If I were to write out all my thoughts from my last day in Rome, I’d have . . . well, probably I’d have a memoir! However, I’ll capture some of the basic events and photos for you now.
On my way to school, I said my last “Buongiorno, San Pietro!” as I crossed Via della Conciliazione.
I’m going to miss this view on the way to school!
We finished the last of the Level 2 books, so we took a test in class. I didn’t do very well (what would amount to a D+ or C- in my school), but I seemed on par with many of the other students. Actually, considering most of them spoke and understood more Italian than I did, I was pretty surprised I didn’t do far worse!
We had a break after the test, so I ran down to the local coffee shop for one last authentic cappuccino. Only one euro! And with two packets of sugar, even this non-coffee drinker found it pretty tasty. It was the same place we got a free cappuccino and croissant on our first day of class, so I felt I had come full circle. I was at the same place, but this time I wasn’t just handing the guy a coupon. I ordered in Italian, and like a real Italian, I stood at the bar to drink it instead of taking a seat.
Cappuccino con zucchero (I might almost be converted to a coffee drinker if we had cappuccinos this good back in the States.)
After the break, we finished up our class by going over our test results and then listening to an Italian song, proving yet again that listening is the hardest part of learning any language for me.
After class, my young Russian friend wanted to go to lunch again with her Serbian roommate and another Russian girl. However, they wanted to go back to the same salad place I’d already eaten at twice that week. No way was I doing that again. They charged us 2 Euros for bread! I told my young Russian friend that I wanted to go to the Musei Capitoline, which she had already been to, so I had a good excuse to slip away and spend some quiet time just soaking up Rome on my own one last time.
So I headed off toward the museums, stopping briefly to eat my lunch of an apple and some popcorn on the steps of Sant’Andrea della Valle, which some of you might remember was the first church we had mass in for my pilgrimage and where I got to be the lector. This church has definitely become an old friend for me.
Sant’Andrea della Valle
Then I continued my walk toward the museums, which are behind the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II (the first king of a unified Italy). Even if you’ve never been to Rome, you’ve seen pictures of this building that the Italians jokingly refer to as the “wedding cake.” Knowing how the Italians feel about it, I hadn’t originally put it on my list of things to see, but I also wasn’t really sure where the entrance to the museums was. My Russian friend said something about them being “to the right” of the monument.
Monument to Vittorio Emanuele (or as the Italians refer to it, the “wedding cake”)
To make a long story short, I ended up walking up into the monument, visiting briefly a museum display they had on the history of Italian soldiers (of which my grandfather, Angelo Cattapan, was one during World War I), and then coming up to the front to visit the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
You get a pretty nice view of Piazza Venezia from this first level of the monument.
Piazza Venezia from the steps of the Vittorio Emanuele Monument
However, if you want the really good views you need to pay 7 Euros to take the elevator up to the tippy top of the monument. Boy, am I glad I did! The views from up there are spectacular.
View from the top terrace of the monument
You feel like you have all of Rome at your feet. As this was the last day of my trip, it was the perfect spot for me to get a vantage point of my home from the previous two weeks.
Did you know iPhones can take panoramic pictures? You do now! The perspective is a tad skewed, but how cool is this?
To make things even better, there weren’t a ton of people there, and at times I felt like I almost had the place to myself.
Top Terrace at Vittorio Emanuele
I spent a lot of time up there, using the labeled photos to identify all the buildings I’d visited, and trying to somehow capture it all in photos and words. I actually sat down in the shade for a while and pulled out my journal.
Finally, I tore myself away. So where to next? The museums were close by, but it was just too beautiful a day to be cooped up in a museum. Instead, I headed to a church that was even closer to the monument than the museums: Santa Maria in Aracoeli.
That’s a lot of stairs to climb to get to church!
Santa Maria in Aracoeli can be reached via the massive staircase in the photo above. However, I had read a bit online where someone had said there was an entrance right off the Vittorio Emanuele monument. Sure enough, after I came down the elevator from the top terrace, which brings you to this sort of middle-level terrace, I found an opening that led right to the doors of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. In the photo above, it would be to the left at the top of the stairs.
Santa Maria in Aracoeli is another amazingly beautiful church. It was nice and quiet in there, so I took the opportunity to say some prayers, including praying for those people who had left special intentions on my Facebook page.
Santa Maria in Aracoeli
Well, where next then? Having already decided I’d rather walk around outside than inside a museum, I headed over the river to the Trastevere neighborhood. This is a pretty trendy spot to live in Italy. As my tour guide from the pilgrimage said, “I’m not cool enough to live in this neighborhood.”
