Our third day in Italy started with a 6:30am wake up call, a croissant or two, and our “whisper” walkie-talkie devices hanging around our necks. Fabio always began our tour with the famous “ENDIAMO!”. We marched up onto the bus and drove to our destination, which was the largest underground cemetery, known as the catacombs.
Many of us had mixed emotions about visiting the catacombs because we didn’t know what to expect? "Will we be seeing their actual bodies?", "Can we touch them?", "I’m not going in there Mr.Churchill!... I refuse to see dead bodies".
The catacombs were created and designed to hold an unlimited amount of bodies underground, underneath, and around a church. We learned that the higher-class people were buried the closest to the church and the lower class citizens were buried farther away from the church. Unfortunately, many bodies were dug up and removed, so we were only able to see their dugouts. The majority of the students in our group had trouble fitting through the underground tunnels, which were filled with a collection of human bodies from left to right.
The Catacombs were measured to be 15 miles long, 5 feet 6 inches in height, and not even an arms length in width. The guys in our group from the basketball team measure from 6'10" to 7' tall, so very few of us were able to simply walk through the tunnels without crouching or struggling to fit. Many struggled throughout the 15 to 20 minutes that we were in there, and some experienced being claustrophobic and anxiety from the moment they walked into the tunnels.
St. Paul’s Basilica
After our trip to the Catacombs, we were treated to an experience at St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome, founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the latter part of the 4th century. The Basilica is the second most important Catholic Church in the world, second only to St. Peter’s in the Vatican (more on that later…), and it is one of only four major Basilica’s located outside the walls of the Vatican.
We were immediately impressed by the size and scope of this amazing creation to honor the great St. Paul. The first incredible feature that you notice when you enter is the imposing statue to honor the Saint that sits in the courtyard to greet you as you enter the church. When you walk through the doors, the impressive features continue as you see a line of portraits across the entire top of the building to honor all 265 past and current Popes. To see the history of this position come to life through these images is quite amazing. Another special feature is that Saint Paul is buried beneath the altar at the church, and you can see his sarcophagus as you kneel before it to say a prayer. Even those of little faith can’t help but be in awe of this great historical figure and the amount of years that have passed since his passing. The church also holds a Holy Door that is only opened every 25 years during Jubilee. This visit ended with a yummy lunch at the restaurant located on site! Panini’s for everyone today!
After going to Saint Paul’s and having lunch, we went to visit the Vatican to learn about the paintings and statues that are in it. After arriving, we first learned about Michelangelo, how he went from being a sculptor to being a painter on the Pope’s orders, and the controversy of his paintings for the Sistine Chapel. After that we walked through the Vatican and went to an exposition of sculptures, dating from ancient Greece to the renaissance years. Something surprising was the huge baths carved out of solid pieces of rock, where even Jimbo could lay straight in.
After this we went through the Sistine Chapel, with Michelangelo’s huge paintings, and also walked through Saint Peter’s Basilica, which had a sealed door that was only opened every 25 years for the Jubilee, the last time being in the year 2000. We left the Vatican, enjoying walking over the border between Italy and the Vatican state well over ten times in a row.
My experience in Italy has been amazing so far! Bright warm weather with a perfect breeze, beautiful sights to see to take pictures of with selfie sticks, and awesome people to create these memories with. Aside from that, the food is bomb! There is such a great variety of foods, which I love but hate at the same time because I think I gained 10 pounds and it’s the third day. The pizza is mouth watering with just enough sauce and the perfect amount of cheese; that is a taste I will never forget. The pasta is unreal and very filling with a choice of sauces and cheeses. It doesn’t end there though, the sandwiches, Paninis, are awesome. Panini's are great to snack on or as a meal. I tried a salami and mozzarella Panini and I wanted another one.
Something else that I really enjoy is the shopping because of the different brands and new collections of styles. My favorite shopping experience so far has been going into the Zara Department store with 6 floors! I never saw a store that big and it was like walking into heaven. Although I tripped and bruised my knees, I still bought really cute things and at the end of the day I was happy!
Vatican Street Life
We were given free time to roam the streets of the Vatican City following our tour of the amazing churches and religious monuments. We walked throughout the thin avenues past an abundance of little shops and restaurants with our very important concern of whether each one had Wi-Fi or not. Often for restaurants, workers were posted outside, suggesting we check out their menu, along with a few offering a mutter of “ciao bella” followed by a wink that usually made us walk a little bit quicker. Most people stopped to get a gelato because it really is irresistible, but Kori and I stopped for cappuccinos. It was the first cappuccino I had ever had and it was very delicious. I’ve noticed that with a lot of coffee or gelato shops there often is no place to sit, which is very different from the US. Crossing the streets in the Vatican City feels like a life or death experience because, as we have experienced in all of Italian traffic thus far, cars go very fast and really only stop if it is absolutely necessary. I don’t think I’ve ever sprinted across a crosswalk so quickly while simultaneously fearing for my life. All in all, the Vatican was a very beautiful place and the streets and shops within it offered a new perspective on their street culture.