I’m going on a bit of a break — not long, just a week or so — but when I’m back, Rome updates will continue in full force.

I thought about writing up a storm before taking the break, but I want to do the time in Rome justice, so I think it would better to wait until I’m running on all cylinders.

See you in a week (or so)!  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


a study of contrasts

I’m taking a brief break from our trip through Rome to bring you a rant.  Or maybe we could call it a musing.

I went to a hockey game last night, and as we were exiting the stadium a bunch of protestors were already crowding the street we were supposed to be crowding.  There were only a handful of them, but they made their presence known by shouting and beating an annoying drum.  They seemed to be the same group that has been camping out in front of our Capitol building.  An unbathed motley crew, seemingly protesting everything from the war to Wall Street to normal heterosexual behavior and anything else that struck their fancy.

There were two stark contrasts.  The most apparent one was right in front of my eyes– a group of young business men had exited the hockey game and were standing on the corner, watching the protestors with skeptical, bemused looks.  They were about the same age as the protestors, but they were clean-shaven, had bathed that day, clad in nice suits, and apparently had day jobs.  I thought, “Hm, which group is more attractive?”   Maybe unwashed hippies appeal to someone, I suppose.  But I think I’ll take the guys who are apparently employed and have a sense of hygiene.

The second contrast is not so shallow.  During one of the breaks in the game, they announced that we had a retired Army sergeant in our midst.  He had served in Iraq and possibly Afghanistan.  It was hard to hear everything they said about him, because immediately upon showing him on the jumbotron, as he sat there in his wheelchair, the entire arena stood up and gave him a loud, long, rousing standing ovation.  Can you imagine getting a standing ovation from 15,000+ people?  I’m sure we all wished we could have done more for the man who had served our country and protected our freedom.

I wonder what he thought when he came out and saw the people protesting the war.  How little they understand the horrors of war.  How narrow-minded they are.  He sacrificed his life for our country, knowing that the purpose of war is peace (St. Augustine).  I suppose we all wish peace could be achieved by standing in the streets and waving rainbow flags and beating annoying drums.  But it can’t.

God bless that man and all those willing to risk their lives for our freedom — so that we can camp out in parks and not shower or work.

Friday continued

After our Scavi tour, we walked up to go into the Basilica for the first time this trip.  (It was hard to keep Megan from going in there earlier — we dropped our bags off at bag check before the tour, so we had actually walked across the front, right past the front doors… but you can’t just poke your head in St. Peter’s — and we were running just on time for the Scavi.  So I made her keep walking.)

It was absolutely packed.  PACKED.  At 10:00 in the morning!  I was under the impression that they still restricted tour groups until a certain time in the morning, but it’s obviously no longer 10:30 like I believe it once was.  Now that they require the whisper mics (thank goodness – it would be a mad house in there if all those guides were talking), they must let them in earlier.

We decided to split up and go our own ways in the basilica, but we both went straight to Blessed John Paul II’s tomb, which had been moved upstairs since both of us were last in Rome.   His tomb is just beyond the Pieta, on the right side of the basilica, under the large mosaic of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian.

Photos aren’t allowed, and even access to the pews in front of his tomb is restricted by a guard, I suppose to keep tour groups from congregating.  In fact, there are curtains up between the area in front of his tomb and the main part of the basilica, so you can’t see his tomb if you’re just standing in the main nave.  I suppose this is to limit the circus that may ensue of people start lingering, taking pictures, etc.  But it’s sad– it meant I couldn’t go to the tomb on our last morning, because morning Masses were still taking place and the guards weren’t letting people over there.  Perhaps it limits the circus, but I wonder if it doesn’t create a bit of a circus at the same time (the guards stop people going over to his tomb, the people have to convince them they’re going over there to pray, etc.).

