Saturday 2nd June
At approximately 3pm a group of thirty three began to check-in at Prestwick Airport for Flight FR 7342 to Ciampino Airport. Also on the flight were a 52 strong girls choir plus teachers from Fernhill Roman Catholic School in Rutherglen. The girls were heading to Rome not just on a sight-seeing trip, but also to fulfil a few singing engagements. Our paths would cross later in the week!
Our flight left on time at 5.20pm and we headed south-east to the eternal city of Rome. Upon arrival our coach took us the forty minute journey to the Domus Carmelitana Hotel right in the heart of Rome.
Although a light snack would have been sufficient the Hotel provided a four course meal. Indeed, with Rome an hour ahead we sat down to the meal at about 10.30pm. Still, indigestion tablets are fast working! Everyone then collected the keys for their rooms and headed off for a good night’s sleep.
Sunday 3rd June
We awoke to the sound of pouring rain. Panic set in as many of us realised we had packed no wet-weather protection.
However, after a leisurely breakfast we left the hotel at 10.30am and headed by coach to St. Andrew’s Church of Scotland for the 11am Communion Service. As we got off the coach a street trader appeared from no-where selling umbrellas. You have to marvel at their ability to cash-in on wet-weather!
Willie McCulloch the Minister also arrived on the scene to welcome us to St. Andrew’s and to offer shelter from the rain. It was such a nice welcome and we all felt very much at home.
As this was Communion Sunday in St. Andrew’s we had the additional privilege of sharing in the Sacraments. In many respects this was such an appropriate way to commence our time in Rome. After the Service we then joined other members of the Congregation for refreshments in one of the halls. Normally the refreshments are served outside on the terrace, but then normally it doesn’t rain in June!
We then left St. Andrew’s armed with our cheap umbrellas and headed off for a walking tour of Rome with our guide Leandrea. In actual fact the rain was a welcome relief as it ensured that there was no baking sun to spoil our enjoyment of the sights of Rome.
Along the way we saw the Piazza Del Quirinale, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona and the Castel Sant’ Angelo. By the time we arrived back at the hotel there were quite a few tired looking faces. Although we had only walked approximately two miles it can be hard going on the ancient cobbled streets of Rome.
However, after some relaxation everyone gathered at 8pm for our Evening Meal. Afterwards, with the rain off, I took those with renewed energy for a small walking tour of the area surrounding the Hotel. This included a view of St. Peter’s at night. Then it was back to the Domus for another good night’s sleep.
Monday 4th June
After breakfast we departed the Domus at 9.30am to visit the Catacombs of San Sebastian. Not surprisingly a few members of the group declined the opportunity to go down into the Catacombs. Our guided visit lasted approximately 20 minutes and was a very interesting look at those ancient burial grounds. Upon re-emerging on the surface we were then able to enter the 17th century Church of San Sebastiano.
Then it was back on board the coach and we headed off to visit three of the major Basilicas of Rome. The first was the Basilica of St. Paul. Originally founded by the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century this is the burial place of Saint Paul. Apparently after his execution and burial in Rome in the 1st Century AD, St. Paul’s followers erected a shrine over his grave.
One of the features of this huge Basilica was the mosaic portraits of all the Popes around the cornice of the interior of the Basilica.
Next we headed off to the Basilica of St John Latern which is actually the Cathedral Church of Rome and the official ecclesiastical seat of the Pope, as Bishop of Rome. This is actually the oldest and ranks first among the four major basilicas of Rome and holds the title of ‘Mother Church of the whole inhabited world’. Indeed, as the Cathedral Church of Rome it contains the papal throne and ranks above St. Peter’s. Founded by Constantine around 314 – 335 AD it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times.
After a tour of the Basilica of St John Latern and a break for lunch we headed off to the last port of call, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. According to tradition, the outline of this Church was physically laid out on the ground by a miraculous snowfall that took place on the 5th August 358AD. Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of the Snows, local Roman Catholics commemorate the miracle on each anniversary by dropping white rose petals from the dome during the feast mass.
The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest and most important place of prayer dedicated to the Virgin Mary. After the Avignon papacy formally ended and the Papacy returned to Rome, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore became a temporary Palace of the Popes due to the deteriorated state of the Basilica of St John Latern.
After our busy day of visiting three of the major Basilicas and the Catacombs we then headed back by coach to the Hotel. I had arranged to hold a Wine Reception on the Roof Terrace of the Domus at approximately 7pm. With the help of Murray and Margaret Bingham a visit was paid to a local supermarket and a variety of Italian red and white wines were distributed to the group as we enjoyed the warm evening sun. Our Evening Meal then commenced at 8pm and the rest night was free to walk, sleep or enjoy a night-cap at the Hotel’s bar.
