Arezzo is about 30 minutes away and is the biggest city near us. It’s about 100,000 people and we go there for many things. It’s where we both got our booster shots, we spent many happy times in the Questura (police headquarters) there trying to get our permesso di siggiorno, and it’s where we catch the train to go anywhere our hearts desire. What I didn’t know was that they have one of the most beautiful Christmas displays ever.
The Piazza Grande in Arezzo is one of the world’s best piazzas, in my opinion. It is grande, as the name implies, and is ringed with gorgeous medieval buildings. It’s a little odd in that it slopes downhill and at the top of the slope is a Vasari designed palazzo with a gorgeous loggia which is now home to many fancy restaurants. And on one side is the majestic Santa Maria della Pieve church which dates back over 1,000 years. At Christmas, the entire piazza is filled with a Christmas market. Wooden huts line up across the piazza and offer all kinds of gifts and decorations, food and wine, and hot chocolate and vin brule, a mulled wine drink.
But what really amazes are the lights in the piazza after the sun goes down. Every building is perfectly highlighted in colorful Renaissance patterns that transforms the piazza into a wonderland. We went over late one afternoon and strolled around the main shopping street. It was beautifully decorated with bright lights strung across the wide pedestrian street and stores bedecked with garlands and lights. I always forget how much Arezzo has to offer. We only go there for specific things, rarely just to stroll. Wandering aimlessly through these streets reminds me of the long ago days in the US when cities had actual storefronts and the downtown scene was vibrant and exciting and people shopped downtown. I felt like I was in a Frank Capra movie. In Italy.
We got to the Piazza Grande and the Christmas market was closed. The Piazza was eerily quiet and devoid of people. Only a few souls wandering around. But that just added to the enchantment. The lights were just fantastic and transported you to a Christmas wonderland. We had a glass of prosecco in one of the fancy restaurants in the Vasari-designed loggia and just took in the ambience. Seldom have I had a drink in a more beautiful setting. Each chair had its own fluffy fleece blanket to help keep the chill away. Wonderful. It was one of those moments when you feel like everything is right with the world. Pain and suffering don’t exist and every human is kind and loving. Our sweet waiter told us that the market is only open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. So we had the whole piazza to ourselves on this random weeknight.
We did want to experience the market so we went back on Friday morning, thinking that would be the least crowded. We bought our one and only Christmas decoration, a wooden Buone Feste that now sits on our mantle. We also bought some fir boughs that also sit on our mantle. I must say our little purchases really do add a great holiday touch to our home. We were thinking about getting a tree, but the only trees you can buy here are balled and burlapped and ready to be planted after Christmas. We don’t need another tree in our yard, so we decided to forgo that. It’s prohibited to cut trees down here for Christmas, so there are no Big John’s lots with a variety of shapes and sizes. Just real living trees that you give a home to after they adorn your home. Or artificial ones, and we didn’t want to make that commitment just yet. Besides, where would we store it in the house with no closets, basement, or attic?
Michelangelo and Rossella invited us to go back on Sunday. It was a gorgeous day with bright sunshine and cool temperatures and I do believe that all 100,000 of the people who live in Arezzo were there. It was insanely crowded. The words “super spreader event” echoed in my mind. Everyone had on a mask, but it was a little too crowded and close for my comfort. Everyone feels like we’re on the verge of more stringent restrictions here, so most people wear masks all the time now, even outside, just to try and get ahead of it. Steve and I had it right by thinking that Friday would be the best day to visit and I’m glad we did.
The Christmas marvels continue in Italy. There’s much more to come before the big day. But the really wonderful thing about Christmas in Italy is that it runs in full force through the Epiphany, which is January 6, giving us extra time to savor it. And I think we’ll need it.