After praying at his tomb and praying in the Blessed Sacrament chapel, I headed over to the St. Joseph altar.  I figured if I stuck with the chapels that were restricted to praying-people only, I would at least avoid most of the tourists and avoid the near occasions of sin. : )

Megan and I went to Mass at the altar of St. Joseph, then headed out to get lunch at the creperie next to Old Bridge.  Ham, cheese, and tomato crepes for both of us, followed by a visit next door for our first taste of Old Bridge.  I honestly don’t remember what flavors I got, but I assume it was something like hazelnut and chocolate or chocolate and pistachio.  (In case you haven’t noticed, those are my go-to flavors.  Chocolate because it’s so incredible — and I’m not a chocolate-ice-cream lover– and hazelnut and pistachio because they are flavors so unique to gelato.)

Walking back to the piazza, I noticed this little gem through the windows of the Swiss Guard building (which is right on Via di Porta Angelica, running right out of the Piazza towards Piazza Risorgamento.)

What’s that, through the window?

Oh, just some Swiss Guard uniforms.

Pretty sweet, huh?  I love Rome.

We thought about going back to the house for riposo (which we agreed we were going to do every day and not feel guilty), but we knew we had to go to the Bishop’s Office in the afternoon, so we decided to wander in that direction.  One of the loveliest things to do in Rome is wander through the streets with no pressure — a full stomach,  no obligation to be anywhere at a certain time, knowing exactly where you’re going (or at least not lost enough to be worried).

I led Megan through the streets and alleys, off the main road, knowing where we were headed but hoping to surprise her.  I’m sure she had an idea of where we were, but we were in the back streets enough that I hoped she didn’t know exactly what lay ahead when we came down the last street… and into Piazza Navona.

We ended up sitting in Piazza Navona for a long time, just hanging out on a bench and watching the world go by.  It was lovely, and exactly what we both wanted out of the trip.

You never know what you might see in Rome.

A gladiator catching up on the daily news, perhaps.

We saw him again, later in the week, walking in a completely different part of town.  “It’s our gladiator friend, Meg!”  (You’ll see later in these posts that I call everyone we recognize at a later time our “friends.”)

After awhile we wandered a bit more– past the Pantheon, across the Corso — and right to Via dell’Umilta, where the US Bishops’ office is.  It was a nice little gift — I knew basically where I was going, but I wasn’t looking at street names and wasn’t consulting my map — so it was nice to literally walk right to the front door.  The US Bishops office is in the Casa Santa Maria, where the American priests studying in Rome live.  The Sisters of Mercy help pilgrims and hand out the tickets pilgrims have requested for papal events.

Sister buzzed us in and we walked through the courtyard to the office.  The Casa is really beautiful– I love courtyards.  Sister gave us our tickets to Sunday’s canonization, told us when the piazza would open, etc.  And then she asked if we had plans Saturday night.  “Would you like to go to a concert with the Holy Father?”

Hm.  Let me think about that.

She handed us invitations that would serve as our tickets.  The tickets said “abito scuro,” which translates “dark dress” … which is the Italian way of indicating formal attire.  Sister assured us that we would be okay if we just literally wore dark clothes.  (I certainly hadn’t brought my black-tie occasion dress, but I wasn’t passing up a chance for a concert with the Pope, so we both decided we would make do with what we had brought!)

One of the priests at Megan’s parish is studying in Rome, so Megan asked Sister if she knew him.  You have to love Rome — not only did she know him, he happened to be in the next room hearing confessions!  So Sister took us over there and we got to talk to him for a bit.  Megan won the “first person to see someone they know wins” award.

After we left the Casa, we wandered around some more — I think I might have taken Megan by to see the Pontifical Gregorian University, then we went over to Santa Maria sopra Minerva, a favorite church for both of us.  I love to sit in the Blessed Sacrament chapel there.  I’m not sure what specifically sets it apart from  other Blessed Sacrament chapels in the city.   Perhaps it’s the beautiful painting of St. Dominic and the Dominican connection, or the close proximity of the tombs of Catherine of Siena and Fra Angelico.   Perhaps it’s the comfort of the Gothic architecture, the architecture I grew up with, but that is so rare in the city.  Or perhaps its the silence in a city that is so rarely silent.  Right in the middle of the historic center, just a few yards away from the Pantheon, there is an escape from the crowds and the incessant talking and the ignorant lambs being led by a crazy guide spewing nonsense.  Except for the rare group coming to see Michelangelo’s Resurrected Christ, the tourists that come tend to be believers who are coming to see Saint Catherine.  And they tend to be quiet.

