Kristin, Steve, and Sandy at Enoteca Corsi.

Last week, the holiday season has heated up in Rome. Literally – until a few days ago it was warmer here than it was in early November. And figuratively too: the decorations are everywhere, and the x-mas tree at the Vatican is taller than most people’s homes in Madison. Piped in carols are everywhere (sung in English with Italian accents), along with caroling flash mobs.

Pagan roots of the x-mas tree!

The nicest part of December thus far has been a steady stream of wonderful visitors. Last week, our wonderful friend and colleague from Madison, Kristin, came to hang out with us. It was her first trip to Italy, despite her status as a mega-traveler. Basking in the sun on our terrace was the perfect antidote to wintertime. At the same time, our wonderful friend and colleague from Northwestern, Sandy, came with her fabulous Steve to take in the sights; it was Sandy’s first trip to Rome. They were especially taken with our local enoteca (wine store) and kept us supplied with fantastic beverages. We had several unusual experiences with Kristin, Sandy, and Steve, including a tour of the multilayered excavations (going back to ancient times) underneath St. Peter’s Basilica and seeing the bones of St. Peter himself (perhaps). They were also very entertained by the fake snow being blown on a fancy shopping street, made from soap flakes! We also had a great adult evening out thanks to our wonderful babysitter Katie (who has alas returned to California after her semester abroad), and enjoyed a fantastic dinner at Roscioli: cheese store + best bakery in Rome + amazing pastas, desserts, etc. Their visit culminated with a great dinner of takeout pizza from Pizzerium on our terrace under heat lamps. We were very sad to see them all go.

Playing in the Borghese gardens.

Fortunately, however, we didn’t have to experience an empty nest for long: our sabbatical buddies Inge-Marie, Jim, Lucia, and Eleanor arrived on Saturday night for a visit. Jim and the girls have never been to Italy, so we were excited to show them a good time. We seem to have angered the weather gods, though:  it poured rain when we visited them in Provence, and it became super cold (by local standards) when they arrived to visit us here. Undaunted, we celebrated both Jim and Eleanor’s birthdays, and enjoyed listening to our kids exchanging linguistic insights about French vs. Italian. We also had the opportunity to take a tour of the Borghese Gallery together, and all greatly admired both the stunning palace and the sculptures it houses. A favorite line from the visit was Ella asking her parents whether the tour would be in French or English. What well-traveled kids!

Speaking of travel, we are heading to Israel and Jordan later this week for 10 days. It will make Ancient Rome seem almost contemporary! None of us have traveled there before, and we are very excited for new experiences, and of course new cuisines! So we will celebrate Hanukah in Jerusalem, and New Year’s Eve in Eilat, with a visit to Petra in between. Look for the next blog post in 2012!

– Jenny