Yesterday morning, the Vitolos took me to downtown Rome for my first orientation of the city. As we made the twenty minute drive, I couldn't help but think of a funny comparison: Rome to them is like D.C. to me. The kids slept in the car and walked the streets like it was not big deal while I "oo-ed" and "awe-ed" and snapped frantic pictures like a fool. We passed through the ancient city walls and drove by a number of sights like Saint Peter's square...
and the Colosseum (not pictured) to name a few. Apparently, I picked an especially touristy time to see Italy, but I am convinced that the long wait to see the Colosseum at least will be well worth it. When in Rome!
We found parking along the Tevere River, right in front of Castel Sant'Angelo. This is where the Pope lives...not too shabby.
Meandering in and out of one beautiful street after another, we finally arrived at La Piazza Novana, which was crowded with artists and costumed "performers." This is also the square where thousands of Italians will celebrate the Epiphany on January 6th.
more Piazza Novana
Wedged in between these larger buildings is just one of the over nine hundred churches in Rome. This city is massive--I'll barely be scratching the surface in three months time.
At dinner on Friday, Benito had explained to me the Italian approach to driving tickets, which I also witnessed during our trip yesterday. In contrast to the States, speeding tickets are completely negotiable. No respectable Italian driver would ever accept a ticket from an officer without a thorough conversation first. Apparently, these arguments can last for several hours and often lead to drinks at the bar. In many cases, other drivers get involved and "help" each other piece together the story as witnesses. In this way, one Italian's driving offense can easily become a group activity.
I have already come to eagerly anticipate dinner here...even more than I already do in the States. While I have never gone hungry here yet, I am thankful that their portions seem to be much smaller than in Spain (or the States for that matter). Last night, we enjoyed an appetizer of bruschetta (halved cherry tomatoes, garlic, basil, and olive oil on top of grilled hard brown bread) and meatballs. For the main course, Benito served us an assortment of grilled seafood including a silver fish, shrimp, and calamari. This was the first time I had ever tasted a naked calamari and I genuinely missed its fried coat.
And then this morning, the entire Vitolo clan and I returned downtown via metro to attend an American Episcopalian church service, which Benito had found for me. Both Giovanna and Benito, having been raised in a Catholic country, had a multitude of questions for me which I enjoyed answering. I so appreciate their curiosity towards life and their desire for learning in general. While worshipping in this beautiful cathedral, I found it much more formal than what I am used to in the Presbyterian church, and yet, far less formal than they are accustomed to in Catholic mass. Benito and Guilio seemed to especially enjoy the atmosphere. Being that the congregation is so small, we were the clear newcomers. After the service, as we enjoyed refreshments in the courtyard, we were quickly surrounded by a host of very kind people, several of whom shared their contact information with me. The overall warmth and hospitality seemed to speak volumes to Benito and he announced that he and Giulio would be coming to Protestant churches with me every week! I couldn't be more thankful for a wonderful first weekend in the ancient city.