After Santa Maria sopra Minerva we went in search of an afternoon espresso.  (Ha, if you thought I was going to say cappuccino, think again!  We’re too Roman to drink cappuccino after noon!)  We stopped by San Eustachio, but it was very crowded and neither of us felt like elbowing our way to the counter and making our presence known.  So we stopped by Cafffe Camerino, which is conveniently located near the tram that would take us back to our side of the river.

Caffe Camerino is a magical place.  For a euro, you get this wonderful treat:

Cafffe completo.  This picture is from 2008, but it hasn’t changed.  (except for the price.  Costs have gone up since I lived there three years ago; I noticed it on a few things, this included.  I think it used to be 60 cents.  But still, a euro seems a steal, when you consider what a treat it is.)    They start with this chocolate sauce — that’s thicker than chocolate sauce, but not as thick as fudge.  Then they pour a shot of espresso on top, top it with a dollop of homemade whipped cream, and shave chocolate shavings on top.


Seriously, anyone who misses Starbucks when they’re in Italy should be punched in the face.  Or at least given a dirty look.

Cafffe completo.  Heaven in cup.  Whenever they pull out the big silver mixing bowl filled with whipped cream from the refrigerator under the counter, my heart melts a little.

After that afternoon pick-me-up, we headed back to the house, where Megan made a list of souvenirs, we checked our email, and I called my brother, who was about to leave the country on business.  I was glad that I downloaded Skype to my phone before I left, because it made calling home a breeze.

the courtyard where we checked email, called home, etc.

Then we took the bus up to the St. Peter’s area.  I believe it was this trip that Megan first voiced her pleasure regarding buses.  It took us five minutes to get to St. Peter’s, in a seated position, instead of 35 minutes of walking on our tired feet.  Buses are a good thing.

We stopped into the Ancora, one of my favorite bookstores/souvenir shops in Rome.  I was on the hunt for the English translation of the Pope’s apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini.  Ever since it came out in 2010, I was itching to have a copy of it to match my other encyclicals and apostolic exhortations of Benedict, all of which I had gotten at the Ancora.  Call me a nerd, but I like the size of them and the type-setting.  I wasn’t going to be satisfied until I had a copy of Verbum Domini to match.  So as soon as we walked into the Ancora, I was going to head upstairs to pick one up.

But – gasp – as we walked in — the Ancora was completely different! They had renovated it and changed everything around.  I’m not talking about a new coat of paint, either (although they did that).  I’m talking about the fact that the stairs were in a different place, the English books were now downstairs (was there even a downstairs before?), the statues were upstairs, the whole layout everything was different.   Between the dark red trim and the circular staircase and the completely different placement of everything, I never felt like I was in the Ancora.  It was a very odd feeling.

We left as they were closing (I did get Verbum Domini, and we both picked up holy cards of the saints that were going to be canonized on Sunday) and headed over to Insalata Ricca.  I’m sure some people would be horrified that I would go to a chain restaurant in Rome, but I like Insalata Ricca, and I like the fact that they’re often near tourist locations (St. Peters, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, etc) but don’t fall prey to being tourist traps. You can get a good meal there for a good price and actually feel like you’re in a Roman restaurant.  In fact, I think most people who eat there probably don’t realize it’s even a chain.  I got a fantastic pineapple/prosciutto pizza, and Megan got an enormous salad.

And we both got little Nasturo Azzuri. : )  (Azzuros?  Azzuri?)

aren’t they pretty?

I didn’t write in my journal that we got gelato.  It’s hard to believe we didn’t, although we had gotten it earlier that day, so I suppose that even I can hold myself back from going to Old Bridge twice in one day.  It’s still sort of surprising, though.

We took the bus back– two buses, actually, and went to bed.  Morning would come quickly, since we were planning on going to early Mass at St. Peter’s for John Paul II’s feast.  His first feast day.  The whole reason we had flown across the ocean…

Happy Feast!

