See Nativity scenes on Roman holiday

Q and A


I will be in Rome for Christmas and Christmas Eve. What Christmas festivities, both religious and secular, will be held during that time? Rome was the site of the first observance of Christmas, in the fourth century, according to many historians. The religious aspect of the holiday is important in Rome, and Nativity scenes are a significant feature of the city's Christmas celebrations. Outside St. Peter's Basilica, visitors are greeted with a life-size Nativity scene. Nativity scenes, known in Italian as presepi, are placed in churches around the city in the weeks before Christmas.

Each year, the church of Santa Maria del Popolo on the Piazza del Popolo, exhibits 100 presepi from all over Italy. Although Christmas trees were originally a German tradition, you can expect to see a number of decorated evergreen trees in Rome. Each year a different part of Europe donates an evergreen tree for St. Peter's Square. Christmas trees also appear in the Piazza Venezia, among other squares.

From Dec. 15 through Jan. 15, there is a Christmas market in Piazza Navona where you can buy all sorts of Christmas-related ornaments, toys and such holiday sweets as panettone. Main shopping streets are dressed up with festive lights and many shop windows are decorated with wreaths and ribbons.

It can be difficult to get tickets to the Papal Midnight Mass at St. Peter's, but you could attend Mass at any one of Rome's numerous churches and cathedrals.

You should be aware that on Christmas and Christmas Eve, buses and the Metro run on a limited schedule, and taxis can be difficult to find.

En route to Australia this fall, my husband and I will spend a night in a hotel near Los Angeles airport before flying to Sydney the next day at 10:30 p.m. Can you give us some suggestions for an interesting destination near LAX before the flight?

Los Angeles County is very large and spread out - more than 4,000 square miles - so what you might want to do will depend on whether you want to rent a car for the day or use public transportation to get around. Your options are more limited, but it is still possible to spend an enjoyable day without renting a car.

If it is your first visit to Los Angeles, you might be interested in taking a city tour to take in the highlights. Starline Tours (800-959-3131; starlinetours. com), has a four-and-a-half-hour tour that circles the city and stops in Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Century City and the Farmers' Market. The price of $51 includes pickup at your hotel.

They also have tours that take you to Universal Studios and the Getty Museum.

The beach cities of Los Angeles County are fairly close to the airport. Less than 10 miles from LAX are Manhattan Beach, Marina del Rey, Santa Monica and Venice Beach - all popular spots for shopping and dining, each with an individual personality and accessible without a car.

The No. 3 line of the Big Blue Bus of Santa Monica (310-451-5444; travels from Los Angeles airport and stops in Marina del Rey, Venice and Santa Monica about every 15 minutes on weekdays. The ride from the airport to Santa Monica takes 35 to 40 minutes and costs 75 cents. A schedule can be downloaded from its Web site.

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