One of my favorite things we did here was a nighttime walking tour led by the well-known expert in Roman history: yours truly. Actually, not. With the aid of our Rick Steve’s guidebook (yay, Rick!), we wandered through the well-lit streets of Rome reading about the significance of various statues, fountains, and buildings. Going at our own pace. Stopping for a meal when it started to rain. People watching. The best part? It was free. Actually, the very best part? No lineups! Europe has, for me, cultivated a phobia of lineups that I am currently working with my psychiatrist (Tyler) to overcome. Rome offered a healthy dose of shock treatment.
Our first full day in Rome, we woke early and got in line for the combo ticket that would take us to Palatine Hill, the Forum, and the Coliseum. It was a very slow moving line, taking a full two hours to get through the entrance gates. Of course, there are ways you can “skip the line” – get the Roma Pass, or book a guided tour – but ever the adventurous tourists, we opted to learn about lineups the hard way. So we waited. Unfortunately, due to some bad experiences with some incredibly rude Italians prior to landing in Rome, we were short on patience and even shorter on common courtesies. Fortunately for us, we need not worry about dealing with line cutters. You know those people who think their time is more valuable than yours? Thankfully, we had a short, snappy blond Italian woman standing guard behind us who certainly wasn’t afraid to give any line-cutters the boot. Her skills of scorn would not be wasted as this line-up was well supplied with would-be budgers. “No! No! No!”, she would tsk and cluck her tongue loudly as a group of teenagers pretended to play dumb. She gestured wildly to the back of the line, continued clucking and shooing them until they finally acknowledged they’d been busted and moved away sheepishly. Ever the pacifists, and fed up with rudeness, Tyler and I were happy to let Mama Italy do her thing. The theatrics continued, edging up in intensity and frequency as we neared the ticket counter. The lineup compacted. Everyone stood butts to fronts, shoulder to shoulder, breathing in each other’s recycled air. The smell of sweaty bodies wafted up from the underarms of hundreds of overheated tourists. People started pushing. This lineup was exploring the limits of my patience. And finally, we were in.
Next came the Vatican. There are a few greatest hits in Vatican City, also known as the world’s smallest country. These include Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum, which is also the site of Michelangelo’s famed work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. As Tyler and I approached Saint Peter’s square at the crack of 1pm, when lineups are purportedly at their shortest, we could see a river of people flowing in a liquid line from some invisible point beyond the horizon. We sought out the source of this veritable Nile of people and soon found out it was “Basilica” line. So, without delay, we jumped in so that we too could go with the flow. If there’s a master list of “the world’s top 10 longest line-ups”, I felt like we were about to break the Guinness World Record. But where Rome hasn’t quite got the “pay-then-enter” process quite figured out Vatican City was, in comparison, a torrent of white water. It was sink or swim in this lineup as we crashed through rapids of people, people, people. I will say, St. Peter’s Basilica was worth it. When the world’s longest lineup empties into the world’s largest church, it’s as if the river of people drains into the entire ocean. We were quickly swallowed in its aisles, apses, and naves, wondering where everyone went. Wow!
One down, one to go. The Vatican Museum, aka the lineup of the century. I don’t know if there’s anything beautiful or special enough in this world to endure a lineup like the one we stood in for the Sistine Chapel. The entire experience of moving through the Vatican Museum was one of being in a perpetual lineup. From the end of the ticket line that clung to a good length of Vatican City’s walls, to the exit doors of the Sistine Chapel, this line was kilometres (and kilometres) long. I have never seen the likes of it before and if I ever find myself at the end of one again, I’ll be running in the opposite direction. After seeing the Sistine Chapel, we did sneak into a lesser known exhibit, recommended by our friend Jana: the Popemobile museum. This basement space tucked below the museum’s cafeteria houses all of the Pope’s modes of transport from years gone by. Perhaps we enjoyed this the most because it was the only part of the Vatican Museum that didn’t feel like we were wading through a gauntlet of people. From the ornate carriages, to the bullet proof white Land Rover, to the powder blue Volkswagen Beetle, it was pretty cool to see the popemobile collection in one, relatively people-free place.
As we collected our backpack from the museum’s baggage check and exited out the doors to dusk falling on Vatican City, Tyler took a big breath and summarized by saying, “That was a true Roman experience”. What is a Roman experience? Is it the wonder of parading around the domed Pantheon in all its geometric splendor? The thrill of looking down on the coliseum’s arena floor, imagining mobs of Romans as they cheer on the gruesome theatrics? Is it craning your neck to witness Michelangelo’s labor of love on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? For me, half of the Roman experience was the ancient sites and classic works of art. The other half was waiting in line to see them. Psychiatrist update: shock treatment ineffective. Patient’s fear of lineups has not diminished. We will commence with psychoanalysis shortly.
Rome was our last stop on the European tour. Now for something a bit different: Mai Tai anyone? To Bangkok we go…