Monthly Archives: January 2012

A True Roman Experience

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Saturday was the best day I have spent in Rome so far. Why? Because I got to experience the city from the perspective of a native as opposed to that of a tourist.

A co-worker of mine from back in Philly connected me with a friend of hers who lived in Rome, and on Saturday, he brought my roommate and me around some of the historic sites followed by an evening of authentic Roman food and dining.

We started our site seeing adventure by the Coliseum. We walked by the ancient Roman palace, around the Coliseum, and past the ruins of several temples and marketplaces. As we walked, our new friend explained the history behind every site. We learned what the buildings were once used for and who had them built or destroyed.

After several hours on of our private tour, we were ready for a break. We went to a nearby bar and got tea and croissants. We were told how what we were eating was common breakfast food in Rome. Also common was cappuccino with breakfast. Something needed to be paired with the pastry that was wet enough to wash it down; a simple shot of café would not be enough.

After our break, we drove over to Trastevere, a trendy part of the city with lots of restaurants, bars, and shops that the younger demographic frequently visits. Here we found another bar with a very different feel from the first. It was more like what a bar would be in Philly as opposed to a coffee shop. There were modern paintings on the walls of the dimly lit room with an aperitivi bar set up in the middle. We did not eat any food since we would be having dinner later on in the night, but we did enjoy a drink.

After exploring Trastevere a bit longer, we headed down a back street to a small trattoria called Augusto. On the street just behind the tiny trattoria are several bigger restaurants with fancy lights and outdoor seating areas. They certainly look like fine places to dine, but our new roman friend, Andrea, explained to Gina and I how they are establishments aimed at tourists. He revealed that you get better food, and nearly twice as much of it, for half the price at the smaller restaurants located on the back streets, like the one we were going to.

The feel of the restaurant was cozy and simple. It was not trying to be flashy or cool; it was simply doing its own thing. The white walls were not overly embellished, only slightly decorated with a few framed pictures and maps. The tables had only a paper table cloth over them which the waiters used to write the orders down on. It was the opposite of touristy.

Andrea was right about the value of our meal. We ended up getting a first and second course, bread, wine, water, a dessert to share, and tipples (small shots that are sipped after the meal with dessert) for only 20 Euro each.

To end the night, we walked over to the Pantheon and stopped at a nearby coffee bar for the final part of our meal: a café. I do not enjoy drinking American coffee at all, but I find Italian coffee to be rich and full of flavor. The small shot of it we drank was the perfect ending to the meal. It also helped me stay warm as we walked to our final destination: the Trevi Fountain.

The fountain was lit up and looked more majestic than any picture or film could ever do justice to. My roommate and I both threw a coin in and made a wish. I’m not going to say what I wished for, but I will tell you that I have a feeling it is going to come true. Rome is magical in that way. And after spending the evening learning the city’s secrets from a local, I only loved it more.

Birthday Cake

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When entering a new city it is quite typical to feel lost. When wandering the streets it’s exciting to get lost and find your way home but it is also somewhat stressful. After mastering my walk to class I figured I needed to move onto bigger and better things. I sat down with my map (which I must say has been my bible for the past week) and tried to understand the basic geography of the overwhelming city I am living in.

I decided it was time to take this city on and I decided to visit to Victor Emmanuel Monument. I was advised by a friend who studied in Rome a year ago to visit this site and I will encourage anyone after me to do the same. After an hour or so of walking (and getting lost), I gazed up at this beautiful building, which is often referred to as the birthday cake, in awe. It was breath taking. However, nothing beats the view from the top. We hiked up flights of stairs after flights of stairs and took a short elevator to the top for 7 Euros. I must say, it was the best 7 Euros I have spent since my arrival in Italy. From the top you can see the top of the Vatican, the colosseum, the Roman forum, the river, neighborhoods as far as Prati, Trastevere and everything in between.

This was by far the most beautiful site I have seen thus far. Since then I have walked up and down and all around the city and could not feel more oriented. It put perspective on Rome and gave me comfort to know the layout. It also makes me appreciate how lucky I am to see this all. I know this might sound cliché but it was so incredibly breath taking to see this all at my fingertips.

Weekend Wandering

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My weekend was filled with a bunch of adventures! It began Thursday evening after class, when my friend Angela and I decided to search for the Trevi Fountain. We hadn’t been there yet, and we were determined to find it… without a map. We walked from the Villa Caproni, through the Piazza del Popolo, past the Spanish Steps and down some mystery streets and alleyways. After a slight struggle, we finally found the Fountain! It was a lot bigger than I had imagined, and the sculptures were so beautiful. I definitely recommend to those of you who are lucky enough to visit Rome one day to go to the Trevi Fountain at night. Everything is lit, and the pool of water looks like it’s glowing. I threw one coin into the Fountain, which means I hope to return to Rome in the future!

On Friday, I traveled to Tuscania with my painting class. A beautiful hill town in Northern Lazio, Tuscania has medieval buildings and churches, Etruscan tombs, and an INCREDIBLE view! We were also very lucky, because the weather was perfect for outdoor painting- warm, sunny, and a clear blue sky!