Happy Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran.  Or, more precisely, the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour and Sts. John the Baptist and the Evangelist at the Lateran.

As Cathedral for the diocese of Rome, the Lateran Basilica is the Mother Church of the world.

While I work on my posts about Rome, check out a beautiful virtual tour of the Lateran Basilica and its famous baptistery here: http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_giovanni/vr_tour/index-en.html   You can even see the oldest obelisk in Rome — so old that Moses would have seen it.  (In Egypt, of course.  Not on the north side of the Lateran.)




The Scavi

People going to Rome often ask me what they should see when they’re over there.  It’s a hard question for me to answer– the places I would list would either be the obvious ones you’ll find on most tourist lists (the 4 Major Basilicas, the Vatican Museums, the Flavian Amphitheatre) or places that I would want to take you myself, so I could show you what you needed to see.  Actually, any place I tell you to go in Rome I would want to take you myself, because it’s too easy to miss something (table of the Last Supper, anyone?  How many people miss that in the Basilica of John Lateran?) or because you’ll probably have some silly guide who tells you something absurd, like that no martyrs died in the Colosseum.

There is one place, however, I would always recommend to someone visiting the Eternal City.  Something that often escapes the tourist lists and a place where *most* of the guides are pretty legit (I’ve only had one bad one, and that was almost 10 years ago).

The Scavi.

The excavations under St. Peters.  Only about 200 people get to go down there each day, but it’s actually not that difficult to get tickets.  (see here.)  I’ve never not gotten tickets when I’ve requested them.

I don’t have time here to go into detail about the Scavi, but I’d highly recommend reading George Weigel’s fantastic piece The Scavi of St. Peter’s and the Grittiness of Catholicism, originally from his book  Letters to a Young Catholic.

Megan and I had tickets for a 9:00 English tour, so we had breakfast at our hotel (more bread, ham, cheese, and Nutella, plus that delicious Italian yogurt I really wish I could find over here) and then walked to St. Peter’s.    We faced the effects of the murmuration and roosting the night before, and made a note to ourselves to either take the bus in the mornings or walk after the power-washer came through.  The stench was overwhelming.

We went to the Arch of the Bells, where I’ve always gone to go back into the Vatican for the Scavi tours, but things have changed (perhaps due to the extensive restoration work that’s going on) and the guards sent us around to the Holy Office gate, off Via Paolo VI.  That’s okay — it just meant I was saluted twice by the guards.  (That always makes me go a little weak in the knees- to have a man in uniform salute me.)

We didn’t have to wait long for our tour guide, who was a Hungarian woman, an archaeologist by trade.  I generally prefer North American College priests or seminarians, although the worst guide I ever had was a priest. But so was the best!  This woman was quite good, though, and I wonder if the tour hasn’t gotten better every year.  I can definitely tell the difference with the actual restoration efforts each time I go — one whole tomb was newly restored this time.

Okay, so the historian-Romaphile in me can’t help but at least give you a brief overview.  Basically, St. Peter’s is built on a pagan cemetery.  After St. Peter was crucified in the circus of Nero (which ran sort of diagonally to the present basilica and piazza), the Christians cut him down from the cross (most likely leaving his feet behind — that’s the quickest way to remove a person who has been crucified upside down) and buried him in a tomb on the hillside nearby, where there was already an expansive necropolis.  Over the years a shrine was built up around his tomb, where the Christians would come pray, touch things to his tomb, etc.  Eventually, other Christians were buried around him.

When Constantine wanted to build a church around the shrine, he was faced with two problems — one, Peter was buried on a hillside.  How do you build a giant church on a hillside?  And two, to build anything around the shrine would require destroying hundreds, perhaps thousands of tombs — in a necropolis that was still in use.  Not only would such an action be illegal, but it would be wildly unpopular and highly suspect, given the Roman respect for the dead.

The fact that Constantine leveled the hill (chopping off the top and using the dirt to fill in the bottom, thus created an even plane) and destroyed the necropolis is a clear indication that he knew Peter was buried there and it was crucial that he build the church on top of his tomb.

