I got up this morning, excited to head over to Saint Peter's for the "scavi" tour at 10:00 AM. The "scavi" are the excavations under the basilica which were started in 1939. It's an archeological dig, literally under the floor of the current basilica. I did this tour the last time I was here and wanted to do it again. It begins with a short overview of the history of the site, including the original basilica built by the emperor Constantine in about 325. In 1939, workmen preparing to entomb the recently-deceased Pius XI, uncovered a heretofore unknown series of tombs beneath the Constantinian level; a real necropolis ("city of the dead") in which Roman, both Christian and otherwise, had been buried. The history is too long to go into here, but it is truly fascinating. So, I was really jazzed about getting to see it all again.
I walked from the hotel to St. Peter's and prayed for us all at the tomb of Pope John XXIII, my hero. After that I wandered over to a sidewalk cafe for an espresso and brioche; but for the first time in a long, long time, I didn't eat any breakfast. This will feature in the adventure later on.
Shortly before 10, I went to the Swiss guards, showed my pass, and was admitted into the Vatican grounds. While waiting for the tour, I met a couple from Maryland and chatted for a while. After we began the tour and entered into the dig itself (which is very narrow, very confining, and not for the claustrophobic, several of the ladies excused themselves and went back up. The rest of us pressed on. It was VERY hot, and VERY humid in the dig, much more so than last March. Soon, I was sweating profusely, something I hadn't done in a long, long time. At one point, since I'd already been through the tour, I walked ahead and found a place to sit down for a few mintues. I rejoined the group and literally at the tomb of St. Peter (the real tomb, verified by DNA and all of that), I chose that minute to go down for the count. Yep, deacon down. My tour mates helped me up and I sat down in a nearby chapel while they summoned medical help.
I was immediately feeling better out of the humidity, of course, but not one of the people on the tour: there were perhaps a dozen folks, from the US, Scotland, Malaysia and the Philippines, none of them would leave my side until I'd been checked out. Here's the interesting bit. What fantastic service the Swiss guards and the Vatican medical staff provided! They responded quickly, took my pulse, blood pressure, and tested my blood sugar. Everything was just fine. The recommended an EKG just to be sure, and at first I said no, but ALL of my tour mates insisted that I be checked out completely, and so I gave in. They brought in a wheel chair, wheeled me outside of the basilica to a waiting ambulance. I asked how far the clinic was, since I was supposed to meet my friend Rob from the Netherlands for pranzo just around the corner in a little while. The doctor laughed and said I sounded just like a Roman! He said he'd do the EKG in the ambulance, and it was just fine, too. While they were doing that, the Swiss guards were calling a taxi for me. I told them I could walk to the restaurant around the corner, and the doctor said I should first go to my hotel and change out of my wet clothes or I would catch bronchitis and he wouldn't want that! LOL!
I was thanking the doctor and nurse for their care and assistance and they joked that "Here in Italy, the care is all free; but you're going to have to pay for the taxi!" We had a good laugh over that.
My advice to all: Eat breakfast!
That's all for now. I hope not to have any more adventures like this on this trip, but if you're going to pass out, can't imagine a better place to do it!
Ciao for now,