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  • A.K. Lee

Vatican City

When in Rome...

The husband and I decided early on that we had to visit Vatican City while we were in Rome. The only word I can use to describe it is "grand": grand spaces, grand architecture, grand history... and at the end of it, a wistful sense that this isn't what Jesus would have liked to see.

The half-day tour I had signed up for was run by an enthusiastic archaeologist who told us a lot of information that we would not have known otherwise. The highlight for me was, undoubtedly, the Sistine Chapel. The second I stepped in, my breath was taken away. Such colors! Such lines, such light, such astounding beauty! I was literally brought to tears. The last time I was this moved by art was when I stood before Leonardo da Vinci's Virgin of the Rocks in the Louvre. (I was similarly moved this time round when I once again paid homage to the painting, but that is a story for another time.) Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures of the stunning artwork. Yet, how would I have been able to capture that sense of majesty, that splendor? No, the Sistine Chapel is a place to visit and be awed by, not for photos to be posted on social media.

The rest of St. Peter's Basilica was a study of elevated grandeur. I could not help being amazed at the artistry, even as I considered the amount of money that had been poured into the very building in which we wandered. How much of the wealth was deserved, and how much from corruption? I don't consider myself religious at all, even though I grew up in a Presbyterian school; yet I found myself wondering if Christ would have approved of such ostentatious displays.

The tour itself was wonderful. At the end of it, my husband and I decided to go up the dome for a closer look. There was elevator access after all, we reasoned.

Oh what a huge mistake that was.

We took the elevator up and it led us to the inside of the dome on the higher level, where we could see the mosaics in detail. Indeed, the craftsmanship was astounding. No wonder it took decades to complete the dome! When we left the narrow walkway and came out, we noticed an innocuous flight of steps leading up to a door, and that supposedly led to the top of the dome.

Guess what we did?

Yep, we climbed that like a couple of suckers.

Unfortunately, no one told us that 1) it was a bloody long climb up steep stairs with hardly any ventilation and 2) you cannot go back down the same way. Halfway through I couldn't deal with the enclosed spaces and was hyperventilating slightly, but I couldn't go back down the way I came up. The only way down was to get to the top! And my husband was already far ahead of me.

So upwards I went, until I emerged onto the roof and this was laid out before me. It was a breathtaking view, except by then my breath had already been completely taken by the climb.

By the time I got back down via a bloody narrow and steep series of steps, I was winded. We got ourselves a postcard at the souvenir shop and mailed it to ourselves, a reminder that yes, we did make a trek up to the top of Vatican City and that damn, we really needed to build our stamina. The view was stunning. We only wish we had known what we were in for - that slog upwards really took a lot out of my husband and I. But I think we had a more memorable trip because of it.

That's rather like life, isn't it?

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