Sistine Chapel - Take II
We rose at 6.30 and tried to pack our bags as silently as possible so as not to wake our 6 roommates. It only took 20 minutes and four trips around the block to find the Hertz office but it didn't open till eight. The garage opened at seven thirty so we threw the keys at the attendant, trusting that he would take care of all the paper work. We then hiked back to the other side of the Vatican, stopping briefly for coffee and pastries for breakfast.
We met up with our guide Andrea and the other four Aussies who made up our tiny group. We all proceeded up the hill to the entrance of the Vatican Museum passing the one thousand people waiting in the queue who are ignorant of the knowledge that there is an alternative. Andrea was a real Italian firecracker, vocalising her dissatisfaction, asserting herself when necessary and expressing her sometimes controversial views. Unfortunately, although an official tour guide, she was not terribly good. She gave us extremely limited information and I ended up eavesdropping on other tour leaders. We were lead through long passageway of extravagantly decorated rooms with painted ceilings, tapestries, marble floors and frescos - all stunning beyond words. Outside the Sistine chapel, the sign said "complete silence was to be observed in the chapel and no photography or filming". The chapel was packed out with approximately 800 people all chatting away and taking photographs. Every so often when the noise reached a crescendo, a guard would clap his hands and call out 'Silenczio' but it had little effect.
To avoid the queues at the Sistine chapel and the Vatican museum call one of the official tour groups and join a tour. It will cost you approximately 23 euros extra but it is well worth it not to have to wait for hours in the queue. The only problem with this is that the official tour guides are not advertised in any of the guide books or travel websites. It was only because Chris gave us the number for Easy Tours that we found out about this 'secret' entry.
The official tour is 2 hours of the Vatican Museum, The Sistine Chapel and the Basilica. This means that you only have about half an hour in the museum which is not nearly enough. Once you reach the Sistine Chapel you can't backtrack and see what you missed. My advice is once you have taken advantage of your queue -jumping quick entry, ditch your tour group and wander by yourself taking your time.
NB. In particular, once in the Sistine Chapel, do not under any circumstances follow your guide through the right hand door into the basilica. Head through the left hand door marked "Vatican library" to see the rest of the museum. You can go to the basilica any time for free but if you leave the Sistine chapel you will miss the second half of the Vatican.
Think of every synonym of stunning and that will describe the Vatican and Sistine Chapel better than I ever could. I'm so very glad the BOSS insisted that we return to Rome.
We went back to the hostel to pick up our bags and headed off to the metro which took us to termini. We bought tickets for the next train to Florence, which luckily was leaving in twenty minutes. The trains in Italy are very nice and comfortable. The view through Tuscany was remarkable and very different from Amalfi. We arrived in Florence after only one and a half hours but then took nearly forty five minutes to find our hotel when it should have only taken five. To add insult to injury the apartment was on the fourth floor and the building had no lift. Eight flights of stairs after yesterday's effort of Vesuvius and my knees decided to give it up completely. The apartment itself was satisfactorily comfortable and close enough to all the sites and cheap enough for our budget. After a short rest the BOSS and I hit the markets to be tempted with stall after stall of wonderful leather coats, bags, and clothing. I resisted the urge to by myself a bright red motorcycle jacket (and a matching pink one for the BOSS) however as we are here for three more days temptation may yet get the better of me. Leather wallets and bags can be obtained for as little as ten euros so get your orders in really quick and send me lots of money.