Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Necropolis under St. Peter's Basilica aka the craziest thing I've seen so far!

St. Peter's
For purposes of clarity I am going to post a couple of times today on different subjects.  Things have just been so busy here and I haven't had any time to sit and write.  I'll start with the Vatican.  I am in a religion class, Papacy and the Roman Church, and we had a onsite class on Friday to St. Peter's Square.  I woke up at the crack of dawn to get ready, pack for my weekend trip to Florence, and catch the bus.  I was so proud that I got up and out of the house on time, but this pride and excitement was soon crushed after waiting at the bus stop for an hour.  I finally got on my bus, at this point, completely freaking out that I was going to get lost, left behind, and would end up walking aimlessly around with a fifty pound bag on my back.  I got off at my stop and decided the best thing to do was to walk towards the big dome.  I entered the giant square and I thought it was a hopeless case, but luckily after trudging across in my bright yellow rainboots (on a sunny day) a kid in my class yelled out my name.  I joined the group and my excitement immediately returned.  We were going to go on a tour of the ancient Necropolis under St. Peter's Basilica.  This tour is something you have to book months in advance.  Our little group went down a steep staircase and had to maneuver ourselves through cramped, dim spaces, but the result is something I still cannot fathom.  We saw layouts of the first basilica for St. Peter, created under Constantine, that was torn down to create the one that stands today.  Some of the original foundational walls are still standing and we saw one as we moved underground.  The tour focused on the mausoleums of families that lived centuries ago.  Tombs, urns, paintings of pagan gods, inscribed stones, and offerings lined these tiny rooms.  These mausoleums were excavated under Pope Pius XII in the 1940s and 50s.  They continue in a giant strip, like a street, but only so many could be excavated because the standing basilica would be compromised otherwise.  While the mausoleums themselves are amazing sights, it was the viewing of St. Peter's bones that really hit me.  The church will not confirm for sure whether they are in fact St. Peter's remains, but the archeologist who discovered them and many others confirm it with certainty.  The church just doesn't want any possible humiliation if it turns out to be a false find.  St. Peter was crucified upside down and so the upside cross is visible in many places near his burial sight.  We entered a gorgeous tiny chapel (in the shape of the upside down cross) before going into the burial room; the gold fixtures and moldings, the intricate paintings, and the marble altar were so beautiful and unreal.  We walked into the room where the bones were visible.  Once they were discovered, they were placed in plastic boxes and laid back to rest in the original location.  We could barely see the bones, but a piece of the jaw was clearly visible.  Also visible was a portion of one of the original columns from the alter from the first basilica in honor of St. Peter.  To be honest, it was one of the most ridiculous experiences of my life.  After a moment of reflection, we exited from underground the Vatican.  As we were leaving we passed tombs of the previous popes.  The first tomb we saw after leaving the excavation sight is Pope Pius XII.  His location is purposeful as he wanted to be near his discovery of St. Peter.  A candle is lit in front of his tomb which indicates he is in the process of a bid for canonization.  We passed many popes, but we stopped in front of Pope John Paul II who is also in the bid for canonization.  He is going to be moved to the main floor of the Vatican because he is so popular and loved that people make a pilgrimage to his tomb (nuns were sobbing and praying in front of it).  It was only 12pm and I had seen so wasn't really even processing.  I still had a long day ahead of me as I started my adventure to Florence.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Finally a Free Day

