2015 04 eu trip (4): rome

day 16: assisi to rome

Last morning in the retreat house in Assisi. Had breakfast, final packing then checked out. There was a 9am mass in the chapel, which mm attended while I used the internet in the sitting room. Our train was at 11.26am, so we left with plenty of time to catch the bus to the station. We’d scoped out the route to the bus stop yesterday—it was mostly pavement, about 12 steps up then 2 lifts through a car park so we figured we could manage.

The train was quite full, and the teenagers sitting next to us very noisy. The train stopped at one of the outer platforms at Rome Termini so it was quite a trek to the taxi stand. The taxi driver was helpful and friendly, we got to the retreat house without any drama. This retreat house was within walking distance to the Vatican, around the corner from the small market my parents and I visited twice during our two stops at Rome in the past 2 years.

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Anyway, the retreat house was at the corner of a busy side street, with 5 storeys. Luckily there was a lift. The Sisters were so warm and nice, there was even a helper lady who translated for us. Sister Donatella spoke a little English, and we communicated with the other Sisters with lots of grazie and si. Our room was a very large twin with lots of room to walk around and a private bathroom. A very old 14” tv which we unplugged because we needed the plug for our charging station (I set up an extension cord so we can charge 2 iphones, 1 ipad, 2 cameras, 2 fitness trackers and occasionally 1 external battery). No internet in the room, we knew that when we booked. We asked the Sisters and heard the good news that there was internet in the common room.

Had a late lunch at the café bar opposite. Spaghetti alle vongole and a side of grilled vegetables. Glass of house red for me. The spaghetti was nice but ultra salty, the grilled veg were paper thin and therefore tasteless. It was past 4pm so it was probably early dinner / high tea.

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Next stop was the Vatican. We knew we had tickets for the mass on Easter Sunday in my name, but the confirmation letter for mm’s application never arrived, so we thought we’d check with the office to see if she got lucky with her application too. There was the perpetual long queue for security, and we figured it wasn’t the right place. Asked the Swiss Guards and were directed to the side entrance to pick up tickets. No problem for the ones in my name, I had the letter and reference number. When mm explained that she was travelling and missed the confirmation letter, the nice guy checked her name and yay! we have tickets for crism mass tomorrow with Papa Francesco.

Strolled around for a bit. Had a gelato, bought some magnets, headed to the bridges and the river. So different from Florence and Assisi. Florence, though touristy, was still a small town. Assisi, again touristy, was an even smaller town and felt more intimate and peaceful. Rome, well, it’s Rome. Noisy, busy, full of beggars and people selling selfie sticks. You fight with cars and buses and a million other tourists when you cross the road. There is a special smell and atmosphere. It’s Rome.

day 17: vatican

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9.30am mass at the Vatican meant leaving our retreat house at 8.15am, even though we were only 10mins’ walk away. Had to find the right queue, go through security and find seats. We found seats at the middle of the basilica, together with many many faithful with tickets. Note to self: next time, apply for more tickets than needed because there were many fathers and sisters from all over the world without tickets. Hopefully they were able to watch the mass from outside in St Peter’s Square.

The mass was in Latin, with some Italian. We could follow as the mass booklet had English translation. This was the crism mass, or blessings of the oils that would be used for baptism, the sick and others throughout the year. They were in containers as large as whisky barrels—must use up a lot of oil at the Vatican a year. Pope Francis delivered the homily in Italian, and it was quite lengthy, we wished we could understand it. It was still a blessed experience. Communion was very efficient, with many many fathers stationed at strategic points that meant we only had a few steps to move from our seats. Lots of people taking pictures, and we were a bit too far to take clear ones of the Pope. The mass was very long, finishing around 12pm.

Quick lunch at a shady spot at the square next to the Vatican. Shared the St Francis bread we bought at Assisi. We probably looked like poor students, sitting forlornly there sharing one piece of bread, one of the the street vendors that were selling souvenirs, selfie sticks or fake handbags approached us, took one look at us, and walked away. Hahaha!

We’d pre-booked tickets for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel for an extra €4. Totally well worth the additional cost, the queue for tickets looked like it was an hour long. We breezed through, got our entrance tickets, audioguide and went the the bathroom. Then we joined the masses. Oh boy, it was crowded. Lots of slow moving tour groups as well as hundreds of thousands of visitors.

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The whole place was a one-way system through the Vatican museum, full of ancient artefacts, sculptures as well as Renaissance paintings and frescos. The audioguide was helpful in explaining the history and story behind many of the exhibits. One of my favourite rooms was the Galleria delle Carte Geographie, with both sides filled with ancient and modern (for the period) maps of the world and Italy. The roof was more intricate frescos. I left the bottom of the pic intact, to show the sheer crush of the crowd. We were quite tired halfway through the museum, so we stopped for coffee, tea and a slice of cake at a strategically placed coffee shop.

The main attraction of the visit was the Sistine Chapel. For all the times I’d visited Rome and the Vatican, this was my first time there. There were signs before we reached the Sistine Chapel that it was a sacred place so everybody should be silent and no photography was allowed. The chapel was absolutely stunning. It was also as crowded as the Tube at 5.30pm. Difficult to find room even to stand. Every 5 minutes or so the staff had to announce to the crowds to observe the silence and no photography rules. The experience could have been ruined by the crowds, but it wasn’t, because of the unbelieveable brilliance of Michaelangelo’s work. The audioguide talked us through each aspect of the frescos, from the depiction of God’s creation of Man, Man’s temptation and the Original Sin on the ceiling; to the 12 frescos on the side telling various Biblical stories (Moses parting the Red Sea, Jesus handing the keys to St Peter); to the entire wall at the entrance dedicated to the Last Judgement. We learned a lot, and didn’t want to leave.

