Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Wall, Rome, Italy

Filled as it is with history both sacred and secular, Rome becomes at once an oxymoron.  No where else in the world can you encounter masterpieces of art reflecting against graffiti and vandalism.

One such place is the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Wall.  The wall? The old wall of Rome that protected the ancient city did not encompass this particular church.  Thus, the name.   In Italian, it’s called Abbazia di San Paolo Fuori Le Mura.  Just so you know, Joe.

The first time we went to Rome, we didn’t go and from the moment we planned to return, this was where we wanted to go. The fact that you are standing in front of the tomb of St. Paul is awe inspiring. I am Catholic, but for any Christian who has read and holds faith in the New Testament, this is a pilgrimage to see the tomb of the apostle to the Gentiles.

Here is what to do. We got on the Metro at the Piazza Republicca, there are ticket machines there. The Metro runs two lines, orange and blue. St. Paolo blue is the stop. You get your tickets, use a credit card it has all languages, then choose the all day pass, it was like 4 euros. At the Piazza Republicca Metro Station, you are at the orange line, don’t be scared, but you have to make a transfer.

Get on orange to Termini (Giovanni Paolo II as it’s also called)  and then you will have to switch to blue. Get on blue.  Laurentina is the final stop on the line. It is like four stops to St. Paul’s and you can’t miss it because that is the name of the station’s stop.  When you get off the train, head to the left and keep going, this station stinks to high heaven and it was gross, and there are real live gypsies hovering, but keep your eyes on the prize. They have signs in the station with arrows pointing toward the basilica. You come up out of the Metro, and then turn right. You can almost see it as you emerge.

 

Follow down about two blocks, and then you enter the church on the side door. Be sure you are dressed with covered shoulders, they will deny you access. St. Paul’s tomb is smack dab in the center. There is a map as you enter. Be sure to go out the big doors at the far end, that is where the courtyard is with the statue they show on the websites. The side entrance is kind of….scruffy, but the front is spectacular. They also have super clean restrooms on the opposite side of where you will come in. Just so you know. Really, don’t be scared of the metro. It is surreal and you will thank yourself for a lifetime for going. THEN, when you go home, read the book of Romans, it has a whole new perspective. God bless and safe journeys!

How To Get Tickets To See The Pope

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Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict

For the faithful, it is a special and significant event to be standing in St. Peter’s Basilica.   An especially special moment for pilgrims all over the world is to see the pope.  Each Wednesday, the Holy Father greets thousands of people in the heart of St. Peter’s Basilica.  Pope Francis, the current pope, loves to greet the people.  It is an electric and a holy experience.

The pope enters the throngs of people, usually on the Popemobile.  He reads some Scripture and gives a homily in a multitude of languages.  Lastly, he blesses all the people there, as well as their loved ones back home.  He blesses religious articles at this time as well, so bring your treasures.    It’s a once in a lifetime experience that can change you inside and out.  It’s entirely free, and it’s entirely possible to arrange such a visit.

While it seems like a dream, it is actually very easy to obtain these tickets for the general audience with the pope.  (These tickets are different than the Papal Blessing that occurs on Sundays.  The Holy Father greets the crowd on Sundays from his balcony window so there is no need to get a ticket.)

The Church of Santa Susanna is the American parish in Rome.  Here, American clergy work and live, and they are quite wonderful and helpful answering your questions.  You can order your tickets on line directly at their website.

You can also contact your  own home diocese and tell them when you will be going to the Vatican.  They will mail you a letter of introduction to bring with you to the Church of Santa Susanna and they will order the tickets for you.  When you arrive at the church, you present this letter to receive your tickets.

The website is extremely easy to use, but for those of you who are more comfortable speaking with a human and having an actual slip of paper to present, then call your diocesan office.

Either way, you will receive the tickets with information on what to wear and what time you need to arrive.  Usually, the general audience is on Wednesdays.  There are exceptions which is why the website is so helpful.  You will need to be at St. Peter’s Basilica at least three hours prior to the pope.

