Today we went down the street to Peter and Margaret’s house, a British couple who moved to Ambialet about eight years ago. They organize the music for the church so we went to visit so that we could practice a few songs with them for our open house Mass this weekend. We stayed for tea and cookies and I really enjoyed talking with them. They rent out bikes in the summer and provide bike tours and that’s what attracted them here in the first place. They told us about their grandkids and everything they know about the town.
They showed us a few pictures of the town when the Tarn river flooded a few years ago, when the “pres qu’il” or “near island” became a complete island. They also told us that since it is prone to flooding every five or ten years, no one is permitted to build anything new, unless it is for renovations of an already existent structure. It makes sense but it’s kind of sad that Ambialet can never really grow any bigger at all. Peter and Margaret are thrilled with the fact- that’s part of the joy of country life- huh? I guess I can understand.
It was great talking to them. they emphasized how great it is for us to be there and for giving the monastery a rebirth. Everyone who lives in Ambialet either took classes in the monastery in the summer, grew up in it when it was a boarding school, or knows someone who did. It’s a major part of the community and I’m glad to be a part of it coming back to life. It means a lot to them that we’re bringing younger people to the community and for reviving the church as well.
We went to Easter Mass at the Notre-Dame Basilica down the street from our hotel, which was very nice, aside from one simple thing: there were no line for Communion. It was survival of the fittest and it was complete chaos. It just left everyone scrambling around, walking over other people trying to get to one of the ten stations, then trying to climb back into their seats in a weird order. We had to go to the back of the Church because one poor, old man was so confused with the whole ordeal that he stood in front of our pew with his cane until we finally gave up blocking the aisle traffic. It was ridiculous and if I was ever a member of that congregation, I would have shown those people how civilized lines work.
We also hit up the local cinema for a movie on Sunday night and saw the one film whose sign said it was originally American. We assumed that meant it would be in English with some French subtitles but I guess one should never assume because we definitely felt like asses when it was all in French and we could hardly understand anything. It was like our incomprehension was being shoved in our faces with each punchline that we failed to understand. I mean, we could get the general idea of the movie just watching it, especially because it was a Jack Black film and no serious conversation was involved, but it was still quite an unexpected blow. It was enjoyable nonetheless but it still hurts.
There were mostly only older people there during the dinner part, which we expected, and we met a few more of the townspeople. We tried our communication skills again. It was semi-successful, as always. However, I manage to make a fool of myself to one older lady. After asking me, "Qu'est-ce que comment vous trouvez Ambialet?" (how do you find Ambialet/how do you like it?) I was so excited that I fully recognized what she was asking me, that I quickly and stupidly replied, "Ah, oui! Je t'aime beaucoup!" Yeah, the most basic sentence and I managed to say "Ah, yes, I like you a lot!" instead of "Je l'aime beaucoup!"- "I like it a lot!" I had wondered why she gave me such a puzzled smile afterwards but I think she may have realized what I was getting at. Let's hope so at least.
Anyways, it was actually a lot of fun! There was probably 150 or so people there. The music was good, there was some American songs- Eye of the Tiger got us all up and dancing. They also played Cotton Eye Joe and just as we all got up, we got pulled into a train/London bridge thing which was pretty funny. The only down-side of the night would be the crazy man who was incredibly intoxicated and whose pants couldn't manage to stay above the plumber crack line.
We also learned something else interesting. Apparently when a woman will get like eight months of maternity leave automatically. How amazing is that? And from what our professor told us, the more kids you have, the more maternity leave you get! That makes sense, doesn't it? I should have my kids over here. : )
Anyways, when our director, Tim, pulled into the driveway after he picked us up from Albi, I couldn't get over the absolute silence and the absolute darkness at the top of the mountain. It was incredibly calming, yet a little eerie. We walked into the huge castle of a place and although construction was still going on, it is still pretty incredible. It's just endless- it keeps going and going. It's wonderful how we can enjoy our completely renovated rooms and brand new bathrooms and Internet and all of the modern stuff but still be living in this ancient place with the gorgeous architecture and an 800 year old living room.
We got our bikes and had our first riding adventure. We started with a basic route that didn't involve too many hills. It was rainy but still very nice. It was pretty invigorating with the rain and all and the landscape is still so pretty regardless. We also took out first hike up the huuge mountain across from the monastery. We actually took the trail further up than we intended and got to see the view from the very top. On the way back down we stopped at some old castle ruins and climbed up those even though that was a bit scary because I don't think you're really supposed to climb all the way up there and it's quite a steep way. I'm excited for all of the outdoorsy kind of things we will get a chance to do here.
Anyways, we're heading out tomorrow. I really did enjoy Rome but I'll be excited to not be living out of a suitcase anymore and sharing one bathroom with eight other people.
