The Vatican

Yep. Couldn’t sleep. Rested too much during double hangover day and paid for it in the traditional sleeping hours. I was also sweating, had chills and was coughing all night. Bad shitsuation too. MacKay is in a similar state of disfunction.

We get up and decide our mission today should be to make up for yesterday’s lost time.

“So, go straight to the Vatican and see what it’s all about?” “Yep. Sounds good.” “I suppose this will add another country to the trip since Vatican City is it’s own independent city-state.” “Oh right, how many is that for the trip now?” MacKay’s looking up towards the Godfather poster counting on his fingers, “Ahhhh that’d be 17.” “17! haha wow. How many was the Mongol Rally? Like, 20 or something?” “Ya something like that.” ‘We certainly are getting around.” “You ever count how many countries you’ve been to?” “Nope. Never done that. It’s probably… I dunno, getting on a hundred maybe.” “Well, you’re halfway there.”

We get outside and do a quick recon for a breakfast joint. I find something called Il Familia around the corner from Yellow Square. It’s got a crumby patio by a noisy intersection. “Whaddya think?” “Fuck it.”

I get a primitive egg plate and coffee that barely lives up to it’s 3.5 star rating. But it’s fast and we ain’t fussy. “To the Vatican then?” “Yep, looks like the cheapest fare is… Uber black? For some reason.” “Whatever works.” “Ok, he’s picking us up in a Lanica Thema. No idea what that is.” “Never heard of it.”

It’s a black sedan that’s mid-level swanky. Looks similar to a caddy. It’s a nice ride with black leather seats and tinted windows. Our middle-aged driver guy is dressed in football manager business attire with cufflinks. “Hello, Jonathan.” “Hey man, nice car.” “Yes, yes. Thank you, sir.”

He’s listening to some up tempo pop rave tunes and whistling along to the songs. He’s tapping the beat on the steering wheel with his fingers while he drives. His little map shows Vatican City is just across the Tiber, only 10 minutes away. We take a tunnel under the city and come up on the other side.

When we get over there the driver is confused as some of the streets are blocked off. He takes another street and is cursing in Italian when he finds some new roadblocks. “It’s ok, we can just get out here, man.” “Here? It’s ok?” “Yeah, no worries, we’ll just walk it.” “Ok ok.” He points with his finger, “Over here and up, ok?” “Yep, got it. Thanks!”

We go over there and up and are soon at some security gates similar to an airport security check. We send our daypacks through the scanner and go through the metal detector. All good.

Saint Peter’s Square

“Guess we’re in another country now.” “Yep. Smallest one in the world. That was super easy.”

We grab our bags and go into the main square to look around. There’s a finish line gate here in the middle. Must be a marathon or something ending in the square today. Could be why all the roads are blocked off.

We get around the gates and come to a  second security perimeter with more scanners. Alright, let’s do it again. A little heavier anti-terrorism presence at this one with some dark military types standing tall with authority.

We go into the main square and there is a crowd gathered here. Probably to cheer on the runners.

Kinda funny seeing a mascot on holy grounds. Wasn’t expecting that.

Then suddenly there’s a clamor that crescendos with everyone cheering and waving.

I look around but don’t see what the fuss is about. “I don’t see any runners, what’s happening?” “Ya, dunno.”

The cheering escalates and then we hear a voice come over speakers in the square and people start going nuts.

“There a band or something? What’s going on?” “No idea.” I look around and follow people’s gazes up up up to a balcony in one of the buildings off to the side. “Is that the fucking Pope, dude!” “Holy shit. Ya, that’s the Pope!”

Pope Francis starts giving some sort of sermon and everybody is watching enthralled. I have no idea what he’s saying but he goes through a hushed section and everybody listens intently and then he starts naming of Italian cities and people are cheering after each one.

There are giant screens off to the side giving a close up of the Pope. Normal to look at but strange filters from the screen make video and pics come out with black and white lines. (This is the only one that sorta turned out recognizable)

“This feels like a concert.” “Ya totally.”

Pope Francis wraps things up in just a few minutes and gives everyone a wave from his balcony. The crowd roars in delight.

“We just walk in here and immediately get a sermon from the Pope? Kinda crazy.” “Ya, what are the odds of that? Wonder what the special occasion is.”

A quick search reveals that “It is, in fact, All Saints Day.” “Oh right. And… that’s important?” “We are supposed to celebrate all of the saints today.” “And how many is that?” “Unknown. All of them.” “Right, best get to it then.” “Well I didn’t come here expecting to see the Pope, that was a nice surprise.” “Seriously. Sermon from the Pope… not on my bucket list or anything, but I’ll take it.”

Unfortunately for us the Vatican museum and the Sistine Chapel are both closed because of All Saints Day, or possibly due to the marathon. So those things are immediately off today’s mission. We take a lap around to the front of Saint Peter’s Basilica and get the scale of the area.

“Some people going in over there so at least that’s still open.”

We’re on the case…

St Peter’s Basilica

We walk into the basilica and it’s pretty much an instant wow. The interior is massive and incredibly ornate. This would have been quite the feat back in the 1500s when it was being constructed. Finished in 1626. Took over a hundred years.

There are a number of monuments surrounding the central area so we stroll along and take a minute in front of each one.

As we walk around, there’s some dirty, unshaven man in rags pinballing around the room singing the raspiest version of Jingle bells I’ve ever heard. It echoes through the gigantic dome with fantastic acoustics, much to the annoyance of everyone in here. Especially to the many people kneeled in front of the monuments and praying. Interesting that nobody is doing anything about it.

“Must be a tad touched, eh?” “Guess so. I kind of like this rendition though.” “Ahhh not for the tenth time in a row.” “Ya, true.”

This central space is truly impressive in it’s scale and elegance.

We don’t linger too long in this amazing place though. Neither of us are religious where, clearly, everyone else in here is. So it feels a little out of place for us to be here. We do a quick loop and head for the exit.

On the way out we find a plaque listing all of the past Popes.

Outside there are some colorful guards with halberds and gold daggers on their hips.

MacKay pipes up, “Oh yeah, the Swiss Guards.” “Swiss Guards?” “Yeah, the Vatican army is made up of Swiss Guards.” “Like… mercenaries? From Switzerland?” “Ya, I think so. They were the shit back in the day, apparently.”

If you or someone you know wants to be part of the smallest army in the world, keep in mind that it requires you to be:

  • Swiss
  • Catholic
  • Over 5’8”
  • Between 19 and 30 years old
  • Trained in the Swiss Army
  • Graduated with a diploma or university degree
  • Proud and serious whilst in vibrant pantaloons

“Well, that was cool. Sermon from the Pope. What’s next?” “Both my buddies Posty and Waldo said we should check out Trastavere, wanna head there?” “Mongol Rally Waldo?” “Yep. And Posty. He’s… a postman’s son.” “Right. Let’s do it.”

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