Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Pearls in Rome, Day Six (St. Peter's Basilica)

If you've been following along with this "Pearls in Rome" series, you know that by the end of the first five days of our Roman Holiday last month, my husband and I had visited three of the four major basilicas of Rome: St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. John Lateran, and St. Mary Major.  (If you haven't read those previous posts and want to get caught up, here are links to Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four, and Day Five.  These posts are mostly pictures, so it really doesn't take that long to get through them.)

Now it was finally time to visit the big kahuna--the most important of the four, the Mother Church for all of Christendom, the Papal basilica located in Vatican City: Basilica di San Pietro (St. Peter's Basilica).  We had decided to save the best for last.

And oh my, it was worth the wait!

Monday, March 25

Before I get started, I am going to note (because it will be significant as far as what happens later in today's story) that it was our routine during our week in Rome to only eat one meal a day.  I would have a cup or two of coffee in the morning before we left our cozy little VRBO apartment, made with instant coffee picked up at the local grocery store and water heated up in the microwave, and my husband would have juice; but otherwise, we would wait until early afternoon to find a nice outdoor table where we would sit and have a cocktail and then order and enjoy our main meal. (Yes, we were like Jerry's parents in that Seinfeld episode where he visits them in FL, and he is flabbergasted that dinner happens at about 4:00 p.m.!  We're old folks now, and this is how we roll--early bird special all the way!)  Later in the evening, after continuing our post-dinner sightseeing, we would stop for our daily gelato fix before heading back "home" for the night. But we really only ate one true meal a day.  This was partly because it really is true that you can't (and don't need to) eat as much when you hit--ahem!--a certain age; and also partly because trying to find a decent public bathroom along the crowded streets of Rome can be pretty tricky.  Sometimes, we would duck into a café and I would order a cappuccino, just so we could use the facilities.  But as a general rule, we decided that the less we ate and drank before heading out for a long walk, the better!  (TMI?  Sorry!)

We tried to get an early start, but still, there was a rather long line already by the time we got to St. Peter's.

I'll tell you, though, if you have to spend time waiting in line, it's a lot less painful when it's a gloriously sunny day, with the bluest sky imaginable.  Not to mention when the scenery around you looks like this.

Before long, we would see all of these giant saint statues up close!

There was a couple ahead of us in line, taking turns photographing each other doing all sorts of wild poses--including jumping in the air with arms spread-eagle--with the basilica behind them in the background.  I admired their ability to get the Instagram-worthy shots they desired, no matter who was watching, and decided I wanted to have my husband take my picture.  (You know, for proof after we got back home that I was really there!)  Here is the wild-and-crazy pose I chose for my big moment.
"I don't know what to do with my hands!"

The line actually moved along pretty quickly, and before we knew it we were inside St. Peter's.  I am going to let the pictures do the talking for me (these are just a handful of the hundreds I took!).  I was so in awe of its beauty that I was left just about speechless, with a lump in my throat.  And I felt so privileged to be there!  I know there are many Catholics who would give anything to be able to see this magnificent church and might never get a chance to travel to Rome--and I am aware that it was a blessing and a gift that my husband and I were able to do it.  As I said in previous posts, he has been to Rome on numerous occasions for his job as an airline pilot (so he has been to St. Peter's multiple times); but this was my first time ever.  And being there together was an indescribably special experience for both of us.

Anyway, on to the pictures.

I couldn't stop snapping pictures with my iPhone!  Everywhere I looked, there was a feast for the eyes.  Everything I saw made my soul feel lighter and closer to Heaven. I even got to see Michelangelo's Pieta up close, and was thrilled that it was not against the rules to take pictures of this famous masterpiece.

Just as we were passing by one of the side chapels, we saw that a noon Mass was about to start there; so we had the unique privilege of attending a Mass at St. Peter's, which hadn't been on our list of activities for the day but was a happy accident indeed.

After we'd spent a good bit of time exploring the main floor of the basilica and the lower level crypt, which is the burial place of St. Peter and other popes and saints, we decided it was time to go up, up, UP!  We took an elevator to the inside of Michelangelo's cupola, or dome, where we had a bird's eye view of the interior of the basilica down below.  From that vantage point, we could see up close all the mosaics that make up the dome's design.

Next up: climbing to the top of the dome!

