We commenced with a tour of the Vatican Gardens. This had to be conducted by a Vatican guide, a friendly Italian blonde woman with much cosmetic surgery. It was raining heavily and the group looked rather disconsolate. The garden tour took far too long which made the final part ending in the St Peter Basilica with the sculpture of the Pieta somewhere rushed. As we filed out of the Sistine chapel there was an incident. There was a press of people and a guard on the door was knocked. He assumed it was Captain Hornblower and rushed down the stairs to slam him on the shoulder.
This was too much for his new best friend Bob Tickler who told the guard that this man was a veteran soldier who fought the Nazis, which you lot never did, and you should show some respect although that was unlikely in a man who buggered choirboys.
Fortunately the guard understood little of this but Bob soon had brothers in arms as back up when 3 Jocks in tartan kilts over for the international were in the guard’s face. “Do that again, Jimmy …” said one,”… and yae going down those stairs head first with a Glasgow kiss.” The guard got the thrust of this. The Commander, who told me that during the Troubles a sergeant major in the Green Jackets lay over him firing at the IRA, was not the slightest perturbed.
We had dreadful lunch afterwards of bland pasta, a tiny artichoke with a few potatoes and lemon cake for 30 euros which Daffers said was the worst meal she had eaten in Italy. We picked up our bags from the hotel, boarded the plane and said our goodbyes.
The tour was well organised but too well for a free spirit like Bob. The walking was intensive for an elderly group. “Not another route march” said Hornblower on more than one occasion. Martin Gayford was excellent, pitching his talks perfectly and leavened with gossip.
For example with Pieta he said the Madonna was far too tall but being Michelangelo you noticed more the flowing robes and glossy marble than the disjointed anatomy. The tour manager was cheerful but bossy and unable to deal with the manifold problems that Vatican and Roman bureaucracy created.
She gave Stefano a hard time for wanting to leave the tour but it was he who sorted out the Vatican officialdom threatening to report them to his friend the Prime Minister and ex Florence mayor, Renzi. I half-expected the Pope Francis to appear in his regalia to sort out the argument.
I have mixed feelings about Rome. I love the little cobbled streets, the Baroque architecture, the archaeological remains of the Roman Empire and of course the High Renaissance we appreciated in the form of Michelangelo but it’s a dishonest city and the Vatican was officious , arrogant and unhelpful though very happy to fill their coffers with tourist moolah. A further tour of Michelangelo’s Florence is mooted and I would certainly sign up for this.