Italy - Day Seven (Hey, that's the Pope!)

NOTE: I apologize for the blog absence of late. We've had houseguests and I've been traveling, so the blog has been put aside. But let me finish up Italy and we'll get back to the chaos of Cairo.
ITALY - Day Seven (Hey, that's the Pope!)

Sunday morning in Rome -- gotta see the Pope, right? We walked down to St. Peter’s Square and after waiting a little while, amusing ourselves with some fabulous people watching, Pope Benedict the 16th appeared at his window in the sky and we were privy to his weekly prayer service in which he offered blessings in at least Italian, English, Spanish, and French to a very enthusiastic crowd.

Since the weather was beautiful today (yeah!), we decided to walk over to the Castel Sant’Angelo, which we had passed repeatedly on our way to and from the Vatican. It is located on the banks of the Tibre and apparently started out as a mausoleum in 128 AD, however has also provided a place of safety for popes since 1277 AD due to an underground tunnel between it and the Vatican. For whatever reason, however, it was closed today.

We took in the floodwaters of the Tibre as we crossed the bridge, looking for a lunch spot. We found a great trattoria, all locals inside, and had a wonderful lunch of homemade pizzas.

From here we walked to the Pantheon, as we were drawn to it almost daily. And along the way I convinced Ron (with great arm-twisting, I might add) to stop and share one more gelato. Yes, it was cold, but at least it wasn’t raining.

We then found ourselves back in the Pantheon square, full of Romans, tourists and even some live music. The latter had great, and immediate, effect on Ron who found himself moved to perform his robot-dance in the middle of the square. Why can't I remember to carry a video camera?!

We continued our walk, determined to find an obelisk mentioned in the guidebooks that had an elephant at its base. It was a mere block behind the Pantheon, but we had managed to never see it during our previous amblings. It stood in front of a huge gothic church that had brilliant blue ceilings and ornate gilding.

We made one more trip to St. Ignatius di Loyola so I could grab some pictures (there was a mass when we’d come earlier), and then hopped on a bus to find Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterno. We had noted a priest on the bus and assuming he might lead us to our destination we followed him off the bus. Well, this was no ordinary priest, he was apparently a former Olympic speed walker, so we were soon left in his priestly dust. But we huffed our way up the hill and in a few blocks found ourselves at San Giovanni.

The Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterno was founded in 313 AD by Constantine and was the first basilica (large church given ceremonial rites by the Pope) to be built in Rome. It also served as the Pope’s primary residence until the late 1300s. While it was certainly large, gilded and impressive, we were both very taken with the octagonal bapistry next door. We quietly imposed on flurries of Italian families who had either just finished baptisms, or were about to begin them. But the feeling of joy and family was incredibly strong and Ron and I each were very moved by their presence. The mosaics, dating from the 5th and 7th centuries, were particularly stunning.

By this point it was getting dark so we hopped on another bus to take us back “home.” Along the way we came upon the Colosseum, and in a spontaneous flash we dashed off the bus to get some night photos. We then decided to take a romantic walk in the moonlight, past the Arch of Constantine, and on to the Circus Maximus, which, in its 1st century heyday was Rome’s first stadium, seating 250,000, but currently is merely a large grassy bit with Roman rubble pieces.

We finished out the day with dinner at a local restaurant a few blocks away from our hotel. Other than sharing it with an exuberant group of American high-schoolers and their chaperones, we had a nice meal, complete with my last cannoli.