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Exploring Rome: I Miei Amici Italiani

Exploring Rome: I Miei Amici Italiani

(Exploring Rome: My Italian Friends)

Buonasera tutti!

It’s 7 p.m. here in Rome and I have loads of things to tell you! So bear with me, please, it was a day full of surprises.

Today was my first Wednesday off in the city. Yes, I was somehow able to take five classes and still have one day off (besides the three-day weekend) to do whatever I want in this marvelous place. Talk about being lucky!

Classes started this week and I’m in love with all the courses I decided to take. I have quite a variety of classes this semester and I am so sure all will help me learn and appreciate more about Rome in some way or another.

Today’s post is mostly about my time in the city, in particular, the visit to Santa Maria Maggiore and the people I met there. Remember I told you that I love talking to random people…? Well, let’s say I was ecstatic today.

I woke up early today and hit town at around 9 a.m. As we are in Rome, after all, I went to the Southwest side of the city to visit the papal basilicas of Santa Maria Maggiore and San Giovanni in Laterano (the latter one is the actual basilica of the popes). As the Rome Center is on the Northeast side, a friend and I had to take a bus and then the metro (a.k.a subway) to get to the basilicas, which are only a few blocks away from one another on Rome’s Via Merulana.

But, as you may have heard before, the States are the States and Rome is Rome and they are quite different. Everything in Rome is an adventure, including taking public transportation.Or should I say, specially taking public transportation?

Whereas in Chicago you just wait for the bus to arrive and stop on each and everyone of the clearly signalized bus stops; here in Rome, once you see the bus you want to take approaching the tree-covered bus stop sign you are waiting at, you have to run to the street and start hailing the bus for it to stop and pick you up. Yes, people, if you want to get on a bus in Rome you have to hail it or be around people who hail it, otherwise it WON’T STOP for the life of it.

As it is to be expected, my friend and I, natives to Chicago’s orderly (and apparently dull) bus system, could not figure out why none of the buses were stopping to pick us up. They literally drove pass us, almost speeding when getting to the stop, as if to make it even clearer that we were not getting in. After the second bus and a few levels of frustration, we decided to hail for the next bus and see if it stopped. IT DID!

We took the bus to the Vatican wall and then walked to the Ottaviano Metro station, not far from the Vatican Museums. From that point on our encounter with italian public transportation took a dramatic turn, and for the best. Seriously, those trains?! They make you question that this country is in deep financial trouble. If the buses are a no no for the unexperienced, the metro system is a yes yes hands down. The stations and wagons are clean, they don’t have the sketchy, shady look many Chicago stations have…Seriously people, those trains…!

We got off the metro at Termini station, which is a hub for trains, buses and metro lines here in Rome. You can go everywhere from there and I’m not even kidding. We walked through the crowd and got to the street, took Via Cavour, and walked straight to Santa Maria Maggiore.

As Via Cavour is the street behind the basilica, we walked around the building and, by mistake, entered though a small door on the right side. A young man stopped us and told us that we were walking into the post office, not the main basilica. He was not angry or bossy, au contraire, he was one of the nicest people I’ve met in Rome since I got here a few weeks ago. Claudio–although Im pretty sure his name is Claude–was very eager to meet us. He is a congolese economics student in the city who works distributing mail to the offices at Santa Maria. He spoke broken English with a strong mix of french and italian accents, but he made sure we understood our way around the place.

He not only pointed out the right entrance to the basilica, but, as he kept complimenting us for our “italian looks,” he narrated the history of the basilica and the most beautiful sites to visit. He was beyond passionate, friendly and excited for us not having to pay for  a tour guide inside the basilica. His smile was so contagious that I just couldn’t get it off my mind. I could tell he really loves the place, and wanted us to love it too.

We walked to the entrance and were in awe at the beautifulness of the basilica. I cannot even begin to describe this place. Even though it was my second time in there, it truly felt like discovering a gem once again. It was quite, even despite of the tourists, and many of the side chapels were closed for prayer, adoration or Mass. Even more, there were Dominican Monks all over the Church taking confessions from pilgrims in pretty much every language you can think of. It was wonderful.

As Claude had pointer out earlier, Santa Maria is the only one of the four papal basilicas (San Giovanni in Laterano, San Paolo Fuori le Mura and San Pietro in Vaticano complete the list) that is solely dedicated to Mary. And you can really tell, there were images of the Madonna everywhere. Bernini, who worked on many of the churches in Rome, is also buried there. What is really surprising is that, as big and extraordinary as his works of art are, his tomb is so simple and little you can barely tell such an important artist is buried there.

Yes, Santa Maria was a place full of surprises.

As my friend and I exited one of the side chapels right before Mass started, one elderly man whose name I don’t know started talking to me (in perfect, subtle and very quiet Italian) about why he went to Mass there every day. I, of course, don’t speak Italian at all, but I could catch snippets of what he was saying. We did’t know what to do because we didn’t think he knew we weren’t completely understanding him, so we just smiled and looked at him, trying to catch some words and put together some phrases. He kept going and going, talking about Mass, and confession and the church, smiling and looking at us with such a deep gaze that I can still remember his light blue eyes, even if I didn’t understand much.

As you can tell, I know very very little about these people, but they were both such good examples of what I had heard of italian culture that I thought they were worth mentioning.

After Santa Maria we walked down the street to San Giovanni in Laterano. This basilica is even more colossal. Breathtaking, for real. My friend had to go to class, so I just took the metro to Piazza di Spagna, toward the center of the city, and walked around. I climbed the Spanish steps, was lost for two hours, and later found my way back to Via del Corso, one of Rome’s main streets in Rome.

Today marks my third week in Europe and, as I was walking around the river Tiber, map aside, sun setting, I suddenly felt like I am home. I guess I kind of am…

Thanks for reading my blog! I’m sorry if it was a long one today. Grazzie mille, amici! (Thank you very much, friends)

Baci (kisses),


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