Mi Piace, Mi Gusta – Days 14 and 15: Benvenuti a Siena!

I started typing this blog post out in the hallway of our little second-floor hotel in Siena. It’s the kind of place where you have to drag your luggage up the stairs because there’s no elevator and second floor really means two flights up.

So I spent like an hour in the hallway of the hotel typing up Saturday’s events, but the wifi cut out on me before it saved, so I’m now going to retype this whole thing from the apartment in Florence.

Someday when I get home, I’ll write a nice blog post about how to get to Siena by bus. Seriously, not easy. Even harder when your poor friend in another apartment wakes up late despite setting three alarms and my trying to reach her via cell phone, text message, Facebook message, and carrier pigeon (Well, you get the idea).

The good news is that we both eventually arrived in Siena, but I got there nearly two hours earlier. That gave me time to find the hotel, which was right in the city center and up and down a couple hilly streets. By the time I lugged my suitcase up the stairs to the reception of the hotel, I was exhausted. The reception room was very small–more like a little living room with a L-shaped couch and a small white desk for the receptionist.

The man behind the desk looked more African than Italian.

“Lei parla inglese?” I asked if he spoke English. I was too tired to trust my Italian.

“No,” he replied.

Ugh. “Parlo solo un po’ italiano. Ho una prenatazione?” I believe I told him I had a reservation.

He nodded, so I began to dig through my back for the receipt.

“No, no,” he said and then said something about just needing my name.

“Uh, mio nome? Amy Cattapan.” I started spelling my last name using the Italian pronunciation of the letters.

I only had to get to about the second t before he said, “Si, ma per due?”  (Yes, but for two?) He looked around me to find my missing friend.

“Lei è in ritardo,” I said. (She is late.)

“E in ritardo?” he said. “Your Italian is good.”

“Wait, you speak English?”

“Yes, but I wanted to make you speak Italian.” Then he gave me the rest of the directions about the hotel and the keys in Italian. He even lifted my luggage up the next flight of stairs to our hotel room.

After a quick bathroom break in our room, I headed out to get the lay of the land in Siena. I figured I could do a little reconnaissance before Katie arrived. I headed first to the Piazza del Campo, which is the main square people usually think of when  they picture Siena.


Right now there are getting ready for the big horse race in the square called the Palio. Each neighborhood in Siena has a horse in the competition. There are virtually no rules for this competition, except you can’t grab the reins of another rider’s horse. The horse doesn’t even need a rider to win!

Preparations right now include laying a ring of dirt around the outer edge of the square for the race track and setting up wooden bleachers in front of all the businesses that line the square. Spectators will also stand in the middle of the square while the horses race around them. Each neighborhood has its own flag and name, and we started seeing a lot of these flags being put up around Siena. I think I decided I liked the one with the owl best because it reminded me of Hedwig from harry Potter. The big race is on July 2.


I grabbed pizza at a little shop near the square and then walked around to find a gelateria that got rave reviews in my guide book, as well as the Duomo, the house of St. Catherine of Siena, and the church that has St. Catherine’s head (more on that later). I didn’t go into any of these places, but I knew where things were. Siena is a small town, and nothing was more than a  10-minute walk from our hotel. That being said, the town is very hill, so a 10-minute walk is still quite a workout.

By the time I had finished my reconnaissance tour, Katie had texted that her bus had arrived, so I went back to the bus stop to pick her up. Unfortunately, she had twisted one of her ankles while leavving Rome, so she got on her sturdiest shoes before we headed out of the “albergo” (hotel).

First stop was the Duomo. This is the big cathedral in Siena. For a discounted price, you get tickets into it, the Baptistry next door, the Museo dell’Opera, and the crypt.


the Duomo


We started with the Museo, which holds a lot of old religious artwork that needed to be preserved and could no longer remain in churches. Another cool thing about the Museo was that you can walk to the top  of this wall and  get panoramic views of the city. The area on top of the wall is only about 30 feet long and maybe five feet wide, and you have to walk up two very narrow spiral staircases, which was not so great for my claustrophobia or Katie’s ankle, but in the end we decided the view was worth it.

On top of the wall of the Museo dell'Opera with the Duomo in the background

On top of the wall of the Museo dell’Opera with the Duomo in the background

After the Museo, we visited the Duomo. I was a little surprised that a ticket was required (you don’t pay anything to visit the churches in Rome), but I did notice a sign that said if you were going to mass there, you didn’t have to pay. I guess the ticket price is to help cover the costs of the preservation work for the crypt below.


The wall we climbed (check out the teeny tiny people on top)

The wall we climbed (check out the teeny tiny people on top)

Katie and I didn’t get into the crypt, but we did visit the baptistry, which had some amazing art inside, too.

We tried to get in San Domenico (the church with St. Catherine’s head), but it was already closed for the night. It was about 7:00 p.m. by then, so we headed to the Piazza del Campo and found a restaurant frequented by a bunch of Italians. (When in a foreign country and a lot of restaurants are lined up right next to each other, go to the one that has the most people speaking the native language.)

