Rome, Italy
Monday, August 23rd
It’s our last day.  And we’re looking forward to getting home.  But as long as we’ve been here, we “feel” Italy and we’ll miss it when we’re gone.  But for
now…off to the Vatican!

We found the Metro and were waiting for our train to arrive.  The best advice the tour books gave us were about pickpockets…and always assuming we
were being stalked.  The place was packed with all the morning commuters and people pushing and shoving to get on and off the train.  There were 3 girls
walking toward us.  They were pretty scruffy looking.  Around 12-15 years old.  And boy, when they saw Mark, they looked him up and down and up and
down.  Couldn’t believe how obvious they were.  They kept walking toward us and as soon as they got right behind us, they stopped and went to lean
against the wall.  I thought it was so odd how they stopped right behind us, especially after the way they looked at Mark.  So I mentioned it to Mark and he
looked at them.  I remembered Rick Steves’ tour book warning about just this kind of thing.  So I told Mark I thought they were going to try and steal his
wallet or grab his shoulder pack…so to be careful and hang on to everything tightly as he was getting on the train.  We started to talk about taking a
different train as they are on just about every other block.  And that way we could avoid the whole situation.  We were talking over what to do and this
police officer came along and walked very slowly between us and these girls.  He just kept looking at them very carefully, but eventually left.  We still had
about 1 minute until the train arrived and then here comes 4 police officers.  They went to these girls and asked for their tickets.  Well, seems they didn’t
have any so they started fussing with the police.  Pretty soon, these police officers grabbed their arms and escorted them physically out of the building.  
And Mark and I got on the train and continued our sight-seeing with no further incidents.

We got to St.Peter’s Square and had to just stop for awhile and stand in disbelief.  Vatican City is an independent country of 100 acres.  It has its own
postal system (the Vatican won’t mail letters with Italian stamps), armed guards, helipad, train station and KPOP, the radio station.  It is politically powerful
and the religious capital of 800 million Roman Catholics.
We went into St.Peter’s Basilica, considered the greatest church on Earth.  The dome itself is the world’s largest at 330 feet.  There is no doubt that this is
the richest church on Earth.  They say to call it “vast”…is like calling God “smart”.  And they’re not exaggerating.  There are marks on the floor to signify
where other churches would fit if they could be put inside.  And the atrium, by itself, is larger than most churches.  Ornamental cherubs would make large
men, look tiny in comparison.  Birds are roosting inside.  Thousands of people wander around looking up and never notice each other.  95,000 people can
be in here.  No wonder.  It stands on 6 acres.
It was a nice hike to the top of the
Church.  As we got closer and closer
to the top, the walkway leaned more
and more towards center.  Very odd.
Once we got back down from exploring the top, we went back inside to see the tombs of the Pope’s that are kept underneath.
And then on to the Sistene Chapel.  Seeing the story of creation, pure and bright as
Michelangelo painted it.  There were only a few areas that were damaged.  Absolutely beautiful.  
Unfortunately, no photos allowed…and people were being escorted out minus their cameras if
they decided to violate the rules.  

By zooming through all the rooms, we made it out in plenty of time to grab “un tassi” to the
Catacombs.  Our last big event in Italy.  The Catabombs are burial places for Christians who died
in ancient Rome.  No one was allowed to be buried within the walls of Rome.  Pagan Romans
were cremated, but Christians preferred to be buried.  Land was expensive and Christians were
poor.  A few wealthy Christians allowed their land to be used as burial places.  There are 40
catacombs that circle Rome about 3 miles from the center of Rome.  

During the 1st – 5th centuries, the Christians dug about 375 miles of tomb-lined tunnels, some as
many as 5 layers deep.  Tufa, or the earth they were digging, is soft but becomes very hard
when exposed to air.  
Christians dug for 2 reasons.  To get as many people buried as possible in the land they had.  
And to be near the martyrs and saints already buried there.  Bodies were wrapped in linen, but
since the Second Coming was imminent, they did not embalm the bodies.  When Constantine
legalized Christianity in 313 AD…well, now there would be no more martyrs to bury.  So the
existing ones already buried became even more important and Christians began pilgrimages to
the Catacombs.  

In 800 AD, invaders started ransacking the tombs and Christians moved the relics to the safety of
the churches inside Rome.  But then for 1000 years the tombs were forgotten.  In 1850, they
were excavated and became part of the Grand Tour of Europe.  Because plates, utensils and
pottery was found in the tombs, people began to believe Christians lived here, hiding out from
their persecutors.  But everyone knew about the tombs, so they wouldn’t have made good hiding
places.  A million people lived in Rome at the time, and the Christians chose to “hide” by melting
back into the population.

The tunnels are empty of anything but air now.  But they are still rich with symbols, which served
as a secret language in ancient times.  The dove symbolized the soul.  It quenches its thirst
(worships), or has an olive branch (resting), or is happily perched on a branch (in paradise).  
Peacocks symbolized immortality.  The shepherd with a lamb was the first portrayal of Christ as a
kindly leader of his flock.  The fish was used because the first letters of these words --- Jesus
Christ, Son of God, Savior --- spelled “fish” when translated into Greek.  The anchor is a cross in
disguise.  People praying with their hands upraised were praying in the customary way during
that time.

All too soon, it was time to catch a bus back to our hotel.  
We had a most wonderful dinner right outside our
hotel at the typical Italian outdoor café.  
Unfortunately, we sat next to some typical
obnoxious, rude Americans at the table next to us.  
We got to witness first-hand why Italians believe
what they do.  Very demanding, critical and
belittling to the waiter…who kept trying as hard as
he could to keep his charm and wits about him.  
They finally left and we got to enjoy the rest of our
terrific meal.  We did our best to stay and bring
humor back to the waiter over the “stupido
Americanos”…specially since we were from Canada.