How to spend 24 hrs in the Vatican and wonderful Albania
06:30am: My alarm rang (I woke up). Stored most of my belongings at The Yellow and packed a small daypack. 07:03am: left The Yellow.
07:30am: Nearby supermarket opened. Entered and bought 3 sandwiches from supermarket. 07:41am: headed towards Vatican.
07:56am: I reached the Vatican, walked across the St. Peter's Square, passed security and dropped off my backpack at a Vatican wardrobe right at the basilicas entrance. Then I left the Vatican City again.
08:04am: I had breakfast at a café outside the Vatican. Later on with my stomach full I headed towards the museum entrance while passing the thousands of visitors who had queued up further than my eyes could see!! In Philip's description he tips the reader how practical it is to book the tour in advance online. It's essentially the only way you can ensure that you can get the tour on the day of your "24 hour attempt": www.mv.vatican.va
08:54am: I was denied entry to Vatican museum since my booked tour was set to start at 10:30 and I could only enter 30 minutes prior to the tour. Great start?!? 09:10am: I was done reading all material sent to me in connection to when I made my online booking. It turned out the guards were right :) I then walked to a nearby quiet area and fell asleep on a bench... 09:40am: woke up on bench near the Vatican. 09:58am: entered Vatican museum. Time began! :)
10:30am: the tour began of the museum, Sistine chapel and the basilica. I cannot deny that it was very interesting and I could certainly have spent more time in the museum. There was even a café area within the museum.
1:22pm: the guided tour ended in the basilica. 1:44pm: I collected my backpack from the wardrobe and made my way out to the massive Tuscan colonnades designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. 2:02pm: lunch (sandwich).
Martin from Mozambique, Southern Africa.
3:42pm: I went back through security to visit the Vatican grottoes where you find many of the papal tombs. 4:19pm: I went to visit the Vatican treasury where I met Martin from Mozambique who works there. Since I've been to Mozambique I could delight Martin with a few stories from his homeland. As it turns out he speaks 11 languages and is quite a character :)
5:09pm: I got in line for buying a ticket to climb the 551 steps up the basilica dome. 5:15pm: I got back out of line and postponed my dome visit for the next morning instead. 5:50pm: I was back at the colonnades and decided to rest a bit with my back up against a large white pillar. 6:43pm: I woke up. I slept? Again?
7:00pm: the church with its basilica, the bookshop, the post office and the information office all closed for the night. 7:15pm: the public toilets closed.
10:15pm: I brush my teeth at one of the water fountains. 10:27pm: My fiancée calls to say goodnight :) 10:45pm: I retreated to where I had planed to sleep. This was a little exiting but also very lonely. I really wish I could have done this with someone. 11:00pm: St. Peter's Square closed down for the public and the police drove everyone out. I went to sleep.
My mothers photo of me.
05:12am: I couldn't sleep anymore. I had spent most of the night twisting and turning to avoid the pain of lying directly on the hard marble rock. In addition the warm summer night had turned unbearably cold towards the early morning hours so I just stood there observing Rome wake up and the Vatican lay dead. At one point during the night I noticed that my empty water bottle which I had found and brought as an emergency toilet, had been replaced with a new full bottle while I was sleeping? As it turned out my mother, who coincidentally was in Rome working, had come to the Vatican to look for me, had found me sleeping and snapped a picture of me. She left the water bottle behind without waking me.
06:30am: St. Peter's Square opens and I jump back over the small metallic fence into the square. 07:30am: I get in line for basilica dome. 07:39am: I take the first step out of 551. At around 50 steps I start wondering if I should have paid the extra €2 for the elevator? At around 250 steps I begin overtaking a lot of people out of breath. 07:53am: I reached the dome!! Great morning view!
08:25am: I have breakfast on top of the basilica. It turns out there is a small café up there. 08:47am: I'm back down on the St. Peter's Square. I head to the post office to buy a postcard for my postcard crazy fiancée who happens to call me while I write it :)
09:58am: officially 24 hours in the Vatican! 10:15am: I left the Vatican City victorious having spent 24 hours and 17 minutes inside the dumbest country I know.
Dear Vatican administration: I'll give you a chance to redeem yourself if you invite me back, offer me a proper stay within the Vatican City and tell me about what Vatican life is really like. Until then you shall remain the dumbest country I know.
After leaving the Vatican City I made my way back to The Yellow to collect my worn out North Face base camp duffel bag which has been faithful from the first day of the Saga. I made a booking for a bus to Bari in the south of Italy and got ready to leave Rome. I'm currently checking out bus prices and ad hoc tickets versus the Interrail ticket I had last month. I suspect there is a lot of money to save by not buying the Interrail ticket.
