Thursday, 6 October 2011
Italy 2011, Lake Albano and Castel Gandolfo
The small café was opposite the entrance to the Papal Palace which is where the Pope spends his summers on the shore of the lake ostensibly to avoid the oppressive heat of Rome. I’m sure that this probably isn’t strictly necessary anymore because I imagine that the Vatican will have more than adequate air-conditioning facilities these days but nevertheless it still remains a nice place to spend the summer. The Catholic Church owns this splendid Palace thanks to the Lateran Treaty of 1929 when Italy recognized the full ownership by the Holy See of the Pontifical Palace of Castel Gandolfo.
The villas and the grounds in which they stand comprise about fifty-five hectares, which makes it eleven hectares bigger than Europe’s third smallest sovereign state, that’s the Vatican itself. Just over half of the grounds comprise a garden and they rest are used for orchards, vinyards and for farming. The entire papal residence enjoys all the privileges of extraterritoriality and the properties which make up the villas comprise the Papal Palace itself, which includes the Vatican Observatory, the Barberini Palace, housing for twenty-one employees, an electrical plant, offices, farm buildings and stables. The villas possess their own pumping station providing water from the lake for plumbing and irrigation, as well as an aqueduct that carries drinking water from the nearby springs of Palazzolo, which are also on property belonging to the Holy See.
As we enjoyed a Peroni beer it started to dawn on us that we hadn’t planned terribly well for this little walk, we weren’t really sure where we were going, we didn’t know with any degree of certainty how far it was, we didn’t have a map, it was thirty five degrees centigrade and we hadn’t used or brought with us any sun protection cream. Regardless of this we walked a little further and began to catch sight of Lake Albano sitting in a sort of volcanic bowl or natural amphitheatre with steep densely wooded slopes on all sides and marine blue water throwing back the reflections of the highest of the hills on the other side and the Papal Palace and the observatory close to where we were standing.
Because of the steep slopes this meant that there was a long walk down to the water’s edge which involved negotiating a winding road with a succession of tight hairpin bends as it made its way down to the shoreline below. We gamely set off but after a hundred metres or so it became obvious that without protection from the sun and with Sue starting to turn an alarming shellfish pink across her shoulders that this was rather reckless so after a short debate common sense asserted itself over midday madness and we returned to the road and found a second bar for more Peroni, which was a far more sensible option.
We knew that there was supposed to be a bus service around the towns surrounding the lake but we couldn’t see any bus stops and we had no idea of the frequency or the schedule. The lady serving in the bar told us that this spot was the bus stop and if we wanted to catch it we had simply to flag the driver down as it approached. She couldn’t help with the timetable however so we ordered more drinks and put Kim on look-out duty to keep an eye on the road.
There seemed to be a worrying absence of public transport and it began to look as though we may have to walk back but eventually a blue and white bus appeared so we leapt into the road and the driver swiftly applied the brakes and brought the thing to a shuddering standstill and with a hiss of hydraulics opened the door. We climbed on board and it was only then that we realised that we didn’t have any tickets. They cannot be bought from the driver and travelling without one can involve a hefty fine but we were only going a couple of stops so we would have been unlucky to have been caught and we made it back to Albano without incident.
At the hotel our rooms were now ready but they weren’t quite what we were expecting because instead of accommodation in the hotel with the splendid views over the countryside which it boasted on its website we were allocated rooms in an unusual little annex about thirty metres away that had the look and feel of being seldom used. More of this later but we accepted them at this point and quickly reassembled in the courtyard to go out again and explore the town of Albano.