Finally time for a visit to the Vatican! On the way there we crossed the Ponte Sant' Angelo to Castel Sant' Angelo before veering off into Via della Concillazione that took us straight to Piazza San Pietro. Piazza San Pietro, designed by Bernini, is an enormous square surrounded by huge columns with 140 saints on top of them, and an enormous obelisk in the middle.
We planned to go to the Vatican Museums first, at the back side of the St Peter's Basilica, since we had heard that there would always be a lot of people lining up to get in there to see, in particular, the Sistine Chapel. But once we found the line, it was literally over 500 meters, and standing in the sun plus wasting at least an hour or so was not an option for us.
...and me putting the pant legs onto my shorts...
So instead we went to the amazing St Peter's Basilica. Seeing the sheer size of it and then walking in makes you stay there dumbfounded. At a loss for words for the basilica, we (together with a crowd that consequently got larger and larger) followed a guide offering a free tour in English of the basilica, scurrying behind him while trying to deal with Emilia's stroller (which wasn't allowed in the church) and me putting the pant legs onto my shorts (since you're not allowed in with shorts).
Fredrika, respecting my vast desire for knowledge and stories, took care of checking in the stroller to the storage department while I ran to catch up with the guide. After some searching, I found him, and it had definitely been worth the chase! The guide, soon to be known as Douglas, spoke with great intensity and told us the most intriguing stories while showing us artifacts in the basilica. Douglas, doing guiding tours while he had one more paper to write to finish his Master's degree (if I'm not mistaken here), was a welcome change to normal tour guides. I just loved when he closed his eyes, just for a short while, and kept on talking with such passion you just had to get interested! I really hope I am/can become as interesting in my line of work as he is in his.
Eventually, Fredrika and Emilia found me listening intensely to Douglas and we completed the tour together. One eye-opening secret Grand Master D (ok, Douglas) let us in on was that all the paintings in St Peter's Basilica is actually mosaics; the paintings nowadays consist of small, small tiles instead. Raphael's last painting in there is actually "just" a mosaic copy of his last painting!
Raphael's last painting in there is actually "just" a mosaic copy of his last painting!
After the tour, Douglas told his hang-arounds that he did tours for a company called Icon Tours. He was going to do a tour of the Vatican Museums that same afternoon and he promised that there would be almost no line to get in during lunch time. We were skeptical about that last statement, especially after our morning experience with the line, but still eager to tag along with the tour. We counted our money and came to the conclusion that it was really worth it (€25 per person).
Also, I really liked their way of doing business. Send a guide in to do a free tour of the basilica, to prove his knowledge and entertainment level and to get people interested, really made me feel that they deserved us going on a tour with them that would cost us money. I like when people sell you something/get you interested by proving their skills, showing how interesting they are, as opposed to just being pushy and bullying.
We had a quick and early lunch at a near-by café and then met up with Douglas and everyone else that wanted to go with that tour. Different from many other tourist guides, Douglas didn't see Emilia as a problem at all, but instead handled the situation with us having a baby with us with warmth and respect, as well as having an extra large tour group that day.
On the way to the Vatican Museums, Douglas and I discussed Dan Brown's book Angels and Demons and what impact it has had. He told me that the tourism to Rome had risen dramatically since the book came out, and that he had seen people literally standing with the book in their hands, trying to find the things mentioned in it. Also, he showed the tour group the passato from the book, which was actually not an underground tunnel but a passage way some meters up in the air.
To our amazement, the line to the Vatican Museums was non-existent during lunch time; the 500 meters of people were gone! I wont tell you about the tour here, you need to go on it to experience it. However, I just must say that the Sistine Chapel is an amazing place, particularly after reading and hearing so much about it. Michelangelo has accomplised something quite hard to fathom! Also, I have to say, it didn't look like I had pictured it would.
Within the Sistine Chapel everyone has to be quiet, and they have a lot of guards in there to ensure silence, amongst other things. While I was admiring the ceiling, one of the guards came up to Fredrika and Emilia and threw a smile at Emilia. Emilia got really happy and started screaming and waving her arms, so the guard, while smiling, shooshed Emilia and hastily left.
At the end of the tour, which I believe lasted for a good three hours, Emilia was understandably a little bored and a little hungry. We finished with the Sistine Chapel and then went back to the hotel.