Ask anyone what to see in Rome, and the Sistine Chapel will most definitely be on every list. In a city that is practically an open air museum and beautiful art is found in even the smallest of churches, the Sistine Chapel may seem to be just another historic piece of art. And it is, but there is also a reason it's on every single "Things to See in Rome" list - it's breathtaking. To see the place where popes are made, and avoid the hoards of tourists, we opted to pay for the Pristine Sistine tour offered by Walks of Italy. It granted us access an hour before it opened to the general public and it was totally worth it.
The tour starts at 7:15 in the morning. With a 2.5 month old, that's definitely an early morning. We met at a Piazza near the Vatican where we then walked to the entrance to the Vatican Museums. We were able to bypass most of the line, joining other guided groups in line for when the museums "pre-opened" at 8:00. One of our first stops once inside the complex was a patio with a beautiful view of St. Peter's Dome. Of course we had to take a family picture! Too bad Evelyn won't remember any of the cool places she is visiting, but at least we have pictures to prove she was actually there.
The Vatican museums have a couple of paths outlined for visitors - one where you speed right to the Sistine Chapel without seeing much of the museums, and one where you go through each exhibit on your way to the Sistine Chapel. The Pristine Sistine tour takes you quickly through the long hallway that houses a number of different "rooms" before getting to the Chapel. You pass through the Gallery of Maps, a section containing beautifully woven tapestries, old busts of famous people (don't ask me to remember who all was represented!) and more. Towards the end, the famous statue of a man throwing a disc, Discobolus, is in a small side chamber. I was a little shocked to see it just sitting there. I don't think many of the people in our group actually noticed it since it was a lot smaller than I anticipated it to be.
From there, we headed into the world famous Sistine Chapel. The chapel is pretty small, dimly lit, and has benches along the side walls. The back quarter is separated by a wood lattice partition and the floor is a beautiful marble. There is an alter at the front where, presumable, Mass could be celebrated (but I don't think this is very often). The crowing jewel of the whole chapel, and the reason that everyone visits, is to see the ceiling painted by Michelangelo. Unfortunately, no photos inside the chapel are allowed.
I am not much of an art person, we almost never visit art museums, but this, this was mind blowing. It is perhaps one of the most famous paintings in history and I can now see why. Pictures of the ceiling don't do it justice. I will spare you the details of what all the different panels depict - this is easily read in the Wikipedia article - but I was amazed by how real and dimensional the painting was. The painted stone pillars seemed to actually extend from the walls. The people appeared to be moving. You could see the straining of the muscles between Adam and God as the reached towards each other. We just sat there, admiring it, taking it all in and trying to commit it to memory. Until I felt Evelyn, who was in a carrier on my chest also admiring the work of art, poop.
I pulled her out, only to discover she had completely and totally blown out her diaper and nuked her clothes. Off we scrambled to find a bathroom and a changing table. The clock was on since we were with a tour group, so we had to be quick. Unfortunately, the changing table was locked and the bathroom attendant was no where in sight to unlock it (side note, who locks a changing table?!). So there we were, a baby with poop all up her back, scrambling to find a place to change her. We finally found a chair that we were able to use and in five minutes, we had a freshly diapered and newly outfitted baby.
And it is now in writing this that I understand the freedom with which most parents discuss poop. I have reached the cliched milestone in which I discuss my daughter's bowel movements with strangers. But hey, we can now embarrass her when she's older by telling her she had a blow out in the Sistine Chapel.
The rest of the morning was spent touring the Vatican museums. I'm sure there were cool, priceless artifacts, but after seeing the Chapel, they paled in comparison. And, did I mention that we aren't big museum people? The museums are huge and to really explore them would take hours. Maybe even an entire day. The different sections range from 19th century ceramics to maps to rooms painted by Raphael to modern art. Unfortunately, we just weren't feeling the museums, but we did get some cool pictures to share with you all.