That’s not to say that Trastevere is somehow snooty. It’s really rather charming.
The first place I stopped was the Basilica of Santa Cecilia. We had visited this church on the last day of our pilgrimage, but I wanted to go back for three reasons.
Santa Cecilia (It was a lot sunnier than it was on my first visit–in more ways than one.)
1) The church is beautiful. If I were a resident in Rome, this is where I’d want my wedding.
Interior of Santa Cecilia
2) I love St. Cecilia. As the patroness of music, she’s my mom’s favorite saint. Also, my very first article that was accepted for publication in an online children’s magazine was about St. Cecilia.
3) When we had come for the pilgrimage, I had missed out on visiting the tomb of St. Cecilia and the excavation site under the church. I hadn’t even realized you could buy a ticket to do so until it was time for us to leave! I had been too busy begging the intercession of St. Cecilia! So this time I paid the little nun to go down to the excavation site, which was small, but pretty cool.
Some of the excavations under Santa Cecilia. Basically, they think the area under the church is where her family really lived.
Also, I may have gotten in where I wasn’t supposed to go. Besides the excavation areas, there’s also a little chapel to St. Cecilia down there, and this is where her tomb is. While I was exploring, an Italian family was also walking around. A man and his daughter had just come out of the chapel area, and the dad was starting to lock up the gate to the chapel. I’m not sure if the chapel was supposed to be locked up or not. They were speaking Italian pretty fast, but I got the sense they had kind of snuck into the chapel themselves, but then the daughter looked at me and then said something to her dad about keeping it open for me.
The chapel that holds the tomb of Saint Cecilia
The dad looked at me and reopened the gate. Then he said something in Italian about Saint Cecilia.
“Qui?” I said. (Here?)
“Si,” and he pointed to a spot in the chapel.
Still unsure as to whether or not I was supposed to enter, I slipped in and said a prayer before the tomb of St. Cecilia. When I turned around, the dad and daughter were still waiting for me by the gate.
I gave them a quick “grazie” and headed out. The man locked the gate behind me, and I wondered if I’d just experienced another of God’s little graces on this trip.
After that, I headed over to nearby San Francesco a Ripa. I stayed only very briefly in this church. I don’t think it’s known for anything too spectacular, yet it’s still an incredibly beautiful church. I realized as I was sitting there that thousands upon thousands of artists over the last 2,000 years have put their blood, sweat, and tears into the artwork that fills these churches. It’s awe-inspring, it’s amazing, and I could write a whole blog post about it.
San Francesco a Ripa (don’t ask me what the Ripa part means)
Then it was time for a gelato stop. I headed over to Fatamorgana. Like San Crispino and Gelateria del Teatro, this was another gelato shop that was recommended in various books and/or websites. However, all three of these places failed to impress me. They served small portions for relatively high prices. San Crispino was worst for the price, and Fatamorgana was worst for the taste. These three shops might offer unusual flavors (I had white chocolate and rum plus chocolate and orange at Fatamorgana), but I’m not sure the unusual flavors were really worth it. The white chocolate and rum flavor at Fatamorgana was far more “ice” than “cream,” and gelato should definitely be creamy!
Don’t let the whipped cream fool you. The gelato underneath wasn’t nearly as good as the whipped cream itself.
The good part of my gelato stop (in addition to conducting my business there entirely in Italian–yay for the guy not switching into English for me!) was getting to eat the gelato at a nearby piazza that had an active playground for kids. You could tell this was a real family neighborhood in Rome.
Then it was off to Santa Maria in Trastevere, another church from the last day of my pilgrimage. I spent a good amount of time writing in my prayer journal in a small chapel with some college-age kids who looked like they were doing the same thing on some sort of retreat. (They had matching yellow shirts.)
Santa Maria in Trastevere
While I was in there, a bell rang and then I heard the now-familiar opening words for the mass in Italian. Without planning it, I had timed my visit for the 5:30 Friday night mass! So I slipped out of the side chapel and took a seat in the main church. Since the word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving,” attending mass seemed like a good way to spend part of my final evening thanking God for an amazing trip.
By the time mass ended, it was well after 6:00. Dinner is usually after 7:00 in Rome, so I spent a while strolling through the Trastevere neighborhood toward the center of Rome. I knew where I wanted to go for dinner, so I just took my time getting there. On the way, I stumbled upon yet another church, Santa Maria della Scala (St. Mary of the Staircase), and popped in for a quick photo.
Santa Maria della Scala
Then I wandered back over the Tiber and headed into the center of Rome. My destination was Polese, the restaurant where we’d had our first dinner of the pilgrimage. I even knew exactly what I wanted to order, and I was determined to do it all in Italian. Of course, the waiter greeted me in English.
