Last year I had a hard time sleeping in Rome. I would wake up around 4:00am, take a shower, get dressed and prowl around the neighborhood. I assumed this would happen to me again, but it didn’t. Not a single time.
After a good nights sleep, Jane and I went down stairs to have a croissant and cappuccino at our favorite place from last year, the Lu Lu Bar. This bar is located directly downstairs in the same building as the apartment. What made Lu Lu Bar so much fun last year was Luigi, an Italian who spoke absolutely no English, but brewed a mean espresso.
When we entered the small bar, everything looked identical from the year before, all the way down to the two slot machines. There was only one major difference. No Luigi. Instead there was a young oriental woman.
This was the first of several times on the trip that I found myself amused at this scenario. This woman was most likely Korean. She didn’t speak any English. I am American. I don’t speak any Korean. We both spoke enough Italian, however, to get through the transaction. So, here we were, two foreigners, in Italy, trying to speak Italian to each other.
Having successfully communicated our desire for cappuccino and croissants, we sat down to enjoy our first Italian breakfast. I’d have to say that the croissants were as good as ever. They were light, flaky and with a very thin sweet glaze. The cappuccino, however, wasn’t quite as good. Not terrible. But, not up to the Luigi standard from last year.
It was Wednesday, and we didn’t have anything specific planned. We decided it might be a good day to go over to the Vatican and see Saint Peters Basilica, including Michelangelo’s Pieta.
The Metro seemed unusually full that morning, and a lot of people got off at the stop for Saint Peter’s. We walked with mostly the same crowd from the Metro toward the Vatican.
When we arrived we were scanned with metal detectors. I was the first one inside the square, and I noticed immediately that some kind of major event was happening. There was a huge crowd of people, and all of a sudden, within about 30 feet of me, I saw the Pope drive by waving. THE POPE. I turned around where Jane was coming through security, and said, “Jane! It’s THE POPE!”.
Excitement in Saint Peter’s Square as The Pope Arrives for his weekly address
The excitement in the crowed was amazing. No disrespect to the Pope, but the only thing I’ve ever experienced that was similar was the feeling at a major rock concert when the headline act takes the stage. People were cheering, waving banners, there was genuine excitement, and it was impossible not to get caught up in it.
Pope Benedictus XVI in Saint Peter’s Square, October 19, 2005
I am not Catholic, but, at work, the first client I ever booked on my own was the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. For many years I have worked very closely with the Church in L.A. to produce most of their major public events. It was such a special treat for me to have the opportunity to see the Pope in person in Saint Peter’s Square, and even more memorable because it was so unexpected. We had no idea when we headed to the Vatican that day that The Pope would be there.
Erin and Luis in Saint Peter’s Square immediately after the Pope drove by them in the Popemobile
We stayed for the ceremony, which consisted of several representatives from around the world getting up and telling the Pope which Parishes in their geographical location were in attendance that day. As each Parish was mentioned, the people represented would stand up and cheer and sometimes wave banners they had brought. Then, the Pope would read a greeting in the native language of that area. When the Pope addressed the Spanish speaking contingent, I remarked to Luis that it must be interesting to hear Spanish spoken with a heavy German accent.
The Pope gave the crowd his special apostolic blessing. He also blessed the families of those in attendance, and made a special mention of the poor and sick.
At the end, we decided that it probably was the wrong day to visit the Basilica, due to the huge crowd. We walked out of Saint Peter’s Square across the bridge over the Tiber River and toward Castle Saint Angelo.
The castle has a history going back about 2,000 years and was originally a tomb. One interesting feature is a secret passageway that connects to the Vatican. The castle was used as a fortress for Popes during times of uncertainty.
Italians find such interesting things to do with marble. Here we see cannon balls made of white marble at Castle Saint Angelo.
From the castle we decided to find a place to have lunch. We ended up at a very nice restaurant. What I remember most about this place was the desert. We all had Tiramisu. This one came packed with a surprise. It was round, and dusted with cocoa powder. When you got close to the center, all of a sudden, a river of chocolate sauce came pouring out. It was delicious, and the only one of several times we had tiramisu in Italy that we had one that bled chocolate.
Next, we headed over to Piazza Navona. Jane remarked that when she lived in Italy many years ago as a Missionary, she used to sing and pass out literature in this piazza.
Casey in Piazza Navona
As we arrived at Piazza Navona, it started to rain. I zipped up my windbreaker and put the hood over my head. Casey was just ahead of me. I heard her yell ahead, “Wait Daddy!”, then she ran up to a stranger who also had a windbreaker and hood and grabbed his hand.
The man kind of jumped, and she looked up at him. Then, they booth looked at me. Jane said, “That’s not Daddy, Casey”. I gestured to him that we both looked like twins. We all laughed.
Casey grabs Jane and turns red, embarrassed after trying to hijack a stranger, mistaking him for Joseph.
We sought refuge under a tent where they were having a book sale, hoping that the rain would be over in a few minutes. It wasn’t. So, we pressed on, and started getting wet.
Next stop was the Pantheon. The original Pantheon was built in 27-25 BC as a temple. It was destroyed by fire, then rebuilt around 125 AD. It is the best preserved of all Roman buildings and has its original roof intact. It has been used as a Christian Church since about the 7th Century AD.
There is a hole at the top of the dome, and rain did come though it to the floor of the Pantheon. I looked at the way the ceiling was constructed. It really is amazing that a dome this huge could be constructed back then.
It is very dark inside the Pantheon. I managed to take this eerie time exposure. Notice the ceiling and how it is made out of squares, one smaller than the next, to minimize the weight of the 2,000 year old dome.
Leaving the Pantheon, we walked over to the monument to Vittorio Emmanuelle. This building is also known as the Typewriter.
We claimed to the top of the monument and looked at the view of the Coliseum and Forum.
Walking around behind the monument, we found the Capitoline Museum, the home of several original Roman treasures.
Pieces of a colossal statue of Constantine in marble. From 312-324 AD.
One of the pieces we saw inside was the original she-wolf. It is a sculpture you see replicas of all over Italy of the wolf nursing the orphaned Romulus and Remus.
After we finished up at the Capitoline, we found the metro station and headed back to the apartment. We had walked from one side of Rome to the other west to east. We were cold, wet and tired. Casey was starting to show symptoms of catching a cold, so when we got back to the apartment, we had an early dinner and called it a night.
Next: We tour the Coliseum, and the Domus Aurea (Nero’s Golden House).
But first… look at the variety of expressions during our long walk across Rome in the rain. Joseph, Casey, Luis and Erin: