Friday, March 31, 2017

[VATICAN CITY] The Sistine Chapel Evacuation Center

Day 1 was reserved for the Vatican except that there really is no winning against the long tourist lines if you don’t have a reservation. If you just want to take a selfie at St. Peter’s Square, then you’ll be done in less than half an hour. If you want a more eventful Vatican excursion, then you are better off booking your reservation online. I arrived on a Thursday and still managed to get slots for the Vatican Museum for the next day. It all depends on the season. I also suppose that weekends are way busier.

Considered as the smallest state in the world, the Vatican is barely a square kilometer big. The inhabitants are said to number around a thousand, although that figure doubles during working hours when its staff members who live outside its walls come in for work. It lies conveniently close to Old Rome and sometimes you can’t even clearly delineate where the Vatican ends and Rome begins. Most people just don’t give a shit and combine both in one itinerary. After all, not everyone is as OC as I am.

We did pass by the Vatican on my first day. What happened is we just shied away from the museum because of the long queues. Finding a parking space close to the Vatican’s walls is a real pain, which is why I suggest that you just get there via public transportation. You have two or three stops of Rome’s Metropolitano to consider depending on your main destination within the walls. As for us, we went straight to St. Peter’s Square when we found a parking space after five years of searching for one.

St. Peter’s Square was smaller than I imagined but then again my basis for it has always been the films that I’ve seen. Of course, everything always seems bigger onscreen. In the middle is an obelisk which I believe was imported from Egypt or something. The dome is the main attraction, ever omnipresent wherever you go. The next thing you’ll notice is the long line going into the basilica. Rumor has it that you can skip it if you pay the fixers outside who persistently coax you into purchasing a tour package. We opted not to.

After the selfies and photos were done, we went ahead and followed the road leading to Castel Sant’Angelo, fluidly transitioning to Old Rome for that day’s itinerary. When we got back home, my friend checked the schedule for the museum the next day and we immediately booked two tickets for the 13:30 time slot. Just Google "Vatican Museums" and it will lead you straight to its website. You can pay the ticket with a credit card. Print the voucher and exchange it for an actual ticket on the day of your tour.

You can skip the kilometric line outside with that printed voucher. Go straight to the entrance around 10 minutes before your intended time slot. You will see a separate line for group tours and online bookings. Both are usually empty. Wave at the poor sinners falling in line outside as you make your way to the door. You totally outwitted them today. Security upon entry is similar to that of an airport, so expect x-rays and trays, except that there are no restrictions with liquids this time around. After that, you’re in!

Go to the counter and get your ticket. It is important to exchange your voucher for an actual ticket because you will scan the ticket’s barcode on the turnstile once you get upstairs. If you don’t, the security personnel will ask you to go back down to get the ticket. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! After one more escalator ride, you’ll finally reach the stairs going up to the museum proper. You have a choice: left or right? Turn left for the complete experience and then choose if you want the long or short itinerary.

The short itinerary includes the mini Egyptian museum. The long one DOESN’T, which means you will have to go back there to take the short route if you want to see mummies. We opted for the long route first which leads you to a garden of sorts with a giant golden globe in the middle. I don’t know what it symbolizes. It looks downright apocalyptic to me, and defo post-modern. There is a café next to it if ever you feel like drinking an overpriced cappuccino. You drank a cappuccino at the Vatican. You’re so cool.

The first hall you enter has a good collection of busts and full body sculptures from Rome’s glory days. If you are a big fan of the classics, then this is YOUR hall. It’s also a good opportunity for you to practice your rusty Latin reading the inscriptions on those sculptures. The hall is neither too long nor too short. It won’t take you an hour to see everything unless you are big on details because you are a fan. After that, head to the stairs which has awesome ceiling paintings of philosophers on it. It will lead you to more sculptures.

This is the start of neck torture for you. As the ceilings are painted in intricate detail, you will be spending most of your time looking up. Perhaps you should come prepared with a neck brace. By all means, make a fashion statement! You’ll see more nude sculptures from Roman mythology as well as some ancient bath tubs large enough to host an orgy in honor of Bacchus. What? These ancient Romans loved taking a bath. After looking up and down and up and down and up again for photos, I just gave up.

Yeah, those artsy ceilings never end. It takes a man of great patience and a smartphone with a good memory card to keep up. One thing you realize about all this luxury is how effing rich the Catholic Church actually is. Paintings. Sculptures. Tapestries. Name it, the Vatican Museums have it. If you love art that much, then I suggest spending the entire day here. After all, the ticket you get has no time limit. Just make sure that you get there early to beat the crowd. Perhaps, you can get an actual selfie that’s worth it.

Admission to the Sistine Chapel is included in the entrance fee but I don’t think you’ll enjoy it because as I predicted, it felt like an evacuation center. Taking either photo or video is NOT allowed inside but since there are, like, five guards for five million people cramped inside that chapel, it’s actually easy to snap an illegal selfie. In fact, you can see ours in this blog entry somewhere. No, we didn’t go to jail. No one even noticed. You’ll even see tourists blatantly pointing their cameras at the ceiling. Bad tourists! Bad!

But that doesn’t mean that the guards do not yell. A lot of them do and some of them are standing on an elevated stage as if that will help them catch desperate camwhores. We stayed for around 10 minutes inside before calling it quits. Don’t get me wrong, the ceilings are awesome. Some of the paintings even look like they are in 3D, as in they seem like they’re popping up from the ceiling itself. But the ambiance, bruh. It’s not for the faint of heart. After we’re done, we went back to the Egyptian museum.

The collection at the Egyptian museum was not that big but I enjoyed it somehow because I’m currently taking an online course on Egyptology. It is indeed different when you are looking at them on your laptop as opposed to seeing them for real right in front of you. Our Vatican trip ended at the spiral staircase which was an awesome conclusion in the form of a visually appealing downward spiral. That’s Instagram material right there. Just be careful running down, it’s kind of slippery!

[VATICAN CITY] The Sistine Chapel Evacuation Center

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