Rome and Holiday

January 31, 2023

Hello again! Despite appearances, I have not died in a fiery inferno, fallen off the face of the earth, or departed civilization to live off the grid. Rather, the inter-semester break which I thought would provide me ample time to write a blog post failed to produce a blog post, so I have a lot of catching up to do before the new semester gets into swing. Since my last update, I finished the first semester of coursework, travelled with my boyfriend Harry for a couple weeks, hosted my family for Christmas, and did some more spontaneous travelling for the rest of winter break. Coursework this semester was excellent and came to a happy end, but I won't spend time discussing it here to give space for the more exciting stuff. The table of contents for this post shall be: Dublin and Cork, Rome, Christmas celebrations, and travelling to the US. (And then LOTS of pictures. So many pictures.)

Dublin and Cork

I finished my papers for the semester at the beginning of December, so I had a lot of free time before Christmas to do some travelling. Harry and I wanted to plan one more trip together before parting ways for the spring semester, and we chose to visit Rome. I flew to Dublin first, spent several days there, then the two of us flew to Rome for a few days of sightseeing.

Having seen most of the sites in Dublin, Harry and I spent our time there finishing coursework, visiting different coffee shops and cafes, and walking around the city. We also stopped by a few things I didn't have a chance to see when I visited in the fall. The Dublinia Museum has exhibits about Dublin's development from a Viking settlement to a Medieval town. It is connected by a covered bridge to Christ Church Cathedral, which we visited briefly in October but didn't see fully until this trip. I particularly enjoyed seeing the Christmas decorations in Dublin; the Customs House was especially pretty with colorful snowflake projections on its facade. We even saw a garbage truck decorated with Christmas lights and Dublin's first snow for the winter!

Christmas at the Customs House


Christmas at Christ Church Cathedral

We also spent one day visiting Cork, which is the second-largest city in Ireland and about 2 hours away from Dublin by train. Most of the day featured a typical European city itinerary for Harry and me: churches, art museums, and various cafes for tea breaks. The highlight of the day was visiting the Butter Museum, which tells about the Irish butter trade through history. We learned why Irish butter is better than any other butter (it's because of the grass the cows eat), how butter was made in ancient times, how butter is made in modern times, and how Irish butter is exported all over the world (a good portion of the Butter Museum is a thinly veiled Kerrygold ad). The best exhibit in the Butter Museum is a brilliant barrel of bog butter: butter that was produced in the Middle Ages and preserved in a peat bog. Bog butter is much more pleasant to look at than the bog bodies in Dublin, and seeing bog butter with my own eyes was a truly life-changing experience.

Cork just after sunset

Bog butter! Bog butter! Bog butter!

2 butter enthusiasts living their best lives

The Trevi Fountain


After Harry finished the last of his coursework, we flew from Dublin to Rome for a few days of sightseeing. We spent most of our first full day at the Vatican, enjoying the museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Basilica. I had visited the Vatican once several years ago, so I enjoyed taking the museum at a slower pace and seeing some things a second time in better detail. Harry and I both enjoyed walking through St. Peter's Basilica, viewing and praying in the side chapels.

Harry and I made a pit stop for some gelato (the first gelato stop of many) and made our way to the Trevi Fountain. We both threw a coin in over our shoulders, ensuring that we will come back to Rome someday, before searching for a place to eat dinner. On a particularly crowded Metro train, someone stole my wallet. Thankfully, I was not carrying much cash (and it was in pounds, not euros), and I was able to cancel my debit card immediately after leaving the train station. Be advised: when people tell you to wear your purse under your coat, they mean it.

That's one happy Catholic.

The altar in St. Peter's Basilica

Laocoon and his sons being devoured by snakes

Some very cool stairs in the Vatican Museum

After being pickpocketed, we wanted to get outside the city, so we traveled by train to Orvieto the next day. Orvieto is a lovely small town that sits on top of a hill, accessible by a short funicular railway. Its main attraction is the Duomo, an elaborate church that was the site of a Eucharistic miracle in 1263. Harry and I spent a good while exploring the Duomo, trying to identify statues of the twelve apostles and admiring a beautiful fresco of Dante Alighieri. We also visited a museum of religious art and another museum with Etruscan artifacts--mostly coins in some very cool display cases that turned to show both their sides. We enjoyed some great food as well: coffee, tea, and pastries at a cafe in town, some delicious Neapolitan-style pizza, and some gelato, hot chocolate, and cannoli for an afternoon snack. We ended the day in Orvieto admiring the view from the hilltop before descending in the funicular car and catching our train back to Rome.

