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3 months ...................................... adventure - explore - challenge

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Happy Birthday Sir, but we've no chicken! How about an audience with the Pope instead?

Sunday we arose to a birthday!! Happy Birthday Michael aka Sonja's dad. After a hearty breakfast and pressie/card opening session we headed off to the Vatican City. Pre-trip research told us that the Vatican museum was free on the last Sunday of the month. "What luck!!" one would say, "Sonja's meticulous planning" I'd reply!

Vatican guard
A 30 minute stroll (where Michael's famous red cap went missing!) through the quaint Roman backstreets brought us to the magnificent Vatican City or Vatican State City as it's also known. Did you know that it is the smallest independent state in the world by both area (110 acres) and population (just over 800), established in 1929. It is, of course, ruled by the Pope.
View of the front of St.Peter's Basilica

With an average of 20,000 visitors per day, we were expecting havoc. Fortunately our early arrival found a fairly short, orderly queue (only half an hour). To where it went was a mystery but we joined it none-the-less. "It goes to the Basilica" I heard someone mutter. Perfect! Whilst queuing we were entertained by a big screen TV showing pre-recorded footage of the Pope conducting a service inside St.Peter's. Or so we thought......once in the church (via the airport style x-ray machines) we were stunned to find out that the images viewed outside were live and the Pope was in fact conducting the service in front of us. I say "service", the Pope was actually inducting new Cardinals with a number of fascinating rituals. As we jostled past the 'chatty' tourists we finally laid eyes on the Pope albeit from some distance away. I tried to get closer and a security guard said "Mass?" to me. "Yes it certainly is busy" I replied. Wrong answer, as "Yes" would have got me much closer and with a seat too! Besides the surreal view of the Pope, all around us were stunning decorations, carved marble and painted ceilings. To try and describe it's beauty would do it no justice. It was simply breathtaking.

Center stage, the Pope!!!
Inside the magnificent Basilica
We left the Basilica to find the tourists had multiplied on a massive scale, and also realised that a visit to the Vatican Museum was not worth it due to time restrictions (last entry at 12 on Sundays). Personally this was not a big issue apart from the fact that the Sistine Chapel is part of that tour, the official residence of the Pope. Famous for it's painted ceilings by artists including Michelangelo, it would be the only sight of Rome I regret not seeing. Great excuse to return one day though!!!

To escape the crowds, we headed off for something a little more tranquil,  Villa Borghese gardens. Wondering through the landscaped gardens we felt a million miles away from the hustle or Rome. Our relaxation only threatened by passing bikes, roller-bladers and Segways. Having already walked most of Rome, we decided to hire a four-person bike only to be denied as no we had no identification on us. Tip of the day, always have some type of photo ID with you!! Fortunately an inline skating display amused us for the rest of the afternoon with a YouTube famous 74 year old man doing the splits under limbo poles whilst on roller blades!!!!

Our birthday evening consisted of strolling around the Rome streets, a beer in the Piazza Navona and then stumbling across a lovely looking family-run Italian restaurant. I appreciate that Italians enjoy leisurely meals over wine and conversation, but 45 minutes to get even some wine was too much.Yes, despite appearances, our meal was again under par. Receiving under cooked meat and Michael being informed that, yet again, there was no chicken just as the other dishes were being served was all too much. The advice has to be, get as far away from the tourist area as possible when looking for restaurants. Fortunately an ice cream and delightful post-dinner meander saved the evening.

So, not a great birthday meal Michael, but hey, we got you an audience with the Pope, what more do you want????

The birthday boy and Anita share birthday bubbly

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