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Country Roads: Rome
Country Roads:
Mvsei Vaticani

Story and photos by Tom Weber

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

t began in January of 1506 when an ancient Greek marble sculpture was discovered resting peacefully underground in a vineyard within the city limits of Rome.

Pope Julius II, a true patron of the arts, dispatched Michelangelo Buonarroti, his artist-in-residence, to examine the find and report back. So impressed by its artistry and workmanship, Michelangelo recommended on the spot that the Pope purchase the capolavoro (masterpiece).

Julius did, and Laocoön and His Sons, dated somewhere between 27 BC and 68 AD, became the very first work to go on public display inside the Vatican and give rise to a series of museums, galleries, courtyards and chapels that, today, collectively showcase over 70-thousand pieces of art that are viewed by millions annually.

visitors queue outside the entrance to the Vatican Museums, Vatican City

It's 8:30 a.m. and the queue outside the entrance to the Vatican Museums – the Papal Museums and Galleries to be precise – is already growing as the mass of humanity snakes around the corner and up the cobblestone street that hugs the exterior wall of Vatican City. They'll be waiting for hours. Not to worry. I'm a member of a select group of international media that's the guest of Insight Vacations (Insight) to sample a portion of its premium-escorted "Country Roads" journey around central Italy.

visitors on their way to the Vatican Museums

Here's what's so premium. Our luxury motorcoach drops us off curbside, our FastTrack passes get us inside in a flash, and we're off and running with our personal guide, art historian Siggy, who waives a red flag for all to see and narrates every step of the way that I can hear clearly through an earpiece attached to a radio receiver. Jeez, I feel like a member of the Secret Service: "POTUS is on the move."

A mandatory bucket list entry, the entire complex appears to be one gigantic museum, but it's really a union of a series of various collections, each named after the pope who commissioned them.

The Museum of Museums, spread out like a labyrinth inside the walls of Vatican City, the smallest internationally recognized independent state in the world, is a cascade of rooms, galleries and highly-polished corridors.

It's an incredible stroll through history where you're eyeball-to-eyeball with the greatest artists of all time, but don't forget to look up now and then to admire the ceilings frescoed by the likes of Raphael, Pinturicchio and Fra Angelico, and take the time to peer out windows and over balconies for panoramic views of Rome.

visitors walking around the Vantican Museums grounds

To see every piece of art and square meter on display would takes days, weeks, even months, but we're on the clock and Siggy's waiving that red flag again and telling us AVANTI! through the earpiece.

the Bramante Staircase

The highlight of our morning at the papal museums was a private viewing of the Bramante Staircase, the double-helix step-less staircase designed by Donato Bramante, the Vatican architect during the High Renaissance who was Michelangelo's arch rival.

So private is the viewing of the up-the-down-staircase that a serious looking custodian is called, the antique key inserted and the heavy wooden doors pushed open and we're ushered inside.

St. Peter's Square, Vatican City

If all roads lead to Rome, then it's only fitting that all Vatican Museum guided tours lead to the Sistine Chapel, named in honor of Pope Sixtus IV who restored it and where photography is strictly prohibited. We enter, look left, right, and mostly upward to marvel at Michelangelo's agony and ecstasy: the perfectly restored ceiling he was commissioned to paint, on his back, and The Last Judgment that adorns the wall just behind the altar. Without a doubt, Michelangelo's paintings were masterpieces without peer and dramatically changed the palette of Western art.

The final stop at the Mvsei Vaticani now completed, our band of merry media merges with the crowd and exits.

Pontifical Swiss Guards, standing vigil in their traditional Renaissance era uniforms

tour director Belinda

Walking past the Pontifical Swiss Guards, standing vigil in their traditional Renaissance era uniforms, we take one last look at the majesty that is the Vatican, bid farewell to Siggy, our knowledgeable art historian guide, and hop on the Insight motorcoach.

Stretched out in our reclining business class legroom seats, someone yells out, What's next?, to Belinda, our tour director-slash-storyteller.

How about lunch in Orvieto, she replies with a wink and a grin.

For complete information on Insight Vacations' 12 Italian premium and luxury-escorted itineraries and over 100 journeys throughout Europe just click HERE, or call toll free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.

See you in a couple of hours when we'll meet up with Lorenzo, the Etruscan Chef, in ohr-vee-AY-toh.

Ciao for now.

Related Articles:
Country Roads, Italy; Rome: Basics for Beginners; Norcia, Umbria; Vicenza: The City of Palladio; Vicenza Walks: Piazza dei Signori; Sipping Vino and Savoring Vistas In Tuscany; Traveling in Northern Italy

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Let Tom know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Destination Bosnia: Inside Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope

Spent time in Sarajevo in the fall of 1973…beer was excellent!

--- David

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Hi Tom,

I must say, you're photographs are always amazing. They are top notch. You bring so much class to Traveling Boy. It's photographs like yours that make me want to go out and do my own traveling. Please don't get tired of sending us your amazing adventures. It's such a delight for the soul.

--- Raoul, Whittier, CA

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Hi Tom:

I'm also an American living in Italy. I've read with interest your blog and articles. I'd like to speak with you regarding residency and citizenship for Americans in Italy as you do seem to have a great deal of knowledge on all of these subjects. Would it be possible to give you a call on the phone? If so, please let me know how to reach you. If not, I can ask my questions via email.

Thank you!

--- David

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Hey Tom – Wow! Love those photos – they are so super that they make me A) Want to start eating NOW. B) Go there myself. C) See all that pristine beauty that looks so restful and peaceful. Great story, superb pix!!! Bravo!!

--- John, Los Angeles, CA

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Feedback for Destination Southwestern France: Saint-Émilion

Good job, Tom, and timely info. St. Émilion is in the list of places Jim Hayes and I will visit in September 2014. If we get the chance, we will exploit your experience to enhance the trip!

--- Bobby Harper, Dameron, MD

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Feedback for Vicenza Walks – Monte Berico

I lived in Vicenza for 4 years in the U.S. ARMY from 1963 to 1967. A wonderful place to explore. Palladio’s works are amazing. Have been back twice since and find new places to visit. My favorite is MONTE BERICO where I have some wonderful photos of my family.

--- Dr. Albert Pizzi, Hanover, MA

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I liked the new TB particularly the Vicenza article that took me back as a youth when we lived in Naples and travelled up there for a baseball tourney (U.S. Military Bases dependent schools played each other.)

Took me back to the plaza.

--- Bill

Feedback for A Canterbury Trail (Sutri)

Very interesting note. I have wedroned which route the early pre-Christian and Christian pilgrims travelled to Rome from England. Is it still possible to travel the Francigena trail?

--- Pawel

You can find out more info on walking tours of Via Francigena at this site: Thanks for stopping by and commenting..


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Good article, enjoyed reading it. Saved your recommended sights for future use.

--- Dardenne Prairie, MO

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You're going to be great at this Tom. Congrats.

--- Donna Vissa -Montreal

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