The Duomo

This sparks joy.

The view from Orvieto

The next day in Rome was for ancient Roman architecture. Harry and I visited the Colosseum in the morning, followed by the Roman forum in the afternoon. We also visited the Basilica of St. Mary in Cosmedin, a Byzantine-style church which is best known for the La Bocca de Verita, the Mouth of Truth. According to legend, if a liar sticks his hand in the sculpture's mouth, the fountain will bite it off; you'll be glad to know that Harry and I left with our hands intact. Inside the church, we enjoyed the quiet atmosphere, candlelight, and Byzantine iconography. While glancing at one of the side altars, we noticed a relic, which turned out to be the skull of St. Valentine! We were thoroughly surprised, and would suggest that the church advertise the skull as well as the fountain. We ended the day with another gelato break and a visit to the Pantheon.

Our final day in Rome included a visit to the Spanish steps, another gelato run, and a visit to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. This papal basilica is another elaborately-decorated church with beautiful mosaics and a fabulous baptismal font. It contains some of the earliest iconography of Mary and a venerated icon of Mary as the protectress of Rome. Even more exciting, it contains relics of St. Jerome and a relic of Christ's manger. Visiting this church was a perfect way to end our time in Rome before flying back to Dublin, then to Edinburgh and Philadelphia, respectively.

The Colosseum

The Mouth of Truth

Above the Roman Forum

Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore

Harry in the Pantheon

Spanish Steps

Christmas in St. Andrews

After sending Harry back to the States and returning to St. Andrews, I had a couple days of preparing to receive visitors. Mom and Stephen wanted to get out of town for Christmas and decided to stay with me in Scotland!

When Mom and Stephen visited St. Andrews last year, we did a lot of sightseeing (see evidence here); this trip was a lot more relaxed. Shops, museums, tourist attractions, and--most importantly-- buses shut down here on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and around New Year, so our options for things to do were quite limited. We didn't really mind though. I collected some card games, puzzles, things to bake, and movies to watch. We also took a taxi into town for church on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, which was lovely. Finally, we did some leisurely walking around St. Andrews; I showed Mom and Stephen the duck pond near my house, and we explored around the cathedral and the pier.

A minimalist Christmas tree this year :)

At midnight mass on Christmas Eve

Stephen and me on the pier

Exploring St. Andrews Cathedral

Checking out the Nashville skyline

Pennsylvania and Tennessee

Mom, Stephen, and I were having a lovely visit when I looked at the calendar and realized that I would be alone for 2 weeks after they left. With nothing to do. And the sun setting by 4:00 in the afternoon. This thought depressed me, and I had (as we say in Tennessee) a bit of a come-apart. Mom suggested I look for flights to Nashville, just to see if I could manage a trip home instead of 2 weeks of solitude. So I looked, and behold! Flights to the US were cheap enough to rationalize a trip home. Before I booked a ticket, I told Harry about my plans, and he suggested amending the trip; I could visit him in Pennsylvania for a few days, then both of us could travel to Tennessee until it was time for me to return to Scotland. Visiting many of my favorite people in 2 of my favorite places seemed much preferable to sitting alone for 2 weeks, so we booked our tickets.

I had a fantastic time in Pennsylvania; I got to meet Harry's family (and pets!) and celebrate New Year's Eve with them, and I was able to see some friends from Eastern as well. In Tennessee, I enjoyed spending more time with my family, seeing our dog Bowie, seeing more friends, and showing Harry around Murfreesboro and Nashville. Some highlights include the world's largest cedar bucket, Murfreesboro's favorite donut shop, the Nashville Parthenon, and downtown Franklin.

A Philly landmark, but at Ursinus College

The Nashville Parthenon

We go nuts for donuts.

The World's Largest Cedar Bucket

A Look Ahead

Before I go, let me tell you about a few things I'm looking forward to, and also looking forward to writing about. This semester, I'll be very busy with Celtic Society. We have the annual Highland Ball to put on in February and a ceilidh in St. Andrews Castle in March. I'm also going with a team of dancers to compete in several festivals; the biggest one is the Newcastle Festival in February, which is the closest thing there is to a world championship of Scottish Country Dancing.

This semester, I'm taking courses on Martin Luther, Henri de Lubac, and a course that deals with philosophical theology and theological anthropology (light stuff, I know). I'm also preparing to write a dissertation this summer, which I think will be something about Gregory of Nazianzus and equality.

I look forward to reporting back as the semester goes on. I'll be very busy, but I'm excited about everything that's coming up!

More Pictures!