Later that evening after I returned to Rome, my friends and I ventured down to Trastevere. Trastevere is known for being a hip, funky neighborhood, with lots of restaurants and a high population of students. We walked along the Tiber River and found a few cute plazas. I would really love to return to Trastevere during the day, to spend more time exploring and to find yummy places to eat!

Sunday was an exciting, but very tiring, day. One of the professors led a remarkable walk around the Aurelian walls of Rome, and I tagged along for this rare opportunity. We all met in front of St. John the Lateran (the first church in Rome) at 8:30 in the morning, which is very, very early for me, especially on a Sunday! Thus began our journey around the wall, which first began its construction in the 3rd century AD! We walked counter clockwise, trekking up and down hills, across and under bridges, and through pleasant little neighborhoods of Rome that I probably would have never seen had I not chosen to take this opportunity. At 4:15, nearly 8 hours later, we finally made it back to St. John the Lateran, completing a full circle around the ancient city! By the end, I was feeling many different emotions: exhausted, sore, delirious, but most importantly, accomplished. My professor made a point that the group of us did something that many Romans would never do, even if they spent a lifetime in Rome. I was very proud of myself, especially that I didn’t give up and go home early. I can now say that I walked around the ancient walls of Rome, the same walls that thousands and thousands of people walked through and around for the past 1800 years! Pretty cool, huh?

Now another week of classes have begun, and I intend on resting my legs a bit (can you blame me?) I’m looking forward to more adventures this weekend, and I can’t wait to find out more of what this semester has in store for me!

Let the Semester Begin!

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Today marks my first full week living in Rome! It’s unbelievable, as the past seven days were full of adventures and new faces. Orientation seemed to fly by! Classes have now begun, and everyone has their schedules. My Baroque art history class met at the Vatican Museum this morning, and we saw the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms, many incredible paintings, and countless sculptures. There were no words to describe the feeling. I wasn’t looking at my textbook; I was face-to-face with the masterpiece. I can’t wait to go back again and explore more of the museum- it’s MASSIVE!

I am completely over my jet-lag and my legs are no longer sore from walking! I’m must more familiar with the area, so I packed away the map. I know where to stop for lunch and morning espressos (I don’t know what I’d do without them!), and I’m not too shy to use the subway. It’s a great feeling, and I’m beginning to feel like a Roman!

To mark the end of orientation, the whole program was taken to Umbria, the province to the North of Lazio. It was about a two and a half hour bus ride to Todi, a beautiful medieval hilltown in the heart of Umbria. It was very cold (I should have worn my heavier jacket!), but the mesmerizing view and the cute, romantic alleyways more than made up for it. There was not a cloud in the sky, so the view was spectacular, and we could see all the way to the mountains in the distance.

After a couple hours in Todi, we hopped back on the bus and were taken down a winding (VERY curvy) road to Titignano. The Titignano farm sits nestled in the Tiber river valley, and has its own vineyard.  It’s a very charming little villa, and I would definitely recommend visiting if you get the chance! There are rooms available for guests in the Castle building, where we were treated to a delicious, fifteen course meal of pizza, risotto, pasta, wild boar, chicken, salad, homemade French fries, tiramisu, biscotti and much more! We even got a taste of the wine, bottled right there on the farm. With our bellies full, we waddled back to the bus ready for the ride back.

One of my favorite experiences so far occurred early yesterday morning during my painting class. We were told to pick a spot anywhere in the Piazza del Popolo and draw whatever we wanted. I chose to sit on the edge of a fountain on the east end of the Piazza, closest to the Borghese Gardens. I leaned back against the wall and casually began to sketch the obelisk that powerfully stands in the center of the Piazza. The air was cool, but the sun was warm and bright and I sat with my jacket unzipped.  The running water of the fountain was to my left, and was the only sound I could hear, as there were not many people in the Piazza. It was complete serenity; I was so relaxed and I took it all in. Here I was, sitting in one of the most famous spots in Rome, sketching for a class. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced before, and I realized how lucky I am to be studying here this semester. I will definitely continue to take advantage of opportunities and moments like this one!

I’m excited to meet the rest of my professors, and for this weekend’s excursions. On Friday, I am going to Tuscania with my painting class, and on Sunday I’ll be walking around the ancient walls of Rome with the school. There’s so much to look forward to! Ciao for now!

A Market of Rome

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Before coming to Rome, I heard and read a lot about all the different markets that are here with fresh produce, breads, cheeses, and more. Seeing and exploring these first hand was one of the things I was most looking forward to.  You can imagine my excitement when I learned there was a large indoor market on the way from my residence to my campus. And this is a big market. We’re talking Reading Terminal Market (in Philadelphia) times three. It is called Trionfale Mercato located on Via Andrea Doria.

