Basílica de Nossa Senhora do Rosário
2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions in Fatima, Portugal and I’m so so thankful we were able to whip up a last-minute trip to the shrine while spending a weekend in Lisbon a couple weeks ago. For those of you interested and unfamiliar with the miracles at Fatima, I encourage you to Google it. A good place to start could be EWTN’s website. There’s also a fun little Saint John Paul II twist involving the bullet that almost killed him that you can read about.

Popular pilgrimage times are on the 13th of each month, especially in apparition months (May to October). Our visit was off-peak but there was still a decent number of people visiting. The campus of the shrine is quite large and so we focused our visit on the Basílica de Nossa Senhora do Rosário where the three shepherd children are buried and the outdoor Capelinha das Apariçoes. Inside this chapel is a marble pedestal holding a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, built on the site of the old holm oak tree where Mary visited the children. The tree has long since died, or rather, was stripped away into nothingness by souvenir seeking pilgrims, so the spot was marked with a statue. I’m assuming this is the statue holding St. JPII’s bullet since it’s encased in glass.
Capelinha das Apariçoes
Capelinha das Apariçoes
Planning and executing a pilgrimage to Fatima could not be easier. Fly to Lisbon, rent a car at the airport (very affordable, and basically free if you can operate a manual), and drive north for one hour. The majority of the drive is on a highway with only a few roundabouts to navigate. Have some Euros ready to pay tolls and you’re set. There are multiple free car parks at the shrine, public WCs, and well-kept areas to picnic. The town is small but has plenty of hotels for tourists and little traditional restaurants. Two were recommended to us, though we chose to picnic in the sunshine: Restaurante O Truão and Restaurante Ze Grande.

Some of you are into spiritual trips like this, others are not. Though I expect most will agree that some experiences are felt so deeply that trying to describe them is like trying to share a drink with a friend by scooping up water with your hands. With that in mind, I’m sure you’ll forgive me for the formulaic trip report. If pilgrimages are your jam, this is the year to do Fatima. And if you go, try to visit the homes of Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco. We didn’t have the time.


Christmas in Rome

Picture this: your wonderful vacation ends, you return home, walk into work, and try to answer the enthusiastic “how was your trip!??” question with some semblance of honesty, accuracy, and humility. All you can muster is a lame “It was so great! We had a great time!” Actually sharing all the details could compromise your commitments to maintaining humility and not not flaunting your fabulousness. Consider this your official warning. As this is a blog, failing to share details defeats the purpose.

Italy remains my favorite vacation destination and it was really difficult to narrow down an entire weeks worth of fab pictures, stories, and blunders, hence my significant delay getting a post up!

Let’s start with the blunders, shall we? The cheapest flights to Rome when we booked had a connection through Brussels. Our plane from Birmingham was VERY late taking off and so we spent a good amount of time worrying about missing our connection and ruining Christmas. When we finally landed, we RAN through the airport, only to run smack into a line for customs. WHAT!? Isn’t this supposed to happen at your final destination? I was not about to spend the night in a sicko hotel in Brussels, which the BBC tells me is the hotbed of all European terror activity, and RUIN CHRISTMAS. All pride abandoned, I begged my way to the front of the line, sweating and gasping, and then spent a good 5 minutes talking like a normal nice lady to the customs guy who just wanted to talk about how hot Adele is. And then we were RUNNING through the airport again only to run smack into another security line. WHYYY!??? I had to throw away my full water bottle. In hindsight, I should have just dumped it over my head NFL style since I was so sweaty. Please note the plane was scheduled to depart 10 minutes ago. We made it through security, Connor’s pants were falling off since he had to take off his belt, but we were running again nonetheless. To one of the last gates. And we made it! They held the plane! I’m sure everyone else was annoyed, but whatever, Christmas was saved. It was with both triumph and humiliation that we walked to our seats in the very.last.row. past all the other people now looking at a 30+ minute delay.

Oh, and water wasn’t free on that flight, so there’s that.

We landed in Rome, and the last train leaves Fiumicino airport for the city at 11:37pm. We had about 15 minutes from the time we landed to get to the train and buy tickets. And so, we RAN. AGAIN. Got to the machine, bought the tickets, and then like the fool that I am, I turned my back on the waiting trains right in front of my face and RAN IN THE OTHER DIRECTION. Connor, like the sweet husband that he is, followed me. Then he noticed that all the signs for trains were pointing back the way we came. And so, we turned and ran back the way we came only to watch the train pulling away.

Whatever, it’s Christmas and we were in Rome, and so we took a taxi. The kind man hosting us through Airbnb talked to the cab driver over the phone to make sure he didn’t rip us off (pretty sure we still got ripped off) and day 1 ended in a comfortable bed with a bottle of water on the nightstand.

Travel tip: always fly direct.

We used up our blunder allotment in the first day so we had only good things to look forward to.

We stopped in St. Peter’s Square first thing, which always takes my breath away. The basilica is just magnificent.

