As I watched the lush greenery of north and central Italy swath by in the train window, I reflected on my identity as a Catholic. A trip to Rome is special to me, and I would argue that many Catholics consider it a dream to make their way to the home of the pope and seat of Catholicism. Is this religious pilgrimage so different from the Islamic pillar of a hajj to Mecca once in a Muslim’s lifetime? Or the Zionistic return to the motherland of a new nation in Israel?
Rome is a sprawling city with winding streets full of mopeds, motorcycles, and small cars. Parking is extremely limited so the locals get creative with how they make space or park on corners. In that regard, it is still a bustling metropolis. The underground subway system is expansive and there was more than one occassion where we were standing in a full subway car hurtling forward on separate journeys with strangers we knew nothing about. It has 2 major dual histories, in my mind. One of the Romans and their history setting triumphant campaigns, and that of the enduring Roman Catholic Church.
On our first night, we thought a walk to Vatican City was in order. The tall domes of St. Peter’s Basilica dwarfed the surrounding buildings while stone-pine trees shot vertically out of the earth with umbrella like tops. As we arrived, it was an hour or so prior to the closing of St. Peter’s Basilica, and the line was fairly small, so we jumped in. We moved quickly and made it in time to see it before closing.
It was the largest church that I had ever seen. The floor and ceiling boast a constant array of gilded mosaic tiles and artwork. The surrounding Latin engraved stonework took me back to long forgotten lessons 11 years ago in high school, while I tried to painfully translate the little I remembered to Hannah. With her utterance of “keep working on it”, I abandoned my linguist pursuits to walk further into the basilica.
During our tour, we also noticed a section of the basilica that was partitioned off. The attendant explained it was for confession, which was offered in several different languages. After walking for a bit, I told Hannah we should take the opportunity, with such a unique place and time, to go to confession. We both did and spent the remainder of our evening saying the rosary while walking the city.
Hannah had been searching her brain and her Google Maps for the name of the BnB she and Alicia had stayed at in Rome 5 years prior. This was all a ruse. She was using the BnB as a waypoint to find a specific Italian restaurant at which they had eaten. Sure enough, after about 10 minutes, Hannah found it and began orienting our path toward Lumia Bistro.
It was a small restaurant, almost like a café, on a corner about 4 blocks from the main tourist strip. The pasta was homemade and delicious. Hannah ordered a short pasta with bacon and chopped pear. The rich, salty bacon fat mixed effervescently with the sweet crunch of pear and blended in a thick, cheesy cream sauce. We followed this up with a side dish of ratatouille, which was essentially grilled mixed vegetables. They were also delicious and cooked to fall apart when entering the mouth. Bellies satisfied and Hannah’s FOMO cured, we walked home.
We spent much of day 2 in the Vatican museums and seeing the Sistine Chapel. The Vatican has some of the most impressive artwork in the world, and only shows a mere fraction. The majority of our day was spent winding our way past perfectly contoured marble busts, fading detailed tapestries, and under the masterpieces of Michelangelo.
Outside Vatican square, we passed a large fortress and castle. Beside it, the rounded arches of 3 separate bridges skipped across the murky, opaque green of the river running beneath them. The bridge held a gaggle of merchants selling wares and beggars seeking charity, just as they would have in centuries past. We wound our way through the different passages of Rome’s urban grid before we peaked our heads into a large church and listened to a free audio tour and eventually called it a day.
We arrived back at our Airbnb, tired and sore from a long day of walking through the city and museums. My throat was aching by then as I tried to force as many fluids down as I could. In the corner of our Airbnb, I sat in a plush springy chair, a fitting antithesis for my current health. The window was open and I could hear the ever growing patter of rain as the city was absolved before Palm Sunday the next day.