The Vatican was beautiful but I'm going to be real. Our tour of the Vatican greatly disappointed us and left us feeling totally scammed. It was with a company called Carrani Tours and my dad had purchased the tickets on Expedia before we left for Europe. Though it wasn't one of the few that I had suggested from reading reviews, I thought it looked fairly equivalent. Most tours include skipping the seemingly never ending line into the Vatican Museum along with a guided tour in a small-medium sized group followed by a viewing of the Sistine Chapel. Many also included skip the line access to St. Peter's Basilica and a guided tour once inside. From the description of the tour we chose we believed we had a 7:30am guided tour of the Vatican Museum including the Sistine Chapel, but would then need to enter the Basilica on our own after. Because the museum is bursting with art we knew nothing about, we were excited to have a guide to teach us as we explored. The Museum also gets very crowded as soon as it opens to the general public, so we liked the idea of entering over an hour before opening.
We arrived at the meeting place well before 7:15 as required, in our appropriate clothing (knees and shoulders covered). We saw many groups gathering and being given headsets like we had experienced the day prior (these tours were through CityWonders, which was fab) but our guide was nowhere to be found. We asked around and found a couple other couples waiting for our tour as well. Another guide told us that we were in the right place and assured us our guide was probably on her way. Eventually, after 7:30, our guide showed up looking quite disheveled. She asked who was doing the guided tour and we raised our hand. The description on our ticket said "If you like, opt for a self-guided tour with audio commentary or follow a professional and friendly guide," and we had decided to opt for the "professional" guide. Well, this not so friendly woman took one look at our tickets and said no, yours is an audio guide. We tried to explain to her what the description said and she just kept pointing to the title of the tour we purchased, which did say "Audio Guide" in it. Apparently what we were reading was a broad description for many different tours, and we were to decide our guide preference at check out. Even though the page from where we purchased our ticket had only one option to buy. You can imagine our frustration at this point, but we followed her to the entrance, through security, took our maps, audio guides, and free DVD (lol, it was the plot of many jokes throughout the rest of the trip and we even gave one copy to a couple from Chicago we met in a bar later that evening to give to their father. I haven't tried it yet but I'd bet you it's sticker price (9 euros) it doesn't work on American players) and tried to make the most out of the morning.
I'll be honest, it was really hard to make the most of the morning. The map didn't make sense, the audio guide didn't match up with the numbers on the rooms or artwork, and I was tired and grumpy. We wandered the halls of the museum, getting lost a few times and never having any idea what we were looking at as it began to fill with more and more tourists. I was also stressed imagining the growing line that was sure to be forming outside the entrance to St. Peter's. I knew that once we were done in the museum, we would be forced to wait in a potentially hour long line to see the one part of the Vatican that I really wanted to see. I did really like the gardens within the museum, but was being too dramatic to truly enjoy my time there. Eventually, after viewing the crowded Sistine Chapel, we decided to cut our losses on the museum and make our way to the exit, speed-walk around the outer wall of the square, and join the mass of people waiting to get into the Basilica. Surprisingly the line moved at an okay rate and we then found our way to the roof entrance. There was a small fee to go to the viewing area at the top of the dome, but I had heard from others that it was well worth it, and after the morning we had had I needed to do at least something right.
I loved the rooftop and if it weren't for the ridiculous price we paid to get into the Vatican Museum it almost would have made up for the awful "tour" we had earlier. If I were to do it again I would either skip the Museum altogether, or splurge a little bit more and have an actual guided tour that included the basilica. But what we had was a total rip off. After taking in the amazing views from the dome, we wandered the main floor of the basilica for a bit. It was super crowded though, and once again we weren't sure what we were looking at, so after a while we got out of there, strolled the square for a bit and then headed in search of lunch.
That afternoon we took the city bus out of town a bit to the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. A coworker had told me about this spot and I had researched a bit beforehand about how to get there and when to go. It felt good to get out of the crowded tourist spots for a couple hours and the facility was set up refreshingly well. They split you up by language and priests gave guided tours through the crypts. I learnt a ton and it was also really nice to cool down underground on such a hot day (I felt bad for my dad wearing pants all day when we later learned that knee-length shorts on men were acceptable. At least I was able to lose the leggings I was wearing under my dress after leaving the basilica and my mom's long skirt wasn't so heavy). I'm assuming photos weren't allowed during the catacomb tour as I have nothing to show from the visit, but I would highly recommend this spot if you're going to Rome and have even the slightest interest in seeing some ancient tombs!
Another little thing to add to the day was later in the afternoon, when we were returning to the Trastevere area it started to rain a bit. We took shelter under a tree near the river expecting it to pass but it wasn't long before the downpour was so heavy that we were completely soaked! We ran across the street to a convenience store and waited it out for about 15 minutes before the sun came out once more and we were able to dry off. It was definitely an eventful day but ended with a delicious meal and decadent Italian desserts!