I surprised even myself by succeeding to catch the 7 AM train on Sunday. I had woken up at 5:30 AM to do so, knowing that this was my only opportunity to reach the little-known island of Ponza. The ferry website listed just one boat departing from the seaside town of Anzio each morning.
My enthusiasm was building as, from the train, I witnessed the sun was rising over stretches of ancient aqueduct ruins, still perched upon green pasture. Upon reaching Anzio, however, I received some disappointing news.
“No Sunday ferry in winter,” I was told. The local seemed puzzled as to why I would want to go island hopping in this season. Yet all around the docks, sunny patios were filling up with morning cappuccino drinkers. Children played on the nearby beaches. I concluded that Italians have strange perceptions of winter.
The day was still young. After further exploring Anzio, I returned to Rome's Termini Station and then headed directly to St. Peter's Square. Mindful of the clear skies, I decided to climb to the Basilica's “cupola”, or dome. Visitors are offered two methods of reaching to the top: 7 euros by elevator, or 5 euros by stairs. I'm quite certain that no one who chooses the latter comprehends just how arduous this will be.
As I began scaling the staircase, I decided to pray for a friend or family member along each step I
took. Soon I ran out of acquaintances. Near the half-way point, I was rewarded with a bird's eye view of the main altar inside the Cathedral. I was subsequently punished with a narrow staircase of slanted walls that require climbers to lean. Another dizzying spiraled section offers a rope so that one's upper-body—the rested half—can share the workload.
No one regrets the effort. I met several other pilgrims at the very top who were similarly short of breath and wide-eyed with amazement. The panoramic view of Rome--overlooking the square and the Vatican Gardens, with snow-capped mountains in the distance--reinforces the sense that this is a truly blessed place. It may not be why emperors, popes and countless saints have called it home, but it would be reason enough.