Christmas Eve in Rome

December 24 – All Around Rome and Back Again

I think I walked the entire city of Rome today…and then some.

Out the door of the hotel a little late, I first stopped at the Spanish Steps. Though I’ve walked up and down them almost every day so far, I had yet to stop and take a few pictures. From there, I headed to Piazza Del Popolo where there were a few vendors setup selling jewelry, toys, and general souvenirs.

The Pantheon by Justin KornAfter deciding there was nothing worth buying there, I back tracked a bit and made a day time visit to the Trevi Fountain for a few day time pictures. It was about 12:30pm at this point and a shadow as already casting upon the lower part of the fountain (something I was hoping to avoid). I took a few pictures and people watched for a bit and then headed over to Piazza Della Rotanda to pay a visit to the Pantheon. Though the Pantheon isn’t very big, but the huge dome above and the circular structure make you feel tiny while inside.

From the Pantheon, I hiked back toward the Ancient City center to visit Piazza Venezia. At the end of Piazza Venezia I found the enormous Victor Emmanuel Monument. I don’t even think enormous is a big enough word for it. I hiked the stairs to the top of the monument, took in the views and walked around to the back side to Piazza del Campidoglio. Some of Michelangelo’s designs and work can be found here, including the Cordonata, the Grand Staircase that leads up to the Piazza.

Rooftops of Rome by Justin KornI decided to pass on visiting the Capitoline Museums and decided to walk across to Isola Tiberina and beyond to the other side of Fiume Tevere (the river running through the city of Rome). On the way, I took a short detour (or a wrong turn) and found myself in area Sacra di Largo Argentina. Apparently there were three old temples there that were discovered while they were building out the area. I don’t think this is a big tourist spot since there isn’t much information on it in the book I have with me, but it was surely interesting to see. After taking a few pictures, I moved on and back tracked to Tiberina Island. On the other side of the river, I really had no clue where to go. I started walking down the river, toward the Vatican, and eventually turned off on a street and the onto another into a small street filled with restaurants. I passed one small place named Pizza Roma (off of Piazza di S. Rufina on the corner of Vicolo di S. Rufina and Via della Lungaretta) that had a 5 EURO menu which included pizza, a fried mozzarella ball (can’t remember what it was called), and a beer. How could you go wrong? I enjoyed my meal and more so my beer and headed back out onto the street. I made my way back across the river and into Piazza Navona.

Piazza Navona was packed with vendors selling everything you could possibly imagine – candy, toys, christmas decorations, balloons – there was even a carrousel setup in the middle of the Piazza. I bought myself some candy and sat down for a bit in the middle of the piazza before taking some experimental pictures of the carrousel (they didn’t work out very well). After, I made my way back to the Spanish Steps through the hordes of crowds still out shopping. I stopped in a few shops, but still couldn’t find anything worth buying as gifts or for myself.

Back at the Spanish Steps, I climbed to the top where I knew a few vendors were setup selling mostly art. One of the pieces struck my fancy and he even had another piece that complimented it very well. After staring at these paintings for a long time, the price dropped from 180 EURO to 160 EURO to 140 EURO for one of the paintings. I really did like it, but really wanted both together. I offered 250 EURO for both and he accepted, however, I didn’t have the cash on me. I ran to the ATM only to find I could only draw 200 EURO at the time and I only had 20 EURO on me, which left me with 220 EURO. I went back to the guy (Atef Elnahas, obviously not Italian) and offered him what I could and he kindly accepted, however, he would have given me a barrel to put the paintings into and instead wrapped them into a piece of cardboard. I wish I had a picture to share with you what they look like, but since they are already wrapped up, there is no way I’m unwrapping them before I get home. In short, and doing them no justice, they are two large canvas paintings of jazz musicians, one of a guy playing a saxophone and the other of a guy playing a trumpet. The weird thing about it, now that I think about it, I don’t even know that they are 100% genuine, he could have just painted a photograph or another painting that he saw. I guess the bottom line is I liked them and that is all that matters now, well, that and that I hope I can find a place to hang them. From there, I headed back to the hotel for a quick breather before heading back out to see what the town had in store for Christmas Eve.