The food was good (although not spectacular like our last dinner in Rome–I may need a separate blog post just for that little place). However, as the sun set, and the shadows of the buildings fell further and further across the square, I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to be dining there in Siena. This is the hometown of St. Catherine of Siena whom I admire a lot because she lived during a time when women didn’t a lot of status and certainly didn’t play a huge role in the church beyond becoming nuns. However, none of that stopped St. Catherine. She wrote to heads of states and told them what they should be doing! She brought about peace between family member and states. She care for lepers and consoled the dying. Most memorably, she wrote to the Pope who had fled to Avignon and told him to get himself back to the chair of St. Peter in Rome! And he did it!

She wrote a lot of very powerful and influential letters to people who you wouldn’t think would listen to a woman from a hill town in Italy, but they did listen to her! As a woman and as a writer, I have to admire what she did.

Sunday morning, we slept in a bit. Outside our hotel was a bar called the Jolly Cafe where a nice Italian woman served us cornetti con cioccolato (croissants with chocolate) and a cappuccino for me and a caffe latte for Katie. Also working at the bar was an extremely tall, but very nice man. Katie thinks he looked tall by Italian standards, but he reminded me of Goliath.


We visited San Domenico where St. Catherine’s head has been preserved since the 1300s. Why is her head (and thumb) in Siena while her body is in Rome? Well it appears that during those crazy Middle Ages people thought they could buy the body parts of saints in order to work miracles. No wonder Marrin Luther protested. Anyway, they wouldn’t let us take photos, but I can tell you that her head looks pretty good for being 700 years old. She’ swearing a veil, and her eyes appear closed. To me, it also looked there there was some deterioration around the mouth, but she was behind glass and about ten feet away so it was hard to tell.

No foto! But I snapped this quick photo inside San Domenico anyway.

No foto! But I snapped this quick photo inside San Domenico anyway.

After San Domenico, we attended 11:00 a.m. Mass at the chapel at the “Casa di Santa Caterina.” Two things I love about attending Mass in Italy:

1) the priests are really passionate about their homilies (Why or why can’t our priests at home get this excited about the Gospel?)

2) When we say the Nicene Creed, I away get a little choked up at the part about the “one, holy, catholic, apostolic church.” Notice this is catholic with the little c, which means “universal.” This always gets me. No matter where I travel in the world, I am always part of Christ’s universal church.

After Mass, I tried to climb up the big bell tower, but they were booked for the next hour, and we didn’t have much time left in Siena, so we grabbed a pizza lunch and sat in the piazza until it was time catch catch our bus to Florence.

I’ll talk more about Florence tomorrow. I’m tired tonight. :)

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Mi Piace, Mi Gusta – Day 13: Roma è la mia “montagna.” (Rome is my mountain.)

When people think of Rome, they often think of its seven hills, but after today I will always think of it as a mountain–my personal mountain. This may make you think of my post from Monday when I was talking about the uphill climb I’m having learning Italian, but I have a totally different meaning in mind this time. As Fraulein Maria would say, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”

This morning I told my landlady that I could not believe it was my last day at school in Rome. As I walked the familiar streets to school, I thought about what I would do on my last afternoon in Rome. Perhaps I would go to visit the churches I couldn’t see with Katie a couple nights ago. She had gone with some friends yesterday morning while I was in class. Maybe I could take some time this afternoon to make my own visit. It’s always nice to go back and visit old friends.

But when I got to class this morning, I quickly discovered that my plans would have to change.  Only one other student was there. By the time the teacher arrived, only three of us students were in the room. The teacher then explained that there was a strike going on today for bus drivers and Metro operators, so probably a lot of students would be late or not show up at all.

Uh oh. So much for visiting those churches on the other side of town.

During our morning break, I got my last Roman cappuccino at the best bar (a.k.a. coffeeshop) near school. After downing it  quickly (it’s a very busy place during the school’s break time), I walked to the piazza in front of school to eat a snack. I was kind of sad. My plans for the day were ruined.

Suddenly, a voice deep inside me said, “You don’t have to run all over. You can find me close by.”



Visiting old churches is like visiting old friends, but I don’t have to go to them to find God. He is everywhere–in the churches far from me and in the churches close to me; in the people I see in class and in the people I pass on the street; in the museums and in the coffee bar.

Then I began to wonder if this meant I shouldn’t have traveled to Italy at all. I can meet God at home, too. But then I remembered that even Jesus had to take time away from his friends and family to go off alone on a mountain to pray. He needed to be away from the ordinary, away from the crowds that always wanted his attention in the cities or along the shore, away even from the people He loved so much. He went to the mountain to talk with His father, to have that close relationship that comes from time dedicated solely to nourishing that bond.

