Monday, August 7, 2006 (DAY 13)
Today I lived like a Roman – because when in Rome…
I started off the day with a visit to Vatican City and St. Peter’s Bascillica. Both amazing sites and worth waiting in the two-hour line to enter. The Vatican Museum was full of intricate tapestries and paintings, the most famous of which is the Sistine Chapel. This Michaelangelo masterpiece is magnificent. He painted the whole chapel, which is probably the size of a fairly large church sanctuary here in the states, in four years, and nearly went blind doing so. Seeing the size of this room and the detail he put into it, I can’t believe it took him just four years. It left me reverent and absolutely in awe.
St. Peter’s Bascillica – the largest church in the world – left a similar effect on me. Even with the crowds of thousands swarming around you, this magnificent piece of architecture makes you feel like the tiniest speck on a great canvas. The dome of the cathedral towers hundreds of feet above you and is decorated with fine artistry. Along the walls are marble statues of great popes, angels and leaders. You can almost lose yourself in the religious fervor each sculpture emanates.
On our way out of the church and the city I mailed a few postcards because Vatican stamps are rare and a collector’s item. This city, this country rather, has one of the most efficent mailing systems in the world, delivering mail across the world in less than a week.
Then it was time for one of our last pizza stops so that Kelly, Kathryn and I could rejuvenate our bodies for the abundance of walking that was in store for us. We visited the Spanish Steps (smaller than I expected and a little disappointing) and the Pantheon (incredible!). I didn’t expect the Pantheon to be a church from it’s weathered marble exterior. I figured the inside would be the same way, but again, Italy trampled my expectations. Inside the Pantheon is a sole window at the structures peak. This circular hole, big enough for a bus to fit through, is the buildings only source of light. And that hole never closes, rain or shine, so the building also contains a drainage system to keep the Pantheon looking its best when the weather isn’t so fair.
Before meeting up with the group, we spent the rest of our time wondering around the city, soaking it all in one last time. We ate gelato and canolis and did some last minute shopping in the trashy souvenir shops.
Dinner tonight was, again, bittersweet. The view was gorgeous, looking over the Colosseum, which was lit up for the night, but it was our last meal together, and with this in the back of our minds no one was their usual crazy self. We did have some touching speeches from Jason Ring and Jess Barrow, which was just a preview of the night to come.
Back at the hotel we rushed to our rooms to prepare the impromptu toga party we jabbered about on the coach. Then, clad in our finest white bed sheets, we made our way to the hotel lobby for the Contiki Compadre ceremony. The hotel staff watched and chuckled as we presented our secret pals that we’d been writing to over the course of the past 14 days with some cheesy and some heartfelt gifts from our travels across Europe. It was the perfect way to end our two weeks together as we relived the hilarity of our two weeks together and offered our kind farewells.
I’m really sad to be leaving this amazing place, not because I got to see Europe -- a dream I’ve had practically my whole life – but because I’m going to have to leave these amazing people. In only two weeks, complete strangers became close friends. It stings me to think I won’t be able to grow closer to these people throughout the year, but the memories we made on this trip I’ll never forget and will always cherish. And in a year, we’ll reunite once again – in New Zealand!