My Grove Guy credentials were useless when we visited Vatican City last month. The man at the front desk told me, "I'm sorry, the Pope is unable to meet with you or anyone else. He is in Argentina".
Hanging out with Pope Francis was only one of many things we wanted to do in Rome, Italy's incredible capital. The magic started as we spotted ancient aqueducts when we first arrived. Now I could touch the stone monuments that I had only marveled at in books.
We ambled past the Colosseum, the world's first "football" stadium. Our admiration for it faded a bit when we learned more of its history.
The Colosseum is the most beautiful slaughterhouse on the planet. 70,000 fans could go there to enjoy food and wine while watching men fight to the death on the stage below.
Thankfully we're long past that. We now visit stadiums to enjoy hot dogs, beer, and the men suffering broken bones and brain injuries on the football fields below.
We learned there is no evidence that Christians were fed to the lions in the Colosseum, the symbol of Rome. It might be good to do this though, to one particular American dentist.
OFF TO THE VATICAN
We spent a day in Vatican City, the headquarters of the Catholic Church. The Pope's place has three big attractions (besides personal visits), the incredible St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Art Museum and the Sistine Chapel.
Inside the colossal church, St. Peter's Basilica. We learned that Peter was the Catholic Church's first Pope. His bones are buried there.
I'd been wanting to set my eyes on Michelangelo's chapel ceiling since I was six. Your reach it through the museum so we followed signs pointing the way. So did thousands of others and we soon became one crowded, sweating, stream of humanity rushing past art covered walls for nearly an hour.
See the end of this hallway, the little square in the darkness? This crowded passage repeated itself many times.
It was not for the faint-of-heart and miraculously, no one was trampled. I also noticed that no one was older than me.
Our part of the mob finally reached a room that did indeed have those Biblical stories depicted on high. As soon as I began to absorb them bellowing guards yelled, "Silence!" and "No photos!" (yes, I snuck a few) every two minutes. The stern Vatican officers kept us moving because there were 30,000 more tourists waiting to take our place.
I recall looking up at beautiful, husky figures playing their roles on the most famous ceiling while my neck begged to be un-craned.
In this historic setting most children left their parents alone, happy to be playing video games.
We found a rare spot to sit. After gazing for 30 minutes we told Michelangelo goodbye and headed for the door. It led to another maze of hallways that eventually led to an exit.
The Vatican guards are hard to miss
We didn't want to leave, we wanted to visit the Vatican's art museum next (it is purported to be one of the world's best). When we asked a guard for directions to the museum he said, "You left it when you entered the chapel" (it was the maze of rooms and hallways we had rushed through before entering the Sistine Chapel). He added, "You can not return".
Bummed big time, we stepped over to the Basilica and asked another official for tips. He suggested that we walk to the museum entrance a half-mile away and throw ourselves on the mercy of the guard there. Thankfully, guard #3 took pity on us and allowed us to use our $24 tickets twice.
How the Catholic Church came to possess many of the world's greatest paintings and sculptures is not a happy story. Let's just say they were not donated by the grateful people of ancient Greece Egypt, and
I laughed when a museum official suggested that we check out their collection of Popemobiles. It turned out to be, in my opinion, one of the coolest things in the Vatican.
We entered a large room filled with the carriages and automobiles that have been used to transport His Holiness. Pope Leo's ride, 1860 Until the 1960's, each popemobile had a red and gold throne in the back seat area.
In 1981, Pope John Paul was shot four times while riding in this one. He later met with his attacker, Mehmut Ali Agcu, and forgave him.
Now these leaders supreme are surrounded by bullet-proof glass when they ride in public.
When the pope visited Mexico twenty years ago, that country was producing the last of the world's beloved VW Beetles.
leader was presented with the very last one. I never got to hang out with Pope but was thrilled to have a personal audience with The Last Volkswagen.
I had one just like it long ago.
The super-popular Pope Francis prefers a simple life. He often rides in a Ford Focus.
We were among the last guests to leave the Vatican and wanted to ride home Pope-style. Not finding a Ford Focus taxi we settled for a Toyota.