How to spend 24 hrs in the Vatican and wonderful Albania

Since October 10th 2013: 132 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
Did you see it coming?
IMG 0706
Oh Vatican. There you stand in the Center of Rome with your locked doors and you inhospitable approach to strangers. You welcome tourism but close at night. You welcome money but have no hotels, no restaurant and no children born. Rome represents far more qualities of a country than you do - however there you are: the world's smallest country.
I figure that the last country of the Saga will get a lot of attention. I also figure that if the last country is difficult in some way then being the last country may add pressure for me to enter. I didn't want it to be the Vatican City, which in my opinion hardly qualifies to be a country. As I mentioned last week: I have called all their official phone numbers, I had emailed all the email addresses, I had even tweeted their official twitter account for more than 60 days straight!! In addition to my efforts several other people tried the same as well. We even faxed the Vatican and sent physical letters and packages without ever getting a response. Enough is enough. Having read a detailed plan for how 24 hours in the Vatican could be achieved I decided that I was going to try to follow it. The plan was written by fellow traveler (from The Danish Travelers Club) Philip Skjødt:
IMG 0456
He basically stated that there was a loophole towards sleeping in the Vatican. You can observe homeless people do it every night and the trick is to be on the outside of the low Vatican fence, which surrounds St. Peter's Square, but inside the curbs which mark the border between the Vatican City and Italy. In other words you will sleep directly on the ground at the very edge of the border. You've got plenty of space (about 2 meters/yards width) and the curbside is clearly marked. The police guarding the St. Peter's Square at night (it's closed from the public between 11pm-06:30am) will not bother anyone lying down on the outside of the fence. Since that is still the Vatican City the authorities of Italy (Rome) can not touch you and you're home free. Not my ideal plan for a night at the Vatican but I do find it to be a solution in what I will officially call the dumbest country in the world until I get an invitation to sleep in a bed and speak to someone who lives there.
IMG 0340
Philip goes on to explain how you can get the most out of your 24 hours without leaving the Vatican. The Vatican museum has its entrance through an opening on the northern wall relatively far from the St. Peter's Square - so you cannot walk between the two without leaving the Vatican. However if you book the guided tour of the Vatican museum, the Sistine chapel and the St. Peter's Basilica, the guide will bring you through a shortcut which connects the museum and the basilica on Vatican soil. This means that you can start your 24 hours in the museum and get more out of your visit. After the tour you can stroll around the church, climb the stairs to the top of the basilica, visit the Vatican treasuries, visit the church grottoes...that's kind of it... However by doing so I have probably seen more of the Vatican than I did of any other single country. Keep in mind that the Vatican City can fit inside New York's Central Park 8 times! Okay, here we go:
IMG 0276
I was staying at The Yellow which is a great hostel I first used in 2013, when I first attempted to spend 24 hours in the Vatican. In 2013 I left after only 3 hours discouraged by the news that the country (Vatican) closes at 11pm and everyone had to leave.
IMG 0317

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.

IMG 0392

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":

IMG 0326

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! :)

IMG 0324

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. 

IMG 0356

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).

IMG 0458

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?

IMG 0372

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.

IMG 0406

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.

IMG 0440

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!

IMG 0457 

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 :)

IMG 0442

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'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.

IMG 0454

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.

IMG 0518

IMG 0520

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!

IMG 0671 

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. 

IMG 0539

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.

IMG 0544

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"

Ben who is a globetrotting medical marijuana salesman is something else. The following day he rented a car and I went with him to see the south of Albania. Oh boy Albania is beautiful!
IMG 0670
IMG 0651
IMG 0672
IMG 0648
The following day I had a meeting with the Albanian Red Cross which has a very strong structure and a group of highly reliable employees who have been working together for the past 25 years. In a country of 3 million people and some quite serious floods they only have a few thousand volunteers to manage. It's a shame because with the strong organizational structure the volunteers could really do a lot of work! I had the opportunity to meet a group of these volunteers and they were AMAZING! There was a high level of energy, they were clearly enjoying spending time together and they master first aid at a high level. Such a high level that they compete internationally and win. One of the volunteers performed her version of "at last" by Etta James which went straight into the heart. The volunteers had also made a video which had an amateur quality to it however certainly got the point across and watered my eyes a little. The video was a mash up of happy moments: weddings, birthdays, parties, love, celebration etc. the video then took a turn to some footage of hardcore natural and man made disasters: floods tearing down houses, hunger, earthquakes, armed conflict etc. finally it portrayed the Red Cross doing humanitarian work in all of the previous disasters: hard work, hugs, food distributions, first aid, evacuations, children in distress getting help, humanity at large etc.
IMG 0653
FullSizeRender 2 FullSizeRender 3
FullSizeRender 5 FullSizeRender 10
FullSizeRender 6
FullSizeRender 4
IMG 0667
Albanian Red Cross:
Afterwards we had coffee and a young volunteer came up to me and said something which made me realize that there is no way I'm ever turning my back on the Red Cross. The Red Cross will remain a part of the Saga until the day I return home. So for what it's worth Albanian Red inspired me!
IMG 0679
IMG 0668
It was hard leaving Italy when there was still so much to see. Albania proved no different. After 4 nights in Tirana I was on my way again. I made a short stop at Stella Mare who acts as the agent for Maersk Line. 
A great bunch of people and I did a quick presentation of the Saga for them before Arens gave me a lift to my next bus. A little hectic as we nearly missed it but managed to call the bus company and pick me up from the side of the road to the drivers annoyance. But no matter...the driver quickly calmed down and I was on my way to Greece.
That's a story for next week ;)


Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - moving fast again
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"


Once Upon a Saga
Made by Kameli