Contrary to popular belief, Vatican City is not part of the nation of Italy. It is a city–state, fully sovereign and independent. When visitors pass through the walls, and enter the museum on the other side, they are in fact visiting the smallest country in the world, and leaving Italian soil.
That being said, however, the process of crossing the boundary couldn’t be more complicated. Finding out where to go, how to get there, and how long it will take once inside. I am usually pretty good about planning holidays and even the Papal State managed to baffle me.
With a bit of preliminary research I learned that the best idea would be to purchase tickets online in advance so as to skip ahead of the line on the day of the visit. The official Vatican Museum website asked to choose not only which day but also a specific time – down to the quarter hour. When we arrived at the doorstep, we found that the day-of line (non ticket holders) stretched around the block, and was perhaps 300 strong (at 10:30 am).
On the other hand, those who had purchased tickets already still had to wait in line, but that took much less time (approximately 30 minutes, mostly because of how slow security was feeding people through the metal detectors). Once inside, the crowd was moved through the museum like a herd being led to the slaughter-house. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the museum was the only section of the Vatican visitors got the chance to see.
So after being shoved and prodded through various halls and galleries, finally emerging into the Sistine Chapel to glare up at the masterpiece (while the security guards yelled through microphones to keep quiet because the chapel is a holy place that needs to be respected – oh, and no photos), we found ourselves outside the Vatican again, and back on Italian soil, our heads spinning around confused.
Obviously, we circled around to St. Peter’s Square and Basilica to see the burial place of the popes and other attractions, which was all fine and good. But if you go to Vatican City, be prepared for what it actually is: a cattle–drive.
Hasta La Proxima…