After a quick breakfast at the buffet at the hotel, we headed out to the lobby to see Manilo has already arrived and is waiting for us to depart the hotel for Castel Gandolfo, which is where the Pope’s summer residence is. It is a 30 minute drive, but this is Rome, after all, and everything is just so beautiful, you are constantly turning your head from one side to the other to drink it all in.
We arrived at the summer home of Pope Benedict – and all the other pontiffs before him – and Manilo drops us off almost right at the front door. It is just a short walk through some light security to get to the waiting area. We are there about an hour before they will begin to allow people in, but there is already quite a crowd gathered. There were two members of the Swiss Guard at the entrance to the courtyard of the amazing home, and an area is barricaded off from the shops and restaurants. It is inside this barricaded area that we have to wait.
As it draws closer to the 11 o’clock hour, when they are supposed to begin letting people into the courtyard, we are standing in a crowd of easily a couple of thousand people. When the security team comes down and begins letting people in, it’s almost like herding cattle. In the crush of people trying to make their way through security and into the courtyard, I get separated from Russ and Dot, but fortunately, Jim sees that I am corralled in the opposite direction and he follows me, so I’m not off by myself. Our line is going much more slowly than the one Dot and Russ are in, and I am starting to get worried that we won’t make it! Just when it seems like they surely must be going to close the gate at any moment, we are through, and we find out that the courtyard is really only about half full. We are going to be so close to the Pope, I can’t even imagine! The gates do eventually close, and there are about 500 people still waiting outside. They do have TV screens set up for everyone to see, but I feel sorry for those people that do not get what they obviously had hoped to get when they arrived.
There is still an hour wait before the Pope is scheduled to appear, but it passes quickly, thanks mostly to a Church group that has come from Africa. They are singing, swaying, and waving banners, and they put such a feeling of excitement in the air! It was crowded, cramped, and hot, but you hardly noticed those things when you were caught up in the moment.
When the Pope finally arrived at the podium, there was a deafening cheer from the crowd. It really almost moved me to tears. I am particularly religious, and we certainly don’t go to Church as often as we should, but there is something about being here, surrounded by people from every walk of life, countries too numerous to count represented by the crowd. There is no hatred, no bigotry, no racism. The courtyard is absolutely filled with love. There is no other way to describe the feeling.
After speaking and praying in no less than four languages that I could make out, our encounter with the Pope draws to a close. As we left the courtyard, we spot Manilo, who has waited outside for us. He tells us he was able to secure a reservation at a restaurant just down the road here in Castel Gandolfo, so we make our way through the thinning crowd to follow him. We arrived just a minute later at il Ristorante Bucci. When I tell you this place is right out of a painting, I am not exaggerating. The ceiling is covered with real grape vines, loaded with clusters of grapes, and the views are absolutely breathtaking. There is a lake below us, and a train running just above the water level. It is just picture perfect here, no matter where you look.
The kids were hot and getting cranky, but they have found renewed energy with the promise of food ahead of them. There is cold water on the table, and we invited Manilo to join us. He spoke to the waiter, and without opening his menu, he has chosen a meal of gnocchi with fresh asparagus with a creamy pesto type sauce. Nearly everyone at the table follows suit and orders the gnocchi, and it is a huge hit at the table. I can’t eat gnocchi, but I was certainly not disappointed in my meal. I ordered a fresh green salad, and the greens, which could have been in the ground that morning they were so fresh, are simply dressed with olive oil and salt. I don’t know if it’s the whole beautiful day or what, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a salad that tasted so good. Eilis ordered spaghetti and meat sauce, which she generously offered to share with Granuaile when Granuaile decided she did not like the gnocchi. Other than that little blip, the meal was perfect.
In Italy, no one appears at your table with check in hand, rushing you out to pay your bill. It’s a wonderful system, but we’re in a bit of a rush, since Manilo has gone off to get the car. Dot and Russ take the girls to pick up a souvenir or two, and Jim and I offer to stay behind and wait for the check. After 20 minutes, I need to find a restroom, so I leave the table with Jim waiting for the bill. I walk through the whole village without seeing a public restroom, and I am all the way outside the walls, where the car is. Now Granuaile decides she has to use the bathroom. We head back in towards the Pope’s residence (no, I did not expect him to let us in to use the toilet!!), where there is a police officer standing. I ask him if there are public facilities, and he tells me no, but I should go inside the bar to use the bathroom. Eilis has joined us, and we had into the bar – which seems to serve more ice cream and coffee than anything alcoholic – and without question they direct us to the ladies room. By the time we are finished, and back at the car, Jim appears and we are on our way back to the hotel. Manilo makes one more stop – in the village where he lives – and he stops the car so we can see the spectacular view he has of the city of Rome. Incredible!
As we get out of the car, Manilo gives us a very generous gift of a bottle of wine, and Jim learns that Manilo is available to take us to the airport in the morning. Eilis is thrilled, and we’re all somewhat relieved that we don’t have to worry about the safety of a different driver. It all works out perfectly.
We head in to let the girls change to go swimming for a little while. Brighid, Dot and Russ take them down to the pool while we pull the bags together to be ready to leave early in the morning. After the quick swim, it’s time to head down to dinner. The food at the hotel is pretty good – even for hotel food – and we have a nice dinner. We head back to the executive lounge for a cup of tea before we go to the room to go to bed.
It’s been a wonderful two days in Rome. In my previous visits here, I have left feeling like I really wanted to come back, and this time is no different. I love this city, and having seen it through new eyes with Manilo’s incredible knowledge, now I’d want to come back even sooner!