Rome has become my mountain. It is the place I go to when I need to reconnect with God in a way that is different from my ordinary prayers. I can’t spend forever here, just like Jesus couldn’t remain on top of the mountain, but it is good for me to come here occasionally (and I’m extremely blessed to be able to do so), so that I can have that experience away from the ordinary.

In the months leading up to this trip, all my free time outside of work was spent on marketing for my book. I’d been warned that the real work for authors comes *after* writing the book. It was exhausting to be sure and consumed much of  my time. This trip forced me to take a break from all that marketing, a break I think I really needed. It’s easy to get caught up in Goodreads reviews and Amazon rankings.

Today’s bus strike forced me to take a break from playing tourist, too. I spent a long time in Chiesa Nuova this afternoon (a church near school). Partly I just sat, partly I prayed. I wrote a good amount in my prayer journal, and for a while I just listened to some music on the
“meditation” playlist on my phone.

Chiesa Nuova

Chiesa Nuova


When I hit “shuffle,” the first song that came up was “Oceans” by Hillsong United. It was a song my spiritual  director had recommended to me last year when I was learning to trust in God’s plan, and it was the perfect meditation song in the church. And God was there–in the church near school. I’m sure if I had traveled to those other churches, I would’ve found Him there, too. But it’s nice to know it’s okay if I don’t make it to the Scala Santa or Santa Maria Maggiore on this trip.

Tomorrow I head to Siena, and God will meet me there, too. :)

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Mi Piace, Mi Gusta – Day 12: Il Tempo Vola (Time flies)

How could it possibly be that I have only one more full day left in Rome? Where did the time go? I’m sure to my mother it must seem like I’ve been away forever, and while I miss my family, I still feel like the time has flown by really quickly. These two weeks seem a lot shorter than the two weeks I spent here last summer for the Speak, Pray, Cook tour.

This morning’s class was on family relationships and the “ne” partitive. It’s difficult to explain because we don’t have any exact synonym in English. It’s like a pronoun and can be something like “any” or “of those.” For  example, if someone asked you how many apples you wanted, you could say, “Ne prendo 6.” (Of those I’ll take six.)

After class, I headed to the Musei Capitolini, which is a pair of museums on the Capitoline Hill. I only ended up visiting one of the two museums since I like to appreciate my art in smaller doses. Here are  a couple things I saw. (Hopefully, the pics turn out right-side up.)

Romulus and Remus and the she-wolf:




Caravaggio’s Gypsy Fortune-Teller (Notice how she’s pretending to read his palm. Apparently, she’s actually stealing his ring.)


The views from the museum are pretty nice, too.


Then I stopped by the Trevi Fountain to discover that it is still under renovation.


Then I bused it out to the train station Katie and I will be taking on Saturday to get to Siena. I’m really glad I went there ahead of time to get the tickets, because it’s a major station with inter-city trains, Metro trains, city buses, and inter-city buses. I’ll be much more relaxed Saturday morning knowing that our tickets are purchased, and I know right where to go.

After class today, I met up with Katie and some of her classmates. Someone in their class had brought up Giolitti’s, which is a famous gelato place I’ve been to many times in the last year. I had told Katie we should go, and when her classmate brought it up again today, she asked if today could be the day we visit it. Why not! We don’t have much time left in Rome!

So six of us headed out to Giolitti’s with me leading the way since I’m the only one in the group who had been  there before. When we turned the corner, I said, “Uh oh, this doesn’t look good.”


There was a film crew blocking the street right in front of Giolitti’s. Those of you around for Speak, Pray, Cook last year, might remember the day I walked across Ponte Sant’Angelo while they were filming a TV show. I wondered if this was another TV show or a movie.

We couldn’t see much of what was going on, and we debated where we should go next since Giolitti’s seemed out of the question. But then one of the crew guys told us they were leaving, and we’d be able to get in soon.

Sure enough, they lifted the yellow tape five minutes later, and there was a rush into Giolitti’s. (It really is popular and always crowded.)

So there I am, fighting the crowd to get my limoncello and raspberry  gelato, as the film crew wraps up their cables and picks up their dolly tracks. As soon as I get my cone, I turn around and see two of the other girls from our group.

“You just missed Ben Stiller,” one of them says.


“He was seated right over there.” She points to a table just a few feet from us. “And then he walked right past us.” She holds up her phone and shows me a picture she snatched with about 60% of Ben Stiller showing.

Yep. I was so distracted by gelato that I missed the fact I was standing within feet of Ben Stiller.

After our gelato escapade, we headed to Campo de’ Fiori to check out the action, and then had dinner at my favorite wine bar, Mimi e Coco. Last, but not least, we found a liquor store handing out free samples of limoncello. Only in Italy.

Tonight I’m back at the apartment where I spent a few minutes out on my balcony overlooking the northern Roman hills. I can’t believe my time here is almost over. It seems like I waited for so long to return here, and sometimes I need to nearly pinch myself to realize I’m really here. I’m actually typing my blog post at this ancient little desk while the Roman teenagers hang out in front of the school across the street.

