This Rome trip seems to have lasted eight months, hasn’t it? I only wish it would have seemed to last that long when I was living it. Although the time didn’t seem to fly by, which was nice. Our last day came quickly, but I felt like we were able to savor each day.
We woke up on Tuesday morning ready to pack as much as we could into our last day. There was no question how it was going to begin — at St. Peter’s. (Despite the fact that we had seen it the day before, haha. And the day before that, and the day before that…)
You have to go to St. Peter’s early if you’re going to beat the crowds. I think now that they require tour groups to use whisper mics (and I’m glad they do), they let tours come even earlier. By 8:15, groups were already filling the basilica.
We went to Sant’Anna for 7am Mass, then went over to St. Peter’s to say goodbye. Someday I’d like to know someone high up in the Vatican who could let me into the Basilica late at night — or at least at 7 or 8pm — so I could say a proper goodbye on my last night.
Sunrise at St. Peter’s. You can’t beat it.
I love taking pictures of random things like this. The Vatican workers were taking down the three big banners of the saints who were canonized on Sunday. They took them off their backing and put them in big tubes. Everyone takes pictures of the colonnade or the obelisk. But the daily life of Vatican? I love it.
They were still having Masses at John Paul’s tomb, so we couldn’t go over there to pray, which was disappointing. Since that area was curtained off, I couldn’t even really see the tomb except from a strange angle far away. I did get to go to confession after spending some time in the Adoration chapel. It’s always hard to leave the basilica on the last day, but not being able to see and pray at his tomb one last time made it even harder. But we were able to go to Mass there on his feast, so I had to focus on being grateful for that.
We walked down the Borgo Pio and got cappuccini and cornetti at a little place at the end of the road. The day before, a man I rode on the bus with had stopped in there and they greeted him like he was a regular — so I figured it wasn’t a tourist trap. And it wasn’t– 1.80 euro for a cappuccino and a cornetto! Yay! I wish there were local coffeeshops on every street corner in America, so I could have my own place that knows me by name. Local coffeeshops… not Starbucks… with better coffee than Starbucks… for a euro. *sigh*
We did some more shopping around the Vatican area– the mosaic store off the piazza and the Vatican Press gift shop near the Arch of the Bells. Then we went to the post office to mail postcards, and I remembered why you don’t write 19 postcards. It’s not the fact that writing 19 postcards is time-consuming (it is, but I did it while waiting for the concert and the canonization Mass). It’s not the fact that the cost of the postcards themselves add up, because you can get them pretty cheaply. It’s the 1.60 stamp they require. And two stamps apiece are a lot to rip and lick. Ugh. But the 1.00 euro stamp was St. Frances of Rome, so that was pretty awesome.
A little after ten, we headed into the Vatican at the Sant’Anna gate.
I always get a little nervous heading into the Vatican, even though I know exactly where to go and what to say to the guards. And the guards are always so nice! But there’s still something so intimidating about it. The Swiss guard saluted us (swoon) and waved us through once we told him where we were headed.
We turned right and headed down the street toward the Vatican photo office. As we were walking down the sidewalk, Abuna Michel passed us on the sidewalk. Abuna Michel is one of the Lebanese Maronite priests (hence “Abuna” instead of “Father”) that lives in the Maronite monastery outside of Rome, my home for the spring of 2008. When we lived at the monastery, we ate all our meals with the priests and got to know them pretty well. But Abuna Michel was shy and wasn’t as comfortable speaking English, so I didn’t know him as well as some of the others. When we passed on the street, it all happened so fast, I almost didn’t realize who he was until he was gone. Even if I had realized who he was in time, I don’t know if I would have said anything, because I wasn’t sure if he would remember me.
We made eye contact and there seemed to be a flash of recognition. It was good to see him, even if he didn’t remember me.
We went to the Vatican photo office first. The Vatican photographers take thousands of pictures during papal events — almost to the point of being able to make a flip book. You can go to the office and look through the photos to find yourself with the Pope (see pictures in this post) and purchase copies, or you can purchase copies of beautiful pictures of the Holy Father, Vatican gardens, etc. Back in the day, you had to look through hard copies of the photos — printed itty bitty on reams of paper so that finding yourself required a magnifying glass. Now there are hard copies but also three computers so that you can look through the pictures quickly on the computer screen.
