It really began after a long and arduous transcontinental flight, which included a flight attendant who wore her hair in a bun at the very crown of her head, along with bright blue eyeshadow and hot pink lipstick, and whose nametag read, I [expletive deleted] you not, “Bubbles.”
I was on my way to Rome for a few days of sight-seeing, before starting a summer program in Ischia. With me was a companion from school, who’d never been to Europe before—she was as terrified as I was the first time I went to Europe—sure she’d be robbed, had read every article she could find about the travel—exactly what I did before I learned, as she did that summer, to look at some things in international travel, and say, “Meh” like the Italians.
This was harder for her than it was for me, as she suffered from IBS. This is difficult enough when you’re close to home, but she was now in Italy, a place known for its lack of public restrooms. Dealing with this issue while not sure where to find a bathroom was very stressful for her, especially in those first few days.
And because I got us lost.
Rome is not the easiest city to navigate if you’re a newcomer. We were staying in a convent for the duration of our time in Rome because 1) it was cheap 2) it was safe 3) neither of us are night owls and wouldn’t be out past museum closings, so the 11pm curfew was no issue for us. This place was up a hill from the Vatican itself. Pretty easy to get to, right? Not so much. First, we got on the wrong train from the airport, even after asking. Then we walked for ages, as both of us were terrified of getting lost on the subway. By the time we found the place (after walking past it four times because of lack of sign) we were both thirsty, hungry, and my poor travel companion was desperately in need of a bathroom she was permitted to use that was also clean.
We went in, and I started to review my limited and rusty Italian in my mind before speaking to the nun at the desk. The nun yelled, “Hi! I’m sister Helen, from New Jersey!!”
This delightful woman, who knew from our forms that we were Americans, made special effort to greet us and acclimate us. A few days later, she also yelled in very fast Italian at the man at the cell phone store when my friend and I purchased a pay-per-minute cell phone.
She also did one of the most wonderful things for us: she procured tickets for the last papal audience of the summer for us.
Now, these tickets are free, but you have to get them in advance. Otherwise, you wait outside and watch the Pope on a giant tv screen. And we didn’t go all the way to Rome to watch the Pope on tv.
So we went to the audience, and sat towards the middle, but on a center aisle, just as Sister Helen told us to. My friend had several water bottles with her, partly because of her stomach issues, but also because it was Rome in July, and therefore, the surface of the sun. She took one, drank it, and disappeared for a few minutes. She came back, with it partly filled–with Holy Water.
See, she planned to take this back to the States to her mom, who’d never been to Rome. A very sweet gesture.
You probably see where this is going…
We went directly from the papal audience to the Vatican tour, including the Sistine Chapel, then split up for the day to see different museums on our list of “can’t miss this!”
When we met back up that night at the convent, we emptied our bags of trinkets and souvenirs, and showed each other the pictures we’d taken throughout the day.
It was then that my friend noticed that all of her bottles of water were empty.
Including the one that had housed the Vatican holy water. We laughed about how funny it was that she drank the holy water, especially given that she’d had few stomach problems that day–unbelievable to someone with the level of microphobia we both shared.
It continued to be a good joke between us throughout the rest of the summer–her stomach problems minimized (mostly)–and we have to assume it was mix of the Pope’s blessing and our laughter over it.