Day 27: The Vatican.

I sat in our bed, tapping away at my phone. The night before we agreed to meet for breakfast or brunch somewhere before heading out to the Vatican, thinking it’d be easier than trying to meet up at our destination. We hadn’t, however, agreed on a place to meet and so we were shooting messages back and forth trying to figure out where to go. As it turned out our travelling companions were doing the same, yesterday’s exertion taking as much of a toll on them as it did us. We soon agreed on a place to go and a time to meet, giving us all enough time to get ready in a most leisurely fashion.


Our breakfast place was a trendy little spot, hidden well away from the main thoroughfare of Rome. The breakfast was generous for the price even if the coffee was still not up to the standard that I’d expect back home. Once we were done we realized we still had a decent amount of time before we were scheduled to get into the Vatican so we started looking for other things to do to fill the time. As it turns out there’s a (relatively) small castle along the way and so we decided to walk over rather than catching a cab as we’d previously planned to.

If yesterday was hot today was a dry sauna, the sun unrelenting in its quest to cook the outer layers of our skin. This was only exacerbated by the lack of any kind of breeze, even when we were close to the canal or anywhere else you’d expect at least a mild wind to take the edge off. Within eye-shot of the Vatican we quickly ducked into a small restaurant for a quick drink and to cool off, burning a few more minutes before our arrival time at the Vatican. My wife and I both got what amounted to a mint slushie that was so powerful it felt like I had just brushed my teeth for hours afterwards.

We trudged over towards what I now know was Saint Peter’s Square and not the entrance to the Vatican itself. Musing over the various signs we eventually found one that pointed around the corner but were still not sure where we needed to go. This is when we made the mistake of asking one the “tour guides” to help us who then proceeded to sell us all sorts of stories about when and where we could get in. Initially he told us we couldn’t get in without a guide, then that we’d need to upgrade our tickets to get into the basilica and, once he was done trying to bamboozle us more finally settled on the low low price of €20 per person (he originally said €10) for a full tour. Of course this all turned out to be false, if you reserve tickets on the Vatican website you get everything you have to pay for and the basilica is free for all, but at least his directions to the entrance were good.

The museums of the Vatican are almost incomprehensible in their scale with works in them dating back over 2000 years. The arrays of sculptures and busts to the numerous works of the painter Michelangelo that adorn numerous rooms of the Vatican are just a small fraction of what their archives contain. It’s quite overwhelming to be honest, especially when you find yourself in the middle of the Sistine Chapel, but definitely worth investing some time to go through it all and appreciate the history that is here (even if you don’t agree with the church itself, like me).

After our walk through of the Vatican Museum was complete we headed out again to make our way into Saint Peter’s Basilica. Like the numerous churches we’ve visited on this trip its scale is incomprehensible at first, especially given the time at which it was built. This one however was adorned by numerous more lavish embellishments than I had seen in others, with the center altar a massive tower looming over all who came to peer at it. We saw numerous groups of nuns making the pilgramage as well as what I can assume were church groups all gathered in prayer. For me, as someone who appreciates the architecture of such places, it was still very much worth the visit although, once again, I’m sure much of the awe that others were seeing was lost on me.

It was at this point that my feet decided to remind me we’d been walking for almost 6 hours straight and it was time to find a place to sit down for a spell. We found a bustling place nearby to sit down for a light “first dinner” so I could rest up before we decided on what to do next. We eventually settled on heading over to the Pantheon which, whilst a little out of the way if we were going back home, wasn’t too far away from our current position. After trying several times to get (and pay) the bill, we got on our way, my feet finally feeling normal again.

The Pantheon was very similar to the one we’d visited in France although its history was vastly different. Originally a Pagan monument it was forcibly converted to Christianity some time after its initial construction. Construction which, interestingly, was done without the aid of scaffolding. This meant that the bricks were laid by skilled rock cilmbers, a dizzying prospect given just how high the roof was.

After wandering semi-aimlessly for an hour or so we decided to head back to a street we’d seen filled with restaurants that looked appealing. Settling on a place that had its wood fired oven prominently displayed at the front we were soon served by an incredibly enthusiastic waiter to whom English was likely a third language. Still we managed to order and my dish, beef stewed in a sauce called barolo, reminded me of the stews my dad makes back at home. It was a fitting last meal with our friends, all of us satisfied and happy at the end of a long day.

On the way home we bid our friends farewell, knowing that we’d be seeing them again back home in no short order. My wife and I took the long route home, taking in our last night in Rome and fondly remembering the events of the past couple days. It was at this point I wanted to get some little souvenirs to remember these days by, grabbing a few of the cheap plastic replicas of the monuments we had visited. Sure I could get better elsewhere, but it’s these kinds of heat of the moment things that make things like this worth more than their sticker value.

Tomorrow we begin the final stage of our trip and, hopefully, the pinnacle of it: 6 nights at an all inclusive resort in Greece. This is what was missing from our last holiday some 6 years ago, a final week where our time is our own and all our wants are taken care of. It is my hope that this will give us the rest we need to come back to our normal lives rejuvenated rather than exhausted, the fresh perspective we’ve gained on this trip cemented by a week of not having to think.

Indeed last night I mentioned to my wife about how I’d realized I’d forgotten the “normal” feeling that I had at the start of this trip. It’s hard to explain (although I’m sure German or some other language has a word for it) but it’s the notion of what the routine at home is meant to feel like. When we returned from the USA I had this feeling that everything had returned to was foreign, like a vague memory of a life that someone else had led. I’m getting the same feelings now, the idea of what’s normal back home feeling like another life that I led even though I’ve barely been gone a month. It was disconcerting last time however now it’s enjoyable as it means I will have a new perspective when I finally return home and, if I’m lucky, a new appreciation for all that I have.

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