on January 9, 2012
You may hear that Rome is an expensive city to visit - and like most things you hear about travelling to foreign lands - this is both true in some respects, and pointedly not in others. Flights tend to be cheap - whilst hotels are very expensive. Food is extremely cheap - while tourist attractions are very pricy indeed. In many ways - this is a nice dichotomy as it gives you complete control over what kind of Roman trip you have - and how much you have to spend to have a good time. If strolling and looking at the buildings, enjoying local food and wine is what you want - you can have yourself a very cost efficient trip that you will come home raving about. However - if seeing all the top tourist sites is your main aim - it may work out a little more expensive than otherwise. Still - no matter what your thinking or your budged about a visit to Rome and Vatican City - you can hardly go without taking in at least some of the big historical sites - even if it does mean dealing with crowds and paying the tourist price. My advice would be to be selective in your choices. Even if you are very happy to spend the money - I fear you will leave Rome feeling it was a somewhat hectic experience, and not really enjoy all it had to offer it you spend the whole time seeing these 'must sees.' However, there are a few that really should not be missed, and in a visit to Vatican City - I put the Vatican Museum at the top of that list. I - traditionally - have had a bit of a love-hate relationships with museums. In theory I love them - I like the idea of visiting something so intrinsic and unique to a city (a city's museum is an indelible stamp of its culture and though you may visit a thousand museums, you will always be able to look back and remember them linked to the feel and pace of the city in which they sat). And there are museums that are as much a part of the city as the city is itself. My trips are usually dictated at least somewhat by their cost - and so there have been times when I turned down a visit to one of these intrinsic museum experiences (such as the Louvre in Paris) which I have always regretted. I don't know what I ended up doing with the 15 odd euros I didn't spend to go to the Louvre - but I suspect it wasn't worth it. And yet - at the same time, I love wandering the streets - soaking up the atmosphere and finding the out of the way places that people don't tell you about in guide books. I like sitting and watching, and enjoying - finding that great little cafe you remember for years afterwards, and think back on fondly. And museums, for all that they do offer - also fall victim to a sense of similarity. You go in - it's quite and cool and dark and you wander along looking at art - generally only a few of which really speak to you. In my experience, I have often found myself wanting to be exploring more widely - and in short trips museums do often get cut out. And then there are of course the experiences where you wish you had spent your money elsewhere (like the Picasso museum in Barcelona) where the staff are hostile and the works of art lose something immensely from the atmosphere. There are two sides to the coin in the Vatican museum. The first is - it's astonishing. From start to finish it is awe inspiring and left me feeling that it was probably the best museum in the world. Certainly the best I had ever been to. There is So much to take in you can hardly manage it in a whole day - and if you can afford it or have the time I would highly recommend you plan more than one visit so that you can relish it. Otherwise you will reach the end and though it only increases in its impressiveness - you will be utterly topped up on appreciating it, and will find yourself just hurrying through. The problem is that it is very crowded. Crowded like nothing I have experienced in a museum before - and the closer you get to the Sistine Chapel - the worse it gets. By the end you will be being pushed from room to room, which is not pleasant - and the temperature increases as do the crowds, and it can be quite an exhausting experience. The other issue is that it is also pricy. When I visited it was 16 euros for entry (though you get an excellent discount if you are a student!) which on a normal trip for me is no small amount. However - I never for a moment regretted spending that, and was only saddened I didn't have more time and more money to go back and take in the second half of it one more time. Go as early as you can - as the day builds so do the crowds. Perhaps the most taxing thing about a visit to the Vatican museum is the profound line which stretches all along the city wall for blocks and blocks to get in. Get there as early as you can to beat it - and bring water. There are people selling bottles of water as you walk along, and it's not as pricy as you would thing (1 euro) but you will get thirsty. We lingered a little longer than we should have over our cappuccino and pastry before going and got in line around 10 pm, so were in for quite a wait. I didn't find it, too bad - sometimes you just know you have to stand in a long line, and you just get on with it. But unless you are there very very early - expect to wait approximately an hour - and more if you get there near mid day. And be very wary of pickpockets especially while in line. Despite the fact that there are cameras everywhere and this is a place where you do go through metal detectors - we still spotted several groups of young men who looked like they were doing anything but sightseeing - and were standing far too close to groups of tourists than they really should have. You will be very pleased to know that you can take photos in most of the museum (don't leave your camera behind - it's an amazing place!) but you must not do so at the Sistine Chapel - which is fair enough - it is a chapel. The summation of my review of the Vatican Museum is - it's glorious. Be sure to go if you are in Rome - it's worth both the time and the money you will spend to see it!
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