Sunday, 21 December 2014

Christmas in Rome - isn't this where the Pope lives?

No - we're not in Rome. Not this year at least - but we were a few years ago and it's a great place to spend Christmas.

David and I associate Christmas with summer. There is nothing quite like standing in front of the oven basting a turkey on a 35C degree day (high 90s F). Don't be fooled by all the media-hype about Australians celebrating Christmas with beer and prawns at the beach - there are plenty of old fashioned traditionalists out here doing it the hard way.


After a lifetime of sweltering, a cold climate Christmas Day was going to be a challenge - not one we were particularly enthusiastic about. But we had to be in Europe and there was nothing that could be done about it so we found the warmest capital  we could and bunkered down for a week of cold Christmas cheer.  It didn't occur to us to try a white Christmas further north - that would have been too much of a jolt.

Our cold climate Christmas didn't begin well. We missed our flight from Cairo and arrived in Rome stressed, exhausted, strung out and twenty-four hours late. We got ripped off by the taxi driver leaving the airport. He charged us more than twice the standard tariff and failed to tell us he didn't know the location of the street our holiday flat was in until we were hurtling down the expressway. Once we arrived in the general area of our destination he wanted to dump us and run. It was well after 10 pm; dark, cold, unfamiliar and our Italian consisted of a few weeks lessons I had taken at evening college months beforehand. As usual we had the added burden of far too much luggage. Only our point blank refusal to get out of the cab stopped him from abandoning us. Despite my increasingly hysterical pleas to do so he would not ask directions from any of the passers-by. We cruised around while he alternated between looking for our street and trying to convince us to take our chances on foot. We were tired and stressed and the driver was angry but at least the flat fare taxi ripe-off fee was starting to look good. A small mercy that the meter wasn't running. Finally he found the street, a cute little cobblestone lane, which we must have passed a dozen times in the preceding half hour.

The cold hit hard as soon as we got out of the cab. Our plan was to meet the owner of the apartment on arrival but, no doubt because we were a day late, she was nowhere to be found. We stood on the street shivering, turning blue and wondering where the nearest hotel was. Just as we entered the first stages of hypothermia a couple of fellow Australians, staying in the flat upstairs, arrived home, took pity on us and let us through the security entrance into the foyer. It wasn't exactly warm but it was a lot better than standing outside on the footpath.  Not long after that, David's frantic phone calls to our host paid off and she arrived with the keys.

Day 2 didn't start much better than day 1.  The automatic teller machines seemed to be in league with the Roman taxi drivers. The first three or four rejected our card.  We had no other way of getting cash and no choice but to keep trying. Just as our stress levels began to hit new highs the next cash machine we tried capitulated and our war with the machine world ended as abruptly as it had begun.

Accommodated, cashed-up and bundled into our warmest Sydney overcoats we headed out on foot to discover Rome.  Our bad taxi experience made walking a very palatable option. The temperature stayed cold, but the sun came out and the sky was that beautiful crisp blue you can only really appreciate in winter.   We walked for miles. By day we hunted down and ticked off the guide-book sights, by night we wandered the street markets and huddled around open fires in the myriad of little restaurants and cafes in our neighbourhood.

By Christmas morning we had seen most of the major sights. It was eerily quiet and almost the entire population seemed to be missing. In this most Catholic of cities they were, we supposed, in church - either that or sleeping off the effects of Christmas Eve celebrations the night before. Andrew, fourteen, wanted to see the Pope. David and I resisted. We knew Christmas was a big deal for the Catholic world, but not being Catholic ourselves, we weren't sure of the details. We had the idea that having stayed up late the night before doing the midnight mass thing the Pope might want a bit of a sleep in on Christmas morning. Or perhaps he was busy handing out indulgences to the poor. Either way we thought it unlikely he would make time for a family of lapsed Anglicans from Down Under.

Without any real suggestions of our own we succumbed to Andrew's pleading and wandered in the general direction of the Vatican City where a small crowd had begun to gather in St Peter's Square. Someone said the Pope would appear. We had nothing better to do, so we waited. As we waited the crowd grew until the square was so full of people they spilled out across the border into Italy. Clearly something was happening. The wait was a lot of fun. Everyone was in a festive mood - happy and friendly. We chatted, laughed and joked with those around us. Someone appeared briefly, placed a chair on a balcony a few storeys above us and unfurled a very regal looking banner.  Speculation at the purpose of the chair kept the crowd amused for a while. I decided that Catholics are natural comedians.

