25 June 2013

The Emerald Isle

From the hills overlooking Dublin

Before going back to the U.S., I took the opportunity to spend a few days in Ireland.  I was mostly in Dublin, but went up with another friar to the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock and to our Dominican Priory (or what the locals there call our "Friary") in Sligo.  It is impressive to realize how long our Dominicans have been in Ireland, and how they continued to survive despite very severe persecution.  For example, the Dominicans have been in Sligo since the 13th century.  But for much of thee last several centuries, religious life was forbidden by the English.  This is the reason that San Clemente fell to the hands of the Irish, so that they might have a place to educate their friars, as it would have been illegal in Ireland.  There were even professional "Priest Hunters" in Ireland until the 18th century, and they were given a higher reward for hunting down and catching a friar.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Knock commemorates the apparition of the Blessed Virgin, St. John the Evangelist, and St. Joseph outside a small country parish near Sligo.  Our Lady said nothing but merely pointed to another image, that of the Lamb on the Altar, seen as a symbol of the Eucharist.  The Shrine remains an important place of pilgrimage for the Irish and was visited by Pope John Paul II on one of his first trips, in 1979.

I also visited Glendalogh, the ruins of an ancient monastic settlement and the home of St. Kevin.  It gives a glimpse of the unique Christian life that flourished in Ireland.  Regrettably, this life was severely threatened by the Vikings, who continually raided the Monastic communities. And of course, these same peoples eventually invaded England as the Normans, whose brutal tyranny marked religious life in Ireland for 800 years.

The pictures from my trips to Ireland are below.


Knock and the Shrine of Our Lady of Sligo


18 June 2013

Visiting Rome (Part IV) - Where to Stay

When I lived in Chicago, lots of people I knew would visit the city.  I was invariably asked the same question: "what's a good hotel at which I can stay?"  I always had to answer the same way, "I have no idea.  I live in Chicago, so I never stay in hotels here."  The same is true in Rome.  If you want to know a good hotel in Rome, don't ask someone who lives there, ask people who have traveled there.

Even so, I do usually ask people where they stay when they come to Rome--more the neighborhood than the particular hotel.  I find that the Americans tend to be in one of two places.  The first is up by the Spanish Steps or perhaps near the Via Veneto (which is where the American Embassy is located).  This is a very nice place to stay.  There are some beautiful neighborhoods and streets, and you are very close to the center of Rome and to the Metro line.  The second is over by Termini Station, near Vittorio Emanuele park, which is about the closest Rome gets to a "Chinatown".  My impression is that it tends to be cheaper, but the neighborhood is perfectly fine otherwise, although not as scenic as the Piazza di Spagna, and it is more on the outskirts of the tourist areas.

To give you a better idea when you are choosing a hotel, below is a map of Rome.  The dark area in the center is where you will spend most of your tourist time, particularly east of the river.  With a few major exceptions (such as St. Paul Outside the Walls or the Catacombs), you won't need to go outside this area, especially if it is your first time in Rome.  Therefore, I would recommend that when you are booking a hotel, see how close it is to this area.  The more in the center of this area it is, the more convenient it will be for you while touring the major sites of Rome.  Also, just about anywhere in this area will be fairly safe to stay.  Rome is a large, urban city with all the risks of crime that come with that, but other than pickpockets and Gypsies, the tourist area is fairly safe.

When people think of places to stay, they normally think of hotels.  But there are two other options to consider.  The first is an apartment.  There are lots of apartments in Rome that you can rent out.  The advantage of this is that they often have a kitchen.  Dining in Roman restaurants is a bit expensive, unless all you want is pizza.  Some of these apartments have multiple rooms, so if you are a large family or a group of several couples, an apartment may be a most cost-effective option.  It also has the advantage of being more in the city, giving a better sense of how the people here actually live.

