|My son and his girl have been traveling a bit lately.|
They are going to share 3 of their travel posts on the blog (hurrah, I'm so happy to have them here!).
The 1st of 3: The Roman Guy, Skip the Line with the "Privileged Entrance Vatican Tour"
There is going to be a slight change of perspective and writing style in this post, assuredly a tad different than what you are accustomed to with my mother's writing *dramatic pause* and not just mine. Today, there are two different perspectives and experiences of the same event. Kiera, my girlfriend, will share her thoughts and experience of the Tour of the Vatican, kindly and enjoyably lead by The Roman Guy as well as I will share mine.
To start, I’ll say I am definitely a little less cultured in comparison to Kiera, especially in regards to Catholicism. She has a strong background in faith, due to graduating from a Christian university, has a deep rooted understanding of the stories behind each painting, from growing up with a former pastor for a father and on top of that has a far greater allure towards museums, art and the antiquities of the past. I feel it's important as a reader to know this because it very adequately highlights the two very different and very enjoyable standpoints of our tour from a naive and an educated perspective. To me, as much exquisite history is to be expected to come across on the Vatican tour, I was half expecting to be left feeling gauche under the shadow of her knowledge. To me I thought, before walking through the doors, that the whole experience was going to be a little lackluster; that without knowing the narrative and development behind that Vatican I would be saying sarcastically in my mind, "Ohh look an old pillar," or "Oh wow, another sculpture." I was pleasantly and immediately proven to be wrong, from the moment you pass through the doors you can not help but be floored by the grandeur, the opulence and the pure magnificence that is presented to you from start to finish.
|Flag above sea of people.|
The Tour kicks off meeting your group at 7:30 in the morning: for me this was no issue because I am a morning person. Kiera painstakingly so is not. I had to practically drag her out of bed and still we barley made it on time. Once you arrive, you will see a little red flag floating above the sea of a people waiting in line *which by the way was a HUGE perk of this tour, you get to skip, woo whoo!* Across the street is a little cafe where you can grab a coffee, croissant or other pastry to hold you over. I recommend to make it back to your group with haste if you do, because your tour guide has a book that they use to cover a fair amount of history about the Vatican and a little Q&A before you actually enter and go through security. Be sure to finish any food beforehand otherwise you will be reluctantly forced to throw it out.
Once you get through check-in with security you and your group will be handed a headset and a little receiver that goes around your neck so you can hear perfectly everything your very informed guide explains along the way. For me I found the receiver to also be a very useful homing beacon to re-find my group when my curiosities repeatedly had me left behind (there is a limited distance the radio travels so you will hear the voice in your ear turn to static if you linger too, long and back to a voice once more when you are closing in on the heels of your guide again). Of course during the tour, which I initially felt was rushed (I later discovered that it is purposely fast-paced so you can arrive at the Sistine Chapel before the majority of crowds) I let my rebellious desire to go at my own pace win during the tour ,which lead to me hearing more static in my ear than the history of each room. Let that be a lesson and recommendation to fight the desire to drift from your group if you feel you are cruising through each room too fast, because you will have an opportunity to explore on your own and re-visit any rooms or relics that piqued your interest along the way. Hindsight is 20/20, right?
After security this is when the tour begins. You make your way up the first of many flights of stairs you will be going up. Most are marble, so stay close to a handrail in case your footing slips. I'm not going to break down each room you will go through because the word count would be astronomical. However, I will say each room, or hall rather, is in its own respect remarkable. Some corridors are littered with relics, others decorated with chests made of the finest and rarest materials, secured behind glass cases are Bibles decorated with rubies, silver, ivory and other inimitable jewels (see picture above). Other rooms are draped in tapestries that took years to stitch together. They are lined with silver that depicts biblical stories, and some rooms are plastered in Renaissance paintings on the walls and ceilings, done by Raphael that you think would rival the Sistine Chapel. That is until you finally venture inside and it becomes very clear why the pope commissioned Michelangelo to cease his true passion of sculpting and instead embark on his 4-year masterpiece which would become a staple in history that would lead to now more than 5 million visitors each year to gaze in awe at his work; albeit some of his work was covered up and defaced by future popes finding his detail of the human body to be too crass.
Once in the Sistine Chapel you are not allowed to talk, take pictures or touch anything. Of course there still is a light chatter that echoes through the hall, and with modern technology you can see people snapping pictures with their smart watches or their phones hidden under jackets, bags and my personal favorite one kid had torn a hole in his tour map to have only the camera portion of his phone peeking out while snapping photos; he must of been a big fan of the old Bond films. There is security walking around to prevent such things but ironically enough throughout your tour with the Roman Guy you will notice more guards on their own phones rather than actually guarding so as long as you don’t comically leave your flash on while sneaking pictures, which some did, you can snap a few quick pictures if you feel the need to rebel.
