I arrived in Rome on the 22nd of December to a beautiful day. The temperatures were cool, but not too cold, and the sky was cloudless and blue.
I started my quest for Christmas decorations and lights at St. Peter’s Square, in the Vatican. The square is dominated by a 70-foot high Christmas tree and a Nativity scene this time of year. Unfortunately for those of us who are there before Christmas Eve, the Nativity is not actually unveiled until Christmas Eve, so I was not able to get even a glimpse of it.
Wandering the Streets of Rome, from Piazza Navona to the Via del Corso, to the Spanish steps and Piazza Popolo, there are plenty of lights throughout the city. Via del Corso is a main North-South artery in the city, which runs from Piazza Popolo in the North to the Monument a Vittorio Emanuel II in the South, and it is a hub of Christmas shopping activity and decorations. I was there on a Saturday night and the Northern portion of Via del Corso was closed to motor traffic. Shoppers crowded the streets and stores along the street in a surge of activity the last weekend before Christmas.
Intersecting Via del Corso are many smaller streets filled with stores and boutiques decorated gaily for the season. At times the crowds were so thick it was difficult to make headway without bumping into someone. I turned up Via Condotti, and headed towards the Spanish Steps. Lights strung across the street from the buildings lit my way as I made my way up the teeming street. A beautifully decorated tree halfway up the Spanish Steps formed the centerpiece of a Roman Christmas scene as masses of holiday shoppers rested on the well-worn steps.
Next I headed North to Piazza Popolo, then back South along Via del Corso, towards the ancient Piazza Navona, in the center of the city. Piazza Navona was built in 1 A.D. and was a gathering place for the original Romans to watch games. It is normally dominated by three fountains and lined with cafes and restaurants, but during the Christmas season it is the site of a large Italian Christmas Market.
In recent blog posts I have talked about the German Christmas markets, and I have found that most other European cities’ Christmas markets tend to emulate the German kind. Not so with this one. It is more of a circus atmosphere, with stalls selling cheap toys and featuring carnival games where you can win a prize. While there were a few stalls selling Christmas decorations, mostly the atmosphere of the market here seemed more carnival and less Christmas.
From Piazza Navona it is a short walk up Via Di Tor Millina to Rome’s famous “Steelers” Bar to watch a real NFL game and enjoy a beer. La Botticella is a small bar owned by Giovanni Poggi, a native Roman who spent many years in Toronto, Canada, and who is a Pittsburgh Steelers and American Football fan. As an important part of the “Steelers Nation,” Giovanni was even given the keys to the city of Pittsburgh by the city council a few years back.
For years, airline crews and Steelers fans have enjoyed Giovanni’s hospitality, while being able to keep up with their favorite NFL games live at his bar. I stopped in and said hello to Giovanni quickly before I headed to a small restaurant to meet up with my crew for another excellent Italian meal.
After a nice evening sharing Italian food and some Italian wine with some of my work colleagues, we all headed back to our hotel on the other side of the Tiber River. Rome has always been one of my favorite destinations and once again I found that it did not disappoint.