Monday, December 9, 2013

When in Rome!

Ah Roma! I don’t even know where to start. My trip to Rome this past weekend was quite possibly my favorite trip this semester so far (Sorry Edinburgh, you come in at a close second). Rome is such an amazing city filled with such rich historical, religious, and spiritual traditions that permeated through our whole trip. As completely cheesy as it sounds, I have been changed by my time spent in Rome. 

Valerie, Catherine, Katie Plant, and I got to the airport around 2:30. We met Patrick, a fellow American student from Loyola College in Chicago studying abroad in Limerick, who hung out with us until our respective flights. We seem to meet some pretty cool people no matter where we go! Flight left at 4:30 and landed in Ciampino airport around 8:30 (with a 1 hour time difference). Stepping out of the plane, I couldn’t believe I was actually in Italy after dreaming of being here ever since I saw the Lizzie McGuire movie back when I was 12 (okay, it wasn’t just because of that, but it definitely had a lot to do with it!). After struggling a bit in finding a bus and then metro to our hostel, Mr.Rome, we settled in and celebrated our first night in Rome the Italian way! It wasn’t until we downed a whole liter of water in the restaurant out of dehydration from traveling between the four of us that we realized you had to pay for water here in Italia. Good learning for next time. Nevertheless, thanks to my new Italian translation app, we were able to correctly order our meals in Italian (well I did at least). After a delicious Thanksgiving dinner of bread and breadsticks, spaghetti (with cherry tomatoes), and an orange tart for dessert, we made our way back to the hostel to get some rest. 

Friday morning we woke up to cappuccinos and Nutella-filled croissants provided by the sweet old Italian lady, whom I had to combine my many years of Spanish with my new Italian translation app and English to communicate with. We then made our way over to Vatican City (aka the smallest country in the world!) and were roped into taking an all-inclusive tour by Dennis, this awesome, friendly guy from Manhattan who helped us order coffee and plan our days in Rome. The tour supposedly helped us skip all the lines, however, because it was in a big group we had to wait for everyone to arrive and to be organized so it ended up taking longer than we wanted. Nevertheless we did pass the lines and made our way through the Vatican museum, examining all of the murals and tapestries and statues that had been placed there by Popes throughout the years. We finally entered the Sistine Chapel and our jaws all dropped as we craned our necks to see the beauty that was above our heads. Not to say we broke the “no photography rule,” but we totally did. Catherine and I sneakily took a few snapshots of the ceiling and quickly left before anyone could say anything (but I mean, YOLO – again, “You Only Live Once” for all you who aren’t as up with the times…). 

We then entered St. Peter’s Basilica and feasted our eyes upon a whole other sight of beauty including the Pietà, the famous Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo of Mary holding Jesus after He is taken down from the cross. How beautiful! As was the rest of the Basilica. We then went down to the crypt where many of the popes have been buried, including the first official pope, St. Peter the Apostle. It was really a crazy feeling to be in the same room as someone who spent so much of his life by Jesus’ side (besides ya know, denying Him and everything…). After saying a few prayers, we continued on and started climbing the 500-some stairs up to the top of the cupola. Talk about an amazing view!! Wow. There seemed to be layers of tan and yellow buildings with those red rooftops stretching on for miles in every direction with a line of snow-capped mountains far in the distance against a clear, bright blue sky. How beautiful!
After descending the stairs (which were steep and a bit slanted at times because of the dome), we left Vatican City for the time being to feast on some authentic Italian Margarita pizza that happened to be the size of the Saturn. They were so big but so delicious! We then ventured through the streets using our map from the Hostel (which was all in Italian) to make our way to the different landmarks and sports we wanted to see. Eventually we found the Piazza Navona, a city square with beautiful architecture, a big fountain, and plenty of markets to shop in (which were closing down because we got there too late but oh well).
 We then stumbled upon the ruins where Julius Cesear was stabbed (Katie and I of course reenacted the scene), followed by the Trevi Fountain. We got our Lizzie McGuire on by throwing coins into the fountain. Tradition has it that one coin = you have to come back to visit Rome, two = you will fall in love with a Roman, three = you will marry a Roman. Don’t worry Sean, I only threw one;)  We met some pretty cool dudes who were studying and working in Rome but were from the California and the Ukraine. They gave us some advice about Rome and some of the cool places to go that not a lot of people know about (I suppose we will visit those places next time around!) We then found the Spanish steps and after getting to the top, were given “free” roses because we were so “bella.” However, it turns out the guy wanted us to pay for them anyway and got into an argument with us about it. Nice.  We left and got some gelato which made up for it. Val and I then went to dinner and I got Mom and my favorite – gnocchi! Needless to say, it was a terrific day

