If you think the above picture is chaotic, you are right. This is what the entrance to the Vatican Museum looks like. Visitors stand in a line that goes for blocks – unless you have a guided tour. Then, you are able to by-pass everyone and walk right in. And even better if the tour is of the gardens, where you can trade the picture above for this:
Ahhh . . . much better.
These are the gardens of the Pope. We were extremely lucky because they only open them twice a month to visitors. I had looked online a couple of months ago to see what tours they had and reserved this one because it looked off the beaten path, and we usually like that type of thing.
It was great! Not only were the gardens beautiful, but we learned lots of interesting facts.
– For example, did you know that Pope John Paul II jogged nearly every day in these gardens?
– Or that Vatican citizens have a special license plate? They can park anywhere in Rome and not get a ticket (like diplomatic immunity).
– The Gardener has his job for life and a house right below St. Peter’s Dome (see yellow house below), where he lives with his family. They all get to be Vatican citizens, until the children turn 18 and then have to become Italians.
– There is a 15th century tower, which was used as a look-out when first built. Each Pope is able to choose whichever rooms in the Vatican he wants for his apartments. One decided to live in the tower, so they fixed it all up for him. Now they let dignitaries stay there, including (they told us) American Presidents.
– There is an area surrounded by fountains where the Pope can have a private conversation that is guaranteed not to be overheard by anyone on the outside.
– And each Pope gets to decorate their own area – whether a type of garden or statue that means something to him. If a Pope has a favorite walking path, they will end up naming it for him. One Pope walked the same straight line so often that they installed a glass ceiling, so if it rained, he could still walk and see the sky.
So not only was the setting lovely, but it really was like walking around in history. What a fascinating and beautiful place.