If you are a pilgrim to Rome, and coming largely out of religious motivations, I would also recommend staying in a convent.  There are quite a number of sisters' convents that rent out part of their space for tourists and pilgrims.  The rooms tend to be much less expensive than other places.  The rooms are usually very simple, but very clean, and many often provide a simple breakfast.  For pilgrims, the convents will almost always have a chapel where you can pray.  Take note, however, that many do have a curfew, so if you are planning lots of late nights out, make sure you know when they lock up for the night.  There is a website called Monastery Stays that lists a number of these, although I do not know first hand the accuracy of the site.  (UPDATE:  There is also a Booking Monastery website.  Again, I can't confirm the accuracy of the website, so use prudent judgment.)

Just keep in mind that the Italian sense of comfort is rather different than ours.  I find Italian beds much firmer than American beds.  Romans are also used to living in much smaller spaces, so do not expect some grand, large room, and certainly not a spacious bathroom!

Speaking of bathrooms, two quick notes.  In most hotels there will be a cord hanging from the wall inside the shower.  Whatever you do, do not pull it unless it's an emergency.  It is an uncharacteristic Italian attempt at safety, and it signals an alarm in case you fall or something.  Second, that extra bathroom fixture on the floor next to the toilet is not a drinking fountain for very short people.

Liturgy & Law -- Adding St. Joseph to the Canon

Death of St. Joseph, Dominican House of Studies

Update 20 June 2013: The USCCB has announced through its website that the Holy See has amended the words of Eucharistic Prayers 2, 3, and 4 to insert the name of St. Joseph. According to the USCCB these revisions "are approved to be used immediately".  Below is the revised text English and Latin.  Whether this is "immediately" applicable in other countries is not immediately clear.  I would assume that the Conferences of Bishops would announce this individually for the diocese of their own territory. 

The original decree (and translations of the text into additional languages) may be found at the Vatican website here:


Eucharistic Prayer II
Have mercy on us all, we pray,
that with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God,

with blessed Joseph, her Spouse,

with the blessed Apostles,
and all the Saints who have pleased you throughout the ages,
we may merit to be coheirs to eternal life,
and may praise and glorify you
through your Son, Jesus Christ.
Eucharistic Prayer III
May he make of us
an eternal offering to you,
so that we may obtain an inheritance with your elect,
especially with the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God,

with blessed Joseph, her Spouse,

with your blessed Apostles and glorious Martyrs
(with Saint N.: the Saint of the day or Patron Saint)
and with all the Saints,
on whose constant intercession in your presence
we rely for unfailing help.
Eucharistic Prayer IV
To all of us, your children,
grant, O merciful Father,
that we may enter into a heavenly inheritance
with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God,

with blessed Joseph, her Spouse,

and with your Apostles and Saints in your kingdom.
There, with the whole of creation,
freed from the corruption of sin and death,
may we glorify you through Christ our Lord,
through whom you bestow on the world all that is good.


Prex Eucharistica II
Omnium nostrum, quǽsumus, miserére,

ut cum beáta Dei Genetríce Vírgine María,
beáto Ioseph, eius Sponso,
beátis Apóstolis et ómnibus Sanctis,
qui tibi a sǽculo placuérunt,
ætérnae vitæ mereámur esse consórtes,
et te laudémus et glorificémus
per Fílium tuum Iesum Christum.

Prex Eucharistica III
Ipse nos tibi perfíciat munus ætérnum,

ut cum eléctis tuis hereditátem cónsequi valeámus,
in primis cum beatíssima Vírgine, Dei Genetríce, María,
cum beáto Ioseph, eius Sponso,
cum beátis Apóstolis tuis et gloriósis Martýribus
(cum Sancto N.: Sancto diei vel patrono)
et ómnibus Sanctis,
quorum intercessióne
perpétuo apud te confídimus adiuvári.

Prex Eucharistica IV
Nobis ómnibus, fíliis tuis, clemens Pater, concéde,

ut cæléstem hereditátem cónsequi valeámus
cum beáta Vírgine, Dei Genetríce, María,
cum beáto Ioseph, eius Sponso,
cum Apóstolis et Sanctis tuis
in regno tuo, ubi cum univérsa creatúra,
a corruptióne peccáti et mortis liberáta,
te glorificémus per Christum Dóminum nostrum,
per quem mundo bona cuncta largíris.

