Today marked my final day in the eternal city.I woke up in the morning to find out that Julio had already left for his flight back home to Brazil. Inacio was already up since he did not sleep after sending Julio to the airport. We had breakfast in the hostel. Nutella & Bread- comfort food no matter where you are in the world. We joined the breakfast table which was already occupied by a bunch of animated South Americans. Inacio eased into the ongoing conversation effortlessly while i remained a bystander. Maybe it’s time i learn some Spanish/Portugese!
It was the day of Pope Benedict’s last mass so Inacio and I decided to be good Catholics for once and agreed that we would attend. With the mass in the evening, we had a lot of things to see and very little time.
I’ve mentioned in my earlier post that the one of the reasons I love Rome is because of how you can walk everywhere. We plotted our itinerary which involved passing through Rome’s famous landmarks before ending at the Vatican.
The Perfect Afternoon
Walking through Rome allows you to truly appreciate its aesthetic and historical beauty. Be it the beautiful piazzas or the odd ancient water fountains that pop up along the away. With the afternoon sun bathing the quaint alleys and cobble-stoned streets in a warm Valencia-like filter orange glow, everything looks postcard/instagram worthy. Walking is the best possible way for you to discover Rome!
The Best Gelato & Coffee in Rome
We walked past the usual sights (Colosseum/Trevi). I did the customary coin toss at the Trevi finally! I think the coin toss symbolizes something along the lines of how you’ll find your way back to Rome someday. The weather was getting warmer so we cooled ourselves the Roman way- GELATO. Located a few minutes away from the Trevi Fountain lies San Crispino, highly regarded as the best gelato in Rome. I tried their original Miele & choco hazelnut flavours and i was not disappointed. They have a variety of flavours depending on what’s in season so feel free to try the rest. At 2 euro a scoop, i don’t see why not!
Il Gelateria San Crispino
Via della Panetteria, 42, 00187 Roma, Italy
+39 06 679 3924
After walking through countless piazzas and alleys,we stopped to grab a panini from the quintessential Italian food truck. The variety of paninis available will leave you spoilt for choice! Your choice of meat, tomatoes, olives, mozzarella in between two buns finished off in the toaster for 2-3 euros. What more can a man ask for? For backpackers on a budget like Inacio and I, this was manna from heaven.
Besides the iconic Panini, Italy is also renowned for its Coffee and a cuppa is exactly what we got to wash that Panini down. Not any ordinary run-of-the-mill cuppa but the best in Rome. After getting lost and some directions from a police officer, we found ourselves at Sant Eustachio-Rome’s best coffee bar. Despite it being about 1ish in the afternoon the place was packed. Coffee-shops in Italy especially are modeled after the standing bar concept. a)You pay for your coffee b)the barista serves you your cuppa c)you gulp it down in a few swigs and the next customer replaces you continuing the cycle. All over in a matter of minutes. After trying Sant Eustachio’s coffee, i doubt anything back home will ever compare to it, be it the taste and more importantly the experience.
il Caffe Sant’Eustachio
Piazza di Sant’Eustachio, 82, 00186 Roma, Italy
+39 06 6880 2048
Italy is famous for it’s piazzas and Rome has no shortage of them. The two main/largest piazzas are Piazza Navona & Piazza Spagna aka Spanish Steps. Both are perfect places for you to grab a pizza,have a coffee, eat gelato,relax and people watch. Out of the two, i preferred Navona as it had a more relaxed atmosphere as well as a vibrant street artist culture. Support the artists and buy a portrait/painting. They’re really good and a perfect souvenir to bring back home!
Next up,we visited the Pantheon which is a church these days. We got our architectural fix gazing at its intriguing mosaic tiled ceiling and the beautifully columned external facade.
Throughout the entire day, we spent the whole time talking and i got to know Inacio on a more personal level. It’s amazing how you can talk endlessly with someone you just met a few days ago! The wonders of travel…
In retrospect, if i had to choose a perfect afternoon from the whole trip. The afternoon of February 13th would be it.
The Road to Vatican
Rome is separated into two parts by the River Tiber. To get to the Vatican on the other side, we crossed the iconic Ponte Sant Angelo named probably after Castle Sant Angelo(the Pope’s summer residence) which occupies the opposite side of bank. We gave the Castle Sant Angelo a miss since we were running out of time. It charged an admission fee and that too was a major deterrent. Maybe next time.
How we got a free historical tour of the Vatican(somewhat)
Inacio and I arrived at the the Vatican with about two hours to spare before the mass. St Peter’s Square was packed with people and numerous queues had formed up all leading to the Basilica. So for the first time in my life, I joined one of them and queued to go to mass. The crowd was a mixture of pilgrims and religious. I was surprised at the fact that religious were not granted direct access when i saw two seminarians in front of me. I can’t remember exactly how we started talking with them but it made our hour long wait more endurable. John and Michael were two seminarians from the States who were completing their theological studies in Rome. They began sharing information about the history of the Vatican, the key sites and what not. Although we were rooted to the same spot, I probably learned more from them than any tour guide or guidebook. On top of that, coming from the perspective of a religious, it was even more interesting. I was curious to find out their thoughts on Pope Benedict’s resignation so i asked. Here’s what one of them answered “He had the balls, and i respect that”. I was also curious on how they chose to become priests and we got a few interesting stories from that. One of them was seriously involved with a Jewish Girl before he left it all for priesthood. These guys were cheeky too, saying hello to every passing nun-in-training, drawing giggles from them. They are the coolest seminarians i have ever met. The seminarians had a separate seating area so we bade goodbye as we entered the basilica.
Papa’s Last Mass
The Basilica was packed like a tin of sardines. The pews were insufficient so chairs had been set up in whatever inch of space that was available. I was fortunate to get a chair right by the main aisle where the Pope would make his entrance/exit. The mass turned out to be one of the grandest services i have ever attended. The Pope made his exit at the end of the mass on a buggy-like stand and the entire basilica roared with uninterrupted applause till he exited. He looked pale and weak. I guess his resignation was after all justified and for the good of the Church.
Venice here i come!
Inacio and i took the metropolitane back to Rome and had dinner at a nearby restaurant. I returned to the hostel only to find someone already on my bed. It was the next backpacker. A sign for me to leave. I spent some time talking to her as i did some last minute packing. She was from China and for once someone overseas knew exactly where Singapore was! I conversed in whatever Chinese i knew to break the ice. I bade Inacio goodbye reluctantly. He was the first real friend i made on this trip and i was really grateful for that. He even offered to accompany me to the train station but i declined. He had an early flight tomorrow to Barcelona so i suggested he get some rest.We exchanged Facebook details and made plans for a possible reunion in England(He was travelling to Liverpool after Barcelona and I was going to London). The past few days in Rome had been unforgettable.
I headed to Termini where my overnight train to Venice awaited. There was already a woman in the cabin when i entered. She gave me a welcome smile when i entered and i returned a hello.
The train chugged away from Termini and fortunately there were only two of us in the cabin. Yay to not sleeping on the top bunk! Next stop: The Pearl of the Adriatic,Venice