The day that we visited the Vatican was overwhelming for so many reasons. First, we discovered that our car had been broken into overnight (they broke out the driver’s side window which is not only the most expensive to fix but also not a pleasant thing to have missing when you are on a road trip). Then a woman tried to scam David with the infamous gypsy wedding ring scam (a woman approaches saying that it is your lucky day because she has found a gold ring and she cannot keep it because of her religion but then tries to get you to take it. If you do, she will start screaming demanding a reward for her generosity in sharing her discovery). David was distraught about the car and wise to her scam so he snapped at her saying that he had just been robbed and that he didn’t have any money and that he knew her scam. Thankfully she left and didn’t try to cause any more trouble. I’m not sure why people are still trying to work these scams since they are so well known, but I suppose there are still people that fall for them. After that we arrived at the Vatican Museum only to discover that we had forgotten batteries for two out of three of our cameras (thankfully Mat’s camera had been fully charged).
Our day wasn’t exactly off to a good start, but this was the day that Dédi had been looking forward to the most and we weren’t going to let anything ruin it for her. Thankfully David had the foresight (thanks to advice from his mother) to make reservations for the Vatican museum. We had the earliest reservation of the day and by the time we arrived the line was already wrapped around the city walls. It was so nice to be able to bypass the line and walk straight to the front.
The museum is beautiful, but overwhelming. When you first enter, you try to spend time looking at every statue, painting and treasure, but before long everything starts to blend together and you can’t really concentrate on any of it. I saw one infographic that said that if you were to look at each treasure in the Vatican for one minute, it would take you more than fifty days to see everything. That isn’t even taking into consideration all of the architecture! Needless to say, there were a lot of things that we probably didn’t see or that we saw but didn’t fully register because our brains were overloaded.
My favorite part of the whole Vatican Museum is the grand spiral staircase. It was designed by Giuseppe Momo in 1932 and it is one of the most photographed staircases in the world. It is stunning in person.
I know that right now you’re probably say, “Wait, back up… Wasn’t the Sistine Chapel the best part?” Honestly, that’s what I thought would be my favorite part of visiting the Vatican Museum. It is what I had most wanted to see. My brother told me that while I was in the chapel I needed to remember Robin Williams’ quote about the chapel from Good Will Hunting:
“So if I asked you about art you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written…Michelangelo? You know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientation, the whole works, right? But I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling.”
When I arrived home he smiled and said, “So, tell me about the smell.” (he’s already been there, so he knows). The truth is that it smells like a combination of old musty wood, wet stone and body odor due to the amount of people crammed inside (my brother agreed with my assessment). The ceiling is beautiful and I’m glad I saw it, but I didn’t really enjoy my experience while I was there. To be perfectly honest, I was both overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time. It was so crowded and hot and people were incredibly pushy so our group was separated which made me extremely anxious. I was overwhelmed by the whole situation, the overcrowding, the heat and the noise (it is incredibly loud, even with people speaking in hushed tones). I was underwhelmed, however, by the chapel itself and not because it isn’t beautiful or awe-inspiring or incredible. It is absolutely all of those things. I think that the reason I was underwhelmed is that the Sistine Chapel is something that has been so built up in my head from the time I was a little girl and I was expecting this sort of larger than life cathedral and the reality is that it’s just this small intimate chapel with a really cool painted ceiling.
Saint Peter’s Basilica is a different story. It was actually more remarkable than I expected and we almost didn’t even get to see it. This was by far the hottest day of our trip and our little guy gets overheated very easily and was absolutely miserable. David ran back to the hotel to grab our camera batteries while we waited for him. The line was so long and moving so slowly that it was going to be hours before we ever made it inside (it seriously hardly budged the entire time that David was gone). It was what Dédi most wanted to see though so we were going to stop at nothing to get her inside of that building. David was in the process of trying to track down a tour guide (whom we were willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money) so just Dédi could go inside (we figured that the rest of us are young enough that we’d have a chance to visit again in the future). We were discussing our options when we realized that Dédi and Big Guy were missing. We found them minutes later at the front of the line beckoning for us to join them. We couldn’t believe that Dédi had cut the line but she insisted that she had not cut but that some nice people had invited her to join them in line (and to be perfectly honest, they didn’t seem even the slightest bit perturbed so they probably did invite her into the line. I guess that when you get to a certain age, people are more considerate).
Saint Peter’s Square is impressive on its own. It is one of the largest squares I have been in and everything inside of it from the statues and fountains to the colossal Tuscan colonnades are grand and inspiring.
I enjoy watching the Vatican’s broadcast of Midnight Mass each Christmas Eve so it was awesome to see Saint Peter’s Basilica in person. It is so incredibly beautiful in person and a must see if you go to the Vatican (I would go back and stand in that line for hours to see it again). It is considered to be one of the most renowned works of Renaissance architecture and one of the holiest Catholic sites.