This was where the lack of food and drink (mentioned earlier in this post) kind of got to me.  When you get higher and higher up in the dome, the staircase is very steep and narrow, and the walls kind of close in on you (not a great situation if you have claustrophobia!), and because you're walking along a curved surface you feel like you're off-balance.  I was following behind my husband--and the line of climbers was moving along at a good clip--and I suddenly started to feel light-headed and faint.  I got a little panicky and made him switch places with me; if I fainted and fell backwards, I wanted to land on him and not some stranger! I probably shouldn't have attempted this climb on an empty stomach, but I ended up making it all the way up with no problem (as soon as I knew he was going to be there to catch me if need be!).

And I have to say, the views from the top made the difficult climb totally worth it!

Only my hair was having a bad day.  In every other way, this was pretty much the best day ever.

Here is a picture I took of my husband on the way down the stairs--just to give you an idea of how intimidating it is!  (And to make myself feel like less of a weakling for nearly fainting on the way up!)

After our descent from the dome, we took some time enjoying all there was to see from the lower level.  It was so neat to be standing so close to those enormous saint statues that are high up atop the colonnades outside the basilica.  They look so small from ground level!

And to be this close to the outside of the iconic dome--wow!

Before taking the elevator all the way back to the bottom, we stopped at a little café located near the base of the dome, and we got some drinks and split a bag of potato chips.  Feeling more fortified, we headed down.

It was sad when our visit to St. Peter's came to an end.  But before we left, we got to see a couple of Swiss Guards on duty--which was definitely on my wish list.

After we left St. Peter's, we browsed one of the many religious gift shops located near the Vatican and I bought a souvenir transferware plate.  Then we went to a nearby gelato place called Old Bridge, which was recommended to me by author A.J. Cattapan, one of my Instagram friends; but the line was too long, so we decided to try again the next day when we came back that way again to visit the Vatican Museum.

On our walk back toward our neighborhood near the Pantheon, we ducked into Santo Spirito in Sassia (Holy Spirit in Saxony), the church that is home to the original Divine Mercy painting.  My husband says that this church is often overlooked because of its proximity to St. Peter's, which is the real draw in the area.  But he wanted me to see it (and when we prayed the Diving Mercy novena recently, starting on Good Friday, I couldn't help but be reminded that I had actually been inside this beautiful church--lucky me!).

It had been a long, exhausting, and utterly fantastic day!  It was already past our usual early dinnertime, but we felt like we needed a little rest.  So we had our "cocktail hour" back at our apartment.  We stopped at a grocery store on the way "home" and picked up some sodas, nuts, and chips, and we relaxed--put our feet up, literally!--for a bit before strolling over to the Piazza Navona (my favorite of all the piazzas) to find a good place to have dinner. We ended up at Strepitoso's.

There was a trumpet player putting on a little free jazz concert in the doorway of the restaurant as we ate our dinner al fresco a few tables over.  It was almost too good to be true.  As was the food.

Sometimes, you have a hankering for just plain old spaghetti with marinara sauce.

So that was the end of Day Six.  (Except for an after-dinner visit to Giolitti's, of course, where I got a double scoop of a gelato flavor called "White Cream," which I ordered pretty much every time--because even in Rome, I'm a boring vanilla-type person.)

Just one more day to go.  ([Sniff!]  Grabbing my hanky here!)  All good things must come to an end, after all, even once-in-a-lifetime trips to Rome...but not before we got to tour the Vatican Museums--and see Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel!  So stay tuned!

Friday, April 26, 2019

Pearls in Rome, Day Five (Borghese Gardens, Bone Church, Trastevere)

If you've been following this little series so far, you know that my husband and I had already packed in a lot of sightseeing (and walked a lot of miles!) during our first four days in Rome, when we spent one glorious week there in March.  (If you haven't read about those adventures and you want to catch up, you can find the first four posts here: Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four.)

Now, on to Day Five (which was another one for the record books!).

Sunday, March 24

The first event on our agenda was, of course, Sunday Mass.

Even though the liturgy is exactly the same in every language throughout the world (in our one, universal Catholic Church), we decided to go to the early Mass at San Patrizio a Villa Ludovisi (St. Patrick's), where the Mass would be said in our native tongue.  This church used to be one of the national churches of Ireland located in Rome, but in 2017 it became the national church of the USA.  St. Patrick's is under the pastoral care of the Paulist Fathers of NYC.  (Until 2017, when the Paulists were transferred to St. Patrick's, Santa Susanna was the home of the American parish in Rome, and that was where my husband--an international pilot--often attended Sunday Mass when he was there for layovers.)

