I was much kinder to my feet today and didn’t do a mad dash around the old quarters of the Eternal City. We woke up to blue skies and sunshine and decided we should probably hit the Vatican before noon. Sunday, as I suspected, is not the best time to visit the Vatican if you intend to visit the eight-kilometre long museum or the Papal gardens because they are closed due to the Sunday Papal blessing and audiences. The lines to get into St. Peter’s Square are long, but fast moving, and the Vatican authorities will ensure that everyone is in the Square before noon. Neither my daughter nor I like crowds so we remained on the Via della Conciliazione, where you can listen to the blessing and catch glimpses of the Pope via the large public viewing screens.
Champagne was not thrilled about the crowds either, and was more than happy to remain further away as well. After the quick photo opportunity to have her portrait taken with the Vatican in the background, she scrambled back into her basket without a meow of protest. All three of us were happy to sit on the sidewalk and watch the crowds walk by. Naturally, the moment the cat was spotted, there were the usual coos and expressions of amusement. One group of English women expressed their enthusiasm a bit too loud and ended up having a chat with us before we each moved on in our respective directions. My daughter suggested I should have just pasted the basic information with a link to Champagne’s Facebook page on the backpack, while another friend is of the opinion that Champagne should have her own calling cards.
After a leisurely stroll within the Vatican walls among the charming cobblestone alleys, we made our way back to the Piazza del Risorgimento to catch a bus to the Via del Corso, the main shopping area of Rome. Our aim was not to shop but to hunt for food, and the challenge was to find something with generous portions for a low price. Now that is a major challenge in Rome, because this city is bloody expensive when it comes to food. Maybe I’m more attuned to prices in Florence or got spoiled by the lower prices in Umbria, but Rome is a shock to the wallet. If you know where to look, however, and don’t want to land in McDonalds, then you can land a decent meal for a humane price, which is what we found in the Via di Pietra.
I am getting ahead of the story though. First, we got off at the wrong bus stop – a common mistake here in Rome because the buses never announce what the next stop will be, you just have to know exactly where you are going to get off. It is far easier to travel with the metro, but certain distances are more conveniently covered by the bus lines. Weaving our way through the narrow streets, we found ourselves at the gates of the minor basilica of San Lorenzo in Lucina, without really having a clue about it. It was small, dark, and old, like most other places in Rome, and were in the company of some German Franciscan monks, which was an interesting sign to me, for some reason. This non-descript church is not very enticing from the outside, but in fact dates back to 366 AD, and has had a long list of papal supporters since. Here I found the peace and quiet to pray that I so missed yesterday and was impossible at St. Peter’s Square.
The blue skies disappeared while we had our lunch (did I mention that eating gluten-free in Rome is a piece of cake? Probably even easier than in Berlin!) and the rains came pouring down. Our plans for a night walk were foiled but this turned out to be fortuitous because we sought refuge in the Galleria Alberto Sordi, a fancy mall very similar to the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle II in Milan, oozing of decadence and style, the ultimate sprezzatura statement. Unlike it’s big brother in Milan, however, it is possible to find a cup of coffee here for under 5 EUR.
There are Filipinos everywhere in Rome, both local residents and tourists alike, and while standing at the Vatican we were approached by two men with a flyer for a Filipino restaurant nearby where you could get a discount for blessed rosaries if you bought a minimum of five pieces. I am used to Pinoys adapting to other languages to survive, and hearing my countrymen speak fluent Italian is a source of pride, but when I hear an Italian souvenir salesman barking out offers in Tagalog, I am less amused and more intrigued. It should not come as a surprise though, considering all the Filipinos who come to Rome on pilgrimages and buy souvenirs!