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Vatican City

Encircled by a 2-mile border, Vatican City is the smallest country in the world.

The independent city-state mints its own euros, prints its own stamps, and even has its own flag and anthem. The next smallest country in the world is Monaco which we also visited. However, whereas Monaco has about 35,000 residents, Vatican City has less than 500.

When we arrived on a random Monday morning, the line to the Vatican Museums stretched on for what appeared to be a mile. Reluctantly, we went to claim our space at the end… only to realize it wasn’t the end. Rather, the line wrapped around the corner and continued into the horizon’s vanishing point.

Apparently, it was God’s will that we would not be visiting the Vatican Museums that day.

Instead, we got in a shorter line for St. Peter’s Basilica, the world-renowned church of the Pope. By “shorter,” the wait was only an hour long. Upon entering the large, opulent Portico, we spotted the extraordinary sculpture, La Pieta. Michelangelo’s sculpture of the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus is considered a masterpiece. The emotion captured in this single art form is raw, profound and beautiful. The artist was only 24 when he created it, and the only sculpture he ever signed.

Farther down the central nave stands the Baldacchino, a massive Baroque bronze canopy over the papal high altar. Its splendor, bordering gaudiness, represents the extraordinary amount of wealth the Roman Catholic Church had at one point.

The highlight of our visit was the climb to St. Peter’s dome. And yes, it involved yet another line.

The wait to enter the Cupola was about 2 hours. Like the Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, we chose to climb the whole way up (as opposed to taking the elevator) – well over 500 steps. Massive mosaics, impressive in their scale and extreme detail, greeted us along the way. As the art grew bigger, the visitors down below in the nave appeared smaller.

The stairs eventually led out to the rooftop where a breathtaking panoramic view opened up on to St. Peter’s Square below. We stood behind gargantuan statues of Christ and his 12 Apostles, which interestingly, are unfinished on the back as the artists had no intention of people ever viewing them that close up. The enormity of the square below was overwhelming. Squinting in the distance, we could see people still lined up for the Vatican Museums. How we dreaded tackling that the next day…

For now, we simply took in the cool breeze and majestic sights from the world’s tallest dome of one of the most important religious sites in the world. A feeling that can best be described as… heavenly.

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