January 21, 2017: Vatican City

Country Count: S&D 32 / L&L 30

DuoLingo Italian Day 65

Saturday in Rome.  Today is our big day for going to see Vatican City which is no little thing to do.  But we did a good job of getting to bed last night and we were up at eight thirty this morning!  I think that we finally beat the jet lag.

Our plan for tomorrow is to take the day “off” from really doing anything and just get rest so that we are ready for our really early and long train travel day on Monday.  It is eleven hours from Rome to Syracuse and then we have to get from Syracuse to Noto.  We are going to be so exhausted by the end of all of that.  And Dominica has to pack us up tomorrow, too.

Dominica and I got up and got ready to go.  Luciana got up more or less with us.  Liesl was the last one to get up.  It took us until ten thirty to have everyone ready to go.  We bought tickets for the Vatican online which costs an extra four Euros per ticket but makes you able to bypass the potentially many hour long line that happens at Vatican City itself, so well worth it.  Tickets for Dominica and I were sixteen Euros each and Liesl was eight Euros and Luciana was free.  Fifty two Euros for a day in Vatican City.  Dominica wanted me to book an earlier time to get in but I pushed us back to one thirty, we were very thankful later that I did this.

We started the day by walking from the apartment past the Colosseum to our local bus stop for the City Sightseeing Tours which we had purchased for 72 hours and which meant that we had access to ride until 12:30 today. It was just after eleven when we got onto the bus.  We knew that this was a one way ride, but that was what mattered.  We had loads of time at the end of the day to figure out how to get home, but we were in a time crunch to get to Vatican City this morning.  Luckily I had walked to it the other night so I knew where things were and how to get to and from, more or less.

The bus dropped us off at stop seven (we started at stop three at the Colosseum) which is near the San Angelo walking bridge over the Tiber (this is my fifth bridge that I have walked over the river now).  We walked over and walked up the main way to Vatican City and Saint Peter’s Basilica.  What an impressive building that is.

We had no coffee by this point and it was maybe twelve thirty, technically we had an hour to go before our reservations, and Dominica was getting desperate.  We looked around for coffee options but there were not very many.  The street leading to Vatican City is full of hawkers, homeless, things like the Hard Rock Cafe gift shop but nothing useful or nice.  There was a side street that we were able to go down to get to a really nice McDonald’s, one of the new ones that is fully automated and has lots of higher end food options.  We decided to duck in there for some quick McCafe as they are the only restaurant that you can find in Italy that understands the idea of take away coffee.  Want coffee on the go?  McDonald’s is it.

The girls ended up wanting food so we got croissants and coffee and ate at McDonald’s quickly before heading out.  This is one of the first totally automated ordering McD’s that I have found.  I’ve seen it before, but normally it is hybrid.  This worked really well.  And so fast.  Insanely fast.  Food is ready as soon as you get to the counter.  They should have eliminated the cashiers decades ago.

McDonald’s in Europe tend to be pretty high end.  They are super clean, expensive, managed incredibly well and the customer service is excellent.  Not that they are bad in the US, they are often very good, but they go another step beyond in Europe most of the time.  And the coffee was very good this time, unlike what we got in Romania at the Bucharesti train station six months ago.

We got into Vatican City and found out rather quickly that we were really far from the ticket office and the museum.  There is nothing labeled anywhere on any map and everything makes it appear that you just go into Vatican City via the main road; there are no signs or guides on anything sending you somewhere else. Well, that’s not where you go.  We were very, very far away from the museum entrance and we needed to hike a long way around the outside of Vatican City to get to the entrance in the wall that takes you into the Vatican Museums.  Crazy.

So instead of being an hour early, we were now racing to get to the museum before our tickets expired.  We made it, but by five minutes.  In all, it took us five minutes short of four hours to get from our apartment to the entrance to the museum at Vatican City.  It’s only like three miles away, if that!  Once we were really, really close there were a few poorly placed signs, but almost nothing.  We were never totally sure that we were or were not going the right way.  Even the entrance itself is not properly marked.  For those wondering, the museum entrance is on the outside of Vatican City’s walls, on the north east corner of the country.

