was still just after the morning rush hour so this was the real Roman traffic and the driver got into an argument with a business man on a scooter. They were shouting insults back and forth though it seemed our driver was being a little cautious. We laughed and told him to go for it! At one point the man on the scooter turned his head and spit at our driver but that backfired on him as the breeze blew it back on his own suede jacket! We all cracked up!

We got to St. Peter’s Square about 10 a.m. There wasn’t too many people there yet and we ran into another American couple who had actually had a letter to get them into the Pope’s weekly private audience (of about 2000 people!) but as I said the private audiences were cancelled. We waited by a fountain on the side of St. Peter’s near where the Pope’s residence is for about an hour and a half. We saw the priests hang out a banner from a window so we knew we would get to see/hear the Pope after all and by that time the square was filled. There were choirs singing in various languages and people holding up flags and signs in different languages. He came to the window about 11:30 and spoke for about 15 minutes, repeating his message in about 6 languages including English. It was pretty moving and emotional even for me a non-practising Catholic. Your upbringing is still there and it still means something even if you think it doesn’t all that much.

We separated from our tour companions after that and found Gianni’s restaurant open so were able to have lunch. Turns out this wasn’t a little off the beaten track place as I thought but also a cafe that catered to tour groups. The trattoria has 3 or 4 little rooms though so we were seated in one away from the group. We ordered the tourist set menu, not knowing what it was. There might have been a board or sign somewhere but we missed it. However there was a salad, 1/2 litre of wine, and the entry tasted like it might have been lamb shanks or something. It was.... you guessed it. Pork! Must have been a sort of pork hock or something as it was the consistency of stewing beef in a tomato sauce but it was tasty.

After lunch we walked around by the Piazza dei Popoli with it’s fountains and twin churches. We made our way to the Spanish Steps but didn’t climb them as Denise wasn’t feeling very well. We stopped into the McDonalds by the piazza by the steps for a milkshake and a bathroom stop. It’s a beautiful place, with brass fittings and murals on the walls. We made our way back to St. Peter’s since Denise really wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to go any further and we got a cab back to the hotel. It turns out what we thought was a cold (I was sniffly and stuffed up too) was all the pollution causing our respiration problems. Others in the group had the same problems and they cleared up a day or two out of the city! I bought a some bread and cheese and pop at a little shop near the store and we relaxed for the rest of the evening.

There was so much to see in Rome and so little time. Would I go back’ Maybe. I would like to see more of the Vatican Museums and some of the other museums and churches. After seeing the Sistine Chapel and some of the more famous statues Michelangelo sculpted, the Pieta, Moses and the David, you really realize the man was a genius! His paintings are a marvel but you can tell sculpting was his real expertise even more so!

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