A Postcard from the Vatican

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During the summer of 2017 we did a bit of travelling as a family and at long last I have got round to writing some blog posts about it and downloading a few of the many photos on my camera. Last week I published my Postcard from Rome, today here’s my Postcard from the Vatican.

Before setting off on our holiday to Rome last summer, Mr Postcard rather sensibly booked a couple of guided tours, one was to the Vatican City. Included in the price was entry to the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica as well as the tour. We met our guide, Maria, on the steps outside the museum where we were fast-tracked through the crowds.

First stop after the ticket hall was a lovely viewing area which gave us a great position to look out across the Vatican gardens to the dome of St Peter’s Basilica. It was here that our lovely guide took us through many of the things which we were about to see and experience. Our tour was specifically tailored towards a family with young children and Maria showed photographs of various art works and sights we were soon to encounter.

It was here that the first stand out moment of the day happened…. one of the Little Postcards amazed us with his knowledge of Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel. It turned out that he’d done work on it a couple of years before in school and he’d remembered it. Well I never.

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After passing through the first part of the Vatican Museum, past ancient Egyption relics and other items from the ancient world, we found ourselves out in a large courtyard garden. The centre of it was dominated by this sculpture. The Sphere within a Sphere was created by Arnaldo Pomodoro and is one of several similar orbs dotted around the world. This one is exactly the same size as the one on the very top of St Peter’s Basilica (see photo above) so it really puts into perspective the scale of the church.

One of the benefits of being on the tour meant that Maria was able to invite the Little Postcards across the chain which roped off the sculpture and got them to help her push the sculpture round so that we could get a 360 degree view of it without moving ourselves. It was fun for the children to get ‘hands-on’ with this piece of art.

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At this stage I must point out that I am not attempting to write a guide book about the Vatican – that would be impossible in a blog post plus I’m sure that many people far more qualified that I am, have already done just that. I just wanted to share a flavour of some of the things we enjoyed on our trip.

In the following photo you can see, not only the sphere at the top St Peter’s Basilica again (top right), but also evidence of the extensive restoration work which was being carried out on the historic buildings.

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Some sections had already been cleaned up, while other parts were still in progress.

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The most impressive aspect of the Vatican City was the beautiful art work which was everywhere. Every wall, every ceiling was covered in the most exquisite work.

And the colours of the paints used are stunning considering the ages of some of these pieces of work.

Now that is what I call a ceiling!

Along the walls of this amazing corridor (the likes of which I have never seen before in my life) was a series of maps. The unusual thing about these maps is that many of them were drawn upside down so that they were from the perspective of the Pope in Rome looking down towards the south. They were also created in the days long, long before satellite images so they were guestimated. Our guide, Maria told us that amazingly in many cases they are pretty accurate despite the lack of geographical knowledge of the time.

Of course, no old map is complete without a sea monster.

As a born and bred Mancunian, I have an affinity for bees (they were used in the coat of arms of the city to signify the industriousness of the workers during the Industrial Revolution and came to prominence again last year as a sign of solidarity following the terrorist attack in Manchester). As I walked along this elaborately decorated corridor, I found myself spotting more and more bees on all of these maps, both in the maps and on the ‘frames’.

I have done a bit of research (by no means comprehensive)  and it turns out that Pope Urban VIII came from the Barberini family and their coat of arms featured three bees, you can read about it here. You can also find other explanations for the existence of so many bees in the Vatican here. When you look at the maps on the walls of this corridor there seems to be a significance to the bees and where they are placed as if they are marking out churches or cathedrals.

If you can shed any light onto why there are so many bees buzzing about the Vatican, I’d love to hear from you! (I wish I’d asked more questions at the time!)

After this beautiful bee-filled corridor, lay the Sistine Chapel. Photographs are not allowed to be taken in there (although many people did) nor are you allowed to speak in there (although many people did). Therefore I have nothing to show you from in there. All I can say is that it was beautiful, indescribably detailed and mind boggling at how Michelangelo could have completed such an amazing peace of work. (You can see it for yourself on the Vatican website). It was also easy to see that on occasions when it is quiet and calm, that it could be an incredibly spiritual place. Sadly for us, it was more like a cattle market, I was shocked at so many peoples’ lack of respect for such an important religious site (despite the best efforts of the Vatican staff). What a shame.

Next up was the final part of our tour.  At this point, our tour guide left us briefly and came back bearing gifts for our boys. Rather aptly it was a postcard for each of them to remind them of their time a the Vatican. We thought it was a lovely gesture. Thank you Maria, if you see this!

The final stop was St Peter’s Basilica itself. How’s this for an impressive porch?

