Milestone birthdays should be celebrated, the more spectacular the better. If, like me, you exist in a Peter Pan-like state, it’s best to forget about your age and rather focus on a wonderful experience. For that reason I had decided to spend my 35th birthday in Italy and, more specifically, I wanted the day to be filled with art, culture and religion. What better place, then, to celebrate than inside the Vatican City?
We started the morning off exploring the Vatican Museums. I had been there before, but it was Gareth’s first time inside the imposing walls that separate the papal city from the rest of Rome. Having planned better this time with pre-booked tickets, we skipped past the queue that circled the block and entered ahead of everyone else. It was another hot summer’s day in the Eternal City, but inside the museum it was cool and abuzz with the conversations of hundreds of people.
The Vatican Museums are extraordinary. Every nook and cranny holds something interesting for the history buff and if you are at all interested in archaeology and art then it’s a must-see destination. There are whole rooms dedicated to ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian relics, pottery, old manuscripts, paintings, and sculptures from classical Greece and Rome. The walls are lined with colourful tapestries and the ceiling frescoes will cramp your neck as your head is forever tilted upwards. Even the floors are decorated with intricate mosaics. It’s a visual overload.
Eventually we found ourselves inside the Sistine Chapel. Goethe once wrote: “Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving.” The chapel is world-famous for Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes, most notably The Creation of Adam. You’re not allowed to take pictures, so instead we sat down, gazed upwards and just stared until the image was burned into our retinas. Genius.
Feet aching from walking all morning, it was time to rest and eat cake. We left the museums behind, stepped across the street and sat down inside a restaurant with a view of St Peter’s Basilica. Our charismatic waiter had us giggling while we waited for a piece of chocolate cake and a smoothie to share. I can honestly say it was the best cake I have ever tasted!
Rejuvenated, we headed towards St Peter’s Square. The line to enter the basilica was intimidating, it stretched out endlessly before us in the hot afternoon sun. But there was nothing for it, so we queued for an hour or so, making friends with the Americans behind us and laughing at the funny poses other tourists struck as they had their pictures taken in front of what I consider to be one of the most magnificent churches in the world.
It was worth the wait. The Basilica di San Pietro is breathtaking. If it was designed with the intent to make you feel small and insignificant, humble before God, then it succeeds in its purpose admirably. We wandered inside those hallowed halls for quite some time, discovering Michelangelo’s masterful Pietà and admiring the beautiful interior.
Blinking, we stepped outside again. A Swiss Guard was on duty, his face serious despite the ridiculous uniform. We sat down on the steps of the square, posing for photos and enjoying the fact that we can have two feet in two countries at the same time.
Yes, this was how one should celebrate a milestone birthday!
Do you like doing something special for a milestone birthday? Does it involve travel? Tell us more!
For more posts in the Ciao Italy 2014 series, click here.