A Country in a Day

When I was in 7th grade I read Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. If you aren’t familiar with the book, it’s basically about the Illuminati, Vatican City, CERN, and anti-matter. I loved the book so much that it briefly inspired my future career goals (nuclear physicist), though they have since changed dramatically. It also began a fascination with the Vatican City: the world’s smallest country and the heart of Catholicism. Today I finally got to see it first-hand.
 
Erin and I started out by queuing for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. Throughout the streets there are third-party tour guides trying to get you to join the tour and skip the line, and while I’ve see these people at countless other sites and cities, never before have I seen ones this aggressive or persistent. They might as well have been vultures. The wind and lack of sun where the queue was made it a cold and uncomfortable hour long wait. The queue did move pretty quickly, there were just that many people. 

But soon enough we were inside. Neither of us were that interested in the museum portion so we followed signs directly to the Sistine Chapel. Along the way we still had to make our way through a portion of the maze of a museum, giving us a chance to admire numerous beautiful rooms and hallways. The ceilings were truly amazing.

Finally we were inside the Sistine Chapel. Photos were strictly prohibited and the room was crawling with guards to make sure it was enforced. I heard one visitor almost get kicked out for snapping a picture. But I was standing directly under the Creation of Adam painting. How could I not get a picture as a reminder? My trusty Canon is wonderful, but not if you’re trying to be discrete in a quiet room (mufflers for cameras should be a thing). But with the help of my Apple Watch which allows you to control the camera and see the shot discretely on your wrist, I was able to capture the moment (and my chin) as best as possible without being obvious.

Now it was time to try and get inside the main square - the famous area that you'll see on the news, TV, and movies. Logistically it would probably make sense of the museum portion to have an exit into the square, but alas you have to exit where you came in and make your way through to the side to enter. Miraculously the queue was minimal and Erin and I were inside within five minutes. 

The basilica didn’t open until 1:00 PM, and we had a train to catch, so there was no way we were going to make it inside in time given the already massive crowd queuing up so we just enjoyed the square, though we weren’t allowed to go up closer for an unknown reason.

Once we were satisfied, we grabbed some pizza for lunch and headed back to the hostel to freshen up before hopping on a train to Florence. At the hostel we were chatting with another backpacker who had his wallet stole last night, meaning he lost all his credit/debit cards and was down €300. It also got slightly physical as he punched one of the thieves, who ended up punching him right back.
 
Thankfully he still had his passport and phone, and he was working on getting his parents to use Western Union to transfer him money so he could pick up cash at the local branch. But it was definitely a reminder for travel safety: money belts may sound nerdy but they are a life saver, always keep at least one card and some emergency cash separate from your main wallet (but still in a secure location, such a hostel safe). Also backup your computer and phone to a secure cloud, and upload photos from your camera so if those things are stolen, you still at least have access to the contents. There are tons of blog posts and articles out there dedicated to travel safety that can help you minimise your chances of ending up like our buddy here so read up and don’t let his story scare you. I’m going to try and do a post in the near future about safety tips for trans travellers and the unique concerns that we face, so stay tuned for that.
 
Since Erin and I and were leaving Rome, we gave him our 48 hour metro cards which still had some time left on them and wished him luck before heading out. We got to the station in plenty of time, and were thankful for that as we found out that the platform was almost a 10 minute walk away from the main entrance.
 
Like the train ride from Naples to Rome, this train ride was breath-taking. The countryside and mountains of Italy are truly incredible. Does anyone besides me enjoy the challenge of trying to get a decent photo on a moving train with filthy windows?

Four hours later we found ourselves starving and in Florence. We quickly made our way to our hostel to drop our stuff off, and went to grab food. The two restaurants that the hostel recommended ending up being closed or we couldn’t find. That turned out to be a good thing as we found a very cute and extremely delicious restaurant about a 5 minute walk away. 

The waiter was very quirky and funny, and was clearly amused at our American accents. Everyone else in the restaurant seemed to be locals which is always a good sign. It was without a doubt the best meal we’ve had so far in Italy.