Friday, July 17, 2015

Adventures in the Vatican (or: Social Anxiety Ruins My Day)

Big cities... Ugh.

I left my (very nice) hostel at about 8:45 to head for the Vatican. Unfortunately, the metro was hellishly busy, and during the 25 or so minute ride I felt something akin to what sardines must feel when they're packed into cans. Except those sardines tend to be dead, which gives them one advantage.

And because I had humans pressed up on all sides of me (and one particularly annoying lady repeatedly trying to push me further back into the train), I was naturally worried about pickpockets and (like Alanis) I felt compelled to keep one hand in my pocket (with my wallet) and the other on my bag.

It was stressful.

...But the ride finally came to an end, and I made my way (along with seemingly 3/4 of the people on my train) along the pleasant old strada to the Vatican, where I looked forward to a few frolicsome hours of leisurely making my way through the various museums and chapels that make up this ancient and sacred city-country.



(pauses for breath)



As I approached the dome of St. Peter's, I began to notice the crowds.

Big crowds. Lots and lots of people. All waiting in lines.

I walked by them, hoping that they were maybe trying for an audience with the pope or maybe a Krispy Kreme had just opened up in the area or... Something.

Then I reached St. Peter's Square, and I saw the line - indisputably heading towards the ticket office and entrance - that stretched across the entire (very large) square and beyond. And beyond. And beyond...

Thoughts of running away filled my head. I mean, St. Peter's Square is officially part of the Vatican, so I could say I'd been in the country. That's what matters, right?

But then I thought about the 10,000 touts I had passed on my way, each offering "Skip the Line VIP tours." Suddenly I understood the appeal of what they were selling. I went and sought one out (haha, just kidding - all I had to do was turn around and one was on top of me asking me if I wanted a tour.) After he went through his spiel (I didn't understand a word of it) he guided me towards the tour agency office. I was a bit worried I was being had - these kinds of street tours don't exactly have the best reputation - but I figured it was a choice between that and skipping the Vatican altogether.

I ended up paying quite a bit more than I had hoped for, but I got my tour ticket and was able to skip the lines (though I did still have to wait through an interminable history lecture while we waited for our entry time.)

My tour guide had an adorable accent, and I only understood about half of what he said - but it didn't really matter, because I was getting into the Vatican!

And then we got into the Vatican, and the crowds didn't end. Oh no.

The crowds didn't end.

The whole damn place was jam packed - every inch of every area open to the public was packed with people. There was no point - except the very end - in which I wasn't trapped in the middle of an enormous crowd. I spent two hours squeezing past people, trying to catch fleeting glimpses of whatever work of art we were supposed to be looking at, and frantically trying to figure out where my guide had disappeared to among this seething mass of human bodies.
There he is! Right in front of the piece of modern art...
There he is! Right in front of the piece of modern art.

Crowds make me anxious, so within about 30 minutes I was about ready to head for the nearest exit. It didn't make it any better that occasionally I'd catch a glimpse through a window into the Vatican gardens and see that there actually are areas of the city - inaccessible to us commoners, of course - that aren't filled with people.

But I stuck it through, and I did get to see some pretty cool stuff. The various museums are positively overflowing with works of art, ranging from the Greco-Roman period to the Renaissance and on to the present day. Some of my favorites were the enormous tapestries from the 15th and 16th centuries that covered entire walls, and the wonderfully detailed sculptures (with their nethers hilariously chopped off many centuries ago by a particularly pious pope.) The Sistine Chapel was nice, I guess (and, yes, completely filled with people. I couldn't turn around without running into someone.)

My favorite part, though, was St. Peter's Basilica. It came right at the end of the tour, and the place is so enormous that even these crowds couldn't fill it. It's beautiful inside, and it felt considerably more like a church - and more, well, spiritual - than any other place I had been on the tour. I hung out there for a while, enjoying the beauty and feeling of the place.

And on my way back to my hostel I ran into a restaurant, directly outside the Vatican Walls, called "Habemus Pizza." Which is delightful.

All in all, the Vatican was worth it. But I don't think I'm ever going back. I hope so, at least.

I really hope so.


I also stopped at the Castelo San Angelo right beside the Tiber. It was nice, but I think I've already reached my saturation point with these ancient stone fortresses. I prefer the fine art of the museums and churches.

And, in my futile attempts to find a metro station, I also wandered through one of those charming narrow, authentically European streets filled with boutique fashion shops and gelato parlors. I may have indulged in the gelato. Twice.

I did NOT get to the Colosseum. In fact, I didn't even see it. Which is kind of funny, since my hostel was about a ten minute walk from the site. But oh well - I'm pretty sure I'll get back to Rome someday.
But not the Vatican.


I wrote this post while riding on a train heading east out of Rome and across the peninsula to Rimini and San Marino. I rode through some beautiful green and hilly countryside, and the train (or at least my car) was less than a quarter full. It was quiet. It was calm. In other words, it was the perfect antidote to my 24 hours in Rome.


  1. I would like to meet with you ASAP. Please meet me at the front door of St. Peter's Basilica at 11:14am on July 20. And you may want to buy one of those special tour tickets while you're at it.

  2. This post makes me want to go more than ever! Maybe in the off season, but definitely someday!