Well Christmas day certainly turned out a lot better than I had planned! I heard that Rome was a dead city on the 25th December with nothing open and no public transport operating and, as I had already gone to Christmas mass, I was planning on hanging around the hotel and perhaps going for a walk in the afternoon.
As I mentioned in the post before, the group that I became friends with while waiting at the Vatican for mass arranged to have Christmas lunch together. So we all went to the Papal Blessing at noon back in St Peter's Square (though we didn't see each other as again it was packed with a sea of umbrellas). The blessing itself was really cool – I am always impressed by Pope Benedict's multilingualism. It was quite short, with most of the time taken up by him wishing everyone a Merry Christmas in about 30 different languages. Then the massive bells in the Basilica rang out – they were so loud!
The Swiss Guard
One of the marching bands
A sea of umbrellas
I actually managed (again) to get a good spot so I had a great view of the Pope way up high in his seat at the balcony. My humble camera's zoom couldn't quite get close enough for my liking but you can see him quite clearly in the picture below.
Anyway, after this I walked to the Spanish Steps where we had all arranged to meet, and yes, the streets were very quiet. It was quite beautiful though as there were some buskers playing flutes and as the streets were so empty that the sound reverberated off all the buildings. I much prefer this kind of Rome to the crazy drivers and bad mouthed pedestrians who honk and swear at each other. Just a side note, I do not get Italian roads at all – there are barely any traffic lights so I never know when I have right of way and people will just park right in the centre of the street and have a conversation with some random person they see. I've learned to cross the street always with a group of locals and never expect that a driver will stop for you at a pedestrian crossing, even when you have a green man.
It was great to meet up with everyone and we did a quick walk up the steps and one of the girls had done her research as to which restaurants would be open and we found a really nice, cosy place that was like a hobbit hole (it was all underground) and so we had a Christmas lunch filled with good food, wine and fantastic conversation. All the others were from various parts of the US so I piled questions on them about all things American and they did with me and all things Australian. We must have had about a 3 hour lunch at least, and when we ordered dessert everyone ordered something different so we did a big dessert swap. It was such a perfect way to spend Christmas and I have to say, after nearly a month of travelling alone since I left my family in Holland, I am a bit starved for good companionship. Generally the people you meet along the road (with a few exceptions) are fine to have a chat to about general travel stuff, but I thrive on real conversation. I don't mean deep and meaningful stuff – that gets tiring and really I'm not going to have a D&M with someone I've just met. But to talk about real things – our lives and interests – that's what I dig. And so it was brilliant to spend time with great people where the conversation never slowed.
We finished up at about 5pm and said our goodbyes (and exchanged email addresses!). I think I can bet that if I ever visit the US, I would have people to meet up with! And I told them if they come to Melbourne, look me up (so mum and dad, be prepared to perhaps someday have 8 American stay with us).
The rest of my Christmas was, as boring as it sounds, taken up with doing washing. Nothing like washing your clothes in a bathtub to keep you grounded!
Today, however, most of the city returned to life. The weather also cleared up so it was blue skies and sunny again. I went to Sunday mass at Santa Maria Maggiore (which also a papal church) and arrived just in time for the main mass with some cardinals to be finishing, dammit. But there was another parish mass afterwards. And for those who are wondering, what's with all the masses?! I know it seems like I'm doing a church tour of Europe, but really, if you want to learn about the history of a place, go to the Church there. It's most likely the oldest building in the town and has so many different layers of history. Plus, the beauty in churches is amazing.
This afternoon I was hoping to go to the National Museum of Rome as it houses the Baths of Diocletian (which I studied just last semester at Uni, but I couldn't find the damn thing. You'd think that such a famous city as Rome would sign-post these things, but no. And it simply wasn't where it said it was on the map! After an hour and a half of walking the streets, I gave up and, as it was sunny, sat in a huge piazza (don't ask me which one it was, there are so many of the bloody things) with a coffee and people-watched. Italians are fascinating to watch because they are so physical with their language so even if you can't understand the words, the hands say it all. I saw fights, reunions, honeymooners, beggars getting annoyed at each other for taking the best begging spots, reconciliations and even a guy who looked like he was about 80, shuffle his way to his vesper and drive off, barely able to see over the handlebars. It was really nice to take the time out to do this. The weather hasn't really permitted it until now so I was glad I had the chance.
Photos from the piazza