At the top of the Spanish steps with Amanda

Crazy good lasagna

I got to sleep in for the very first time in Rome and boy did I need it.  Three of my roommates and I got ready for a BBQ at our John Cabot University campus and arrived only to find out the BBQ was the day before.  The only disappointment we felt was not having a free meal but we were so glad to finally not have a jam-packed, time-crunched day.  The three of us and a friend (also misinformed) went down a random alley near campus and ate a fabulous lunch at this little cafe.  We sat outside, took a leisurely lunch, and inhaled caprese and homemade lasagna.  A couple of my sorority sisters, including my little, are in Italy for a couple of weeks and called me from the top of the Spanish steps to come meet them.  The four us ran from our cafe and tried to navigate a way to the steps.  I really should have learned how to read a map before I got here, but we luckily managed to arrive to the steps (of course after getting a little lost first).  I ran up all of the steps and probably burned off my entire lunch.  It was so nice seeing people from home and just sitting at the top, looking down at the center of Rome.  After some catching up and a photo shoot my old friends and I parted ways and my new friends and I went on to explore the city on our own.  We took this time as an opportunity to get the BEST GELATO IN THE ENTIRE WORLD!  It is at this tiny shop, crowded with people fighting to get to the front of the counter.  My roommates and I aggressively made our way to the front and I got crema (vanilla) and cioccolato (chocolate) with the real whipped cream on top.  One of my roommates took her first bite, turned to me and said, "When I get to heaven, this better be there!"  It was so amazing and I cannot even put it into words how good it was.  Unfortunately, poor Eric was not as lucky as us and had to wait a long while to get his gelato.  Being a 6'4" male, wearing a Bud hat probably didn't help his case.  Meanwhile the rest of us finished eating and slyly took pictures of a group of nuns eating their four scoops of gelato from a chocolate cone each (those nuns did work).  Eric finally exited and the four of us then went on to go shopping (I told you I couldn't pace myself).  Overall it was an amazing free day in Rome and we tired ourselves out.  We waited a ridiculous 35 minutes at our bus stop to finally get on, only to be squished in like sardines; I practically was eating the girl's hair in front of me.  We got off the bus to then catch our tram and hysterically laughed our entire way home.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

I am a total tourist

Victor Emmanuel II Building
So I have signed up for every tour they have offered so far.  With my camera around my neck, backpack in tow, and headset in my ear listening to our guided tour, I couldn't look any more like a tourist.  I am in love with this city and want to see everything and learn everything.  We started in front of "the wedding cake building"which is the center of Rome, the national monument of Victor Emmanuel II (the first king of unified Rome), and only a thirty minute bus ride from our apartment.  It is a huge, gorgeous white building and absolutely indescribable.  The gates were closed today because it is the weekend, so we plan on going back to walk up the stairs and get close enough to practically ride the winged horses at the top.  This tour took us through downtown Rome and we saw the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain (still need to make my first wish though), Spanish Steps, the Parliament building, Piazza Navona, and the inside of the Pantheon.  The best gelato in all of Italy is by the Pantheon and I don't think my mouth has ever watered as much as it did  after I took my first bite of Chocolate Ricotta - sounds weird, but crazy good.  I need to go back as soon as possible because there is the cutest Gelateria in which you just pay for the cone and they give you as many scoops as physically possible and real whipped cream.  This is where the Italians get their gelato.  Despite how much I am eating, I think I have actually lost weight with all of the walking I do (thank goodness).  The tour also took us through the shopping district and I almost died!!  The middle priced stores are down one street, Corso, and then Rome's "Rodeo Drive" is just around the corner.  Dior, Missoni, Valentino, Gucci, etc = my new religion.  I have yet to actually go shopping which has been absolute torture but I have four months here so I should probably pace myself, until tomorrow that is.  We were so tired after our two and a half hour long tour and made it back to our apartment to make our first family dinner.  Luckily one of my roommates is an amazing cook and put together salad and pasta and not just any salad and pasta, but overeat it and put me in a food coma salad and pasta.  It was a fun-filled and glorious day in Rome!  

Friday, January 14, 2011

Second full day in Rome

Yesterday was my second full day in Rome. After a little less than four hours of sleep my roommates and I had to get up for our John Cabot University orientation. It was an hour long public transit commute, but worth it after we drove by the Colosseum!!! Seeing the Colosseum for the first time made this whole thing feel real. We drove over the Tiber River into Trestevere where the campus is located...absolutely gorgeous area. I couldn't stop taking photos of the cool alley ways with vines or flower boxes and shutters. I was so giddy I was practically skipping on the cobble stone. People in my program already make fun of me for the fact that my voice goes up three octaves and my eyes double in size when I get really excited about the little, but beautiful things around us. Through orientation we heard a presentation from Rick Steve's son, Andy who then invited us on a tour of some of his favorite parts of the city. That night about fifteen of us got to see the Pantheon, walk through the Camp de' Fiori, see fountains that I forget the names of and ancient egyptian obelisques. We then went into this cool restaurant right next to the Pantheon and had the most fun eating Bruschetta (dad, be proud, I actually loved the tomatoes), two types of pasta - one that I couldn't even come close to pronouncing, even after Andy tried to teach me for ten minutes, rich chocolate cake, and unlimited wine. It was a total blast getting to know everyone better and pick Andy's brain. After leaving completely stuffed we headed back to the apartment and got lost for the very first time. We had been doing so well and probably jinxed ourselves, but luckily it didn't take too long to find ourselves and we made it safely home.