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Romping around Rome, Assisi, and Barcelona

Romping around Rome, Assisi, and Barcelona

So much has happened in the past few weeks!

I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Rome and it was much more anticlimactic than you would imagine. The Irish pubs in the center of the city were all jam-packed, so a few friends and I just meandered around the city and returned home before midnight (no, dad, I didn’t fly off to Ireland for the day!).

That Friday, I had to attend a makeup class in the evening. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, so I spent it exploring Rome on my own. I first went to Piazza Navona, where dozens of artists had their paintings set up. My next stop was Campo de Fiori, a small piazza with flower shops and other vendors. I perused through some spices and some clothing items before stopping to eat a panino and people-watch from my perch on a fountain. Not quite ready to head back to the confines of campus, I traipsed back through Navona toward the Pantheon. On the way, I shopped in a small bookstore. Then I picked up some decent cheesecake gelato from a gelateria that advertises hundreds of flavors, and ate it on the steps in front of the Pantheon, in Piazza della Rotunda.

Artist in Piazza Navona


Later that night, I saw Insurgent with Marie, Roshni, and Katherine at a movie theater that was showing it in English. Before the movie, we had dinner at Da Bufetta and got gelato at Frigidarium right next door. Both were incredible! At Da Bufetta, I got a glimpse of how much dough the cooks had in the kitchen. It was enough to make at least two fully grown humans. Frigidarium was life-changing – gelato will never taste the same. The Frigidarium flavor tastes like my favorite cake batter flavor of froyo back at home. I combined it with a chocolate crème flavor, had it dipped in chocolate, and voila! The perfect gelato.

Pizza from Da Bufetta
Gelato from Frigidarium


That Saturday, I took a pilgrimage to Assisi with the school. We started with a morning prayer on the bus before all falling fast asleep. We saw the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, a beautiful building with two levels and a crypt where the tomb of Francis is kept. Our guide explained to us what all the murals in the upper church represented. Many of them depicted the life of Saint Francis, with allusions to the life of Jesus Christ. Our guide made the comment once that with all the progress of modern life, when it seems like man can do everything himself, many people don’t feel a need for Heaven. I was overcome by a feeling of need for Heaven when he said that. The mere thought that man can do everything himself seems absolutely dismal to me — we clearly haven’t figured out to make the world a peaceful place for ourselves. Standing in the upper church beneath dozens of incredible murals, I realized just how much humanity is in need of Heaven.

We strolled around the streets of Assisi for a while, grabbed panini and gelato for lunch, and then went to the Basilica di Santa Chiara to see the cross relic that Francis was praying to when God told him to rebuild His church. We prayed once more in a side chapel. On the bus, I got to know some of the Deacons from JFRC, and they told me about their time spent studying in Assisi. We stopped at the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli at the bottom of the hill, which interestingly had a church inside a church, and said a final prayer. Our dinner that night, which lasted several hours, consisted of all kinds of locally grown and produced foods. Father Al and Father Bore hilariously teased each other from across the table. The table erupted in laughter every time Father Al would make an old-person joke about Father Bohr, to which Father Bohr would respond, “You will burn!” On our ride home, Father Al showed us a few of his dance moves as “Uptown Funk” blasted from the speakers.

Basilica di Santa Chiara


The next day, I woke up bright and early to volunteer for the Rome Marathon. It was inspiring to see people from all over the world converge in the eternal city to accomplish one of the greatest physical feats. Two of our own J-Forcers, Joey and SLA Chandi, also completed the marathon!

On Wednesday, calcio was cancelled due to a torrential downpour. Instead, I went to an aperitivo bar called Foodoo with Bri, Ali, Reagan, and Reagan’s sister who was visiting. We ordered delicious fruity drinks and had a refreshing girl’s night out.

The next weekend, I flew off to Barcelona with Bri and Roshni. Naturally, I played the song “Barcelona” by the Plasticines when we were landing.

We took a taxi to our hostel, Hola Hostel, to drop off our luggage. Roshni parted ways with Bri and me because she was going to visit a friend from home who is also studying abroad. Bri and I almost immediately decided to head for the beach. On our way, we passed the Arc de Triumph, which I think I may love more than Rome’s triumphal arches for its unique brickwork and patterns – the fact that it’s surrounded by palm trees only adds to its beauty. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Of course, neither of us had brought sunscreen. We bit the bullet and laid out our clothes as makeshift towels, and soon fell asleep in the sand (we’d had an early flight). As you can imagine, I was soon looking a little lobster-like.