UPDATE 19 June 2013:  Noted on-line apologist Jimmy Akin has apparently contacted the Committee on Divine Worship at the USCCB about the implementation date. He largely confirms what I said below.  See his blog entry here.

* * * * * 

It has been reported that the Congregation for Divine Worship has prepared a decree to insert the name of St. Joseph in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Eucharistic Prayers (it was added to the 1st Eucharistic Prayer--the "Roman Canon"--in 1962).  Some websites have erroneously reported that that means the name may or must now be inserted by priests using those Eucharistic prayers.  This is incorrect.

Under the Code of Canon Law, new laws do not generally take effect when they are issued.  Rather "a law is established when it is promulgated." (can. 7, emphasis added)  Promulgation is the official announcement  of a law.  This occurs by publishing it in Acta Apostolicae Sedis (AAS), the official commentary on all of the actions of the Holy See.  Note, however, that the canon cited above says "established" not "effective".  A law does not even go into effect on the day it is published in AAS.  The general rule is that a law goes into effect three months after its promulgation. (can. 8)  

The Holy See can waive these provisions to have a law take effect immediately.  It did so when Pope Benedict XVI issued the Apostolic Letter Normas Nonnullas, which changed the rules of the Conclave just before the effective date of his resignation.  (I discussed the possibility in a blog post this past February.)  To do this, the decree must "specifically and expressly" establish a period other than the three month rule.  So, in Normas Nonnullas the Pope stated in the very last sentence, "This document will enter into effect immediately upon its publication in L’Osservatore Romano."  This is how you specifically and expressly provide a different effective date.  The mere use of "henceforth" in the current decree on the use of the name of St. Joseph does not do this, and the decree mentions no other specific effective date.  Therefore, we should not--indeed may not--assume that the decree has immediate force or effect.

Something similar happened when Pope John XXIII first added the name of St. Joseph to the Canon back in 1962.  The decree was issued on November 13, 1962.  However, the name was not to be inserted into the canon until December 8, 1962, approximately 1 month later, as specifically mentioned in the decree.  It is normal for there to be a gap between the date of issuance of a new law and its effectiveness to allow time for the news to spread and churches to implement the change.

Therefore, since this new decree has not even been published, it has no legal effect yet.  Therefore, no priest, on his own initiative, should insert the name of St. Joseph into the other Eucharistic Prayers until such time as the decree has been published and the applicable waiting period has elapsed.

16 June 2013

Visiting Rome (Part III) - The Pope

One of the best reasons to come to Rome is to see the Pope.  Even a fair share of non-Catholics will make an effort to attend a Papal event while in Rome, and it usually is not terribly difficult to do so.  (Although see the really important note at the bottom of this post about the need for tickets to papal events.)  Again, this is written with my fellow Americans in mind, but most is applicable to everyone.

There are already some good resources on the website about papal events:

The first is the Pontifical North American College (usually referred to simply as "The NAC"), which is the American seminary residence here in Rome.  They have a number of resources for pilgrims, and especially their page on Papal Audiences and Events.  One of the other very important pages on that website is the Bishops’ Office for United States Visitors to the Vatican.  The U.S. Bishops keep an office at the NAC explicitly for American pilgrims to Rome and is run by the Alma Mercy Sisters.  They have lots of good and useful links, and it is worth contacting them before you come over.  Be sure to look at the rest of the NAC "Pilgrim Information" pages as well.

Many American Catholics are surprised to learn that there is an American parish here in Rome.  Over the years, many countries have established national churches in Rome both to have a presence in the eternal city as well as to minister to their citizens--whether as pilgrims or as residents--here in Rome.  Many of those are even sponsored by the governments of those places, but obviously not the American one.  The American parish in Rome is the Church of Santa Susanna, and it is staffed by the Paulist Fathers.  Like the NAC, they have a lot of good information for pilgrims as well as information on Papal Audiences and events.  Also, they are one of the places in Rome where you can find a Mass in English.

There is also a private website (i.e., not an official Vatican website) called St. Peter's Basilica that has a lot of good information.  The one caution on this is that it was done a few years ago and does not seem to have been updated in a while, but much of the information is largely still valid.  You can find the website by clicking here.