Fast-forward to the 20th century.  Pius XII’s predecessor, Pius XI, asks to be buried in the crypt of the Popes.  While making room in the crypt for his grave, the workers break through the floor of the crypt and make an interesting discovery — they’ve broken through into a family tomb.  Pius XII gives permission for the excavation work to take place, although in secret, and five or six archaeologist spend the next several years discovering the pagan necropolis.

You hear this story and others on the tour, as you make your way through the necropolis, admiring beautiful pagan family tombs, eventually seeing Christian tombs, and then seeing the remnants of the early shrines, and the Constantinian high altar.

You can do your own little tour here.

The climax of the tour is when you step into a dark room.  You know the tour is almost at an end.  You’ve heard the story of the search, you’ve heard of the false alarms and you wait with expectation.  Did they find his bones?  And the tour guide begins to describe the graffiti on this one wall… and how they brought a graffiti expert in, who deciphered the early Christian writing, and when she discovered the words “Peter is here,” she asked that they look in the wall.  They did, and they found bones- bones of an old man, of robust stature.  Bones of almost an entire male body… except the feet.

And there you stand, in the darkness, and peer through glass into lighted excavations.  There, in a fiberglass box, you can see bones.  And your first instinct is to fall to your knees and weep, knowing that you are looking at the bones of the humble fisherman who walked on water, who denied Christ, and who was told, “Feed my sheep.”

A box of bones on which — literally– a church has been built.  For almost two thousand years.

Not bad for 10am.

San Damiano

The next morning we woke up early for Mass and coffee.  (Let’s be honest.)  We had memories of the coffee at La Rocca (we had stayed there in 2005 while on retreat in Assisi, too) and so we made the conscious effort to wake up early enough to eat breakfast before heading down to San Francesco for Mass.

(We had seen on a schedule that there was a 7:30 Mass down at San Damiano, but while that sounded wonderful and spiritual and romantic the night before, we knew it wouldn’t sound the same the next day when the alarm went off.  So we were practical about things and decided to go to 8:30 at San Francesco instead.)

At times, memories can be deceiving.  How often have I been let-down when my memory of something was far better than the actual experience?  When repeated, not only is it not as pleasurable as the original experience, the disappointment of dashed expectations makes it displeasing.

This was not the case with the coffee at breakfast.  It was just as wonderful as we remembered.  Outside, the early morning air was misty and looked cold:

a view from our hotel, looking up to Mount Subasio

Inside the dining room, the frothy steamed milk and the smooth dark espresso warmed our bodies as much as it warmed our spirits.  Crusty bread, ham, cheese, and Nutella… we were ready to face the day.

I mentioned how much I love Assisi at night.  I also love Assisi in the early morning.  Yet another reason to spend the night.

I like most cities in the early morning — you’ll see in a few days that I love Rome in the early morning, too.  There’s something about experiencing a place while the rest of the world is still sleeping.

After checking out of the hotel (they graciously allowed us to leave our suitcases there for the day.  Thanks, La Rocca!) we wandered down to San Francesco, stopping along the way to admire the location of Clare’s home, in the piazza of San Rufino, and the small, humble church of San Stefano (whose bells, it is documented, tolled at the death of Francis).

San Ruffino – just down the street from our hotel. Clare’s family lived next door to the church, and both she and Francis were baptized there.

After Mass at San Francesco (we were with a group of pilgrims traveling to Rome for the canonization that was taking place the coming Sunday, so a bishop celebrated Mass and received permission to celebrate the Mass for the feast of St. Francis, something groups get to do in the basilica) we went our separate ways and I headed to San Damiano.

It’s such a special place, I’m going to feel like I’m cheapening it to even talk about it.  It’s down a steep hill from Assisi, so treking down there is itself a pilgrimage and a retreat.  Romping through the Assisi countryside, past olive groves, the Umbrian countryside displayed in all its wonder in front of you, you pass through the centuries and begin to find yourself in Francis and Clare’s presence.