Arc de Triomf


Bri and I had lunch at a beach-side restaurant. We split a salad topped with berries and nuts, some bread, and delicious cod fritters…and, of course, sangria. After over two hours of talking, enjoying the food, and wrapping our minds around where we were, Bri and I decided to head back to the hostel. We walked slowly along the beach. We kept walking slower. And slower, and slower. Until finally we found ourselves lying down fully clothed in the sand to take another nap. Bri woke up to a father telling his child, “You can do whatever you want here! Look at those girls!” We decided it was time to leave.

We went out with the hostel that night and met another student from Chicago who studies at John Cabbot in Rome. It’s such a small world! We also met a girl from Canada who had just graduated and moved to Barcelona for an internship, even though she’d never been there before. She’s definitely another one of the many courageous people this semester. As for the clubs – the nightlife in Barcelona is everything everyone says it is.

The next day, Roshni reunited with us. We trekked about a dozen blocks in the heat to find a churreria. My chocolate-filled churro was more than worth it.

Chocolate-filled churro



We had a nourishing lunch – steak and eggs, for me – and then went to the Cathedral for a free historical walking tour through the Gothic Quarter. We saw Picasso’s first donation to Barcelona, ancient Roman buildings, and Placa de Sant Felip Neri, where dozens of children were tragically killed by a bomb explosion in the Spanish Civil War. The plaza, however, also has happier history: it was the setting of a scene in a Woody Allen film! While we were there, an extremely talented a Capella group burst into song and dance. We visited the corner of Carrer d’Avinyo, where Picasso stood waiting for his father after school every day. There used to be a lot of brothels on the street, and Picasso got to know the ladies well since he was there so often. According to our tour guide, they inspired his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Cathedral in Barcelona



The tour ended at the port. Exhausted, we took another nap in the grass. A series of advertisements reading, “Coffee lovers this way,” each with an arrow, led us to Costa coffee. The coffee and cheesecake gave us the energy to trek onward to the magnificent Magic Fountains of Montjuic. The fountain lights turned off early due a technological problem, but I ran into Katie, a girl from my last semester’s marketing class! It was the most unexpected place to run into someone from home – she’s currently studying in England, but happened to be in Barcelona for her spring break.

Bri, Roshni and I entertained ourselves by finding hilarious English translations in a nearby clothing store. Then, we had empanadas, nachos, and fajitas from a vegetarian restaurant. Once again exhausted, we called it a night and headed back to the hostel (with an unplanned hour-long detour).

Vegetarian nachos


Sunday morning, we woke up early enough to have breakfast at the hostel and set out to discover Gaudi’s famous modernist architecture. It wasn’t hard to spot – his buildings, Casa Botllo and Casa Mila, are marked by soft curves and whimsical balconies. The most astonishing of Gaudi’s feats, however, is the Sagrada Familia (or as I like to call it, the Sangria Familia).

Casa Botlla


We bought tickets for 6:15 p.m., so we had time to kill before seeing it. We bought scarves, rocked the “Yacht mom” look, and trekked up to Park Guell, and saw all of Barcelona sprawled out below us. We could clearly make out what we called the “Larry the Cucumber” building.

Standing atop Park Guell
Standing atop Park Guell

The Sagrada Familia was partially under construction, but it’s the one building in the world that can’t be ruined by it. The outside is decorated with creatures of all sorts, and culminates in points that look like melting candles. In typical Gaudi style, no part of the building is untouched by an unusual flair. The inside of the church is even more breathtaking, which I didn’t think was possible. My jaw dropped when I walked in, and I couldn’t stop gawking at the ceiling. The pillars look like trees rising into a heavenly canopy, illuminated by light shining through the colorful stained glass windows. Thanks to my art in Rome class, I recognized the Four Living Creatures in the transept of the church. I got dizzy from spinning around looking up at the ceiling and the unbelievable architecture.

Sagrada Familia


For dinner, we had paella at a restaurant across from the hostel. Bri and I went out dancing for a few hours, and then all three of us caught a plane in the wee hours of the morning. Thanks to Holy Week traffic, it took less time to get from Barcelona to Rome than it did to get from the Rome airport to campus. Despite that minor annoyance, the weekend was a wonderful one!

Arrivederci, tutti!

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