While I’m sad that my time in Rome is nearly at an end, I can comfort myself that I still have adventures in Siena, Florence, and Madrid to look forward to.

Buona notte, tutti!

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Mi Piace, Mi Gusta: Day 11 – Ho scritto un libro. (I wrote a book.)

Today’s Italian class was a continuation of our lesson on passive voice verbs, but we were also talking about books and libraries. During the opening part of our lesson, we had a series of questions to ask a partner about reading and writing. One of the questions was “Hai mai pensato di scrivere un libro?” (Have you ever thought of writing a book?)

Uh . . .  well . . .yes.

So of course, I had to tell my partner about my book, and the substitute teacher that we had for today happened to be walking past us at the time, so then I had to tell her about it too.

At the end of class, we had to pair up and  pretend that we were either editors at a publishing house or writers who had just written a book. Guess what my partner and I pretended!

Then we had to write about our book and prepare to try to “sell” our books to the publishers. So basically, I was translating the query letter from Angelhood into Italian today! Explaining my book in English is hard enough. Trying to explain in Italian with a limited Italian vocabulary is really hard! However, just like in English, it seemed to get easier the more I did it.

After class, I walked toward the Spanish Steps, not so much to see them, but because I was on the hunt for the apartment used in the movie Roman Holiday. Katie had read in her tour book that you could see it–at least from the outside. I’d also found a website that said the same, so using the address from the website, I headed off to this location north of the Spanish Steps.

This is what I found:


On the door to the right was a sign that said it was forbidden to enter (private property). So much for that! Maybe they got tired of tourists coming around.

On my way home, I passed through the  Piazza del Popolo, where they are setting up for a huge concert series. I tried to ask a guy there who was playing, but he just said, “Domani (tomorrow).”


After working on some homework and travel plans at home (which got really frustrating when I couldn’t find what I wanted online), I met Katie at school. We tried to take the Metro out to visit some churches, but the trains were so full we could not get on. Eventually, we gave up and just ate dinner in the neighborhood.

I’m tired and hope to get to bed early tonight. One nice surprise today was finding the Church of St. Joachim (Mary’s father) during my afternoon wanderings. It’s called “international” because it has separate chapels for a lot of different countries, like one with a painting of St. Patrick for Ireland, and one with a statue of Mary (Immaculate Conception) and paintings of women from the Bible (e.g. Ruth and Esther). It wasn’t a terribly old church but built to look like one. The best part was that it was open in the afternoon (when a lot of churches close), so I got to have some quiet time inside.image


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Mi Piace, Mi Gusta – Day 10: Niente speciale (nothing special)

Tonight’s blog post will be short because nothing too unusual happened today. In the morning, I stumbled my way through Italian class. (We’re learning passive voice verbs. Ugh!)

After class, I stopped in Chiesa Nuova for some quiet prayer time. I expected to be closed for the “riposo” (siesta), but it wasn’t. While I was there, I lit a candle and said some prayers for my aunt who passed away a couple days ago. I’m sorry I can’t be home for the funeral, but my mom and I agreed that praying for her in Rome is a pretty good substitute for actually being there.

Candle lit for my aunt in front of a painting of the Assumption of Mary at Chiesa Nuova. I think she'd like this painting. :)

Candle lit for my aunt in front of a painting of the Assumption of Mary at Chiesa Nuova. I think she’d like this painting. :)

Then I ate a quick lunch outside the church.

Afterward, I found the gelato spot that Katie and I had failed to find the night before. Turns out we had been only a few doors down from it when we gave up and turned around.

Then I went back to the apartment where I tried to ask Marcella about how to catch the bus to Siena on Saturday. Unfortunately, I was really having trouble understanding what she was saying. I got only a few words and then had to put those words together with the info I could find online.

After working on homework, I returned to school to meet Katie after her class. We went out to a bar with three of her classmates for some pre-dinner drinks. It was a very American sort of bar.

Then we went to the Tuesday night dinner organized by the school. We had a full meal with bruschetta, a main course (I had pizza with tuna), and then dessert. I was so full afterward I thought my stomach would burst. Thankfully, the restaurant was close to our apartments, so Katie and her roommate headed back to their apartment, and I returned to mine.

Pizza con tonno (pizza with tuna)! Who would've guessed this exists? Not me! But I like it!

Pizza con tonno (pizza with tuna)! Who would’ve guessed this exists? Not me! But I like it!

That’s it. Simple day, right? But that’s okay because it’s still a day in Rome!

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Mi Piace, Mi Gusta – Day 9: Sulla Collina (Up the hill)

Today I went uphill both figuratively and literally.

Let’s start with the figurative.