So, when can you see the Pope?
  • Wednesday Audience.  Every Wednesday (except usually in August, when it is at Castel Gandolfo) the Pope makes an address to pilgrims gathered in Rome from St. Peter's Square.  The Papal Audience is usually at 10:30am in the Square, except in the winter when it is moved into the Paul VI Auditorium.  You can just show up and stand with the crowds, if you want. However, if you want a seat, you need a ticket.  The websites above can give you details on how to get those.  Note that when the Audience is indoors (winter), you can only see it with a ticket.
  • Sunday Angelus.  There is a long tradition in the Church, sadly largely discarded in the U.S., of praying the Angelus prayer at Noon every day (and usually also at 6:00am and 6:00pm).  (If you go to Ireland, for example, TV broadcast is still suspended each day at Noon to broadcast the Angelus prayer.)  The Pope does this publicly every Sunday at noon from the window of the (former) Papal Apartments.  You don't need a ticket for this, just stand in the square and face north.  It makes for a nice Sunday to attend the main Mass (at 10:30am) at the Altar of the Chair (often celebrated by a Cardinal or Bishop, but not the Pope) and afterwards to go to the square for the Audience.  The 10:30am Sunday Mass at St. Peter's is in Latin with the readings and homily in Italian.
There are also other events throughout the year worth attending, but these all depend on when you are in Rome.  Here are some of the regular annual Papal events, following the order of the Liturgical Year:
  • First Sunday of Advent - It has become customary for the Pope to celebrate Vespers (Evening Prayer) with Roman University students on the evening of the First Sunday of Advent.  This is held in St. Peter's Basilica.  usually these tickets are distributed through the schools, but you still may be able to acquire one.
  • Dec. 8 - The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.  Every December 8, the Pope offers prayers at the statute of the Immaculate Conception near the base of the Spanish Steps.  This event is usually in the evening.  No tickets are required for this, but if you want to get close you need to be there early, and be prepared to stand for a long time.  This event is usually very, very heavily attended, and it is usually a bit cold (so dress warmly!).
  • Dec. 25 - Christmas Midnight Mass.  This is usually not at midnight, but about 10:00pm.  However, with a new Pope, this might change.  This Mass is held at St. Peter's.
  • Jan. 1 - Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.  This is always on New Year's Day and is celebrated by the Pope inside St. Peter's Basilica around 10:00am.  Following the Mass is the Pope's address from the Papal Apartment window.
  • Jan 6 - Epiphany.  The Holy See maintains the custom of observing Epiphany on January 6, rather than the Sunday following.  This will be a morning Mass in St. Peter's, with the Angelus to follow in the Square.
  • Feb 2 - Candlemas.  The Pope usually, but not always, celebrates a papal Mass for the feast of the Presentation on February 2.  This is an evening Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.
  • Ash Wednesday at Santa Sabina.  There is a long custom of the Pope celebrating the Stational Mass of Ash Wednesday--and distributing ashes--at our Dominican church of Santa Sabina.  It begins with the Pope praying at the church of Sant'Anselmo at the top of the Aventine and then processing to Santa Sabina as the choir chants the Litany of Saints.  The Mass is inside the Church, but they usually set up monitors and seats outside as well, and ashes and Holy Communion are distributed to those seated outside.  It is usually held in the evening.
  • Palm Sunday.  The Pope celebrates Mass with the blessing of Palms at St. Peter's Basilica.  It is usually a morning Mass in St. Peter's Square.
  • Holy Week:
    • Chrism Mass- Holy Thursday morning.  The Pope has Mass with the blessing of the oils and the Priests' renewal of promises in the morning in St. Peter's Basilica.
    • Mass of the Lord's Supper.  In the past, this was an evening Mass at St. John Lateran.  For his first Holy Thursday, however, Pope Francis chose to say this Mass at a local youth prison.  He will likely continue that, and so there will be no more Papal Holy Thursday evening Mass.
    • Good Friday - Liturgy of the Lord's Passion.  This is usually at 5:00pm (not 3:00pm) in St. Peter's Basilica on Good Friday.
    • Good Friday - Way of the Cross - This is another very popular event held very close to the Colosseum (not, as many people believe in the Colosseum).  It is usually an evening event.
