Spring Break Pt. 5: Rome

29 April 2011
We said good-bye to Libby early in the morning and wished her luck in Dubrovnik, then spent the rest of the day travelling first from Vienna to Villach by train, where we caught a bus to Venice, and then another train to Rome. The entire journey took just under 12 hours, and the three of us were tired and looking forward to checking into the Vesta Residence, the guest house we had booked, and then meeting Danielle, Ashley, and Rob for dinner. Unfortunately, our guest house was less of a bed and breakfast and more of a vacant apartment in a building located far out of city center and in the center of a really sketchy neighborhood. We felt uneasy to begin with, passing under a freeway and viewing the extensive collection of swastika graffiti on and around the building, and felt more and more unsafe as we walked back to the train station to meet Danielle. We agreed to check Danielle’s hostel for openings when we got there, but it was full for some of the nights we were staying in Rome and was extremely expensive for the nights there were vacancies. Luckily for us, Rob was staying at another hostel the next street over, which had plenty of room for us for not bad prices. This is how Anders, Kelsey, and I ended up checking into The Yellow, and only spending one night in the Roman ghetto.

Though the Vesta was still a nicer option than the place next door.

30 April 2011
We moved out of the guest house the very first thing and got our stuff to the Yellow, where we had breakfast and met Rob. We left with the intention of going to the Colosseum, but got a block out of the hostel when we ran into Matt and Mo, who skipped Venice and come to Rome three days early. We took them to our hostel to get rooms, then finally headed out to the Colosseum. We paid for a two-part tour so we could jump the line (a two hour wait), and also get into the Roman Forum before it closed. The Colosseum is truly an amazing piece of ancient architecture, but due to people recycling materials and stealing metal supports, it has seen better days.

The whole no roof thing also makes it not weatherproof.

From the Colosseum we trekked to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, which is the location of the ruins of the second largest palace ever built by a Roman emperor. It also had an amazing view of the city, both ancient and modern. We grabbed lunch at a pasta place (where else?) then hit up the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain, and managed to throw some coins in, despite the hordes of tourists packed around it. We hung out in the hostel bar and played cards for awhile, then went to bed pretty early because we had to leave the hostel at 5am the next morning.

1 May 2011
As promised, 5am sharp I was out the door with Kelsey, Matt, Mo, and Rob on our way to St. Peter’s Square to see the Beatification of Pope John Paul II, also known as John Paul the Great, John Paul the Bad Ass, and after the ceremony, Blessed John Paul. For my non-Catholic readers (or Catholic readers who didn’t make it quite that far in Sunday School), Beatification is recognition by the Catholic Church of a dead person’s entrance into Heaven and their capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name.  It’s the third of the four steps of Canonization, which is the process of declaring someone a saint. Basically, Bl. JPII is one postmortem miracle away from being St. John Paul.
We arrived at the Vatican right around 6am, and stood with 1.5 million of our closest (and I do mean closest) friends. We stood in a line to get onto the avenue in front of St. Peter’s Basilica for around an hour and a half. Italian guards would periodically let people through (except for nuns, who quite literally walked through like they owned the place, which in a sense I suppose they do), but stopped letting people through when we got to the front of the line. Luckily for us, the impatient mob behind us attempted to gate rush, causing all the guards to leave the front of the line to stop them, allowing us to leisurely walk in. We spent the next few hours getting closer and closer to the square, and once they opened the gates to the square, we were able to get amazing spots in the square and near the aisle, which is why I can officially say that I have attended and received Eucharist at a Papal mass in St. Peter’s Square.

So amazing.

It was a beautiful service celebrated in Latin, Polish, Italian, German, Spanish, and English, which was only a tad confusing at times. The weather, which had been predicted to be in the low 60s and thunder storming, was around 73° and sunny with only a few fluffy clouds and just a very slight breeze, which I would say is solid proof God was pretty happy about what was going on.

After the ceremony we managed to squeeze our way out of the crowd without too much of a problem and made it back to the hostel around 2pm. We were all ravenous and ate mass amounts of pizza and pasta at the restaurant next to the Yellow, and then enjoyed a few drinks and cards at the bar, happy not to be completely surrounded by people still.

2 May 2011
Kelsey and I slept in a little bit, but after a quick breakfast in the bar headed out to see the Spanish Steps. The steps, which are near the Piazza de Spagna and the Spanish embassy are some sort of monument built with donated funds from a French diplomat in the 1700s. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what their significance or history are at all, and only know what I just told you because I browsed its Wikipedia page right before I started typing.

There's also an obelisk, which I'm sure is relevant in some way.

We walked back to a piazza near our hostel where we met Anders as well as a walking tour of the Vatican advertised by our hostel. We were joined by five other college students from Canada, London, and Hong Kong and headed out on a four hour tour that included the history of sites like the Bridge of Angels, Castel sant’Angelo, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the actual Vatican Hill. Our guide was well-educated and knew what he was talking about, but he was also funny and young so he made everything much more applicable to college aged kids. We went to the Vatican Museum, known for its extensive art collection, and most famously, the Sistine Chapel.

Look familiar?

The chapel was beautiful, both for the ceiling and The Last Judgment, Michaelangelo’s other painting in the chapel, which takes up the entire wall behind the altar.
After the tour I was hoping to go into St. Peter’s, but the basilica was unfortunately closed for the duration of our stay in Rome due to the Beatification and services going on for that. I was pretty disappointed, but now I have a reason to go back!

This marks the end of our spring break. We made it home without a problem, and I’m so glad that it was such a great trip. It was definitely a long time to be on the move, but I’m so glad I did it, and I loved every minute of it!

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