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Vatican Museum and St Peter's Basilica in Rome

Day 25 - Saturday 23rd July 2016

sunny 29 °C

Our first full day in Rome, we had booked guided tours for each of the 3 days we'd be here. I've been told by many that the queues and people at the major attractions in summer are crazy, you could wait hours in a line, just like we did in Florence to see the Statue of David. Today we woke fairly early and ate cereal we had purchased last night. My daughter that was here a few days ago had a good suggestion to see some of the major sights early morning to beat the crowds. After breakfast we walked to the taxi rank but seeing as it was right near Piazza Navona we went there first to take some photos. It was pretty deserted apart from a handful of people so a good time to take pics.

We had booked for a 9am Vatican Museum and St Peter's Basilica tour, we grabbed a taxi for the short ride to the meeting point for the tour. Already at this early stage there were people everywhere, lots of groups of young people too who I would suggest were here en route to World Youth Day in Poland in a few days time. One group that was always around us were youths wearing the Italian blue soccer jersey with the number 1 on the back with the name Francesco over the top. That wasn't their favourite player - Francesco was referring to the Pope himself, Francis. We got going but soon realised that crowds would be the order for this entire tour. The tours start in spot and end in another, it is all one way traffic. Pity the person who tries to walk back as they will get mobbed.

We all had audio guides that were tuned to our tour guide Gio (female) so we could always hear her. We went through the crowded foyer and soon were on our way. Gio told us that the Vatican museum holds the second largest collection of valuables after the Louvre in Paris. We started by going into a courtyard in front of the Pope's summer residence. A little later on we were going into the Sistine Chapel but as talking is not allowed she showed us parts of the chapel via pictures and explained all about them. She gave us detailed information on who Michaelangelo was, his traits and habits and explained how he worked 12 hours a day for four years to paint that chapel.

From here we ventured into the museum proper, down magically ceiling-painted hallways looking at priceless tapestries and work of art, through the Hall of Maps and glimpses of the Papal gardens. We were taken through numerous rooms whose walls were adorned by works of art of famous painters, most notable Raphael. We were shown the stairs and doors to the room where the conclave is held - where the bishops from all over the works meet to elect a new Pope. Soon we entered the Sistine Chapel - crowded with people but had ten minutes to admire it. You could spend hours there as the ceiling and all the walls were painted and with so many figures and stories it was an amazing spectacle.

Once outside we gathered to enter St Peter's Basilica - the largest church in the world. We were told 180,000 people could fit inside, it had many naves and was crowded with tourists. Gio took us firstly over to the right where behind bullet proof glass was Michaelangelo's first major work - the sculpture of La Pieta. People crowded to see it, and It was behind glass as a few years ago a mentally deranged man jumped over the fence and started breaking off bits with a hammer. The church was something so surreal, from the giant dome to the huge bronze canopy that hovers over the altar. The home to the Catholic Church was right here, as St. Peter is buried beneath and he was the first ever Pope and also the disciple of Jesus.

Our tour ended in the basilica but we were free to roam around inside in our own time. We spent about an extra hour, looking around, taking pictures and I got to rub St Peter's statue. Once we were done we headed outside into St. Peter's square, itself can also hold 180,000 people. It was hot and humid and as we took pics we could see dark clouds behind the basilica dome. By now we were hungry so set off down the street looking for a place to eat. We found one on a corner, it had no aircon so sat outside where they had mist coming down from the shelter to cool us off but it was turned up high so I was actually getting wet clothes from it. Even under shelter I got rained on.

After lunch we walked a short distance to the Castel Sant Angelo, featured in the movie "Angels and Demons" along with other parts of the Vatican. We saw a couple that were married that day taking pictures, certainly had lovely background setting of the basilica and the bridge opposite the castle. We mulled over whether to go and explore the castle and go up high but we were pretty tired from the tour, we decided to give it a miss. We walked along looking for a certain street that supposedly sold antiques and such, having found the street we saw most shops were closed as it was a Sunday afternoon. We continued on foot until we eventually walked all the way back to our apartment.

My cousins who we had spent the week with in Tuscany had arrived today in Rome and were staying just a few hundred metres away from us. We had touched base with them today hoping to meet for dinner but they were meeting relatives that lived in Rome so we decided tonight to eat very close by at Ristorante Lagana. Vicky had wanted to eat here as the name is similar to what was her maiden name. The food was nicer that last night's dinner, just as expensive but at least you don't mind paying when the food is good. We decided to walk a few blocks after dinner to digest a bit. We walked up to the river where we could hear loud music, must have been a band or entertainment over the other side as we couldn't see them. We made our way back around the apartment but then we were struck by another looming disaster involving a key (after the car problems in Canneto).

We tried to enter our apartment but the top lock wouldn't turn left to spring open the door. It seemed jammed, we were able to unlock the bolt but the last turn to open the door wouldn't budge. We tried for about 20 minutes, it was now past 11:30pm and I was sweating madly in the hall trying to get this darn thing to open. We tried everything - pulling the door, pushing etc while turning, fast and slow, everything! I thought how great this is - stuck outside and unable to get in. What made it worse was that I needed to get to the toilet! We walked back down to the restaurant as it was only a few doors away so I could use the toilet. We sat there ringing the lady who had given us the keys but she wasn't answering. We were calling for half an hour and nothing. Not wanting to spend the night on a deserted street in a strange country, we rang my cousin to see whether we could crash in their room for the night. They were still out walking so we had walked over to their place and waited outside. We kept ringing the lady still no answer. It was getting close to 1am by now, my cousins turned up and I said to them I've never been more happy to see them! We explained the situation, then all of us walked to our place.

As we got there the lady finally called us back, only to tell us that she lives 1.5 hours away and the only advice was to try and turn the key whilst holding it just out a little. My cousin and his wife's cousin from Rome came up with me, we all had turns once again. Just to prove it wasn't just us the others couldn't get it opened either. After they both tried i had another go, this time doing it very slowly and it worked! Unbelievable after so much effort we got it opened. I rang the lady and told her we were OK, I was so thankful we had somewhere else to sleep just in case, as we had asked a couple of nearby hotels and they had no rooms. A stressful end to an already tiring day, it was nearly 1:30am before we had calmed down enough to get to bed.

Posted by Ace from Oz 21:11 Archived in Italy Tagged vatican st_peter's

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