I’d like you to believe that this is a photo I took during our visit to the Sistine Chapel. But anyone who has visited there knows that such photo taking is strictly forbidden. No, this and other photos I have of the chapel vault are photos of incredible photos displayed in the Up Close exhibit which Therese and I saw in New York City back over the Fourth of July weekend (another story as they say).
But, we did, yes, visit the Sistine Chapel. We reserved the Dark Rome early access tour, where we awoke long before sunrise, rode the bus in the dark to the San Pietro-Rosorgimento stop just southeast of the entrance to the Vatican Museums, and met our group across the street from the museums entrance.
Before walking through the museums to the chapel, we stopped for an early morning photo-op of St. Peter’s Basilica. Then we passed through the long string of hallways, each glorious in their own right – for example, the Map Gallery, which includes painted maps of the world’s most important cities at the time (seventeen century? not sure when it was painted).
And then, along with a bunch of other tours, we entered the glorious chapel. We did not, as the tour description seemed to suggest, have the chapel all to ourselves – there were probably a couple hundred people there. But it was quiet, you could steal a seat along the edge of the chapel, and use your binoculars (we brought ours with us just for this occasion) to ogle the extraordinary frescoes painted by Michelangelo and his crack team of frescoists. Again, from the Up Close exhibit, here are some of the panels we saw.
We stayed for a good 45 minutes I would say, knowing that the horde of general public tour groups and such would not be allowed in for a while yet. Fantastic, iconic, one-of-a-kind. If like me you want to know everything about how it was created, etc., you must read Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King (Amazon link). I had it in paperback, read it about ten years ago, got rid of my paperback, and bought it again in electronic (Kindle) version so I could read it again. It is a fantastic book.
So when we we done basking in the great Florentine painter’s masterpiece, we headed back through the many passageways to the Cortile della Pigna, not far from the museum entrance. In that courtyard is a terrace restaurant – nothing special, but we were able to get some breakfast there, a buffet for an earlier breakfast/chapel combo you can buy still available (just barely). I mean, don’t expect great food in the Vatican – it just doesn’t exist – and expect to pay unreasonably high prices for what you do get.
Anyway, after breakfast, the question in our minds was, what else should we see, if anything? By now, we knew, the great massive hordes of people were all around us, and any museum we visited was bound to be slow-moving and claustrophobic. I thought we should try to see the rooms painted by Raphael. Well, that was kind of a bad idea. First, the crowd was so thick it was hard to really see anything. Second, walking through those rooms leads you once again through the Sistine Chapel.
The one saving grace of our strategy was that we unknowingly were headed through the Vatican’s Collection of Contemporary Art. Wow, great stuff. Included in this collection are Matisse’s preparatory full-scale drawings/paintings for his Chapel in Vence. Amazing stuff. There were also pieces by Chagall and Klee and by African artist El Anatsui, among other people represented.
Then we suffered through being herded through the Sistine Chapel once more – now crowded beyond belief, noisy – and we hurried through there as best we could. Then we walked back through those long passages (the Map gallery, etc.) one more time and left the Vatican. We had had enough. We found somewhere to go to clear our minds of the insane crowds, but unfortunately, to get there, we would have to walk halfway around the outside of Vatican City. A long walk, let me tell you. We did get a glimpse of St. Peter’s again (no, I was not tempted to get in line to go into the Basilica).
I know Therese did not really believe that we would find that bus, but find it we did, and it took us south to the very interesting Traveler’s Bookstore (Libreria del Viaggiatore). But oh no! when we got there, the shopkeeper had stepped out.
So we went to plan B – gelato (or sorbetto in my case). A quite excellent gelateria called Frigidarium was not far away, so we went there and cleared our minds further on frozen dessert. Ah, the mania of the Vatican was finally being leached from our veins!
After that, we wandered back to the bookstore, and by then, it was open. We bought a map of London (our destination summer of 2018) and a few other things. Then we ordered some takeaway from the Abbey Theatre Irish Pub and returned by taxi to our hotel. It was a long day that thankfully started and ended on good notes. As for the middle part full of tour groups and crowds, I will say no more.