when in Rome

When I departed on December 25, I was crunching on a candy cane (thanks, Matthew) and it was 52 degrees Farenheit. Christmas Day? Are you sure? The city of Sevilla was quiet and the airport busstop was full of foreign languages. Several hours later I treated myself to a Christmas dinner of pizza and tiramisu in the Eternal City of Rome, Italy. Merry Christmas, indeed!

Rome is a slice of paradise, but at the high price of being one of the most touristy destinations in the world. There would be no silent contemplation of the Trevi Fountain or an uninterrupted moment spent gazing at ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Although all the Italians had gone home for the holiday, Rome was packed with eager tourists. I joined the sprint and started my day at Piazza del Popolo, where a harpist played Ave Maria like an angel and won my attention and a few coins. My first full day in the city was full of monuments, piazzas and ancient history. The Spanish steps, the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, the Palazzo Venicia, the Foro Imperiali. Check, check and check.

The Coliseum was incredible. It just sits there at the end of the intersection with cars crossing in front of it and men dressed like Roman soldiers strutting around like peacocks and smoking cigarettes. The line is long but well worth it and I wander around and gape at the stones cobbled together some time around 70 AD. After strolling the Roman Forum, I make for Piazza Navona where there is a party going on. It’s Christmas madness and the plaza is full of people, balloons and … witches? Have I gone spare? No, this is la befana – an Italian fairytale. The story goes something like this – the three magi stop at the witch’s house en route to Bethlehem and they invite her to go along and she declines because she has housework to do. They leave, and she reconsiders. She departs the house on the eve of the Epiphany (January 5), but never finds the baby (where is the north star, I ask you?). So she spends the night darting around on her broom, and leaving presents for every small child she comes across, in case that one might be the Christ child. So hang your stockings while in Italy as well – I don’t know if the witch will use the chimney, but you should be prepared, regardless.

Rome also brought me great joy in terms of food. In spades. Particularly – the gelato. If you find yourself in Rome, please do your tastebuds a favor and get yourself to Giolitti. I believe that the next time I am in that fair city, it will be my first stop. In fact the only reason I would stop at the hotel first would be so that I could have two hands free for two cones of the stuff. Then there was tiramisu and panini and pizza and glorious wines. The Italian friend I stayed with took charge of both my pizza (Napoli style) and pasta (home-cooked) experiences and I am still recovering. And why hasn’t America caught on to the hot chocolate craze yet? I’m opening a chocolateria when I come home. Be advised.

Vatican City and St. Peter’s consumed me for an entire day. The line wrapped around the Vatican Museum was daunting, but only about 50-60 minutes to the door. Despite the fact I arrived at 8:30 in the morning, there were many hardy souls braving the cold before me. Sadly, there were a lot of folks stranded in line with their tour groups, which I didn’t quite understand – but if you book a tour at the Vatican, find out about this! Once inside and regaining feeling in my limbs, I made my way directly to the Capella Sistina, which was so worth it. Although the room was fit to burst with tourists, I carved out a small space to myself and reviewed all of the colors and images I learned about in Art History so long ago. Thank you, Dr. Fahy. I truly loved the hall of maps, and spent a long time looking at the incredible illuminations on every available surface – canvas, tapestry, parchment. It is truly a feast for the eyes.

Likewise, St. Peter’s Basilica. What a gorgeous place. Greeted by a Christmas tree and a large nativity scene, I circled into line and lost myself in this outrageous building. I committed to climbing the 551 steps to the top, as insisted upon by my Italian friend, and was rewarded with an unbelievable view of the city (and a work out). If I were the Pope, I would invite everyone upstairs for a look out at that awesome sight. Why haven’t they thought of that yet? Lunch with the Pope? Tea? Come on, Italy.

The Castle of Angels was closed so I made my way across the bridge and promptly got lost in Trastevere, which was delightful. Santa Maria de Trastevere (one of the oldest churches in Rome, from 340 AD or so). It is a beautiful neighborhood and I cozied up into a cafe to write postcards and work on my Italian. There are multiple churches around the city that I slipped into every now and then to reorient myself on the map, catch a breather or rest my feet. Each and every last one was beautiful – ornate and serene. Wooden pews may not be the most comfortable thing, but once you get lost in your surroundings you tend to forget that.

On the 28th I woke up in Rome and went to bed in Madrid .. days like that always surprise me. That’s when you start to lose track of time / date / location. I’m not sure what language I was speaking by the time I landed, but it felt good to be back on Spanish soil.

Just a few photos to share – a glimpse of my time in Roma, as opposed to the full 400+ shots!

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