Italy 2012: Day 2, The Vatican
I woke up the next day feeling refreshed and rested. I got lucky since my bed was a single placed in the corner and blocked by the lockers, which made it seem like I had my own private space. Years of traveling to Europe made me immune to jet lag as well so I was, once again, ready to seize the day. One of the advantages of being a morning person is that everyone else seems to still be asleep when you get up in the morning so you hardly ever have to wait in line to use the loo or have a hard time finding an open spot at the breakfast table.
I loved Dreaming Rome, the hostel I stayed at. Despite it’s distance from the city center, the area is very accessible and apartments surround the building itself. It was therefore, not unusual to see people smoking from their balconies while sipping their espresso or clothes hanging on various clothing lines to dry from the window of the breakfast room. The guys managing the hostel were also some of the nicest, not to mention versatile. During my four-night stay, they played the roles of cook, banker, tour guide, and salesmen respectively.
While eating breakfast, I checked my email just out of habit, not really expecting anything of importance, when I saw an email from the bishop’s office. I opened it, read it, and felt immediately ecstatic. As it turned out, I did leave my camera there and someone found it and turned it in. I muttered many words of gratitude, directed at the ceiling and finished my breakfast in a hurry. It was already 8:30 a.m. and I needed to now swing by the bishop’s office to pick up my camera before heading towards The Vatican.
I arrived at the bishop’s office around 9:15 that morning and asked for the guy whose name was listed on the email. I was sure he saw the delight and excitement on my face as I identified myself. After receiving my camera back, I thanked him profusely. He then gave me a curt nod and smiled.
It was nearing 9:30 a.m. when I made my way towards The Vatican to join the throngs of people all over the world waiting to see Pope Benedict. I arrived half an hour later and was obligated to go through a stringent security check. Once through, I secured a seat towards the back and waited patiently until the program began. I saw many Swiss guards dressed in their brightly colored uniforms. I also saw several dozen youth groups waiving flags from their respective countries. They were also singing a chorus of songs.
The sun was particularly bright that day and despite the cooler temperature indicated by the barometer, it felt hotter. The area was completely exposed to the sunlight so I improvised to prevent myself from getting sunburned. Thankfully, just moments after, the event we’ve all been waiting for finally arrived.
A burst of cheering became louder and louder as the Pope made his way out of St. Peter’s Basilica and onto the specially constructed stage. He waved his hand, gave a benediction before being helped by several priests into the pope mobile. He traveled very slowly, curving through the mass of people who applauded and screamed as he passed by. I was able to see him up close, which turned out to be more exciting than I expected. The whole experience was very interesting to say the least. Most of the time, whenever you see a congregation of people gathered at the Vatican, it’s usually for something solemn like a mass, therefore restraining all movement and excitement of seeing the Pope. This was nothing like that at all. It reminded me more of a pep rally than anything. The whole event lasted for several hours. I really had no choice but to stick with it since all of the Vatican attractions were closed anyway, at least until the gathering was finished. Rather than commuting someplace again, I endured the blazing sun and joined in the endless applause.
It was close to 1 p.m. when St. Peter’s Basilica was finally open to the pubic that day. By that time, I felt knackered despite the lack of movement for the past two and half hours. The heat took a toll and I couldn’t be more pleased to feel the air conditioning inside the most famous church in the world.
Wow! My jaw dropped as soon as I entered the church. No matter how many pictures you’ve seen, nothing will prepare you when seeing it for the first time. “Wow, it’s huge,” I thought. It really was big and the interior was like a museum itself. Fine art was on every corner of the church. The main altar crafted by Lorenzo Bernini himself was incredibly ornate and huge. It must have been at least 40 feet high and 15 feet wide. Then there’s Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” quite possibly the most fluid sculpture ever made. It’s nowhere near as big as “David” but it certainly spoke volumes. If you stare at it long enough, you’ll be able to feel the Virgin Mary’s pain of losing her son.
I had a ticket to go up the cupola, over 325 steps up to the top. The first half was a piece of cake. It was just like climbing up a staircase at any other building. There were also plenty of rest points where you can gaze down and be rewarded with spectacular views of the nave. It was the last quarter of the hike that proved to be tedious because of the tight space and continuous circular motion that followed the pathway towards the top of the dome. I do not recommend it for anyone with vertigo or claustrophobia. If you can sustain the additional 10-15 minutes of laborious climb however, the reward is utterly priceless: a bird’s eye view of the Vatican state and the surrounding parts of Rome.