You will go through security.  Small bags will be inspected as well as your dress code will be checked.  No knapsacks or large bags are allowed.  Women are required to wear a skirt or dress that covered the knees.  No pants.  Arms must be covered as well.  Men must be in trousers and shirts with sleeves.  For women, a long sundress will work if you bring a pashmina to cover up with.  Depending on the time of year, it can be extremely hot.  You’ll want to wear sunscreen, bring water and wear a hat.

The entire service lasts about 1 1/2 hours.  It is not a mass, but rather, there are some prayers and songs.   It’s a time of fellowship and friendship.  Don’t miss it!!  You’ll be forever blessed.

Il Gatti Di Roma…The Cats of Rome

Roma
A cat nap in the Colosseum. By Cynthia Dite Sirni

A cat nap in the Colosseum. By Cynthia Dite Sirni

At the time when Alexander the Great had conquered the kingdoms of Egypt, Macedonia, Greece and Persia, cultural diffusion was at a high point. ( I’m telling you this for a reason, really.)  In ancient Egypt, it was believed that cats were some kind of demi-gods. They were revered and held an esteemed place in society.  The legend is they have never forgotten this status.  It explains a lot about their attitudes….perhaps there was some cultural interaction between the cats of Egypt and the cats in Rome, yes?

In Rome, there are cats everywhere.  One must make their peace with it because they are staying.  There is an old Roman saying that says that those who do not like cats in this life will come back as a mouse in the next.

Consider yourself warned.

Another interesting fact is that the cats in Rome, (especially in the Forum, Palatine Hill  and the Colosseum) are protected landmarks.  Part of the story is that they are considered the posterity of the cats who would have woven themselves around the legs of perhaps Caesar himself.  Can you imagine them perched on the lap of Marcus Aurelius?  They.  Are.  Sacred.  It’s against the law to harm them.   They are feral cats that pretty much have run of the city, as you’ll see.  You can make it into a game to count how many cats you see each day.

One popular souvenir is to purchase the annual calendar, “Il Gatti di Roma.”  It includes hilarious, borderline blasphemous pictures of unimpressed cats lounging on the Spanish Steps, licking themselves under the Arch of Constantine,  or scratching away on someone’s Vespa.  They’re naughty.  You can find these calendars in just about any kitschy souvenir shop or book store.  Take pictures of all the ones you see and make a montage of them for your home as a remembrance of your trip.

The cats are a huge part of the culture in Rome.  I never get tired of spotting one sitting where humans are most definitely not allowed.  In the Piazza Torre Argentina, there is actually a Cat Sanctuary.  You can sit on the railings with the clear plexi-glass and look down into the sanctuary and see the cats.  Some of them will walk right up the steps and demand attention.  Others just act like cats and ignore you, as well as your camera.  This is one of those cool things that you can only do in Rome.   It’s funny to see how this bustling city just accepts these cats.  I should say it’s funny how these cats accept this bustling city and the humans it attracts.

There is another Italian proverb about cats….”Happy is the home with at least one cat.”  Perhaps this is why Italians live “la dolce vita.”

Italian Iced Tea

Roman Rooftops

rome rooftops 2Summer time treats are appreciated all around the world, especially when it’s hot and sticky out.  Rome in July is not just hot, it’s HOT.  The closeness of the buildings, the throngs of humanity, the lack of American air-conditioning, the traffic and the smoke are just some of the things that make it Hot in La Citta Eterna.  One way to refresh yourself is to go to any one of the little corner cafes and bars that you will see.

Italians don’t drink as much soda as Americans.  They prefer their drinks less sweet, (and with less ice cubes.)  One such drink is an Italian Iced Tea.  Not to be confused with the alcohol laden Long Island Iced Tea, this drink is an entirely different animal.

The Italian Iced Tea is made with two ingredients.  Unsweetened homemade iced tea and a scoop of lemon ice.  The lemon ice is much like what you would find at a carnival with a snow cone kind of flavor.

The drink is served in a glass.  A.  Real.  Glass.  They put a scoop of the lemon ice into the glass and then pour iced tea into the glass until it’s about 2/3 filled.  They will serve it to you on a silver tray.  (Really.  Even in simple local bars.)  Usually, it is accompanied with a slightly salty and savory snack.  (Nuts, small pieces of focaccia bread, or tiny crackers, for example.)  The drink is served with a spoon in case you want to scoop the ice out and eat it first. It won’t be as cold as you would get here in the States, but it is a refreshing drink all the same.

