08 February, 2009

Today was a perfectly charming day. A friend and I walked to Castel Gandolfo, the Pope's summer residence, after a hour+ long wait for a bus that never came. It was a bit of a hike - about an hour uphill - especially considering that both of us had injured feet (I sprained my ankle Thursday night). But the town and the view at the top was definitely worth it. Castel Gandolfo itself is a lovely town, with a single small piazza surrounded by the Pope's residence on one end, a church on another side, and a bunch of small shops and a very nice cafe on the other. There are a couple of very small and very quiet streets (although they're probably swarmed during tourist season) running parallel to the rim of the lake crater. Oh yes, there's a lake here too. This has formed in the neighboring craters of two extinct volcanoes, in the middle of the Alban Hills - it's called Lake Albano - and thus the area just around the lake is ridge with a very steep grade leading down to the lake.

On the walk up

Castel Gondolfo

View of Lake Albano from the ridge

Today, after buying some delicious, hot chocolate (cioccolata calda), extremely thick, almost like melted chocolate bars, and only barely sweetened, we studied in the back of the cafe for several hours, talking about the Oresteian Trilogy, the nature and relationship of tragedy and comedy, and the . . . you guessed it . . . the meaning of life (ha!). It was great. Then we hiked down a steep, winding path nearly till we got to the lake itself, before having to get back up to the Church at the piazza for Mass.

The Cafe on the piazza

Oh, on another note, unrelated to all this Castel Gandolfo stuff, I have to mention something I learned yesterday. Early in the morning, a group of us got up to go to daily Mass at St. Peter's. Afterwards, Msgr. Fucianaro, our campus chaplain, showed us around a bit. Among other nifty things, he pointed out this enormous circular bit of porphyry inlaid in the floor. Porphyry is one of the hardest stones in existence, and you could see how the marble around it had worn down over the years while it remained unaffected. Also, there's no more porphyry left unused in the world, apparently. Anyway, this particular bit of porphyry is the very stone on which Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800 AD! Can you believe it?

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