I’m in Rome! I was so eager to settle in and see the sights that every delay sorting out transportation downtown required double patience. Finally, I found the non-descript door on the non-descript street of the non-descript monastery. The welcome, however, was wonderful! Sister Leopoldina, a native Spanish speaker, and I, a native English speaker, found a common language, French, in Italy. We shared an amicable conversation about my mission, her origins (Columbia), and the lay of the neighbourhood. Smiling, she noted that some people can just connect, even without words, whereas others never do, no matter how many words. Sensing a soul connection, I said I knew exactly what she meant.
More excited than tired, I set out to explore Rome. The coliseum was just around the corner, but famished from the journey, I headed towards the restaurant Sister Leopoldina recommended instead. After a circuitous route that brought me back to the first suspect, although with a slightly different name, I perused the menu. The only vegetarian options were green salad or premade pizza – impossible to settle for on my first night in Italy. Ruing the lost time, I backtracked to a cute trattoria I’d passed in my search.
I love how Roman restaurants claim sections of the street for open-air cafes. Settling into a romantic table for two, I ordered cannelloni, a salad, and a glass of wine. As my food was being prepared, I studied the map to scope out a walking tour after dinner.
“Ready for dessert?,” the waitress asked.
“Yes, please. Which do you recommend –panna cotta or the tiramisu?,” I asked. I recently discovered panna cotta in Toronto, a new contender for my favourite Italian dessert.
Overhearing me, the American couple two tables down recommended the panna cotta. They’d come back here, in large part, because of it. On their recommendation, I switched my order.
An older gentleman sat down at the table between us, apologising for interrupting our conversation. As often is the case in tourist cities, we soon were engaged in a friendly, international chat. Confirming a few options for my evening tour, I was well rewarded with the lively nightlife near the pantheon. Strolling further, I lingered to take photographs of strange, towering columns in front of a curious facade, half ancient, half modern. I wandered over to a late-night sandwich bar to assuage my curiousity. “E ‘il Tempio di Adriano,” I learned, which helped very little. Recognising a bust of Hadrian from my Italian tour five years ago, I realised it was the temple of the second century Roman emperor.
Looking at my watch, I decided to squeeze in a trip to the pantheon. This ancient Roman temple, commissioned by Hadrian, became a church in the 8th century. It remains the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome today. I pause to touch the ancient marble, and marvel at the magnitude and magnificence of its columns.
Worried about the time, I hailed a cab back to the monastery. The welcome pack said the doors were strictly locked at 11PM, and latecomers would have to sleep elsewhere. After 36 hours without sleep, I was determined not to be one of them.
Arriving at 10:50, I wished I’d lingered 5 more minutes to enjoy the historical wonders of Rome. Sister Leopoldina, still at the desk, asked how my evening was. But that’s another story.