Europe: Day 11: Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s Basilica, Sistine Chapel, Shopping

We headed out early this morning to go to our scheduled tour at the Vatican, which started at 8AM.  There was a large group of almost 30 people.  The plan was to let the first 20 people go with the first guide and then wait 10 minutes for the stragglers.  We asked if we could wait behind and go with the second group.  The tour guide of the second group seemed more congenial, and we figured the second group would be smaller.  We’re so glad that we did because there ended up only being 8 people in our group, and we thoroughly enjoyed our tour guide.  Robert, our guide, is from Philadelphia and has been living in Rome for 8 years.  It was nice to have a guide that spoke English without an accent.  He is an art history major and teaches at a University.  He was a wealth of knowledge…..at times a little too much, but overall a great tour.

The tour began with standing in an extremely long line for 2 hours to get into the Vatican Museum.  Granted the museum didn’t open until 8:45, but Don and I couldn’t believe how long the line was as it winded down and around the Vatican walls.  When we finally were able to enter, we obtained our group tour headphones required by the Vatican.  Our tour guide spoke into a microphone as we listened.  We toured through the Museum admiring art by Da Vinci, Rafael, and Michelangelo to name a few.  We saw the famous Raphael Rooms and then moved on to the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo.  What a sight to see that was!  Michelangelo painted the walls and ceiling of the entire chapel in 400 days over several years.  Later in life he added “The Last Judgment” wall.  It’s impossible to describe the feeling one has when you step inside the chapel.  It is awe-inspiring!

Lastly, we finished up at St. Peter’s Basilica where we were able to  view Michelangelo’s Pieta.  Words cannot express the beauty of this masterpiece.  To see Mary holding the dead body of Christ, her son, one cannot help but put oneself in Mary’s shoes for a moment to try to understand the pain and anguish she endured.

The Basilica is said to contain the remains of St. Peter, and there is a large crypt blocked off with a large, ornate valance overhead.  There are many other gorgeous statues, and the chapel itself is so enormous and beautiful!

After the Basilica we stepped out into the courtyard where we were pointed to the Pope’s window from where he blesses the crowd every Wednesday morning.  The courtyard is gigantic and decorated with an obelisk as well as a statue of Peter holding his keys and a statue of Paul.  We enjoyed learning more about the Vatican and the Catholic Church.  Our tour concluded at 3PM (7 hours!), so we were starving by the time we ended, and our feet were hurting.  Unfortunately most of the restaurants close from 3-6PM, the siesta time, so we had to eat at an overpriced tourist buffet joint.  At that point, we were so hungry that we didn’t really care about the quality or the price.  We were very close to the Castel St. Angel, so we stopped by to see it and take pictures even though it was closed.  We decided to live a little of the Roman life by taking a small siesta on the lawn.

I finally convinced Don to come shopping with me, and he reluctantly agreed.  We decided to take a bus to one of the major shopping streets of Rome, Via Del Corso.  As we arrived at Piazza Venezia and started making our way to the street,, we were overrun with policemen running to their vans to get plastic shields.  We didn’t know what was going on.  We approached cautiously and found dozens of police officers forming a human brigade with shields and guns in hand.  Not just any old handgun, but some of them had big rifles.  We noticed a huge crowd of people at the bottom of Via Del Corso and thought that maybe there was a riot going on.  Later Don looked up on the internet that the taxi drivers were on a strike against a government regulation that would allow anyone to be a taxi driver.  We tried to go up the street adjacent to Via Del Corso, but the police officers were not letting anyone through even though it looked like there were a lot of people coming and going out of Via Del Corso.  I kind of wanted to get closer and see if we could get through, but Don had WTO riot memories in his head, and he reminded me that if something fierce breaks out, the police don’t stop to ask if you are a rioter or an innocent civilian.  So, we stood and watched for a bit, and then made our way back and around the long way.  Eventually we made it to Via Del Corso.  We shopped for a bit, but couldn’t find anything.  Don’s parents had given us some money to buy leather jackets because apparently Italian leather is very good, but nobody was selling leather jackets, which is understandable since it is the dead of summer and extremely hot.

We walked back to our hotel exhausted.  We relaxed for a bit in our room and talked with Caleb and Don’s parents via messenger.  It’s so nice being able to see them with the web cam.  Unfortunately we weren’t able to get a camera to work on Don’s computer, so they could not see us, but at least they could hear us.  Although the B&B we stayed out definitely had its downfalls, it did have wireless internet access included in the price, which was so nice.

We finally decided to go grab our last Roman dinner at one of the bustling restaurants right below our window.  Don had been watching the food being served and thought it looked good.  It did turn out to be a fine dinner.  After dinner we went back up to our room to pack and sleep.  It wasn’t as loud outside this night since it was Monday, which was nice.  I’m just so glad that I brought earplugs, or I wouldn’t have slept at all while in Rome considering there was a fiesta every night right outside our window until nearly 2AM.

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