Pentecost with the Pope

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May 24th 2015
Published: May 24th 2015
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We've walked through the Vatican several times since we got to Rome, but we've scheduled a tour for tomorrow morning, so I'll save all my Vatican adventures for tomorrow's post. But we did stand around in St. Peter's Square this morning for part of the Pentecost Mass. We even got to see il Papa on the big screens.

Our hotel is basically attached to the wall surrounding Vatican City, so it's going to be great for getting an early start tomorrow. It's not that great for when you want to see all the sights of Ancient and Renaissance Rome. But we had a mostly enjoyable time walking between here and the ancient monuments. We started out walking towards the Tevere River (known as the Tiber River in ancient times) and crossed over that on our way to the Piazza Navola. There are so many small streets that just lead to anywhere and everywhere, it's sometimes hard to know which one to choose. You run into deserted alleys, and you try to avoid those. And usually if you know your bearings, you can just meander in that general direction and not run into any problems.

The biggest problems I've seen are fatigue and pickpockets. We've luckily not been the victim of pickpockets (yet), but there are warnings everywhere - the train ticket machines tell you to watch for them, signs with creative stick figures in train stations warn you, our B&B guy warned us - and then one of the first things we saw while getting on the Metro at Rome Termini station was a guy telling someone that his fancy camera lens had been stolen right off the camera that he had around his neck. It's crowded that station, and it's really got one of the worst reputations for that kind of activity. We've kept a good eye on our stuff, holding it in the best ways we can, using the zippers on our bags as well as possible - but that's about all you can do. I did choose to leave my fancy camera home today, so all the pictures you see in this post are from my phone.

As far as the fatigue goes, well... Rome is not a small city. And you can take the bus or subway everywhere, but you really miss the experience of walking through all these places if you do. That doesn't mean you won't pay a price for all the walking. I've been walking around European cities for over 10 weeks now, and I'm still not used to as much walking as we did today. At least tomorrow, the Vatican is less than 5 minutes away, and we'll mainly be walking through the museums (with chairs to sit in!). There were a couple of times today when I knew I was just getting worn down - usually that means I need to eat and/or drink something to make it all better, but it really didn't get much better until we took about 30 minutes to sit in front of the Colosseum and just not move.

On the way to the river this morning, we ran into several of the typical moneymakers (that's a nice way of putting it) around Rome - and one of the reasons this is not really my favorite city. The first kind of moneymaker is the street vendor - they usually have little covered wagons of kitschy things for tourists to buy: rosaries (which we now call rosemaries, thanks to Eno), models, Pinocchio marionettes (I'm not sure why), postcards, cheap jewelry, sodas, whatever. They're not that pushy, even when you approach their wagon and look around. Then there are the guys dressed in gladiator outfits - you pay them to take a photo with them. The first one we saw called Eno "Michelle Obama," which pretty much stuck for the rest of the day. Lastly, there are the really persistent guys (all men) selling selfie sticks, umbrellas (it rained off and on today), battery chargers, or whatever. I've taken to swinging around my very extended selfie stick to avoid at least some of that crap. These are really the guys I despise - I know people got to eat, but they're like vultures. They were worse around the Colosseum, and when we sat down for our break in the early afternoon, they wouldn't leave us alone until I whipped out the selfie stick and the battery charger; Eno had her umbrella in full view, too. But one guy just kept pestering her about getting a charger after we had been sitting, admiring the Colosseum, and he stood in front of us, blocking the view for a couple of minutes. Rude.

In the morning, we made our way first to the Piazza Navola. This place was packed - it's got 2 big fountains at either end of a rectangular piazza with baroque buildings lining all sides of it. I found what I assume to be a replica Mussolini-Hitler pin (with swastika and fasces) for 1.50€, so naturally I bought it. I'm not going to wear it, but I couldn't pass up that offer. Next up was the Pantheon - a marvel of ancient architecture with a nearly perfect circular design and circular hole at the top of the dome. It functions as a church these days, and when we got there, the service was still going on, so we couldn't get inside. We saw several people throwing rose petals in the air at various times, and after some reflection, I came to realize that this was a rather ingenious visual symbol of the flaming tongues described in the first Pentecost in the Book of Acts. Pretty cool.

Since we couldn't get in there, we walked a few blocks to Trevi Fountain - a stunning baroque fountain. Guess what - it was being renovated or some such nonsense, so there was scaffolding everywhere. You could see the sculptures, but you couldn't get anywhere near it. There was no water, either, but some doofuses insisted on throwing coins into the "fountain."

Eno wanted to see Michelangelo's version of Moses with horns in the church at San Pietro in Vincoli, so we started walking. It's pretty famous for being weird, so I figured why not. On the way, we got distracted by a huge church down one of the side streets we saw, so we went there. It turned out to be the Santa Maria Maggiore, where the baroque artist/architect Bernini (who basically designed much of the modern Rome that we know and love today) is buried. So we saw his handiwork and admired his simple grave near the altar of this church. When we finally got to the San Pietro in Vincoli church at 2 PM, we were greeted with a sign that said it was closed until 3 PM, so we decided to head over to the ancient area near the Colosseum. This is where we got to rest for at least 30 minutes and admire views of the Colosseum, the Constantine Arch, and the Forum. It's also where some rude moneymakers tried in vain to make money off of us.

The San Pietro in Vincoli was a rather small church, though some guy with his other 3 frat-dude friends exclaimed how big the church was when they finally let us in. I'm guessing he hasn't been to many churches in Europe, much less Rome. Anyway, a tourist group pulled up just before the church opened and had got to the front of the line when the church let us all in. All you had to do was look for that big crowd to know where the horned Moses was. At least there was no entry fee to the church - I liked the statue, but I'd hate to know I paid a lot of money just to see that one thing.

We walked back to the Ancient Rome area, where massive amounts of people had congregated. These numbers were augmented, of course, by the moneymakers. But we walked around the Colosseum and the Constantine Arch before heading to the Circus Maximus, which is a rather disappointing long field that looks pretty empty today. We also saw the church that has the Boca della Verità (the "mouth of truth"), where you stick your hand in the hole and it'll supposedly get cut off if you're lying about whatever you're saying. Another long line was awaiting that, so we kept a-moving. The next impressive structure was the Vittoriano Monument, which was inspiring. I've heard it was an eyesore when it first opened in the 1920s - and I could see why, since it's gaudy and not ancient. I liked it.

Our destination was the Pantheon again, and we wound our way through the streets until we got there. This time, there was no wait to get in, though there were still a lot of people there. We walked around, and since it's a church, they insist that you keep a reverent attitude. At one point, a lady got up to the microphone and told everyone to be silent - this lasted, of course, for about 5 seconds. The overall noise level, though, did go down. It was cool to see the eclectic use of space in there - an altar with chairs that served as a sanctuary for the church that uses the space, monuments to Christian saints, and even monuments to former kings of Italy. My favorite was the Victor Emanuel II monument - it just looked so fascist. I don't have a thing for fascism, but their style does fascinate me.

After that, we were pretty worn out. I don't even know how many miles we walked today. We headed home, and on our way across the bridge to the Castel San Angelo, we ran into a Dutch university men's choir that had just performed in the castle. We stopped a guy to ask what they were doing - they looked like they had just graduated or something, but he informed us about the choir. Okay. We heard them singing as they walked down the bridge toward us, and then we made a B-line to the hotel. We cut back through the Vatican (I just love crossing that international border on foot) and became hermits for the evening. Tomorrow, we finally get to penetrate the walls of the Vatican, not just the nice Saint Peter's Square.

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