Waiter: Good evening.
Me: Buona sera. Un tavolo per uno? (Good evening. A table for one?)
He pointed me toward a table: This one, okay?
Me: Qui? (Here?)
I was determined to fight back with Italian.
I took my seat at the end of one of the long tables that is out in front of Polese. One of the reasons why I picked this restaurant is because it sits along a piazza that actually has trees and green plants. There were about twelve seats at this long table, and a couple sat together at the opposite end.
The waiter asked me in English if I wanted water.
Me: No. (shaking my head emphatically) Un bicchiere di vino bianco della casa. (A glass of the house white wine)
I said it kind of slowly, the words still not flowing as naturally as I would’ve liked.
The waiter smiled at me and left me with the menu.
A few minutes later, another waiter came up to take my order. I requested the tonnarelli cacio e pepe and bruschetta al pomodoro.
Thankfully, he responded in Italian. “La bruschetta prima?” (The bruschetta first?”)
Me: Si, grazie.
While I was waiting for my first course, I looked around and realized I had been seated at the exact same table I had sat at when we’d eaten here for the pilgrimage. The only difference was that I was at the exact opposite end of the table. That first time I had sat in the end chair closest to the piazza. This time I was seated in the chair closest to the actual restaurant.
When it hit me what had happened, I had to keep myself from laughing out loud. Of course, God would seat me here! I’d come full circle. On the last night of this trip, I was back at the same place I had been on the first night of the pilgrimage. So why wouldn’t God also sit me at the same table? But even better, he had the waiter put me at the opposite end of that long table. Because that’s where I am now. Metaphorically and literally, I am at the opposite end of where I had been. I am not the same person I was at the start of the pilgrimage, and yet I’m also somehow simultaneously still the same person. I’m at the same table; I’ve just got a completely different perspective.
Polese on the first night of the pilgrimage (three months later I’d have a completely different perspective)
While I was eating my bruschetta, a woman came up and asked for a table for herself. The waiter sat her at the table across the aisle from me. She conducted all of her ordering in English, but I had to smile because there was something so familiar about her.
At first, I thought it was because she looked like someone Meryl Streep might have played in a movie once upon a time. Her hair was swept back and held up with a clip. She wore a fashionable blouse, and there was simply something of the carefree, confident global traveler about this woman.
And then I smiled some more because I realized I was looking at a kindred spirit. Immediately, my mind went back to my friend Ellie, from the cooking class on the previous Saturday. She had lived in Austria, London, Japan, and Australia. And now a few years after her husband’s death, she had returned to her home country of Austria and then traveled on her own to Rome. Something told me this woman had a similar story.
I debated asking her to join me for dinner, but I’m at heart a shy girl, and I’m always fearful of imposing on other people, so I finished my meal by myself, adding a dessert after I made sure I could pay for the meal with a credit card because I was running out of Euros.
Semi-freddo (half frozen) + amaretto (almond) = Yummy, yummy yummy!
But as I was eating my dessert, I remembered an article I’d read on the flight over to Rome, about the fun of talking to strangers when traveling. When I’d read it, I thought, “Well, that’s not me. I don’t talk to random strangers when I travel!”
But then I thought, “Maybe I should.”
So I paid my bill and walked over to the next table. “Excuse me. I hate to interrupt your meal, but I heard you speaking English. I’m from Chicago. Where are you from?”
“California,” she responded, and before I knew it, I was seated at her table having a lovely conversation about traveling. She was divorced, her son was changing jobs (he had been working at the same place she was), and she had decided to finally take some real time off and visit Europe. She spoke some French and some Spanish, so she had begun her six-week odyssey in those countries. Now she was making her way through Italy.
My instinct had been right. She was a kindred spirit. She spoke at least a little of some other languages and wasn’t afraid to use them. She traveled on her own, even willing to sit at a nice restaurant alone.
But most importantly, like Eleanor and me, she’s the kind of woman, who after going through some difficult times, picks herself up, dusts herself off, and heads off on a great adventure.
I could go on and on about the revelations I had that night, but maybe I’ll save those for the memoir.
I’ll wrap up by saying that I spent the last hour or so of my final night in Rome, sitting on the steps of the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square, gazing at the basilica brilliant under a crescent moon, and trying to journal out all my thoughts.
St. Peter’s and the moon
Eventually, I had to tear myself away. I had a flight to catch in the morning and a suitcase to pack.
And a whole cartload of memories to enjoy for a lifetime.
St. Peter’s Square is downright magical at night. Arrivederci, San Pietro!