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  • Writer's pictureTaylor

Early Morning at the Vatican

Updated: Jun 17

What began as a last-minute and costly purchase was the highlight of my trip to Rome!

Entrance to the Vatican Muesums

“Just do it.” Despite the physical pain it brought me, I knew it was the only decision I had. Sitting in the Budapest airport with a two-hour delay on my flight, I gave Mom the go-ahead to make a $140 purchase on my card for a museum ticket. That may not seem like much to some, but as a college student on their seventh week of international travel, $140 was two nights in a hostel, a warm meal, and an average beer. I decided my friends and I’s last-minute trip to Rome may kill my savings account.

While we had all planned to go to the Vatican one of the days we were in Rome, we quickly realized that the Vatican does not accommodate spontaneous summer travelers. It soon became every man for himself to find a way to get into one of the most famous museums in the world. Some of my friends were getting tickets for tours in languages they had never spoken before, some scratched it off their itineraries, and then there I was buying an early morning tour of a third-party website just to enter through the Vatican gates.

In truth, I owe the whole experience to Mom. I had no Wifi, and my computer had died a few days earlier. I called her in a panic, scrambling to find some way into the museum at 06:00 in the morning for her. She did a few deep searches and found the ticket. An early entrance ticket to the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica with a guided tour.

I diligently followed the instructions on how to get to the meeting point two days later. I quietly left my hostel room to meet the taxi I had booked out front the morning before because I had no desire to attempt the subway system at 06:30 by myself. While my driver navigated the empty streets, I kept a close eye on the blue dot moving on the map toward the address I was emailed after receiving confirmation of my ticket purchase. We pulled around a corner and came to an abrupt stop. “Here, go downstairs.” the driver directed. I quickly thanked him before hopping out of the car.

Although the sun was about to rise and there was a soft light from the sky, I was still nervous to go down the stairs. Being a 5 '2'' young female alone on an unfamiliar street in a foreign country, I felt it was a healthy fear, but I went down the stairs eager to find out if I had been robbed of $140.

Waiting at the bottom of the stairs was a crowded square with about 100 people, and I quickly realized I was in the right place. I checked in with one of the tour guides, and she handed me a baby blue sticker and told me to find my group. I searched the sea of people for a similar baby blue sticker that I assumed would be worn by my group but found no one. I figured it was a sign to start my group, so I stood by one of the few beaches in the square. The ten minutes felt like an hour until someone shouted, “Blue! Blue!”

The Octagonal Courtyard

I met an overly excited woman in her early 50s, followed by two young women. “Looks like we’re in the same group! Meet my girls,” she gestured to the women behind her, “We’ve been so looking forward to this. These were the best tickets we could find, and trust me, I checked!” she glanced around, “Where are your parents?” I was caught off guard by the amount of talking this woman was doing so early in the morning, but I gained my composure and explained how I was visiting Rome with my class, but they were doing different tours. She quickly stepped in, saying, “Well, you will be with us!” 

We were joined by a young Australian couple on their honeymoon, an older couple from Georgia and their adult son who was adamant about his New York residence, and a family of four from South Africa. We watched as the rest of the groups made their way up the stairs towards the Vatican one by one until it was just, with no tour guide. The sound of a sputtering motor turned our attention to the street behind us. A woman dismounted her rusty Vespa and began walking towards us, “Ready to go?”

She was from outside of Naples, lived there her whole life, and moved to Rome in her early 20s, wanting to curate a museum. I can’t recall which one, but I soon learned that was easier said than done, and now settle for giving tours of significant sites in the city. She spoke fondly of her experiences and people she had met while giving tours during our walk to the entrance. We patiently waited in the early access line for it to open at 07:30 while she handed out pamphlets with the label Sistine Chapel, “I can’t speak in the chapel so I will speak on it now.” 

Once we were inside the museum, I understood why this ticket was $140 and was surprised that they hadn’t charged more. There was not another soul in the museum. We walked down hallways while our guide explained the most notable pieces to us and some of her favorites.

Gallery of Maps

I could feel her passion in how she spoke about each work as if it was the most important piece of the museum. When we walked into a room or hallway covered floor to ceiling with seemingly identical busts, we left knowing the names and stories behind them. We turned into a hallway covered in maps of different regions of Italy, and she told us about each region and why it was important enough to justify a map. 

I didn’t lay eyes on another soul outside of our group once we reached the Papal apartments, which house the famous School of Athens fresco by Raphel. The Vatican is set up so that it leads up to the Sistine Chapel once you have gone through the Papal apartments. You see so much art on your way that it is hard to imagine how something that grand is waiting for you at the end, but it is breathtaking. I can’t even describe how it felt to walk into a completely silent room filled to the brim with people all staring directly up. It feels like you are getting a glimpse into heaven through the painting. I can’t imagine how those who first saw it reacted. It must have been the most magnificent thing they had ever seen. 

Our guide had to drag us out of the chapel when our time was up. Everyone was reluctant to leave. She brought us down some stairs that led to the exit while spouting off more facts for us. She took us through St. Peter’s Basilica, briefly pointing out everything important for us to see. Before I knew it, we were released to explore the Basilica and be on our way. 

Entrance to St. Peter's Basilica

It was around 10:30 when I left Vatican City. I felt as though I had lived an entire life by the time I reconnected with my group. I had so much to share and tell them, and I still had a whole day ahead of me.

Although I had originally hesitated to book the early morning tour of the Vatican, it ended up being one of the highlights of my trip to Rome. It felt private and personal. There wasn't as much stress around getting through the rooms and worrying about missing anything important. Of course, I didn't see everything in the entire museum, but the tour was well worth it, and I couldn't recommend it more!


What is your favorite museum? Have you ever been to the Vatican? Let us know in the comments!

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