A photo taken by Katie Wilson during her trip to Italy.

A new pope is calling the shots from Rome, and onlookers from across the globe are flooding into Italy to take part in the celebration. While the average Joe doesn’t see much of the pope-to-person action, here’s what he does see. Each spring day in Rome drenches the landscape in either rain or sun. On this particular day it was around 60 degrees and bright: the perfect day to see the Vatican. It’s uncertain whether or not the pope had anything to do with people’s travel plans last month; however, what is certain is the crowds were massive. A couple blocks after crossing the river into the Vatican area, to the left is the main drag that enters into the Piazza San Pietro. Cafés and restaurants line it, as well as shops that sell souvenirs and keepsakes. The most common being postcards, landmark figurines, rosaries, and fake Trojan armor with swords and sandals. The closer one gets to the Vatican, the more expensive everything will be, from a 4-euro cappuccino to a 1-euro postcard. Clumps of people all lumber towards the Catholic Mecca like pudding sliding toward a bathtub drain. The giant obelisk that sits in the middle of the piazza could be likened to a 21st century Tower of Babel where hundreds of people are chatting with their relatives in every language imaginable. The line to go through security before entering the basilica stretches in a semicircle from the bend in the columns to the end of their arch. There is currently a project underway to clean the columns, which to the public eye looks like any other restoration project: white tarps and scaffolding, with a clear “before” (tan) and “after” (white) view of the work they’ve done. On this day it was about three quarters of the way completed. Wading through the crowds inside the Vatican museum is not unlike looking for a blank canvas in Antarctica where Emperor penguins are having a gathering. Wedged between scores of tour groups, it’s easy to feel like one’s personal-space “bubble” will never again return to its original shape after so many pops. While Mass is being said in St. Peter’s Basilica, a cue forms around large wooden barriers that surround the apse. Tourists grip their cameras in anticipation, leaning over the wood to catch a glimpse of the paintings around the corner or a whiff of incense wafting away from the altar.

Author Katie Wilson sitting in Vernazza, Liguria (Italy).

Despite the push and shove of crowds, the gimmicky keepsake vendors, the tour groups with leaders waving scarves on sticks in the air and causing tourists to sneeze, the Vatican is still a moving experience. Though nobody from Brazil, Israel, Germany, Japan, Canada or anywhere else would get to see the Pope that day, something sweet can still happen when one sees him smiling and waving from a postcard across the street. Whether created by tourism and hype or by the Argentinean man who washes people’s feet and looks like a Seinfeld extra, a warm spirit of joy emanates from the Vatican. Tourists don’t see what’s behind the scenes—but maybe that’s what makes it worth the trip.