Remember our motto — if there’s something to climb, we’re climbing it. Today we met early to take the bus to Saint Peter’s and to be one of the earliest groups to climb the cupola. Despite some challenges at the check-point (and, by check-point we mean the men who have the enviable job of scrutinizing mainly the women for exposing too much flesh), we began the ascent. Arriving early not only gives you an advantage in terms of entry but also affords a cooler experience as you haul yourself up to the top of Saint Peter’s dome.

Once again, a spectacular view. We could look down onto the papal residential complex, including the gardens, as well as enjoy the vistas of Rome. When we returned to the bottom, we were able to skip the line already queuing up to enter the cathedral and found ourselves in the largest Catholic church in the world (able to hold 60,000 people!) The scale is immense and slightly over-whelming, but you are drawn in and toward the apse by the immense baldacchino (tabernacle) over the site of Saint Peter’s remains.

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We spent a full hour in the church, viewing the sculpture and “paintings” (all original painted works have been replaced by mosaic replicas) and then congregated together outside to walk to the Campo di Fiore to find lunch. Along the way, we stopped at the Pantheon to go inside and to find the answer to the pop quiz: “What famous people are buried in the Pantheon?” Answer: the first two kings of unified Italy and the artists, Raphael and Annibale Carraci.

We agreed to meet at 2:30 in front of the Vittoriano. The students received their tickets to see the Forum, the Palantine Hill and the Colosseum. These tickets are good for two days. We have two free afternoons this week (today and tomorrow) in which to use them.

Dinner was at a neighborhood restaurant, Osteria Suburra. Silvio, the owner,  served us himself and we had a fantastic meal of various pasta dishes.

A later start tomorrow morning — back to the Vatican to visit the museum and the Sistine Chapel.

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