This is one of the best parts of being in Italy.  Ordering a drink like this gives you a chance to rest your aching feet and People Watch.  There is no where else in the world that is more exciting to sit and Watch the World Go By.  The fountains and the people and music and the booths are all there for you to enjoy.  The view is like no other you will ever see.  Breathe in the heat of Italy and carry it home with you!

The Bar

The author with her dear cousin

The author with her dear cousin and great uncle at Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe’ (photo taken by her husband)

…So in my post The Italian Breakfast, I was telling you about Il Bar.  Not an establishment of ill repute or a public house, a bar in Italy is where coffee and treats are served.  THIS is where the locals go to eat.  In fact, if you see a sign that says “American Breakfast” you can be sure no locals will be there.

“American Breakfast” as it is called on the sign is designed to lure you in with promises of what they think Americans eat each morning.  Eggs.  Bacon.  Toast.  Cafe Americano.  (Italians think this coffee is watered down and silly.  Why drink all that liquid when you can have an espresso for the same caffeine hit?)  The problem with this breakfast is that, for me at least, I don’t eat that.  Cereal and milk is difficult to find.

This is where you have to open your culinary horizons. You are better off going to one of the said “bars” and watching for a moment what the locals do.  They already know by your bone structure that you are American, so don’t get worried.  They will make you feel welcome, and they will love that you are honoring their local customs.  You can point and smile and they are so helpful!

There are lots of famous ones throughout La Citta Eterna, but there are a couple you might want to go to just to steep yourself in history, culture and coffee.  One is Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe’, just off via Monetrone near the Piazza Rotondo.  The other one is the oldest caffe in Rome, Antico Caffe’ Greco on the world famous via Condotti.  The photographs alone are worth the trip.

The oldest caffe' in Rome.

The oldest caffe’ in Rome. (Photo by Michael Sirni)

You order your espresso then point to what you would like in the displays.  They put it all on a plate, much like a cafeteria with “il conto” (the bill.)  You pay and then stand and eat it at the bar like the locals.  Espresso is literally a shot.  Add sugar and gulp.  It’s over.  While Americans may nurse the same foam cup of coffee all day long, Italians finish it all in a sip.  (They do go back and have them all day, so don’t think they have taken any kind of higher ground….no coffee pun intended.)

If you sit down, there are additional charges, much like a tip.  It is called “coperto” which is an umbrella term for bread, use of forks, table services, etc. If you want to appear really in the know, watch someone order ahead of you.  Smile at the counter worker, nod your head to the said person ahead of you and say, “lo stesso.” This means, loosely translated, “I’ll have the same thing.” Just hope they didn’t order something you’re allergic to…. 🙂

Own less. It’s more.

Traveling light is an idea that has appealed to me for years.  I’ve read articles and blogs about lightening the load, packing less, double duty toiletries….but I think the real appeal is that when you HAVE less, you have MORE.  There is a sense of freedom that comes with Owning Fewer Belongings.  I love the sense of detachment from my stuff.  The Bible says not to store your treasure where moths and thieves can get at it, but rather to store them in heaven.

Beautifully put.

I wonder, if I had to evacuate my house due to pending natural disaster, what things would I take?  Obviously, since my family and my pets are not things, but living beings, they don’t count.  I would already have them in the car.  However; if I were to take a look back into the house of what was Worthy of Saving, what would it be?

I wear the same jewelry all the time.  It’s part of me.  Each piece was given to me by special loved ones.  They hold sentimental value and they have meaning.  I am never without them.

I carry my Bible in my bag….the bag itself would be worth saving.  It was purchased in Italy at The Sirni Pelletteria in Rome.  (That’s a whole other story.)  Dishes?  Candles? Appliances?  Even photographs that are priceless to me have already been loaded out into cyberspace.

Toys?  I do have a lovely china doll my husband put into my Christmas stocking one year after I told him that was my dream as a child to see one peeking out of my stocking.  I would take her….and my purple sock monkey.

What would you bring?  What is Worthy to Ride Away from Disaster?