Oh, the Places I’ve Been!

Since it has been over a month since my last post, I guess there had better be a good reason for it, eh?  How does a two week trip to Rome and Paris sound?  Whaddya think about that punk?

I’ll try to recap the trip the best I can, not only for those who are interested, but also for my own posterity, as this was a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime trip, on many different levels.  But first, some background: the trip was originally planned to attend the ordination our friend, Jonathan (aka "Jono") at St. Peter’s in Rome.  So we went to Rome for a week, and then Paris for about four days.

The trip began on Saturday afternoon on a flight from Boston to Paris, with a connecting flight to Rome.   Before we even left Boston, we had a bit of adventure as a passenger on the plane had apparently decided to make sure he would sleep on the flight by washing down a couple of sleeping pills with a few glasses of wine.  Keep in mind that he weighed about 110 lbs…  We actually got to hear a flight attendant ask "If there are any doctors on board, would you please press your call button" – straight out of the movies, particularly Airplane!  Luckily there were several doctors and nurses on board (good to know…) and after a quick trip to the bathroom, the passenger was all set and we were on our way.

Even though our plane was fairly crowded and quite warm, I have to say the flight went a lot faster than I thought it would.  AirFrance has some nice features, including your own small LCD screen that has a remote control that allows you to watch movies, play games and listen to music.

Now – my first time on a new continent.  It was 6 a.m., still dark out, and quite chilly.  We also entered the airport just behind a plane from Kenya, and this caused issues at immigration, as they were closely examining their passports and detaining some people.

Charles de Gaulle airport is one of the most beautiful airports you’ll ever be in.  I think about 90% of the gate areas are glass.  From the outside, they resemble the space frigates in Star Wars.

Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino airport, on the other hand, is kind of dated and dirty.  And crowded.  And I got a taste of the (in)famous "Italian coffee break" as soon as we trying to get our luggage.  It took about 10 minutes for luggage to come out, and then a bunch came along, but only our garment bag came out.  The carousel kept going for another 10-15 minutes, with nothing coming out, and then all of a sudden, all the rest of the luggage came out, much to the relief of everyone.

After a screwy and scary drive into Rome (par for the course in Rome), we got to our hotel around 1 p.m.   Hotel Joli is a small little hotel not far from the Vatican and on a major thoroughfare with a bus stop right in front.  It isn’t fancy, but it was clean, comfortable and having a room with a ceiling fan was a blessing during a very warm week filled with lots of walking. 

Our first meal in Rome was at la Soffitta, a great little place that we stumbled upon.  I enjoyed my first suppli, an appetizer that I am AMAZED isn’t more popular here in the states.  It is brilliant in its simplicity and absolutely deliciously cheesy and crunchy.  And of course wine, something that I would come to learn is in plentiful supply and surprisingly cheap.  Whereas here in the states ordering a bottle of wine makes a meal special, a meal simply isn’t complete without wine in Italy.

After eating and unpacking, we walked over to St. Peters, my first taste of a Roman landmark.  First impression: this is a heck of a lot bigger than it seems on TV and in photos.  "Shoulda brought a wider angle lens for my camera" was my second thought.  However, going through St. Peter’s was simply a stop on the way to the NAC – short for the Pontifical North American College.  They call it "The NAC" however, probably because "The Pee-NAC" doesn’t sound nearly as good.

We met up with Jonathan there and attended Sunday mass at their chapel.  Sorry – their "chapel."  Yes, it is a chapel, but it is the biggest and nicest chapel I’ve seen.  As Jono said "You’ve heard of its not much, but its what we call home? well, this is Its a lot and its what we call home" and he wasn’t kidding!   With beautiful murals and paintings and huge multiple story tall ceiling, it is bigger and more striking than many churches.  The mass itself lived up to its surroundings, with the entire group of priests, bishops, Monsignors, and other clergy there for the ordination week celebrating the mass and the full NAC choir giving me quite a start as I heard the loudest, most in-tune singing I’ve heard at a mass.

Our first day in Rome concluded with a meal at Sor’eva, the perfect prototypical trattoria.  I had excellent veal saltimbocca and Meghan had fantastic amatriciana, yet another dish I had never heard of and couldn’t understand why.  Basically a variation on pasta carbornara, but with tomatoes.

By the end of that first day we were EXHAUSTED.  Just a few hours of fitful napping on the plane in over 36 hours and we were struggling not to end up face down in the pasta.   We slept well that night and awoke refreshed and nearly jet-lag free to start the second day in Rome…