My credit union is having a photo contest and I entered. It’s called Best Memory Ever & I submitted this photo of my first trip to Venice.
This post is just a collection of all the parts of my Europe 2013 Trip Report. If you’ve already read it, thank you; and if you’re new then welcome.
Disneyland Paris Resort
This was our last day in Rome, and tomorrow we’d be headed home. The only thing we had planned for today was to visit the Scala Sancta. These are said to be the steps Jesus Christ went up on his knees on his way to Pontius Pilate during the Passion. For centuries Christians have travelled to the steps and gone up them on their knees as well. Today we planned to do the same just after the taxi dropped us off. First though, a bathroom break across the street since there were no bathrooms where we were going. This just happened to be San Giovanni in Laterano, one of the four major basilicas (four highest ranking Roman Catholic churches), the other three are St. Peter’s Basilica, Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, and Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. I knew of the major basilicas and wanted to visit them if we had time, so this was very opportune. This isn’t one of the major tourist attraction churches so it doesn’t have as many people there and it’s still ridiculously beautiful to warrant a visit.
We spent quite a bit of time there exploring and checking out the gift shop of course before we headed back to the Scala Sancta. The actually close in the afternoon for a couple hours and we happened to arrive about an hour before they were scheduled to close, but we didn’t know it at the time. There are other ways up, but these actual steps must be climbed on your knees. It hurts. A lot. The original steps are marble, but have been covered in wood to preserve them and there are areas where the wood has worn down from all the visitors. There are a couple of holes in the wood that are covered with a protective transparent material that have the blood of Jesus spilled that you can see. One such spot is at the very top in the center. The steps were full of people when we visited and some people pray for every step. You can’t walk around them, so you spend a lot of your time on your knees waiting. It was extremely painful and exhausting, but wow was it an amazing experience.
At the top of the steps is the Sancta Sanctorum aka the Holy of Holies, a private chapel for the Pope. We spent some time in the tiny gift shop they have before leaving and realized they were about to close when we saw we were the last ones out.
– Scala Sancta building
– people climbing the steps
– Sancta Sanctorum
We were tired and wanted to go rest, but couldn’t find a taxi stand nearby. We started walking up a big street hoping to find something. We didn’t find anything until we reached Santa Maria Maggiore, but were too tired to go in.
This is where things got really interesting. We found a taxi stand full of waiting taxis. Moms, Jules, & I got in the front taxi and headed off. We were planning on meeting at a McDonald’s near the hotel to grab a quick lunch. As the taxi stopped, Moms went to exit on her side which had traffic and she opened the door into another taxi. Our driver was mad, the other driver was mad, a third driver was mad since he couldn’t stop in time and hit the second taxi (even though his car was fine); you can imagine there was some very animated Italian being spoken at that moment. Just not by us. With the language barrier we couldn’t figure out what we were supposed to do. Jules went to the hotel and got someone to translate for us. While she was gone the police showed up. They were super helpful and between them and the translator we got things settled. At first the drivers were wanting sums of money and the cops told them that was ridiculous, and they told the third driver to butt-out since him crashing was his fault. Eventually we agreed to pay 300 euro and call it even. I’m not sure if it was the best decision, but in the heat of the moment it seemed the simplest. All this time though, it’s just the three of us and we’re starting to wonder where the rest of our family is. Jules got in touch with them and apparently none of the other taxis would pick them up because we were so close. After getting Moms settled in the room, Jules and I walked back and lead them to the hotel. We ended up getting some McDonald’s to bring to the room.
– the other taxi
– our taxi
– this McDonald’s milkshake was only a euro (why don’t we have dollar milkshakes in the US?)
– chicken sandwich
By this time, Moms was done for the day. Cuz was still in search of the European version of the Lady Gaga album so they went to a nearby record store in search of it. I had seen a store with model cars in the window not too far from our hotel earlier in the day and Jules and I went to check it out. They didn’t have anything in the scale I wanted so I just bought some candy. A couple hours later we all headed out and visited a nearby grocery store and did some last minute souvenir shopping before calling it a trip.
When we were at the Scala Sancta the day before we had met a driver who gave us a good price on a trip to the airport. We had called him later that evening and scheduled a pickup for this morning. We drove to the airport and said goodbye to Europe. I wish I could say the flight home was uneventful, but I’d be lying. With about three hours left before we arrived in Philadelphia, the captain said we’d experience some mild-to-medium turbulence. A little bit later the plane dropped. I’m not sure how far, it was quick, but long enough for everyone on board to get weightless and only be held in by our seatbelts. We all wanted off, but we were over the ocean. I would’ve been fine if they stopped in Nova Scotia to let me off. The next couple hours were scary with every little bump we felt. In Philadelphia we talked briefly about renting a car and driving home and we overheard a couple other people having the same conversation. We got on the other plane and were nervous as hell the rest of the way home.