After a weekend of mostly speaking English, it felt like I had to shake my brain back into Italian. Even walking to school this morning, I was thinking, “How am I going to speak Italian in class today? I feel so out of it.”

Class began with some conversation about what we did this weekend. I’m still really struggling with understanding Italian when I listen to it. I get some words here and there, and then I try to guess at filling in the missing words in between. Sometimes I completely misunderstand the meaning. For example, when we first arrived, I thought my landlady had said something to Katie and me about going to a cafe for dinner, but instead she had offered us “caffe” (coffee)! Oops. I had said yes to drinking coffee at 6:00 p.m.

Sometimes I also have trouble saying exactly what I want, even when I know the words I want to use. For example, the other day I was waiting at a busy piazza for Katie. There were a lot of guys trying to sell selfie sticks and “discount” tickets to the Vatican museums. As I looked around for Katie, a guy walked up to me and said in English, “Are you looking for something?” I didn’t want to get caught up in any tour he was going to try to sell me, so I responded back in Italian, “Aspetto un’amica.” (I’m waiting for a friend.) However, I said it so rapidly, I think it came out as “Aspetta (not aspetto) un’amica.” That one little letter difference changes the subject and meaning entirely. Instead of saying “I’m waiting for a friend,” I think I told him to go wait for a friend! No wonder he seemed a bit shocked by my response! Imagine asking a person who you think is a tourist if she is looking for something, and she tells you, “Go wait for a friend!” Well, at least, he left me alone after that. These salespeople near the Vatican can be really pushy. If another person tries to sell me a selfie stick, I shudder to think how I might respond.

Anyway, all of this is to say that I’m feeling a bit discouraged by my progress in Italian. I’m so envious of Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote in Eat, Pray, Love that she kept waiting for Italian to open up for her and eventually, it really did. This morning, I felt like Italian would never really open up for me. That it would never let me in to really be a part of it. It felt like a terribly uphill climb.

Not only an uphill climb, but a climb up a hill that seems to have no top in sight. It’s a never-ending uphill climb.

And thus, I went uphill figuratively this morning.

After class, I decided to wander Gianicolo, a hill between the Vatican and Trastevere. I’d never been there before, but I’d heard there were lovely views of the city.

Of course, getting to a lovely hilltop means making a literal uphill climb. As I wandered the switchback streets (a little reminiscent of San Francisco), I thought about how my literal uphill climb paralleled my figurative uphill climb with regard to learning Italian.

First, there’s no way to get to the top without moving uphill. If you want the great views from the hilltop, you’ll  have to make your way up there one way or another. Sometimes that means lots of switchback trails that seem to take forever and only get you a small way up the hill. Other times, you find a little staircase that lets you skip up a whole level in a fraction of the time.

My hidden staircase up Gianicolo

My hidden staircase up Gianicolo

Part 2 of my secret staircase.

Part 2 of my secret staircase.

Learning a language is like this, too. Sometimes you work and work and work and don’t seem to get very far. Other times, something happens, and a whole section of the language opens up. You learn to conjugate verbs in past tense, and now you can say all sorts of things you couldn’t say before. Or you learn the vocabulary for a particular topic, and you can have conversations about things you previously had known nothing about.

Next, sometimes you just have to rest for a while. It’s good to stop for a  little “riposo” along the way. Halfway up the hill, I stopped near a beautiful viewpoint to catch my breath and drink some water.


There was a fountain, and some little boys were playing ball. The red ball fell into the fountain. The bambini stretched their hands out into the water, but the ball only seemed to float away more. Finally, a man came along and rescued the ball for them.  The whole time the boys seemed happy. I guess they just figured the ball would come back to them eventually. I smiled as I watched the stranger return the ball to them.

The fountain where the  boys lost their ball

The fountain where the boys lost their ball

When learning a language, it’s okay to take a  break  now and then, and there’s no point getting upset if the language seems to get away  from you for a while like that red ball got away from the boys. Eventually, someone will help you out, and you’ll get back in the game.

Finally, the effort seems to make the results all the more worth it, doesn’t it? At one point, I debated how much farther up the hill I should go. I had a long walk back to the apartment still. Also, I wasn’t entirely sure if there was a path down on the other side. But I hadn’t quite gotten the viewpoint I’d wanted yet, so I decided to press onward (er, upward?). Finally, I came to a spot with a gorgeous viewpoint. As the view of Rome below me came into view, I got a little teary-eyed. What is it about this city that does this to me? Or was it just the effort of climbing all the way up there and then having it finally pay off?

View of Rome from Gianicolo

View of Rome from Gianicolo

Someday maybe I’ll get to the “top of the hill” when it comes to learning Italian. Maybe it will finally reveal itself to me as it did to Elizabeth Gilbert. Maybe its full beauty will be laid out before me just like the city of Rome was today.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get a little teary-eyed again.

