Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rome on $85 a Day – Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

St. Peter's Basilica from Vatican Museum
 A tremendous amount of information exists about the smallest country in the world where 829 people live in .17 square miles, so there's no point repeating what you can learn in any guidebook or Internet site. What I will tell you are three tips that are not so widely available.

Can you see why this is the Goddess of Fertility?
 The most important advice is to get your tickets ahead of time from the Vatican Museum site. (Other ticket services exist, but they charge a hefty commission so there's little point in dealing with anyone but the Vatican itself.) David and I were at the Vatican on one of the slowest days of the week, Tuesday, (The other day is Thursday.) but the lines were long and the crowds claustrophobic-inducing. If you order tickets in advance, however, you avoid the lines altogether, and whip right into the museum in just minutes instead of hours. We paid 31 euros each for a guided tour, which I highly recommend as you learn quite a bit about the art collection from the docent, but you can buy a ticket for 19 euros per person to explore independently if you prefer.

Ceiling Detail
The second tip is to allow plenty of time to reach the museum. David and I left our apartment an hour and a half before our tour time, and that was not too soon. If you use public transportation to reach the neighborhood, you will still have to walk a fair distance to the museum entry, go through security, and ask the information desk clerk for the appropriate window to surrender your voucher and redeem your ticket. Also, of course, if you are a woman who'd like to use the restroom, there will be a long line (I waited fifteen minutes) which seems to be standard for women's restrooms all over the world.
 Swiss Guards
If you'd like to see St. Peter's Basilica, you can either leave the way you came and backtrack, walking 30-40 minutes, or you can break the rules slightly and go through the door reserved for groups at the end of the Sistine Chapel. All of this may sound confusing, but it's thoroughly explained on the wonderful blog, Ron in Rome, which I'm quoting below. David and I tried his approach yesterday, and, while a tour leader told us we were going through the wrong door, no guard stopped us.  We got to St. Peter's in record time!
From the Ron in Rome blog:

5 - Yes, you can go from the Vatican Museums directly to St. Peter’s Basilica. Okay, you can and you can’t! Once you walk through the Museums 1+ mile, you come to the end of the line… the Sistine Chapel. After you’ve spent your time in the Chapel you can leave through two doors. As you walk, with the Last Judgment BEHIND you , the door on the LEFT takes you back through the Museum and BACK to the entrance you came in on Viale Vaticano. And back to Cipro or Ottaviano Metro Stations. You would be walking back through the Library section of the Vatican Museums.

But if you want to go to the Basilica (and save yourself about 30-40 minutes of walking), take the RIGHT door. Now, honestly… you’re breaking the rules. The RIGHT door is reserved for “guided tour groups.” As of late, there has been a guard on the door and, by the rules, only tour groups are allowed to depart through this door. The guided tour group companies – that pay the Vatican fees – are unhappy that everyone (including you!) will try to use this door. So, in the past, while there has been a half-hearted attempt to prevent abuse of this door, the climate has changed as of late. Frankly, I’ve been in the Vatican Museums 100+ times and been turned away twice. So in the past, the odds WERE in your favor. Half the time the guard is no where NEAR the door. And other times, they could care less. But now, there seems to be more pressure bu the tour groups and thus more presence and enforcement by the guards.

Here’s why it’s such a GREAT deal to cut through these doors. This Sistine Chapel EXIT door is less than 200 yards from St. Peter’s Basilica entrance. 200 yards! If you cannot go this way, you have to go ALL THE WAY BACK THROUGH THE MUSEUMS (about 3/4 mile), exit the Museums on Viale Vaticano , and then walk AROUND the walls of the city… add another 2/3 mile… then you have to WAIT IN LINE in St. Peter’s Square and go through X-Ray security again. So 200 yards vs. almost 1.5 miles and a security line… You will save about 40-45 minutes if you go through the RIGHT door. There’s no doubt why EVERYONE wants to cut through these doors if they are headed to St. Peter’s Basilica (see the map below)! - Ron in Rome
If you follow Ron in Rome's advice and these tips, I think you'll enjoy your visit to the Vatican as much as we did!

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