We’ve been in Italy for over 24 hours now and it’s been a great experience. Mind you, it’s also been really hot, which has been challenging! Water – and ice cream – have been high on our priorities lists.
We started the day already greeted to temperatures in the mid-twenties, so the sun cream, hats and umbrella (or should that be parasol?) were made good use of.
A short walk to the Vatican and we could already see large crowds waiting to get inside the famous museum. Being British, we had naturally planned ahead and had already bought our tickets, allowing us to skip all the queues and get on with our audio-guided tour.
Now we were on a tight schedule, so we couldn’t spend as much time looking at everything as we would have liked. However, we began with the Egyptian exhibit.
What immediately struck me was just how impressive the collection was. From the mummified bodies, to the stone monuments, many of these relics dated back to 1,000 BC and were in relatively excellent condition. I would have liked to spend more time there, but time was against us.
We made our way through other exhibitions that focused on Ancient Greek and Roman history, as well as Italian and Church history.
It feels good to know the incredible history of our Church, whose values and culture made the West the greatest civilisation the world has seen.
We made our way to the Sistine Chapel where we spent a considerable amount of time in the crowded room contemplating the great frescos that adorn the walls and ceiling.
I tried to ignore the crowds and think what it must be like during a papal conclave, where all the cardinals of the world come to decide who shall be the next leader of Christ’s church. It’s a remarkable place; so many world-shaping – and civilisation-defining – moments have taken place here.
After leaving the Sistine Chapel, we had to quickly make our way through some other beautiful exhibitions and exit the museum, to await our tour of the Vatican Gardens.
The Gardens are beautiful, as I’m sure one can tell from an Internet search. However, of course, viewing the Gardens on a website isn’t the same experience. You cannot smell the plants, touch the stone, taste the water and see the nuances.
We were genuinely fortunate to have the opportunity to be escorted around the gardens of the Vatican. I think we even saw the building where Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI now lives.
The garden tour led to the Vatican train station, where we made our way out of Rome and to Castel Gandolfo.
Castel Gandolfo is a beautiful place. There is a stunning lake, surrounded by wildlife and an unobtrusive amount of human settlement.
The first thing we did upon getting off the train was board what look like trains on wheels (perhaps bringing to mind Disneyland), and tour the Pontifical gardens at Castel Gandolfo. They were really beautiful and well-kept; ancient statues and tidy plants adorned the gardens.
We then made our way into the little town, where the Pontifical Palace is located. Whilst we couldn’t go inside the Pontifical Palace, we could go everywhere else. It was fascinating for me to see the place where Benedict XVI went immediately after leaving the Vatican in the helicopter upon resigning from the papacy. I was standing in the piazza where the crowds greeted him when we came out to the palace’s balcony.
We had a typical Italian lunch and then some ice cream, and we took in the views of the lake and visited the gift shops. There was also a beautiful church in the piazza.
During our time there, a funeral car arrived and a ceremony took place for someone who had recently died.
I must say, the respect that the locals showed the dead person was inspiring. Many people came out to the piazza to greet the coffin. Then, once it went inside the church, many people followed to pay their respects. I appreciated the value that these people placed on the life of this now-dead individual. I think it’s the sign of a healthy society when the deceased are properly respected.
Our coaches to the train station then arrived and we had to go back, but not before taking a group photo in front of the Pontifical Palace.
On the way back, I chatted with a local Italian girl about her life. She had recently graduated in Art History and was now working at the Vatican Museum. I can imagine it being very fulfilling to have a job in such a marvellous and historic place.
After getting back to Rome, we headed to the hotel, where we had a quick wash and prepared for Mass. After Mass, we were free for the rest of the evening, for dinner and any other site-seeing that people wanted to do.
So overall, it was a great day; the Vatican Museum and Gardens, Castel Gandolfo, beautiful weather, yummy ice cream and lovely company.
It’s been a great pilgrimage so far, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow!