Since I was going into the capital for the evening of Sushi delights, and even had a couch to crash on (thanks Danny), I decided to make full use of my bus ticket and planned some sightseeing. I started with a tour of Rome's Trastevery area (the other side of the Tiber river) and it was a real pleasure of winding alleyways and small squares. I also found one of THE top requested churches for Roman weddings and when I entered to view the famous ‘St Ceclia’ sculpture, found the church in full preparation for the next wedding. It made me chuckle that the audio guide said this church is chosen so often since it is considered ‘less gaudy’ than most Roman churches.. Hmmm.. Hard to really understand as this is still hardly a plain church.
St Ceclia's; obviously less gaudy!
Before leaving Trastevery, I wondered, without care got a little lost, and found a wonderful restaurant for a late lunch (large pizza, beer, and tip - €7). My next goal was the Catacombs of San Callisto that I was recommended to visit by some USA boating friends (Thanks Walt). By some strange chance they happened to be the original resting place of the same St Cecilia I’d found in the Trastervery church, so I accidentally had a very coordinated day. Here is an underground, 4 level, 12 mile, labyrinth of passageways with tombs carved out of the walls either side, stacked up to 8 deep (possibly more as we only toured a few of the passages). The early popes were originally buried here (although have long since been moved), it’s quite impressive.
Sights around Rome
With all my buzzing around town, getting used to the public transport now, I also stumbled across an pre-Christ Roman pyramid, the Mouth of Truth, and the Sacred Steps church (where worshippers climb a flight of steps on their knees for some benefit unknown). I also discovered the 4 basilicas that have a spare entrance door (a holy door), only opened for one year in every 25 (every pope jubilee year: next one 2025) and plastered/bricked up the rest of the time. The pope arrives on the appropriate day to break down the old plaster and open the door (I think someone else breaks the plaster, he just knocks) – and anyone who walks through the door that year is supposedly cleansed of all his or her sins to date. To save the Pope from rushing around like Santa on the said night, each of these special churches has a different start date for their ‘year’ (Christmas eve, new year’s day, etc).
Sushi Night with the Couchsurfing cooks!
So – on to Sushi. I had a fantastic evening and met some new Roman friends; I felt really lucky to be a part of the group for the night. (Maybe more on that later).
My plan for the following day was to visit the Vatican’s St Peter’s Cathedral. It was a public holiday in Rome for its saints day (St Peter) and so I was advised the cathedral was to be fully lit to display the artwork at its best. I didn’t want to miss it. My plan was to arrive by 8:30 and see it before the celebratory services started. My plan didn’t work as I was invited to a real stand-up, on the go, Italian breakfast by my host, and how could I resist?
When I eventually turned up at St Peters around 10:30 the Pope’s service was well under-way, the church closed to new visitors, and the square crammed with tourists and faithful watching on one of the many big screen live. The line to enter once the Cathedral opened again was wrapped most of the way around the square, and it seemed a bit crazy to wait – so I headed off for a tour of the Jewish Quarter of Rome. (There has been a established Jewish community in Rome since pre-Christ). There are a handful of Jewish restaurants here and I hope to come back with Kyle and sample some of the dishes.
But it was SO HOT – so before my tour I stopped off at a little, but famous, wooden, green kiosk by the river for a Grattachecca (a very up-market slurpee with the ice shaved in front of you, syrup of choice and real fruit in it!). After my tour it was still SO HOT, and I had to partake in a delicious gelato. This heat is really making me suffer. AND I'm told there are some even better ice drinks to sample!
I returned to St Peters to find the line open, but even longer. There was no way I was going to bake in the sun for what looked like at least 2 hours, so I took a side tour to another church that had caught my attention earlier: San Giovanni Laterano (St John’s Basilica). This was the home of the Pope long before St Peters and the Vatican and is the Cathedral of Rome (of which the pope is bishop). And WOW is it beautiful inside. There is even a free (donations welcome) video guide tour of the cathedral that you can take and refer to as you wonder (in exchange for your passport as deposit). For a small fee you can also visit the ancient cloister, and
St John's - Cathedral of Rome
I spent lots of time in this beautiful (and cool) cathedral before deciding to call it a day… But wait! What time is it? And when does St Peter’s close? Just maybe I should make the most of my public transport day ticket and see if the line had gone down. It had, and I walked right on in there – not even a queue for security! The main pulpit and beyond were open only to worshippers receiving communion given the special day, but there was still plenty to see. I couldn’t be sure that there was that much extra lighting, so maybe my push to see it on that particular day was unwarranted, but hey, it’s still pretty cool.
Vatican's St Peter's - compete with flower petal pope art!
Is it blasphemy to say I like St John’s better than St Peter’s? I do, I really do.
Doors of backstreet Rome
Travelling around Rome on the bus, and on foot, just made me want to cry – there is SO MUCH to see, and EVERY church seems well worth a peak inside. It’s clear I’ll never see it all, and there will always be some corner I’ll regret missing. Yes, I just wanted to cry I was so overwhelmed. I guess there is a reason they call it the eternal city.
But the sightseeing I enjoyed most, were the back street wanderings and discoveries, and it will seem so much better when I can explore it all with Kyle over the winter (less than 2 weeks and he's home again!)
[Note I had downloaded Rick Steve’s audio guides for most of these areas; free walking tours and well worth it!]