We aroused ourselves from our drunken slumber to the sound of even more Police outside the Hotel.
In the traditional style, the day's sightseeing planning was discussed over our usual continental breakfast. I personally can't get on with this style of starting the day abroad. Non of our European counterparts can make a decent cup of tea; they don't have proper toast; the cornflakes are recycled cardboard and the museli has only recently been swept up off the rabbit-hutch floor. In all my globe trotting around the world, European breakfasts are the worst. Now if you want a good breakfast, talk to me about about Vancouver! But that's another story and the end of my rant.
Amongst all this and after gathering ourselves together, we noticed that the helicopters had gone and the Police were packing up. GWB was going home. Life was returning to normality in Vila Borghese. Apparently, when Rome was liberated from the "Narzis" in 1944, our American cousins decided that they would grab the best looking villa in Rome for their embassy. So our first stop was to inspect this piece of prime real-estate and the prize of the victors.
An odd thing occured to me this day; the last time I went to a commemoration of 1944 and all that, I also met a Bush in person - GW's dad George Bush Senior, who also had a little disagreement with Iraq. This was back on a trip to the Normandy beaches with my Step-Grandfather - Harold Wright. My Grandfather, James Douglas Clarke, had also been in Italy during 1943 - 1944 during this period of the war and had helped the liberation of Italy until some German shot him in the leg during the Cassino campaign. Small world sometimes....
Anyway, back to 2004 and after departing the hotel, we went round the block about 2 minutes, and there was the heavily guarded American Embassy. We proceed to the end of the block, no doubt monitored secretly by some surveilance equipment installed in the walls of the garden, and down to the Vila Borghese and the ubiquitous bus 116.
We had discovered the previous day, that the 116 took us to the Tiber and a bridge over to the Headquarters of Catholic HQ - The Vatican. "Have you got your passport Paul?" I enquired. As the knowledgeable will know, especially those with the responsibility of teaching the young, The Vatican is a country within a country, and they would be entitled to demand inspection of your passport. However, to gain access to this smallest of European countries, airport style security was all that was in place.
Once inside the compound, I was immediately impressed by the vastness of St. Peters - a true testiment to the power of the Catholic faith. I've seen some impressive churches, such as the Catheral at Seville and our own St.Pauls, but this place exudes authority. It's right in your face all the time.
Having queued up for entrance into the main auditorium, no hats and shorts here, some people were denied entrance, we were inside for a look at the large statues and ceiling paintings. As usual with these buildings, the light inside was poor and of course, flash photography was banned. Good job for the old SLR with "B" settings". However, I hadn't planned for the tourists deciding to stand in front of the camera! Ha! Foiled again!
Outside we had a good look at the dias where The Pope does most of his business, and in front of the vast seating area for the Sunday gathering. As we were there on a Saturday, we had a look from the Executive seating. I couldn't spot a hot-dog stand though, must appear on a Sunday only.
We then noticed the Swiss Guard in their traditional garb. This looks rather amusing these days like something out of a renactment society, complete with 21st Century mobile communications. I wonder what the dinner conversation would be for one of His Holiness's Guards - "what a day - I nearly ripped my pantaloons on some stupid British boys' camera case chucking him out of the main hall; and he wondered why he couldn't get in with those stupid shorts with those little white legs sticking out, have they no style in Britain???"
We had a quick look in the shop to buy some post cards - The Vatican with a shop! It's like Buckingham Palace having a local butchers in The Mews! They had a Post office to send these, but we sdidn't have the inclination to queue up for stamps.Also, the big disappointment was that you had to pay in the dreaded Euro's - and I had saved all those groats! "He wants four Sheckles for this gourd!"
Our next port of call was the bolt hole for Pope's under pressure - St.Angelo's Fortress which is conveniently situated so the Pope who has upset the natives and everbody else, can make a run for it in this citadel built by the Emporer Hadrian in AD117. Hardrian must have enjoyed building things as he did a smart wall in Northern England to keep the Celt's out. It is no a museum and a good one at that, but I suspect Dave orton would find it more interesting than Paul did as there are more armaments than paintings. But Michaelangelo has left his mark here and there are some wonderful fresco's. There is even a prison here used by the Pope, obviously used by to persuade the aforesaid artist to turn the spare kangaroos into 1 Christ and 12 descipels.
After all this culture in the warm Roman sunshine, lunch was called for on our way to the Sistine Chapel and our next big mistake.
For one, the Sistine chapel shut as we queued up. Presumable because Vatican City were playing at home that afternoon against Firenze United. So we went over the road to the nearest cafe and we stung for a glass of Coke for a mere 8 Euro's. That's about £5 or $8.We should have know better. Robbin Roman's Strike again.
After this disappointment, we found a more suitable repose for imbiment and then wandered around to the French Embassy and some squares near the Pantheon.
We returned to the hotel for an afternoon siesta, and to wash and brush up for our evening foray into resturant land. This proved better than we imagined as we decided to risk being ripped off again and went back to near the Tiber. On the way, an American family decided to promptly beat the living daylights out of a pickpocket. However, as the Police still had adrenalin running high, and appeared very quickly indeed and quickly dragged the offender away.
The resturant was extremely good and reasonably priced. After some more pasta and wine, all taken whilst a tremendous thunderstorm was in progress, we wandered aroud to a few more bars in some nearby squares. After this, our trusty 116 bus took us back to the Vila Borghese and time for a last beer in the Hungaria bar.
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