Strolled through the rest of the museum, mainly consisting of gift shops and more exhibits. Since we’d only eaten half a St Francis bread the whole day we were famished. Went to the supermarket and bought a feast: lamb cutlets, rocket (on sale at 99c, we bought 2 boxes), tomatoes, burrata. Enough time to do some handwashing too. So happy to be back in our room before 7pm.

day 18: sick

Started the day feeling dizzy with a heavy-head headache. Managed to walk a couple of blocks to a nearby bar café for some vegetables before needing to head back to our room. [TMI]Promptly threw up the food.[/TMI]. Slept for a few hours until around 3pm. Did about 12mins of mindfulness meditation, ate some pasta, drank lots and lots and lots of water and juice. No idea why I suddenly got sick, and we decided it wasn’t worth speculating. The important thing was to quickly get better. I felt bad about wasting a day but mm, bless her, didn’t see it that way. I leaned on her all the way walking this morning, and she ran up and down to the vending machine and across the road to the supermarket to get stuff. In a way, today Good Friday was as good a day to get some rest. We wee at halfway through our trip and aside from 2 masses and the Sistine Chapel (which we covered yesterday), we didn’t have anywhere pressing to go in Rome.

day 19: market, piazza navona

Our last full day in Italy, and the weather turned from blue skies to cloudy and rainy. Took the subway to the Coliseum and ran into a wall of people. Walked around the southern end and around Palatine Hill.

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Happily came across a local market. Fruit & veg, cheese, meat, flowers, snacks. We bought breadsticks and biscuits from a very nice man. Had early lunch at the market too—sausages with greens and lasagna. Simple, homemade.

Walked through the city, heading towards Campo di Fiore market. Stopped for gelato and coffee. The market was supposed to be a big food market but we were disappointed. Yes it was big, with fruit & veg, pasta, cheese, sweets, oil, vinegar, clothing and bags. The disappointing part was that it catered purely for tourists, unlike the other market that was almost all locals.

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It had started to rain, we headed to Piazza Navona, Santa Maria Maddalena church and the Pantheon. Found a small trattoria in a side street and had early dinner of stuffed courgette flowers, spaghetti cacio e pepe and fettucine funghi porcini. We were so early that the kitchen had barely opened, the cooks and waiters were watching football on tv.

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The route back to our retreat house took us across the river and a classic view of Ponte St Angelo with St Peter’s Basilica in the background in the evening sun. There was a commotion at St Peter’s, as the people who were attending tonight’s vigil mass almost stampeded inside the security area.

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Shopping at the supermarket then back to our room to shower and re-pack. Here’s a random pic in Rome, of a line of smartcars parked at the side of the street.

day 20: vatican, heathrow

Early start, left retreat house at 8.30am. It’d been raining and thundery all night, and it was still raining quite heavily when we left. Nearer the Vatican, the crowds suddenly got very thick. There were plenty of bottlenecks and no one knew where to go. Whilst the other Italians were complaining at the volunteers, we struck up a short chat with a Canadian volunteer. He was there to open and close one gate. It was pandemonium, our new friend said that they were expecting 100,000 people in St Peter’s Square for Easter mass.

We had tickets but couldn’t find our way to the proper ticketed area. It was pouring, everyone was wet, anxious and cranky. We found a spot near the front of one of the non-ticketed sections and decided to stay put.

We got to our spot at 9.30am, the mass started at 10.15am. The rain got heavier, we were trying to follow the readings and gospel and our mass booklet got so wet and ruined. Luckily around the Communion stage the skies cleared up enough for most umbrellas to be put away.



After mass ended, there was a sense of anticipation as everybody pushed forward towards the corridors. Pope Francis came by in his Popemobile, we saw him twice. Our spot was just behind a couple of shorter people so we had a great view of him coming by.

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The Pope returned to his apartment and came out to the balcony to give us the urbi et orbi blessing. It was definitely a blessing to be there in person for the day.

It started to rain again, and at 12.30pm we’d been standing outside for 3 hours. We were SHIVERING. Our hands and feet were numb and even with an umbrella and waterproof coats we were completely soaked. We were grateful that our retreat house was so near, we still struggled to walk back to the café opposite. Tea, hot chocolate and a hot meal of pizza and gnocchi.

Back across the road to collect ouf luggage and say goodbye to the sisters. Sister Donatella gave us each a book about the convent, so touched. The taxi came at 2pm and took us to the airport direct—would have cost around the same to get a taxi to the train station and a train. Check in was straightforward, boarding was efficient and the flight to LHR was 2.5hrs. We got our bags and went to M&S to get juice. Free bus to T4 and we were in our cabin at the yotel and settled.



flickr set: rome

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This page contains a single entry by invisiblecompany published on Sunday April 5, 2015 10:53 PM.

2015 03 eu trip (3): assisi was the previous entry.

2015 04 eu trip (5): ireland is the next entry.

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