As a born Catholic and having attended a Catholic school until high school, I’ve always been mesmerized with the thought of someday visiting the Holy Land and Vatican City, two popular pilgrim sites for Catholics worldwide. As I grew older my views on religion and spirituality have changed, but my respect for tradition remains.
Despite all the mystery and controversy surrounding Vatican City, I’m amazed by the power of faith in those who seek solace in attending the Pope’s public mass, or in simply stepping foot on the city’s grounds. While faith knows no space and time, it’s an amazing thought knowing I’m reliving the tumultuous journey of pilgrims from hundreds of years ago. I’m just thankful that it’s so much safer and so much easier in this day and age.
Some Tips on Visiting Vatican City:
- The best way to get to Vatican City is via Rome, by car, train or if you’re up for it, by walking. It’s only 3 kms. from Fontana di Trevi, and takes around 45 minutes by walking, 12 minutes by car, and 30 minutes by train.
- Although there is no visa check when you get to Vatican City, for Philippine passport holders, please don’t forget to apply for a Schengen visa! Application is usually directed with the Italian consulate as Vatican City is almost always a “side trip” when visiting Italy. For more info, visit VFS Global, now the only authorized Schengen visa processing facility in the Philippines. Most EU consulates do not handle visa applications any longer.
- If you could pick a day to visit, it is highly recommended to get a chance to attend the weekly Papal Mass or the Papal Audience (sort of like a “meet and greet”) which usually falls on a Wednesday. As the Pope has many events to attend worldwide, be sure to check the updated schedule on the Papal Household’s Official Site. Tickets are absolutely free, and can be collected directly from the Swiss Guards at the St. Peter’s Square (Word of caution: All Swiss Guards, by law before hiring, should be married. Despite this invisible untouchable status, I’m sure they’ve grown a fan base from all over the world! *Drool*)
- Vatican City, like most pilgrim sites, can be a tourist trap. Check at least two souvenir shops so you can compare prices; and make sure you check reviews before deciding on a restaurant. Some restaurants trick travelers by charging service water, bread, even tablecloth! To be safe, bring snacks to tide you over, and save your lunch cash for when you get back to the heart of Rome.
- Download Google Maps and make use of its offline access feature. I used to download a different app per country, but this just beats all of them for finding the best routes and restaurants. Plus, I don’t have to be on data all the time. CNET has a definitive guide on how to make the most of this new feature.
- Why I want to go back: I didn’t even get to enter St. Peter’s Chapel because I was being a cheapo on my visit! Okay I’m not a big fan of museums– with the chapel being a place of worship-slash-living museum– but looking back I think I missed one of the highlights of Vatican City.
- As with any country in the world: do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂
P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut