Our last full day (Monday) in Rome was spent visiting those last few places we'd missed in the first week. We went to the basilica of St Paul Outside-the-walls and St Laurence Outside-the-walls in the morning. The former was of interest to me as it has portraits of all 265 popes as part of the interior decoration of the cathedral. I've always wondered about the earlier popes, the ones that succeeded St Peter....we know so little of them, and I have a feeling that they were canonized because they were popes (and more than likely in that time of persecution, martyrs as well). I suppose that's something I could touch upon in my thesis, particularly in regards to the establishment of authority in the then fledgling church. Must look more into it!
It is perhaps also worth noting that about a week after I visited St Pauls, it was announced by the Vatican that the possible sarcophagus of Paul was found under the basilica. Perhaps by the time I can afford to travel to Italy again, I might be able to visit that tomb as I did Peter's. In any event, I visited the tomb of another early Christian- Stephen, the first martyr and patron saint of altar servers. His remains were buried in St Laurences, and even though it took us a while to get there, it was worth it.
Those particular pilgrimages made, we then went to the Circus Maximus and the Baths of Caracalla. I took a lot of photos at the latter, because the surviving bits of the wall and floor mosaics were of great interest after studying them for two weeks over the semester. The baths must have been quite a sight back in the third century. Of course, I couldn't help but think of what I've read of Petronius' Satyricon, with Trimalchio flaunting his freedman status in the baths, or Martial's observation that the baths are where you could be guaranteed to be harassed for an invitation to dinner! Ah, good times.
After lunch, we visited the Santa Maria Della Vittoria, which houses Bernini's 'Ecstasy of St Therese' (and before anyone goes mentioning Dan Brown, I wanted to see the statue before I read Angels and Demons. So there!). It's a beautiful piece of art, and the white marble really stands out in the church, which is dimly-lit and decorated in darker shades of gold, green and brown throughout. There are several other sculptures besides Bernini's though, and I was quite surprised by The Dream of St Joseph, which is on the opposite side to St Therese and as equally worth a look.
We did little else on Monday. I sent the last of my postcards and picked up last-minute gifts. On Tuesday, we had only the morning, so we didn't stray far from the hotel. There was more last-minute shopping, and we visited an exhibition in St Peters about the history of the basilica. There was some wonderful objects on display. Letters written by San Gallo and Michaelangelo, original plans, Caravaggio's 'Crucifixion of St Peter' and the relics of saints who had held St Peters in great regard (among them Francis of Assisi and Mother Theresa).
And that, my friends, was pretty much it. I was sad to leave Italy, and I look forward to when I can return. The one area I really hope to go to is Venice, which I had planned to visit early on, and then had to lose due to the problems of getting there. I'd like to see a bit more of the Amalfi coast (Sorrento, like Venice ended up being cut from the itinerary). Most of Tuscany was left unexplored, so places such as Pisa and Siena are on the list as well, not to mention Milan further up north (which my parents have visited and said good things about). And Rome I shall definitely return to. It was by far one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life, being able to walk the streets and see up close all those ruins and churches that I'd seen in books, or in television documentaries. Yes, Rome I shall definitely go back to.
After Rome, there was comparatively modern metropolis of Dubai. My older sister Suzanne works for Emirates Airlines, and we were able to stay with her a few days before heading home. I was meant to stay with her when I was returning from my Greece/Egypt trip in 2001, but it never eventuated, so I was so happy to be able to stay with her and see where she lived.
Dubai sort of boggles the mind. It is by far the most dramatic clash between east and west I've seen. There is so much money being thrown around over there! There is a constant building program going on. Skyscrapers, malls, apartment and office buildings, resorts....you name it, it's being built. My sister lives comfortably there with her husband Robert. Her house is just gorgeous, full of stuff she's picked up on her many trips overseas (this year, she went to Japan and spent Christmas in Vienna). And it was love at first sight for me when I saw her two Siamese cats (I still miss Puddy dearly).
Mostly, we shopped in Dubai. Or rather, Suzanne and Robert shopped and Brendan and I stood gobsmacked at all the stuff that was available. There are some serious supermalls over there. Malls full of designer clothes boutiques, electronics shops, everything you can think of. The most bizarre one we visited was call 'Memoirs', which was devoted to Victorian/Edwardian paraphernalia and where the male staff wore coats that had collars that Dracula would be proud of, and the female staff had to go around in corsets and bustles (oh dear, it was serious crack in there). Then there was that ski slope in the other mall (we had lunch in a Lebanese restaurant watching kids falling over in snow o_O).
I only bought a few things in Dubai, gifts for dad and my niece. And as an early Christmas present, Suzanne bought me a prayer rug in a mall that seemed to be solely devoted to selling carpets. And we all haggled with the salesman together, which was fun ("Listen, I'm a very poor student! I live in the bush in a treehouse, I swear! I can't pay 450 dirham for that!"). There was also a wonderful moment in the mid-evening where I stood at the barbecue while the muezzin were leading the call to prayer (and as a mosque has to be within a five minute walk, there was a lot of wailing going on). I would've liked to have spent longer there, but considering that I'd gotten my results by then (after a very tense wait) and was supposed to graduate on Monday, we returned.
And that's it!