"Why," a friend asked me a few weeks ago, "would you pay extra to get into the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel when the tickets aren't really expensive?" Let me give you two words that immediately explain why any amount is worth the early access: No crowds. The early access tickets, which do cost quite a bit more, give VM/SC visitors about 45 minutes in the building before general tours and the public invade the place.
I hate crowds. I avoid shopping on Black Friday. I'll leave a store if there are throngs of people pushing and shoving. I even get a little tense when attending certain events where I can't move because of the mass of humanity surrounding me. I would pay 10-times the ticket price to avoid crowds in the Vatican.
At any rate, we arrived, as per our instructions, at the Vatican Museum entrance at 7:15 yesterday morning, and within a half hour, we were walking into the building and toward the Sistine Chapel. In our group, there were about 20 people, and there were probably two or three other groups there. All-in-all, I believe 100-125 people trekked through the museum while it was still closed. We walked through the map room, the tapestry rooms, and a number of other galleries before we finally walked into the Sistine Chapel.
The place is breathtaking. Because there were only 15-20 other people in the chapel when we entered, we spent a good 15 minutes or so sitting and studying the frescoes on the wall and ceilings. We sat and looked for a good 20 minutes while additional tour groups walked in. By almost 9:00 when we left, there were maybe 75 people in the chapel making it easy to walk around. We left and toured the museum, and once we walked through room after room of display, we ended up having a cappuccino in the cafeteria. (Side note: The cappuccino was very good, and the prices were about what one would pay in a bar in the city. What a shocker.)
Before going to the basilica, a few of us wanted to see the rooms that Raphael painted, so we headed there. Unfortunately, that meant that we had to fight the masses jockeying for positions in the crowd. We were so very crowded because it was noon and the general public had been traipsing through the galleries for almost three hours. I hate to use cliches, but we felt like shuffling salmon dancing upstream.
Even though we had walked through some of the rooms and the chapel previously, we were grateful for the chance to see some of the galleries again. Unfortunately, because there were 75,894,351 people trying to take photos and/or get through the galleries themselves, we were stuck in a honking, big, walking cloud of people. To add mayhem to the torture, a little man in front of us would stop in the middle of the walk, stairs, landing, etc. and try to fix this or that. He also looked like he had no idea where on God's earth he was. (More on him later...)
If you look at the photos, you can see exactly what I mean, so I won't have to write about it and relive that horror. However, do look at that moving mass of faithful.... that horde of humanity...that crowd of crawling characters...those M&M-snacking souls. We slid our way through countless galleries filled with work by more modern artist until we arrived in the Sistine Chapel. We spend fewer than 10 seconds standing there before we wended our way to the entrance. It wasn't easy. The once half-empty chapel had enough occupants to start a small country.
We pushed our way to the back and eventually got through to the passageway between the museums and basilica. The basilica was quite cooler inside than out and a lot less crowded than the museums. It was also a lot nicer because the built it of marble and there weren't anywhere near 20,000 people in it (St. Peter's can hold 20,000 people.).
Tomorrow I'll tell you about the little, old man and why I'm mad at Pope Francis (even though he's the coolest pope around).
Ciao a tutti!