Christmas in Italy – Christmas Eve adventures, Villa Borguese, Trevi Fountain, Altar of the Fatherland, and the Great Synagogue of Rome

Christmas in Italy – Christmas Eve adventures, Villa Borguese, Trevi Fountain, Altar of the Fatherland, and the Great Synagogue of Rome

In keeping with the tradition of adventure, Sarah and I went on a big trip for Christmas and New Years!

This year, we met up with Sarah’s family in Italy, traveling to Rome and Florence; not quite a perfect midpoint for everyone, but it was close enough. And, also, you know. Rome. Florence. Amazing!

Please forgive me for some of these being a bit out of order… the posts are organized somewhat chronologically… but also organized by theme and location.  Some may not be exactly in chronological order, so for reference please see the initial summary post, which has a complete day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of the adventure.


Sunday, 24-Dec-2017


I believe I mentioned that our AirBnB had a patio up top, didn’t I?


Well, what does one do with a patio when in Rome? Clearly they enjoy some sunrise yoga! Or, at least Sarah and I do, since we’re crazy enough to get up and brave the freezing morning just to do yoga. Or Henry, who was crazy enough to come with us and take some awesome pictures.

With a start like that, you need to keep the energy flowing – so a group of us headed out to do some walking around town. What we found was a park named the Villa Borguese, which happened to have a bike rental station. Not just any bikes, though… a four person bike.


Not like four-people-in-a-row, but two and two, forming a little square of people pedaling away. I took the drivers seat so that Sarah, Bill, and Greta could focus on taking pictures – while I’m not a bad photographer, I fully cede that I was indubitably the worst of the group… not a bad thing, since it meant that I got to be in a lot of the pictures, and I got to steer us through all sorts of crazy adventures throughout the park… including one small bit of off-roading that may or may not have been planned.

After our morning cardio (trust me, having four people pedaling only helps so much… the weight of the bike easily countered any extra power we had), we headed onward into the city to see the sights – Henry and Leah rejoined us after a bit, and we saw two of the other major sights that we’d been looking forward to – the Trevi Fountain, and the Altar of the Fatherland.


Something about Rome – the sights sneak up on you. We’d been following a map to find the Trevi Fountain, but didn’t realize we were already there until we turned a small corner and ran right into it (not literally into the fountain… but close enough).

The Trevi Fountain is an amazing sculpture carved into the side of a building, seemingly growing organically out of the marble of the walls. I loved wandering around it, just absorbing all of the tiny details that the sculptors had included… the quality of craftmanship all over Rome was astounding, but the Trevi Fountain is an amazing example of how well the masters had learned to coax life from marble.

I feel strange writing that phrase… but it’s honestly the most accurate that I can think of. The fountain honestly felt alive, as if Neptune was about to reach down and pluck my sandwich from my hands.


From the Trevi, we headed onward to the Altar of the Fatherland, a monument created much more recently by the facist government right before World War II. It was intended to instill national pride in a country recently united, molding the disparate groups of Italians into one country; and it does quite a good job at being intimidating and beautiful.

Thanks to Bill tracking down a ticket office, we were able to ride a special elevator up to the top of the monument, getting an amazing panorama view of the entire city. It was an amazing sight, and while Greta and Henry did an impromptu photoshoot with a pair of pigeons that they saw, the rest of us had a blast trying to pick out various monuments across the expanse in front of us.

Once the star of the shoot had flown off (honestly, neither Henry nor Greta could explain why they had decided to do a full photoshoot with a random pigeon… maybe Roman pigeons are telepathic?) we used our vantage point to plot out a bit of a wandering route, and headed down to explore more of the city.

Here, we split ways for a bit – Bill, Greta, Henry and Lead headed off toward the house via a large Christmas market, while Sarah and I aimed for the Great Synagogue of Rome. We’d seen it from the Altar of the Fatherland – the Great Synagogue is the only square dome in the entire city, and is located right near what had once been the Jewish quarter of the city.

Finding it wasn’t too hard, thankfully, though we did get turned around a bit once or twice… possibly due to the amazing smells of a trattoria or gellateria. We stayed (mostly) strong though, and quickly started into the museum and tours of the synagogue.

First – the architecture. This synagogue was beautiful, in a really interesting/strange way. It’s not Sephardic (North African / Spanish) or Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish – it’s actually a unique blend of the two cultures… which means that, where all the churches have renditions of humans, the Synagogue was almost completely geometric, with beautiful murals and mosaics surrounding soaring columns and bright colors. A super neat change of pace after all of the huge basilicas.

Second – the museum. Really interesting, since Rome’s Jewish population came together from all corners of the world, bringing a huge mesh of traditions and cultural relics together into one community. Honestly a bit overwhelming, especially since everything had detailed notes and information included – something US museums have pretty often, but it was pretty rare in Rome.

Sarah and I escaped after a while, starting our beautiful trundle back to the house, where an amazing dinner of pasta, fish, and excellent wine awaited us, courtesy of Chef Henry.

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