The Spanish Inquisition didn't help either. Nor the occupation of my country by Spain during the 80 year war in the sixteenth century. Not to mention the sex scandals of late.
So...it was with some hesitation that I decided that I could not skip the Vatican while being in Rome. That would be silly. Right?
We had decided to visit Saint Peter's piazza early in the morning, hopefully escaping the ticket touts and the crowds. No such luck: at 9.30 the square was already full to bursting at the seams. Still, we walked up to the first gate (and no further) and had a look around.
To our amazement a fanfare struck up. What was happening?
We could see the crowd in the square getting frenzied, and watched curiously. And then...
On an open flat cart, followed closely by cameras, the Pope passed us by. He kissed babies, shook hands, even hugged people, and blessed...me.
Now I may not be a believer, in the religious traditional sense. But I do firmly believe in spirituality, and folks, there was a very definite spiritual frisson there.
So we stayed for the beginning of the speech, which was about the letter of St. Paul about 'husbands, honor your wives'. How appropriate. Il Papa's voice sounded frail. Let's wish him some health.
We did not stay for the entire lesson; first of all it was in Italian, and second it became quite hot around 10.30. So we decided to leave and walked towards the nearest Tube station and took a crowded tube to the Spanish Steps at the Piazza Spagna.
We were welcomed by a tenor singing - what else? - Verdi. Rina wanted to walk right to the top to take a photo, but I simply sat down on those famous steps and listened to this podgy anonymous Italian in shirtsleeves singing his heart out.
You can see from the photo Rina took when she had descended that I wasn't the only one. I could have sat there all afternoon listening to this guy, but we had a schedule to meet (well...not really, but we wanted to go up to the Villa Borghese).
My online guidebook had told me that this park is beloved by ordinary Italians for picknicks, and when we had huffed and puffed our way up that hill, I could understand why. It is green, shady and it boasts quite a few nice shaded watering holes. We crashed at the first one we met and I had a huge cold Italian beer...Gosh, that was good! (A word in your ear about beer in Italy. It is good, but pricy. Wine is much cheaper. Still...I'm Dutch, so beer is my natural brew)
We wandered around the grassy slopes, and got overheated again pretty quickly. So it was with huge joy that I reached the top, where a balmy but very strong wind blew the heatstroke away and I was rewarded with the-most-breathtaking-view-of-Rome. Unfortunately the sun stood straight into my iPhone camera lens by that time of day, so no panorama photo, sorry.
Again there was live music; two guys played the blues on guitar and trumpet, and very nicely done too. Again I could have stayed there for hours but didn't. We had a long, loooooong haul back to Trastevere for a nap and a shower, before having our last leisurely Italian meal of the holiday. We found a traditional Roman restaurant on the Via La Scala, where I had fresh home-made pasta with a chicken-and-olives sauce and Roman artichokes. The waiter assured me this meal originated absolutely in Rome itself, as opposed to the pizza that all the tourists eat which comes from Naples. I liked it, a lot, Rina didn't.
And then, all too soon, it was time to go home.
I could have stayed for another fortnight, no problem! And I swore that I will return. To Rome, but also to Italy, for these 4 days have definitely whetted my appetite for this country!
Travelled to Rome Ciampino by Ryan Air from Bruxelles Charleroi - shuttle bus to Termini - city transport to Via Trastevere.
Stayed at Hotel Villa Riari, Trastevere.