Today, we begin the final stretch of our journey. Rome, the Eternal City, beckons with its treasures and its mysteries. The last three weeks have flown by but time has caught up and I feel its weight in my thoughts, on my heart – our grandchildren, our children, our friends, our dog, our Northwind family, our family left behind – home and all the loves of that life waiting across the Atlantic.
Sitting at dinner last night on a side street blocks from the Vatican and the Colosseum, I looked and listened to the conversations around me. The familiarity of American English struck like a clanging cymbal – every single table held American tourists. Most were looking around furtively, trying to survey the food on other tables, translate the Italian descriptions on Google, and orient themselves. Now three weeks in, I ordered in my own American-Italian hybrid, confident, unhesitant. Chatting with the wait staff, joking, smiling.
Looking around, I realized we were no longer incompetent – at least not completely incompetent. I felt eyes upon us – the new looking upon the old, the experienced, the veteran touristas. In acknowledgement and as a vote of confidence, the waiter brought us out Limoncello shots – a gift to say, “Grazie Mille!” Thanks for working at it. Thanks for making this a little more fun. Thanks for trying. Thanks for embracing our beautiful Italy.
Mass at the Duomo
We enjoyed Mass yesterday morning at the Duomo di Milano. Sitting in the Feriale Chapel upon the High Altar, I contemplated the nail from the Crucifixion suspended above me and St. Charles Borromeo resting in the tomb below me. I continue to be surprised with my childlike wonder at these Relics, now so familiar in every stop we make, but still a miraculous connection to the past and our Catholic Faith.
Travelers tip: All of the Duomos we’ve visited have spaces set aside for prayer and Messe (Mass). They are usually accessed through a side door, have guards discouraging tourists, and are delightful departures from the beaten paths of sightseers wandering the museum sides of these grand structures. If you want to enter, you will need to hold your ground to convince the guard of your sincerity, but it’s worth it.
One interesting note about yesterday’s Mass was that I was able to understand quite a bit of the Homily. Curiously, the priest referenced Rivelazioni multiple times as he connected the first reading, Isaiah 45 – I am the Lord, and there is no other, to the Gospel which was Matthew 22: 15-21 – “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” He spoke of the New Testament as the Fulfillment of the Old and it was fun to pick up quite a bit of it, even if imperfectly.
Back Through Tuscany
The morning was relatively leisurely and we were back at Milano Centrale by Noon. Pulling up to the massive stazione, our cab drive pointed to a statue on top of the building and said, “Mussolini.” I smiled and replied, “Yes, yesterday we learned of his execution, along with his mistress, at the hand of partisanos while he was escaping through Lake Como in 1945.” In a country with a 3000+ year history, even the bad actors are accepted as part of the story.
The Frecciaross high speed train was soon clipping along at 250 km/hr, about 150 mph, and we were found ourselves passing through lovely Tuscany once again. Looking at the map, we were able to see Cortona up on a mountainside and even passed under the shadow of Orvieto, the spires of its Duomo clear in the sky reminding me of the wedding we saw there just a couple of weeks ago. It now seems long ago. Isn’t time strange?
The 3 hour trip was pretty chill; we watched passengers come and go at the various stops along the way. A mom with her two daughters kept them occupied with card games and conversation – it was kind of fun to eavesdrop on their French and remember how many things are universal, especially when it comes to children.
The Ants Go Marching In
Arriving in Rome, the peace and smoothness of the train ride was disrupted by the chaos of Roma Termini, a large train station closer to the city center. However, returning to it for our third pass made it far less intimidating and we bumped and shoved our way through the bodies running in all directions as we made our way to meet our driver. There is power in such familiarity.
Rolling through the city, we recognized some of the streets we travels a few weeks ago as we drove away from the stazione toward Umbria and Tuscany. Considering our trek through Italy, there were really no straight lines in our figure 8 across the country. It was nice to retrace a few of the paths, making it all even more familiar.
As we neared our apartment, we caught glimpses of the Vatican, gleaming in the sunlight, now no longer so far away and affirming a sense of Rome’s moniker as “The Eternal City.” Suddenly we were in seas of people, covering the streets in every direction. Our driver moved slowly through the crowd which seemed to flow equally between indifference and obliviousness to the presence of our 2 1/2 ton van bearing down on them.
We wound downward, the streets narrowed, and the crowd thickened. Passing a large open area, the driver pointed and said, “That is Spanish Square.” I could not believe how many people were jammed into the square and surrounding streets – no bit of the street was visible for all of the humanity sweeping across it. A bit shell-shocked at the sheer volume of humanity, I was reminded of ants scurrying about, bumping, reversing, changing direction – at times seeming to crawl over one another.
Logistics as an Art Form
Meeting the Riccardo to be let into our apartment, I looked at Sally’s face and realized our good fortune on accommodations has come to an end. The apartment, clearly in the middle of the action and just a few blocks from the bridge crossing into the Vatican, left much to be desired. The main problem was the windows – they looked onto a dark interior courtyard or into a utility courtyard with roofs and the pressing of building upon one another, giving the small space a very dark, claustrophobic feel.
To date, our logistics and accommodations have pretty much been flawless. The profile for this apartment was not completely accurate and Silvia jumped into action, negotiating a full refund and finding us another place. Within an hour, we were set and would only need to spend one night in the apartment, then move to a hotel around the corner. I cannot express enough how effective she has been and what a great partner in this adventure.
Walking out from the apartment, we waded into the mass of humanity. Tour groups of all sizes, tourists milling about, people just standing in the road or on the piazza – I wondered, what is everyone doing? The area is full of high end stores and is clearly a massive shopping district but the people were just occupying this piazza like it was Times Square. We decided we need to break away and found a side street and a place to enjoy an aperitivo.
The Home Stretch
Watching the Ferrari’s, Mercedes, Tesla’s, BMW’s, and numerous other high end vehicles navigating the streets I was struck by the mix of what looked like tourists as well as locals converging on the area. The Taxis and black vans rolled-in, dropping-off one group after another. I wondered how much more the area could absorb before something burst.
As the evening wore on, things thinned out dramatically and we were left with a nominal group of folks milking about the square. An Italian with a guitar played and sang high up the stairs where he was not visible to the Polizie below. He was actually quite good and moved between the Beatles, Oasis, some fun Italian songs, and even some Doors at my request. We sang out loud with him and it was fun to watch the crowd around him grow through the evening. Music is another one of those things that is universal.
Back at the restaurant, watching the newb tourists work to figure out the menus, I realized that we’d be home in our own beds at this time next week. However, the next five days are full – we have a guide for four of them and plan to dive-into Rome and all of its treasures as completely as we possibly can. Cecilia is our guide for most of the week and the itinerary looks amazing.
Now, the deep breath before the plunge. I’m excited. Excited to see it all and excited to close this chapter. Excited for a final immersion in Belle Italia and excited to see all that we left behind again. It is a lovely edge and I want to hold it, relish it for a bit, before releasing it and pushing to the end.