Although this is my third time in Rome, I’ve only taken public transportation once before in this city. It was back in 2001 when my younger brother, my friend and I came on a tour. We arrived fairly early in the day, so we had several hours to kill before meeting up with our group for the welcome dinner. Why not go out and explore the city? According to our maps, the Colosseum didn’t look too far away.
Well, our maps were not the best, and if you’ve ever been to Rome, you know the streets aren’t nice and linear like they are in Chicago. So finding the Colosseum took a lot longer than we thought. By the time we got there, we had to turn around and head back. Somehow we got very lost–like couldn’t-find-ourselves-on-the-map kind of lost. We had the address of the hotel, but no one we asked spoke much English or even recognized our hotel’s name or street. I was beginning to think our hotel was imaginary.
Finally, we met a man who, although he didn’t speak English, took pity on three young Americans, got out a Metro map, and pointed out what routes to take. We had gotten so far from the hotel that we had to take one Metro line into the center of town (Termini) and then the other line back out in a different direction.
So far on this trip, I’ve been able to walk everywhere, but I wanted to see some churches farther east of my comfortable walking zone, so it was time to hit the bus. And I was determined not to get so lost this time!
In Rome, you buy bus tickets at newspaper stands or tobacco shops (yes, smoking is extremely prevalent here; even my sixty-something-year-old landlady/roommate Marcella likes a Cuban cigar now and then). So I bought one ticket (1.50 Euro) after class today. (By the way, today’s class was on reflexive pronouns. Being an English teacher sure does come in handy when learning a foreign language!)
The bus lines seem as confusing to me as the streets. Since there are no real straight thoroughfares through town, the buses weave all over the place, making it hard to remember what bus goes where.
Thankfully, I happened upon a little app that is making it much easier for me. The app is called Moovit. You tell it where you want to go, and it tells you what forms of public transportation you can take, including what time the next bus or train will arrive.
For example, from school today, I wanted to visit the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (St. Mary of the Angels). It found my current location and then found the basilica after I typed in the name. It told me to walk to Piazza Chiasa Nuova (the square in front of the church next to the school), take bus 64 (and it gave me its approximate arrival time), how many stops to ride it, and what stop to get off. Plus how many more meters I would have to walk to get to the church. It even shows you a map while you are moving with an avatar-style icon (I chose the Italian girl avatar naturally) that follows you down the street. So I was able to watch my progress as I was riding the bus.
Santa Maria degli Angeli
I was surprised by how big and open this church was. It was built in the 1500s inside of some old Roman baths. The outside has been kept relatively simple.
The inside, however, was designed by Michelangelo. It’s in the shape of a giant Greek cross. In other words, the four sides of the cross are about equal in size. The church has many beautiful angel statues and paintings.
Another cool feature is the meridian line that was added to the church floor. At the right time of day (solar noon), the sunlight enters through a small window and falls on the floor, marking the time of the year.
After visiting this basilica, I decided to hit one more “Mary church.” This one was only a short walk away.
Santa Maria Maggiore
I had visited this church on my pilgrimage last April, but since it was so close and I still had a bit of time before my bus ticket expired (you got 100 minutes to ride as many buses as you want, plus one Metro ride), I decided to make a quick stop.
This is the church Pope Francis visits when he says he’s going to “go to the Madonna.” To the left of the main altar is a side chapel with a picture of the Blessed Mother above the chapel’s altar. This is where Pope Francis has prayed and left flowers for Mary. In April, we couldn’t get into this chapel because there was a mass going on, but today I was able to go in and pray a few decades of the rosary.
I would have liked to have stayed longer, but my bus ticket was running out of time and my phone was running out of battery (and I really needed that Moovit app to figure out how to get back home. Seriously, I don’t remember how we traveled before smart phones!)
Moovit told me to take the Metro; in other words, it was time to return to the subway train system I had first visited thirteen years ago. A short walk brought me to the Metro, and six stops later, I was a five-minute walk from my apartment.
In the evening, I attended the school’s free guided tour. The tour guide talked solely in Italian so I only understood about 10% at best, but it was a lovely night to walk around Rome.
We got to see Sant’Andrea della Valle, which is the church I got to lector in on the first night of my pilgrimage last April. It’s funny how you can notice things the second time that you didn’t see the first. For example, there’s an angel statue on the left top portion of the church, but there’s no matching angel on the right. I could understand enough of what the tour guide was saying to know she was talking about the missing angel, but I’m not exactly sure what happened. I think the Pope or whoever was commissioning the exterior construction didn’t like it so the second angel wasn’t added.
Also, inside the church, there was a mirror on a table so that you can study the artwork on the ceiling and in the cupola (dome) without having to strain your neck. Not sure if I just missed this last time or if it wasn’t there then.
Then we walked down the street as the tour guide pointed out a few more spots. Our walk ended at Largo di Torre Argentina, which I can best describe as the ruins where all the cats hang out. In the 1920s, the ruins of four temples were discovered here. They have now been fenced off and preserved, and a number of stray cats call it home.
For a somewhat late-night dinner (but really normal time by Rome standards), I took Marcella’s suggestion and went to a sandwich shop for un panino. Marcella swore they were some of the best panini at good prices (“economico”).
When I found the place, I had to laugh. It’s called “Dal Papa” and is only a couple doors down from Ris Cafe where some of my pilgrimage buddies and I had drinks after dinner one night.