  • Easter Sunday Mass.  This is one of the largest Masses in Rome for the year, and lots and lots of Pilgrims come to this.  It is an outdoor Mass on St. Peter's Square and starts about 10:00am.  After Mass, the Pope delivers the Urbi et Orbi address from the window of the Papal Apartments.
  • Corpus Christi.  The original day for celebrating Corpus Christi was Thursday after the end of the Pentecost Octave.  Sadly, the Pentecost Octave is no more, but the Holy See maintains the tradition of observing Corpus Christi on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.  There is a large outdoor Mass at the entrance to the Basilica of St. John Lateran.  Following Mass, there is a Eucharistic procession from the Lateran to St. Mary Major for Benediction.  
  • June 29 - Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.  This is usually a morning Mass at St. Peter's Basilica.  It is also the Mass at which the Pope bestows the pallium on the newly made Archbishops.  As many of these Archbishops bring pilgrims with them from their home dioceses, it is often difficult to get tickets for this Mass.
  • August 15 - Solemnity of the Assumption. The Italians usually go on vacation in August, usually before or after "Ferragosto" (i.e., August 15).  The Pope is typically no exception.  Usually this Mass is celebrated at Castel Gandolfo.  However, Pope Francis has indicated that he will not be spending August in Castel Gandolfo, so this Mass may be held in Rome.  
  • Last Sunday before Advent - Solemnity of Christ the King.  Pope Benedict often arranged for the Consistory--at which the new the Cardinals are created--to occur the day before the Solemnity of Christ the King.  He would therefore end the liturgical year with this Mass with the new Cardinals in St. Peter's.  This is not one that the Pope regularly celebrates publicly, and if he does have it following a consistory, it is usually hard to get tickets because of the pilgrimage groups of the attending cardinals.
Although not Papal events, I might also recommend the following:
  • Sunday Vespers at St. Peter's.  The Canons of St. Peter celebrate Vespers at the Altar of the Chair (i.e., at the very back of the Basilica) every Sunday at 5:00pm (following the 4:00pm Mass and immediately followed by the 5:45pm Mass).  The Office is chanted in Latin, with a choir.  It is usually led by a Bishop, or sometimes a Cardinal. The area will be blocked off, and open only to people attending Mass or Vespers.  Tell the guards at the barrier that you are there for Vespers (It: Vespri) or Mass (It: La Messa).  
    • On the 5th Sunday of Lent St. Peter's is the Stational Church.  There is an old custom of displaying the relic of Veronica's Veil on that day, from where it is usually kept above the statue of St. Veronica under the main dome of St. Peter's.  In the older calendar of the Church, this Sunday marked the beginning of Passiontide, elements of which remain even in the post-Vatican II liturgy.
  • Stational Masses of Lent.  There is a long custom of churches in Rome being designated as "Stational Churches" and associated with the different days of lent.  The NAC has an early morning Mass at every one of these Stational Churches throughout Lent (except for Sundays).  It is usually very well attended by American Catholics in Rome.  Full details are at the NAC's website.  Note, however, that these are not the official stational liturgies.  Most of these Churches will have the proper stational Mass in the evening, which involves a penitential procession.  
    • At San Clemente, our Stational Mass day is Monday of the Second Week of Lent (in 2014, that also happens to be St. Patrick's Day).  The Basilica here follows a very ancient custom of covering the floor with basil leaves, so that when the procession walks over them, the fragrance of the leaves is released.  
  • Pentecost Sunday at the Pantheon.  After the 10:00am (I think) Mass on Pentecost, the Church of Santa Maria della Rotonda (also called Santa Maria ad Martyres, but best known simply by its old Pagan name, "The Pantheon"), a great batch of red rose petals are dropped from the hole in the ceiling of the church in memory of the Holy Spirit who descended as "tongues of flame" on Mary and the Apostles.  You need not attend the Mass, but they will not let you into the Church until after Mass is finished, around Noon.
  • Sunday Mass at St. Mary Major. People always ask me where to go to Mass.  I find that the 10:00am Sunday Mass at St. Mary Major is one of the most beautiful in Rome.  They have one of the best choirs.  That Mass is also in Latin, with the readings and homily in Italian.
IMPORTANT NOTE:  These are all subject to change.  The best source of papal events is the website of the Pontifical Liturgy Office, which maintains a calendar of the Pope's public events.  Make sure to check that before you come to Rome.

