I remember asking Cindy before agreeing to go to Rome, “Is there much walking?” to which she said, “There is some walking.” Perhaps when one is fifty-ish the walking is overshadowed by the sites, the laughter, the talking and all the assorted activities. However, I interpreted “some walking” to mean, not so much. The fact is that the tour buses are too large for most of the streets in Rome, so there was more walking than I have done in a long long time. Walking was not as difficult as was standing in tightly packed crowds in Vatican City. Fortunately, I had a cane to help with balance as my arthritic knees and hips groaned along the cobblestones and uneven pavement, while my friend, Diane walked ahead of me so she could see where the group was at all times so as not to lose either the group or me. I was usually about a half mile behind the others.
In 1959 with my parents, sister and two grandmothers and again in 1968 with my sister, I had the opportunity to visit Rome and saw the main tourist attractions then, including the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Art Museum and the Pantheon with the built in hole in the ceiling; and Diane had been to Rome on two more recent trips, so we were willing to bypass these places. While I never did see most of the photos my sister and I took in 1968 with our father’s movie camera, I did get a good book with pictures which I still have, as well as Art History books with all of the important architecture and sculpture and paintings.
On Saturday at 6:15 a.m., with our breakfasts in bags, we made our way among the rivers of people of all nationalities to the Vatican and through the security check, just like in the airports, but probably a little slower. Packed so closely to so many people, I did take the opportunity to talk with a few other visitors. There was a man from the area in the heel of the boot of Italy with his wife, who live in Switzerland. Later there was a young couple from Shanghai, China and another from Taiwan. The flight from Taiwan took twenty hours.
In passing a lady with a pretty purple crocheted hat, pointing to it, I said, “I like your hat!” She looked startled at first, but decided I did not look like a threat and smiled as I rambled on “Votre, chapeau, c’est jolie!” Then in what is probably broken French, I asked, “Vous fait?” To which she said, “Om Italian!” We both chuckled and went separate ways.
Eventually we all poured into St. Peter’s Square, with our group following the cloth Sunflower our enthusiastic tour guide waved towering over her head so we could see her and ended up in a couple of rows of plastic chairs into which we gratefully landed. There was a choir up on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica and there were various speakers happily delivering talks in Italian to the approximately eighty thousand of us in the audience. There were 3 jumbotrons strategically placed so the speakers could be better seen.
The procession of the bodies of St. Padre Pio and St. Leopoldo Mandic slowly came through the middle of St. Peter’s Square and up the steps to the landing in front of the Basilica. There, under a canopy Pope Francis arrived to speak for a short while. He talked about the importance of prayer. The crowd was joyous and while I could understand little and see less, I still had a peaceful feeling that it was a momentous occasion and I was glad to be a part of it. The camera man high above us in the center aisle panned the throngs and we waved our tiny American flags and the young women in front of us waved their Polish banner. It was so lovely I took a picture of it.
On Sunday a trip to Assisi was scheduled, but Diane had been there twice and since I heard that the route was particularly hilly, I decided not to risk a fall, though I would certainly love to have seen it, I also opted not to go. Instead we took our time getting started and after being some of the last in the breakfast room, we headed out for some shopping. We wandered in and out of shops, then sat on benches which were located every five hundred feet or so on the walks, and watched people.
While Diane bought a handbag, another clerk decided to practice his English on me, asking what the weather was like where we were from and I said it was cold. He was from Naples so he thought it was cold in Rome, though to us the 40-50 degrees was very mild.
Finally, when in Rome, do as the Romans, we found ourselves in a little bakery sipping cappuccino as we munched fruit filled tarts.