Monday, 28 June 2010

Checkin' out the Pope's digs

 Up bright and early the next morning, we began our day with a trip to the Vatican museums. Our decision was based on a tip – it was Wednesday, the day the pope addressing his audience, and we were banking on many tourists having tickets for that, leaving the museums a (little) emptier. The risk paid off – instead of the 1-2 hour queues we had been warned to expect, we only waited around 20 minutes before making our way inside.

Firs glances were not quite as I’d expected – walking in you arrive at a very modern entrance hall, with shops around and lots of glass features. It’s only once you’ve ascended a couple of flights of stairs that you finally get glimpses of what everyone comes to see – the stunning gardens, view overlooking the domed peak of St. Peter's, and signs directing us into the chapels beyond. After a few minutes enjoying the sunshine and getting snap-happy with the cameras, we started our tour of the museum. Even with the reduced number of people, it was still packed solid, and the linear progression through the museum results in a slow shuffle at all times.

Despite this, there are some wonderful things to see. The corridor of maps, depicting different areas of Italy, is spectacular, and each room becomes more opulent than the last. Although the route lead directly to the Sistine Chapel, I would recommend spending a little more time in the areas before, for the Chapel itself is packed to the rafters with people, tour group leaders talking loudly to their groups, camera flashes going off in quick succession (despite the large signs) – all of which contributed to leave us feeling rather cold about the experience. It was beautiful, yes, and worth a look, but the loud, frantic atmosphere and the sea of people prevented us from truly appreciating the scale of the monumental art. We only stayed for a few minutes before moving on, agreeing that the earlier rooms had more presence .

After browsing the shop, we headed towards the dome we’d seen peeking over the museum in the morning – St. Peter’s. Here we experienced the longest queue of our trip, but even that wasn’t much at around forty minutes. Clearly Wednesday is the day to visit the Vatican!

St. Peter’s really is something. It’s hard to picture just how vast it is without being inside – just walking the perimeter of the interior takes a good fifteen minutes without stops, and there are areas of interest around every corner.

The climb up to the top of the dome is tough, especially when it’s warm outside, but well worth the hike as the view of Rome is unmatched – just try to time it so you’re not up there with a huge school group shouting and rushing around....

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