REALLY IMPORTANT NOTE: Almost every Papal event--especially if it is indoors--requires you to have a ticket in advance.  They will not let you in without displaying a ticket.  You can get those through the U.S. Bishops' Pilgrimage office.  

MOST IMPORTANT NOTE OF ALL (FOR CATHOLICS):  For Papal Masses, the norm is to receive communion on the tongue and not in the hand.  The priests are instructed to give the response (The Body of Christ) in the original Latin (Corpus Christi), after which you give your "Amen".  If you have never received communion on the tongue, here is a good guide and description:  How to Receive Communion on the Tongue.  If the Mass is outdoors, after receiving Holy Communion, please quickly move aside so that others may receive.  Obviously, if you are not Catholic or are not properly disposed, please do not receive  Holy Communion.  Most of all--and I cannot believe this is necessary to say--under no circumstances whatsoever or for any reason may you take the host home with you.  That would be gravely sinful.

Oh blithersome couturier

In the on-line magazine Commentary, the writer John Podhoretz has a beautiful tribute to his sister, Rachel Abrams, who died earlier this month of cancer.  The article is worth reading in its entirety.  One part I particularly enjoyed was a bit of poetry that Mr. Podhoretz shared from his sister Rachel.   It seems that she was none too fond of a certain Washington writer, which she expertly dispatched in these few lines of poetry:
Oh blithersome couturier of wordifactious spewage,
Your loathsome predilection for effluxicating brewage
Has found its proper gallery in hurricanus sewage.
Oh odious splendiferatious tonguer of all piety,
Ambassador-at-very-large for platitudiniety,
Your prosody’s ontology’s all Sartric nullibiety.
It’s thus we say, with due respect, and many years’ assizing:
Oh, literary colporteur, the words of your devising
Appear to land upon the page without palpable revising
St. Thomas says that one way you know an expert in a given activity is that he can make mistakes on purpose.  The novice pianist hits the wrong key because he doesn't yet have the art mastered.  When the virtuoso hits the wrong key, it's only because he is doing it on purpose.  Moreover, the expert's ability to derivate creatively from the usual rules of note and meter to create an even more profound musical effect shows how truly talented he is.  The same can be true for language. This woman was a virtuoso of the English language.

The whole article is available here, and definitely worth a read.  Requiescat in pace.

12 June 2013

Visiting Rome (Part II) -- Getting to the City

I am continuing with my series of posts on visiting the city of Rome.  Assuming you have made your plane reservations and all, you will almost surely fly into Rome's Fiumicino Airport, also known as Leonardo da Vinci.  In this post, I'll talk about the myriad of different ways to get you from that airport to the city itself.  As in most things in life, there is an inverse ratio between cost and ease of travel.  The easiest ways are the usually the most expensive, and vice-versa.

One preliminary note: if you are flying in from another European city on one of the ever-increasing number of discount airlines, you may be flying into Rome's other airport, Ciampino. This post, however, assumes you're coming into Fiumicino.