Tuesday 5th June
After an early rise we left the Hotel at 7am for the town of Assisi. Complete with a packed-breakfast we journeyed by coach for three hours heading north-east from Rome.
When we arrived in Assisi we then disembarked from the coach and made our way by escalator up towards the town centre. Assisi is quite simply a stunning location built on the side of Mount Subasio. The views complete with the quaint streets and beautiful ecclesiastical buildings combine to make Assisi a very unique and unforgettable experience.
Our first port of call was the Basilica of St. Claire. This Church was erected in 1257 and contains the remains of St. Claire. Inspired by St. Francis, Claire fled from her existing way of life in 1212. She then allowed St. Frances to cut her hair and thereafter she took the Franciscan habit and devoted herself to a life of penitence.
After visiting the Basilica of St. Claire the group were given some free time to have lunch and explore Assisi. A few of us actually climbed up to the Castle Rocca Maggiore, which sits perched behind Assisi looking down on the town and the Basilica of St. Francis.
In mid-afternoon the group then came back together and headed off to the Basilica of St. Francis. Here Father Michael gave us a tour of the Church, complete with modern technology in the form of a microphone and personal ear-pieces in which we could listen to his commentary.
It was on the 3rd October 1226 that St. Francis died. On the 16th July 1228 he was canonized by Pope Gregory IX and the following day the first stone was laid of the Basilica. Today the Basilica is a magnificent masterpiece which tells so much of the life of St. Francis. For example, in the Upper Church the walls are frescoed throughout conveying the story of St. Francis in wonderful art.
We also visited the Lower Church which contains the tomb of St. Francis. There, in a small stone tomb surrounded by an iron grate the body of St. Francis can be found.
After our tour by Father Michael we were taken to a small Chapel within the Basilica. As a group we were able to hold a short 40 minute Service, during which time we celebrated the Sacrament of Holy Communion. The Service also contained three specially chosen Hymns, including ‘Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace’ and ‘All Creatures Of Our God And King’, which originate from St. Francis.
After the Service we headed to the Hotel Giotto in Assisi for an Evening Meal complete with Wine. Once the Meal was concluded most of the group enjoyed a coffee on the Hotel veranda which had wonderful panoramic views of Assisi.
Then around 6.30pm we began to leave the Hotel with the intention of heading back to the Coach. However, outside the Hotel we met the girls Choir from Fernhill Roman Catholic School who were also touring Assisi. Prompted and then conducted by Bell Boyd the girls very kindly burst into song and gave three musical renditions. It was great way to end our time in Assisi.
Tired and full of wonderful memories of Assisi we then headed back to Rome.
Wednesday 6th June
After a leisurely breakfast this was a free day in which people could explore the city or simply rest. I made myself available in reception armed with maps and suggestions of where people may go.
Some of us actually ended up in St. Peter’s Square for an audience with the Pope. This was the day that someone actually tried to board the Pope’s open-top white Landrover. Thankfully none of our party was guilty!
During the rest of the day members of the group carried out a variety of different pursuits which included shopping; enjoying an open-top bus tour; visiting Castel Sant’ Angelo; playing bridge on the Hotel Roof; while a few of us managed to visit the Vatican Museums including the Sistine Chapel.
Back at the Hotel, Bell Boyd this time hosted a drinks reception on the Roof Terrace prior to our Evening Meal. There we were treated to a section of Wines, Soft Drinks and Bailley’s Irish Cream.
After our Evening Meal we then boarded our Coach for an Evening Tour of Rome. With the streets quieter and many buildings flood-lit it was a wonderful way to end the day. Our guide Gill gave us a very informative commentary of the numerous buildings and locations that we passed.
Thursdat 7th June
After a fairly early breakfast we headed off by coach to the Colosseum. It was the intention to arrive at the Colosseum before the majority of the crowds. There we met our guide Judy who kitted us out with ear-pieces. Once inside the Colosseum Judy was able to give an account of the history of this famous arena.
Afterwards we made our way out of the Colosseum to the Forum. The Forum was once the political, religious and commercial centre of ancient Rome and today contains many ruins which at one time would have been the busy centre of this historic city. Excavations still continue in the Forum as more ruins are uncovered relaying even more information from the different periods of Roman History.
From the Forum we made our way up the steps to the Piazza del Campidogilo. This beautiful Piazza was built by Michaelangelo on the Capitoline hill, the centre of the Roman world. Here the temple of Jupiter once existed which symbolised Rome’s authority. Today on this beautiful location are two of Rome’s famous Museums.
With the time approximately 1pm the group were free to either go back to the Hotel by coach or stay in the city centre and explore other parts of Rome. Perhaps as an indication of how people were feeling the majority headed back to the Hotel by coach.