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What a place…

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The Basilica was just mind blowing in it’s grandeur. Every surface was decorated.

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The secret as to why these works of art have stood the test of time is that unlike in the Sistene Chapel, they aren’t paintings. They are made up of millions of tiny mosaic tiles. You may be able to make the tiles out in the photo below:

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Everything here was on such a grand scale, the like of which I have never seen before. It was a beautiful building, if rather busy.

It was on the steps outside the Basilica that we said our goodbyes to our guide for the morning. Enlisting the help of a guide was a price definitely worth paying, especially with young children. They have a relatively short attention span (as do I to be fair) and were able to ask Maria questions that we wouldn’t have been able to answer. It also gave us the chance to learn so much more about our surroundings as, with the best will in the world, you cannot stand and read signs and notices next to exhibits when you are being pulled off in all directions to look at something else by smaller people. I would highly recommend the use of a guide if you are planning a visit yourself.

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From the front steps of the Basilica, we were able to gaze up to the Pope’s balcony. I’m not a Catholic, but it was quite surreal to find myself in a place which is so well known around the world. There was a definite sense of reverence and peace in spite of the hoards of tourists.

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It was upon leaving St Peter’s Basilica that we got our first full glimpse of the famous Swiss Guards. We did spy them at a distance while we were inside the complex but this time we got to see them in all their multicoloured glory.

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At the end of our visit it seemed only right that we should visit the Post Office of the smallest nation in the world and send a postcard home…

I was blown away with the beauty of the Vatican City. I didn’t really know what to expect, of course I had seen bits on telly and in books but to actually experience it for real was another thing altogether. One thing’s for sure, I will never forget the day we went to look around the Vatican.

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Night driving, cat’s eyes and street lamps

  

  
Hello from Gibraltar! It’s taken us a few days to recover from our road trip back from Portugal. The return journey was slightly longer than it was meant to be. We set off in the early evening with the intention of getting the younger members of the family to sleep for at least some of the way. In preparation for the evening ahead we made a return trip to the fishing village of Alvor for a nice lunch (see my earlier post Trip to Alvor for more on this lovely place).   

After lunch had settled, the boys had one final dip in the pool with Daddy while I finished packing up all our things ready for the trip home. All this was done with the intention of wearing them out and filling their tummies so a sandwich in the car would suffice for tea. The first hiccup of the journey came as we pulled out of the car park at our resort, to see people waving and pointing at the car. Cue the realization that the pair of damp shorts Mr Postcard had left to dry on the roof were now flapping merrily in the breeze. Fortunately a small bit of the fabric had been caught in the corner of the driver door so the shorts were rescued amid much hilarity! On our second attempt, we bid farewell to our holiday home for the past week. 

  
These pretty flowers were growing very close to our holiday home front door, I admired them each time I walked past. I have no idea what they’re called but I’d love some for our patio back home. Right then, back to the trip; off we headed along the toll road to the Portuguese/Spanish border making good headway. As we crossed over the Guadalquivir River at Seville (see my earlier post Are we there yet? Road trip to Portugal for more on our route) we were treated to a beautiful sunset.

  
Once dusk was upon us, the flaw in our great nocturnal plan was revealed; Spanish A roads (at least the ones we were on) don’t have street lights, nor do they have cat’s eyes in the road. So unless you have someone else’s tail lights to follow, it makes night driving a good deal slower and more arduous than we had previously expected. It also means that approaches to road junctions aren’t as clear as we’d anticipated. Our inexperience and lack of Satnav led us to overshoot our turn-off at Jerez. By the time we’d got to the next available junction, we were almost at Cadiz! Miles out of our way and adding nearly an hour of winding pitch black single carriage way roads onto our journey, we took a detour via Chiclana and Tarifa!

Needless to say, we were all a little frazzled when we rocked up back in Gibraltar. One highlight though was that crossing the border back into Gibraltar at quarter to midnight on a Saturday night meant no frontier queue!

Since our return there has been much post holiday washing (I think I counted 7 loads on Sunday, the poor washing machine is groaning!), unpacking and settling back into life at home. We met up with friends for a picnic in the park yesterday which was nice for the boys and the mums to catch up. It was also lovely weather wise, it has changed for the better while we’ve been away. The levanter has gone (due to a change in the wind direction) and although it’s still hot and sunny, the sweaty humidity of the previous few weeks has gone making things a lot more pleasant.

We’re looking forward to a busy few weeks here in Gibraltar, with the cardboard boat race, Gibraltar Fair, the Gibraltar Music Festival and National Day all coming up soon. I hope you’ll join me again soon and I can tell you all about them. Thanks for stopping by and thank you for taking the time to like and comment on my posts, it’s lovely to hear from you. 

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