When in Rome… 

A night in a convent will save a few Euros when visiting the world’s most famous church

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Dusk was fast approaching and we had not yet found the convent. The straps of my hefty backpack pressed heavily into my shoulders as we climbed. The street did not look promising. Its winding cobblestones seemed to be taking us deeper into residential Rome and farther from the masses of tourists that flock to the ancient city. All this to save a few Euros!

In Rome, the cheap accommodation fills up fast and booking a room in a convent is a relatively inexpensive alternative to busy hostels and guesthouses. They can, however, be tricky to find!

Darkness was almost complete when we stopped on a narrow side street of a dubious location.

“You ask them,” I encouraged my traveling partner, gesturing toward the cluster of questionable characters drinking oversized bottles of beer on the corner. “We need directions!”

I was growing weary, and in a most unproductive manner, beginning to express my doubts as to the existence of Suore Teatine Casa Mater Ecclesiae, the inexpensive convent my partner had booked online from the comfort of her couch. The Italian drinkers squinted at our crisp, new map and pointed uphill; the cobblestones wound their way farther up into the darkness.

Finally, and much to my surprise, we found ourselves presented at a heavy locked door whose small plaque seemed to match the wordy name on our booking confirmation sheet. Still skeptical, I rang the bell.

I’m still not sure what I expected; lofty church spires, a cavernous, candlelit interior, nuns in dark habits…. We were admitted promptly into a sparkling foyer and greeted warmly by a small, dark woman whose English was as limited as our Italian. Save for a few religious icons hanging on the wall, nothing gave away its status as a convent. Trading a considerable stack of bills for our key, we were shown to our room.

In the light of the following day we were rewarded for our efforts when we stepped from our room onto a small balcony. Early morning sunlight bathed the city before us in a warm, pinkish hue, and climbing up the hillside were boxy homes painted in soft peach and topped with roofs of red brick, not a colour scheme I would select at home, but here it just seemed to fit. Emerging from the mist beyond, lofty church spires pointed skyward, inviting an ambitious exploration of the city’s over 900 churches. Dressing modestly in concurrence with the strict dress code that is enforced at Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican, we set off early to visit the most famous one.

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