The front and main entrance to the church at Santa Brigida faces the square of the Piazza Farnese. Looking out from Santa Brigida to the right on the piazza is the Farnese Palazzo, now the French Embassy. There is a guard house for the armed soldiers, who carry angry looking machine guns. A utility vehicle painted in camouflage looks well equipped with anything needed in a crisis. Armed guards constantly patrol the grounds of the embassy. Two armed soldiers are posted at the vehicle at all times. The piazza is small and quiet with no markets set up during the day and no hawkers shooting off the plastic rockets that glow like firecrackers when propelled into the night sky. During the day tourists sit on the long marble bench in front of the embassy to rest.
Our room at the convent faced the small cobbled side street and as we looked out our tall narrow window of the room we could see the embassy to the left and a small bar in the next block to the right. We could hear people walking and talking in the street below despite the fact we were up four floors from the ground level of the street. Sound travels. The serenading began at 1am. A group of boys, either drunk or just happy sat on the steps of the building across from the convent and sang loudly and with gusto until 3 AM. Evidently the guards at the embassy like singing and are trained to stay at their posts and keep a look out, never interfering unless there is a disturbance in the piazza or a run on the building. They are not diverted to singing groups on the side street. The side street is off limits. It’s a good thing we got sleep on the flight over.
The next morning broke clear, sunny and very warm. We went to the breakfast room and were greeted by a nun who was serving two priests an early breakfast. We had the choice of frutta, yoghurt, cereali, salami, fromaggio, caffe e spramuta d’ rancia. (I am practicing my Italian) We decided to walk early in the day, while it was cooler, to the Vatican and I am so glad we did. Staying at the convent is so convenient, despite the outdoor noises, because you can walk to all the main attractions. We walked to the Tiber River and crossing a different bridge than yesterday passed Castel Sant’ Angelo and walked on to St Peter’s Square, which is really round. At this early hour there were few tourists so we could get some good pictures without heads or bodies in the way. The shops and cafes along Via Della Conciliazione were open at this hour too. The street cleaners were out with witches brooms sweeping away the last bits of dirt on the sidewalks. The street cleaning machines started up right after the serenading died down. Hey, maybe the singers ARE the street cleaning machine operators! The Italians clean the streets early every morning with the same gusto as the singers! Cleaning starts in around 4AM. We walked on to the square and were greeted by hawkers who could get us in the Vatican, no line. I don’t think so. I know there is always a long line. There is a great deal of construction going on near the Vatican now so there are many detours to get around the square and up to the museum. When we finally arrived at the museum that entrance was closed off so we retraced our steps back to St Peters Square. When we got there, there were hundreds of people winding in a line to get into the Vatican. We passed around the wrought iron fence designating we were now in Vatican City, a country all it’s own. We stopped to look at the wares of a man selling Vatican novelties. He told us he was the only merchant allowed to sell inside Vatican City, on church and state property. His family had sold here from 1945 and the license was passed down through the generations. He was very nice and telling the truth. We circled St Peters and never saw another vender inside the fencing. We went back to him and bought rosaries and tiny, tiny bottles of holy water. He gave us St Francis medals to wear. He told us business would not be good today since the crowd was expected to be over 200,000 for the dedications of the Confraternity. There were a bazillion metal chairs set in the square and that is where the lines were winding as they waited to get into the Vatican. We hi-tailed out of there before the crowds became worse and stopped at more shops along the way. I was looking for a Nativity scene. I have a large set with many shepherds, cows and donkeys and of course the Holy Family. I wanted a little itsy bitsy one and found it. Made of hand carved wood it is Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus about one inch tall, all in one tiny piece. Perfetto! We also bought post cards and posted them in the Vatican City post office. We then found the stop for the red open air double decker buses, thanks to two Italian girls who overheard us talking and gave us directions. We decided to take a tour of the city. It was beginning to get HOT so we bought gelato and boarded the bus, climbing to the top. It is a good way to rest and get a suntan at the same time. After the bus tour we walked back to the Convent passing large groups of people dressed in colorful robes and carrying large banners while praying and walking to the Vatican. These were the Confraternities. They were being honored with a mass with the Holy Papa. Time for a nap to rest up for the evening passegiatta!