On Wednesday, our fourth day of vacationing in Rome, I had reached my "vacation stride" where I truly felt like I was on vacation and feeling comfortable in this great foreign city. The day started off with a Papal Audience. Yep, the Pope himself, Benedict XVI. This meant the second of three days in a row getting up before sunrise. We were in line at St. Peter’s by 7:30 a.m. with a bag of breakfast rolls and some bottles of juice. Getting the hotel’s breakfast "to go" was a scene straight out of Fawlty Towers. The waiter could barely speak English, with him welcoming us to sit down for breakfast and then us explaining very carefully that we would like our croissant and accouterments to go. He said he understood and then pulled out a chair for us to sit down at.
Clearly, those Italian lessons would have been worth the money…
Eventually, we got him to understand and we had our bag of delicious croissants, Nutella, honey, pre-packaged toast and rock-like rolls that I still can’t figure out how they qualify as edible.
To get to our seats, we had to pass through a chaotic security checkpoint, far more chaotic than one would think. We’re there to see the POPE, so you’d think people might be nice, but no. Pushing, shoving, cursing… truly the Christian spirit alive and well.
However, once we sat down, we realized what good seats we had – Jono had obtained the tickets for us and they were in the special area closest to the stage, other than the two small groups on each side of the stage. Unfortunately, it was another beautiful, cloudless day in Rome, and the Mediterranean sun was beating down on us with no shade to be found. But at least we had entertainment! Around 9 a.m. a full marching band came in and started playing music. Oh, but not the divinely-inspired religious music that you might expect at a Papal audience, but rather an eclectic mix of marching standards and pop songs: The Washington Post March, Hey Jude, Daydream Believer, Dancing Queen… I heard that Bennie XVI is a HUGE Abba fan…
Finally, around 10:30 the "Pope-mobile" arrived and drove around the crowd, eventually climbing the ramp leading to the stage. The official ceremony began, which was simple enough: a welcoming, a statement about St. Cyril of Alexandria, and then a blessing. What we didn’t know is that it would be said in Italian… then repeated in English, French, German and at least one other language… by that point, I had lost track. And each time they introduced large groups there on a pilgrimage, they would cheer, and in the case of most of the German groups, sing a chorus or two of a song. The summary of it is that a 15 minute presentation got repeated several times over, each time in a language that we didn’t understand. (The full English translation can be found here.)
Anyway, after a long morning in the hot sun, we grabbed a pizza panini from a street vendor, which wasn’t nearly as satisfying as the hot dog panini we had the day before. We got on an open-top double-decker tour bus that took us to the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, and the Forum. Seeing the Colosseum and Forum were the most amazing bunch of decaying stone I’ve ever seen, and I don’t mean that in the nicest of ways. The fact that these ancient ruins are still standing at all are amazing, and when you think about the enormous size of these structures and how they were built without the benefit of motorized cranes and bulldozers, you are struck by the intelligence and perseverance of the ancient Romans. And how many very tired horses there must have been back then. And very sore people. Advil would have made a killing.
From there we went on a slightly anti-climatic walk to Piazza Navona where the central fountain was unfortunately undergoing renovations. In the end , it was worth the side trip just to catch what was the most beautiful sunset we had seen during our travels yet. The sky was deep shades of orange and red, dramatically draping St. Peter’s Basilica in shadows and reflecting in the current of the Tiber. Myself along with 5 other avid photographers – most with their own patient and understanding significant others with them – stood there for about 20 minutes waiting for small changes in the sky that would make the difference between a good photo and a great one.
That night, we took a break from tagging along with Jono’s family and had dinner by ourselves, our first sit-down meal that we had with just the two of us since our lunch the day we arrived. And what better place to do that in Rome than a Mexican restaurant? Cantina Mexicana is a tradition for Meghan, going there on her first night in Rome the last two times. The food lived up to the hype, and it was a great meal on a quiet piazza with a gently flowing fountain.
We had a chocolate dessert, which presented a problem that I had heretofore avoided: milk. I like milk. I love milk after chocolate or any sort of dessert. I like having a glass of milk at night after dinner and before going to bed. It had been five days since my last glass of milk and I was craving one bad, especialy after the chocolate. We took a little side trip to a typical Roman "travola calda bar." and after negotiating the language barrier to order a glass of cold milk – clearly an usual request in Italy from the looks they gave us – I finally had my milk and it tasted heavenly, washing down that chocolate desert.
We went to bed a bit early, as we had to be up early the next day as well, since Jono’s ordination was taking place early the next day.