February 24, 2024
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February 24, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Please don’t keep my passport, please don’t keep my passport… (Credit: David Roher)

6 days Until Ironman United Kingdom

After walking in the summer sun, it was time for lunch.

My family was wiped and starved. They were hot and bothered.

(I think we get the picture.)

Part of my reason for coming to Italy was to make my wife’s dreams come true. Part of it was to see ancient sites and part of it was to eat foods I could not get back in America.

(So, no more steak?)

I ordered “deep fried brains.”

Crunchy on the outside, soft and squishy on the inside.

I also ordered, “sigariot.”

My personal invitation from the Vatican librarian. (Credit: David Roher)


The menu said, “filo pastry stuffed with minced beef and veal.”

(That does sound exotic.)

It was, but I wanted more … there was something even more exotic than brains on the menu, but I was stuffed.

(What could be more exotic than brains?)

Once back at the Airbnb, I charged my phone and I put on my black suit.

(Why were you wearing a suit?)

Read on…

There I stood, in the summer heat, waiting and waiting for a cab.

(To go where?)

I finally hailed a cab and told him where I wanted to go.

“I can’t take you to the Vatican, I can drop you as close as cars can go.”

Just like the Airbnb was in the heart of the Jewish Ghetto, the Vatican is “a walk.”

(Wait, stop. The Vatican?)


(As in where the Pope lives?)

Yes. I will explain. When I booked the Rome tour, I inquired about a Vatican tour.

“How about a Vatican Library Tour?”

“That is restricted. They only open that tour for clergy and PhD candidates.”

“I’m a PhD candidate!’

(So, just like that you got permission?)

No, I reached out to the Vatican librarian and she extended me a personal invitation, but there was a catch; I needed a letter of introduction.

Author/historian H.W. Brands wrote a letter of introduction for me.

(How did you get a Pulitzer nominated historian to write your letter of introduction to the Vatican Library?)

That is a story for another time.

I stepped out of the cab and the heat of the day enveloped me like a blanket.

(That sounds nice.)

Maybe in December it does, but back in June it was anything but “nice.”

There I was, walking on cobblestones documents in hand. Sweat developed on my brow.

My letter of introduction. (Credit: David Roher)

I walked up to the first guard station at the entrance. The guard was dressed like a medieval court jester. The Swiss Guards of the Vatican have been dressed like this since Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, AKA the artist known as Raphael designed their uniforms in the 1600s.

(Why would an Italian Pope have Swiss Guards?)

Pope Sixtus IV hired the Swiss to protect him in the late 1400s and they have had the job ever since.

(So, he did not have a gun?)

No, but he had a sword.

I waited as he checked my documents.

I kept thinking to myself, “Please don’t keep my passport. I’m already working without a wallet in a foreign country.”

He handed back my passport and motioned me to walk to the second guard, 10 feet inside the courtyard.

This guard was dressed like a policeman and had a gun … and spoke English.

I waited … and waited some more as he looked over my documents.

“Come with me.”

(That sounds promising.)

Now we were inside the guard station where they give out the ID badges. He made a phone call and I waited some more.

(Things were looking good…)

“Signore, they closed today at 4 p.m..”

I looked at my watch, it was now 4:11.

“Come back tomorrow at 9 a.m.”

“I can’t, I’m leaving tomorrow morning.” I wanted to see if I could delay my departure, but that would mean losing at least half a day of my next destination and it would be selfish to do that to my family.

(What was your next destination?)

Read on and see.

“They closed early today as she told you.” The guard continued.

No, she didn’t but there was no longer a reason to stand there. I missed the opportunity of a lifetime.

(Don’t you always tell people, “You are right where you belong”?)


(So, it was not meant to be on this day)

Man, I hate listening to myself.

Fine, I walked back into 90 F heat, in my wool suit. I was so hot that the suit itched.

I couldn’t get a cab because the only ones who stopped wanted cash.

Finally, I caught a break and a cabbie agreed to take credit. During the cab ride back, I had time to re-evaluate the situation.

First, I’m here in Europe to compete in an Ironman Triathlon.

The goal here in Rome was to see the Colosseum and experience the food.

(But … the Vatican!)

OK, I did want to tag myself on Facebook inside the library, like I was Indiana Jones looking through primary documents. But I had also done extensive research on the Vatican before leaving, so I wasn’t that upset.

(Why not?)

  1. Everything they have in their library is now online.
  2. Because I had been so busy with work and grad school, I had no idea what I was looking for anyway.
  3. I had no idea if my phone would even be permitted in the library.

When I got back to my Airbnb I took a nap. Then we went to dinner and I ordered organ meat … and it was delicious.

(Organs as in…)

Cow and veal organs in a sauce, served with pasta.

How was it?)


(How did it look?)

Just like a bowl of pasta and meat, but it was the softest, tenderest meat I have ever eaten.

During the meal I tried to call my parents in White Plains and I still couldn’t get through. So, I messaged my mom to tell dad that I will WhatsApp call him.

(Why didn’t you just “WhatsApp” him?)

He’s 91. I wanted to be sure he knew how to answer the call.

Naturally … he figured it out.

“Did you go to the Vatican?”

I told him what happened.

“It will be there when you come back.”

Somehow, my dad always knows exactly what to say.

David Roher is a USAT certified triathlon and marathon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and veteran special education teacher. He is on Instagram @David Roher140.6. He can be reached at [email protected].

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