Italy Day 2
Monday, December 24th: Christmas Eve in the Vatican City and St. Peter’s Square
We didn’t want to see the Vatican museums with a tour, so we decided to be rebels and brave the line. We were out of the hostel early and made it to the infamous line (which wraps around the Vatican museum walls and can be hours long in the summer) around 8:15am. It wasn’t that long at all!
We really lucked out, and were in the museum, tickets bought, by 9:10am. Score!
What we saw inside was nothing short of breathtaking. My pictures don’t do it justice.
From the Egypt section…
I really liked this gal.
I loved how the lighting made this room look like it was in greyscale and color at the same time.
Now, I am usually not an art museum aficionado, but this was my favorite museum of the trip. Our favorite spot was the Sistine chapel. Words can’t even describe its beauty. And detail. We weren’t allowed to take pictures and we were supposed to be quiet (since it was a holy place after all). I won’t soon forget the sight. We just sat in there for a while before moving onward.
It took us over 3 hours to get through everything. By the time we were done, we set out to find food/lunch. We walked all the way up this hill only to find that the veggie-friendly restaurant was closed. We tried a few more places, but everything was either closed or unappetizing. We hit a stroke of luck when we approached one of the closed restaurants, Fa Bio, and saw someone inside. We, exhausted from hunger, asked the nice man where we could find a supermarket to get food. And fast. He sounded American and was so kind to us. He gave us two free cookies, told us where the nearest supermarket was (just around the corner), and told us of a few other veggie restaurants.
Kimberly and I bought lunch at the supermarket. In Italy (and I think the rest of Europe), if you want to buy fruit, you have to weigh it on the machines located near the fruit/veggies and print out the price sticker. Unlike in America, the check-out clerks cannot weigh it for you. In my hunger, I forgot to print out the sticker for my pear and the checkout clerk looked as if she was about to kill me. Murder in her eyes. I apologized profusely and ran back to print out the sticker. When I returned, she refused to look at me and practically threw my change and food at me after I had paid. Well, that’s something that would never happen in Japan.
We sat and ate our lunch on a bench outside the Vatican museum walls. After we had sustenance, we went to St. Peter’s Square to enter the basilica, but it was closing early to get ready for Christmas Eve Mass. They had literally JUST closed the entrance to visitors when we got there, unaware of the closure. It was 2pm. There was a line of people outside of the gates and when we asked them what they were lining up for, they said they were lining for the Christmas Eve Mass that evening. I blinked and thought to myself, “Wow, they must be hard-core Catholics to wait that long.”
After that disappointment, we needed gelato.
Neither of us had eaten gelato yet, so this needed to be remedied. There was this place called Gelarmony that I had found online that offered vegan soy gelato and it wasn’t too far from the Vatican at all. When we found it, we were so happy to see that it was NOT closed and that it had a variety of flavors. In hindsight, I should have tried more of the flavors. But I got my favorite, vanilla, plus a scoop of cinnamon in a cup. Kimberly got cream and this éclair-pasty filled flavor. She said it was most delicious.
(Soia means Soy)
And we were extremely lucky to have visited Gelarmony on that day because there was a sign saying that it would be closed from the 25th until after the new year. Whew, we made it just in time.
We wandered around for a bit after that before deciding to hang out in St. Peter’s Square. We grabbed dinner-ish eats at a nearby supermarket, Despar.
My Christmas Eve dinner consisted of rice cakes, baby carrots, and 99% dark chocolate that tasted like dirt. Sigh.
We also tried desperately to find a bathroom for me, but everything was closed off and the streets were swarming with people. I thought I was in trouble. Finally, Kimberly suggested that I ask one of the vendors near St. Peter’s if there were any around. He was my savior. Amazing, he pointed to one right around the corner that was, miraculously, free to use.
St. Peter’s Square was extremely busy. The line we had seen at 2pm for the Christmas Eve Mass had grown exponentially, wrapping around the square.
Apparently some people have to call the Vatican to reserve the tickets a year in advance, and even then you are not guaranteed a seat in St. Peter’s. So that was why the people had started lining up at 2pm for the 10pm mass.
We did not have tickets (nor was I interested in waiting in that huge line, my goodness), so we found a spot to sit down against a fence near a jumbotron screen.
It was the closest to the actual church as we could get. We’re both not Catholic, but we wanted to see what this was all about. Kimberly is a fan of traditional mass because she thinks it is beautiful.
…But MAN was it cold.
I was shivering my butt off as we waited and waited. I wished for another sweater. Or a parka. We waited and waited. We had thought things would start around 8pm, but were sadly mistaken. 8pm was when they started to let the people with tickets inside St. Peter’s. 10pm was when the actual mass would start. Another two hours waiting in the cold.
I was miserably cold, but I tried my best to persevere. I’ve been to a couple Catholic services in the States, but I don’t remember particularly enjoying any of them. But still, it was interesting to see a Christmas Eve service and it certainly was beautiful. I’m glad I stuck it out and stayed. I think I lasted until 11:15pm or 11:30pm before we headed home.
