In Italy, Tourists Hope for a Peek at the Obamas

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 10, 2009; 11:10 AM

VATICAN CITY, July 10 -- As usual, the piazza in front of Saint Peter's Basilica was thick with wide-eyed tourists and their harried guides. And off to the side, another group of tourists -- VIPs with their own private guides -- was pulling into the Piazza del Sant' Uffizio.

First lady Michelle Obama, her daughters Sasha and Malia, and their grandmother Marian Robinson arrived at 2:38 p.m., local time, for a tour of St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel. The first family's planned tour included the tombs of the popes, the royal staircase and the basilica itself. About an hour later, President Obama was scheduled to show up for his family's audience with Pope Benedict XVI.

Before the Obamas' arrival, a crowd had steadily grown, with various queries -- "What's going on here?!" -- shouted in English to anyone within earshot. Hearing that the first lady was on her way, the American and Canadian tourists, in particular, settled in to wait, hoping to add a first family snapshot to their holiday scrapbook.

As the crowd stood by, hoping for a Michelle Obama sighting, her motorcade whizzed past in a streak of blue lights and shouting motorcycle cops.

The crowd, disappointed, dispersed.

Next, some of the tourists turned their attention to the wide avenue lined with palm trees that leads to Saint Peter's Square -- Via della Conciliazione. This time they reassembled in hopes of a glimpse of the American president. They settled themselves on the curb in the brilliant sun and began their wait all over again. For spectators who had already witnessed only a blur of traffic, history did not promise a satisfying result.

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