So at one thirty we were in and underway to see the museum.  All of the extra walking hit us hard, we were exhausted and soar before even starting on the museum, which is epically large on its own.  It’s a good thing that we had our Piggyback Rider Explorer or we could not have even gotten to the museum let alone done it all afternoon.

The museum itself was excellent, although with the kids we had to do it in a very cursory way.  The ancient civilizations exhibit was really cool with the best old stone tablet display that I have ever seen.  Luciana really loved looking at ancient Egyptian amulets and after seeing them with me had to take her sister over to see them and tell her all about them.

Liesl loved all of the paintings, especially the ceiling frescos.  She could not stop craning her neck to see all of the artwork that was part of the museum itself!  Liesl could have probably spent all day there, Luciana was not so impressed with the art.  It’s a little tough when the two have such widely different versions of what interests them in a museum.

Unlike the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, the Vatican Museums did not have any obvious activities to keep kids engaged which was a big disappointment, the girls loved doing that in Athens and also at the Edward Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway.  The Vatican Museums are really designed to keep people moving, though, as they are overwhelmed with people and there isn’t possibly time for people to really see things.  It kind of defeats the purpose, though.  You pretty much need to know what you are there to see, go right to it and do your best to get to see it.  There is so much to see and so many people and only a tiny fraction of what they have there is even available for the public to see at all.

We had a good time and Dominica got to see the things that she really wanted to see.  At one point I sat with the girls while Dominica went to figure out where her one painting that was her “must see” was located and the guards would not let her come back to us!  What a pain.  They even stopped her using her phone, but not until after she had managed to tell me where to meet her. So we had to skip a bunch and go see her at the Sistine Chapel.

After doing the chapel, which is pretty much a mob of people crammed elbow to elbow in one room, we were ready to wrap it up.  The kids were tired and we knew that we had a long, long way to go yet to get home.

It probably took another hour to get out of the museum.  We had to wind our way to the exit, go through gift shops (where both girls bought tiny replicas of ancient scarab beetle carvings) and then go to the post office so that the girls could write a postcard to their great grandfather Tocco and send it off from the Vatican City post office (with real Vatican City stamps and post office mark on it!)

Once out of the museum we started our very long hike back to the apartment.  We were nearly back to the Tiber when everyone was too tired and hungry so we stopped at a nice little trattoria for pasta.  They did a pasta with tomato sauce for Dominica and me; and they did pasta with cheese for the girls.  The girls devoured it and wanted more!  That never happens.  We are always throwing their food away or eating it ourselves.  We had great wine, great espresso and since everyone was still hungry we added on some bruschetta as well.  Liesl had a bit of that, too.

After dinner (or lunch, it was really our only meal for the day) we walked on back to the apartment which took more than another hour.  By the time that we were back, just before nine, we had walked twelve kilometers with at least half of that with me having one of the girls riding on my back on our Piggyback Rider Explorer back pack.  Mostly Luciana rides (forty pounds) but sometimes Liesl takes a turn on it to give her feet a break (fifty pounds.)

An hour after we got back, Dominica sent me out running errands.  Getting cash, going to the market and picking up pizza.  That took me forty five minutes and gave me another one and a third kilometers of walking!  Liesl requested that I get her milk and cookies, so I had to find an open store.

We got everyone into bed around midnight.  Luciana was asleep for hours by that point.  Dominica was exhausted and kept saying that she needed to sleep but, as always, it takes hours of her saying that before she will actually go to bed. Liesl and I were wide awake with loads of energy, but we got Liesl into bed at midnight and I was winding down.

I considered going out on my own as this is our last chance to actually go out while in Rome but I really did not feel like going out on my own and decided to just stay in and take it easy.