This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.
I had never given much thought to the Vatican. Did I want to visit it? Not really. I’m not Catholic, but maybe standing in St. Peter’s Square with tens of thousands of nuns and other Pope fans could be a scene to be experienced. I could earn some points with my Catholic friends and family, maybe. Sure, I would step inside St. Peter’s Basilica and it would probably be amazing, like the other 50 cathedrals and basilicas and churches I would see on my trip. The Sistine Chapel was in there, right?
It all began to come clear when I started reading the “Top 10 Things to Do in Rome” lists. I learned there was something called the Vatican Museum, which is the fifth largest museum in the world. Oh no, I groaned, imagining room after room filled with paintings of the Virgin Mary and crucifixion scenes. But this was where the Sistine Chapel was. The Vatican Museum also held collections of Egyptian and Etruscan art, and tapestries, and something called a map room. I love maps. I went online and booked my advance ticket, as all the guides advised. I love how it has the fancy shield with keys in one corner and a QR code in the other.
I stopped at the hotel front desk to drop off my key, and the Indian desk clerk asked, “You are going to the Vatican today?”
The stereotypical Indian accent is sing-song, right? The stereotypical Italian accent is lilting, right? Now imagine an Indian speaking Italian, and you’ve almost got a one-man Broadway show.
When I confirmed that I was going to the Vatican he said, “We are getting a lot of Argentinian tourists here as a result of the Pope being Argentine.”
That explained why I had heard so much Spanish on the streets, even in the short time I had been there. Spanish is the only language besides Hebrew I can identify with any certainty, although I can’t tell an Argentine accent from a Mexican or Spanish one.
I managed to not get lost in the two blocks between my hotel and the Metro. There was a 10-foot-tall “M” above the entrance, too, so even I couldn’t miss it. As metros go, Rome’s was unremarkable. It wasn’t gleaming like the one in Washington, DC, or quirky like London’s Underground. There were some clever ads, the cars were covered with graffiti, the signage was clear. It was all in Italian, so my Spanish helped but even English would have helped. For instance “Teatro”—anyone would know that means “Theater,” right?
It seems like a lot of people’s worst fears about travel involve getting on the wrong train/bus/boat and ending up in the wrong place. That’s the beauty of subway systems. Once you’re inside the paid fare zone, if you go in the wrong direction or get off at the wrong stop, you just get back on and keep at it until you get it right.
I zipped right along and found myself at the Vatican stop in 10 minutes. There was about a 10-minute walk along shop-lined streets to get to the actual Vatican complex, and I enjoyed ogling the beautiful leather goods and clothes (all black, of course—this was Italy) in the window displays.
I followed the signs to the museum and was very glad I had bought my ticket ahead of time, because there must have been 500 people in line for same-day tickets. I felt very smug and smart striding past them in the ticketholders’ line, although I was a little worried I would get to the entrance and they would tell me my ticket was a fake. Didn’t I know about all those online ticket scams? Get to the back of the line!
But the ticket was good; a guard scanned it and then I stood in line to exchange it for the fancy one below. Then I got into another line to pick up a map and audio guide; then I was in.
I emerged five hours later and will write tomorrow about what I saw.