While hundreds of thousands of Italians converged on Rome yesterday to participate in the Salva L’Italia demonstration, where opposition leader Walter Veltroni (Partito Democratico) rallied the troops, I thought that the best thing to do was to stay away from the city’s centre and spend the day in St Peter’s Basilica. It turned out in the end to be a good day out after a disappointing start.
Disappointing because of the few thousand fellow tourists already there ahead of me. The line to enter the Basilica alone was some 150 metres long, if not longer. It was a daunting sight. But here’s a tip: the line moves pretty quickly. Well, at least my queue was fast; all up I waited for only about 15 minutes before finally setting foot inside the Basilica itself. So I suggest just jumping right in and being patient, for you’ll be inside in no time at all.
When you reach the bottom of the Basilica’s entrance you’ll have 3 choices to make: (i) enter the Basilica first or (ii) the popes’ tombs or (iii) going up to the Cupola. My suggestion is to take the tombs tour first, followed by the Basilica then the Cupola. This is because the short walk, about 15-20 minutes (unless you choose to stop and pray, which you can do), through the popes’ tombs actually ends right inside the Basilica itself. Then finish your tour, like I did, with an unforgettable trip right up to the Cupola.
A few words about the Cupola tour. Pay the higher fee of €7 instead of the lower €5 fee. The extra €2 will save you over 200 steps because you get to ride in an elevator. Believe me, you’ll need to save your energy; it’s a tough climb. Hence, there is a sign near the ticket booth warning people that the old and frail are not advised to attempt the climb.
But I’ll be blunt: the climb is not recommended for fat people, parents with children, those with a heart condition, those who have breathing problems, old folks, young children (less than, 15, say), those who suffer from claustrophobia or just the generally unhealthy. I also do not recommend it for women who cannot temporarily part with their high heels.
So why all these restrictions, you wonder. Because even the €7 elevator-assisted climb still involves approximately 320 steps of climbing through steep staircases which are, in some sections, through narrow spirals. Thus, I don’t recommend this trip for large folks and those who suffer from claustrophobia. Furthermore, it is not good for young children because you’ll very likely end up carrying them, as exactly what one mother did during my climb. It was ridiculous to watch. Finally, if you happen to be carrying a heavy backpack, such as with camera equipment, I strongly recommend checking that in with the guards downstairs; be as light as possible.
All that said, reaching the top isn’t quite heaven or Everest, but it is a pretty glorious experience. You’ll have a 360 degree view of all of Rome. It is from this height that this photo I took was made possible.