Since arriving in Rome, I’ve done my best to take advantage of how easy it is to travel around Europe. So far I’ve been to Florence, the Amalfi Coast, Munich, Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Venice, and Milan. Between trying to pack for three days in a tiny backpack, staying in hostels, learning how to navigate foreign metro systems, and struggling with language barriers, I’ve learned some things that I think would be valuable to any young traveler.
1. Travel with people who have open minds. They won’t hold you back from anything that you want to do, and they might introduce you to something you never knew you were interested in. When I was in Venice one of my friends who is an architecture major wanted to go to the Biennale, which is the architecture and design expo that happens every other year. My non-architecture friends and I agreed to go with her, not knowing a thing about it, and it actually ended up being a highlight of my whole trip.
2. Do a little research on the place you’re visiting beforehand so you don’t miss anything you would’ve really liked to see. Timeout.com or any Rick Stevens Travel Guides are great sources.
3. Don’t be afraid to wander without an agenda and get lost—that’s sometimes the best way to discover a city! When I was in Florence my friends and I just kept walking through these tiny, twisted side roads up a huge hill not knowing where the heck we were going, and we magically discovered a quaint, isolated outdoor cafe with amazing views of the whole city. That is definitely one of my favorite moments to date. Also, this tip can also be applied to exploring your own city too.
4. Chat with locals and go to non-touristy restaurants, cafes, and shops. It’ll really allow you to get a grip on the culture of a city without all the post card stands and menus written in five different languages.
5. Use public transportation: figuring out different metro systems is like solving fun/confusing/frustrating/cheap puzzles.
6. There are companies that organize trips and tours geared toward students, but it’s also really fun and liberating to sit down with your Lonely Planet book and Trip Advisor app and plan your own weekend getaway.
7. Buy a crazy souvenir, pack extra socks, and throw away all your perishable food before you leave. Just do it. You’ll thank me.
8. If you’re staying in a hostel, don’t forget shower shoes.
9. Overnight buses and trains are usually the cheapest form of transportation. Just don’t try to sleep in Starbucks at 5 am just after your bus gets in and you’re waiting for public transportation to start up, or the barista WILL yell you at (probably in a different language). This is a true, traumatizing story. To avoid this, invest in a neck pillow and some Zzzquil for the ride.
11. Take tons of pictures, but don’t let the camera keep you from actually seeing what’s on the other side of the lens.
In the middle of October, like most other schools, Temple Rome gave us a week off from classes for fall break. My friends and I started planning the trip about a month in advance and had a hard time choosing where to spend our ten-day vacation (ugh, life is so hard). After we realized we could filter flights on Ryan Air for €20 and under, our decision became much easier because we essentially chose the three cities that would be the cheapest to travel to. We might be world travelers at this point, but we’re still broke college kids, after all. We ended up deciding to spend three days in Barcelona, four days in Paris, and three days in Amsterdam, which ended up being a great selection. Each city was so incredibly different and amazing in their own ways. Barcelona was sunny and lively and home to amazing architecture, beaches, and paella. Between seeing world famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre up close and personal, and all the delicious crepes and amazing shopping, being in Paris was surreal. Amsterdam was surprisingly one of my new favorite cities due to the incredibly friendly Dutch people, charming canals, gingerbread house-like architecture, and hearty food (you haven’t lived until you’ve had Dutch pancakes).
Although I had the most amazing week with some of my best friends, it’s pretty draining to live out of a small duffle bag, take late night/early morning transportation, sleep on floors, and sightsee constantly for ten days straight. I specifically remember my friends and I were relaxing on a bench in Amsterdam after nine days of vigorous exploration and I said, “I can’t wait to go home.” By “home” I didn’t mean my house in Massachusetts—I meant the Residence! I think it was that moment that I realized how comfortable I feel in Rome. I have mastered taking the metro, I no longer feel guilty rejecting the guys selling roses in every piazza, I know the best place to get gelato, and I’m on a first name basis with the guy that makes my daily panino. I have made lifelong friends, met interesting locals, and studied under inspiring professors. I have indulged in all of Rome’s treasures, and embraced all of its flaws. This thought came out so naturally, but once I thought about it, I realized that it’s a pretty big deal to genuinely consider a place you were just introduced to two months ago “home.” Somehow, Rome has cast a spell on me and it’s difficult to imagine my life before this semester.
Anyway, although I had a fantastic time exploring three beautiful foreign cities, I was kissing the ground upon my arrival back in Rome. I missed its smells and sounds and people. Although I’m thankful I’ve taken to Rome so quickly, if I missed the city so much after being away for ten days, I can’t even imagine how I’m going to feel once I get shipped back to America. But I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there….
When I registered for classes over the summer I knew one thing: I had to take Rome Sketchbook. I’ve always enjoyed doodling for fun; however, I have no formal classroom experience besides art class in elementary school where I glued popsicle sticks together for five years straight. Although I was nervous about not being able to keep up with the art majors in the class, I just thought the concept of exploring and sketching a new part of Rome every week FOR school credit is a once in a lifetime opportunity I simply couldn’t pass up.
I was clearly very excited about the class going into the semester, and after almost three months of recording the city with a pencil, it’s living up to expectations. Since sketchbook is a four-hour class that only meets once a week, we have plenty of time to explore the area we’re visiting, as well as to develop our sketches. We’ve visited sites such as the Colosseum, Piazza del Popolo, Capitoline Hill, the Jewish Ghetto, the Pantheon, the Non Catholic cemetery, Piazza Navona, Aqueduct Park, and so much more. We’ve also gone to a couple museums and galleries such as The Chiostro Del Bramante so see an exhibition on Escher, as well as the Galleria Doria Pamphili to study Carravaggio’s famous portraiture.
One of my favorite memories from the class is the time we took a day trip to the beautiful town of Tuscania. Tuscania (not to be confused with Tuscany) is located within the rolling hills of Lazio, just an hour and an half outside of Rome. Here we sketched a few different Romanesque churches, various ancient artifacts and sarcophagi at the Etruscan Museum, and the breathtaking landscapes surrounding the walls of the town from a lush park. After a full day of filling up six whole pages in my sketchbook, I was so at peace, yet exhausted. Who knew drawing, such a relaxing activity, could take so much out of you!
Not only do I feel like my drawing skills have drastically improved over the semester, but also that I’ve seen so much of Rome that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t take this class. I didn’t just go to the Colosseum—I also studied the textures of its ancient brick walls and got a free history lesson from my professor. I didn’t just go to Piazza del Campidoglio, I also learned about Marcus Aurelius and took note of how the sun casts different shadows on his bronze statue depending on the time of day.
Another thing I learned is that tourists are fascinated by a bunch of kids sitting and sketching together, and will NOT hesitate to take pictures of you. Needless to say, there are most definitely photos of me and my sketch of the Pantheon floating around in at least eight countries.
Stay tuned for updates on my final project that deals with capturing Rome through one specific aspect of the city!