I feel as if I just spent my first Christmas in Rome, even though we were here last year. Last year we went to Christmas mass at St. Peter’s and the Christmas market at Piazza Navona, but I couldn’t walk well and had hip-replacement surgery in early 2012. This year I could walk anywhere I wanted and see anything I wanted, and if I missed anything, it wasn’t for lack of trying. It was wonderful fun!
In so many ways Rome is a small town. With a few exceptions (Zara, for example), shops are small and specialized, and Christmas decorations are simple, too. It came as a complete shock, however, not to see Christmas decorations and ads in August, September, or October. In fact the first signs of Christmas didn’t happen until late November. So refreshing!
The Christmas prowl began when daughter Kate arrived on November 30. She and I had lunch at our favorite enoteca, Cul de Sac, and then strolled a couple of blocks to see the Christmas market at Piazza Navona. By the time we left, we’d bought dozens of Christmas ornaments. My favorites were a goofy reindeer and a Santa in a black Santa suit (we also saw Santas in pink suits and neon green ones—wild!). I returned to Piazza Navona after almost every Italian class in December and bought more ornaments. I couldn’t stop!
Saturday Kate, Michael, and I wandered through the shopping area and down Via dei Condotti, arguably the ritziest street in Rome. Rome’s streets were decorated—each with lights of different colors or different designs. Large Christmas trees decorated many of the tourist sites—the Spanish Steps, the Colosseum, and the Vittorio Emanuele II monument. My favorite tree was the Fendi tree on Via del Corso. It was made of steel Fendi handbags in red, gold, and silver, and the Fendi building was encircled by a Fendi belt in white lights. Fendi gets a gold star for its decorations! Right across the street was the Mercedes Benz tree, which had Mercedes Benz logo ornaments hanging only from the highest branches. I don’t know if the lower hanging ornaments had all been stolen or if Mercedes Benz knew enough not to put any there.
On the Saturday night before Christmas, Michael and I took our own prosecco Christmas tour of Centro Storico, stopping whenever we wanted for prosecco and snacks. So silly and so fun! Throngs of happy people made their way up and down Via del Corso in the shopping district, making it almost impossible to walk to the Spanish Steps. Their energy and good cheer were infectious, and we had a ball.
Michael was off from the Saturday before Christmas until the Thursday after Christmas (Rome celebrates Boxing Day, which is the day after Christmas), and we saw two great art exhibits: the paintings of 200 years of the Brueghel family (Pieter the elder is one of my favorite artists) at Chiostro del Bramante near Piazza Navona, and a Vermeer exhibit at Scuderie del Quirinale (near the Trevi Fountain), which showed eight or so paintings by Vermeer (but not Girl with a Pearl Earring, alas) as well as paintings by several of his contemporaries. Fortunately we could rent English audio guides for both exhibits. We also visited an exhibit of 170 presepi (creches), my favorite of which was a huge presepio made entirely of pasta. I wish I could show it to you, but no photos were allowed. Presepi are a big deal in Italy, and every church puts at least one up for the holiday season. We saw a few on our prosecco crawl—so beautiful.
During the long weekend, we also ate in the rooftop restaurants of two hotels. The Grand Hotel de la Minerve, a block from the Pantheon, had views of Quirinale, the Pantheon, Palatine Hill, and Centro Storico, and we had a really good late lunch there: proscuitto and cheese for an antipasto, wonderful pasta with pistachios for a primo, and delicious lamb chops for a secondo. I’m sure dessert came with our meal, but I don’t remember what it was, and we certainly didn’t have room for dinner that evening!
On Christmas Eve we went to another rooftop restaurant near Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The view was great, and we had a table near the window. On Christmas Eve Romans eat fish and on Christmas Day they eat meat, so the menu included only fish. Unfortunately, the food wasn’t very good until the secondo was served, and it had delicious mashed potatoes! The dessert was good as well, and the wine was spectacular. Of course we had a wonderful time, even though eating wasn’t the highlight!
So that was Christmas in Rome—festive and relaxed. I hope yours was as happy!