My first experience of Rome was just an overwhelming wave--all of my senses activated at once. Every piazza held yet another magnificent Bernini fountain, each church a priceless painting or sculpture, tourists every which way, the smell of roasted chestnuts emanating off of street vendors' grills. Waiters approaching us in the street, beckoning us into their restaurant. Men running up to us and waving selfie sticks in our faces, announcing the prices. Over-stimulation is a severe understatement.
My cohort spent four full days in Rome, all twenty of us, and what didn't we do? From church to church we saw fantastic paintings of Caravaggio, Bernini's St. Theresa in Ecstacy, Michelangelo's La Pieta, and the list goes on. We saw the Pantheon, the Colosseum, St. Peter's, the Vatican Museum (no Pope Francis, regretfully). We ate lunch on the Spanish steps, tasted arguably the best gelato in the world, sipped world-renowned cappuccinos. We did Rome.
But my favorite time in Rome wan't the first time, though that primary encounter was awe-struck filled. Really, the sweetest Rome experiences came afterward, without agenda or itinerary.
One weekend, I met up with a longtime friend, Kate, who I know from a decade of summers spent together at a youth camp in the Texas Hill Country. Kate goes to school in Dallas, but is studying abroad in Spain--she wanted to see Rome, so we made it happen. We usually only see each other now only one or two times a year, so we are pretty used to the occasional meet-up.
From my previous trip to Rome, I had a paper map with my own personal key of all the places we had visited, and many more recommendations. Using only my paper map, Kate and I bounced from historic monument to church to beautiful overlook, pausing in piazzas for a cappuccino or some pizza. We meandered our way through the city, with perfect weather and no rush. To spend a day in a foreign place with a friend who I don't get to see very much is just spectacular.
The best part of our weekend came on the second day: we bought freshly roasted chestnuts from a street vendor, and sat next to the fountains in the Spanish steps piazza. Kate and I chatted, people-watched, and cracked open one chestnut after the next. We wandered through the Villa Borghese Gardens, just a few blocks over, and admired the city sights. Rome has such an energetic feel, that maybe my favorite moments had to come from taking a step back from that wave of stimulation, walking and looking instead of blowing through the beauty.
After Kate left, I decided to try out an Anglican church service in the city. Back in Orvieto, all of the church services are completely in Italian. My Italian is sub-par at best, really only proficient enough to aid me in ordering espresso or asking where the bathroom is. Not as helpful when it comes to the quick pace of liturgy in the Italian Catholic services. So, I scoped out St. John's in Rome, a small Anglican church near the center of town. I showed up, and noted three women priests, as well as people with accents from all over the world. I sat next to a couple from Senegal on my left, and an old woman from Wales on my right. The service was simple and sweet, a small high school choir leading the hymns. I wasn't expecting to find an Anglican service in Rome, but I'm sure glad that I did--a little piece of home.
Thankfully, Rome is only a short train ride away from Orvieto, so trips back into the city are already in the making.