We decided to tackle Ancient Rome for our last day in the Eternal City.
We prepared for a long day out of the apartment and walked across the Tiber for our first stop, pastries and a cappuccino for me at Bar San Teo near the Circus Maximus. Bridget had recommended this place on her blog and I had the best cappuccino of the whole trip here.
We enjoyed our food and crossed the street to stroll through the Circus Maximus. Christopher had been excited before our trip to see chariot races at the Circus Maximus and while there were no chariots, there were two forklifts cleaning up chairs after the prayer service for the charismatic renewal anniversary celebration on Saturday. It was very exciting. It’s impressive to imagine the immensity of the Circus Maximus and also to think of the enduring consistency of human nature. While the ascent of Christianity provided a new respect for human life that made human sacrifice for sport taboo, the Circus Maximus might as well be the Indianapolis Speedway and the Colosseum, the Notre Dame football stadium.
We read that the line for the ticket for the Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, and Colosseum is usually shorter at the Palatine Hill entrance and that advice proved true. Chris bought our tickets while the guards fussed over the double stroller. I loved the reactions it elicited as we walked down the street, the delayed look of realization on people’s faces as they saw Therese’s feet flailing in the bottom basket. Someone called it a double-decker. Anyway, I also jumped in front of a few tourists’ pictures of my kids(???), which I know is a cultural thing and is innocuous, but I really hate it for some reason.
We spent a little too long in the store in the entrance, but we bought
ourselves Christopher two Playmobil Roman soldiers. We’re suckers for Playmobil.
We finally got moving and made our way through the Palatine Hill ruins. I was feeling like we had to go to the ruins because who goes to Rome and doesn’t see the ancient ruins?, but it was mind-boggling to think how well-preserved these buildings were at 2,000 years old. The exhibit sign said a contemporary historian described the imperial palace as “more impressive than the Egyptian pyramids” when it was standing. It looked so vast with so many different parts and it looked out over the Circus Maximus. Chris and I were imagining an emperor surveying the chariot races from his perch.
We wandered over to the Roman Forum, thinking about the daily life of the Romans who lived and worked here and trying not to perish from the direct sun.
We were fading quickly and I think we were finally learning how to stave off the hanger, so we started walking to the Forno at Campo di’Fiori for some pizza. The square had a market and some wonderfully mismatched roof lines. We leaned against a wall and devoured our pizza.I had arranged to meet up with Fr. John Nepil from my favorite podcast, Catholic Stuff You Should Know, while he and his co-host in Rome, Fr. Mike Rapp are studying at the Gregorianum and the Biblical Institute. We met him in the piazza outside the Greg and he took us to a caffe down the street. Christopher was excited to meet a new friend and he and Chris had a great conversation about academia. I told Fr. John it was strange to hear his familiar voice come from an actual person. He took us on a brief tour of Casa Santa Maria, where they live and where we had picked up our tickets for the papal Mass the Friday before. We met Fr. Mike there and chatted a bit while Christopher ran around. It was so lovely to meet them and we are so thankful they took time out of their paper and dissertation writing to meet us. (Here is a recent episode that included some thoughts vocation from Fr. John and Fr. Mike that I thought about for weeks afterward.) I was too timid and starstruck to ask for a picture, but it happened, I promise.
The Church of the Gesu is not far from Casa Santa Maria and we had wanted to visit this other landmark Jesuit church, so we took our stroller brigade that direction. We had let Christopher pick out a crucifix for our prayer table while we souvenir shipped the day before and, since St.Ignatius is buried at the Gesu, we decided to try to make it a third-class relic. I know relics seem strange and even idolatrous to some of my Protestant friends and family, but I ask you to consider them in light of Acts 19. A third-class relic is a piece of cloth or holy object touched to a higher class relic of a saint. In this case, we hoped we or someone at the church could touch the crucifix to St.Ignatius’ tomb.
What happened next was one of my favorite moments of our trip this far. We looked around the church for a bit and after some Google Translate action (reliquia di terza classe), went into the bookstore and approached the attendant. He was an Italian or Spanish man in his thirties, probably. It looked like he had one gold tooth and was perpetually harried despite there only being at most two people in the store at the same time. We approached him at his desk and went back and forth for a bit about making the relic. He finally seemed to have understood and, letting out the heaviest sigh, locked up his cash box and walked quickly through the church. I can’t convey how inconvenienced he looked. But then we approached the tomb, he took our crucifix and genuflected so reverently before it. He was incredibly thorough with touching the crucifix the tomb, genuflected again and handed the crucifix back to us. We thanked him profusely and put some money in the offering box. I loved the contrast between his annoyance and reverence. It was like some sort of Graham Greene vignette.
We left the Gesu and went back to Santa Cecilia in Trastevere for a bit and then we made our twisty way back to Ancient Rome for gelato and the Colosseum. Christopher got absolutely covered in gelato and people laughed along the way to the Colosseum.We arrived at around 6:20, only for them to tell us that the Colosseum was closed for the day. But the brochure says it is open until 7:15, we said. Oh, we haven’t updated the brochure, they replied. It felt very Italian.
We did a loop around the outside of the Colosseum and now since we had time to kill before dinner, we tried to go see the Basilica of San Clemente, only to see a Dominican close its door just as we walked up. We gave up and walked back to Trastevere for dinner to, again, find that our planned restaurant was closed, indicated by a handwritten sign that gave no explanation. Quite frustrated, we decided to go back to Pasta e Vino, the self-service place we had loved from the night before, and get takeout there. We walked home, put the kids to sleep, and inhaled the tasty cacio e pepe and pork sauce that tasted just like my Grandma’s.All told, we walked about 15 miles that day, according to my Fitbit. We ran ourselves into the ground.
We still hadn’t seen the inside of St. Peter’s, so we planned to do as much packing as we could the next morning and then get in line somewhat early to make it before our AirBnB checkout time. I woke up and realized I had thrown out my neck, probably from lifting the stroller with terrible form over and over again. We had to see St. Peter’s though, so Chris did all the heavy lifting with the kids and we scurried over to get in the long line with only a half hour to spare before our checkout time.
I bonded with two women from Essex, England over a group that blatantly tried to cut in front of us. “We English know how to queue,” she said. She also thought I was Canadian from my accent.
We requested a bit of an extension from our AirBnB host, who was happy to oblige. Unfortunately, our visit to St. Peter’s was less than reverent. Christopher had a tough time with the concept of checking our stroller and seemed to think we had just given it away. He had a tantrum through our brief tour around the most important church in Christendom. Real life, I guess. I’ll be sure to embarrass him with this story at his ordination.
He calmed down when we got the stroller back and we scurried back to the apartment. Our host called us a cab to our rental car place at the airport. I had convinced Chris that my neck couldn’t take another schlepping of stuff through trains and transfers. Our cab driver was super confused about where we wanted to go and then tried to scam Chris at the end of the drive by charging us more than the city-mandated flat fee, but Chris dealt with it well.
We picked up our rental car (a black BMW wagon, ooh la la) and had an uneventful drive to our AirBnB in the hills of Greve in Chianti. This place is incredible and we definitely got a total deal on its amazing views and totally renovated little cottage. The hosts even provided toys for this kids, so Christopher is back to his old self, running around on the grass and discovering the new toys. It’s been so relaxing so far and I’m glad we decided to take it slow this part of the trip.