This year I decided to finally pursue one of my goals and travel to Italy during Christmas break. I went from December 24th until January 8th; I spent 5 nights in Rome, 5 nights in Florence, 2 nights in Venice, 2 nights in Verona and 1 night in Bergamo. Traveling to Italy has been a goal of mine ever since studying Art History in college. I love architecture, art, general history, the Italian Renaissance and anything to do with the Romans. I couldn’t wait to go.
I arrived to Rome on Christmas Eve after about a little over a two hour flight from Seville. After checking into the hostel, the first thing I wanted to do was to go see the Pantheon. Coincidentally a friend of mine who is teaching in Cadiz (a city close by) was also in Rome for Christmas. I messaged her to see what she was doing and she said that she was going to go see the Pantheon so we met up and headed in that direction. Even though I had just gotten to Rome and had’t been alone for long, it was nice to be wandering with a friend on Christmas Eve rather than doing it alone. On our way to the Pantheon I saw my first Roman ruins, the Foro Traiano and the Mercanti Traianei. It was incredible. Every time I saw new ruins or walked passed ones I had already seen the feeling was the same. To be around something that has transcended centuries and is still standing today is amazing. Close to these ruins are a massive crescent shaped building, dubbed the “wedding cake” and is a monument to Emanuelle the 2nd, or the King responsible for the unification of Italy. Its massive scale reminded me of the monumental architecture type of the socialist regimes; it towers above every building in the city and is visible from every vantage point.
Afterwards we walked to the Pantheon. It wasn’t easy to get to because there is no rhyme or reason to Rome’s streets. It is probably one of the harder cities I’ve been in to navigate, so unfortunately we came at the Pantheon from the back. The Pantheon is such a magnificent building it doesn’t matter from what direction you come at it, when you see it, it’s all the same. It is the most incredible building I have ever seen in my life. I can’t even put into words what it is like to see it. It’s massive and it more or less exactly how it was 2,000 years ago when it was built. It’s incredibly difficult to fathom and process how such a structure could be built. Inside is just as incredible. Flawless in execution the dome rises above perfectly symmetrical creating an almost dizzy-like sensation. The only light entering comes from the oculus at the top and the doors; there are no windows. It was a remarkable experience. After the Pantheon we walked to the Trevi fountain. It was a lot larger then I expected and was cool to hear the sound of falling water in the middle of a city. With the constant flow of water and the echoing of voices throughout the plaza, it sounded kinda of like a water park. Around this time it started getting dark even though it was probably only around 4:30ish. We decided to make our way towards the Vatican. Now if you have ever been to Rome you know it’s huge, so from the Pantheon to the Vatican it is probably a 30 minute walk, which meant that from our hostel it was around an hour. On the way to the Vatican we stopped to get gelato. The first gelato I had in Italy! and it was great, better than I expected. Everybody says you have to get gelato when in Italy, so much so, I almost didn’t even want to get it because of the amount of times I heard it, but they were right. You have to get gelato when in Italy. I got hazelnut and pistachio.
The historic center of Rome is beautiful and was made even more beautiful by the Christmas lights strung across the streets. On our way to Vatican we wandered through streets and came across an art gallery with a really nice mixture of contemporary art and different styles. The lady operating it was super friendly and had lived in Barcelona so we were able to speak to her in Spanish. After some time we made it to the Vatican. We didn’t spend too much time there because we wanted to go back to the hostel, eat and then return for midnight mass, which started at 9:30. Every night my hostel had free wine starting at 7 until about 10. So we went back and met some people who also wanted to go to midnight mass. After a couple of bottles of wine, we hopped on the metro (there was no way we were walking it) and headed back to the Vatican. Being there was an unforgettable experience. We couldn’t go inside the Basilica because you needed special tickets that had to be mailed to you in advanced, so we watched it outside on screens. It wasn’t nearly as crowded as we had expected. To be in such an important focal point for Catholicism during one of the most important times of the year in proximity to the most important religious leader was really something. We stayed at the mass for a little over an hour and then decided to leave, it apparently goes until 12, which is why it’s called midnight mass. We stopped at a deli and picked up road beers and wine to walk around the city. While we we wandering we came up the Largo di Torre Argentina, an ancient square that has 4 Republican Roman temples dating from the 3rd century BC. More walking and wandering, we found ourselves in the Piazza Campiodoglio when the clock struck midnight. We couldn’t have been in a better place. Nobody was around, we had the whole piazza to ourselves. A group of strangers, minus my friend, celebrating Christmas in Rome together.
For the final part of the night we made our way to the Colosseum. While the others had seen it, I hadn’t yet. I was ecstatic. Walking there the anticipation was killing me. You half to walk down one of the main roads and part of the Colosseum you can see from it. Each step hurrying with anticipation. When we got there, it was illuminated beautifully, there was not a single person around and not a car to be heard. To physical be in the presence of the Colosseum was unbelievable. It is so much larger than I thought and still in such amazing condition. Like the Pantheon it is almost 2,000 years old! The detail in the stone still attached to the outside surface is remarkable. Standing there, looking at it, I felt connected through time with all the people that have seen it and all the history that has happened around it.
