Rome … the eternal city or so the saying goes. I’ll preface this posting by saying we’ve been to Rome four or five times at various times of the year – May, June, January and now October. January was definitely the least busy as far as visitors go. We thought May and June were busy but this visit tops them all. Rome was crammed with visitors from all over the world. We heard people speaking every language we can identify and a few we can’t.
The prior visits also mean we’ve been to all the “must see” locations – Coliseum, Forum, Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s, Pantheon – and didn’t HAVE to see them again. Now on to our stories …
We both love seeing St. Peter’s Basilica. The size is awe inspiring, both inside and out, and the sculptures and altars are amazing. I always stop and consider how much time and money went into building it.
St. Peter’s Square is nice and quiet at night
One night we walked up to St. Peter’s Square at night and enjoyed the quiet.
The next afternoon we wandered past about 1:30 PM on the way back to our apartment and the line to get in was the longest we’ve ever seen – wrapped around the square clockwise. We can’t figure out where all the people are coming from! I would have been upset if that day was my only chance to see St. Peter’s and I had to stand in line for an hour or more.
Part of the problem is that everyone has to go through a metal detector and at any one time they may only have 4 or 5 open. The line moves pretty fast but we had no intention of standing in that line.
We looked on the Vatican website to find out that St. Peter’s opens at 7 AM. It seemed like such a good idea – be at St. Peter’s when it opened at 7 AM Wednesday morning. To be fair to the Vatican, their website did say the Pope has an audience on Wednesday at 10 but no mention of any restrictions to St. Peter’s.
The square was completely empty except for security before the Pope’s audience. Check out the little truck going down the steps of St. Peter’s.
We woke up at 6:30 AM, dressed, walked over to the Vatican just to see a long line, lots of Carabinieri, seats set up, bomb sniffing dogs, etc. We joined the line on the right side of the square, believing the Vatican website that says St. Peter’s opens at 7 AM. After standing in line for a bit, we noticed that the line wasn’t moving and no one was going into the church. And did I mention the tour groups showing up? As in lots of tour groups who were all funneled to their own line on the left side of the square.
The vendors were out in force selling rosaries, medals, whatever. They trolled the lines selling their goods. We checked the boundaries of the Vatican and they are clearly selling in Rome – no restrictions, it appears!
When the line moved at 7:40, we all were sent to a line a metal detectors (8 or 9 of them lined up) and saw people running to the chairs after they cleared security. We went through the metal detectors, slowly sauntering our way nearer to the church. We finally asked some nice Italian police what was going on? Turns out the Pope was saying Mass or having his audience (a bit lost in translation) outside at 10 AM (it’s now about 8 AM) and St. Peter’s will not open until after the audience – about noon or 1 PM. Since we had no intention of sitting for 2 hours to wait for the audience to even start, we bailed out. It explained why everyone was running – they wanted seats up front!
This was the line along the side of St. Peter’s that we went against to NOT go to the audience.
Getting OUT of St. Peter’s was just as hard as getting in – even following the EXIT signs. They led us to a long line of people who wanted in while we wanted out. We finally made it out – lots of “Excuse me’s” -and stopped at McDonald’s for coffee and an Egg McMuffin. That McDonald’s may be the safest place in Rome – across the street from a Polizia station and the police all get their coffee and sweets in McDonald’s!
One idea for the Vatican – assign someone to keep the website updated with a few more details about opening and closing times!
St. Peter’s Square at 7 AM is quiet when it’s not audience day.
This was the line at 9 AM when we came out of St. Peter’s.
The next day we tried the St. Peter’s thing all over again. This time, the line was just 20 minutes long to get through the metal detector at 7 AM. One disadvantage of coming early is many priests saying Mass all over the church so some sections were blocked off. The basilica is still impressive, especially at 7:00 A.M. when not many tour groups are around.
Again, we had coffee at McDonald’s and this time we sat by three American seminarians and eavesdropped on their conversations about coffee/espresso/café Americano and the seminars and shadowing they needed to do. I wonder what they would have done if I asked them what they are studying in Rome?
Keep reading … There’s more to come!