Off to see the Pope

Today we leave Rome and Italy. After breakfast in the hotel, we checked out and left our luggage in the depositary room free of charge until our evening train. The Santa Prassede hotel has my compliments. Beds were comfortable, breakfast was provided, the location is centralized, free wi-fi is available and all for the right price. We had used up the diapers and milk powder we had brought for Joel and had to make a quick stop at the local supermarket to top up our provisions.

I cannot believe we have actually been away for so long.  I was beginning to develop some kind of affection for the city. Although it wasn’t the prettiest or cleanest city we have been to and we haven’t had the most pleasant of experiences, there is a liveliness to the city, a continuous flow of energy, a lingering sense of nostalgia. History is very much alive in Rome, and I feel strangely right at home within these walls.

We were back in Termini for the umpteenth time during our 3-days here. Lunch was at a very busy transit café and the waiter kept ignoring me. I finally lost my patience and raised my voice in frustration to get his attention. The Italian waiter looked at me in surprise but yet in his response he was not rude and took my order quite matter of factly. Perhaps that’s how things work in Italy. After lunch we took the metro to the Vatican.

The metro is located about 4 levels underground and resembles the MRT in Singapore although the subways are much dirtier and darker. Rome is served by two main metro lines that do not pass many prominent historic sites or the stations are located at least 10 minutes of walking distance away.  In that aspect, it can be rather inconvenient to get around Rome unless one braves the buses. I assume the lack of accessibility is due to the underground ruins. 

St Peter’s Square is grand and exudes a certain air of regalty. However it lacks the personable atmosphere one gets as compared to Piazza del Campo in Siena. We joined the queue and thankfully after about 20 minutes, we were in St Peter’s Basilica. The personnel here are so much friendlier and helpful and we took pictures of the famous Swiss guards in their colorful blue and yellow ‘pom pom’ uniforms.

The basilica is huge and very spacious but I was sorely disappointed to discover that the so-called heart of Roman Catholic Church is mostly focused on the worship of the saints and popes across the centuries. There was a surprising lack of depiction of Christ himself. I entered the prayer room to mark my visit to the Vatican and thank God for the opportunity to visit Italy. On the altar before me was this huge bronze model of the basilica dwarfing a small cross in front of it. It is disturbing how easy it is to forget the reason for our salvation. 

After the basilica I realized that the Sistine chapel with the famous ceiling painted by Michelangelo was actually located outside the basilica and it was already closed to visitation at 4pm. Darn… we had missed another sight.

After a satisfying dinner we boarded our night train for Paris. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that no one had occupied our cabin and was secretly hoping that it would remain so all the way to Paris. Well no such luck, three more passengers joined us in Florence and our last companion boarded in Bologna. It was only close to midnight and amidst cramp conditions that I finally drifted off to sleep.

As the train slowly chugged out of Termini, I felt a pang of sadness. The country I adored had promised so much but fulfilled so little. I have fallen in love with Rome and somehow know that I would return again although I didn’t throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain. Looking back if I hadn’t been so hard up about checking off sights from my list, I might have been filled with less anxiety and worry. But then I had flown so far and spent so much to come here and it would be such a waste to return without seeing these places with my own eyes. 

Honestly what is real travelling? I had always travelled with a mandate that I needed to see as much as I could with the notion that I will never return but that was really foolishness. I now know that to really appreciate a country, one cannot take the pace of life he/she is used it and apply it to all the places they visit. It was sometimes wise to just let the culture of the country set the pace.

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