St. Peter's Basilica 

We checked out the usual sites and visited some churches, picked mainly for their works of art or relevance to our lives. I love seeing art in its native habitat; museums are wonderful, but this is much more intimate. We saw pieces by Caravaggio, Michelangelo and countless others in just as many churches, including the Jesuit St. Ignatius and Gesu. Santa Maria Sopra Minerva has the most stunning blue ceiling. You can check it out on Flickr along with all the other church and art pics that I won’t be posting on the blog. PSA: there are a lot of pictures on Flickr now, but I promise I cut the Italy pics down to a third of what I actually captured. Below are a couple pictures of Sant’Ignazio di Loyola. The beautiful ceiling frescoes are by Andrea Pozzo, who also painted the illusion of a dome on a circular portion of the ceiling. The third picture is of the Pantheon – great people watching spot!

Frescoes by Andrea Pozzo on the ceiling of St. Ignatius Church St. Ignatius Church  Pantheon Castel Sant'Angelo from Ponte Sant'Angelo

On Christmas Eve we packed a dinner and went to line up for midnight mass with Pope Francis. Yes, we had tickets, but they don’t guarantee you a seat inside the basilica, and we were determined to have two good seats. There was no sign of a line when we arrived in the square, or any indication where the line would form. We asked some Vatican volunteers, security people, police… no one knew where to go. We were too… early?

Please. I waited in freezing cold weather for almost every single Marquette basketball game to make sure I had a good seat. Including one 19 hour overnight stint for ESPN College Game Day. And this was 100x cooler than Marquette basketball. There’s no such thing as too early.

We teamed up with some other Americans wandering around the square looking for the same thing and eventually we were in a “line.” More like a crowded hot mess of passive aggressive cutting. People were singing. The sun was shining. I could see the gigantic Christmas tree. Nuns were scalping tickets. We were going to see the Pope up close and in person. Just a typical day. The “line” rushed forward and Connor and I were once again running. This happened a handful of times as security moved the line closer and closer to the basilica. All of a sudden all those nuns who were scalping tickets just hours ago were at the front of the “line!”

For those of you who don’t know, nuns are a serious threat to your carefully laid plans to nab a good spot at a papal event. They’re a sneaky, smiling, singing little army that think they can ignore the rules of orderliness. Do not ever get between a nun and her chance to see the Pope. She will throw elbows. She will duck under your elbow and the elbows of everyone else because she is 3.5 feet tall. She will win and you will lose, so instead of fighting it, stick to her heels and go wherever she goes. Do not let her tiny figure out of your sight. The nuns will lead you straight to the front of the “line” and to the fastest security lines because somehow THEY KNOW THESE THINGS. This was my third papal event and the nuns have meant serious business every.single.time. And I love them for it. See below. They are at the front. And so are we. Mwhahaha.

All of those nuns cut in front of us

So Mass was pretty great. We had seats on the aisle and were as close as you could possibly get to the Pope. Another secret about these Vatican events – if you sit in the front, you will have wasted your time waiting in line for hours. There are always between 5 and 40 rows at the front saved for fancy Italians/priests/people more important than you and they will block your view. Just sit somewhere along the main walking route.

 Swiss guards doing their job

The choir was beautiful, everyone said the rosary together before mass, and one of the readings was actually in English. We read the translation of the Pope’s homily when we got back to the Airbnb that night. Such a special treat! It was also incredible to see that huge basilica full of people and functioning more like a church than a museum. Only the Holy Father can say mass at that main altar, and I just felt tingly and giddy the whole time.

The next day was Christmas and we used some hotel points to stay at a fancy schmancy place by the Spanish Steps that night. We checked in, saw that they gave us fresh oranges, sparkling water (I’m still an addict), and 2 bottles of free champagne! Bonus! Can you see Connor at the bottom of this? Poor guy – I kept running off to take pictures and he’d turn around to find his wife missing.

Hotel de la Ville

Then we went to the Pope’s Christmas day blessing called Urbi et Orbi (for the city and the world) which he gives twice a year. We wandered for the rest of the day and enjoyed the Borghese Gardens, Piazza del Popolo, and sunny Piazza di Spagna before ordering truffle fettucine and pizza takeout for dinner.

Shopping in Rome at Christmas  Italian streets at Christmas

We walked around 15 miles or more each day, and I think we still hit 10 miles on Christmas Eve despite being stationary in line for hours. We had plenty of gelato and vino, although we seem to have bad luck buying wine in Rome. We finally asked for help and spent way too much, but at least got a good bottle of Chianti. One night we went out for aperitivos in Trestevere. For the price of an aperitif we had “access” to the aperitivo buffet and called it dinner. It was quite tasty, and the place was very hipster, and in such a fun neighborhood. After four days in Rome we hopped a train at Termini Station and headed North to Florence, which bumped Rome down to #2 on my favorites list. If you’ve read to the end of this very long post, thank you. Florence will be less wordy – we didn’t run into any blunders or nuns.


Christmas in Rome