Although officially closed at night, the Vatican is allowing exclusive tours for small groups. They're run by Helen Donegan, an Irishwoman who has lived in Italy for 30 years. She has forged strong links with the Vatican and persuaded the authorities to allow her to take in people, after hours, who don't like crowds. These tours are for those who want to see the chapel as it was meant to be seen: as a place for contemplation and prayer, the whole spiritual experience, preferably lying down so you can fully savor the view of the tremendous goings-on up on the ceiling.One wonders what kinds of connections this Irish lady has to organize these. It ain't cheap either -- €250a visit! That's over twenty times the regular price of admission. Limited number of dates listed on their website, stretching into 2008.
The tour lasts three hours, taking in the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. The maximum group size is 20, with one guide for every 10 visitors. Donnegan can also assist with reasonably priced hotel accommodations in Rome.
Going to the chapel with very few people is really something: You can see. And you do have to wonder what was going on in Michelangelo's brain with all that manic writhing in the story of creation and, on the end wall, the damning Last Judgment.
Not sure when I'll be back in the Eternal City again. But whenever it is, I think I'll be shelling out the €12 and taking my place with the hoi polloi.