After getting sufficiently lost trying to get from Circus Maximus to the Baths of Caracalla, I was ready to call it quits on my solo adventures in Rome and take things slow until meeting up with Roberto. Mr. Muolo and I both went to Monmouth U, but met on the beach in Long Branch after he fell into a newly-purchased styrofoam cooler and smashed it to pieces trying to reach my friend for a cheers. His nonchalantness about the entire thing made me laugh for hours and we’ve been friends since.
Roberto was born in Italy and “has connects” so it’s not too crazy that we’d end up in Rome on the same day. Despite his jet lag and sleepless plane ride, he came to meet me Tuesday afternoon with his cousin Massimo and Massimo’s wife Cristina in tow. Massimo and Cristina live in Rome and are the most ideal people you’d want to meet if you were to be spending time with locals in the city. We walked about 3 hours around the city, visiting the President’s home, stopping for coffee and seeing the Trevi fountain at night. Roberto and I didn’t have plans for the next day, so Cristina mentioned she was going to the Vatican with her dad and we could come. Since my first attempt didn’t go so well, I gladly accepted the invitation. Maybe the Romans know something about getting in that I don’t. Maybe the fact that I kept getting shit on by birds and Roberto cleaned it out of my hair was a sign of good things to come.
The next morning I took the metro out to Massimo and Cristina’s house where Cristina’s dad (I can’t remember his name, but let’s call him Papa) picked us up and drove us all through the city. I only understand very basic Italian, but from what I could gather, Papa is important. Like, aristocrat important. And apparently he has what can only be described in English as a Gentleman’s Club card for the Vatican. Wow. I woke up thinking we were just going sight-seeing with Papa.
When we arrived at the Vatican entryway, Papa flashed his special ID card and we were allowed to drive onto the grounds and park the car. Papa is the most refined, sharp, well-dressed man, and following him throughout the gardens I kept looking at him and wondering how I ended up in the right place at the right time, in Rome and with his family on this exact day, walking through the private entrance of Vatican City when just two days earlier I looked at the line and didn’t even bother.
Everywhere we walked I couldn’t help but notice that there wasn’t a single other tourist, just Roberto and I sneaking photos we weren’t supposed to be taking. I wasn’t sure where we were going when we followed Papa into a back door of a building, but when we stepped foot into St. Peter’s Basilica and saw the crowds and I realized where we were, I couldn’t even look around, I just stopped in my tracks and looked to Roberto like “Is this really happening?” As a guest of Papa we walked into a private area with special access to certain displays. I was so completely overwhelmed by it all. I’m a dopey kid from New Jersey, what am I doing behind the velvet rope at the Vatican?
When we left the Vatican, I literally didn’t have the words to express my gratitude to Papa, because he doesn’t speak English. “Grazie. Grazie.” I shook his hand. “Ciao.”
Roberto and I were starving by this point so we were dropped off by the river and went to look for pizza. It should be pretty easy to find pizza in Rome, especially when your GPS looks like this.
Despite the 800 GPS pizzas, we couldn’t find any for close to an hour. The wait was worth it though because we stumbled upon Pizzeria Florida where we ordered every possible slice imaginable. At this point all I’d eaten for days was peanut butter sandwiches. I heard the food in Italy was good, but this experience was euphoric. I didn’t find god in the Vatican, but I did find him in my fresh mozz slice with extra pomodoro. Lord have mercy.
After all that pizza we still hadn’t had enough, so we went on our self-proclaimed “Tour di Pizza” and ate some more. A little gelato and some grappa and call it a day.
Over the past summer at the beach, Roberto and I pinky promised each other we’d go to Italy together. Our plans ended up being quite different but we both followed through, and our day and a half that overlapped in Rome was worth the hype. See you in Jersey, mi amico.