From least costly to most costly:
  1. FREE!  Fiumicino is about 25 miles from Rome.  According to Google Maps, it should take you only about 7 hours to walk that distance.  You can ponder all the money you're saving during your 7 hour trek.
  2. €4 or 5.  There are a number of shuttle buses that will go every hour or so from the airport to Rome's Termini Station, in the center of Rome.  The trip is usually about 45 minutes.  They are pretty competitive and pretty cheap.  The biggest risk with these is Roman Traffic--make sure when you return to the airport you give yourself plenty of time.  There are a number of companies out there, but I have usually used Terravision, an international company with a website in English and online ticket purchase option. As of today, they are charging €4 per person each way.  The company employees usually speak a sufficient amount of English.
  3. €14.  There is a train that runs directly between Fiumicino and Termini Station that runs every 30 minutes or so.  It is called the Leonardo da Vinci Express and is run by Trenitalila, the national train company.  Tickets can (and should) be bought in advance from Trenitalia's website, which has some English.  Like most (but not all) Italian trains, the ticket must be stamped in advance before boarding the train.  There should be small machines near the front of the tracks were you can do this.  The train will take you to Rome's Termini Station, the main train station in the city. The biggest risk here is that there is a strike and the trains are shut down.  I tend to find the train the best balance between cost and ease of travel.
  4. €25.  There are shuttle companies that will take you from the airport directly to your hotel.  They work a bit like Airport Shuttles in the U.S., in that it is a small van that they fill with people, and drop off one-by one.  It's not too expensive, and is fairy quick especially if you are the first one dropped off, not so much if you are the last.  So, it could take you anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour (or longer) to get directly to your hotel.  This one is best if you are travelling in a group of people, meaning fewer stops along the way.  Like the buses, the risk is that the traffic will be terrible coming into Rome.  The company I've used is AirPortShuttle, and they have a website in English where you can reserve your ticket.  
  5. €48.  The easiest way to get to and from the airport is by cab.  By law, the official cabs may only charge you a flat fee, currently set at €48, for trips to the center of Rome.  This fee is all-inclusive and is per trip (not per traveler).  The City's website has a handy sheet (in Italian, English, and Spanish) which explains all this.  Most of the cabs take credit cards, but it is a good idea to have sufficient cash in Euro with you just in case.  Also, make sure you only take the "Comune di Roma" taxis, with the red and gold shield of the city of Rome on the side of them.  Also, caveat emptor, Roman cabdrivers are notorious for trying to squeeze a few extra Euros out of foreigners--telling you that you need pay extra for using a credit card, or having extra luggage, or extra passengers, etc.  None of this is true.  You may certainly tip a few extra Euro if you want, but they are not allowed to charge more than the flat fee.  Also, in my experience very few of the Roman cabbies speak English, so bring a printout of the name and address of your hotel with you.  The cabs should be parked out in front of the main entrance to the airport.  Ignore the people soliciting cabs before you get to that cabstand.  The trip should take 45 minutes to an hour, depending on Roman traffic and where you're staying.  Occasionally, the cabbies do go on strike, so that if you are planning to go back to the airport by cab, consider getting the concierge at your hotel to make the reservation the night before.  The biggest risk in taking a Roman cab is that the speed and aggressiveness which define the Roman cabbie will give you a heart attack.  Make sure you hold on!
  6. Priceless.  Go to seminary, get ordained a priest, then get consecrated a Bishop, then get named a Cardinal, then get elected Pope in the Papal Conclave, so that you can take the papal helicopter, Good Shepherd I, from the airport to your residence in Vatican City.

11 June 2013

Visiting Rome - Part I

A number of people have asked me about visiting Rome--things to do, etc.  I thought it might be a good idea to collect some of my thoughts in a series of post, of which this is the first.  I will hopefully have some more soon.  This is written mostly with my fellow Americans in mind.  If you have any questions, ask in the comment box and I'll see about adding it in the future.

What to bring?

In addition to all the stuff you usually bring, consider these:

A small pair of binoculars.  In Rome there are lots of tall buildings, with some great art very far away (the Sistine Chapel being the prime example).  A small pair of collapsible binoculars will serve you well.

Decent clothes.  Some churches in Rome still require you to dress appropriately (thankfully).  The most important of these is St. Peter's in Rome.  What does it mean to dress appropriately?  It means you are covered from the shoulders down past the knees.  You'll also notice that the Italians rarely wear shorts--even in summertime, although that is changing a bit.  You can survive touring in Rome with a pair of cool, light trousers--even in the summertime.