Nothing against this lovely church named for one of my favorite saints, but it was definitely not nearly as ornately beautiful as the others we'd seen in the preceding days.  However, as much as I had fallen in love with Rome and with all things Italian by this point, I found it comforting to listen to the familiar prayers in English that morning.  (And even though San Patrizio is not quite up to St. John Lateran standards as far as opulence and splendor, it is ever so much more beautiful than our modest parish church here in our small VA town!)

After Mass, we spent a couple of relaxing hours walking around the bucolic Borghese Gardens, Rome's very own version of Central Park, stopping now and then to sit on a bench to rest and people-watch.  What a lovely Sunday activity this was!   Musicians were playing here and there along the paths, joggers and bikers were out in force, and families with small children were taking advantage of the mild temperatures to stroll, eat gelato, and play in the grass.  I heard a young Italian father trying to get his little girl to come, because it was time to leave.  She wouldn't obey, so finally he said, "Arrivederci, Sophia!"--and what do you know, she came running!  I was so amused to see this interaction; parents the world over use the same tactics with their kids, no matter what language they speak.

I just adored exploring this oasis of green located in the heart of Rome.  The Borghese Gardens are extensive, and meandering along those tree-lined walkways you could almost forget you were right in the middle of a bustling city.  (My pictures won't do it justice.)

After we left the Borghese Gardens, we visited the "Bone Church," which is essentially a crypt or burial place for thousands of Capuchin monks. This is an amazing place!  First, we had a little audio tour that gave the history of the Capuchin Order; then we toured the chapels that are decorated--in an amazingly artistic fashion--completely with the real bones of dead monks.

We were not allowed to take pictures in the chapels, so I'm providing this image from the Internet.

After that sobering (but not as depressing as you might think!) experience, we stumbled upon an impromptu parade and that was a real pick-me-up.  A marching band just happened to be lining up in the street as we passed by, and we ended up walking along with them down one of the main thoroughfares of Rome, Via Veneto.

After we broke off from the parade, we took a walk across the Tiber River, on our way to a very special neighborhood of Rome, a section of the city that my husband loves and where he thought I would enjoy spending the afternoon.

You can see the dome of St. Peter's behind me in the distance.

I fell absolutely in love with this charming neighborhood known as Trastevere.  We wandered around its narrow cobbled streets, on the most gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon, taking it all in.  That day, I was sure that Trastevere was my very favorite part of Rome...but my favorites seemed to change moment by moment, because it was just all so spectacular.

We stopped for cocktails and dinner at a pretty swanky place called Sabatini's, and we snagged a great table right on the edge of the piazza, optimal for people-watching.

We started out by each ordering a Spritz Veneziano (Spritz for short), a yummy Proseco-based concoction.  I loved it!  But my guy--not so much.  I got a refill, but he switched to beer for cocktail number two.

We had a lovely dinner (I ordered seafood and risotto, a bit of a change from my usual pasta choices). I hated to leave Trastevere, but the sun was about to set and we had a long walk ahead of us.  Not only that, but we had big plans for Monday, including the Vatican Museum, so we wanted to get a good night's sleep.

I love this picture I snapped on the bridge as we walked back across the Tiber toward "home."  I can see why photographers call dusk the "golden hour" for taking photos!  No filter needed here.

We popped into a few beautiful churches along our route (they are everywhere in Rome--everywhere!), just for a quick look-around, and then as we made our way to our apartment we decided to try something new for our traditional gelato nightcap.  We went to the Lindt gelateria, where all the flavor choices were some variation of chocolate.  We liked it a lot, but decided that for the rest of our time in Rome, we were going to stick to Giolitti's--which had become "our" gelato shop!

My only regret at the end of this spectacular Sunday was that I didn't have someone take a photo of us at Sabatini's, holding our beautiful orange Spritzes.  I should have asked the waiter to do it for us, but as usual let my shyness carry the day.  Not to worry: this photo of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck--from my new favorite old movie, Roman Holiday--will suffice in a pinch.  It gives you a good idea of how much we were enjoying the experience of sipping our drinks at our little outdoor table...

What an amazing and unforgettable day this was!  And we still had two more days to go. Stay tuned, bellas!