Christmas in Italy – Exploring the Vatican

Christmas in Italy – Exploring the Vatican

In keeping with the tradition of adventure, Sarah and I went on a big trip for Christmas and New Years!

This year, we met up with Sarah’s family in Italy, traveling to Rome and Florence; not quite a perfect midpoint for everyone, but it was close enough. And, also, you know. Rome. Florence. Amazing!

Please forgive me for some of these being a bit out of order… the posts are organized somewhat chronologically… but also organized by theme and location.  Some may not be exactly in chronological order, so for reference please see the initial summary post, which has a complete day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of the adventure.


Saturday 23-Dec-2017


Rome may be named after the Roman Empire, but the Vatican’s influence is impossible to miss.

Every block, or so it seemed at least, was a small devotional built into the wall. Churches were ubiquitous throughout the city; in the evenings the city would ring with bells.

We just so happened to be in town for a celebration fairly important to the Church, something called “Christmas Eve”, and so were able to hear a particularly impressive symphony of church bells ringing in the Christmas Mass. The day before we heard those bells, though, we visited the Vatican itself.


Let’s see… the day started out quite lovely – good weather, if I remember, though I believe I was the late-riser of the day, with Sarah having gotten up a fair bit earlier than I did. But all’s fair, as we all headed out for a quick breakfast at a rather famous cafe called Cafe Grecco.

I hadn’t heard of it before, but that’s because I’m uncultured – when I mentioned it to my Mom, she got all kinds of jealous and wanted to know all about it. Turns out, Cafe Grecco was quite the spot in years past, full of famous poets and authors perfecting their work as they lived and studied in Rome. For us, it was a beautifully decorated spot for a bite of breakfast, and an excellent cup of coffee. And a very good way to start off a day of viewing the opulence of Rome…


Bill had ordered tickets ahead of time for us, with the expectation that they would simplify the process of getting into the Vatican museums and St. Peter’s Basilica… and he was very, very right. Remember in my previous post about the Roman ruins, how I mentioned that the “official” guides aren’t actually official guides, but are tour guides instead? That was intense here. I mean, no joke, we got accosted by at least half a dozen people yelling anything from “England! English tour group here!” to “American! Tickets and tours right here for America!”. It was ridiculous.

Our heroes did prevail, of course, though it was an epic battle of wits and speedwalking to escape the hawkers. Once we did get inside though, our minds were once again blown.


The Vatican museum can almost be explained simply as a large storage facility. The walls were filled with sconces and platforms, displaying literally thousands of sculptures and paintings. I could have spent years there, inspecting each and every placard and painting… and I expect that many art students have spent entire semesters sitting in individual rooms of the museum.

It was different than other museums that I’m used to though, primarily due to that massive inventory and colossal number of people walking through at any given time. Because of that, there were very few pieces that I actually spent time looking at; most of the museum blended together into one long gilded room (Ed Note: That’s hyperbole; there actually is one long gilded room, maybe half a mile long, in the Vatican museum).

There were some pieces and rooms that do stick out in my mind though;

  • There was one room full of maps, where the entire ceiling was covered with various paintings. No description, though there was probably a five-piece encyclopedia somewhere covering every piece in the room. I mean… this thing was ¼ mile long, I think. A good introduction to the opulence of the Vatican and its museums.
  • One wing was made exclusively for pieces that had been “captured” by Napoleon. It took 20+ years to make, and was rendered in a similar style to the age when the pieces had been made – Specifically, when you walked in you felt like you’d been transported to ancient Rome.
  • The Sistine Chapel. I mean, come on. You knew this would be part of it. It was beautiful, and honestly a bit surprising. I don’t know why, but I had it in my mind that the Sistine Chapel was a round dome… but no, it’s a rectangular room, almost small in comparison with the other rooms we’d just been in. Which is to say that it was larger than most churches in the United States. No photos allowed, a rule enforced by some tough looking guards… who we saw escort someone out of the room for trying to take a photo.
  • St. Peter’s Basilica. Holy. Large. Building. The Basilica is enormous, and giant, and huge, and unbelievably unimaginably huge.
    I mean, let me be clear. This thing is a monument to humanity’s ability to make enormous buildings. It’s a glorious statement, and completely impossible to describe. Just… every section of wall was a completely unique piece of art. Let that sink in – Every. Square. Inch. Was a unique piece of priceless artwork. Every square inch of an enclosed space larger than I’d ever seen before. That was made without electricity, computers, or half the math that we take for granted every day.
    This building was awesome, in every sense of the word. I was awed.
  • The tomb of the popes, and the sepulcher of St. Peter. Honestly, the catacombs were strangely simple, after seeing the monstrous building above it. I mean, it still had enough gold to buy a roughly half of New York City, but still… it was a really interesting change of pace.

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