It seems only fitting that my 500th post (hard to believe I’ve said that much nothing) should be dedicated to Rome.
As I mentioned, my recent trip to Rome was a little different because I was leading a group of people around the city. That meant finding that perfect balance between having a plan so people knew what to expect and being flexible on an hourly basis because we were in Italy. I think in the end we managed a pretty good balance, and over all, there isn’t much I would do differently the next trip.
I worked them pretty hard (although there was plenty of warning beforehand!) and much of Rome was seen on foot. But they were such a good sports. From the minute we landed on Italian soil, we were beating the pavement so we could see as much as possible.
We headed straight to the Square because, although my jetlagged pilgrims forgot what day it was, it was indeed Wednesday… which meant the Pope was hanging out in the Square. The piazza was completely full – overflowing, in fact – which I had never experienced on a Wednesday morning. I knew we wouldn’t get close (and wasn’t planning on staying for the Audience anyway), but I hadn’t dreamed it would be as crowded as it was. We hung out on Via Conciliazione to at least hear his voice for the first time, before heading on into town.
It is fun to see the city through other people’s eyes – one of the reasons I love to take people over there. As we walked down the street, little things were so exciting — not just the sight of St Peter’s or the Pope’s voice, but the fountains to refill our water bottles, the street shrines on the sides of the buildings, the beauty of the tiny streets and alleys.
We had to alter our itinerary almost before we even began – a funeral at our first stop, Chiesa Nuova, meant we headed to San Agostino first, hoping to see something before everything closed for riposo. I let them stop in another church on the way, already trying to find the balance between keeping to the schedule and necessary flexibility.
This was a common view for the pilgrims … me standing in front of them talking. To limit the amount of talking in the churches and to maximize their chances to pray, I usually spoke to them briefly outside the church, giving them a brief history of the church and telling them things to look for, and then gave them a time we’d all meet up. (That first night, in the middle of a jetlagged-delirium, one of the pilgrims forgot my name and referred to me as “that girl that talks at us” or something to that extent. We got a good laugh about that.)
With riposo came a leisurely time in Piazza Navona and lunch at a fantastic pizza place called La Focaccia (their crust was delightful — a little thicker than typical Rome piazza, but so soft and wonderful).
Then we headed to the Pantheon and Santa Maria sopra Minerva, both of which stay open during riposo.
One of the fun things about going with a group is that people take pictures of things you wouldn’t think to take pictures of — like through the oculus of the Pantheon.
Father knew a Jesuit seminarian in Rome and had contacted him about the possibility of saying Mass in the Rooms of St. Ignatius. We were able to see the rooms before they opened up to the public post-riposo, and Vince gave us a fantastic tour.
Even though we were jetlagged, the experience of celebrating Mass in the room where such a giant of the Church lived and died was not lost on us. (For more on the rooms, see this video here or my blog post from my 2011 trip when I visited them for the first time.)
Vince even offered to give us a tour of the Gesu next door, too. (Although Father and I had to dash off to buy bus tickets for the group.) Yay for good Jesuits!
The group was pretty exhausted at this point, but after a pep talk (“If you go back to the hotel now, you’ll go to sleep, and you’ll never get over your jetlag!”) all of the pilgrims agreed to press onward. We had offered to split up and take some back, but I was very proud that they were all willing to soldier onwards. The Church of 12 Apostles (with the tombs of Sts Philip and James), the Gregorian University, and the Trevi Fountain still awaited us!
By the time we returned to our neighborhood, we were all thankful there were so many good restaurants near our hotel. In the course of the meal, I made the mistake of telling Sr. Mary Rose that I thought our waiter was handsome. (I always forget how dark and well-dressed Italian men are, and it distracts me for at least the first day.) The next time he came over, she asked him if he wanted to go to America.
When he answered in the affirmative, she pointed at me. “With her?”
I’m pretty sure I turned the color of my wine. The next morning, when we passed the restaurant and the waiters were setting up the tables outside, Francesco greeted me with a teasing “buon giorno…”
It was Sister’s birthday, so we ate dessert at the restaurant and didn’t get gelato. But I made up for that in the days to come. Old Bridge was dangerously close to our hotel.
One day down, six more to go.