There is a lot to cover so I'm breaking up this post into two seperate posts. There are only so many words and pictures a person can take at one time ;)
This is essentially Part 1 of our full day in Rome!
We woke up from yesterday's travel day refreshed and set out on a nice walk towards Vatican City. About 25 minutes later, we found ourselves at the entrance and despite it being only 9am, the line was already wrapped around the block. Gulp.
Luckily we had a private tour planned and found our guide, Luca Romano, holding up an iPad with our names displayed and so were able to bypass everyone. Phew!
I have to stop here and say that booking the private tours for our two days in Rome was by far one of the best things we did for ourselves on the trip. We used Best of Rome Tours and while not cheap, we consider them to be a great value (some other tours quoted around $600/tour but this was around $200 give or take). Each of our tours lasted about 3 hours and we saw and learned more in those 3 hours than we would have had we attempted it on our own for an entire day. This allowed us to still have the rest of the afternoon and evening to "wing" things and take it easy. I only wish we had done something simliar for our "free day" in Florence!
Anyways, Luca was amazing. We felt as though a local friend was showing us the sites - not a tour guide. He was incredibly approachable and knowledgeable. I wish that I had noted more pieces of info in order to share it here, but I was too busy oohhing and awwing.
Because it was only the 3 of us, we could get into places the larger tours couldn't. He expertly bypassed any line and got us close to everything he was explaining. If you have a chance to take one of these tours, I highly recommend asking for Luca!
Tom and I are Catholics as are our families, and being here was a very special experience. Being in a place with so much history and also being inside something like the Mary room - knowing how much Mary meant to my grandmother for instance - made me feel overwhelmed at times. There were moments I felt like my grandmother was right there with me experiencing this along with us and I may have gotten choked up once or twice. I will say Tom was suspiciously quiet at times too...
There is no way I can remember all of the factoids and what not, so what follows regarding Vatican City is mostly picture heavy with a few sentences sprinkled throughout.
After purchasing our tickets and getting settled, we came upon a great view on our way to the Vatican Museum - there's St. Peter's peeking out from behind the trees!
We thought the grounds were beautiful...
We discovered that each Pope left various gifts to the Vatican in order to be remembered. Everything from the monuments you see above to pottery.
Once we made it to the the Vatican Museum, we found ourselve in a series of grand hallways - each with their own theme (sorry these might be out of order - put hopefully you get the picture)
The "Map Room"
The Tapestry Room (that's Luca below)
He cracked us up saying that Jesus participated in the first ever ice bucket challenge, hehe
There was the hallway with a TON of art. This particular piece was so large, even my wide angle lens couldn't fully capture it.
This section of mosaic tile floors was beautiful - it's hard to capture just how intricate the design is through pictures. This area was the only part of the floor that was sectioned off.
The ceilings in the hallways blew us away. The below pic is actually painted onto the ceiling - its not molding like it appears. We couldn't believe this was just paint!
All of the ceilings blew us away in fact. Those Italians must have strong necks!
There were lots of various statues and sculptures displayed throughout the museum...
When we found ourselves inside the Mary room we were stunned - it's so gorgeous in person.
As we left the Mary Room, we noticed a familiar looking parking lot. Apparently, the archives - yes from the Da Vinci code, ha - are underneath!
From there, it was onto the "Rapheal" rooms! The talent this guy must have had in just his pinkie finger..wowza.
From there, we went into the Sistine Chapel. I wish we had pictures to share, but they don't allow cameras inside (Luca said it was that way so they could get people to buy the pictures - makes sense as everywere else inside the Vatican allows you to snap pics). It was jaw dropping for sure and also kind of funny, because you cram inside the chapel and just look up for about 10-15 minutes. My neck hurt after that short of time, so I don't know how Michalangelo did it. It was also pretty funny because they require you to be completely silent yet had professional "shushers" who's "shushing" was MUCH louder than any of whispering I heard!
Afterwards we went outside and headed to St. Peter's Basilica!
St. Peter's was overwhelmingly beautiful. I can't even begin to describe the scale of this place.
For instance, the letters you can see around the top molding all the way around? They are twice as tall as the average male. The bronze sculture that looks almost like gazebo at the end of the aisle? It seems average size when you first walk in...
Yet by time you get up close and personal, you feel like an ant
What took us by surprise, were multiple bodies of past Pope's just laying out there for all to see.
Apparently, they can choose to be put on display and some took the Vatican up on it...
This is the entrance to the catacombs where other bodies of Pope's are at rest.
There was also a small area where you could say a prayer in front of the casket of the late Pope John Paul II
We couldn't help but be awed at the beauty around us and also because we knew we were in the presence of such meaningful artifacts.
For instance, there is a place were you are surrounded by various statues. Each of them represents and contains an artifact from Jesus' crucifixion. This one reportedly holds a piece of a spear which was used on him (our guide was a bit skeptical that this was true, but still...).
A Beautiful alter...
The Vatican is also home to one of Michelangelo's most stunning pieces, the Pieta. I found this piece even more breathtaking than David and was surprised to learn he created it at only 23 years of age! It was so incredibly lifelike and beautiful and somehow evoked a lot of emotion. In the 70's someone tried to destroy it so now it's behind glass, but it's still a very powerful thing to see in person. I have to say I love how the church literally puts Mary - a mere woman, hehe - on a pedestel for being such a strong lady and mom.
There are markers on the floor that indicate how big the Vatican is in relation to other Cathedrals around the world. The one for St. Patrick's in NYC, for instance, indicated it was only half the length of St. Peter's.
On our way out, we passed by Cherubs offering holy water
They were beautiful...
...but also a tad creepy (and HUGE) wish I had someone standing in front for scale - they towered over me
Sufficiantly overwhelmed, we went outside to wrap up the tour.
We saw the Swiss Guard (so chosen because, you know, Swiss and neutral...). We discovered that they have a hard time finding qualified people because there aren't a ton of Catholics in Switzerland. However, once chosen, the Vatican provides housing for them and their families. I wonder what it would be like to grow up in Vatican City?
St. Peter's Square
Luca kindly offered to take a picture of us, and was immediately thanked by being asked to take photos of about three other couples after...poor guy!
Welp, that wraps up our tour of Vatican City! I'll be back with Part 2 of our day in Rome soon. Spoiler alert: it was delicious!