Italy 2011, Rome, The Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica

“From the dome of St. Peter’s one can see every notable object in Rome… He can see a panorama that is varied, extensive, beautiful to the eye, and more illustrious in history than any other in Europe.” –  Mark Twain – The Innocents Abroad

By mid afternoon when we crossed the River Tiber over the Ponte Sant’ Angelo like time travellers we had completed the ancient, the medieval, and the modern and now it was time for the religious.

Rome is the most important holy city in Christendom and St Peter’s Basilica at the heart of the Vatican City is the headquarters of the Catholic Church and a place where some of the most important decisions in the history of Europe and the World have been made over the centuries.  (A Basilica by the way is a sort of double Cathedral because it has two naves).

The route took us past the Castel Sant’ Angelo, which was the Pope’s ‘safe house’ in times of danger and into the busy square outside the Basilica where a long queue of people seemed to snake forever around the perimeter waiting for their turn to go inside.

We joined the back of it and were pleased to find that it shuffled quite quickly towards the main doors and soon we were inside the biggest and the tallest church in the world that has room for sixty-thousand worshippers at one sitting and even Micky overcame his usual reluctance to visit the inside of a religious building and joined us.  It was busy inside but not uncomfortable and we soaked up the atmosphere as we passed by chapels with precious holy relics, the tombs of dead Popes and rooms with glass cases full of religious artefacts.

Rome The Forum

Outside we saw the Swiss Guards in their striking medieval uniforms of blue, red and yellow and the Vatican post office doing a brisk trade in post marking letters and postcards.

The Vatican is the  smallest state in Europe and its status is guaranteed by the Lateran Treaty of 1929 when Church and State, who had been squabbling ever since Italian unification, finally thrashed out a compromise deal that was marked by the building of a new road the Via della Conciliazione which, I have to say, to me seems rather sterile and lacking any real character.  It is expensive however and from a street side stall we bought the dearest water I have ever had at €4 for a small bottle.  We weren’t going to fall for that again so later on Kim refilled it from a public fountain by the side of the road.

The Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II took us back over the River Tiber and not unsurprisingly on to the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II which leads inevitably to the Vittorio Emanuele monument at the other end.  As it stretched out in front of us there was about a kilometre and a half to walk and all of a sudden my itinerary looked for the first time to be overly ambitious.  We had seen everything that we had planned to see but now there was a long walk back to the train station and everyone was hot and tired.

This long road is flanked with Palaces and Churches and Piazzas but our feet and legs were leached by the effort and aching and it was desperately hot so all we wanted was a bar and a cold drink even if it did cost another eye-watering €25 for five drinks.  We found a place about half way along the road and stopped for half an hour to rest and recover in the comfort of an air-conditioned bar and yes, sure enough it cost us €25.

No one complained but none of us were looking forward to the last stage of the walk when we had finished and paid up and returned to the street.  We walked down to the busy Piazza Venezia overlooked by the monument commemorating Italian unification exactly one hundred and fifty years ago and then threaded our way past Trajan’s column, around the back of his market and onto the Via Nazionale with a long final energy sapping incline up the Esquiline which is the longest and highest of the seven hills.

It had been easy this morning when we came down but going back was an altogether different matter.  I took up the pole position and set the pace and Micky and Sue, who was suffering the most of all of us, followed shortly behind but Kim and Christine lagged behind, not from tiredness or fatigue it has to be said but because they were constantly distracted by souvenir shops looking for the presents that Christine had promised to take back home.

Eventually we arrived back at Roma Termini and having established the return train time we looked forward to sitting down for an hour and the journey back to Albano.  Unfortunately the train didn’t leave from one of the main platforms because these were reserved for the glossy high speed inter-city trains and the Eurostar so we had to walk a final four hundred metres to ours where the graffiti decorated transport was waiting for us.

It was still oppressively hot when we arrived back in Albano where the dusty streets baked in a lazy Sunday afternoon stupor and after we had negotiated the hill leading from the station to the town we stopped for a drink at the place we had enjoyed lunch the previous day where we sat in the garden, drank large glasses of foaming beer and didn’t complain about the prices which were much more to our liking.

At the hotel the resident neighbour was sitting outside at his ‘privado’ table, presumably making some sort of statement of ownership but it didn’t matter to us because our plan was to go out as soon as we had showered and changed and return to World Pizza where we had enjoyed last night’s meal.  We were more adventurous tonight and moved on from pizza to pasta dishes and other local specialities and we washed it all down with house wine and even though, much to Christine’s relief, the local character didn’t make an appearance tonight we had a second excellent meal and a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

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