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Mi Piace, Mi Gusta – Day 8: Buon Compleanno (Happy Birthday)

Today was Katie’s birthday. Celebrating your birthday in Rome is pretty special, but I was hoping we could find some ways  to make it extra special. As you know, things don’t always work out as planned.

We started by meeting near St. Peter’s Square. Our goal was to get into St. Peter’s for the 10:30 a.m. Mass, but when we arrived nearly 45 minutes early, the line to get into the basilica was nearly wrapped all the way around the square. It didn’t seem likely that we’d get past security in time for Mass.

Luckily (or perhaps by God’s design), Katie had run into another girl from our school. She knew of another church inside the Vatican that had masses nearly every hour. The next would be starting in five minutes.

“And we can get into this church inside the Vatican?” Katie and I asked.

“Sure,” she said and pointed us back to a gated entrance just north of St. Peter’s Square. There were Swiss guards there, but they were letting people into a church just inside the gates. We followed  the people in and soon found ourselves in this beautiful small church dedicated to St. Anne, Mary’s mother. The Mass was in Italian, but they had guides for following along. We had trouble following the homily, but the three of us seemed to understand one basic  point; namely, that when we have troubles and our faith is small, God can help our faith to grow and then it will be bigger than our problems.

After Mass, we thought we might catch Pope Francis doing his Sunday Angelus, but it turns out he was in Turino for a special Mass, which was being broadcast on the JumboTrans at St. Peter’s.

Thus, we moved on to our next activity–heading out of the city to visit the ruins of Ostia Antica. This is an ancient Roman  port town that was eventually covered up by a malaria-infested swamp. Although this swamp land drove people away, it preserved the area in much the same way that the volcanic ash preserved Pompeii.

To get to Ostia Antica, we had to take the Metro A line to the Termini station at the center of town, transfer to the Metro B line for several stops and then take a half hour train ride out to Ostia Antica. In all, the trip was about an hour from the Vatican.

Since Ostia Antica is a ways from the city, it was pretty quiet, which I think was a change that Katie and I both enjoyed. We both also really enjoyed the weather. It was sunny with a light breeze and not too hot, especially if you were in the shade.

We tried to follow the Rick Steves’s audio guide to the ruins but had trouble figuring out exactly what he was talking about at times.

The ruins start with the necropolis (another city of the dead) outside the old city walls.

See all those niches? They held the cremated remains of the dead.

See all those niches? They held the cremated remains of the dead.

We also saw the remains of the old warehouses where goods were stored when they were brought into this port town. Further along, we came to a set of stairs we could climb that would allow us to look down at the old baths, and we got a view of this cool mosaic flooring depicting Neptune.


One of the coolest parts for me was the old ampitheater. Katie wanted to play her flute there, and I was ready to burst into a  Shakespearean monolgue oer poem, but Katie joked I should read from my book there. Ha!


We also saw “Square of Guilds,” whichh (based on Rick Steves’s guide) sounded like an ancient strip mall. Each store advertised its good and services via mosaic pictures and Latin inscriptions out front.

Square of the Guilds

Square of the Guilds


It took a while to get home, but we enjoyed some pizza and gelato when we returned, as well as a celebratory birthday drink at a nearby bar.




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Mi Piace, Mi Gusta – Day 7: Cucinare (To Cook)

{Note: I’m blogging this on my iPad, and that means sometimes pictures that look right-side up to me might look upside-down or sidewise for others. My apologies if the photos don’t look right to you. I’ll fix them when I’m back on a regular computer. In the meantime, more photos can be seen on my Facebook page and Instagram.}

Today I got to do something I’ve been waiting a year to do. Those of you who have been following me for a while may remember that during last year’s trip to Rome, I took a cooking class. However, it was not the cooking class I had originally wanted to take. I had been hoping to get into Chef Andrea’s Cooking Classes in Rome, but it was already booked for that one free Saturday that I had during my trip.

So this year when Katie and I started planning our trip back in February, I immediately said, “Let’s try to get into that cooking class in Rome that I couldn’t get into last year.” Well, it’s a good thing we booked it right away because Chef Andea’s classes book up at least three months in advance.

Chef Andrea’s school is located in the fashionable and family-friendly neighborhood of Trastevere, which (as its name implies in Italian) is just across the Tiber River from the center of Rome. Katie and I arrived a bit too early, so we stopped in a nearby bar for some coffee (cappuccino for me, caffe latte for her). Like proper Italians, we drank ours standing up at the bar. (Only 1 Euro! I love it!)

A different type of  glass for each type of wine, plus a glass of water for good measure

A different type of glass for each type of wine, plus a glass of water for good measure

When we walked into Chef Andrea’s school, four other students were already there, and the table was already set. Katie and I had opted for  the additional wine pairings with each course, so there were four different wine glasses set up at our places. Chef Andrea came out of the kitchen to greet us and offered us coffee, some little pieces of toast with three different jams, and some really yummy pastries for breakfast.

