FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Rome: Good Cheer

Dec 1, 2011
2011 / December 2011

December in Rome can be beautifully clear with bright, blue skies and sunlight warming its ancient stones. Or it can be dim, damp, cold and relentlessly gray. Of course, I arrived during a spell of the latter.

I don’t love Rome. I don’t dislike it either, but when I’m there on business, I usually spend my free time outside the city in Tivoli’s gardens of Villa d’Este and Villa Adriana or Frascati and the other wine towns. But December is not the time for gardens or vineyards.

As pale afternoon light slowly faded into even dimmer gray, I headed for the Pantheon, thinking that contemplating one of the Roman Empire’s greatest masterpieces might put me in a better frame of mind to appreciate the city.

And it did. Even though Pope Urban VIII had its bronze roof stripped off and melted down to cast the baldachino in St. Peter’s and cannons for Castel Sant’Angelo, the building is in remarkable condition for its two millennia. The 142-foot dome seems to hover there of its own accord, so well are its supports hidden inside the walls. Behind the building, I smiled at Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s little elephant placidly carrying an obelisk on its back.

By then, the sky was fading from dismal gray toward the inky black that comes too soon in December, and streetlights began to flicker on as I wrapped my scarf closer and walked toward Piazza Navona. At the end of the narrow street a glow lit the sky ahead; as I approached the piazza, it seemed almost like daylight. It was as though the Romans had gathered all their lights here to dispel this creeping gray chill that lay siege to the rest of the city.

Piazza Navona — a huge, oblong space that takes its shape from the first-century Stadium Domitian where chariot races were held — had been transformed into an enormous open-air Christmas market. I could barely spot Bernini’s three magnificent fountains for the carousel, the bright stalls and the life-sized presepio at the piazza’s center.

These public nativity scenes are found throughout Italy during Advent, a tradition believed to have been started by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223. He built a replica of the manger scene at his hermitage near Assisi, adding an ox and a donkey for a realistic touch. The scene is repeated there on Christmas Eve; and elsewhere in Italy similar scenes use life-sized or smaller figures of carved wood or terra cotta, often dressed in real clothing. Many of Rome’s churches have indoor scenes of priceless old figures that parishioners have treasured for centuries.

Not only did all Rome’s lights seem to be in Piazza Navona, but most of the people as well. Bundled up in greatcoats, they strolled arm in arm, gathered in conversations punctuated by grand gestures, browsed among the craftsmen and munched on disks of fried dough from which snowstorms of powdered sugar fell onto their coats and scarves. The fragrance of the frying dough filled the chilled air, and I began to feel peckish.

With sugar dusting down the front of my own coat, I browsed and stopped to buy Christmas presents from craftsmen selling hand-carved nativity figures, delicate embroidered linens, knitted hats, bright pottery, wooden toys, marionettes, holiday decorations and filmy lace — all set among dazzling displays of candied fruits, nuts, cakes, biscotti, fruit breads and almond nougat.

Despite the sugar-dusted snack, I was ready for a serious meal, so I headed to nearby Campo de’ Fiori. I’d rarely seen this piazza empty of café umbrellas, fruit, vegetables and flowers since it’s one of Rome’s most colorful and lively markets. On this night the freethinking monk Giordano Bruno, whose statue stands in the campo, looked lonely and cold in the wind blowing off the Tiber — until I remembered that his ideas had gotten him burned at the stake during the Inquisition.

I shivered and headed for the warm glow of La Carbonara at the far side of the piazza where I savored a carpaccio of smoked swordfish, pan-roasted lamb and artichokes cooked in a style originated in this very neighborhood.

The next day’s weather was more of the same. Buoyed by Christmas spirit from the day before, I headed to do some serious shopping on the Via Veneto and surrounding streets. But first I had a mission.

A couple of months before, at the Bilbao Guggenheim in Spain, I walked through the museum’s permanent installation by Richard Serra, a series of pressed steel sheets standing as curving walls in the form of ellipses that torque as they rise overhead. Fascinated by their narrow — and somewhat disorienting — passages, I learned from the curator that Serra’s inspiration had been a church in Rome that I’d never seen.

So I began my day in Sant’Andrea al Quirinale, a Bernini masterpiece that in any other city would be filled with visitors. In Rome, it gets lost in the overabundance of churches, which is how I’d missed it before. I could only thank Richard Serra for bringing me to this magnificent place.

