One day in the Eternal City is not enough. It's not even close. So, on our Mediterranean Carnival Cruise, it took a lot of thinking to decide how we were to best spend our day in Rome.
On a cruise in 2011, I made my first trip to Rome. It was immensely hot and insanely busy, but I had an incredible day. It was also overwhelming - being a city I had dreamed of visiting for years, and knowing we only had a few hours to do it in. As it was the first visit for all of us, we employed my favourite approach to tourism - the eat-wander-perch approach (perfected whilst inter-railing). It was a great day, but with the heat and crowds, wandering was quite difficult, and we were exhausted by the end of the afternoon.
For this visit, we decided to plan what we wanted to do in advance. There were nine of us in total, so three of us decided to go to the Colloseum, and the rest of us, the Vatican Museum.
We pre-booked tickets for the Vatican Museum tour - which was an excellent decision - as we avoided wasting hours waiting in the July heat, especially as we were short on time. Next time, I would probably allow more time to make our way to the museum entrance; we didn't anticipate how far around the vatican itself stretches, so less rushing and more time to take in the local cafes and souvenir shops/sellers may have been preferable. Nevertheless, once we joined the pre-booked tickets queue, we made our way into the entrance hall almost immediately.
However, there are a number of different tours to choose from ....
I thoroughly enjoyed our tour - but it wasn't exactly an easy experience...
The entrance area was hugely busy, and considering we were in the peak July season, I supposed they were probably booked to capacity. Even considering, there were SO many people that it was quite a slog. We promptly made our way through the security checkpoint and found the nearest bit of space we could. Incidentally, we ended up in....
Soon after, we made our way to the vehicles/transportation....which I found surprisingly fascinating. It was also, ironically, the most peaceful part of the day.
Eating a pizza roll outside was a lovely way to see the perfect, beautiful gardens - but because of the huge crowds (although less than elsewhere) it was still a little difficult to take it in. Could still appreciate the beauty, and the perfect appearance of the building from the outside
We soon made our way towards the Sistine chapel....which was an assault in itself.
I found it a shame that the Sistine chapel can only be reached by going one way through such a long route. Because everybody followed the signposts just to try and see the chapel, enormous numbers of people were rushing through the preceding galleries - some of which were absolutely spectacular. It felt like a fight to actually take time out to enjoy something fully.
I also discovered my new pet peeve...tourists videoing things through an iPad. This drives me absolutely CRAZY!! Don't get me wrong, I think they're brilliant instruments for using/editing photos, and you can certainly do a lot with them, but I cannot stand seeing people not taking in an experience properly as they are just watching it on their tablet screen. Particularly annoying as these people weren't really watching where they were going at all, so making movement even more difficult for me and my family eagerly trying to glimpse artwork through the crowds.
As you would expect, there are stunning views abound from this part of Rome, and wide open windows showing off the city on such a beautiful day punctuated the tour. We took a number of breaks at these windows trying to take in a little peace.
Eventually, we reached the Sistine Chapel. The exhibits before it were so, SO crowded, to the point that I'd never experience tourist crowds like it, that we were slightly hassled and stressed by the time we reached it. It seemed bizarre to me that there was no option for us to bypass the couple of galleries beforehand. We had a member of the family with walking problems, so by the time we reached the chapel it had become rather difficult.
Nevertheless, the Sistine Chapel is something you really can't miss whilst in Rome, and it was still an incredible sight to behold. The chapel itself was darker than I expected - perhaps little or no artificial lighting is used to avoid damaging the artwork. I feel that it would be a beautifully peaceful and serene place, but we still had to fight through crowds to even find a spot to stand still in, and take it all in. Add to this the regular shouts of "SILENCE" over a microphone, and all in all the experience was a little disappointing. I imagine that to really get the most out of this chapel, you would need a significant amount of time to sit, or even lie on the floor, in undisturbed peace. Unfortunately, it's just the nature of the beast that this would never be plausible.
All in all, my visit to the Vatican Museums was fascinating, but by no means a perfect tourism experience. I would love to go and re-visit in an off-peak season, although not convinced that it would be entirely better then - just more bearable when the temperature is lower. I would also like to sample one of the other tours - perhaps one of the gardens, as they looked to be absolutely exquisite.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TravelPod member and not of TravelPod.com.