Waking up on Christmas day was a strange feeling, not being surrounded by friends or family and in a city that I still really didn’t know, so I decided to see more of it. I wandered around Rome for 5 hours. I wanted to see the Colosseum during the day, so that was the first thing I did. It was just as incredible as the night before, still standing the way it has for centuries. By the Arc o di Constantino, on the other side of the Colosseum I bought myself a Christmas present, a selfie stick! I have wanted one for a while, to use while traveling, but never really wanted to buy one, at that time I didn’t intend to buy one. Rome like every city in Italy is plagued by people selling selfie sticks, you can’t walk 100 meters without seeing somebody selling them. So, I was walking and decided to ask the guy how much, he told me 10 euro. There was no way I was paying 10, I didn’t really want to buy one so I told him 4. He lowered it to 8, but I wasn’t moving, I told him I didn’t really want one anyway, he lowered it to 7, I again told him no thanks, I really don’t need one and he lowered it to 5, then, finally he took 4. I gave him a 20, but because I was feeling in the Christmas spirit, I let him keep the 1 euro coin he was going to give me for change; So i bought it really for 5, but knowing I got it for 4.
I then walked around some more with my goal to go make it to Piazza Cavailleri di Malta, a place with a beautiful view of Rome and to Trastevere, a small neighborhood on the west bank of the Tiber and where Christine lived when she studied abroad. I took a long way to Piazza Cavailleri and probably ended up walking twice as long as I needed to because I got lost among the streets. The Piazza is on the very outskirts of Rome, its the last thing on the bottom of the map. It was interesting walking around because there were no tourists there, only Italian families getting out of church or going to family gatherings. It was hard not to think about that my family would all be together soon celebrating Christmas and that I would be missing out.
Trastevere is a really unique part of Rome, almost like it’s been untouched and been left to remain the way it has for hundreds of years. The area is lined with narrow cobblestone streets and ancient houses. I passed a night cafe named Long Island, which was really strange. I never thought I’d see that as a name of a place in Rome. I ate pizza and supli alone at a small little pizza place. I was on a gelato kick from the day before so I decided to get some at a place next store . It was horrible, I hated it so much I wanted to throw it away, but couldn’t because I didn’t want to waste it. I was so devastated. I almost swore to never eat gelato again. I didn’t even get strange flavors, I got chocolate and something else I don’t remember and don’t want to. After this terrible experience, I needed something to brighten my mood, so I walked back to the Pantheon (I really just wanted to see it again). I sat on steps right next to it, admiring the structure of the building. It was a nice spot to people watch because nobody paid attention to me, yet I could see everything. Eventually I got hungry, so I went back to the hostel, ate and video chatted with my friend Kendall for a while and then video chatted with my family while they were opening presents. I tried to take a nap afterwards, but couldn’t, so I went downstairs and hung out with some people from the hostel I had met the day before. Then we started drinking once it was free wine hour. We had a large group and played some drinking games and then eventually went out to a bar around the block.
The Day After Christmas
The day after Christmas I spent my day with a friend I had met in the hostel and toured Palentine Hill, the Forum and the Colosseum. Armed with my newly bought selfie stick we set out towards Palentine Hill and the Forum (since they are connected); we were told the line would be shorter and it was. Palantine Hill and the Forum were incredible and so much larger than I imagined. Before going, I really had no idea what Palantine HIll was or what it consisted of, so i was pleasantly surprised. Palatine Hill is one of the most ancient parts of Rome with settlements dating back to 1000 BC. During the Roman periods its where most of the wealthy had their residences and the palaces of past rulers. Walking through was awesome. There was also a very informative museum that gave insight on how the hill has been used through the ages, which was nice to learn about. The forum was equally spectacular; walking through the forum on ancient roads imagining the history that took place and the people who once walked there was an incredible feeling. It was a beautiful day and if I had a book, I could have spent the whole day reading and gazing at the ruins. After the Forum we went inside the Colosseum. For me, the inside of the Colosseum was very underwhelming compared to the greatness of the outside, but I mean it is over 2,000 years old. Later that night I met with a friend of a friend who is from Rome for some drinks. It was the first Italian I had a chance to speak to. Later that night, went out with some people from the hostel because it was an Argentinians birthday I had met.
Two days after Christmas
I went to the Spanish steps and it was the most disappointing attraction I saw in Rome. For one it was under renovation so most of it was obscured and two they’re just steps. I don’t know why it’s such a big attraction, but it is and it shouldn’t be. After wasting my time at the Spanish steps I walked to Piazza Popolo and the gardens. I layed down for a while and tried, to no avail to take a nap, then went back to the hostel and hang out there the rest of the day and night.
Three days after Christmas and my last day in Rome
On my last day I did a tour of the Vatican. I had booked a tour through viator so I had it all set up, I only had to meet the guide. The tour was really informative and I’m really glad that I did it, not only did I not have to wait on the large line to get it, but I learned a lot. One of the most interesting things that I learned and something the guide continuously stressed was that in the past the Popes viewed themselves as kings. Because of this they decorated their Palace like a king; they collected what they wanted and decorated it with ancient emperors and things pertaining to the power of past rulers; they had very little decorations relating to Christianity. Walking through the richly decorated halls, adorned in gold and frescoes was unbelievable. Seeing the lavishly painted rooms and the School of Athens was one of the highlights. Obviously, the Sistine Chapel was incredible, the scale and monumentality of the artwork was astounding. Every once in a while one of the guards came on the mic to tell everyone to be quiet. The tour finished at St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world. Inside it is elaborated decorated and adorned with sculptures throughout. The most beautiful being Michelangelo’s Pieta; a masterpiece of sculpture. If you didn’t know, you would never believe that it was carved from marble. The last thing I did in the Vatican was climb to the top of the Basilica. 551 steps to get an unbelievable view of the Vatican and Rome.
Later that night I took one last walk through Rome and through history. There’s nothing like standing there, looking out into the distance at ancient ruins with nobody around.