This was our last full day in Italy, and I wanted to squeeze every last minute from it. Another breakfast at the Executive Club and we talked the shuttle driver into dropping us off close to the Vatican. We arrived just after 8:30, but even then the entrance line up was more than a kilometer long. We had been told it moved quickly though, so we decided to forego the numerous offers of guided tours that would slip us past the lines (at 30 euros per person) and try our luck in the line. It took 90 minutes, but we were in the vast Vatican Museum just after 10 am, 180 euros richer. We rented the little audio guides and started wandering through the massive labyrinth.
There is little on earth to compare with the Vatican Museums. The galleries, loggia and past pope’s apartments are all works of arts in and of themselves. Although busy, the line ups weren’t too bad as we wound our way through room after room, filled with incredible frescoes, statues and tapestries. I spent several minutes in one room, where Raphael himself had painstakingly painted the vivid frescoes on each wall. This was a once in a lifetime experience, that culminated in a crowded trip to the Sistine Chapel. I challenge anyone not to be tremendously impressed with this incredible work of human hands. The only downside..the swarms of Japanese tourists that ignored repeated warnings about taking pictures of the artwork. Inside, I was screaming, “Just take a damned look..you don’t need your picture in front of it! Enjoy the art, for Christ’s sake!” But even I knew these thoughts were better left unspoken, especially considering my current location. I did manage to get my hand in front of the lens on several different shots though, so I left with some sense of satisfaction.
After the museums, we emerged to find the line up had shrunk to a fraction of its former length. A 30 minute wait and you’d be inside. I was beginning to think the horror stories I had heard about 3 and 4 hours in line were just a way for hotels to sell more ridiculously priced tours. After grabbing a quick panini outside the museum, we threaded our way around to St. Peter’s.
There is perhaps no place on earth that has been more successfully designed with one single purpose in mind, and that’s the scare/impress the “hell” out of you, literally. From the famous square to the massive basilica, everything was designed to make you feel tremendously small and insignificant, and it works. We took a quick side trip to the sepulcher of the popes, which I highly recommend. The newly finished tomb of John Paul II was particularly poignant, and several people stopped in front to pray, give thanks and shed a few tears. Everyone accompanying me were raised Catholic (I was raised Anglican) and I could tell this place held a special significance for them.
After, we entered the Basilica. I have visited a few large churches, including Westminster Abbey, but this one topped them all. The sheer scale by itself makes it unforgettable, but add to this the sacred art, footballs fields of marble (remember, pretty much all pilfered from the Palantine palaces), Michelangelo’s amazing dome and the precious metals adorning every inch and this is a visit that overloads all the senses. A visit to St. Peter’s leaves you feeling awestruck and slightly battered.
We physically couldn’t take in one more thing, so we caught a taxi back to the hotel and rested up for a night visit back to Rome. This time, we tried out the pool and I attempted a visit to the fitness center. To be honest, my heart wasn’t really in it (and my gall bladder was rebelling against too much rich food) so I wrapped up by joining the rest by the pool.
We headed back into Rome at about 8 at night, and tried to complete our “seen it, done it” list, as well as pick up a few souvenirs for home. In rapid succession we did the Trevi Fountain and threw our coins in, the Spanish Steps (and climbed to the top), the Pantheon and the Piazza Navone. As we walked from one to the other, we found crowds at each, migrating between them following the same route we did. Perhaps it was the length of the day, perhaps it was the miles our feet had put in, perhaps it was just sensory overload, but I don’t think we fully appreciated this “postcard” tour of Rome. We wrapped up at the Piazza Navone and went back to the hotel to pack. There was one appropriate moment though. As we waited for the girls at the Trevi Fountain outside one of the endless blur of souvenir shops, we listened to someone sing Arrividerci Roma at an outside Ristorante. It was a perfect finishing note to the trip.