Not too many big plans for our last day. The weather was pretty ugly- a lot chillier than it had been all week and rainy. We had to catch up on souvenir shopping so we mostly spent the day exploring around, stopping at stores and of course any other churches we passed. Marcellino e Pietro al laterno was one in particular but we saw a few more too.
Another backtrack day for Karen. We headed back over to the Spanish steps so she could see the Piazza del Popolo and those fabulous views from the park above it. We caught a few more churches, the best free way to see some Roman artwork. We got through Trinite del Monti, Gesu e Maria, Santa Maria Maggiore and Pudenzia today. The churches all amaze me. They are each incredible. Whether they be ornate or simple, or have a famous piece of artwork or an incorrupt pope, each one had something unique and fascinating in it.
We also got to do some shopping on a main road by the Spanish steps. That area was pretty and busy too. We all scooped up a souvenir or two with the money we had left.
So we had a recap day today for Karen’s sake. We headed back to some of the same spots so she could see them as well. We actually got to go into the San Giovanni museum this time though because our tickets to the Vatican museum worked for this museum as well. It was pretty interesting- we got a tour from a very animated Italian woman whose accent I loved. The museum was actually where the popes used to live. It was definitely neat to see. We got to go through their living quarters and receiving rooms. We got to see a lot of the clothing they got to wear and what their guards wore throughout that time period.
We ventured over across the city and stopped at a few more churches: Santa Gregorio Magno and Santi Giovanni e Paulo. We were heading to see an ancient stone pyramid but it proved to be pretty disappointing.
Oh and by the way, Rome is still pretty dirty; it’s not just by our hostel. It’s pretty around the big important landmarks, but on every other road, it’s not that nicely kept. Maybe Paris is just exceptional, but this place is kind of gross.
So, front row seats to the Pope today! I think it’s pretty funny that I traveled all the way to Germany for World Youth Day 3 years ago just for the sake of seeing the pope and I was probably only within a mile of him in actuality. And here I am, within 20 feet of him on a random spring break trip. Pretty impressive I would say. We came early enough that we were able to get those front seats which was pretty exciting, even if it was just for five minutes.
We also got to go through the Vatican Museums and see the Sistine Chapel. We didn’t look too much through the museums but we stayed in the chapel for a good half hour just because there is so much to look at. It was amazing to see it. I mean, I don’t know much about art, and I couldn’t really differentiate much art from any other in terms of skill or style. After seeing so much art and paintings in France in so many museums, I could identify particular works but I really couldn’t tell any distinct talent-based differences between them. I didn’t know which was technically “better” or more impressive than any other. However, in the Sistine Chapel, I could immediately see a difference in his painting, which was unlike any other I had seen. Not only was there just so much there, and painted upside-down nonetheless, but the figures and people actually looked like card-board cutouts to me, that’s how realistic they were to me. It was pretty amazing.
Another funny incidence: while walking down the street and shopping through the souvenir shops in Vatican City, we ran into a former teacher from St. Francis- Fr. Brad! We all kind of just did a double-take but we actually ran into someone we knew in Rome! It was pretty funny but nice to see a familiar face.
We ended the night with another walk to the Trevi Fountain, which we had wanted to see at night. Still the same story- same pose, same laugh, same toss behind the shoulder, same picture taken.
We made our way over to the ruins again and down to the track where the Romans used to have their chariot races, Circo Massimo. It was a cloudy but pleasant day. The red brick and gray stone ruins were a great backdrop for a group of young guys playing soccer in a spot we sat to read. They reminded me of my brothers when they would have one of their Frisbee sessions- very laidback and easygoing, anyone’s invited. Two Asian guys went over to join them as they tried to establish a pattern through their language barrier. Soccer is international though, they figured something out. We had a nice picnic too in a park by the Colosseum. Nice view but the Italians are crazy about their dogs over here. It’s like France, where it doesn’t seem that many of them are ever on leases. While we ate our lunch, I could see about sixteen big dogs all around. I was surprised none of them attacked each other. I guess they’re well-trained like those Parisian pups.
We ventured over to the Trevi fountain today too. It was fun to sit back and watch so many different people from so many different places approach the fountain and act out the exact same scene for the exact same picture: sitting on the edge, throwing their coin in backwards for good luck. It’s funny because no matter how different these people are or no matter what their language or nationality, they all basically acted the exact same for those five minutes.
Karen arrived from Prague safely. We got moved from the 6-bed dorm hostel to the 9-bed which was in another building. This one looks pretty shady but we’re meeting some cool people though. This is what I wanted to do- meet and talk with people. We hadn’t gotten to do that too much in Paris or during these first few days of Rome, but now we are. Our new roommate, Jill is actually from PA and doesn’t live that far from St. Francis! It was so comforting- I felt like I knew her.