Art, architecture and design meld seamlessly into one opus in the Baroque interior, and it’s no wonder that Bernini considered it his finest work. Late in his life he would sit inside just to enjoy its beauty — which is reputedly the only compensation he got for it other than bread from the bakery of the Jesuit Novitiate for whom the cardinal had ordered it built. As I stood in the center of this elliptical space, my eyes followed the vertical lines up to the round golden dome overhead; I understood how it had inspired Serra’s torqued walls nearly four centuries later.

My curiosity satisfied, I headed toward Piazza di Spagna and found a presepio that includes a 19th-century street scene. Looking as though he could have been part of the old street, a vendor was roasting fat brown chestnuts, their toasty aroma filling the air. As I wandered toward Via Veneto’s bright shop windows, holding a newspaper cone of hot chestnuts in my gloved hand, I mused that Rome was not at all a bad place to be on a gray December day.

Introducing

FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Daily
May 29, 2020

6 Reasons We Can’t Wait to #ComeBacktoTravel to the Florida Keys

At FXExpress Publications, Inc., we can’t wait to #ComeBacktoTravel, and we can’t wait for the travel industry and others to #ComeBacktoGT. Join us over the next several weeks as we entice you with photos from some of the places we’re most excited to visit. Take a visual journey through some of the Florida Keys’ most breathtaking sights with us, just in time for the June 1 reopening.

Athens: A city that charms its guests and stirs their emotions

The city took its name from Athena, goddess of wisdom, strategy and war, and protector of the city. The financial, political and administrative center of the country and an all-powerful city-state in antiquity, Athens is a major center of culture. A visit to the first-ever museum dedicated to Byzantium, a stroll around the National Garden and a trip to the Olympeion archaeological site will take you back through time.

Daily
May 29, 2020

Four Seasons Resort Revamps Reef Club

Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa unveiled its newly renovated Reef Club. The Mediterranean eatery offers the warm vibes of the southern coast of Europe, combined with views of the Maldives.

Daily
May 28, 2020

European Commission Outlines Plan to Reopen Europe

People need a “chance to get some well-needed rest, relaxation and fresh air.” This is a sentiment we all likely share, as does the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union. The EC included that phrase when it released its plan to help reopen Europe following the COVID-19 global pandemic. While most EU borders remain closed to international travel until at least mid-June, the EC’s plan starts with inter-Europe travel, and are non-binding recommendations and guidelines. European countries still have the final decision, so travelers are advised to check the restrictions of the countries they plan to visit. According to the EC, “blanket restrictions of free movement are replaced by targeted measures.”

The Perfect Fit

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, small businesses create two-thirds of net new jobs and account for nearly 48 percent of the U.S. private sector workforce. And small- and medium-sized businesses outpace all other sectors as one of the fastest-growing in the United States. InterContinental® Hotels Group (IHG) goes above and beyond to create opportunities for this segment with its IHG® Business Edge program, voted Best Small- to Mid-Sized Business Program in Global Traveler’s 2019 GT Tested Reader Survey awards.

Daily
May 28, 2020

Cruise Line Updates on Cancellations and Rebookings Due to COVID-19

The cruise industry responds to the COVID-19 pandemic with updates on cancellations and rebooking policies. Here’s an update.

eFlyer Deals
May 27, 2020

Star Clippers Offers Complimentary Hotel Nights on Caribbean Sailings

Star Clippers offers two complimentary hotel nights in Barbados or St. Maarten for Caribbean sailings December 2020–March 2022. For use before or after the cruise, the hotel deal also includes one breakfast and a ship transfer.

Goway Offers Travelers Journey of a Lifetime

Since 1970, Goway Travel has been committed to providing customized travel experiences for world travelers. Few things are better evidence of this commitment than being awarded the 2019 Trazees award for Favorite Tour Operator. Goway Travel heartily thanks the readers of Trazee Travel for this honor and for their confidence in Goway’s work in creating travel memories that’ll last a lifetime.

eFlyer Deals
May 27, 2020

Naples Grande Beach Resort, Cheeca Lodge & Spa Debut Reopening Offer

Two Florida hotels boast reopening offers as Florida begins its phased reopening.