Getting back to the hostel was an adventure in itself.
The subways were closed, so the only transit options were bus and taxi. Kimberly made it clear that she was not going to pay for a taxi, so we waited with the mass of people at the bus stop. We were waiting for a while.
I almost gave up hope, actually, because a group of people walking past us shouted at us that the buses weren’t running anymore, that the bus service had stopped for the night.
But the other people still waited at the bus stop. We stayed there too and I tried to remain hopeful that a bus would eventually come. After all, I didn’t want to spend the rest of my Christmas Eve walking 2.7 miles at midnight in the cold. And how could the other 30+ people waiting with us be wrong?
The bus came after 30 or 40 minutes and we all crammed in there until Termini station. We actually got off one stop before Termini, but that was just as well because we were crammed in there like sardines and Kimberly wasn’t feeling well. Motion sickness combined with sardine syndrome or something.
Glad for the fresh air, we hurried home and were at the hostel sometime between the hours of 12am and 1am. It was technically Christmas! We wished each other a Merry Christmas and went to bed.
Italy Day 3
Tuesday, December 25th: A Quiet Christmas in Rome
Christmas morning was fairly uneventful. We both slept in a little later than usual, because nothing was open and we had nowhere really to go. I was looking forward to breakfast at the Beehive Hotel, but when we got there we found out that they were not offering breakfast Christmas morning. Shucks. So down to the Conad grocery store in the station we went. We brought our food back to the hostel and had a late breakfast there. Soy yogurt and fruit for me.
I forgot to mention that we had met a Texan married couple (from Fort Worth) at dinner on Sunday at the Beehive. They were only a bit older than I was, and the guy and Kimberly totally geeked out together when the guy mentioned making a pilgrimage to the poet John Keats’ grave. Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley were both major English Romantic poets and they both have graves/tombstones in Rome. Apparently it was Kimberly’s dream to visit!
So we worked that into our Christmas Day walking-around-Rome plan.
The poets are buried in the Protestant Cemetery (for foreigners, Jewish people, non-Christians, and non-Catholics) near the Piramide metro station. The reason why the station is called Pyramid is because it is right next to an actual pyramid, the Pyramid of Cestius. This thing is pretty impressive and was built in 18-12 BC as a tomb. I’ve always wanted to see the pyramids of Egypt, but I never imagined that my first pyramid sighting would be in Rome!
The entrance to the Protestant’s Cemetery was around the back of the pyramid. We got there and… surprise, surprise. It was closed.
We vowed to return, come hell or high water.
Well, with our plot to visit the poets foiled, I suggested that we just walk to the neighborhood of Trastevere (which was our starting point of the day anyway). So we did a little extra walking and walked across the river to the quaint neighborhood. We liked the feel of it very much! Kimberly said that downtown Rome (where we were staying) didn’t feel very “liveable”. But Trastevere was still very city-like, but home-y as well.
We passed lots of cool buildings and a few old Byzantine-style churches. The streets were mostly empty, seeing that it was Christmas Day.
We crossed a bridge and the same Tevere river to get back to “mainland” Rome.
We then stopped at the Circo Massimo/Circus Maximus. It used to be an ancient chariot racing stadium and mass entertainment venue, but now it is just… dirt.
Here is me with the dirt and the Palatine Hill ruins behind me. I love ruins.
Kimberly and I stopped to sit at a bench (since we had been walking a long time) and chat while we rested our feet. But then we journeyed onward!
We walked by the Colosseum once again, so I could see it in the daylight. We walked around the other side this time, past the Arch of Constantine. Doesn’t that just sound awesome?
And of course, the Colosseum was just as impressive in the daytime. Since it was closed, we couldn’t go inside yet, but… That would have to wait.
I wanted to see Trevi Fountain in the daylight too and we had nothing better to do until dinnertime, so off we went.
And that’s all the pictures I have on Christmas Day.
The Indian restaurant where we wanted to eat dinner was closed (surprise, surprise), so we just wandered back to the station and found dinner at the grocery store there. It was the only grocery store that was not closed, thank goodness.
My Christmas dinner consisted of a dressing-less salad with beans from a can. And fruit. Pretty sad. Kimberly got a roast chicken and these potato cheese croquette things that she loved. We shared a two-pack of vegan soy vanilla puddings.
We were at the hostel a little early that night, but that’s okay because there was pretty much nothing else to do. I wanted to Skype my family and I got to do that for a few minutes before they left to see Les Miserables. Everyone at home liked their presents, so I did my duty! Plus, everything pretty much arrived on time! Even my sister’s bunny earrings that I ordered on Etsy.
Talking to my family made me a little morose that evening… I literally had been too busy to think about my family back home and their festivities, so seeing them and talking to them made the homesickness come back.
But at the same time, I was so-so-so glad that Kimberly and I had come to Italy. It was already turning out to be an amazing trip and I was still excited for what lay in store…