Visiting Vatican City | Day Two in Rome, Italy
Before going to sleep on night one in Rome, I made a commitment that the morning would be dedicated to tackling the headquarters of the Catholic world — Vatican City. I don't mess around when it comes to heavily-visited tourist sites. If I'm going to go, I'm going to do it right and in the most efficient way possible. This meant being in line to get in to the Vatican Museum by 8 a.m.
We enjoyed our hotel breakfast before setting off. Europeans really know how to do eggs, we also found this to be true in Athens. I overheard an American woman complaining that the scrambled eggs weren't cooked long enough. Poor lady has no idea what a well-cooked egg really is.
I ordered an Uber to take us to Vatican City. There is no time to experiment with public transportation when an extra 30 minutes could mean an extra two hours in line. No thanks. It was fun riding in a car with an Italian and watching him zip through endless Fiats and pedestrians with no fear.
We arrived to the wall-surrounded city-state to find a small line already formed. We patiently waited with about four buses-full of tourists from China and entered the Vatican Museum within no time. The museum leads to the Sistine Chapel — my ultimate goal and the object of my extreme excitement. This made it hard for me to focus on the endless paintings and sculptures along the way because I was so anxious to get into the chapel.
The Sistine chapel is quiet and really not very large, at least not compared to what we'd soon experience in St. Peter's Basilica. Intimidating Italian men stand surrounding you from all sides to make sure you do not take any photos. Of course I still tried, then proceeded to be called out and yelled at from across the chapel in some mix of English and Italian. That was fun. Michelangelo's work on the ceiling is incredible, so I had to.
I had read about a "secret" shortcut from the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter's that prevents you from having to walk the encouraged route, which is about a mile around Vatican City. There was a door in the back of the chapel that can take you almost directly to St. Peter's, but is only supposed to be used by authorized tour guides. I thought it was worth a shot to try creeping in on a tour and pretend like we belong with them in order to get through this guarded door. We sneakily joined a group of Spaniards — the plan worked.
We entered St. Peter's, I blessed myself with the holiest of holy water and my mind was BLOWN. This church is out of control. It's huge. It's, like, a ton of little churches within a church. So much history, so much detail, so much art to be seen everywhere you turn.
You can pay to climb to the top of the dome for some incredible views. I didn't hesitate to pay the extra two euros that would allow me to take the elevator half-way up, before continuing on to endless flights of stairs. If you are ever here and find yourself in this predicament — do it! The views from above of the church interior, and St. Peter's Square on the exterior are worth it.
It might be the smallest state in the world, but the Pope needs to send mail, too. Vatican City has it's own post office, which I found to be pretty awesome. I had to send my Catholic family members postcards — sealed with a Pope Francis stamp.
My early-morning determination paid off and we saw everything to see within Vatican City before 11 a.m. This meant it was time for more wandering, in the direction of food. We actually wandered pretty directly and immediately in the direction of Campo de' Fiori, Rome's popular open-air market.
The market is incredible, filled with fresh produce, Italian spices, pastas and spirits. I got sucked in by the young gentleman who ran the homemade spirits stand. He had me sampling one after another. The drinks were so fruity-looking and colorful, how could I turn him down? I eventually had to turn my back on him because I was starving and now slightly intoxicated.
It didn't take long for us to find food. We came to Rome with more restaurants bookmarked than I could count. There's no way we'd ever put a dent in the list, but we sure as hell would try our best. We had round one of lunch at a popular, take-and-go style pizza spot, particularly famous for their pizza bianca. Pizza and I don't work well together, but when in Rome you must try the pizza. Plus, I needed the carbs for the walk to the Pantheon.
I know it's cliche to say "pictures don't do it justice," but for me the Pantheon is the ultimate pictures-don't-do-it-justice site. I am by no means an architecture nerd, but the architectural design of this place — on top of the fact that they were able to pull it off before modern-day equipment and machinery —is astounding.
The columns out front weight 60 tons and were brought over from Egypt. What — how? The giant dome, which is perfectly proportional to the Pantheon, has an open hole (oculus) in the top. When it rains, the water drains out on the slightly convex floor. It's insane. This is the most well-preserved — and in my opinion, awe-inspiring — building from Ancient Rome.
As if the endless sites in Rome weren't cool enough, the city has uniquely-designed water fountains all over the city. The water is safe to drink, so we made sure to refill our water bottles whenever we came across one. Thanks for keeping us hydrated throughout 12+ hours of exploring, Roma.