Once everyone had arrived (a few people were a teensy bit late because they got lost even  though their hotel was around  the corner–just take that as a warning that it’s easy to pass by the small entrance to the school), Chef Andrea explained the menu for the day and then led us back to the kitchen.

The  appetizers we made were Fiori di Zucca. These are zucchini flowers that we had to take the stamen out of. Then we stuffed them with things like prosciutto and mozzarella. They were later fried in a beer batter.


We even made a really yummy red pesto sauce for dipping the zucchini flowers. Super yummy! Seriously, I don’t  have the words to describe how good this was. Even though the zucchini flowers were fried, they weren’t greasy or heavy, and the sauce was just heavenly.


Our first course was cavatelli pasta in a fresh tomato sauce. Katie and I helped to peel a lot of tomatoes for this sauce, but it was worth the messy  hands covered in tomato guts. :) We also had a lot of fun using our  thumbs and these cool wooden paddles to roll the pasta into the cavatelli shape.


For our second course, we had Roman style chicken with peppers and roasted potatoes. Simple but very yummy. (Here’s the thing I’ve learned from the Italian cooking classes I’ve taken. They don’t load their  food with tons of different ingredients  and spices. Simple recipes with good, fresh ingredients make all the difference.)

Roman style chicken with peppers and roasted potato

Roman style chicken with peppers and roasted potato

Then for  dessert we made tiramisu.  Some of you know I’ve made this before using a recipe from a cookbook I bought in Rome last year. Good to do Chef Andrea’s recipe was the same. Hint:  if you’re making your tiramisu with liquor, you’re making it wrong. Or at least, you must be planning on not finishing it soon, so you’re using the liquor as a preservative.

We each got a personalized dessert plate.

We each got a personalized dessert plate.

There were a total of twelve students in the class, and everyone was really nice. Chef Andrea is a lot of fun, and he takes his time to explain why the Italians cook the way they do. You’ll learn a lot and have a great time in his class.

The class started at 10:00 and went until at least 3:00, after which Katie and visited a few of the beautiful churches in the Trastevere neighborhood (Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santa Cecilia, and San Francesco a Ripa). Unfortunately, a wedding was just about to start at Santa Cecilia, so Katie and I will have to head back there some day.

Chef Andrea and me

Chef Andrea and me

If you find yourself in Rome and you enjoy cooking, try Chef Andrea’s Cooking Classes in Rome. You’ll have fun, learn something new, meet nice people, and eat some truly amazing food. Seriously. I wish I were better at describing food with words or that I could send some of it to all of you. Sorry. You’ll just have to come here yourselves.

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Mi Piace, Mi Gusta – Day 6: Una tipica giornata a Roma (a typical day in Rome)

For today’s blog post, I’m joining with the Spin Cycle blog prompt over at Lemon Drop Pie. Our prompt for this week is to talk about our typical day or our routines, so I’m going to talk today about a typical day in Rome for me.

My day begins with two annoying alarm clocks because I have difficulty waking up. I’ve got my iPhone alarm and a travel alarm clock. I usually hit snooze on both.

After showering and dressing, I lift the wooden blinds that lead out to my balcony and take a moment to savor the beautiful view of the northern Roman hills before heading into the kitchen where I join my landlady who has made a little cup of coffee for me. I add sugar and milk, of course. With my coffee, I eat some yogurt or a piece of fruit.  I do this quickly because it is suddenly 8:25  a.m., and that means it’s time for me to leave for school. With a quick “Ciao!” I run out the door and down the seven flights of stairs to the ground level. I could  take the elevator, but it’s one of those ancient cagey types that creak a lot and creep me out, so I try to use it only for going up.

Using an app on my phone, I discovered today that the walk to school is 1.52 miles, which takes me about 27 minutes after I get down all those stairs. I walk through a nice residential neighborhood (home to a  lot of doctors and lawyers, so it’s safe) and pass a number of cafes where people are getting their cappuccino (because morning is the proper time for cappuccino). Soon, I cross the Via della Conciliazione, where I wave to St. Peter’s Basilica and say, “Buongiorno, San Pietro!” (Okay, I do this in my head, but you get the idea.) Then I cross the Tiber River into the center of Rome, where I pass a lot of tourists looking lost and taking pictures. From the Tiber, it is only another 5-10 minutes to school.

Every morning, the same white-haired man, dressed in black pants, a white shirt, and a black vest, greets everyone who walks into the building. The building holds several different offices and businesses, and I think he must run the whole building.

Up a flight and a half of stairs, I turn into the hallways that hold my language school. Through these narrow hallways, I find my way to my room where often a few students already wait. At 9:00 a.m., the teacher enters, and we start class. We have a workbook and worksheets that we use, plus general conversation (for example, today we all talked about our plans for the weekend).

After an hour and a half, we take a fifteen-minute break, which isn’t a lot of time to visit the restroom and grab a quick coffee, especially since my favorite little cappuccino spot from last year has closed.

