6th April, 2009 (Monday in Holy Week)

[Logged: Tuesday morning at 4am in the Foresteria of the the Monastery of Saint Gregory al Celio]

The flight from Hong Kong to Rome was over twelve hours long, with the result that we had more than 18 hours of night. The sun was coming up just as we landed in Rome, meaning that in terms of actual dates, it had taken us just over one 24 hour period to get to Rome, although the full time from leaving home in Melbourne to our arrival was closer to 36 hours. We had managed a bit of sleep on the plane – Cathy got more than I did. I was silly enough to start watching “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, which is a very long film, and picked up only about 5 hours of restless sleep in all.

Arrival in Rome was a very painless affair. European customs (at least in Turkey and Rome) are a whole lot more relaxed than in Australia. We were looking for a taxi, but ended up with a shuttle service. The driver offering the service was obviously officially accredited with the airport, but the agreed 70€ charge was probably a little more than the standard taxi fee. Still, he got us speedily and comfortably to the Monastery, passing sights such as St Paul’s outside the Walls and the Pyramid on the way in.

After dragging our suitcases up the stairs we first started to go in the wrong direction into the monastery on the left of the Church. Two young novices wrapped in white habits informed us that we were heading the wrong way, and redirected us via the door into the Church yard. We later discovered that this other monastery is the Roman convent of the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Theresa’s order.

We walked into the Church yard, through a doorway that had been set up in 1525 (the year of the Peasant’s Rebellion and in which Martin married Katie…) into the very musty smelling foyer of the Monastery of San Gregorio. Up a flight or two of steps, through a wide passageway (in which lived the “breakfast machine”) and we were introduced to the very friendly and Loretta Tommasini, with whom I have been corresponding now for about 12 months arranging this visit. The difficulty Loretta and I have in communicating is that she speaks marginally more English than I speak Italian. Nevertheless, we were able to sort out that we had come a couple of hours too early – our room was still being cleaned. We decided that we would spend that time wandering around the neighbourhood before returning at noon, but we were able to stow our luggage and freshen up. While waiting for Cathy, I sat down with Loretta and went through the pilgrimage room allocations, so that at least we had that sorted out.

So, out into the big wide world of Rome! Having been advised that the weather in Rome today was to be a maximum of 18ºC, we were surprised to find that it was closer to 26, sunny with a light breeze. In fact, it was perfect weather. We walked down the Via Avventino, trying not to get run over by looking the wrong way for on coming traffic (Cathy saved me a couple times from being hit by scooters, and at least once from being run over by a bus), we discovered various coffee “bars” and a little supermarket. The corpulent gentleman behind the delicatessen in the supermarket was putting together sandwiches of bread and ham and cheese, so we bought a couple of these freshly made (2.50€) and a drink and headed back to the Circus Maximus to sit and have our picnic breakfast. I grabbed a Caffe Latte on the way from one of the bars (una caffe latte per portare via – take away) for 1.50€. Thus far, the day was going just as I had imagined it – perhaps even slightly better!

We then checked out the nearby entrance to the Metro, and tried to work out the ticketing machine (the Circo Massimo station is unattended). A little bamboozled by the variety of tickets on offer, we put off purchasing then and there and headed back up the stairs. I noticed then that there were three voice mails left on my mobile phone. Checking them we found one from Mia, one from Maddy and another left without a message – they had obviously been trying to call us. So we went into a side street away from the traffic and called them up. They were just getting ready to go to bed (about 8pm Monday in Australia) and were very glad to be able to chat. Actually, it made me feel good too, to be able to reach out and “touch” them in this way. Except for the week they spent at Philip Island with Mama and Grandad before WYD last year, this is the first time Cathy and I have been away from them for any really long period of time. Certainly it is the farthest we have ever been from them. Still… it was romantic, just the two of us sitting side by side on the park bench for our picnic…

What next? It was such a lovely day that we thought it might be worth checking out the Forum and Colosseum, but when we arrived, the crowds were very large, and in fact we thought we could spend the time just as profitably wandering around the area. So we went on down to the Colosseum (again the crowds were thick), and checked out the Arch of Constantine, watched the people, took in the huge immensity of the ancient building in front of us and bought a few postcards. By this time we were ready to head back to the Monastery.

Walking back we found ourselves following two Sisters of Charity carrying heavy bags of books. I offered to assist them, explaining that we were heading in the same direction they were. They spoke English – Sister Maria Piu (short) and Sister Luzza (very tall) – the latter, though the younger, turned out to be the Superior of the Convent. Sister Luzza invited us to come in, to see their chapel (where they have english mass at 6:30am every morning – to which we would be welcome) and the room where “Mother” stayed when she visited from India. We accepted most gratefully. The interior of the monastery looked like a street from Calcutta – was that deliberate? We had a few moments in the small chapel before the blessed sacrament (exposition every day at 2:45pm for one hour – again, we would be welcome), before being taken to see the small room with a bed, a portait of Mother Teresa and a reliquary with a first class relic of the saint (a small cloth soaked in her blood). We told Sister Luzza that Maddy and Mia have a special devotion to Blessed Teresa, and were then heaped up with holy cards and various medals to take back to them. Promising to return, we then went next door to see if our rooms were ready.

