It' s a really odd feeling when you live in a vast country like Australia, with thousands of kilometres of empty interior, no land borders and not many people, to discover the smaller countries of Europe. There were countries like Slovenia, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands that we could easily have driven across in a day - and sometimes did. But even they were big compared to the tiny Principalities. During our travels we passed through, and occasionally stopped for a coffee or a meal in, Monaco and Luxembourg but even those were bigger than the Vatican.
Some land areas in square km to put that in context:
These Swiss Guards (it must have been the day they were washing those colourful uniforms) were there to make sure you were reminded that you were entering a foreign country.
We decided to see St Peters first. As you'd expect, it is big - compare the statues on the roof with the people below. It was an unseasonably stifling, sticky, hot May day continuing the heat wave that started back in Buonconvento with our legally unavailable air-conditioning. The line was not incredibly long - but moved incredibly slowly. When we finally got to the head of the queue after over an hour they were conducting a security check - very slowly but not particularly well.
We finally passed security and asked the guard where the Ladies facilities were; he pointed to a doorway and opened a gate for her to go through, so I waited outside. When she came back the same guard made it clear that we were now outside security and had to go back to the start of the queue. It's just as well I'm an atheist; if I had been a believer a bolt of lightning would have struck me immediately for what I was leaving unsaid about St Peters and it's staff at that moment. But sanity prevailed and I said nothing - thankfully the queue had become shorter second time around. The guard was alive and well later as we left - so it must be true - atheist's prayers aren't answered.
By the time we left St Peters we were cutting it fine to see the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. For some reason, instead of providing direct access from St Peters we had to walk from one side of the country to the other - literally - to get to the entry; it led to our viewing being a bit rushed.Some of the photographs were damaged later - but even so, that visit is etched in my mind. Those magnificent, opulent, gorgeous and fascinating ceilings. I wanted to lie on my back and stare up. Of course, I didn't, but I did leave with a sore neck.
The art and other objects on the walls were also interesting, especially the ancient maps, but it was the ceilings I remember today - culminating, of course, in the Sistine Chapel.
I left musing on genius; with the enormous strides in all the sciences, and a population over ten times the world of Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and Galileo, it seems strange that we don't also have ten times the number of people of true genius. There are probably more than Hawking and Einstein, but I doubt we could come up with thirty or forty over the past 150 years. And I find it difficult to include many of the modern paintings I've seen in the same category as Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, and the other masters of pre-industrial times; but then, as I said previously - I'm probably a philistine.