Then it’s back to class for another hour and a half of instruction. Class gets out at 12:15. Usually,  I’ll grab a small bit to eat then. It may be some fruit, a panino from a local shop, some “pizza by the slice,” and/or gelato. These I usually eat outside at a piazza where I can  partake of some people watching.

Then I might do a little grocery shopping or visit a church if I find one open, but a lot of them close for a “riposo” (a siesta) for a bit in the afternoon.

Back at the apartment, I work on my homework and maybe do a little reading and/or writing. My landlady is often home then, so I chat with her for a little bit.

In late afternoon, I head back out. Usually this means meeting up with Katie after her afternoon class, although I may make a stop somewhere before meeting her. It’s nice when I can find a quiet church where I can pray while contemplating some truly amazing works of art.


Madonna and Child (Mary and Jesus) at the Pantheon (which is a church, don’t forget!)


Our evenings are spent doing a little sightseeing and finding some dinner. They may also include the evening activities with the school, like the orientation meeting on Monday, the group dinner on Tuesday, or the guided tour on Wednesday.

Evenings here in Rome are truly beautiful. The sun is low in the sky, and there’s often a light breeze. The streets fill with people going for walks, whether they are just strolling, shopping, or searching for a great gelateria.

Tiber River at night

Tiber River at night

Then the sun sets, and the piazzas really come to life. Children play, nuns eat gelato, couples flirt, musicians play, and tourists stop for photos.

Not a bad typical day, huh?

Added not: Katie said I should tell you about the gelato fest tonight, and to be sure, gelato is definitely a part of our typical day in Rome. However, Katie and her roommate saw a newspaper notice about a gelato fest, so we took a tram north and found the fest. Really, it was just a few gelato trucks with different flavors to try. They were unique flavors that I think were supposed to have been made by  celebrity chefs. For example, one flavor we had  was called Coure di fragola al muscovado and had strawberries, brown sugar, and Brazilian brandy.

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Mi Piace, Mi Gusta – Day 5: Non funziona (It doesn’t work)

Last night I couldn’t finish my blog post because the  wifi in my apartment seemed to cut out. After a frustrating hour or so, I went  to  bed around midnight. Four hours later I wa awakened by  a weird nightmare involving Harry Potter and zombies (I blame it on that Harry Potter Lego statue I saw the other night and posted on Facebook and Instagram).

To make it even worse, the wind blew the French doors off my balcony open, and I awoke from my nightmare convinced  someone had entered my room. However, that would have been impossible. The doorway to my balcony has these heavy wooden-slat type of blinds that come down at night. They only  be lifted from the inside, and there is only enough room between the slats to let a little air in. Also, I’m up on the seventh floor. No  way is someone getting onto my balcony, much less through the wooden slats.

Nonetheless, by the time I’d come to this rational thought, I was completely awake and couldn’t fall back asleep until it was nearly time to wake up again.

When my alarm went off, I begrudgingly awakened. I got even crankier when I realized the wifi still wasn’t working. I decided to leave for school a little early to see if I could get my blog to post via the wifi there. However, the wifi wasn’t working in my classroom either.

During break, I took my iPad to the hallway. Up and down I walked trying to get a wifi signal. Finally, I found a weak signal in the stairwell. However, it was going too slowly and didn’t finish before the break ended.

After class, I tried again, but I was still having difficulty. The signal seemed to have disappeared from the stairwell. Finally, I got reconnected and posted the blog, but by this time, I was incredibly tired (given the five or so hours I’d had of sleep) and really hungry.

imageAfter grabbing a quick lunch, I returned home to drop off my school stuff and ran off to meet Katie. We had tickets for the Scavi tour at St.  Peter’s. Only a small number of people can take this tour each day, and you have to request your tickets in advance. The tour takes you two levels below St. Peter’s to the  necropolis (city of the dead, or  cemetery) that was on the original Vatican hill. This is where  St. Peter was buried. Constantine wanted to build a monument for St. Peter, so he had the  old cemetery hill covered with dirt so that the land would  be leveled off for the monument. Then a church was built around  the monument. Twelve hundred years later, a pope decided it was time for a new church, and it was built on top  of the old one. This is the current St. Peter’s that we  know today. The old church underneath it is where many of the old popes are now buried.

The tour took us through the excavated part of the old necropolis (think family mausoleum after family mausoleum) right up to where they believe St. Peter was buried. Then we went up a level to where the monument to him was built. On the wall there are prayers people wrote. There is also writing that says something like “Peter is  here.”

Finally, we were free to walk around the “old church” level where the popes are now buried and then up to the current-day basilica. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take pictures during the Scavi tour, but I  got this nice shot of St. Peter’s before we left.

imageHomework and dinner in the our neighborhood tonight. Here’s hoping the wifi  works tomorrow, or you may not see a blog post from me again for a bit. I’m typing this one in Katie’s apartment. :)


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