December 25, 2010, was the departure date; I traveled with my church’s choir, my cousin, and my grandmother. After a three hour flight delay due to weather, we embarked on the 12 hour flight to Rome at 7 P.M., and arrived at 9 A.M. We traveled through the airport on a trolley to reach a separate building where our luggage and taxi were waiting. My cousin, grandmother, and I traveled closely with my director and another family we have known for years, the Harrisons.
Once at the hotel, we had slight problems due to a language barrier, but the clerk knew enough English for us to communicate. We were all put into the wrong building at first, but everything was sorted out. We arrived a day ahead of the majority of the choir, so we decided to wander around the city. We did a little shopping, got tickets for the subway, ate dinner at the Hard Rock Café, and got lost. By December 27th, most of the other choir members and other choirs from France, Germany, Spain, England, Ireland, and some other American choirs, one of which I had performed with before in another Pueri Cantores festival, had arrived. That was also the day of our first rehearsal in the Vatican. We were up at 7 and arrived at the venue by 9. After rehearsals, we would go around Rome and Vatican City with a private tour guide, and saw the Pantheon, went inside the Coliseum, Nero’s circus grounds, the Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, and the San Sebastian catacombs.
Our third rehearsal was ceremonial – we had a flag procession and a formal introduction of all the choirs. We did not know why they were doing this then instead of on the first day. However we soon found out. Forty five minutes into the rehearsal, we were in shock at the new procession: Pope Benedict XVI had walked into the auditorium. He had come to welcome us to Vatican City and to bless us as the new year approached.
We had one major performance, which was on New Year’s Day at St. Peter’s Basilica during the papal mass. This experience was nothing short of awesome, and it is one I do not think I could ever hope to replicate. The crowd in and surrounding the Vatican was absolutely massive; never before had I seen so many people in one place. We left for home on January 2nd.
This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and it was definitely my favorite trip out of everywhere that I have traveled. It was extremely special because it is not every day that one gets an audience with the Pope himself or perform at one of his masses. I had great fun on this trip, and Vatican City was beautiful, although parts of Rome left much to be desired. The city was a large graffiti problem, and garbage is nearly everywhere. Due to the amount of vehicles, pollution has heavily damaged the Coliseum, which is too expensive to properly restore, and the Pantheon, which was having restoration work performed on the building when I visited. I was disappointed that I could not see all of the outside to the protective covering, but the inside was quite worth it – it had been converted to hold many Catholic shrines, and tombs for kings Vittorio Emmanuel (1861-1878) and Umberto I; the artists Raphael and Baldassare Peruzzi are also entombed here. Aside from the performances and being with friends, the most enjoyable parts of the trip were seeing and learning about all the history Rome has to offer.
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