Saturday morning we woke up to more croissants and cappuccinos from our new house mother. It was a beautiful sunny day (in the 60s) to explore Rome for our second day! We first headed off to the Cathedral of St. John Latern where I got to go to Confession (thinking it’d be in Italian, I was surprised to have my Confession heard by an Irishman who asked all about my studies in Dublin and my plans for the future). Feeling cleansed, we then went across the street and stumbled upon the Scala Sancta, or the Sacred Steps, which are believed to be the actual steps that Jesus walked on when He was brought to Pontus Pilate. They were brought to Rome in the 4th century by St. Helena and covered in maple wood to preserve them. There are spots on the stops that are covered by glass so you can see the traces of blood left by Jesus. The custom is to go up the 28 stairs on your knees alone. Although painful, this was probably one of the most powerful and enriching things I have ever done. Katie and I alternated between a Hail Mary and an Our Father on every other step. My knees started to get numb from the pressure put on them but we kept going. It was a pretty powerful experience.
We then headed over to explore the Coliseum! How crazy to be stepping inside something so old and full of such horrific history. Walking through the ruins where people were once forced to fight each other to the death made us really reflect on how brutal humans really can be. It was weird being in a place where so much had happened and yet we felt so far removed from it because of how long ago it was.

We then continued to explore the streets of Rome and got some paninis at a café down a side street and ate on the steps of a Church (we were feeling pretty Italian at that point…). Next stop was the Pantheon and Piazza Novana again to go shop around the markets. I got a pretty good deal on….(can’t say because it’s part of my sister Lauren’s Christmas present…sorry, Larn). After a quick nap back at the hostel and resting our feet from all that walking, we set out to find a restaurant where we could get the authentic Italian dining experience! The perfect spot happened to be down the road from our hostel. Breadsticks and bread were set out on the table by these old Italian men in white suit coats, followed by some white “vino.” We then ordered (in Italian) our meals; I got ravioli! The service was pretty speedy and by the time we got our food and finished it, the server came over asking about our second course (the Italians eat around a 4 course meal, starting with bread/breadsticks, then pasta, then the meat and veggies, then dessert. We were so full by the end of the second one that we skipped the third and went to dessert). It was a great way to end a busy and packed day!
found the Italian cookies we make every year with my mom's side of the family! 

On Sunday morning, Katie and I got up early to go to the nearby Sacred Heart Cathedral for Mass (all in Italian I might add). I was able to somewhat follow along by my knowledge of Spanish and some Latin (thanks, theology classes!) and we picked up that the homily was about seeing the person of Christ in others from how many times the priest said “Dio persona.” After Mass, we made our way to Vatican City to see Pope Francis give his Angelus delivered from the same window every Sunday at noon when he is in town. We got there quite early to secure a good spot and hung out in the rain for 2 hours. But it was definitely worth it. When we finally saw the curtains move aside, my heart jumped and I saw the man himself in person (from a great distance of course, made less far by the awesome zoom on my camera!). After hearing so much about him and all of the great things he is leading our Church to and reading all of his documents and speeches, it was amazing to be in his presence and listening to him give the blessing! Even if it was all in Italian! Catherine took a video on her iPhone so we will most likely be trying to translate it in the future!

We then got yet another Margarita pizza pie at a local café and then walked around the city one last time before returning to the hostel to pick up our bags and head back to the airport! It was weird to think that the next time I’d be in the airport, it would be to board a plane to head back home to the States! 

This weekend was pretty much amazing! We were all able to cross so many things off of our bucket lists, things that not many people get to do and see. I feel so unbelievably blessed to have the experiences I have had, not only this weekend but during these past couple months as well. God is so good!

I think it’s pretty much safe to say that I’ll be back to visit Rome. Ciao for now!!

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