Italy: Lost in the Vatican

Vatican City, the smallest sovereign nation in the world, was a not-to-be-missed site on our trip to Rome, Italy. Aside from the site’s historical and spiritual draw as the home of the Pope and the formidable center of Roman Catholicism, the Vatican boasts a phenomenal collection of art and historical artifacts in the Vatican Museums, the crown jewel being Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. It also houses St. Peter’s Basilica, one of the largest cathedrals in the world, built on the site where Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, was crucified upside down and where his sanctified bones remain today. For believers, the Vatican is one of the most holy pilgrimage sites in the Christian world. For non-believers, it is an impressive tourist attraction, designed to show off the wealth of the Holy See, that has shaped much of the Western world for centuries.

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View of St. Peter’s Basilica from the Tiber River

From a practical standpoint, we decided to book tickets to the Vatican Museums in advance to avoid waiting in a lengthy queue. We discovered that the only way to facilitate this for the day we wanted to visit was to buy a combo package: a ticket to the museums plus breakfast inside the Vatican. The tickets were more expensive, but we figured eating a meal at the Vatican sounded like a unique experience. Plus, the combo ticket gave us the added benefit of early entrance to the museum before it opened to the public.

On the day of our reservation, we felt pretty good waltzing up to the front of the long line and gaining early admittance. The breakfast was a decadent spread of pastries, eggs, breakfast sausage and bacon, croissants, and endless espresso, which we ate with gusto, gearing up for the next few hours of touring.

After breakfast, we began walking through the opulent rooms, ogling at the wealth and beauty surrounding us. Gold trim framed the windows and ceilings, marble in all colors covered the floors, and fabulous paintings, maps, and statues decorated each room.

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Inside the Gilded Halls of the Vatican Museums
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The School of Athens by Raphael
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Mosaic Floor in the Vatican Museums

Ten minutes into our tour, Aaron informed me that he needed to use the restroom, so we picked up the pace, following signs to the nearest facilities. Along the way, I paused to take a few photos but made sure to keep Aaron in sight. He arrived at the restrooms about thirty steps ahead of me. Since we were there, I ducked into the ladies’ room, taking advantage of the facilities as well.

When I came out, Aaron was no where in sight, so I assumed he was still indisposed. I waited in the room just outside for thirty minutes before losing my patience. I sent a tour guide into the men’s room to make sure my husband was alright. To my dismay, the tour guide came out and informed me that there was no one in the restroom.

It was then that the first flutters of panic arose in my stomach. Aaron had left me. But why? Where was he? Then the more frightening thought occurred: I was alone.

Now, logically, I knew that the Vatican was extremely safe and had a world-class security system. I also knew that it was small in area, which meant that we would find each other eventually as long as we stayed within the Vatican Museums. This was easier said than done.

By this time, the museums had opened to the public and throngs of people surrounded me. My fear of losing my husband quickly turned to anger. Before we got separated, the Vatican was relatively empty, allowing us to stroll through at a leisurely pace, but now, I could barely move through the crowded halls. Why hadn’t he just waited outside the restroom?!

I decided the Sistine Chapel was the most logical place to wait for my husband to find me, since everyone eventually passed beneath Michelangelo’s masterpiece on their Vatican tour. So, I reluctantly joined the crowds and followed them there. I also turned my cell phone on and tried to call Aaron. No luck.

Twenty minutes later, after gazing steadfastly toward the heavens and marveling at every inch of Michelangelo’s artistic genius, we finally connected via phone, and Aaron agreed to meet me in the Sistine Chapel. It was our very own Vatican miracle.

Many of you are probably wondering why it took so long for us to find each other. The short answer is that I didn’t turn on my phone sooner because I believed Aaron was taking his sweet time in the bathroom. Obviously, I was wrong.

In the hour or so that we were separated, Aaron had called me over twenty times. It turned out that when he came out of the restroom and didn’t see me, he assumed that I had continued on. It never occurred to him that I had gone into the restroom as well.

Aaron had spent the next hour running, literally, through the vast museum halls looking for me. He canvassed the whole area asking guards along the way if they had seen a lost woman looking either put-out or on the verge of tears. He even left the museums to search for me in the crowds out front and had to talk his way back inside since his ticket had already been used. He feared that I had been kidnapped, a belief that was only reinforced by the fact that I wasn’t answering my phone.

After hugging for a long time in the Sistine Chapel, we decided to walk through the museum again since neither of us had really seen it yet. We held hands the entire time. We also bumped into one of the security guards who had helped Aaron in his search. Upon seeing us, a smile broke across his face as he excitedly exclaimed, “Oh good. You found her!”

At the end of our second pass through, Aaron led me to a side exit out of the Sistine Chapel that led straight into St. Peter’s Basilica, allowing us to bypass the lengthy queue to enter the church. This little shortcut was a brilliant discovery Aaron made while frantically trying to find me. It was perhaps the greatest benefit of getting “lost” in the Vatican.

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Main Altar Inside St. Peter’s Basilica
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Michelangelo’s Pietà Inside St. Peter’s Basilica

Our takeaway from this experience: Always establish a meeting point at each site you visit in case you get separated. And, it wouldn’t hurt to keep your phones on either!

-Annie, Your Friend at Orange Backpack Travel

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