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Walking to the bus following the team’s first afternoon practice, Notre Dame men’s basketball coach Mike Brey could be heard remarking, “Today was a day of memories for a lifetime.” No one would argue as day two was another busy one for the Irish traveling party.
Although many on the trip headed to bed early after Wednesday’s welcome dinner, the 7 a.m. wakeup call Thursdaystill came a bit too early for the weary travelers. Prior to leaving for another full day of touring, the Irish enjoyed a hearty continental breakfast that consisted of meats (including salami), cereal, pastries, juice, toast and eggs. Restaurants in Italy normally do not have eggs as part of their hotel fare in the mornings, but fulfilling Notre Dame’s special request proved popular with the team. Ironically, the only item missing from the buffet was nutella, the hazelnut chocolate spread that’s so popular in Italy and other parts of Europe.
Following breakfast, the traveling party boarded a tour bus and headed to Vatican City for a tour of the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. Our tour guide from Wednesday, Mia, was there to meet us and we were able to avoid the long lines that had begun forming by 6 a.m. She remarked that this time of the year, visitors traveling to Rome could expect a two-and-a-half hour wait to buy tickets at the Vatican. We all were thankful we didn’t have to wait in any lines.
Mia provided a very informative tour of Vatican City that outlined its history and importance to the city of Rome and all of Italy. For those unfamiliar, she also made sure to acknowledge the significance of St. Peter’s Square, the plaza located outside Vatican City. Crowds gather in St. Peter’s Square for the pope’s weekly Wednesday mass as well as for other celebrations. The area is probably best known as the spot where, on rare occasions, throngs of Catholic faithful await the puffs of white smoke from the Sistine Chapel, which signal the election of a new pope by the College of Cardinals.
Following our tour, we dispersed for lunch, and pasta (especially lasagna) seemed to be the preferred option on this day, despite the heat. Then it was off to a very special three hours as the traveling party toured the barracks of the Swiss Guards, stationed within Vatican City. The Swiss Guards consist of approximately 110 Catholic men between the ages of 19 and 21 who serve as guards for the pope. Our visit was arranged by an Anthony Travel staff member who stressed that few visitors to the Vatican have such an experience.
Following the tour, Notre Dame took a 20-minute drive through Rome to the Stella Azzurra Basketball Academy for its first practice in anticipation of Friday night’s initial game against the Perugia Select Team. After a 90-minute practice, members of the Swiss Guard, who donned new red uniforms provided by Under Armour, took part in drills with the players and coaches. Many of the Swiss Guard told us they play recreational teams throughout Rome as a way to stay in shape.
Players, coaches and Swiss Guard members traded high fives and seemed to enjoy the competition as well as the new-found camaraderie.
“Today was a very powerful day for me,” sophomore Austin Torres said. “As a Catholic, it meant a great deal to see the Vatican. You hear and read about it, but to experience it was very moving. And then to get the opportunity that few people have to tour the Swiss Guard barracks is something that I will always remember. It was great having them come to our practice and get a chance to talk with them.”
Friday will be a long day for Notre Dame as the Irish will travel two hours to Perugia and take in the sites of that city before gearing up for their first game. Following the contest, they’ll head to Pesaro where the Notre Dame traveling party will spend two days and play the second game of the tour.
A domain and Go Irish!
-- by Bernie Cafarelli, assistant athletics director