travel | when in rome

Dome of St. Peter's Basilica, Rome, Italy

Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica

The title of this post is actually a misnomer.  Although we started our Mediterranean and Greek Isles Cruise upon arriving in Rome, Italy, and then making our first stop to Vatican City, I always thought that the Vatican was part of Rome.  In actuality, from all the tours our children so enthusiastically enjoyed (“Are we done yet?” “It’s soooo hot!” “When can we go back to the hotel?”), I learned that Vatican City is its own entity.  It is the smallest independent state in the world and is completely surrounded by a wall within the city of Rome.  It covers an area of approximately 110 acres, and its 800 inhabitants are ruled by the Pope.

The Vatican City Courtyard, Rome, Italy

Vatican Courtyard

Dome of St. Peter's Basilica

Interior View of St. Peter’s Basilica Dome

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican, Italy

St. Peter’s Basilica

The main areas we visited while in Vatican City were St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Square.  Our tour consisted of visiting all these areas one after the other, so truthfully, most of the time I had no idea where we actually were.  I know some of you might be thinking how could I not know where I was on this trip of a lifetime, but Vatican City was one of the most crowded of the places we visited while on our trip (even though our tour guide said this was not a busy day — I can’t even imagine what a busy day would be like), and this was the second day after we arrived, so I was severely sleep-deprived and jet-lagged.  Our kids were also asking me for food, gum, water and candy every 5 minutes (I can never understand why when it comes to needing something, children seem to always forget there is a dad around somewhere).  Plus, between the heavy italian accent of our tour guide, and the crackly earbud tour receivers we were wearing, I could barely understand a thing our tour guide was saying.  I hate to admit it, but most of the information I am telling you about the Vatican is actually what I just googled on the web, not the tour itself.  Ironically, I wanted to be a history major at one point in college.  Good thing that didn’t work out.  Sadly, I could probably write a book about my life entitled, All the Random Things I Know I Learned from Wikipedia.

Entrance to St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, Italy

Entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican, Italy

All the Little People Waiting to Get into St. Peter’s Basilica

Ceilings of St. Peter's Basilica

Nonetheless, the whole thing was absolutely breathtaking — and huge!  All of it!  Such crazy detail, ornateness, and opulence.  These pictures don’t even begin to show how grand everything was.  It simply amazes me how people can build things like this hundreds and hundreds of years ago without the modern technology and machinery we have now.

Ceilings of St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican, Italy

Statue of Cherub Angel at St. Peter's Basilica

My husband’s favourite part of the tour was the Sistine Chapel.  Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures in there, although I was tempted after seeing many tourists around me blatantly disregarding the rules.  I almost wanted to say something to them, but stopped myself for fear of something very bad happening to me in a foreign country — not a risk worth taking.  Nonetheless, the Chapel was very cool to see in real-life, and I cannot believe how Michaelango could have painted that mural while bent backwards over the course of four years.  He painted over 5000 square feet of frescoes, which also permanently ruined his vision.  And yes, I did actually learn some of that from the tour because we finally got to sit down for 20 minutes straight, while my youngest son was busy amusing himself with a loud plastic candy wrapper much to the annoyance of the people around us.  My aching feet and I were just glad to be finally sitting down, even if on the hard marble floor, completely disregarding the fact that I was wearing a skirt (no shorts allowed, but paper pants could be bought outside).  

St. Peter's Square, Vatican, Italy

St. Peter’s Square

Vatican Museum

Vatican Museum

Vatican Museum

Mosaic Floor

Vatican Museum Statue

The thing I liked best about visiting the Vatican were the ceilings.  I don’t remember a single ceiling that was not ornately and beautifully decorated.  I can’t even imagine how difficult it was to decorate and paint even a portion of one of these.  And so many of them are not just random paintings — they often tell a story.

Ceilings at the Vatican Museum, Rome, Italy

Ceilings at the Vatican Museum

Vatican Museum

Stairway Down to Swiss Guard (2 Tiny Red Guys at the Bottom)

The oddest and saddest thing I found about Vatican City was that the entire city is surrounded by a wall, yet surrounding the wall are dozens of people, particularly foreigners, selling anything from fake designer purses and shawls to umbrellas, toys and plaster roman gods —  people trying to capitalize on the Church.  I admit my intention was not to visit the Vatican to worship God, but rather I was just one of the hundreds of thousands who visit just for the sake of visiting.  Yet it reminds me of the story in the Bible where Jesus overturns the moneychangers’ tables and the seats of those selling doves because they were turning the Lord’s house into a den of robbers instead a house of prayer.  How ironic to still see that happening today.

Wall Surrounding Vatican City

Wall Surrounding Vatican City


  1. Really Nice Photography . I totally agree with how detailed and elaborate the building was. Incredibly Beautiful : )

  2. Pingback: travel | the colosseum | neelywang | photography + design

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