My Sacred Italy: Rome

Rome Saturday 23rd of January 2pm and I am two hours late. I have been flying for twenty-eight hours. At home it is 11pm Saturday night.

Virginia is already here having arrived from Munich a couple of hours earlier. She is excited, happy. We are spending a week together in Italy, a 60th birthday celebration for her…the two Virginia’s, the two left-handers.

I leave her with the bags and go in search of our transfer. Finally I see my name being held up on a board. Our driver offers to take the suitcases but we are independent women, so we say no. Then we are off rushing through the throngs, pushing our bags, struggling to keep up with the fast paced Italian.

The walk is a maze of alleys and people. We are talking and distracted. Eventually he takes the bags and we are free to babble and catch up on the last six months events. We double-check the address of our apartment and he is off, at break neck speed, like all good Italian drivers.

Our apartment is fifty steps from Piazza Navona. I can hardly believe I did this. I may have planned to be here but my faith in my ability as a pseudo travel agent is more often questioned.

The manager comes down the steps and takes our suitcases…four flights up. 19kgs and 17kgs, we would have struggled. The apartment looks out onto a cobblestone lane and a gelato bar. It is warm in here. The weather is cold outside and threatening rain

We take a walk trying to orientate ourselves. Turning a couple of corners we are lost. We are sure we are in the right cobblestone lane but can’t find the door. A young man standing outside his restaurant smiles and shows us the door to our home. He had obviously noticed us arriving or leaving earlier. Now we know we are home when we see him.

He tells us his food is the best. We tell him we will be back. Tonight we have tickets to Virtuosi dell’opera di Roma- La Traviata in St Pauls in the Wall. Yes madness after getting off a 28-hour flight but we are here for a short time and we both love opera.

We eat an early dinner. He calls a cab for us and we arrive at the opera early. It is in an old church, beautiful. We wander in and out of the shops nearby, shoes, shoes and clothes. Saldi’s everywhere.

The doors open to the church and we take a seat on an old wooden church pew. The music starts. I close my eyes and am lost. I pinch myself…am I really here. The singers step out, their costumes exquisite their voices fill the huge void within. Dangerously I close my eyes again, my head drops, I float on a bed of silky softness.

We stay till interval. Virginia insists on taking me home. I am sorry to abandon them but we go. I would have loved to stay but am in danger of curling up on the pew.

I fall into bed and sleep till 7 am.

Sunday in Rome

Sunday 24th – Virginia is 60 today.

We have big plans for today, our one full day in Rome.
Breakfast is up the lane in a little bar. We have coffee, orange juice and a croissant.
Back at Piazza Navona the square is deserted. We enjoy the soft light crisp fresh morning, wandering aimlessly, photographing the beautiful 17th Century buildings and Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi.

We head back to our apartment, pick up jackets and our maps. From here we are walking to St Peters. There is a statue of Matilda of Tuscany I must see. She is the main character in ‘The Book of Love, but she is real and she is in St Peters.

We walk and walk turning our maps this way and that, and finally arrive. The line up is long. We have a tour booked in the Quirinale at 1.30. We decide to come back later in the afternoon. On our way to find a cab we find a tour company and book to do a fast track tour in St Peters at 3pm, last one for the day. I am happy. I could not bear to be here and miss seeing Matilda.

Quirinale Palace is beautiful. The Palace is one of the three current official residences of the President of the Italian Republic. It sits high on Quirinal Hill, the highest of the Seven Hills of Rome. It is huge and we know we cannot possibly see it all. The Palace is the ninth largest palace in the world.

We have our own tour guide, as we are the only English-speaking tourists. She is a student of art historian…young and lovely with great English.

The rooms are sumptuous, paintings spectacular and frescos everywhere. It is almost impossible to take in all the art and paintings, so beautiful and colourful, the mind has trouble processing them all…the furniture, the tapestries the ceilings and the granite and marble floors. We stare in awe and try to imagine a life here dressed in silk and crinoline, a life of privilege and excess.

We have to leave before we are finished. What we have seen has left us overwhelmed.

We find a cab…he drives fast like all Italians. We arrive at 3.

There is no line up. We are on our own, inside St Peters. My first stop is the Tomb of Countess Matilda of Tuscany, designed and built by Bernini in the 17th Century some five hundred years after her death.

Matilda was a powerful medieval ruler, the most powerful woman in Italy in the 12th Century…one of the divine feminie rulers. Was she the lover of Pope Gregory V1? Did they have a child? Was she a follower of Mary Magdalene? If you want to read more about the beautiful strong and wilful Matilda, read The Book of Love – Kathleen McGowan.

Matilda is beautiful. I am glad we came. We stay for a while enjoying the paintings and sculptures of this immense Basilica.

It is late when we leave. We have walked kilometres today so we cab it back home. The evening is lovely and we take a walk in the Piazza looking for a place for dinner. Our last night here, we are reluctant to leave. We eat a lovely dinner in a restaurant just off the square.

Monday morning we have breakfast up the cobblestone lane again. We have just enough time to fit in a visit to the Pantheon. We use our map, although it is easy to find and only a short distance. Unbelievably this building was completed in 125CE during the reign of Hadrian. For the modern visitor it is a unique opportunity to step back 2000 years and experience an ancient Rome.

I never tire of visiting these buildings, palaces, churches that hold so much history. Today we are early and tourists are few. There is a hushed reverence within the stonewalls. I take some photos and breathe in the ancientness before walking home.

Later in the morning we catch a cab to Roma Termini and depart for Florence.

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