This is the site that greets you, as you finish your steep journey:

Pictures are not allowed in the chapel, where there’s a replica of the cross that spoke to St. Francis there, in 1205/6.  Francis famously rebuilt the San Damiano chapel after hearing Christ’s words, “Go, rebuild my house, which as you see, is falling into ruin” and taking them literally.  He would later give San Damiano to Clare, and it would become her home and first monastery.

You can walk through the monastery, seeing the refectory where Clare ate with her sisters, the courtyard and well, and the room where she died (and had the famous Christmas vision, which eventually led to Pius XII making her patroness of television).   I had seen the places numerous times, so since a high school trip was walking through when I was there, I was content to stay in the chapel and pray– especially since, after the high schoolers left the chapel to go walk through the monastery, I was completely alone there.

I spent the time to journal a bit, too, reflecting on that constant question in my mind: why am I here?

“When I was praying last night at Santa Chiara, I again thought how crazy this seemed – to spend all this money to ‘vacation’ for no real purpose.  But it’s not a vacation.  I needed to see all this again.  I needed to remember these places.  I needed to be recharged.  … The smell of the churches – I can’t get over how the streets, the crypts- everything smells the same. I want to weep with how comforting, how beautiful it all is.”

It’s true — I think smell must be a dominant sense for me, because I remember smells and smells greatly affect me.  The churches smelled like I remember.  The streets smelled like I remember.  There’s something about it that immediately brought back memories and was intensely comforting.

(on a side note, it was actually a smell that made me first decide to return to Rome.  Last spring, when I was going through a little emotional roller coaster, I was walking down the street in my apartment complex and smelled Rome.   I think it was a mixture of the spring air and the creek — and who knows, probably a guy smoking a cigarette and a diesel truck driving by — but something smelled like Rome and took me back immediately to the spring semesters I spent there.   And that day I told myself  I was going back within the year.)

I had a wonderful thirty minutes of quiet time in San Damiano, where I felt very close to my patroness.

Then I headed back up the steep road.  The way up is a lot harder than the way down. : )

this doesn’t quite do it justice.

The rest of the time in Assisi was spent eating lunch, wandering the streets, and visiting San Ruffino, where Megan stumbled upon a beautiful exhibit of paintings depicting John Paul II at various moments in his life.

When we went back to La Rocca to pick up our bags, they called a taxi for us, and we headed back down the hill to the train station.  The train back to Rome seemed to take a very long time, as is expected of a trip like that.  I was ready to be home in Rome!

I dislike Termini, the train station, and recent riots made that part of town even less savory in my mind.  I was ready to get on a bus and get out of there.  So I was a little on edge as we bought our weekly bus pass and waited for the 40 Express, which I figured was the easiest way to get into town.

Unfortunately, the 40 was pulling out as we were purchasing our tickets, and strangely enough, one didn’t come to take its place.  Since it’s the terminus for that bus, it was suspicious in my mind that we were standing there for a good half hour with no bus.  The natives were getting restless, too.  As I looked around, I only saw one bus that wasn’t off or marked “deposito.”  I was slowly convincing myself that we were witnessing a bus strike (not a rare occurrence).   I was kicking myself that I didn’t know more Italian, although the people around me didn’t seem any more informed and probably would have just shrugged and said, “Boh” if I asked them.

Eventually, after enough natives said angry things and threw their hands up in the air, one of the metrobus employees walked over to a bus that was off, said something to the driver, then turned to us and announced, “Quaranta.”  Wha-la! Everyone piled on.

Once we got off the bus at our stop, we had a short tram ride or a walk to the other side of the river, to the region known as Trastevere.  Megan voted to walk.  So there we were, pulling our suitcases behind us, across the Tiber, down Viale Trastevere, and through the little cobblestone alleys that were to become our neighborhood for the week.  I’m glad we walked — we were able to use our nervous energy and glimpse our first glimpse of St. Peters.

I was very happy with where we stayed- the house of St. Frances of Rome.   (More about her later.)   I love Trastevere, and it was fun to wander through the streets.  Okay, well, when we first arrived, it was not so fun to wander with our suitcases.  But I only had to ask for directions once!  The streets are like a maze, but after a few days we had our landmarks and pretty much had our route down pat.