The Spanish Steps by Justin KornEarlier, while I was walking around, I saw a photographer selling his art on the street (Max Wayne to be exact) and he had a few photos that were a bit inspiring. So, when I headed back out, I took only my 50mm prime to push myself a bit to be more creative (one result is the picture to the right of the Spanish Steps). As I stepped outside, I heard music in the air and found the source once again at the Spanish Steps. This time the music was much more enjoyable, at least on my part. I didn’t understand the lyrics, but the music seemed to be gospel and churchy, but with a bit of rock and roll thrown in. I’m not sure how to explain it, but I enjoyed it. The concert ended at 7:00pm and the crowd vanished within 15 minutes…it was amazing. I wandered around just curious to see what was open and sure enough, all of the shops were shut down. I walked down a few side streets randomly and came across a restaurant, Re Degli Amici (on Via Della Croce just off of Via Del Babuino). They were open, had a good menu and seemed to have quite a few people already inside and eating, so I gave it a shot. I have to admit right now, I made a bit of a mistake while ordering that I am not proud to admit, but I will anyway as I continue…I was seated and eventually ordered Minestrone soup to start (after assuring there were no mushrooms in it), Spaghetti Carbinera (I’m not sure how I got it in my head that I thought that meant red sauce), along with the house red and water. The soup was good, but there was a bean or some kind of vegetable that I didn’t like in it. When the spaghetti arrived, I was a bit shocked, thinking it was going to be a tomato sauce, but I went along with it and actually thought it was very good (not nearly as good as their marinara sauce probably was).

A few interesting things that happened at the restaurant…

The waiter was an older guy, maybe 60 – 70 years old, and was an absolute riot. He asked me were I was from and in return made fun of the 49ers. After another table had just finished eating and he had just cleared their plates, he was bringing another table their food and pretended to give the first table the food. The first table’s faces were priceless and the waiter just laughed and kept on moving to bring the food to the correct table.

At the table in front of me, there was an older Swedish couple that heard I was from the States when the waiter asked and realized I was eating alone and near the end of our meals (we finished about the same time), the lady at the table turned around and said, “Cheers, Merry Christmas.” We chatted briefly and as I left I wished them a Merry Christmas and safe travels for the rest of their journey.

At 9:00pm, there were still Italian families coming in (I must have hit a jackpot or the only place open on Christmas Eve) and one of the families had a reservation at the table next to mine. They had a little kid that was no more then 10 years old. The waiter knew the family apparently very well, and he and the kid had a good connection. At one point, the kid wanted the candle on the table lit, so the waiter did so in a dramatic fashion and started singing (I think Happy Birthday). The kid was very amused by the entire scenario, as was I.

Christmas Eve at St. Peter's by Justin KornI finally asked for my bill and headed back to the hotel once again. This time, I re-clothed myself into warmer clothing and headed out to see what the Vatican had cooking. It was about 11:00pm when I left the hotel and the streets between my hotel and the Vatican were very quite. I probably only saw 20 or so people on the 20 minute walk over. As I approached the main strip that leads to St. Peter’s, the traffic thickened and more and more people were present the closer I got. As I entered the main square, there weren’t quite as many people as I thought there would be, but there were still a good number hanging out, not to forget who knows how many people were inside. It seemed as if the main service began at 11:30pm with a lot of choir singing and chanting (they projected the sound and some video as well to several screens setup around St. Peter’s Plaza). At 12:00am sharp, someone said something, everyone in the crowd stood up and the Pope emerged (on screen). The Pope made is way to the front along with a bunch of others (sorry, I don’t know who all these people were) in a very systematic way. Finally, the Pope said something, everyone crossed themselves and more chanting and singing proceeded. After about 30 minutes, I decided to head back to the hotel. I took my time and made a stop for some more pictures of St. Peter’s. After that, the camera went into my bag and I hiked back to the hotel.

Tomorrow I’m off to Florence for the final leg of this crazy adventure.

Till next time…

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Categorized: Travel Diaries