The computers were tied up, so we looked through hard copies of pictures from the canonization and found ourselves in a few. Then when a computer was free, we managed to find ourselves in pictures from the concert, too. Obviously, if the Holy Father had come to our side of the aisle at the concert we would have pretty amazing pictures — but just to be in a picture with the Holy Father is pretty awesome. So once again, I had to be grateful for what we had. I love how goofy I always look when I’m in the background of the pictures — always beaming with a goofy grin. But who can help that when you’re in his presence?
Once you find which pictures you want to purchase, there are pads of forms lying around and you fill one out with all the details of the photos you want to order. Then you take the form to the cashier who asks you lots of questions in Italian and stamps things and marks up your form with red pen. Then you pay and go on your way, wondering what will actually happen — will you ever see an envelope from the Vatican delivered to your door in America? And if you do, will they be the actual photos you ordered? Or just a picture of some other person with the Pope? It’s always a gamble.
While we were standing at the counter waiting for the Italian lady to make the requisite number of stamps and red pen markings, a priest came bustling into the office, stopped behind Megan and I, and said something to stamp lady. She cheerfully greeted him over our shoulders and he went to sit at the desk where I had sat to look at the canonization pictures at the beginning of our visit.
Megan looked over and smiled at me, and I thought it was because she recognized him and knew who he was. Then she whispered, “He smelled like incense.”
I thought I knew who it was and wanted the cashier to hurry so I could double check. She was finally finished (it seemed to take an eternity) and Megan headed out to the street (like a normal person) but I walked around the room (casually) to make sure I saw his face.
Megan wondered where the heck I had gone and probably wondered why I emerged out on the street with a goofy grin on my face. (Come to Rome with me and you’ll see the goofy grin pretty often.)
It was my emcee!!! (See this post. And try not to laugh at me.)
I was so excited. Seriously, if there was anyone to randomly run into in the Vatican besides the Pope, Msgr. Ganswein, or Msgr. Marini, how perfect to run into him!? God has such a sense of humor. And of course he would smell like incense. What else would he smell like?
So my day was pretty complete, and it was only 11am.
We walked down to the Papal Blessing office, which has been renovated on the inside since I was last in there. The same little Sister works there, but she was so nice (in the past, she’s been a little… um… cranky.) Megan noted that natural light had worked wonders for her. The new office was bright and airy, and since it was a Tuesday morning, was completely empty except for Megan and I.
Oh, and the nice Italian young man holding a Vespa helmet who had been in the photo office and was now in the papal blessing office talking to someone. Unfortunately, not talking to me. How cute would it be to mee your future husband in the papal blessing building? Definitely something that should happen to JoaninRome.
Anywho, we picked out our papal blessings and filled out more forms, which the Sister marked in red pen and stamped (see a pattern?). Then we took the marked form over to the cashier who joked and smiled with us (seriously, there was such an attitude change in there compared to past visits). Once again, you hand over euro and wonder if you’ll ever see the blessings delivered to your doorstep. But they’ve never failed me!
The cashier gave Megan her change and made a big deal to place the two shiny 50 cent pieces on the counter and point to them. “Il Papa,” he noted with a smile. They were Vatican euro! Woo hoo! It’s rare to find Vatican euro pieces because they don’t stay in circulation long — everyone wants to keep them. Ahem, illustrated by the fact that one of those 50 cent pieces is sitting in this room on my bookshelf. Ha!
When we were walking back out into the street, I was still flying high after seeing my emcee, and I commented that if I saw him, I would ask to get my picture with him. Sure enough, he was talking to someone in the street. As we walked, their conversation ended and he hurried toward us, practically running in his cassock. I wish I knew Italian well enough to at least thank him for his work, but instead I let him hurry by. Once I stopped to think about it, I realized I knew enough to at least butcher the language a little and express what I wanted to express, but I was shy and didn’t want to waste his time.
We bought some scarves from the vendors outside the Vatican, getting them for 5 euro apiece rather than 6 (of course), and then went to get a nutella crepe for a midmorning snack. But they were closed, so we went to Old Bridge instead. : ) I got stracciatella and Nutella)
Once again, we were in the delightful position of having nothing we had to do. Sure, there were a lot of things we hadn’t seen yet… like the three other major basilicas. But we didn’t feel rushed or pressured to do anything specifically. What did we want to do?
We got on the metro and headed to Santa Maria Maggiore.