Cathy and I had a few questions for Loretta, which we sorted out with the help of a phrase book and a very large Italian English Dictionary that Loretta had in her office. No, there was not a laundry at the Monastery that we could use. No, there was not a dining room, other than the table in the passageway where the breakfast machine was located. [Actually, I am sitting in that passageway at that table right now, having just had a small caffe latte from the machine for 0.50€, which was surprisingly good – the machine obviously is some kind of automated espresso job]. No, we couldn’t use the kitchen. No, there was no internet. Oh well, the rooms are very nice and modern, with beautiful views of the city and the monastery gardens. So we are comfortable – we just have to find all the amenities nearby. So after showering and changing, we got set to head out over the Celian Hill towards the Esquiline on the other side of the Colosseum, where Loretta told us we would find banks, restaurants, etc. I was also looking for a place that would sell an internet connection [– so far unsuccessfully].

Setting out we turned right walking up the narrow street towards the park at the top of the Celian Hill. Unexpectedly, we came upon the entrance to the “Roman House” under the Church of Sts John and Paul (not to be confused with the Apostles John and Paul, these were martyrs under Julian the Apostate in the later 4th Century). This Church is the headquarters of the Passionists in Rome, and Fr John Pearce – an Australian Passionist Father who is coming on our pilgrimage – had advised me that the “Roman House” was worth a look. Indeed it was. The 6€ entrance fee gets you into a maze of (now) subterranean ancient rooms and buildings with amazing frescos and decorations on the walls and ceilings and mosaics on the floors, dating between the 2nd and 4th Century. At the end there is a very good museum of artifacts recovered from the excavations and of the Church above. This would have to go on our list of things to see with the Pilgrims.

We then went upstairs and entered in through the front of the Church. I was very pleased to see the altars of Sts Gemma and St… (?) whose relics had been brought to Australia for World Youth Day. We also were able to look through the gates into a chapel where the body of the founder of the Passionists could be seen under the altar – encased in gold but wearing the Passionist habit.

Up further, we walked through the park at the top of the hill, turned left and walked past the church of St Mary in Dominica [?], then down toward the Esqualine. By this stage we were ravenously hungry, and so we checked in at the outside tables of a Tratorria and ordered lunch. Cannelloni (5€) for me and Lasagna con Carne (6€) for Cathy. It was very simple fare, just the pasta with a meat/tomato sauce – no cheese – but very tasty as well. We had a half litre of red wine (2.5€), bread (1€), bottle of water (2€), and finished off with fruit (3€) and cheeses (4€). Friendly but fairly rough and boisterous staff, with lots of interaction with passers by, laughing, joking, shouting, smoking. It was entertaining just watching the way the traffic buzzed around the nearby intersection of the cobbled streets. Probably not a place that we could bring our Muslim friends – not quite clean enough – but we enjoyed it. A lot of people were walking past carrying olive branches, and I inquired of the waitress what this was about. As I suspected, they were left overs from yesterday, blessed during the processions. She went and grabbed down a sprig from the wall where it had been stuck, broke it in half and gave one piece to each of us.

Then we wandered up the street to the Basilica of San Clemente – a remarkable building to which we will have to return, as the entrance to the excavations of the house and the Mithraic temple below the Church were just closing. Nevertheless there are some very remarkable features in this church which you can read about in any guide-book, but which include the stunning mosaics of the Triumph of the Cross in the apse, the 6th Century enclosure for the schola cantorum, and beautiful frescoes. We spent some time in prayer here before the large crucifix, and added a few of ours to the many candles burning in front of it.

Then out side to find a “bancomat” – an ATM, then back down toward the Colosseum. I would have liked to have gone for a stroll on the Esquiline hill, but we were becoming very weary, and it was now about 6:30pm. We went via the Metro station at the Colosseum, which was much larger than the one down at the Circo Massimo, with shops and extra ticketing machines – these with English as well. After messing about with the machine for a bit, and watching others use them, we finally managed to extract two weekly “integrated” (CIS) tickets for 16€ each. These will last us the full week, and give us unlimited use of the buses, trains, trams and Metro. The 75 minute one way Metro ticket cost only 1€ – but we thought this would be easier in the long run.

We wandered back to the Monastery – taking a few sunset shots of the Colosseum – and climbed up to our room. After setting the alarm clocks for 6am, I stripped off and hopped into bed. By the time Cathy came to bed, I was asleep!

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