The day Julianna, Baba, and I said farewell to the Rhapsody of the Seas started bright and early to finish packing our carry-ons and eat our last breakfast aboard. Baba was quite impressed by the efficiency of Royal Caribbean’s unloading process. The area where we picked up our bags was much more efficient than other cruise lines she had been on.
We got on our tour bus and had an hour ride inland before reaching the Vatican City in the ancient Italian city of Rome. We met our guide there and he helped us into the city state, a country all of its own. We bypassed a mile long line up around the Vatican City thanks to our tour. I would highly recommend booking a tour so you could bypass the line as well. The Vatican accepts millions of visitors a year, and I wouldn’t want to spend a whole day in Rome waiting outside. Once in, we had to go through tight airport-like security.
Once inside, he told us about the Pope (who was currently visiting the US) and how the Vatican prints its own currency and stamps; later we would check this out for ourselves, and even pick up a couple coins for my grandfather’s collection. Our guide mentioned how the Pope’s used to reside within the Royal Palaces, but in the 19th century the monarchy fell and the Pope became a prisoner to the Vatican. It wasn’t until the 1930s that a treaty was made so the Pope controlled their own new country, Vatican City, along with its 500 or so residents. He told us about their military and the additional Swiss Guard, who must come from at least seven generations of pure Swiss blood along with the special training, using only a spear. It’s a very high honour, and the Swiss Guard get to retire at a very early age, wealthy.
Following our guide further into the museum, we listened as he explained the different parts of the Sistine chapel on a touch screen outside. He moved from Alpha to Omega, beginning to end. Starting with God creating the darkness and the light, then Adam, then Eve, and the first sin, as well as Noah’s rise and fall and of course Adam not quite being able to reach God. He explained how significant this was, and how Michelangelo could capture all of everything that ever was in just two fingers not quite meeting. Three religions: Judaism, Islamism, and Christianity, explained in one image: how we are separated from God but he is reaching out for us and us for him. He went on to show the frescoes of the end of life on earth showing the difference between the ascent into heaven and descent into hell and how Jesus is in the middle and all revolves around him. He told us how Michelangelo insisted on painting the background in this very expensive blue because he wanted to capture it perfectly.
Then we toured through the Vatican Museum where halls upon halls of frescoes lined the walls, beautifully painted and seemingly moved. My favourite was the room of maps; maps of Italy painted along a long corridor, with the most important cities on the end. Venezia and Firenze were among them. Our guide told us of their accuracy and how they were constantly being updated for military purposes.
We would soon come to the famous Sistine Chapel, where we covered out of respect and kept silent in awe. I looked up at its splendor, and took the five minutes we were given to take it all in. It was just as our guide described.