Just as the chair and banner began to lose their novelty; flags flew, trumpets blared, drums rolled, the Swiss Guard marched and the Pope appeared. This was the German Pope: a great linguist. He spoke in Italian, or Latin, or German or something - it certainly wasn't English - but it didn't matter. We had no trouble understanding his message. After a while he switched languages. A cheer went up from a corner of the crowd. Then another language and another cheer. Then another and another. I think he wished us a Merry Christmas in almost every language on the planet. The major language groups got a little speech as well. The more obscure the dialect the briefer the message. We raised our voices and cheered with the best of them when English got its turn. Lapsed Anglicans or not we felt the spirit of Christmas that afternoon in a way we had never felt it before.

St Peters Square - Rome
St Peter's Square - taken from the Cupola of the Basilica


Christmas Day crowd in St Peters Square, Rome
The crowd behind us in St Peter's Square


The Swiss Guard in St Peters Square, Rome
We knew something was happening when the Swiss Guard appeared.


The Pope addressing the crowd on Christmas Day
The Pope standing in front of the chair which ironically he never sat on.


The Colosseum, Rome
Inside the Colosseum


The Roman Forum
Part of the Roman Forum I think - there are just so many magnificent buildings in Rome it's hard to remember which are which.

The Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain - thanks to a reader for identifying this.



Roman arch
I have no idea what this is but there were so many magnificent structures like this one.

The interior of a church in Rome
Roman churches are beautiful inside and out.

The Pieta
No prizes for guessing what this is.



A land in Trastevere
The little street our holiday apartment was in.




20 comments:

  1. What a fabulous experience to have. I am not religious but I would have felt the magic and festivness in Vatican City too. I love Rome. We had a similar experience with getting into our accommodation, we turned up and the owner with the keys didn't. Several hours of frantic phone calls from the local deli on the corner using my little Italian, cuddling a very tired toddler on the sidewalk with all the luggage and finally he decides to turn up! The apartment was great, so worth the wait though maybe not the stress. By the way, it is the Trevi fountain - I hope you threw a coin in and wished to return to Rome.

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    1. Hi Malinda. Thanks for the Trevi Fountain info. I have several thousand other holiday photos going back many decades where I have forgotten where they were taken. Maybe I should start a mystery photo page and harness the power of the internet to tell me what they all are - lol.
      The toddler thing is hard. We started travelling with our boys when the first was 6 mths old. There were times when it was tough but mostly it was just great.

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  2. Wow! That sounds awesome! Being Northern Hemisphere born and bred, I love me a cold Christmas! I would love to see more of Italy and Rome is top of my places to visit list! I bet that's one trip (and one Christmas) you'll never forget!

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    1. Hi Sammie. Thanks for the comment. You're right - we will never forget that Christmas. Christmas is a fantastic time to see Rome - no crowds and the weather was cold but wonderfully fine and sunny.

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  3. oops Lyn sorry I got your name wrong you may need to edit my comment , my bad!

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    1. Hi Jennifer. If you read this - I got this message but not the original comment. Not sure what went wrong. cheers Lyn

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  4. Gosh we loved Rome. I'm not sure what it was about the place, although we did discover I was pregnant there, so that made it that much more special. But it was the highlight of Europe for us. I could easily spend extended periods of time there, you know, when our Christmas Day lottery numbers come up! ;-) Aroha (for #teamIBOT). p.s. your guess is as good as mine is the Trevi Fountain!

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    1. Hi Aroha. Thank you for the comment. Rome is just amazing isn't it. We would love to go back, especially at Christmas time, but I don't think we should. After our initial hassles we had such a lovely time I can't imagine it could ever be as good the second time around.

      I seem to be the only person in the world who doesn't recognise the Trevi Fountain - lol.

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  5. That would have been so cool! I'm not catholic either, but I think if you're in Rome... well you might as well do what the Romans do and see the pope on Christmas!

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    1. Hi Jess and thanks for the comment. One of the great things about travel is seeing how other people celebrate things differently

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  6. Definitely a wonderful experience, even after the bad start! The warmest capital in Europe though is most likely Valletta in Malta where you'd have been much, much warmer!! x

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    1. We have never been to Malta. I'll remember that if we are ever in Europe again at Christmas time - lol. Thank for the comment.

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  7. The arch that you have a picture of is called the Arch of Constantine and the sculpture is called Pietà by Michelangelo.

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    1. Hi Karlie and thank you. I have hundreds of photos (probably thousands) taken on holidays and not labelled. My blog is proving to be a great resource though for finding out what the photos are of.

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  8. What a great experience - I'm not religious but I've been to church services in both Paris and Italy - I think the experience is worth it.

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    1. It was one of those Christmas's I will never forget.

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  9. Amazing photos and what a great Christmas tale. Glad Andrew got to see the Pope!

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    1. I'm glad he saw the Pope too. I don't think we would have ever lived it down if we hadn't gone to the Vatican that day.

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  10. It would be incredible to spend Christmas in Rome. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful experience of it. Seeing the Pope say mass would be something to tick off the bucket list! :-)

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