We had arranged private transportation to the Vatican Museum with the company that had picked us up at the train station. We did not arrange a tour guide. Although I think we would’ve enjoyed learning from a guide, we also needed to be flexible, and I was afraid a tour guide would not allow us to do that. Also, we were already all pretty tired of walking through museums. We basically wanted to see the Sistine Chapel and whatever we happened to pass on the way there. I don’t think any of us could’ve feigned interest in whatever a tour guide wanted to share with us.
The line for the museum was wrapping along the wall of the Vatican but, thankfully, we got right in as usual. Because the main entrance to the Sistine chapel is not wheelchair accessible, we went to where most visitors exit out of the chapel. It was a bit of a hike, through many beautiful rooms and galleries, and because we were going “against the flow” and it was early, it wasn’t very crowded.
There was a stairlift to take the boys chairs down a small flight of stairs. It looked….old. The lift made a terrible loud squealing sound as it lowered the boys chairs. I prayed. As we entered the chapel we were ushered to a prime viewing spot in front of the The Last Judgement and front altar. We stayed there for at least a half an hour craning our necks and admiring the paintings. We picked out so many details on The Last Judgement and marveled at its size. It was bigger than the kids expected while the oft shown The Creation Of Adam was much smaller than they expected. Every few minutes, someone loudly remind the crowd to be quiet. I just love how Italy enforces reverence in all its churches.
As we left the chapel, the stairlift decided not to work. Several museum attendees came and tried to mess with it while the lift gave a loud, continuous, warning BEEEEEEEEEEPPPPP. They directed the boys in Italian to move their chairs onto various parts of the lift platform and Fulton and Teddy did their best to comply. The line of other wheelchair users continued to grow. I was getting nervous. Were we going to be responsible for breaking the Vatican’s stairlift???? I think I prayed more at this point in the trip than any other time!! Thankfully, with a final key jiggle, the lift squealed to life and we continued on our way with many thanks to the attendants and many apologies to all those waiting.
We toured a few sculpture galleries before deciding to exit to get drinks and make our way to St. Peter’s Basilica. It was hot and sunny; like pretty much every other day of our vacation. St. Peter’s square was set up for the Pope’s Wednesday audience and was bathed in sun. Through the various fences and barricades, we made our way through security, to the elevator and inside.
At first, Teddy was surprised, he didn’t think it was as big as I’d told him it would be, but once we started walking, and walking, and then walking by some of the side altars that he realized the full scale of the building. Like, St. Marks, I’d visited St. Peter’s before and appreciated it’s beauty, but now, I practically ran from side altar to side altar, calling out “It’s Pope St. Gregory the Great!” “It’s Pope Pius X!!” “It’s Pope St. John Paul II!” How amazing! I went into the side chapel where they offer adoration, assuring the guard I was there to pray.
We admired the Pieta, the details around the altar, and took turns going into the crypt (which features columns from Emperor Constantine’s original basilica). “It’s Pope Benedict the XVI!!” Like pretty much everywhere we’d gone, it’s almost too much to take in at once, unless you can spend an uninterrupted 12+ hours there.
After capturing a nice family photo in the square, we met our ride nearby and went back to the hotel to eat and relax. We only went out again to get gelato.
We slept in and caught the tail end of the hotel’s breakfast. We didn’t head out until lunch time, and then we got cannoli and visited a local thrift store. What a place! The selection was fantastic. I tried on so much stuff, but ultimately wound up getting a vintage Adidas warm-up jacket. Edie got a sweet 90s windbreaker, and Addie scored a cute handmade vintage dress.
That afternoon, the girls and I walked to Chiesa Sacro Cuore del Suffragio. Initially, Fulton and Teddy wanted to visit this church because they have a museum of items touched by souls in purgatory. However, it was quite a hike and the boys didn’t feel like bouncing around on that many cobblestones. Ultimately, they wouldn’t have been able to get in anyway. Google maps shows the church as accessible, but there was no ramp at any of the entrances. The church was nice, but the museum was very small.
We left with a plan to meet the guys at the Pantheon. We walked through a high end shopping area, and also stopped in a few churches that were open. The walk to the Pantheon was rough for the wheelchairs and it took much longer than expected. Originally a pagan temple, the Pantheon was made a church in 609 A.D. and given the name the Church of St. Mary and the Martyrs. Its roof is open, and is the largest unreinforced concrete dome. (On Pentecost, they drop red rose petals down into the church.) I could tell everyone was feeling a bit “churched out”, but we tried to enjoy everything as much as possible.
We ate dinner at a restaurant nearby then made the bumpy walk back. Once the boys were in bed, Tony and I went out for dessert and drinks near the hotel for one final European date.
Day 14 – Fulton’s 15th Birthday
Everyone got up early for check-out. We were able to leave our bags at the hotel and do a bit more sight seeing before our ride to the airport arrived. We got gelato one last time, and Addie and Tony went to visit the church of St. Peter in Chains (which is not wheelchair accessible). Then we decided to visit St. Mary Major because it looked pretty close on our map. We didn’t realize it was at the top of a hill, so the walk was a bit more onerous than we imagined.
Of course, it was gorgeous, and HUGE. Under the altar is a relic of Jesus’ manager. It was cool inside, and relatively uncrowded so it was a good place to rest and spend time. For his birthday, Fulton wanted Roman McDonald’s food, so we tried to walk to the closest location but unfortunately, they didn’t accept credit card and we didn’t have enough Euros on hand. We settled for snacks from a shop near the hotel and told the kids we’d get dinner at the airport.
Our vans arrived promptly and we made the drive to the airport. Our check-in took awhile for all the reasons it did every other time before. We had no idea how large the airport was so we got food at the first food court we found. It took forever for Addie and I to get our food and no sooner had we started eating than it said our flight was boarding- much earlier than we realized! We quickly walked to our terminal only to learn we needed to go through several buildings, up and down several levels (which required waiting for small elevators and making two trips), and take one shuttle to get to our departure gate. But eventually, we boarded and were on our way home.
We arrived late at JFK airport. Several international flights had arrived at the same time and it took us a long time to disembark, plus the boys needed to go through customs in manual wheelchairs while we waited to get their power chairs. Thankfully they were not damaged but our bathchair was no where to be found. We decided to head home without it as we were all exhausted and the few staff at the airport were no help. Our vacation ended as we slowly pulled in the drive around 3 a.m., June 29. In my journal I summed things up as follows:
“It feels like we’ve been away forever, yet it also feels like the trip went by fast. Tony and I have learned a lot about what we would change for future travel. I can’t believe we actually pulled this off. I’m not in a hurry to plan another big trip, but now at least anywhere else seems possible…”