Change purse.  As Americans, we are not used to carrying coins around.  Our paper bills start at $1, and so we may have a few coins in case a purchase is less than that.  In Europe there are 1 and 2 Euro coins.  That means you will be paying for a lot more things--especially snacks and small gifts--with coins.  There are few things more likely to prompt an exasperated look from a Roman shopkeeper than pulling out a €20 note to pay for something that cost €1.05.  Get used to carrying around a bit of change with you, and a change purse, or some other small bag, helps keep it all together.

Map App.  If you have a smartphone, I have found that one of the most useful apps for Rome is a downloadable map.  The great thing about this is that in a city the size of Rome, your phone can triangulate your position based on the cell towers.  That means a downloadable map can pinpoint you on the map, without an internet connection!  I use the Ulmon App, but there are a lot of others.

An at least one thing you may not need to bring:

An Umbrella.  This you probably do not need to bring with you. Whenever it rains, there is small army of foreigners who sell large and small umbrellas.  You can get one for your stay for €10 Euro.  It probably won't outlast your stay, but it's one less thing you have to pack.  Although it does rain in the summertime, Rome's rainy season is in winter--November to January--when nobody is here anyway.

Advance Work

There are a few tickets that you absolutely need to get in advance, sometimes several months in advance:

Guides in Italy.  One of the best English speaking guides in Italy is Liz Lev. She knows her art and she knows Rome.  She has also written a great Guide to Roman Guidebooks, which you can read here.  One of her best pieces about Roman tour guides is here: "7 Sure-fire Signs You're on the Wrong Vatican Tour". There are also people who you can hire to give you private tours.  Certainly, Liz Lev (whose email is on the previous link) would be a great choice.  I would also recommend a married couple I know here, John and Ashley Norohna, whom you get find out about from their website.

"The Scavi".  "Scavi" is just the Italian word for "excavation".  But "The Scavi" usually refers to the excavation of the necropolis (cemetery) under St. Peter's Basilica and it is where the relics of St. Peter may be found.  It is an incredible site, and absolutely, definitely, without doubt, worth seeing.  Because of the fragility and importance of the excavation site, only a very limited number of tours are permitted each day.  This means you have to book this months in advance.  Fortunately there is a website, and they take requests in English.  All the details can be found at the webpage for the Excavations Office.  Note also that they also do not allow children (under 15 years old) into the Scavi--no exceptions.  The guides for this tour vary greatly in quality. The American Seminarians from the Pontifical North American College are some of the best guides--and it doesn't hurt to ask if there is an American Seminarian available to lead the tour.

Sistine Chapel.  Although the Sistine Chapel is in Vatican City you can't get there from St. Peter's Basilica.  Unless you're a Cardinal on your way to the Conclave, the only way in is through the Vatican Museum, which is a bit north and a touch west of the St. Peter's Square..  Now, you can get tickets for the Museum and the Sistine Chapel there.  However, in the height of the tourist season, that line can get very, very long.  However, you can now book your ticket (and time of entry) on-line.  It is a bit more expensive, but it is a lot better than standing in line under the hot Roman son for an hour.

Galleria Borghese.  This is a one of the great art museums of Rome--a collection of Master works, in a beautiful building, in one of the great parks of Rome.  The only problem is that you have to get tickets in advance.  Not really a problem, just something to plan for.  They have a website with plenty of information in English, and you can book online.  The Borghese is not too far from the top of the Spanish Steps, so you might plan to visit it the same time you visit the Steps.

Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.  Like the Sistine Chapel, you can get your ticket to the Colosseum and Palatine Hill (and it is one ticket for both) when you get there.  But it is a lot easier, and only a bit more expensive, to get them online.  Looks like they have changed their website, but this link should get you there.  Since this tour is outside, I usually recommend to people to go in the morning when it is cooler, and then eat lunch nearby.  Unless you want to stop and see everything, the morning should do.  If you want to go back, the ticket is good for two days.  I would also strongly recommend getting a good audio guide or guide book for this--the ruins are not well marked, and you often have no idea what much of it is.  I have found that Rick Steves audio guides can be pretty good.

That's a start anyway.  I will add some more in the coming days...