I fouled up where the bus to Bari was leaving from. I thought it left from Termini station but in fact it was departing from the Tiburtina station. I was in time so that was no problem. I simply asked a bus driver who suggested I took the next bus in that direction. I had my doubts regarding the time and the driver then suggested I would take the nearby metro which would only take me 4 minutes. That sounded good to me. I headed down the stairs to the metro and felt really tired from my 24 hours in the Vatican. At the ticket machine I met a man from Algeria who only had large notes and asked if I could change. This was BRILLIANT because it gave me an opportunity to repay some of the incredible hospitality I had received in Algeria. I simply handed him the €1.5 the ticket cost with a big smile but he absolutely couldn't accept that and only took the coins he needed. He then thanked me plenty. Well played Algeria. I'll get you back with overwhelming hospitality some day! Then I drew my own ticket and left for the trains. While waiting I got to speak to another passenger who confirmed that I was waiting for the right train to reach Tiburtina. I looked up and I was due to arrive after 8 minutes. Oh? We were cutting it close here but I knew it was only a 4 minute ride. "4 minutes? No no no...it's more like 15 minutes!" she said. That was no good because with that I would miss my bus!! I dashed up the stairs and into the open where I located a taxi and tossed my bags into the back. I then jumped in next to the driver who didn't speak to words of English. I had 8 minutes before the bus would leave Tiburtina!! Somehow I managed to explain the driver what the situation was and we raced across Rome running 6-7 lights while I was shouting "FORZA ITALIA" to his great amusement. We made it to Tiburtina, I paid the driver and ran for the bus which was backing out of its spot. The clerk was unhappy with me but stopped the bus while cursing me in Italian. He ended up laughing with me though as I jumped into the bus and headed to Bari.
Bari is really nice and has a much more local feeling to it than Rome. Rome is a city for everyone while Bari felt more like a place for people from Bari. I could easily have spent a week in Bari alone. Or 6 years in Italy! Italy has more UNESCO world heritage sites than any other country in the world. I splurged by staying at a $50 hotel and the next day I hopped on a ferry to Durrës in extraordinary Albania.
Albania is truly something special! I was tired when I arrived after spending a night on the ferry not completely unlike the night in the Vatican. A $1 bus got me the 40 minutes from Durrës to Tirana which is the capital. Albania is very kind to my $20/day budget and there is a lot of quality food to support that statement!
Albania is really, really, really something special and interesting. The history of the region stretches back really far and there is some uncertainty about where the Albanian language originates from? What is known is that it is older than the Greek language! The relatively small country consists of 70% mountains, it has numerous green hills, rivers, lakes, a long stretch of Mediterranean coast, plenty of castles, friendly people, good food, interesting history, a beautiful culture and it's a very safe country to visit! On top of that it has some 750,000 bunkers which were built during its communist period to protect the people from an attack which never came. Some say that they were built to convince the population of an outside threat.
Pyramid of Tirana. You can climb it but it's a lot steeper than what I looks.
Between 1967 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 Albania was super isolated! Some people speak of that period as if it rivals today's conditions in North Korea. Following communisms replacement by democracy a lot of Albanians did not know how to handle the sudden excessive freedom? So a form of anarchy took over for a while and a few things got out of control. I mention all of this because I find it very interesting in regards to Albanias development into what it is today. The women are generally very beautiful and one could pause to ask if they are really more beautiful than other women or if it is because they take better care of themselves? It's a good question because 'people watching' in Tirana can definitely feel like looking at a catwalk. I've heard people say that it ties into the 1991 liberation from communism and the freedom that followed. Women like to wear nice close, spend money on looking good and wearing high heals while the men appear to fancy driving expensive cars. I'm certain that life in Albania was really tough in the past and it appears to me that we are dealing with an ancient country which was in a deep decades long sleep and has abruptly been woken up. So much is going on and Albania is on the fast track to becoming a part of the EU. Probably just not tomorrow.
Just imagine loosing your grip on the pyramid and tumbling down?
I stayed at a great hostel and met a few people right from the get go. Young travelers from all over the world find their way to Albania's thriving capital Tirana. There was among other Tim from Australia who's a firefighter and jumps out of helicopters to fight forest fires?!? One of the other people I met was 24 year old Ben from Colorado, USA. We had really good chemistry from the beginning and he turned out to be a lot more interesting than what I could have imagined any 24 year old to be. We talked for hours and hours and I really can't go into detail. However this blog does shed some light into one of his escapades:
"Straight Male Seeking Man: The Time I Organized an Orgy in Madrid" https://www.wanderingmadman.live/stories/