The day started out looking like it would become nasty and it did. So nasty, in fact, that I left the Sony camera I’ve had with me from day one in the cabin and took the Olympus TG-5 waterproof camera along instead. A good move as it turned out from the safety of the camera point of view; not such a good move from the good photo point of view. The Olympus simply does not have the same resolution, the same ISO abilities, and, among other things, it does not have the ability to shoot as well through windows, since it has a macro mode and the camera keeps wanting to focus on whatever it sees on the windows instead of what’s behind the window. But, it is rugged and waterproof so the weather dictated the choice and I made due with what I could get with the TG-5 instead of the good Sony.
Boarded the bus at the port and left for our first stop at the Pope’s Summer Palace: Castel Gandolfo. There were traces of blue in the sky when we left but those quickly solidified into clouds and very soon after the rain started. The further inland we got the worse it became. After about an hour and a half we arrived at the town and the rain was now coming down quite hard coupled with a fairly high wind. The wind and rain was such that our guide decided that the normal stairs we would use to get to the top of the hill where too dangerous to use and took us on an alternate, “easier and safer” route via roads where we were next to what little traffic there was in the town at that time of day (no shops were open yet).
All along the way the wind was such that we all had trouble keeping our umbrellas open without turning up. Eventually we reached the square in front of the Pope’s summer residence and gathered in an alcove where the police parked their vehicles. After the guide got our tickets we went to the building entrance, through security (metal detectors for us and x-ray for stuff), and finally got into the inner courtyard. Normally it would be open to the sky but today it was covered by a canvas cover that they can apparently roll out when needed. The noise of the rain on the cover coupled with the wind was quite loud so we had to stay close to hear anything the guide said. She did not yet have the whisper devices we later used. (Whisper device: the guide uses a transmitter and we all carry small receivers and earplugs – handy when the plug stays in your ear.) Instead of showing a photo of the courtyard I’ve included one showing a heavy plastic notice device that had been hung over a chain by the front door. Note it swinging in the wind!
During this part of the visit we learned that our current Pope had visited the palace and decided he did not want to come there every summer to do the same business he does in the Vatican. So, they are currently preparing the palace to become a museum and we were some of the first people to come through during this conversion process. (For Frank: the inner courtyard is now a car display area where the various cars used by the Pope are arranged. I have photos at the TG-5 resolution.)
After the courtyard talk we boarded a small bus used to take people through the gardens. The bus has an open top but today a heavy plastic covered the bus so we had to wipe away condensation and squint through to see the gardens. I got some photos through the front window but they don’t do the garden justice. (Side note: When we later visited the Vatican Museum they had a photo of one of the garden areas on the wall so I have a picture of the picture of what we should have been able to see.) 🙂 The gardens are really an agricultural area and we stopped a bit to have a sample of yogurt and cheeses produced from the animals belonging to the Vatican.
After the garden tour it was 11am and from the police parking area we were turned free for an hour to shop or have lunch or pay to visit an upper floor of the palace. Most chose to have lunch. One problem: the restaurants and stores in the town opened at noon. A deli agreed to make some sandwiches for some but I did not like the look of the place and they did not take credit cards so I went out and found another restaurant that had also agreed to open for sandwiches and took cards and went in there. A few others had sandwiches and when I was about the order the wife of the owner said that the lasagna was ready. So, I ordered a plate of lasagna (see photo which was taken after I’d eaten about a quarter of it) which was excellent and only cost 10 Euros.
Sated we continued our adventure when we met back up at noon and went down the steps that were deemed unsafe earlier.
The bus then took us to Rome. We had a short driving tour of the city and a stop at the Colosseum where we took our photos through the bus window. During the presentation you will see the modern art styling the rain drops on the bus window gave the Colosseum. 🙂
Finally, we ended up at the area where the bus is required to let people off for the Vatican. It’s a couple of city blocks from the entrance to the Vatican Museum so we got out our umbrellas and again braved the weather. The line to the museum stretched along the Vatican’s wall for a considerable distance but our guide had a pre-arranged appointment and pre-paid tickets so we walked right past everyone and into the museum. We passed security and had a bathroom break while the guide arranged for the whisper devices for us. She then took us up a series of “backdoor” elevators and a few stairs to the floor we would visit (no time to even look at everything in the vast museum, we just got a sample). I’ve included one photo of one gallery; it’s a long shot of the ceiling of the gallery of old maps but somewhere in that photo is something that I’d been looking for during visits to several countries now. I’ll tell you what and where it is during the presentation if you don’t think you found it.
We joined the crowds going through the several galleries we sampled to the end of the passage where the entrance to the Sistine Chapel was. Again, she spoke to the guard there and like magic a divide was opened and we scooted ahead of all the other groups in line.
I was struck this time by how small the Sistine Chapel is. When you think of it you think of a larger church where the Cardinals gather to elect the new Pope and so it must be spacious. It’s not. There were people throughout the chapel and many guards to keep them moving. We joined the crowd in the center which kind of circled around and spun people off as they got to the edge of the crowd (looked rather like a spiral galaxy). No photos allowed in the Sistine Chapel and the guards were watching. You’ll have to wait for the presentation to see if I managed to get any. 🙂
We exited the chapel to the outside and went into the front facade of Saint Peter’s Basilica where we could look out over the Square which was filled with chairs left over from Easter and other outdoor Masses recently said by the Pope. Another turn and we entered the Basilica. It’s amazing. Again, we did not have time to take in the whole of it and the center was roped off as another Mass was scheduled at 4:30pm and they wanted to have a clear area to start moving people out for that. So, I did not get a photo of the inside of the dome but I did get photos (at TG-5 resolution) of a number of side chapels and other statues and decorations including the Pieta.
With time marching on we exited to a gift shop and finally a short walk into a tunnel that took us to the bus pick-up point. We made good time back to the ship (1.25 hours) but were still the second to last bus to arrive before sailing. And, as you might expect from the narrative here, when we approached the coast on the trip back the rain stopped.
While there were disappointments, the day was still a good one as the eyes and brain took in the sights even if the camera did not always do so.
Shortly after arriving the other bus came back and we left Civitavecchia (the port for Rome).