Our Catholic Roots Are Showing at Vatican City

Written By: Kim - Aug• 06•11

On our fourth day in Rome, we spent all day at Vatican City. Despite the fact that we allowed plenty of time to get there, we did not anticipate that the Metro train sign near our hotel was really a walking corridor to the next stop. Fifteen minutes later….

Once we got on the Metro train, the train was packed, despite the fact that it was 10:15 am. Cognizant of pick pockets, we were on alert. In the throng of people, Mike had gotten separated from us. After we got off the train, he told us that an older woman tried to steal from his cargo pocket. The pockets were buttoned and he felt something brush by his thigh. He checked and the pocket was unbuttoned. Luckily, there was nothing in it but gum, but she didn’t even get that. He closed the pocket and she tried again. This time, he slapped her hand away. Our second experience with Rome’s infamous pick pockets.

Still rushing from our misunderstanding of the Spagna Metro Stop, we headed toward the Vatican, a 10 minute walk. Thank God I listened to the advice of others and booked our tour tickets ahead of time. The regular line wrapped around two city blocks along the Vatican Wall. We arrived 15 minutes late, but were greeted by our lovely guide, Christina.

Swiss Guards protect the Vatican and the pope. ©Mike Howard

If you go, pay the extra charge and get the audio tour. It is much easier to hear your guide since most of the rooms are crowded and cavernous. It is also worth the price to pay for a guided tour. If you bother to go to Vatican City, you should learn as much as you can while you are there. Art lovers and appreciators will thoroughly enjoy seeing and learning about these Vatican treasurers.

One of the Vatican Museum ceilings. ©Mike Howard

We spent the first 30 minutes in front of a huge touchscreen showcasing the details of the Sistine Chapel paintings. The ceiling is 20 meters above ground and during peak months, it’s crowded. People milling about and others sitting on the coveted benches pressed up against the walls. They are not moving so be prepared to stand. This is also the room where the cardinals convene to elect the new pope. The Sistine Chapel is the pope’s private chapel and he says mass there.

To say that we were overwhelmed by the manmade beauty is the understatement of the year. To say that God granted these artists unbelievable talent and eyes for seeing and creating things that mere mortals do not, is the second understatement of the year. The sheer vastness of the Vatican’s collection of artwork makes this visit a must for novices and connesiours. Amazing.

After touring the Vatican Museums, which included the Sistine Chapel, we headed to St. Peter’s

The alter over St. Peter's crypt. Only the pope is allowed to say mass here. ©Mike Howard

Basilica. Only the pope is allowed to say mass  at the Alter of St. Peter. And what an alter it is. Literally located over the tomb of St.Peter, the alter boasts copper columns that almost reach the ceiling. There are several chapels where you can get married, baptize your children or have your parish priest say mass if there is a group coming. Apparently, you have to book early, but what an experience!

We then headed back to the little shop run by nuns. The religious items they sold were simply stunning and reasonably priced. What a lovely group of ladies to shop with. A final shot of the Swiss Guards and we headed out to St. Peter’s Square. The sheer vastness of this and the fact that the buildings are shaped to form outstretched arms tells us that the architect knew his customer quite well.



Reconnecting with a Roman Friend

Written By: Kim - Aug• 04•11

Our third day in Rome meant another walking expedition toward Campo de Fiora. We went the round about way and it took us over an hour to get there. It was also our first foray in to using a foreign ATM. That experience was, shall we say, not pleasant at first, but successful at the second.

While the kids greedily perused the leather bracelets and soccer jackets, I marveled at the fresh produce. Mike? He found a cafe and ordered coffee. Farmers markets really aren’t his thing.

A good friend, and former colleague, had moved back to Rome. She met us at our hotel around 5 pm and led us down toward the Spanish Steps. The kids had been asking to go, but neither they nor we were interested in climbing them all at this point. Little did we know what we had in store in Almalfi. We walked along some of the most expensive real estate in Rome where all of the designer shops are.

We also stopped at the famousTrevi Fountain around 6:30 pm. The throngs of people there were astounding. I mean really? It’s a fountain. Toss your coin, snap your photo and get out.

A soda can cost 4€ at dinner. ©Mike Howard

Hungry, we headed over to a fish-focused restraunt in what used to be called the Ghetto (before the term had a negative connotation). As we crossed the river, my friend pointed out an island. During World War II, many Italians hid their Jewish friends and neighbors in that hospital building to keep them away from the Nazis. Italy’s history goes way beyond gladiators and chariot races. Mussolini may have been their dictator at that time, but Italians rebelled in their own way.

Once we arrived at our restaurant, I let the owner recommend our appetizers and my dinner. He trotted out sardines on top of the appetizer and oh the kids had a fit. Both of my dishes were excellent, despite the new approach. I still can’t believe I ate them.

Our evening bus ride back toward our hotel, with our host in tow, introduced me to my first pickpocket casing. My friend and I were on one side of the bus chatting away. I was sitting directly in front of her, so I had to turn around to see her. I had my purse between me and the seat, slung over my shoulder, but in my lap (it had a long handle). Two guys got on the bus, one carrying a backpack. Unlike most Rome buses, this one was not too crowded since it was around 10 pm. They were definitely invading my personal space….you know we Americans are sensitive about that. I looked at them and then realized the were watching us. I mean, how interesting could our conversation about work be? Then it hit me: They were trying to steal something. So, I moved my purse even more between me and the seat and magically, they disappeared.

Welcome to Rome, where your wallets are never safe.

Whew, missed that bullet.

But, we would experience Rome’s pickpockets once more.