After gawking at Michelangelo’s craftsmanship you have a few more rooms to pass through, get lead through an outside courtyard with Egyptian artifacts, some interactive art, another cafe under a pavilion, to grab a bite to eat to cure any appetite you developed stampeding up and down marble stairs, and finally you are lead to St. Peter's Basilica which for me was my favorite part of the tour. I have an absence of words to properly describe the marvels and grandeur awaiting you once you breach the front door. The breath-taking sculptures carved into every square inch of the building that cascade around you. I was left dumbfounded by how impossibly beautiful everything was, trying to consider how staggering of a task it had to have been and what an unfathomable imagination it must have taken to construct such magnificence.
|Crowd you get to skip!|
Your guide once more will take you from corner to corner giving you a history lesson on each piece, answering any questions. there is an option to partake in a service if you so desire and now you are on the cusp of your tour ending. Soon you will be handing your headset back, be brought outside to venture back in to Rome, where you will be spending the rest of your day reminiscing on how enjoyable your tour was, and when everything is over and you head back past your starting point, you will see some of the same faces you saw at 7:30 a.m. still waiting in line and that's when booking with the Roman guy gets solidified as a very good investment.
Alas, as promised earlier, there are going to be two perspectives: mine and Kiera's *slides keyboard over *
Yes, my turn! to tell it from my perspective. With that being said, I did grow up with a religious background as well as have an art minor from my christian university so I have been studying the art in the Vatican for a long time. I knew all the stories the art was about and about the artists who did the work. This made the experience for me slightly different than it was for Josh, but even more entertaining for me. This also was not my first tour of the Vatican.
I had come to Italy three years before with my family to celebrate my grandparent's 50th wedding anniversary. My Nana’s family was originally from Italy so she decided she wanted to celebrate in Italy. My Nana, her mother and my mother have always had a love for art and have raised me to have such an appreciation for it. When I was younger my Nana would have my sister and I over and we would paint for hours together. This instilled an interest from a young age. I loved learning the different styles painters would use as well the history behind their lives. Naturally, when we traveled to Italy together my grandmother arranged a tour of the Vatican for us all. The two tours were night and day different though. When I went with my family three years ago it was the middle of August and the middle of the day. This was peak tourist season so it was extremely crowded. Each tour guide has their own style and focus. My previous tour guide was very involved in the Catholic Church, so he focused more on the religious portion of the Vatican experience. He told the facts about the Popes, Saints and origins of the church. We also did not have the probably best perk of this tour and that's to go in before the crowds, like you get to with The Roman Guy tour, so we were in the heat of the day in long pants and sleeves because of the dress code so it was extremely hot.
This tour was far more enjoyable for me (minus the having to wake up early part). The instructions were very clear where to meet, which is rare in Rome. We got to the tour a few minutes late (yes, because of me) and they were very accommodating. They had a person with a sign waiting for us at the meeting spot and they then took us to the rest of the group who got there on time waiting in line. We were one of the first groups into the Vatican which was great. Our tour guide was a quirky, art loving Italian man who decided to take us first to the Sistine Chapel before the other groups got in there. The Sistine Chapel, for those of you who don’t know, is a chapel painted by Michelangelo, commissioned by Pope Julius II. Its most iconic panel is the creation of Adam, where you see Adam reaching his hand out to touch the hand of God. I had been in the Sistine Chapel before, but no matter how many times you go you cannot help but to just get lost in the beauty of the artwork and unique telling of the biblical stories. We then went back and viewed the rest of the Vatican from there.
My absolute favorite part of the tour was when we went to see the work done by Raphael, an Italian Renaissance artist who focused on the lighting of his painting. This is the home to one of my favorite pieces by him, The School of Athens. This piece portrays Plato and Aristotle side by side in the school of Athens discussing their perspectives of philosophy. The balance and detail of this painting were breath taking. The cool part for me is I had been in Athens the week before and was able to visit the school of Athens in the Parthenon and discuss the philosophers there. Seeing it all come together was simply breath taking. I could have stayed in this room all day. My group was leaving though, but my art loving tour guide showed me where some of my other favorite artist had donated works as well. He showed me two paintings by Salvador Dali.
By the time we were finished with the tour we were exhausted from covering a lot of ground in a short amount time. Luckily, it was still before noon so we had time to get lunch and rest a little bit before exploring the rest of Rome. It was a beautiful tour and I highly recommend going before the doors open to the rest of the public (privileged entrance tour).