Well, living in an Islamic country definitely gives a different feeling to the holidays. I didn’t hear much Christmas and winter music until I voluntarily started listening to it on the 23rd in the hopes of feeling the holiday spirit. (I missed the LITE’s programming this year. It wasn’t the same without having a station that would only play Christmas music starting before Thanksgiving ☺).
Because it’s a Muslim country, we didn’t know if we were going to have Christmas day off until 2 days before Christmas. At the same time, Islamic New Year was announced for the 28th (it’s a lunar holiday), so we ended up with a 4 day weekend. To celebrate, I went to Rome. I was feeling the need for a little break from all the sun, so I opted for cold rain ☺. I also got to meet up with my good friend Carley who had just finished student teaching in England. She and I didn’t meet up until the 26th, meaning that I had most of the 25th in Roma to myself.
I flew Emirates from Dubai into Rome. It was a very nice flight and the flight crew was helpful and courteous. Definitely a positive first flying experience. Emirates also uses individual touch screen functionality for in-flight programming, so I was able to catch-up on several old Disney movies like “Alice in Wonderland” and “Lady and the Tramp”, while also rocking out to my new iTunes purchases of “The Christmas Song” album by Nat King Cole as well as James Taylor’s Christmas album. To sum up, it was a good flight.
I landed in Rome and took the train into the city and quickly found the hotel, located only 5 minutes from the station. One unfortunate thing did happen early on: As I left my apartment around 5 am, I was not thinking clearly. I accidently wore my sandals out of the house and had planned on wearing my gym shoes, meaning that I spent the whole weekend with 2 pairs of boots I hadn’t wore before, a pair of VERY high heels (that I didn’t even end up wearing, haha) and sandals that were completely inappropriate for 40 degree weather. Needless to say, my feet are STILL recovering.
Once I found the hotel and checked in, I went to explore the city. Since this was my 3rd trip to Rome, I made it my mission to look European and not American. So completely set to do that in the wardrobe department (since I only had boots and no gym shoes), I wandered the city, taking in the history (something completely absent from my current residence) and the grandeur (very present in my current residence, but in a different way).
I went to the Trevi Fountain, which will always be a special place for me and made my 3 wishes: one for life, one for love, and one to return to Rome. I have made my wishes 2 times before, and so far the last one has always come true. I then found a café with outdoor heaters so I could people watch, but not freeze to death. At this point it was about 5pm, but it felt like 8 since it was both dark, and I was mildly jet-lagged thanks to the 3 hour time difference with Abu Dhabi. At dinner, I enjoyed pancetta and melon, 4-cheese gnocchi, as well as a couple glasses of wine (something very much missing from the dining scene in AD), and then began the walk back to the hotel (only managing to get partially lost once and having to pull out the map on my blackberry twice. (I was proud of myself, and it proved useful the next day when I could wow Carley with my map-reading ability).
The next morning I woke up and began walking around again. I decided to walk towards St. Peter’s, first stopping at a café in Piazzo Venezia near the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II and Palazzo Venezia where Mussolini gave a speech when he officially declared Italy’s involvement in World War II. I slowly sipped my cappuccino and let my feet heal before walking even further. I stopped at the Pantheon as well as Piazza Navona. Like every time I have stopped at the Pantheon, I am continuously wowed at the structure. It was built so long ago originally, but then was added on to completely changing the architectural style. Additionally, it is now a church, but it does not follow the standard architectural style of churches because it was not built to be that. I always find it so interesting. Stopping at Piazza Navona, I was underwhelmed this time. The entire Piazza felt like a carnival, more like Northbrook Days than a relic from the Italian Renaissance.
I made it to St. Peter’s Piazza, seeing the nativity scene and a very large tree. At that point, I happened to be in the right place at the right time. I noticed 2 photographers pointing 2 very intense cameras at a window in one of the buildings to the right of the cathedral. I then noticed a red banner hanging from the window. I know what you are thinking, and you are right! I got to see the Pope! It was very cool, despite that I did not understand most of what he was saying when he spoke in Latin and Italian. While I am not Catholic, I did understand when he got to the “Hail Mary” part because the phrase “Ava Maria” was uttered several times. He then did speak in English for a little bit as well as Spanish. It was a very cool moment.
I then walked around until I found yet another café (in case you haven’t already realized, I completely soaked in the concept of eating and drinking in Rome). It is by far one of my most favorite activities while traveling. I love to find a random off-the-road place, and leisurely enjoy a meal, the atmosphere, and the people around me. It’s can even be fun then to eat alone. At lunch, I met a family from Texas who were also enjoying a Roman Holiday. Quick aside: The family was 2 boys and a younger daughter. When the eldest son ordered water “with gas” and the daughter took a sip, she was CLEARLY unhappy with her brother’s choice. I chuckled to myself.
Later in the day I finally got to meet up with Carley and we got to explore more of the city, but for all of your sanity (as well as a brief break for myself), I will give you all a break and save the rest of our adventures for the next post.
I hope that everyone had a safe and happy holiday season and that 2009 finds you happy and hopeful for the coming year. I miss you all like you wouldn’t believe.