More hiking around today. We made it to more of the bigger ruins in the Roman Forum and down to the Pantheon. I cannot believe that that building is still standing. It’s unfathomable how the whole thing was ever made in the first place. The architecture and perfect geometry and symmetry of it seems impossible. And to think it was made around 25 BC and is still standing strong is incredible. I really was impressed with its enormity. But the funny part was the fact that even though the Pantheon is in a pretty little square with quaint, pretty Italian buildings and restaurants, good old McDonalds was directly across from that glorious ancient monument. How nice. But not really. It was also pretty funny to look at the rules once walking into the Pantheon. Apparently one major rule was to not “make annoying noises inside the building.” What kind of general rule is that? Ha, who knows but we got a laugh out of it.
On the way back, we stopped at this great glass bead shop. It was a small store, but every square inch of it was covered with multi-colored beads and glass balls and chandeliers. It was so pretty and we hung out there for a little while just for the atmosphere.
Another busy day full of walking. We made the hour and ten minute trek to the Vatican. Our hopes were to get to the Vatican museums for free since it was the last Sunday of the month but that plan fell through when the line turned out to go on for blocks. We also got side-tracked because the line for the Vatican itself was basically non-existent because we got there so early. We got right in, walked through and took pictures, and even made it for 10 am Mass inside the Basilica.
After the Vatican and a wonderful outdoor lunch of marinara pizza and of course some more gelato, we made some more church stops on the way back. Faustina was the first one and while Claire stayed for the holy hour, Tim and I headed over to the riverside and went past the Castel Santa Angelo. Another great view from that side. It was pretty picturesque, plenty of people stretched out on the grass, alongside the river, with the bridge reflected onto it, while a few guys played guitar nearby- incredibly relaxing.
We also made it to a few more churches on the way back- Andrea del Valle, Ignatius Loyola, and Campidoglio. We also passed a small area of ruins. It was funny because the entire thing was overtaken by stray cats. They were everywhere! Each little spot you noticed, there was another cat, peeking through some grass or a hole in a stone. Black and gray cats, white ones, orange, striped, fluffy, thin- everything. They totally took over.
Wow, we saw more today than we had originally planned. We made it to the Piazza del Popolo, including the Maria del Popolo church and the Santa Susanna church. We saw the Fontane del Tritone and the Spanish steps. Carol had advised us to first go to the piazza, and then walk down along the Bourgeoisie park in order to get a great view as we made our way to the Spanish steps. She was right on--amazing view. And the sixty-degree weather didn’t hurt either. After walking all afternoon, we made a few stops in the park and atop the Spanish Steps to read, enjoy the view, and soak up the sun. Lovely day overall.
It’s a lot of fun to go into these churches and see so many famous paintings and sculptures by all the artists we have read about in our art history class. I’m no art expert but it’s interesting to be able to see them and actually recognize them and know some background or be able to see some differences between them.
We have also discovered a new weakness (aka- addiction): gelato. Wonderful creation and done quite exceptionally by the Italians.
We have arrived safe and sound in Rome! We didn’t have too many problems getting here. We only faced one minor complication in Charles de Gaulle airport. So, we bought our eight euro metro tickets, like the good temporary “citizens” that we are. However, we got off at the wrong terminal stop, so by the time we took the metro back to the correct terminal, our tickets wouldn’t let us go through the turn-style machine. Most metro stops only have turn-styles though, so if you are without a ticket and there isn’t security in sight, one can easily jump it. However, of course, when it comes to being late for a flight, we were faced with not only a turn-style, but also closing doors surrounded by a 7 foot wall of glass. But no worries, our desperate selves, managed to shimmy our stuff over the wide expanse of glass and jump the whole wall! Very entertaining, a little nerve-racking, because of course it’s not easy to be discreet about that but we made it.
Anyways, we made it successfully. We made it to our hostel safely only after being ripped off five euros by a taxi-driver. The hostel is decent- nothing spectacular but mostly clean and sufficient. We were placed in the 6-bed dorm too so it was nice to only have a few roommates. However, our hostel does seem to be placed in the China-town section of town. Nothing wrong with that but the area over here in kinda dirty and there is dog poop pretty much every few feet. They don’t seem too clean in Rome so far.
We made it to the Colosseum, where we caught a beautiful sunset and got our first glance at ancient Rome. We also made it to San Giovanni church and Santa Maria degli Angeli church, as well as the Republica area with it’s beautiful fountain. Claire made a great find in San Giovanni- an older lady named Carol who gave us countless tips and advice about Rome. I guess we won’t need to buy any transportation while here- she claims that Rome is extremely walk-able. Our first dinner was nice too- the waiters are way nicer here than in Paris. Also a bonus!