The Eternal City: Day Six

All the way to heaven is heaven.
(Saint Catherine of Siena 1347 – 1380)

The Great Non-Vatican Adventure

Wednesday dawned. I consulted the Plan. It claimed we were going to the Vatican: basilica, museums, Sistine chapel, post office, and Papal audience.

Shoes, shoes, shooooz!

The Plan was quite obviously off its rocker.

We spent the morning at the local market (where Francine bought shoes for a song and a dance.) We did some laundry. We hung out at a café and said “ciao!” a whole lot. It was quite the relaxing morning after the madness of previous days.

We’d watched a bit of Italian TV (featuring, I kid you not, a channel showing nothing but millions of people slowly filing past the Pope’s body at St. Peter’s, 24 hours a day). We knew that so far more than a million pilgrims had come to Rome, and more were on their way from every corner of Europe and the world.

There were a thousand special trains coming from Poland alone.

We would not be getting into the Vatican.

Against the evidence (and Francine’s inexorable logic), I was nevertheless convinced that we could at least make it to the Vatican post office to mail the dozen or so postcards we’d written.

Every guidebook we had said something like this: “if you wish to mail anything from Italy, don’t. Mail it from the Vatican. The Vatican City has an efficient, modern postal system. Italy doesn’t.”

Ciao! A lazy Roman morning. Note the background graffiti.

Once again we braved the Metro, including the Termini bottleneck, and went all the way to the Vatican station. The crowds were even denser than before. The Romans had reorganized the lines of pilgrims. They now had barricaded queues that tentacled from the Piazza San Pietro in all directions. The queues were mazy and doubled back on themselves. It reminded me of Disneyland.

Except in this case, the mazy knots of humanity went on for kilometers in all directions. It only took me about an hour to realize that the post office outing was impossible. Not only could we not get to the Piazza without standing in line, we couldn’t even get within visual range of the Piazza.

We finally entrusted the postcards to the Italian postal service. I’m told that most of the post cards arrived in about six weeks. From the Vatican, the average time for a letter to get to the States is six days.

So we went with Plan B: we’d walk east to Castel Sant’Angelo, cross the river at a convenient bridge, and continue with our sightseeing at Piazza Navona. We attempted to skirt the queue-streets and, as much as possible, the crowd.

A vendor near Castel Sant’Angelo. This may have been my favourite sign in Rome.

This too proved impossible. Oh, the crowds did thin out eventually, but the queues continued east as far as Castel Sant’Angelo and then on to the bridges. Only on the other side of the river did we finally find their end.

One of the giant angel statues on the bridge near Castel Sant’Angelo. They were each carrying something enigmatic. This one, for example, appears to be holding an ice-cream cone. Perhaps she is trying to distract the pigeon roosting on her head.

Agnes in Agony and Others

We hung out in one of the centers of Roman life: Piazza Navona. We checked out the Church of Saint Agnes in Agony and even got a look at (most of) Agnes herself.

She was not in a good way. The Romans had tried every imaginable way to kill her, including burning, but she just wouldn’t die. Finally, somebody slit her throat in the night, which apparently did the trick. Darn Achilles’ neck.

Heffalump: the enigmatic elephant of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.

We had gelato. Golly, it was good. Gelato in hand, we wandered the streets of Rome, finally coming to a piazza near the Pantheon which featured a whimsical statue of an elephant carrying an obelisk on its back. It stood in front of a church, naturally.

This was the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.

This church is stunningly beautiful. The vaulted ceiling of the basilica-style church is painted a royal blue with the stars of the night sky in (real) gold.

The body of St. Catherine of Siena is here, as well as a wonderful tomb that features a very lifelike statue of a bishop rising from his funeral bier.

St. Catherine of Siena’s sarcophagus at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. She’s the patron saint of rabble-rousers.

Arise! Death comes to the archbishop, and he shrugs it off.

Sadly, we didn’t have so much time to explore here as we would have liked; there was an event of some sort scheduled later in the evening, and we were all chased out by a grumpy monk.

Just passing by the back of the Pantheon. This picture is a pretty good summation of why I find Rome so fascinating.

We finished our night walk by strolling up the out-of-my-price-range commercial centers of Via del Corso and Via Condotti. On Via Condotti, we passed the headquarters of the Sovereign Order of the Knights of St. John. Francine got pictures. Yes, the knights of Malta still exist, and the members of their order are issued passports by the Order, recognized all over the world.

From here it was a hop and a skip to the Metro station at Piazza de Spagna, and thence to home and the by-now traditional collapse into sleep.

Next: On beyond Zebra!