For first time visitors to Rome, a trip to Rome would not be complete without a trip to The Vatican. However, both Vruchi and I, had already been to Rome and visited the Vatican. Some of the friends we were travelling with had not seen it, and Vruchi suggested that, given it is a weekend, it is best to see it on a Sunday because you get to witness the Papal Mass. This was something I never got to experience on my last trip, so I decided to revisit the Vatican while Vruchi explored an off-beat Rome (Read about her off-beat Rome here). This would later turn out to be one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
To set some context, on Saturday afternoon following our visit to the Colosseum and surrounds, our friendly tour guide Rado asked us if we would like to have a guided tour of the Vatican on the Monday. We told him that we were flying out on Monday and we are planning to go see it on Sunday. His jaw dropped and his response was “Be sure to get there early”. In our naivety, our response was “Yep, we are going to wake up around 7”. Rado laughed and said “If you are there at 7, you’re late!”.
Wow! Ok so 7am is late! So Saturday had to be an early night. Well that was the plan until we stumbled across the Jewish Ghetto. A few glasses of wine and some late night card games, and before you know it, it was 4am and none of us had slept. At this point we thought to ourselves, if we are going to be early, lets be EARLY!!! Within half an hour, we all showered, got dressed and got in cabs and by 5am we were outside St Peters Basilica.
Arguably the most significant religious building in the world, where thousands of people flock regularly, but that morning it was just us. I literally had the opportunity to stand right in the centre of Vatican Square and watch the sunrise over the Basilica with no soul in sight! Unheard of! We were tired, hungry and extremely sleep deprived. However, it didn’t matter though, it was worth it for that moment.
Around 5:30am, we walked over to the Vatican Museum and began “queuing up”. It was funny because we were the first ones there so we actually had to figure out where the queue starts. So after three and half hours of coffees, sugary snacks and lots of laughter to pass the time and keep us alert, the gates to the Vatican opened and we were the first ones in. We actually became minor celebrities that day, as some Japanese tourists wanted to get a photo with the ‘people that were first in line, standing here since 5:30am”.
The inside of the Vatican was spectacular, as you would expect. The Sistine Chapel is a sight to behold and it is impossible not to be spellbound by the exemplary artwork within.
Once we finished the Vatican Museum, we decided to see the Basilica from the inside. One experience I would thoroughly recommend is to climb the steps of the Basilica. A word of warning though, there are 500+ steps and it gets steep, hot and extremely narrow. Whether it was adrenaline, or deliriousness from sleep deprivation, we decided to push through the pain (and boy was there pain!) and climb those stairs. During the process, we got to see the Papal Mass from the inside of the Basilica and, albeit from far away, got to see the Pope himself.
As far as the view from the top. I honestly do not have words that could describe it. A 360 degree view of one of the greatest cities on Earth.
When we made it back down to the bottom, Vatican Square was packed as everyone was waiting for the blessings of the Pope. We were all so tired at this point, we just sat on the ground and reflected on the day that was.
Stood in the middle of an empty Vatican Square - tick.
First in line at the Vatican - tick.
Witnessed a mass inside the Basilica - tick
Saw the Pope - tick
Climbed to the top of the Basilica - tick.
So much for resting on the sabbath! ;)