Saturday, July 19, 2014

San Pietro Basilica

A visit to the Vatican City without seeing the San Pietro Basilica would be a crime. Also known as "St. Peter's," the massive cathedral has one of the best views of Rome from the top of the dome (which was designed by the famous Michelangelo).

However, unlike the Vatican Museum's stroller amenities, getting to the dome isn't wheel friendly at all. In fact, some passages are so narrow, the trip isn't really "big boned people" friendly either!

Coming from the Vatican Museum, it was about 2PM and we hadn't had breakfast or lunch yet. So we couldn't find the secret shortcut from the Museum to the Basilica decided to exit the Museum (and Vatican City) completely to find a place to have a late lunch.

Of course, everything nearby was a tourist trap (think multi-language laminated menus with photos), but we didn't feel like wandering around in search "of something local" when clearly, no locals would ever eat by the Vatican. So we just found a nearby place on the way to the Baslica entrance to the walled city.

My parents and I shared a few orders of pasta and a large bottle of water and it came out to about $26 USD total. Not cheap for basic dishes, but I suppose you're paying for the convenience of not having to walk too far in the summer heat.

From there, it was a few steps into the large open circular piazza where my mother agreed I could run around for a bit. After chasing some Italian pigeons for a few minutes, we all head over to the entrance on the right side of the piazza towards the cathedral. It's a massive open space that fills with people whenever the Pope comes out to speak to the crowd.

Given the religious importance, you didn't need any tickets to visit San Pietro the Cathedral. However, out of respect, you should be aware that there is a dress code. No shorts and tank tops. Basically cover your thighs and shoulders. Also, there are a few other restrictions that should be common sense for any traveler visiting a religious site.

But some other things that many tourists may not know, they don't allow any strollers or large bags into the building. I'm not entirely sure if its for security or just for practical purposes (as you'll read about later on). But fortunately, they have accommodations for people who already brought strollers and backpacks.

Before you walk up the steps, you'll see a hallway for bag checks and stroller checks on the right side (see where the woman in the bright skirt is walking). There you can check things for free. They also have bathrooms with ice cold water for you to wash your hands and face. It came in handy given how sweaty my father gets when he's not in conditioned air.

After you walk up the stairs to the left, you find yourself at the entrance of the most famous cathedral in the world. Again, it's free to enter, but you do have to pay €5/adult to walk up to the top of the Dome. If you wanted to skip half the stairs, then you can take the elevator for €7/adult, but you'll still have to climb a set of narrow stairs once you get to the dome itself.

The elevator takes you to the roof level of the Cathedral. From there, you enter the dome from the outside and walk within the hallways to various access points where you can see the interior of the Cathedral.

Not recommended for people like my father who are morbidly afraid of heights. The vertigo became overwhelming for him as he looked across the vast expanse and realized there was only a metal gate separating him from a horrible fall. I mean, look at the tiny people walking above the letters in the photo on the left. Then look how far down the people are on the floor. My father still gets the sweats thinking about it days later. Just keep looking up at the stunning ceiling.

Then you go back into the interior hallways and find a set of stairs leading up. This part is where your stamina is tested (or rather, where my father's stamina was tested as he ended up carrying me a lot). Some stairs are wide enough, but then there are spiral staircases that just make you super claustrophobic. Clearly, a stroller would be worthless here with over 300 steps to make your way to the top. There were definitely people who had to take a seat and catch their breath, but we kept going.

But when you finally reach the top, you get to witness some of the most beautiful views of Rome from the world epicenter of the Catholic Church. Though the space gets crowded, you can still manage to find a spot for some great photos, but clearly, no bathrooms up there, so make sure you're potty trained or wearing some diapers.

After making our way back down the stairs, we went outside back to the roof where we found a small snack shop selling some cold drinks. But if you wanted to save money, they also had a cold water fountain where people could wash their faces and fill up their bottles. I decided to climb some more stairs while my mother took advantage of the great photograph perspectives from the roof.

We then showed our elevator tickets to the attendant and went back down to ground level into the main space. Immediately we were in awe of the vaulted ceilings and ornately decorated walls. Priceless pieces of Renaissance art were scattered all throughout, including the famous Pieta.


As we exited San Pietro, we saw a small desk to the right where they were selling official tickets to the Vatican Museum. I suppose if you didn't know to buy your tickets in advance and had the good fortune of going to San Pietro first, then you could luck out and buy your Museum tickets here and skip the long line. But then again, if you weren't prepared enough to buy in advance in the first place, then you probably wouldn't know there'd be a massive line either.

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