Rome Italy Day 3 - July 31, 2018

There are more than a billion Catholics in the world. At times, yesterday’s visit to the Vatican felt like they’d all stopped by to say hello. That’s the overwhelming takeaway from day 3: the massive size of the surroundings, and the crushing masses of humanity longing to experience all that it can offer. Toss in triple digit heat, and an impending convocation of 60,000 altar boys (we Californians say “altar servers”), and the first thought is will we all fit? The answer is yes . . . Sort of.

Our tour director prepared us with several comments about “jumping the line” and “early entrance.” At first it sounds leisurely, right up until the coach rolls up. Then we realize that all the tour companies have “jump the line” status. This could be a problem. People, hordes of them, are everywhere, milling about, as if movement would stave off the heat. Our tour director, Sasha, explains the need to use the Vatican “Radios” for listening to our local guide. There is no allowance for outside communication devices. “Holy radios” - who knew?

We meet our local guide, “Christina,” who makes it clear up front that she brooks no BS - from any source. Think younger Rita Moreno with a splash of R. Lee Ermey tossed in. We get the rules - stay together, if you stray you will be lost and there’s little or no chance of getting caught up. There are 7 kilometers of gallery space, and seeing all of it - even momentarily, would occupy the next year of our lives. We have a course charted, and we must not deviate.

The early crowd before the real crowds of the afternoon.

Upon arrival in the entrance area - here you “enter through the gift shop,” Blaise fulfills his brother’s request and buys John a “rosary from the Vatican.” Fittingly it is blue and gold.

Vatican Museum Entrance

The plazas are expansive, and need to be. Even with our “early entrance privileges” there are dozens of groups congregating around the diminshing shady locations. Christina delivers the inside scoop on the Sistine Chapel - which will be one of the hallmarks of this visit. We only get bits and pieces of the stories, however, thanks to the efficiency of the Holy radios.

A little fresh air before entering the gallery.

Once the chapel has been explained, we embark on the first of three gallery walk throughs which will lead us to the chapel. The sculpture gallery is almost an afterthought - though indoors, there is no air conditioning, and sparse ventilation. Keep moving.

The best views were straight up.


From sculptures we move to the tapestries room. These are beautifully intricate, but prove difficult to capture in full. We learn that each one of these take years to create, and are centuries old.

Tapestry details.
Map Room

Finally, we arrive at the map room. The maps were the will of Pope Gregory VIII, who commissioned development of these to showcase the vastness of his domain. They are remarkably detailed considering the limitations of the cartographers.

We are finally at the threshold of the Sistine chapel. Again, we are cautioned against photography, and of the need for silence.

On the way to the Sistine Chapel

The chapel does not disappoint. And we abide by the rules. It feels as though we are the only ones, as there is a low murmur inside the hall, one which is stilled only momentarily by the intermittent commands of an unseen speaker demanding “Silencio! Silence.” I see a priest in the corner, and grab Blaise’s rosary and request a blessing for the rosary and a prayer for Blaise’s back pain. The experience is emotionally overwhelming for me. Despite the throngs of people present, the visit is profound.

From the chapel we reassemble in St. Peter’s Square, and get a sense of the. vastress of this afternoon’s altar server event. Sixty thousand folding chairs.

St Peter’s Square

The Basilica awaits us next, and its majesty defies description in words.

St. Peter's Basilica
Jubilee Door to St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica
Swiss Guards

We experienced huge crowds, mostly youth groups who were seeking shade in the columns surrounding St. Peter’s Square when we exited.

Following the Basilica visit, we have some time for lunch. Ours is spent rehydrating - water and Gatorade. Food seems otherwise unnecessary at most, a terrible idea at worst.

Our tour guides, Sasha and Christina.

We reboard our coach, only to find that we are two short. Our Australian companions are nowhere to be found. We press on regardless, and take a scenic route to the Colosseum grounds. Christina warns all to avoid the street vendors and their cold water, as it is often from untested, bacteria-rich sources. We arrive near the Arch of Constantino, which we’re told served as inspiration for the Parisian Arc de Triomph. The Colosseum is teeming with fans, not unlike its Los Angeles relative on Fall weekends. It is in surprisingly good shape, and we are able to navigate two levels. Christina tells us that the levels are organized according to social strata, with the most well connected and wealthy of the Imprerial era enjoying the best seats. It all sounds more than vaguely familiar. . . .

Arc de Triomphe

Our time on site, which seemed rather limited at the outset, turns out to be more than enough. The unrelenting heat is an adversary worthy of the most formidable of gladiators. We gratefully stagger toward the chilled coach, and head for home base, anticipating good talk, cold beer, and a nap before dinner, the day’s step count well above 10,000.

View of Colosseum from entrance to the restaurant.

Dinner is spectacular. The venue is hauntingly close to our travels on Monday, as a sliver of the Colosseum is visible from the alley’s end. Entrance takes us downstairs, into what looks and feels like ruins of the ancient city. The meal itself is tasty, but it is punctuated with a trio of opera singing entertainers, which transform the quiet meal into a truly unique dining experience. These Trafalgar folk know what to track down and add to the itinerary.

Blaise unwittingly became part of the entertainment.

With full hearts and fuller stomachs, we head for the home base, wondering what tomorrow can do for an encore.

Created By
Theresa Jackson

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