My travels took me further south to Assisi, the pilgrimage town. The birthplace of St Francis. It is a very photogenic old town with cobblestone streets and alleys set on a hill overlooking a verdant countryside. Walking around the town and the surrounding countryside really fills you with a sense of peace that St Francis always talked about. A narrow country road through green fields lined with some spring blooms was a perfect place for an evening stroll. Assisi may not be a top destination in Italy, but it definitely is on my 'will be back' list. I hear the rest of Umbria has a similar vibe, perfect for small town hopping.
And then onto Rome, the eternal city. I'd say the eternally crowded city. Trevi fountain looked like a 24x7 free concert venue. And the only music to be heard was the sound of running water and chatter in a hundred languages. It was quite the sight to see people trying out their throwing arms in an effort to toss a coin into the fountain from a hundred ft away. I'm sure that people up front got tonked a few times. I was tempted to do the same because when in Rome, do as the Romans. But then these morons were not Romans. Plus it would also mean throwing away money, which really is not my thing. Rome is definitely a must see for Roman history buffs. The Pantheon is quite a feat of engineering for a 2000 year old structure.
The Vatican is a must visit for Catholic peeps. The Pope gives an audience to his fan base on Wednesdays. It is one giant rally. Pro tip, find a seat near the barricades as the Pope may drive through near there. It's quite the experience to be part of this massive and joyful audience. And then there is St Peter's Basilica which is truly magnificent. It's enormous and ornate, but not tacky. Michelangelo and the rest have delivered a masterpiece. You can truly feel the transcendent in the beauty around you, despite the mob scene. The geometry and symmetry, the paintings and sculptures deliver a complete all around experience. Finally, you can top it off with a visit to the Vatican museum. Make sure that you save some mental bandwidth for the Sistine Chapel that comes about three quarters of the way through. Michelangelo was truly a genius. The incredible imagination of theology and the final painting itself makes the Last Judgement worth all the hype. Prepare to have your expectations met and surpassed.
A few more observations on Italian chaos. At Sunday Mass during communion, there was none of the pew by pew business. It was a mad dash, first come first serve event. As though the priests might run out of communion.
Another stray thought. How do we treat hawkers? Do we ignore, do we tell them to leave us alone or do we smile and keep walking? I once dined at a cafe and when I was done decided to join one of the waiters in trying to get people to come in. I asked him if he gets depressed with the continuous rejection and how we should treat hawkers. He told me he doesn't take things to heart, but would like people to either ignore him or just smile. He hopes that people wouldn't give him a stink eye if they are not interested. So from here on, I'm gonna smile and keep walking. It'll cost me nothing.
A shout out to Fr Tony Sholander SJ for free accommodation with the Jesuits in Rome.