Remember that time we kind of sort of almost not really at all met the Pope? Well, this time we actually met the President of Italy. And it wasn’t planned at all.
It all started when I remembered that the gardens at the Quirinal Palace, former home to Popes and current home to Presidents, are open to the public on June 2, Republic Day. We didn’t make it last year because of kids and lines and guests, but I swore we would try again.
(If you missed the June 2nd visit, you can visit the Quirinale on a guided tour, but it must be booked in advance.)
The gardens were open from 3:00 to 7:00 pm. We arrived to a hefty line a little before 3:00. After we attempted to queue up, an official told us that an adult could wait with the stroller at a covered tent while the other adult did the line. Nice. I opted to wait. James waited with the kids. They even had water bottles and seats at the covered tent! #exclusive
(If you only had one adult with a stroller, you got to go straight on in. It crossed my mind that it we had been rolling with our two umbrella strollers and walking around separately, we could have made it in and met up. I would NEVER advocate such line-skipping behavior. Just letting you know I think it would work.)
After a little over an hour, I made it to the front of the line. The kids got to see the changing of the guard while they waited. Probably a highlight for them.
We went through security in the courtyard and turned a corner to enter the gardens. Quite the party. LOTS of people. And we’re talking everywhere. Sitting in the grass. Strolling the paths. Listening to the sweet bands that were playing. Taking pictures with the fancy guards. Everywhere.
(The guards didn’t move, but it was not a level of Buckingham commitment to not moving. I saw one guy tapping his toe to the music. Their eyes moved. I saw hints of facial expressions. Interestingly, all the guards were tall. James read somewhere that they must be 6′ at a minimum. The sweet hats made them look even taller.)
We tried to keep the kids out of fountains and to stop throwing gravel and to enjoy the gardens. They enjoyed the tunnels with the hedges. At one point, we cleared the path and saw guards on horses strut by inches from us.
As we were getting ready to leave, we saw people standing alongside the path again. I figured more horses or something cool so we got to the front.
As more people pressed in and we started to see dudes with earpieces circling, we realized it probably wasn’t more horses.
“Could it be the President????” I hissed at James.
We quickly googled pictures of the President. (President Mattarella FYI. Here ya go.)
It WAS the President. Surrounded by security, but still just strolling unannounced through his garden.
I started to freak out. What do you say to a President? Especially in Italian!
(Turns out most people were saying “grazie” or “auguri,” which is like best wishes.)
I had a feeling that I might get close to him because I was holding Henry, and we were right at the front of the line. These blonde kids are like kryptonite to Italians.
He was shaking a lot of hands, but not quite everyone. Sure enough, we were approached. I shook his hand. He said “ciao” to Henry. Henry was persuaded to say ciao. Henry also gave a very vigorous handshake. Like it looked like he was trying to rip the poor man’s arm off. Luckily, the President was amused.
And that was it. We walked out, James and I grinning like idiots, constantly looking at each other going, did that really just happen??? Yup. Italy, man.