Have you ever been? If so, you may know that climbing to the top of Michelangelo’s dome will add 491 stairs to your workout. And it’s a scary climb – in some spots, the “staircase” is so narrow there’s no room for railings, so there’s a rope that runs down the middle for you to hold on to. And sometimes, it’s both narrow and incredibly slanted. Not good for claustrophobics. You don’t have to climb the whole thing, though – you can take an elevator and save 171 stairs.
The current Basilica is actually the new St. Peter’s Basilica. Old Saint Peter’s Basilica was built by command of Constantine I in 324. It was at there that Charlemagne was crowned the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire on Christmas Day in 800. Not much of the original Basilica remains, but a piece of a mosaic from the eighth century can still be found at Santa Maria in Cosmedin, and eight of the original columns from the old altar were moved to the new (current) St. Peter’s.
Traveling alone can be a thrilling experience, but for someone out of practice it can also be a little unnerving. I haven’t traveled alone much outside English-speaking countries because I usually have my husband or a friend along for the adventure. So when I was left alone in Rome for a day, I encountered challenges that made me uncomfortable, and I think in the end, made me a more savvy traveler.
My first solo foreign experience happened last November. I had flown to Italy to meet my brother and his friends, who were about to depart on a Mediterranean cruise from Rome. Their plan was to arrive a few days early to explore the city, and I was to meet their party there for just the Rome portion of their trip. All went as scheduled, and everyone (except me) left for the cruise early on the morning of the last day.
And there I was. Alone in a foreign country, with only the words “hello” and “excuse me” tucked away in my limited Italian vocabulary. The day’s tasks were to include making my way to Fiumicino Airport via the train, but not before killing some time in Rome.
As I walk the crowded, busy streets of Rome on a crisp, fall morning, I passed by a street seller in one of the town squares. I saw a red bag I wanted to buy, and then noticed the man who I thought to be the seller. He was leaning against the wall of an adjacent building, eyeing me as I perused the different bags for sale. I approached him ready to make a purchase, and tried my best to communicate to him that I wanted to buy his bag. He looked at me curiously, and it was obvious that I was doing a pretty poor job of communicating. I tried simple phrases and hand gestures, hoping that his exposure to English-speaking tourists would have taught him at least enough to understand my request to buy something from him. It was beginning to seem hopeless, and I was starting to feel ashamed at my inability to speak his beautiful language in his own country.
Desperate to make myself clear, I pulled out my iPhone and typed a quick phrase into the Google Translator app. I translated it from English to Italian, and handed him my phone. A huge smile spread across his face as he read the words, and he bobbed his head in understanding. He motioned to me for approval to use my phone, and I watched him type out a phrase of his own. He translated it from Italian to English and the words read ” 10 Euro. Thank you”. He handed the phone back to me, and we were both grinning from ear to ear. We had shared a unique moment, and we both knew it.
This was an experience I was not likely to have had in the company of friends and family. I would have been focused on our own conversations and experiences, or would have relied on others to communicate in uncomfortable situations. But I was all alone, forced to step outside my comfort zone and make a connection with the locals around me. It was exciting and refreshing.
So if you’re nervous about traveling alone, don’t be. Obviously, you need to be smart about it (especially if you’re a young woman like myself). But don’t let your uneasiness prevent you from broadening your experiences. It will change you for the good.
And besides, anything is possible with Google Translator! 😉