[Most amazingly, there's a wi-fi connection floating around at Firenze Rifredi station, where we're waiting for our connection to Bologna, on our way to Ravenna. Italy never ceases to surprise!]
Days 4 and 5
Well it is now Wednesday and we have just gotten onto the train to Turino (getting off at Florence, Firenze). I now finally have time to write my blog.
Monday March 10, 2008
This morning Gashwin, Giuseppe, and I slept in. Gashwin had a meeting to go to, while Giuseppe and I had tickets to the Scavi (Excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica). Giuseppe and I left the hotel around 9:30AM while Gashwin continued to use the computer. When we got to the Vatican it was raining very hard and the line to the Museums had already extended to the work gate of the Vatican. Into St. Peter’s itself looked like an hour long line, so Giuseppe and I asked the guard if we could bring our umbrellas into the Scavi. The Swiss Guard told us we would be fine and to return 10 minutes before our tour.
In the meanwhile Giueseppe and I walked around the Vatican and then returned in proper time. We had no troubles at all getting to the Scavi Office and the tour started on time. The Scavi starts at the exit for the Crypt of the popes and descends down into the necropolis. After entering a small door you find yourself within a family tomb. Our guide started by telling us of the different tombs and levels found under St. Peter’s. The basilica is built over an ancient necropolis used by the pagan families of Rome. It is also next to the former site of an ancient circus, in which Peter was crucified upside down.
Following the family to family tomb, the tour guide took us into the actual Necropolis. It looks like a buried town more so than a cemetery. Each of the different Roman familes had a crypt, the largest capable of holding the remains of 150 people. (Wow, the scenery outside this train is amazing, and both Giuseppe and Gaswhin are sleeping and missing it). We walked through the necropolis and noted one early Christian tomb.
The excavations were started following the death of Pope Pius XI who insisted on being buried as close to St. Peter as possible. In order to do so, Pope Pius XII ordered the excavations where a total of 5 men cleared out the necropolis under St. Peter’s. While doing so, the excavators found two brick walls marking the site of St. Peter’s grave. While the excavation was going on, the archeologists found no human remains belonging to a first century man and were rather disappointed. However, a specialist was called in to examine graffiti found on the two brick walls. One of the walls said “Peter is Here” in Latin. They were instructed to open the wall and within found bone fragments of St. Peter.
The bones today are contained within a tiny glass box in the wall and due to the required conditions for conservation, these are only seen by 120 people a day. It was rather amazing. While our tour guide was very informed, unfortunately she did not give us any time to pray there, however we exited into the crypt of the popes and were able to pray in front of Peter’s grave, as well as that of Pope John Paul II. Our tour ended around 12:30PM. As the tour finished the sun started shining on us. We were expected to meet up with Gashwin at the Acton Institute office at 1PM, so we walked there quickly.
We met Kishore, the director of the Rome office of the Acton Institute there and went out for lunch. (Like Gashwin he's also an Indian American convert to Catholcism.) After an excellent lunch, complete with an artichoke (both fried “Jewish” style and Romano) appetizer, a main course (I had an excellent pasta all’amatriciana), and then desert (Tiramisu). Lunch lasted over an hour and a half and afterwards Gashwin, Giuseppe and I wandered to the Capital Hill and saw the Forum from the Capitoline hill. We then wandered to the Mamertine Prison, where according to tradition, both Peter and Paul were kept before their execcution. While we were at the Prison, a rather amusing act had occurred. It was close to closing time and Gashwin was telling Giuseppe and I about the prisoners who had been killed for being enemies of the state and those that were martyred. However, he was talking too loudly and got hushed. Unfortunately as we left the prison it had resumed raining.
Several nights before the trip, Giuseppe had seen that the Museo del Risorgimento (inside the monument to Victorio Emmanuel, or the Wedding Cake) was supposed to have an exhibit sponsored by the Vatican on the Inquisition. We decided to check it out only to find out that they had not even heard of such an exhibit. Leaving all depressed we decided to take a bus and see the Coliseum.
The Coliseum was incredible. We took many pictures of each of us in front of it. At one point I stopped to grab some photos and for some reason decided to look down. Right where I was standing was a little X painted on the pavement with the words “Photo Opportunity.” Being quite amused we continued to walk around until we left for Trastevere. On the way we stopped into the Gesù, the main church of the Jesuits, where St. Ignatius of Loyola is buried, and where the arm of St. Francis Xavier is exposed in a reliquary.
In Trastevere, we met Gashwin’s friend from the Irish College, as well as Cristofero and Elisabetta at La Botticella, a very well hidden but amazing restaurant. La Botticella is run by a very sweet lady who waits on tables, as well does as the cooking. It was amazing. While we were there we had artichoke appetizers as well as a plate of different types of bruschetta. I then had veal and potatoes, Giuseppe had abacchio (lamb) and everyone else had different things. It was delicious and very filling. We then enjoyed different sweets and liquore (limoncello).
One funny thing happened while we were eating there. Giuseppe had decided to go to the bathroom and so he placed his napkin on the table. Also on the table were several lit candles. As we were carrying on our nice conversation, Elisabetta looked down and saw that Giuseppe’s napkin was on fire. In a rush she took the napkin and blew it out, while Cristofero poured some water on it. Once Giuseppe returned, we all gave him a hard time for trying to burn down this amazing restaurant. It didn’t matter though as the chef didn’t care.
That night had already gotten very late, and we didn’t reach our hotel until almost midnight so I did not blog. I am finally finishing this blog on Friday as we wait for our train to Bologne in transit to Ravenna. I will soon start to write about Tuesday through today!!!
Quote for the day: "In Italy, one just gets into the elevator and does not think about how it works. Just press the button and go. Kinda like sausage: you don't want to know what goes in it." Italian elevators are TINY.