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    Slovakia: Tatra Mountains. Go Now!

    Slovakia
    The Tatra Mountains (pictured) form the backdrop of this rural country, whose culture is rooted in this beautiful landscape. Go Now!

  • Italy!

    Italy: Rome' historic buildings. Go Now!

    Italy
    Crumbling buildings in Rome (pictured) only add to the atmosphere in a country where old is redefined and western civilization begins. Explore Italy!

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    Portugal: Palace of Pena. Go Now!

    Portugal
    Although next to the seas and made famous by trade, Portugal boasts dynamic landscapes and architecture, including the Palace of Pena (pictured) near the town of Sintra. Go to Portugal!

  • Serbia!

    Serbia: Houses in the mountains. Go Now!

    Serbia
    Serbia is a historic power now looking internally to re-discovery their identity and future. Explore Serbia!

  • Armenia!

    Armenia: Noravank Monastery. Go Now!

    Armenia
    With a unique language, foods, architecture, and identity, Armenia is a fascinating country and culture unlike no other in the world. Begin Your Journey!

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    Finland: Finnish Sauna. Go Now!

    Finland
    Unlike its neighbors, the Finns are unique ethnically & linguistically, but are wholly European in many other ways. Begin Your Journey!

Vatican City

Swiss Guards in Vatican City

Vatican City

December 31, 2013
Long Lines & the Vatican Museums

Cindy and I decided to head to Vatican City earlier than everyone else today. We were up and I wanted to see St. Peter's Square prior to heading to the museums so the two of us headed there. After a slow meander down Via della Conciliazione we arrived to the square only to find one incredibly long line to get into St. Peter's Basilica and giant screens saying the basilica and square would be closing early today, forcing us to immediately get into the line to see the basilica.

Despite the fact that the line moved from the basilica to the street, then curved back around to the obelisk in the middle of the square, it moved rather quickly and within about 30-40 minutes we were through security and on our way into St. Peter's. However, with a particular time for entrance to the museums, we only had about another 30 minutes in the basilica. Much of it was closed off as seats were set and only about half of the church was actually accessible. Despite this, we could still see everything as we quickly moved through the basilica, stopping a few times to truly admire items like the Baldachin.

Sadly, our time was quickly running out so our trip ended rather abruptly as we had to stop at the post office to try to get a passport stamp (we asked and found out that there is no place in Vatican City to get your passport stamped), then took our time walking back through the square before rushing off to the museum entrance, where we were meeting Cindy's parents, sisters, and Mike.

With pre-purchased tickets to the museum we got to skip the slow-moving line that was a few blocks long and quickly got our tickets and headed into the museum. The museums can be described in so many ways and there is no shortage of adjectives for the massive complex, however the first word that comes to mind for me is huge. Having only three and a half hours prior to the museums closing we felt rushed and skipped nearly half the museums. Even the museums we saw we only saw to varying degrees. In some places, like the Sistine Chapel, the Chiaramonti Museum, the Courtyard of the Pinecone, and the Gallery of Maps we truly took our time, but in other areas we quickly passed by in favor of seeing the highlights and our personal preferences.

Each of the many museums (the Vatican Museums are divided into multiple museums) has enough of a collection to be a stand along museum and each has such impressive works that each would be considered among the finest art museums in the world. To give some impression of the quality and quantity of the art, as visitors press on to see the Sistine Chapel few people even recognize the fact that they are passing by the Museum of Modern Religious Art without even stopping; this museum includes works by Auguste Rodin, Vincent van Gogh, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso among others. Yet, there is such a rush towards the Sistine Chapel that everything else, from the paintings in this museum to the incredible Raphael Rooms, seems to take a back seat.

The herd pushing on to see the Sistine Chapel is so fierce at times it felt like I could have lifted up my legs and would have simply been carried forward by the crowds. No one was pushy or rude, it was just that crowded. The crowds also sort of forced the pace on people, particularly in the long halls where there was little room to pull aside and stop. However, in the Raphael Rooms and the Museum of Modern Religious Art there were plenty of areas to pull aside and let the crowds pass. In the Museum of Modern Religious Art the side rooms, where the art was actually located, were deserted. I pulled aside in one room to get a look at some paintings by Salvador Dali, but the crowds pushed my companions forward and soon I was behind them playing catch up.

The Sistine Chapel is the main draw in the museums and once you arrive it is no wonder why. Although I've been told dozens of times that the chapel is smaller than I would imagine, having heard that line so many times I found it much larger than anticipated. It also had much more room than the earlier halls and museums so once you get inside it feels like there's finally room to breathe and spread out.

Like everyone, I immediately stared up and soon lost everyone I was with, but none of us seemed to be seeking the others out as we all were just staring at the ceilings. After finding the famous ceiling painting my Michelangelo, "The Creation of Adam," my eyes shifted to the walls and other details. On one side wall is a series of paintings called the "Life of Moses," and on the opposite wall the "Life of Jesus." Over the altar is the "Last Judgment," which is famous primarily because later artists (it was originally painted my Michelangelo) covered all nudity with fig leaves and other objects subtly, or not so subtly placed on the painting. After taking in all the paintings and details in the chapel I couldn't help but look at the crowds, particularly those just making their way into the chapel staring at the ceiling just as I had moments earlier, but how could one not be drawn to the paintings?

Yes, the Sistine Chapel was the highlight of the museums for me and for nearly every visitor to the Vatican Museums, but there were also many surprises along the way. Among these were the first piece of art the museums obtained, "Laocoon & His Sons" in the Pio-Clementine Museum's Octagona Court, the Constantine Room's central ceiling fresco containing a destroyed pagan idol below a cross (in the Raphael Rooms), and perhaps the hall I was most impressed with outside the Sistine Chapel, the Gallery of Maps. Despite the many museums we saw, there were others we missed like the Historical Museum's Carriage Pavilion and the Picture Gallery.

Once we finally got out of the museums we tried to find Cindy & Gina who skipped the Raphael Rooms and headed straight to the Sistine Chapel. Unfortunately, we had no official meeting spot and eventually headed out of the museums where we waited for them until they exited, as did everyone since the museums were closing; we eventually found them and our time in Vatican City had come to an end.

Continue the above trip to: Italy

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