After a packed granola bar breakfast at our Rome hostel, the girls and I were on an 8:30am tram to the Flaminio train station. From there we took a train into the city, where we were supposed to catch the metro to Vatican City. However, we weren’t so lucky. The metro strike was still going on, so we had to switch to Plan B. We started reading all of the bus stop signs, looking for any that might point us towards the Pope. After talking to a few strangers we eventually found the right bus, and hopped on. We were guided all the way there by a super sweet girl clad all in denim who worked in film production. As we walked towards the Vatican she said to us “I have a secret. This city is magic! It has given me everything I could ever want- love, friendship..” She was beaming and we all couldn’t help but “awwwh” at her sincerity and happiness. She also let me share her iPod on the way!
Upon arrival at the Vatican, I was floored. It was every bit as majestic and wonderful as I’d imagined. I’m sure that the beautiful architecture and immensity were impressive to all of the tourists, but for me as a Catholic, it was inexplicably comforting. I felt so blessed to be in the heart of Catholicism, to walk where the Pope walks. I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to experience such a place.
Only a few minutes later, my friends and I were reunited with my friend Jana from SLU America, who is currently studying abroad in Rome. Needless to say I was quite excited to see her (she lived across the hall from me freshman year), and our reunion was a blissful and shriek-filled one. After introducing us to her friends we stood around in St. Peter’s Square catching up on each others’ lives, all grateful to see familiar faces. And then one of the greatest moments of my study abroad experience happened- Way back in early February Lexi made reservations for we girls to go on what’s known as the Vatican Scavi Tour. At 11:00 we were allowed to pass the Swiss Guards and enter a back building of the Vatican, where we met our tour guide. For the next few hours he led us down underneath St. Peter’s Basilica, where we got to see the excavations that lie beneath. It was all very humid and dank, but incredible. We were allowed to see several mausoleums and tombs that had been uncovered, many of which were marked with the Chi Rho. The first Christians. We were then led to a different room where we were able to peer through rock and see the alleged bones of St. Peter himself. WOW. It was incredible. Although scientists are not 100% positive that the uncovered bones are from Simon Peter, there is significant evidence to prove that it is. Our guide told us to make of it what we will, and I for one was convinced. It was so amazing to me to think that this man, Simon Peter had interacted with the actual living man, Jesus Christ, and that he had eventually come to be the cornerstone of the Church. It was by far one of the most moving things that I have experienced as far as my faith. Our tour ended in the grotto of St. Peter’s Basilica, where many past popes are buried, including John Paul II. I’ll admit it- I was fighting back tears. It was definitely a worthwhile tour, and it’s something that I’d recommend to anyone looking into a trip to Rome. It was just amazing.
After our tour we met up with Jana again who led us to the most delicious sandwich shop I’ve ever been to. (Sorry Tienda Verde) Never have I had such fresh mozzarella, basil, and cherry tomatoes on a baguette- it was just as scrumptious as I expected Italy to be.
Following lunch we walked back to the Vatican and toured St. Peter’s Basilica. It. Is. HUGE. The cathedral itself is just incredibly beautiful, as it is decorated in the elaborate and somewhat over-the-top Baroque style. We also decided to pay the couple of euros and climb the 551 stairs that lead to the cathedral’s dome. It was a somewhat exhausting climb, but truly worth the trouble. Seeing the inside of that golden dome up close was just amazing, but the view of Rome from the outside was even better. From the top I could see the city of Rome stretched out before me, a beautiful city teeming with history and detail. I once again found myself speechless, unable to convey just how lucky I felt. Seriously someone pinch me- this can not be my real life!!
To complete our Italian cuisine experience Day 1, Jana took us to what is supposed to be one of the two best gelato shops in all of Rome- Old Bridge. I have to be honest when I say that prior to spring break I didn’t really understand the difference between gelato and ice cream, but oh man do I now!! Gelato is like a softer, creamier, richer ice cream. It is heaven on earth. Not to mention the fact that most places allow you to choose three flavors for the price of one- AH. MAY. ZING. I think that after ten days of trying different flavors I decided that Nutella is my favorite.
Our last Vatican stop of the day was of course, the Vatican Museum. It was a truly glorious and impressive museum filled with some of the world’s finest art. I know what you all want to hear about though… the Sistene Chapel. Yes, it is GORGEOUS. Yes, it is HUGE. Yes, it is detailed as can be. Unfortunately, the guards inside the museum tend to rush people through it, which was a shame. My friends and I just learned to veer towards the outside of the crowd so that we wouldn’t be ushered past too quickly. Also, I did not disappoint you guys- I illegally snapped a picture so that I could share the wonder with you all (:
Following the museum we went in search of dinner and ended up a a cute pizza and pasta restaurant… how typical. Now I will tell you, it is in no way an exaggeration when I say that pizza and pasta are all that Italians eat. Literally every restaurant that one finds has an extensive pizza and pasta menu, with a much smaller and more expensive meats/other dishes menu in the back. If I had chosen to study abroad in Rome, I would absolutely be obese right now. I would stand no chance against that tantalizing food. My first meal was a spinach and ricotta stuffed tortellini, which was just melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Viva Italia.
After our usual “stumbling around like idiots trying to figure out where the heck we are” routine, my friends and I eventually found our way back to Rome and to our good ole train station. One more tram ride and were home to the camping grounds. Though pretty darn exhausted from our first day of touring, we decided to play around in the hostel bar for a little while, where we were able to access the Internet. Contacting our families and loved ones- always a priority.
I was in a different room than the other girls, so before hitting the sheets I chatted up the two girls staying in my room, who were studying abroad in Granada- cool! (I always think it’s a good idea to be-friend your hostel roommates: less likely they’ll steal from you.)
All in all, our day in Vatican City was just exquisite, and a must-do for any Italy tourist. Random traveler’s tip: My friends and I were very concerned about having our shoulders and knees covered in the Vatican, so we all went out and bought long dresses and tights and whatnot. Turns out the rules have slackened considerably, as there were tons of people in blue jeans- what!? I also saw two boys in sweat pants and a girl in shorts… make of that what you will.