Italy by Rail and Ship: The Folly of Line Picking

When in Rome … you join the queue of long lines to enter attractions like the Colosseum and the Forum and the Vatican.   If you are lucky, you encounter little or no lines or you pick the line that moves the fastest.  For our just completed trip to Rome, we batted .500…

  • Colosseum Part 1 …. despite what some web sites tell you, it does NOT close one hour before sunset.  In the summer, the final entry is at 6:15pm.  We arrived at 6:15pm and 30 seconds.  I kid you not.  There was no line!  But you have to go through this barricade set up to the main entrance, and as we were walking through this, one of the security guards told us that they are closing the gate and we need to hurry up.  Hurry up we did, to no avail.  By the time we reached the gate, it was locked.  We could see it locked, and we could see another couple just ahead of us just shut out.  So at least we were not the very first ones.  But I still walked up to the gate, I suppose that I just needed to see that the gate really was fastened with that lock and that there was no other way to get in.  So despite no line, we did not get to the Colosseum.
  • Colosseum Part 2:  fortunately for us, the Colosseum is a combination ticket that gives you entrance into the Forum and Palatine Hill over the course of two days.  So we returned the following day right around the time it opened, which was 8:30am.  There are three entry lines:  one for reserved time tickets, one for people with no tickets, and one for people with regular tickets.  We only waited about ten minutes in our line before it was our turn to go through the security check point (x-ray conveyor belt and metal detector – is that what they still call them?).  From there we had to go to another line to actually hand in our tickets for admission.  This line combined all three former lines, but we were able to get through within about five minutes.  Total time in line was only fifteen minutes vs the one or two hours that I’ve read and heard others have had to endure.
  • Palatine Hill / The Forum:  opens at 8:30am, we arrived around 9:30am and had no line!
  • Vatican Museums Part 1:  it is highly recommended to have timed-entry tickets to visit the Vatican, otherwise people will be waiting forever to purchase tickets at the regular ticket counter.  I tried to buy tickets online, but on four separate occasions the transaction failed to go through, so we were taking a chance by having no reservations and trying the regular line.  At a minimum, it takes three hours to go through the Vatican Museums and it closes at 6pm.

    We arrived just around 2:30pm.  It is basically following the herd uphill on a narrow sidewalk that suddenly is divided into two lanes by metal barriers with chains.  And as you walk, there are so many touts and people with official-looking name tags and IDs around their necks, attempting to help you out.  What they are really trying to do is to sell you a private tour or a pre-purchased time-entry ticket.  I didn’t really want to engage with any of them, but when one asked me if I had a ticket and I said “No”, he told me to go to the line towards the right.  We were walking on the line on the left.  Trusting his knowledge, we walked up the right hand line and came to the top where tour groups are supposed to go to.  Looking back, we saw that the left hand line was actually the one we needed to be in for regular tickets.  And so retraced our steps and joined the correct line, probably losing about 25 spaces due to my mistake.  However, the line moved on pretty well and we only waited for about twelve minutes before they let us in. There were three lines to choose from for security, and the one we picked went pretty fast.  From there, we wound our way up some steps, following signs for the ticket window.

    Ah, now we had to choose from five ticket kiosk lines.  Lisa and I split up for the two closest lines and we would just see which one moved faster.  I thought I had the fast one picked out, because there was one family finishing up, another single guy after them, and then two early-twenty something chaps ahead of me.  Lisa had at least four separate groups/people in front of her, including a stroller.  The family ahead of me finished up, and it my line moved up, so confident in my line picking choice, I waved Lisa over.  Yeah, wrong move.  As soon as she came over, her line moved up.  And the lady in front of her moved over to my line, because she did the split line strategy with her husband, who was in the process of buying his and her tickets.  And then there was a delay.  I don’t know what it was, but by the time is was resolved, Lisa’s former place in line was now up to the ticket transaction window.  I still had the two young guys in front of me.  And then they had some sort of issue that the ticket lady had to process and wait on.  And so we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Ah, the foolishness of line picking!  At long last Lisa and I were able to move forward to buy our tickets, which took less than a minute, and finally we were in!  But had we stayed in Lisa’s line, we could have had a least another five minutes in the Vatican, which doesn’t seem like a lot, until….

    We are in the Sistine Chapel.  The time is 5:30pm.  I figure we have a whole half an hour of admiring the art.  But I am wrong.  You see, the 6pm closing time is when they want everybody out of the museums.  And there is a lot of walking to the exit out of the museum.  Which meant that just after 5:40pm, the security guards inside the Sistine Chapel rang this little bell, then proceeded to sweep everyone out into the other parts of the museum leading the exit.  Our little delay at the ticket window could have given us an extra five minutes in the Sistine Chapel, which is the main reason why we visited the Vatican Museums!  Ah, drat.

  • St. Peter’s Basilica:  immediately following getting booted out of the Vatican, we made our way to the famous church, which has its own stories of huge lines all throughout the day.  But on this evening there was no line — well, just two security lines.  I picked the one on the right because it seemed shorter.  Yeah, seemed.  It so happens that we were delayed because one guy had to go back through the metal detector to empty out his pockets, then take off his belt before he could successfully pass through.  As this process played out, I could only turn to Lisa and smile because this was just the story and folly of line picking.

All in all, we were pretty darn lucky and didn’t encounter any huge waits for any of the places we visited in Rome.  And whenever we did wait, or there was some sort of delay, we just had to remind ourselves that we are on vacation and we have all the time we need and to just relish the moment of being together, experiencing the delays and to expect the unexpected.  Queues and lines are a fact of life and sometimes we are super lucky and other times we just gotta give in and smile because we are still batting .500 and everything will balance in the end.  Or so we keep trying to convince ourselves…

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