At night for a change of venue we met in the Hotel reception at 6.45pm before heading off on a five minute walk to the Borge Pio. This pedestrian street is home to a variety of different pavement cafes and restaurants. Here in the Ristoranti II Mozzicone we enjoyed a Meal complete with Wine. Entertainment was provided by one of two young street musicians trying to earn some extra pocket money.
After another good social occasion we headed back to the Hotel.
Friday 8th June
After breakfast we were met in Hotel reception by our Vatican guide. We then made the short ten minute journey on foot to St. Peter’s and once again armed with ear-pieces enjoyed listening to the history of the Vatican while we queued to initially enter the Grotto to the Popes. There we were able to observe the tombs of the Popes including John Paul II.
Then we entered the magnificent Basilica of St. Peter’s. The art work, statues, marble floors all combine to present a building that is perhaps among the most awe-inspiring in the world. Our tour included the Pieta, probably the world’s most famous religious sculpture. Carved by Michaelangelo when he was only 24, it depicts the Virgin Mary with the dead Christ in her arms.
We also saw the Monument to the Stuarts. This Monument is not a tomb, but simply dedicated to the memory of the Stuarts. Ironically King George III financed the cost of this monument with the intention of eradicating all monarchical and dynastic rivalry. In the crypt of St. Peter’s hidden from public eye are to be found the remains of Charles Edward Stuart, his brother Henry and their father James.
There can be no doubt that St. Peter’s is one of the most stunning buildings that anyone can ever visit. It is the largest and perhaps most impressive Basilica in the world and irrespective of which religious denomination you belong to it is well worth a visit.
After leaving St. Peter’s the group were then free to go for lunch and enjoy the rest of the afternoon.
At 7pm we met for a final time on the Roof Terrace of the Hotel for more drinks. Members of the group were simply asked to bring to the Roof any remaining drinks they wished used up. We were also joined on the roof by our guide Gill and her husband Stephan.
At 7.30pm we boarded the coach and made the journey to the Quo Vadis Restaurant. Here we enjoyed a wonderful Meal and flowing Wine plus some musical entertainment. During intervals in the meal four musicians provided some traditional Italian songs from the world of Opera and popular music. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the night and it was great way to end our time together in Rome.
Saturday 9th June
Sadly all good things come to an end! However, not before we made the most of our last day. After checking-out of our rooms we congregated as a group in the Hotel’s Chapel / Conference room. Here a short closing Service took place in which we gave thanks to God for our time in Rome and for the influence of Christianity in our ancient and modern world.
We then departed the Hotel at noon and headed by coach to Lake Albano. There in a beautiful restaurant beside the lake we enjoyed our last meal together as a group.
The restaurant was extremely large and was also catering that day for a Golden Wedding Party. As a result a musician was playing and people were being encouraged to get up onto the dance floor. Needless to say some of our ladies didn’t require much encouragement.
The poor musician was asked is he could play anything Scottish to which he shook his head. However, before long Scottish and Italian ladies were on the floor doing the Slosh together. (Once again there was Wine with the Meal!)
After a lovely walk along the lake side we left around 3.30pm for Frascati. This beautiful town sits on the hillside overlooking Rome in the distance. On arrival we visited St. Peter’s Cathedral in the town square.
Just inside the Cathedral is a monument to the Stuarts. Henry, who was the brother of Charles Edward Stuart, was Bishop of Frascati from 1761 until 1803. Here Charles was initially interred until his remains were transferred to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome along with Henry’s remains and their father James.
Our visit to the Cathedral was brief as a Wedding was scheduled to take place. There was actually two Weddings in Frascati that afternoon with a yellow Ferrari escorting one of the bride’s to Church.
The rest of afternoon allowed the group to wander the lovely little streets of Frascati before enjoying a final snack and drink. Then at 6.30pm we boarded the coach for the last time and made the short journey down the hill to Ciampino Airport for Flight FR7343, departing at 9.40pm for Prestwick.
The flight was on time and we eventually landed in Prestwick around 11.30pm.
Thirty three people, including myself, had left for Rome on Saturday 2nd June and thankfully on Saturday 9th June that exact number of people had returned. Overall it would appear that everyone had a wonderful time, full of many great Italian memories.
Certainly I would like to convey my thanks to everyone that made the trip to Rome. Together we explored many fascinating buildings and locations steeped in both history and religion. In addition the fun and fellowship that existed simply added to the occasion and ensured that our week in Rome was truly a memorable and joyful time.
Finally my thanks to Anne Marie Cairns of Alba Tours for all her meticulous planning. Everything that Anne Marie organised from airport departure to arriving back in Prestwick took place as planned. It is so reassuring to have that kind of expertise.
So where to next? The suggestions so far include ‘The Orkneys’, ‘Krakow’ or ‘Barcelona’. Watch this space.
Kenneth C. Elliott