The lovely Italian young man at reception was so nice and helpful.  (I know, it’s his job.  And I must have a soft spot in my heart for hotel desk workers.  I’m pretty sure I wanted to marry the desk worker at the Sant’Anna, where I stayed with my parents and aunt and uncle.  And then I wanted to marry the two young ones at St Frances in Rome.  Megan commented that my journal was going to be filled with the Italian charmers that I wanted to marry. :))  He (we never found out his name, sadly) spoke English quite well, although he had a peculiar accent — we wanted to ask him whom he learned English from, because certain words sounded like he was from a particular region of the United States.   There was a tiny little elevator (with our suitcases, we had to go up one at a time) up to the third floor, and our room was clean and homey and very typical Italian.  (One nice perk was the heated spots in the floor!  You have to get used to stone/tile floors in Italian religious houses — not a pleasant thing in the early morning.  But these floors were heated!  We were living the dream.)

After getting settled, we headed out to St. Peter’s.  I had to convince Megan the day before that we didn’t need to take a bus over to St. Peter’s before heading up to Assisi… we were both pretty anxious to be “home” again in that square.  So it was, of course, the first thing we did when we arrived!

We walked up the Tiber River as the sun was setting.  The starlings were flying around like crazy things, which Megan found fascinating and I found terrifiying.  I guess I’m supposed to find it beautiful (it’s called murmuration, for those of you who care.  You can see it here.) but I have a serious issue with birds (let’s call it fear) and I was not finding it as fascinating as Megan.  Thousands and thousands of birds flying around and roosting in the trees above our heads?  Not my idea of a peaceful walk.  When it begins to sound like rain?  Hm, I’m going to start running.  (Megan did get hit by a present that night.)   The next morning as we walked that same path to St. Peter’s, we were just early enough to get out on the street before the street cleaner/power washer, and we saw and smelled the effects of the birds that night before.  The sidewalks were absolutely covered and it was enough to make you gag.  Megan lost all fascination with murmuration.

We were going to get dinner at my dad’s favorite restaurant, Sor’Eva, a lovely place at the foot of the Janiculum hill, but we found that the wait staff was still eating.  I knew we would have to begin eating late dinners, but I thought 6:30 would be at least the beginning of dinner time.  Nope.  So we continued our walk to St. Peter’s Square, to see the sight we had been waiting for– one of my favorite sights in the whole world:

I have about fifty pictures of that view.

We stood in the Square, looked up at the Pope’s windows, admired some priests in their cassocks, filled up our water bottles, and just took in the moment.  Then we headed over to Sor’Eva, where we had a delicious meal — the ravioli Sor’Eva for me (my usual when I go there) and the gnocchi for Megan.  Then Megan was craving vegetables, so the waiter brought her over to a big case of their vegetables of the day and had her pick out whatever she wanted.  It was quite hilarious to watch — her pointing, him telling her what it was in Italian, him suggesting things to her, etc.  There was one vegetable we didn’t quite know what it was, but it looked good to Megan … and he couldn’t get a small clump to separate, so we got the whole garden of it:

If you know what that is, enlighten me.  Megan ate her serving.  I didn’t eat mine.  I stuck with the stuffed breaded zucchini. : )

We took the scenic walk back — the river walk is scenic, but there were too many birds now roosting in the trees above our heads for me to do that walk again.  So we walked through Trastevere, taking in the street cafes and the crazy people selling things (glow-in-the-dark cat ears are the newest rage, but bubble guns are still prevalent too) and eventually stopping for gelato at a place that received high marks from me during my tour-del-gelato in 2008: Fior di Luna.  I got hazelnut and chocolate and Meg intended to get orange-chocolate and something… but the guy gave her chili-chocolate and something.  whoops!

Returning to our home, we got the wireless code from the man at the desk (“I will get it for you immediately!” he announced).  The wireless wasn’t accessible in our room, which was a hidden blessing, but it did work well in the hotel courtyard.  So we were able to be in some communication with America– just enough!  Then I journal-ed and we called it a day.  Another day down, but five days left!