I am not Catholic, but I was still very excited to go to this holy landmark….as was every other person on the planet it seemed…..We got off at our stop and were immediately thrust into hoards of people, but the worse part was the incessant street vendor presence. I do not exaggerate when I say that every 10 steps there was a “tour representative” pestering you to skip the lines for a small fee. It was ridiculous how little they respected people’s personal boundaries because they’d keep following you to try and sell their tour. Not only was it rude, but it also made us very uncomfortable because all you can really do is ignore them and keep walking until they finally leave you alone. Plus they prey on unsuspecting tourists who think they’re getting a bargain without realizing that St. Peter’s Basilica is free; it’s just disgusting how awful these people can be.
We finally beat the throngs of other tourists and entered into St. Peter’s Square. The exterior is breathtaking, with large columns surrounding the Obelisk and framing St. Peter’s Basilica. We strolled around the square for a bit before heading to the Vatican Museums, where we had 11:00 AM reservations.
|St. Peter’s Square|
|Unbelievable ceilings & crowds|
|Your basic tourist pic|
Little did we know, the crowds only got worse. It was one giant mob of people herding from one room to the next. Luckily, our eyes were mainly focused on the incredible ceilings — the museums house work from famous Renaissance artists such as Raphael and, of course, Michelangelo — so the view wasn’t ever really restricted. One ornate room after another, our eyes were engrossed with the incomparable craftsmanship and gilded glory that make up these exhibits. We were eager with anticipation for the Sistine Chapel, and when we finally reached it, we were taken aback. It was stunning, not doubt about it, but unfortunately it procured a different experience than I envisioned. Despite the numerous signs and officials for silence, there is still a lot of noise, and the fact the the room is so large (and filled with so many people) makes the room much less intimated than I would’ve liked. But, what can you do, so we exited the museum, ate some pizza and had a pleasant few minutes spent wandering around the gardens.
Remembering the atrocious line for St. Peter’s we made our way to the Square and braced ourselves for an excruciating wait. Much to our surprise, the line had gone down (I think we just got really, really lucky), so we only ended up waiting about half an hour to go into the church. And was it worth the wait, any wait for that matter.
I must preface by saying I have a soft spot for ancient cathedrals (as seen in my last trip to England). There is something so marvelous about the grandeur of these sacred houses of worship that is incredibly humbling and eye-opening. On a practical standpoint, it is impossible to wrap one’s mind around the size and spectrum of cathedrals, and on a spiritual level, it encourages one to appreciate the beauty and power of God (at least in my case, it does). St. Peter’s Basilica is unlike any cathedral I’ve ever been to, and it will be hard to top this landmark.
After leaving the church, we decided to take a leisurely walk through the surrounding neighborhood. We passed St. Angelo’s Castle and enjoyed the breeze while sitting on it’s bridge over the Tiber River. We then had a lovely dinner outside — the restaurant had misters, if you can believe it! — and tracked down what is said to be the “best gelato in Rome”. I’m no expert, but they have my vote. I even drank from a true Roman water fountain. (It’s an actual fountain with water flowing out of it — people just scoop it up in their hands for a drink, but I’ve been reluctant. I was proven incorrect as the water was fresh and clean!)
We read on a flyer that was being passed out by official Vatican employees that the Pope was going to host a prayer vigil that night. Alex, the devout Catholic of our group, was eager to take this opportunity, and Jordan and I were happy to oblige. We waited in the shade of one of St. Peter’s columns, laughing and chatting as we people (and pigeon) watched. As the time carried on, we began to wonder why there weren’t more people lining up. Alex asked another official, who then informed us that the Pope “might” come…which was code for probably not. Accepting this unfortunate truth, we got back on the Metro and came to the hostel, not regretting one minute of fun we spent “waiting on the Pope”.
The three of us are having such a wonderful time in Rome, and tomorrow is our last day before we head to Florence! I apologize for any tech issues, as I’m writing all this from my iPad — hopefully I’ll be able to resolve it soon enough!