Today was spent in Vatican City State - adding another country to our list of ones visited.
The day started early with us needing to be at a special meeting point for a tour of the Scavi. So we grabbed a cab, got over there and sussed out where we needed to be with a nice Swiss Guard. Even though it was early there were crowds of people there - including lots of dignitaries going into a special area near where we needed to go. We had time for a quick eat and walk breakfast and then queued to go through the security check point. Learning a lesson from yesterday passports were in our bags! Through security and then we walked around the back of the buildings to a meeting point. Maria an American then took 14 of us on a tour of the excavation site under St Peter's which included seeing many burial areas, the original burial spot of St Peter and some bones of his. During the tour one of the officials came up and spoke to the guard and we could hear the word Harman. Next Maria asked if there was anyone called Harman in the group. She said that at the end of the tour we were to go with her and not exit with the rest of the group. Parts of the crypt area of previous Popes - normally open to the public were closed off but we got to walk through. Maria then took Channe and I back through the crypt area and out to the courtyard. It seems that all the activity in the square and Basilica had closed off where our guide Kiron was going to meet up with us so she pulled in some favours to make sure we were not lost. She also found out it was the swearing in day for the Swiss Guard and one of the Cardinals was saying a special Mass. We could hear the singing from under the Basilica as we walked around.
Kiron then took us on a personalised tour inside the Basilica. In an ironic twist we went through the Holy Door of Mercy which the Pope had opened. Before leaving Australia I had gone through all sorts of hoops trying to register to go through this door - including getting the Bishop to translate the Italian instructions. Even with his language expertise it didn't seem to work and here we were just wandering through - no tickets required.
Things have changed since I was last in Rome. Saint John Paul II, who I met last time, is now buried inside the main part of the Basilica and Saint John XXIII is now on display - kitted out in papal regalia but with a wax mask on his face and hands to stop freaking people out at their sight.
After the Basilica tour we had a break, went and did some shopping nearby and sat and watched the world go by. We then went walking to find a little restaurant up a side street recommended by Kiron where she joined us after lunch and provided a pre Sistine Chapel briefing. Off to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, skipping the huge queue with the pre purchased of our tickets and then through more security (it was Kiron providing today's entertainment!). It took about an hour to walk through the museum hallways to finally end up in the Sistine Chapel. No photos or descriptions do justice to the artworks, sculptures, tapestries and mosaics let alone the history of the place. The Chapel is supposed to be a quiet space and no photographs are to be taken. Absolutely packed with people the noise level was high and punctuated at regular intervals by a booming male voice yelling SILENCE!
A brief tour of the piazza outside the Basilica concluded our day and Kiron saw us into a cab. Well the driver was the most manic of drivers we have encountered and he made all the other lunatics on the road look positively normal! At one point he pulled up and got out - he had been pulled over by an unmarked police car. Lots of animated talking and then he gets back in saying "tranquil. tranquil". But it is not over ... he continues the journey on his phone - no hands free - and occasionally pointed out various sites of interest. We pull up near our apartment and who is behind us but the police car who had followed behind the whole way. We left him at their mercy.
Not a lot of photos today due to bans on taking photos in most of the areas we visited but here are some shots Channe got.
The Cupola from the side
Hallway in Museum