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Report 981: The Old Man and Me - In Italy!

By Podie from Florida, Spring 2006

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Page 7 of 10: Lagniappe - An Unexpected Gift or Benefit

photo by Celeste Rubanick

Swiss Guard at the Papal Mass

This was to be our easy day. No tours, no plans, no getting up early. Which was a good thing, because remember that Sangria last night?

My groans of, "No more red wine," were louder this morning. I remembered Mary gleefully telling me that the sugar in the Sangria fruit would give me a worse headache than plain red wine. I didn't believe her then, but it was very real Monday morning.

Still, the four of us went to Bar Farnese after I could get vertical. Cappuccino and cornetti helped cure me, and I could appreciate the vibrant colors and aromas of the Campo dei Fiori food market. Everything is so fresh! How I wish I had a fruit and vegetable market something like this close to my Florida home!

Today, Rich finally agreed to go to a farmacia to get something for his feet. The cobblestones had taken quite a toll on him. Not much of a walker anyway, now both his feet had several blisters and irritations. We bought some moleskin-like pads so he could get some relief.

Then we sat down for a while at Bar Pantheon, where the service was brusque, to say the least. The waitress plunked down our coffees and said, "Pay now." It was seven euros and I gave her a ten euro bill and then she avoided the table. I finally had to go get the change from her. I wonder how many people just say the heck with it and she gets a large tip?

Someone walked past us with a granita caffee con panna from Tazza d'Oro so we went there next. Talk about a wake-up! I was caffeinated for the rest of the day. I call Tazza d'Oro the Starbucks of Rome - you see the sign for their brand of coffee everywhere!

Since both of us are retired military, we decided to take advantage of the amenities of the USO near Vatican City. It was very relaxing and the computers were free. I checked my e-mail and discovered 3 Millennia's Angels and Demons tour for the next day had been cancelled! This was a bummer. We had scheduled this tour with them on Tuesday morning and a catacombs tour in the afternoon. They asked if they should apply the deposit to the catacombs tour.

I tried to call their office but no one answered so I replied by e-mail, telling them yes, apply the deposit to our catacombs tour.

Leaving the USO, we noticed there were no lines at the Vatican Museum, so we went in there, basically just to see the Sistine Chapel. This had been so horribly crowded during my last visit that I couldn't believe I was going back in!

It was full of people this time, too. It was noisy and announcements to please be quiet were made continually, but to no avail. I tried not to rush Rich, but I was anxious to get out of there. The Sistine is amazing, but I just can't appreciate it with all those noisy people!

Walking down the hill, we decided to go back into St. Peter's if there wasn't a line. Strangely, we had to go through metal detectors and were handed little booklets, then herded into the seats on St. Peter's Square!

We had no idea what was going on. The Swiss Guards were in full regalia (see picture - but we are not in it!) and there was a very festive air. Then I looked down at the booklet and translated "Papal Mass for Pope John Paul II, by Pope Benedict" and realized it was the first anniversary of Pope John Paul II's death. We had seats for a Papal Mass - truly an unexpected gift - lagniappe, my Louisiana friends would say!

The crowd was so excited about seeing the Pope that I feared they would cheer when he arrived. It sounds crazy, but the atmosphere, the anticipation, reminded me of a rock concert. I almost expected someone to start slapping a beach ball around. Luckily they simply applauded politely when the Pope arrived. His vitality and warmth were amazing and the audience was instantly charmed by him.

I hadn't been to Mass in 35 years, but after attending every single day for the nine years I was in Catholic School, I had not forgotten the Latin, and enjoyed following along. The square was jammed with people and news agencies reported there were 100,000 people.

When the sun went down it turned chilly, and we had to leave before the end. We walked home, talking about the experience, got jackets and went to dinner at Maccheroni, a restaurant I'd read about in several articles. It is known for its open kitchen and bright dining rooms.

It was early for dinner (7:35 p.m.), so we were the first customers, soon to be followed by the crowds. We chose a table right in front of the glassed kitchen and were taken aback when our waiter dropped two English menus on the table without a word. He returned for our drink order and then waited for us to continue ordering.

As we ordered, he acted as if he didn't understand what we were saying and we had to point to what we were ordering to get him to nod. It seemed we were bothering him by expecting him to serve us - which was only his job! Four Americans sat next to us, but because two of them spoke fluent Italian, he was quite charming to them.

The food was a little more expensive than our previous dinners, but I had the best amatriciana sauce I've ever tasted. Also, as we watched the chefs, we saw that the quality of the meat looked excellent, as did their cooking technique. It would have been worth the extra money to us if we'd had a more pleasant waiter.

When we left, I chose to leave a three euro tip, 5% of the 60 euro bill, hoping it would make him a little friendlier toward Americans. He broke into an enormous smile and thanked us profusely when he saw it. So who knows? Maybe HE had a bad experience and that's why he acts like that.

I was absolutely stuffed, but when we walked to Piazza Navona, Rich had room for gelato. Why is it that men can eat and eat and eat and still look the same, but I gain weight if I even look at gelato? It's just not fair!

Two American women were sitting nearby, discussing the book "Angels and Demons," so we entered the conversation. My husband mentioned how sorry he was that our 3 Millenia tour had been cancelled, and the subject turned to tour companies and then apartment rentals versus hotels (where they were paying 450 euro per night). I highly recommended Slowtrav and the Rome-is-Home apartment.

All of a sudden the scruffy Italian in front of us turned and asked us if we were American. When we said yes, he said, "Ah, America. Lots of problems. Bush, black and white..."

We weren't about to get into a political discussion, but we were surprised that he thought the dollar was stronger than the euro! I'm not even sure he believed us when we told him it's not. We finally had to leave to avoid getting into an argument. I wish we could have stayed longer.

I had read about a unique bar called Jonathan's Angels on Via Della Fossa two blocks from Navona, so we went there but it was closed on Mondays. Too bad - it looked like it would have been interesting. Actually, the bathrooms are supposed to be the high points.

Before I fell asleep, I looked out our open window and enjoyed the moon and stars. Our weather had been so perfect, with the evenings especially nice. I just hated to end my day.

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