What better place to celebrate Christmas than Rome?
Showing up in Rome on Christmas Eve we found we weren’t the only ones to feel that way. The city was packed with tourists overflowing from restaurants and crowding the streets.
To fully partake in the festivities, we chose a hotel close to the Vatican – just 200 meters outside its walls.
Tickets to Christmas Eve mass had been allocated six months earlier, but the Basilica courtyard was open to all. The service was shown outside on large screens for the small crowd gathered in the light rain. The broadcast was professionally done – fading between Pope Benedict XVI and clergy and the choir while they chanted.
We watched for a while, but were cold, not having yet acclimatized from Africa, and returned to our hotel before it was over.
For the record: the pope does indeed wear a funny hat.
We came back to the Vatican at noon the following day for the more informal Christmas message. Rain had stopped, the skies were clear and the temperature had warmed to the 50s. The larger group of people in attendance were far more lively.
This time, His Holiness stood outside on the Basilica’s balcony, wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas” in each language of the world. As he went down the list a cheer rose from the different sections of the crowd. He even addressed the Sri Lankans in the audience, but unfortunately this Sri Lankan doesn’t understand a word of Sinhalese.
With that, he waved and disappeared into the building, the Vatican band began to play, and the crowd dispersed.
Rome has thousands of years of history – ancient, medieval, and modern buildings are built next to each other – and we could have spent a good week exploring its museums and studying its archeology. But the thought of waiting in long lines wasn’t too appealing, so we instead took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to walk amongst the masses past the major sites.
The Vatican had an impressive Christmas tree.
We made one quick loop around the Colloseum.
There was nowhere to sit at the Spanish Steps.
I had to elbow my way past the crowds to toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain.
And we took a moment to stop at the Pantheon.
The only museum we did enter was the Vatican’s – and that was only to see the Sistine chapel. They really made us work to get to it – we had to walk through an endless galleries before we emerged inside. Pictures were not allowed, but that was ok – we just sat in a corner craning our necks to admire Michaelangeo’s masterpiece.
The main thing we did in Rome was eat.
Italian food in NYC is good – in Italy, not surprisingly, it was even better. Freshly made pasta and pizza and deserts were excellent everywhere, from the nicest restaurants down to stands on the street. We ate it all – and in four short days we did our part to pack on the holiday pounds.