All the candy I brought home. I did plan to share it, but I had to try it first since I didn’t want to give people horrible candies. The Chunk Kit-Kat was hazelnut flavored and was basically a Nutella Kit-Kat, aka awesome.
When I think of Rome I think of food. I have had some amazing meals there and that’s the biggest factor in making me want to return. It’s a beautiful city. Some areas, like the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain, are like these hidden gems. You don’t realize what you’re about to see until you get right in front of them. The history they’ve preserved is fantastic. Now that I’ve gotten the tourist stuff out of the way, I’d love to go back and really experience it like a Roman.
On our last trip to Rome, our hotel had recommended a restaurant near the Pantheon called Casa Copelle. It was delicious. Since Castel Sant’Angelo was closed we decided to head to Casa Copelle for lunch.
We had already been to the Pantheon, so we skipped it this time. We did have the taxi drop us off there because I didn’t have the address of the restaurant, but I remembered how to get there from the Pantheon. I had meatballs and Moms had carbonara. It was still delicious. After lunch, we headed back to the Pantheon to catch a cab back to the hotel. First though, I had to stop for some gelato. Previously we had really good gelato at Della Palma, which is also in the area, so as we were passing by I couldn’t resist. I ordered two flavors, one was pink grapefruit, and the other I don’t remember. The grapefruit was so good, it made me forget. That was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in my life and I’m pretty sure it has spoiled me on all gelatos going forward since I’m yet to find that flavor again.
– spaghetti alla carbonara
– menu board behind the bar
– pink grapefruit gelato along with some other flavor I can’t recall
Moms and I rested at the hotel for a while and eventually Jules came back. Not too long afterwards, Nina and Fam finished their tour of the Vatican Museums and rejoined us. Our last trip to Rome was definitely highlighted by fantastic food. The staff at our hotel on that trip recommended some fantastic places (shout-out to Serena and Marco at Deko, they didn’t have two rooms available or else we would’ve stayed there again) and one of those places was Pizzeria San Marco. I had this 4-cheese gnocchi there that was amazing and the thought of having that again was one of the reasons I wanted to go back to Rome. So that was our dinner plan for tonight. The food was excellent again (we were definitely eating good in Rome).
– 4-cheese gnocchi
– roasted potatoes
– the Andy Warhol burger (Cuz’s order)
– I’m not sure what Nina ordered
– Uncle D’s steak
– Mom’s pizza
With our bellies full we made our way back to the hotel for the night.
Tomorrow would be painful
Today Moms had booked us on the Scavi Tour. It is a tour of the tombs beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. We had breakfast at the hotel and then had them call us a taxi to leave the country. We were a little early for our tour, so we took pictures and looked around St. Peter’s Square a little bit. The Scavi Tour entrance is on the side of the basilica and you have book it in advance. It’s in an area that I think is mainly adminstrative buildings for The Vatican and to get there you show the Swiss Guards there your paperwork for them to let you in. At the allotted time they took our group, us 6 plus about 8 other people, to the tour office. The tour is about an hour long so everyone took a potty break before we started since once you enter, you’re in there for the duration.
A quick history lesson. Roman at the time believed that you did not disturb the resting place of the dead. When Saint Peter died, some of his followers snuck off with his body. Knowing that once they buried him nobody would disturb his body and if they didn’t he wouldn’t have gotten any sort of proper burial. So they buried him in this burial ground amongst other mausoleums and crypts. St. Peter’s Basilica is built over the tomb of Saint Peter. His tomb is directly below the main altar. It had to be built there as the center of the Catholic Church. Most of the previous Popes are in the crypt below the basilica. A couple decades ago this area was small and uncomfortable to stand. They were renovating the crypt to make some more room and discovered the mausoleums below. During those excavations they discovered a tomb that seemed a little out of place. This was the tomb of St. Peter. The Scavi Tour is a tour of those mausoleums and gives you the closest view of St. Peter’s tomb.
You get a guide who explains the history and takes you down and talks in detail about everything going on down there. They don’t allow photos and it can be pretty warm down there. It’s a fascinating tour and I think most people don’t know it exists and never see it.
The tour ends with the crypts of the previous Popes, which is in a publicly accessible area, and you exit and can head into the basilica from there. It actually bypasses the regular security check and line which can get long. Once inside we all explored at our own pace. I’ve seen a few older churches on this trip and in the past, but St. Peter’s Basilica still manages to impress. On our last visit the front of the church near the main alter was blocked off, so we didn’t get to see that too much. This time it was open though, so there was still something new for us.
Moms, Jules and I had already visited the Vatican Museums on our last trip so we weren’t looking to do it again. Nina and Fam left to see that and the Sistine Chapel. Jules left and decided to walk back to the hotel and just see whatever caught her interest. That left Moms and I alone. We headed down the street to Castel Sant’Angelo to check that out, but it was closed. Guess we’ll go get some food.