The alarm went off early in the morning, too early. We considered getting up to try to make it to an address the Pope was potentially making at 10:00 a.m.. In order to get tickets to go, we would have to be at the Vatican by 7:00 a.m. The alarms buzzed but there was no way we could get up to go. We were exhausted. In a state of exhaustion I thought ‘I don’t wake up early to go to church, why start now?’ Instead we slept in and leisurely began our day to the Vatican City, maybe too leisurely.
We decided to take the metro to Piazza Barberini so that I could stop in a store to buy a scarf since my shoulders had to be covered to enter the Sistine Chapel. Good thing we were walking towards stores anyways because during our walk, the strap of my mom’s purse broke off so she had to find a bag to put her belonging in. She found a tote bag and I found a scarf and we headed back to get on the bus to the Vatican. We finally got to the stop outside the Vatican. It was 95 degrees that day in Rome. We were so hot that we barely appreciated where we were at first. We made our way across the bridge and I could tell we were already drained from the sun.
I was happy to see Castel Sant’Angelo in front of me but I was not nearly as excited as I usually would be. My enthusiasm was muted by the heat. We made our way down the main road and I was so excited to see St. Peter’s Basilica framed by the street but I was not excited to see so many tourists . I felt like there were more tourists here that I have ever seen in any city. And they were all just standing there waiting in a line under the sweltering sun. I’ve never seen anything like this. I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people and by the fact that everyone was trying to sell us a tour. Tour guide after tour guide kept telling us that the line was too long and that we would never get in before the Vatican closed. “It would take 4 hours”. That “the only way to get in was to buy a tour” for 50 Euros. The sad part was, we started to believe them. I didn’t want to spend that much and didn’t want to be on a guided tour. I felt defeated. Did we get to the Vatican City too late? Did we waste half a day of our precious time in Rome? One thing I knew for certain was that I had to get away from this crowd. I couldn’t deal with one more person trying to sell me an overpriced tour. We found a quiet park a block from the Vatican to regroup.
After escaping the crowds and regaining some clarity, we decided to walk over to the Vatican Museum to see how long the line really was. The guy directing the line told the wait was approximately 1 hour. We could do that! We thought we escaped the people selling tours but we couldn’t even get away in the line. Soon after getting in line, we were approached by a guy trying to sell “jump the line tickets”. I was skeptical to get out of line and have this be some sort of scam. He even tried to lower the price by selling us kids tickets. This seemed sketchy. The tickets wouldn’t have been much more than the entrance fee but we didn’t quite trust it. I wanted to get into the museum faster but I also didn’t quite trust it. So we stayed in the line, using the extra money we didn’t spend on a tour to buy gelato. My mom saved my space in line as I ran across the street to a gelateria. Standing in a line isn’t so bad when you have gelato. Soon after finishing my gelato, we were ushered inside to the Vatican Museum. We didn’t even have to wait a full hour.
We were finally in the Vatican Museum. I appreciate art but sometimes I don’t have the attention span for it. Yet the collections of art at the Vatican held my interest. We headed toward the Sistine Chapel, taking in the art along the way. It was all so amazing. Every inch of this museum was adorned with art, the ceilings and walls all an exquisite masterpiece. Every corridor seemed to be decorated with a different theme. My favorite was the hall of maps, showing different large map paintings of different parts of Italy. It was interesting to see how the maps have changed over time.
We followed as the crowds moved from room to room, closer to the Sistine Chapel. We knew we were getting closer when I saw signs for “no shoulders”. It was time to drape my shoulders with my scarf. As we walked into the Sistine Chapel, we were told to be quiet and not take photos. There were so many people shoved in the room yet everyone was hushed. Those who dared to speak didn’t speak above a whisper. I marveled at the ceiling. How one person could be so diligent to paint the details on the ceiling is astounding. The chapel put me at peace. There were hundreds of people crowded into this chapel, yet I was completely at peace. The crowds outside and the hot sun were worth this moment. We found a spot to sit on the bench and watched. We watched the people from all over the world take in the Sistine Chapel. We watched as a priest blessed a sick child who was laying on the floor. Witnessing people who have so much faith left in spite of hardships was uplifting. I marveled one last time at the ceiling as we left.
After leaving the Vatican Museum, we stopped to look at St. Peter’s Basilica. We weren’t expecting to get in because we knew the line was a 2 hour wait earlier. But when we got there, there was no line! I thought at first the Basilica was closed, until I saw someone walk through the doors. We asked the guard and he said we could go through the Holy Door. He told us that the Holy Door is only open every 25 years! I didn’t have to wait in line and I got the chance to walk through the Holy Door. I covered my shoulders again and walked through the door.
St. Peter’s Basilica itself was like walking into heaven’s doors. It was so grand. There was a large golden altar and the late sun danced through the cathedral, creating an angelic glow. I was mesmerized. We stayed as long as we could, taking in every detail of the Basilica. We were even able to get holy water. We bought the 3 euro containers then went to the secrecy to get them filled with holy water. I did a quick silent prayer before leaving St. Peter’s Basilica, not praying for anything in particular because at this moment my life felt perfect.
As evening approached, the streets had emptied and we were able to enjoy The Vatican City. There were no crowds or tours. The Vatican City was quiet and cool in the evening light. It was a stark contrast to the humid overcrowded streets I walked on early that day. The Vatican City had proved itself to be just as amazing as I thought it’d be.