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The beginning of my Roman Holiday

The beginning of my Roman Holiday

Buongiorno! I’ve had an exciting and exhausting first week in Rome. The city is nothing like I expected it to be–none of the pictures I’ve seen in textbooks or Google images do it justice. I have been fighting jet lag since day one, and orientation activities had all of us spring semester students too busy to sleep much. We began the trip with what felt like a dozen meetings about life here at the JFRC and a tour of the Balduina neighborhood. The Rome Center is situated at the top of Monte Mario, the tallest hill in Rome, which means that any trek through the neighborhood is sure to build up those calf muscles! With many signs in English, and many English-speaking Italians, it was easy to feel relatively comfortable right when I arrived here.

However, I’m beginning to notice all the small things that make Rome vastly different than anything I’ve seen back in the U.S. The most distinct difference so far is anything related to transportation. I’ve mentioned the hills already, but to add on to that, most of the streets and sidewalks are cobblestone. I’m convinced that there must be no rules at all for Italian drivers. If there’s a speed limit, they don’t seem to pay any attention to it. And stopping for pedestrians just isn’t something they do here–instead, they weave and dart around anyone walking in the street. That being said, Italian drivers have impeccable maneuvering skills. I surprisingly haven’t been hit (yet!). As far as parking goes, it looks like a free-for-all. I’ve seen the various tiny Italian cars parked in whatever direction they please, whether that’s crooked or backwards or in the opposite direction of the flow of traffic. It’s pretty comical, really, but also impressive. I’m glad I don’t have to worry about driving here. The streets are narrow and the vespas dart out of nowhere! Public transportation, as I did expect thanks to some helpful advice before I left, leaves something to be desired. Coming from Loyola, I’m used to the reliable and efficient CTA trains and bus routes. Here, the buses pretty much come and go when they please, while the train routes are very limited for a city so big. I’ve also noticed that Rome has lots of litter and is generally a dirty place. That must be why the people here wear black all the time.

But what Rome lacks in transit options and cleanliness, it makes up for in beauty. Over the weekend, I spent two surreal nights exploring downtown. As I wandered around with friends that I met during the group flight and orientation meetings, I got to see so many places I had never expected visit (I studied French for five years, so Italy always seemed somewhat distant). I saw the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi), the Four Rivers Fountain, and Piazza Cavour during those first couple nights exploring. I was extremely disappointed to find out that the Trevi is undergoing extensive construction right now so it is almost entirely blocked by metal structures and tarps. But there is a small pool of water that they encourage people to throw coins in. I did of course throw a coin, which is supposed to guarantee that I will come back to Rome at some point later in life! It was exciting to see the exact places where many famous movies, such as Three Coins in a Fountain, have been filmed. I absolutely adore the fact that people go out so much later here. My friends and I went to a place called Abbey’s Pub near Piazza Navone around 10:30 p.m., but by the time we left just after midnight there were at least three times more people crowding the streets than when we’d went into the pub! As the SLAs warned us in orientation, there is truly no personal space in Rome, even in the middle of the road at night.

One of the best parts of the nightlife here is the food and wine (obviously). I went to a Magnum ice cream store where a man dipped the ice cream into a chocolate coating and toppings right before my eyes. I’m still in shock at how divine it tasted–nothing like the boxed garbage we eat back at home! Of course, gelato is the real Italian specialty. I’ve been pairing chocolate (which is deliciously rich) with other flavors and haven’t gone wrong! So far, the tiramisu gelato is my favorite. And the tiramisu in general. The JRFC hosted a “dinner in the neighborhood” during orientation, where we paid for a several-course meal at a restaurant near campus. For the most part, I had no idea what I was eating. There was amazing pasta, cheese, and plenty of bread, so what else matters at this point? I’ll begin to understand the food terminology eventually. The food here is more fresh than anything I could hope to taste at home. So far, I especially like the pizza. Pizza is something I can understand in any language. And, yes, the part all my friends at home have been waiting for me to write about–I’ve been drinking incredible wine with many of my meals. Don’t ask me the names of them, though…that’s another thing I’m working on!  I also bought a bottle of white wine for under 4 euros, but realized when I brought it back to campus that I don’t have a bottle opener. I’m still getting adjusted to it all.

I also got to go to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum with an orientation group. Just as pictures don’t do these places justice, neither do words. I tried to soak up all of the history in front of me by imagining what life must have been like during the height of the Roman Empire. I cringed at how thousands of people gathered to watch gladiators fight to the bloody death, and stood in awe as I imagined the low, excited hum of voices as the men of Rome paraded into the Colosseum. When you look past all the tourists and their ridiculous “selfie sticks,” it’s mind boggling that the Colosseum was even bigger and grander than what we see today. The Forum, though, was the most breathtaking thing I’ve seen. Even more so than the Colosseum, it’s a lot larger than I would have expected. The ruins and rubble are situated right in the middle of modern Rome, so from the top of the Forum you can see the amazing juxtaposition of old and new and the nature that ties it all together. I reached the top just as the sun was setting, so I didn’t get to stay for long, but I wish I could have sat there and looked out over the city all day. It’s beautiful now, so I can’t wrap my mind around how magnificent the city must have been before it turned to rubble. You can see the ruins of countless palaces and churches with some of the most detailed architecture in the world–and the Romans did it without all the advantages we have today. It took decades, even centuries, for most of those places to be completed, making many modern buildings seem thrown up haphazardly in comparison. Walking among the various columns, arches, and building structures, I thought about how many people died or were murdered just beneath my feet. I know I keep speaking in superlatives, but seeing the Forum was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. After I left and went out to explore the city more, it began to sink in that I’m actually in Rome. We walked through the nearby Piazza Venezia, which was filled with tourists, but I loved how the city was bustling just next to the ruins. I also began to feel like I was in the Lizzie McGuire movie, which let’s be honest, is everyone’s dream.

My first class starts today (Italian 101), so I need to head off to buy some books and grab lunch. I hope you all continue to read up on my adventure throughout Italy and other parts of Europe!

Ciao tutti!


View from the top of the Roman Forum
View from the top of the Roman Forum
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