We woke up early in the morning and immediately got on a bus to the Vatican. We had gotten tickets for a 7:15am early entry before the crowds were allowed inside, and it came with a breakfast buffet in one of the courtyards. When we got there, we got to skip the line of tour groups and people waiting already.
We were led to a cute garden where the food and tables were set up. They provided a good spread and we talked to a couple from New Jersey as we ate. Then we grabbed our audio guide and went in search of the Sistine Chapel, skipping all the other exhibits along the way.
“It felt strange to briskly walk past rooms and rooms of gorgeous art, just so that we could get to the Sistine Chapel. The Vatican was beautiful, and we were breezing past things without enough time to register it all. We knew that we could walk through everything again though, so we kept with our priorities.” – Kay
When we walked in the chapel, there were about fifteen people already inside, but it wasn’t crowded and we found seats along the wall to take in the amazing art.
I think I could have sat there for hours still seeing new parts of the frescoes. We ended up just looking at the art for about a half hour before we left the chapel to see the rest of the grounds. We went back to where the the tours start and took our time looking at all the art while listening to our audio guides’ collection of historical information.
Like the Sistine Chapel, the rest of the frescoes that covered the ceilings and walls were so detailed and packed with imagery that we could have spent days looking at the paintings and still not have seen everything they had to offer.
There were also paintings on display from artists like Dali, along with items that had been collected like Greek statues and Egyptian artifacts. The tour route eventually took us back to the chapel it had transformed from a place to quietly examine the art to a packed room with guards directing the shuffling line of people to the exits. We were so grateful to have seen it while it was calmer and not crowded.
“The scene was like a packed, standing room only concert for the best band in the world. People were standing shoulder to shoulder, back to back, staring at the ceiling, and couldn’t move anywhere. Museum employees were directing the moving line of people to the right side of the chapel, and you weren’t allowed to stop if you were in that line. It was crazy, and we were so fortunate to see the chapel before anyone was allowed in the museum.” – Kay
Finally we made our way though the entire circuit and reached the basilica. While I had read about it and even seen pictures, I was completely unprepared for the scale of the place. It took a long time just walk all the way from front to the back. It was gorgeous, but the scale was just too big to take in all at once. Personally, I preferred the feeling of the smaller churches we had already seen that were just as ornate because they seemed more intimate.
We didn’t spend much time in the basilica and soon walked those go the square and back out to Rome. We had planned to visit the contemporary art museum that afternoon, but both our minds and bodies were tired, so we went home and rested before getting dinner.
We loved seeing the Vatican but were surprised at how similar it was to a museum rather than a church. We probably shouldn’t have been, but we thought there would be a more pervasive sense of spirituality than there was. I think it was because it was so crowded that the sense of spirituality was lost a bit. It would be a completely different experience if you could walk though that place alone.