i like museums that have only one direction to see exhibits, I don't like museums that don't have a planned route, you may miss exhibits b/c they are not routed in one direction

this only happened in the last few years with technology

It was neat how they "tied/proved" it was St. Peter's tomb

Italy II: Sorrento and Rome

Vatican City

Yeah, sorry, no drunken brawling here. I just needed the mouse click. Anywho, on this Monday our plan was to spend most of
Brother and Sister at the Vatican Museums
the day in Vatican city and meet up with Lin-Wei's brother Lin-Jye, his wife Sinilga, and their friends Charlie and Shunuan. Lin-Jye got the tickets for the vatican museum online and we were meeting him at 9:30. Of course, we got there at 9am so that we could save a place in line...and holy crap (for real) the line was long. It stretched about three and a half blocks around the walls of the Vatican. Ug! Hoping that either he was in line or that online ticket holders didn't have to wait in line we walked up to the entrance, where we saw tour groups bypassing the line and heading in. We got confirmation from a bystander that yes, if you got an online reservation then you can bypass the chump line. Hurray! But is that what Lin-Jye got??

Welcome to the Hall of Heads
And when we saw him, he confirmed that we had the online reservation. Hurray! And, now this was a touching moment. This was the first time Lin-Wei had seen her big brother since... well, since the spring when he was sitting in our living room buying his tickets to Italy while we looked on jealously. But it was a touching moment nonetheless.

See that guy's expression? I'm with ya, buddy
For the next couple of hours we toured the Vatican museum, seeing the hall of heads (where I talked to Hadrian about his awesome villa), the Etruscan artifacts, Egyptian stuff, and lots and lots of art. The place was totally packed, and once you got onto the beaten path, you short of get funneled forward along one main route with all the tour groups. One thing we noticed this time in Europe is that the tour groups all had two-way radios on them, so that the tour guide could speak into his/her transmitter, and everyone on the tour can hear them. And each group had a different colored radio. Good idea, I thought.

Typical ceiling at the Vatican
The Vatican funnel led us through a room with ancient maps on tapestries, then down through some modern art, past a snack shop (where we had a much needed water) and then finally into the Sistine chapel. No photos were allowed in the chapel, so this was definitely not taken there. I was underwhelmed by Michaelangelo's masterpiece, I guess. I found it to be a little too gaudy for my taste, but that's not to say I didn't understand the historical significance of being in that room under the fresco of God and Adam. Lin-Jye was also taking pictures with his iPhone until Shunuan yelled at him. Traitor! When we exited the museum we noticed that there was no line! So... if you are going to the Vatican, get there at lunch time. You'll get right in.

We had lunch at a little sidewalk place a block or two from the Vatican, but Lin-Wei, Lin-Jye and I had to book back
Lunch between Vatican tours.
because we had tickets for the Vatican catacombs! To get access, you need to email the Vatican Scavi office months in advance with what day(s) you are available for a tour, along with the names and ages of everyone in the party, and they tell you if and when your tour starts. Ours was at 1:30, and the entrance is on the north side of St. Peter's Basilica. There are barriers and guards around there (including the Swiss Guard in their crazy uniforms) and we were told to show a print out of our reservation to these guards. A plainclothes security guard looked at the reservation, mistook the time it was emailed (2:15pm) for our reservation time, and told us we had to wait until 15 mintues beforehand. Confused, I walked away, noticing that it was 1:25 and we only had 5 minutes before the tour started. I went back, showed him the reservation again, cleared things up, and we were in! Past the Swiss Guard and into the Scavi office, we were given our tickets, but the man behind the desk, noticing Lin-Jye's Camelback water backpack, became a little irate: "I emailed you instructions about no backpacks! You cannot leave that here. I don't know if the tour guide will let you take it into the catacombs! I just don't know..."

St. Peter's square from the top of the dome
When our tour group convened though, the guide didn't even mention the back pack. Given the tight quarters the policy was understandable, though the desk dude maybe needs to chill a little bit.

Inside the catacombs the Vatican instituted some pretty serious security. Each room had an electronic lock with a glass door, and the next door wouldn't open until the previous door closed. We saw ancient burial chambers for early Christian families, a chapel built below the main alter in St. Peters, below which are the purported bones of St. Peter himself. The tour up to that point was pretty awesome, but then the guide said that we would now be going to see said bones!

The glory shining through the windows at St. Peters
According to legend Emperor Constantine build the first St. Peter's Basilica on the spot where Peter was crucified and buried. Before the cathedral was built the early Christians had built some walls and a chamber around the burial, and on this the first Basilica, and later the current one, was built. When excavations began some bones were found in this chamber, but they turned out to be female bones. But looking inside of one of those walls more bones were found, and these bones matched those of a man that could have been St. Peter. These bones were then sealed in glass containers producted by NASA (yeah, the space agency) and placed back inside a hole in the wall. And it was into this hole that we now all stared, in various states of awe. The guide gave a short prayer where he almost broke down and wept (which was a little uncomfortable, I'd have to say) and then led us out of the catacombs, back into St. Peters, and out onto the square. . When we left the catacombs we saw coffins of previous popes including John Paul II.

We met up with Sinilga and Shunan, who said Charlie was holding a place in line to get into the main part of St. Peters. In line we talked to a Russian girl who had been partying all night and was a little hung over, but didn't want to sit around in her hotel room and be bored so she came out to the Vatican. Once we got in, we opted to climb to the top of the dome first, and got our tickets. And elevator takes you 1/3 of the way up (over 500 stairs total) and Charlie was voted down 5-1 against walking the whole way.

My attempt at a self-portrait above St. Peter's Square
Going up the stairs to the top can get kind of claustrophobic, but the view from up there is worth it. At one point I got separated from the rest of the group, and wanting my picture with St. Peter's square in the background, I tried to take it myself. The results were mixed.

On the way down, Lin-Wei turned around and called back to her brother, warning him that some of the doorways were very low. She them promptly turned around to continue her decent and rammed her head full speed into a low overhang. Priceless!

Our final stop on our Vatican tour was of course St. Peter's Basilica itself. It was big, to be sure. But a lot of it was closed off, so we milled around with the rest of the tourists for a while, took our pictures of the interior and exterior, and called it a day.

Chilling on the porch with friends and family
We took the subway back to the apartment that our four companions were sharing and had some wine and snacks outside on their balcony. That was really nice, and felt like we were on a real vacation, if only for an hour or two. ;-)

Heading back into the city later that evening we had dinner at a pretty crappy place near the Trevi fountain, and hung out by the fountain itself before calling it a night.

Finishing Rome

Copyright (c) The Sticklers 2009