The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Three-day catch-up: Basilicas, Gardens, Audience, Food...

Monday was such a busy day that I simply had no time to post anything. We also returned to the hotel so tired that even the rock-hard bed was inviting.

Our main event on Monday was a visit to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. It's quite a distance -- too far for us senior citizens to walk -- so we took cab and spent a small fortune. It was worth it, though. We were surprised that so few people were there, especially since it is the key spot for pilgrimages during this Pauline Holy Year. But the lack of crowds was fine with us since it meant that we had plenty of room to roam around at our leisure. It's truly a beautiful basilica, a majestic church in the classical revival style. We visited St. Paul's tomb, located under the main altar and spent a few moments there in prayer thanking God for this wonderful opportunity to again visit these holy places. After taking in all of the Basilica and the adjacent cloisters, we stopped by the gift shop and ended up buying some lovely gifts for family members. The shop is staffed by two Franciscan nuns from Chile who speak no English but nevertheless kept us entertained with their comedy routine. All in all a lovely visit.

As we left we found ourselves faced with the same problem we encountered the last time we visited this particular basilica: there's no taxi stand anywhere nearby and we have no idea how to navigate the Roman bus system. So I prayed briefly to St. Paul (after all, he's the one that drew us there) and a tour bus pulled up. When I asked if they went anywhere near St. John Lateran, the driver explained that they followed a set route that included all the basilicas plus a dozen or more popular tourist stops. The catch? One had to purchase a one- or three-day ticket. As it turned out a three-day ticket costs less than the cab ride we had just paid for. The ticket is also good on Rome's public buses and subway, plus you can get off and on at any of the stops and the tour buses run every 15 minutes. Such a deal!! We grabbed it and have been riding around in their open-air buses ever since.

Our next stop was St. John Lateran where we did more roaming and took in all the side chapels, the beautiful main (papal) altar and the cloisters. I especially enjoyed the cloisters where they have nicely displayed many, many fragments from the earlier basilica as well as fragments of early Christian cemetery inscriptions and statuary. Very neat stuff.

That evening we went to a local restaurant and had a wonderful steak dinner. We were very much in need of beef after all the pasta and pizza we'd been consuming, Too tired to party and too old to remember how, we wandered back to the hotel and turned in for the night.

I'll add more later, but now it's time for Wednesday's dinner. Off to the local pizza joint with the cute waitress...

...OK we've returned from dinner at our local pizzeria. The cute waitress was apparently off this evening and was replaced by a nice young man that reminded Diane of our younger son. Anyway, it's a great little pizza place named Pizzeria L'Archetto and located at Via Germanico 105 in Rome's Prati district. They have about 10 sidewalk tables which are perfect this time of year. The food and the wine are excellent and reasonably priced. We recommend it.

Now back to our tourist stuff...

Tuesday we began the day -- after the normal hotel breakfast -- with a guided tour of the Vatican Gardens. This is a tour everyone should take at least once in their lives. For two hours you roam through these beautiful gardens and get to experience Vatican City up close and personal. It is truly amazing. Our guide (sorry, I forgot her name) was wonderful and provided all sorts of interesting insights.

In the afternoon we went to the North American College (NAC) to pick up our tickets for the Wednesday general audience with Pope Benedict XVI. Sister Maria kindly gave us "special" tickets which allowed us to sit up front, close to the Pontiff. We spent a little time in the NAC's beautiful chapel, then walked over to the nearby Trevi Fountain, fought the crowds, sampled some of Rome's famous Gelato (ice cream), then wandered aimlessly looking for my favorite vestment shop, D'Ritis. We finally found it and I purchased a new alb to replace the one I bought there 3 years ago. From there it was a short cab ride back to the hotel, dinner at the pizza joint, and bed.

...more to follow.

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