I walked in off the street to find stall after stall with produce from local farms lining rows that appear to stretch on to no end. My friends knew I was in heaven and I was grateful for their patience with me as I took time to just walk around and take in the large scale of the operation, gauging prices of the produce as I went. The quality of the goods being sold was excellent across the board. I bought a reusable grocery bag from a stall that was stocked with random items ranging from toilet paper to bed pillows.

With my bag in hand I was ready to start buying produce. The only problem was I was so overwhelmed by my options that I had no idea what to start with. Should I get bread first or cheese? What vegetables do I actually want? What vegetables can I actually cook in my itsy bitsy residence kitchen with my more than limited kitchen utensils? And even if I knew the answers to these questions, I didn’t know which stall to choose for getting each item. It was looking like a “too much of a good thing” situation. But then, I saw them: the perfect bananas. They were huge and bright yellow with just a few brown spots; they were not quite ready to eat, but super close.

With my first purchase in mind, I had only to learn the price of the bananas. I tried asking in my broken Italian, but the response I received from the vendor was one I couldn’t understand. I decided I wanted them no matter what, so I pointed to them and nodded, hoping that would make my point. The vendor thankfully understood, handed them to the cashier and asked if I wanted anything else. The apples looked good, so I pointed to them. But instead of getting to meticulously look over each apple and pick them out for myself, the vendor grabbed some and gave them to the cashier. When I realized that this was how things worked here, I was a little disappointed. My favorite part of markets is getting to interact with the food (luckily, not every booth was like this, and I did get to hand pick all my other produce).

When I got home, I was pleased to discover I spent less than 10 Euro on a variety of cheeses, nuts, fruits and vegetables. I was even more pleased when I tried them and realized how fresh and delicious they really were. Trionfale is a market that I will be returning to regularly. And an added bonus? I’ll be forced to practice my Italian while at the market because very few of the vendors speak English. It makes for a fun time.

My first Ristorante Romano

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Ciao! I have been in Rome 3 days and am already in love with the city. The beauty and charm of this historic place have cast me into a dream I am afraid I might suddenly wake up from. My favorite part is the prominence of food in Rome and Italian culture. Its importance is evident in the number of food markets that line the streets and are scattered throughout the city. Bars (the equivalent of cafés), trattorias, and ristorantes are everywhere you look, often with food displays set outside to lure in passerbys.

I was excited to finally get my first authentic Italian restaurant dining experience. While it ended up being good, it was not what I was originally hoping for.  You see, I have been preparing for my journey abroad for a few months by pouring over Italian food blogs and making a master list of the restaurants I wanted to try (I have a restaurant bucket list for Philadelphia and several other cities as well). I originally thought I was going to get to try one of the places on my list for my first dinner out in Rome, but that did not end up being the case. Instead, I ate at Terno Secco Ristorante Pizzeria.

Terno Secco is along the way from the residence to Temple’s Rome campus. My friends and I had reached the point of hunger where we would have eaten just about anything, but luckily we did not have to settle for mediocrity. Terno Secco had a full menu with smaller antipasti dishes, pastas, meat courses, and a long list of pizzas, all of which were within our price range. As we entered the restaurant, we were greeted by our server and brought to a table in the center of the bright green room. We passed the antipasti buffet table and wall of celebrity patrons and were seated next to the ham slicing machine, which we saw used throughout the night to make cold cuts of meat for other tables. We were in a prime spot for observing other diners (all of whom were Italian) and for looking at the wood fire pizza oven get utilized.

Immediately, a basket of house made bread was brought to the table. We made the mistake of diving in and eating the bread. While it tasted wonderful, especially given our intense hunger, it was not complimentary like most bread baskets are in the United States. We ended up having to pay 2 euro for it.

Unlike every other table, which were all covered in multiple plates of antipasti, my friends and I chose to only order 1 main course to limit the damage to our wallets. I ordered the pappardelle verde e funghi porcini (green pappardelle pasta with porcini mushrooms), while both of my friends ordered the pizza caprese.

The pizza ended up being the wiser choice. Each was about a foot in diameter of ultra thin crust with chunks of fresh mozzarella, halved juicy cherry tomatoes and fresh basil leaves all drizzled with olive oil. They were truly delicious pizzas, so much fresher and lighter than pizza in the United States.

My pasta dish was fresh as well. In fact, I saw the waiter bring the pasta into the kitchen from off of the showcase table in the center of the dining room where they display their homemade ingredients. It was satisfying to know that we were having a quality meal.

The service had been excellent throughout the meal and when it was clear we were done ordering food, we assumed the check would be brought over. We ended up waiting several minutes without receiving a check and with no sign of getting one. We were in no hurry but were simply surprised at the lack of urgency to flip tables that is present in almost all American establishments.  They were perfectly fine with us occupying their table and socializing as long as we wished. In fact, they assumed we would stay longer since in Italy, a meal customarily lasts several hours.

While Terno Secco was not where I had originally envisioned my first Roman meal taking place, it was an excellent meal that has me  even more excited for future dining experiences in this wonderful city. Hopefully next time I’ll remember to not eat from the bread basket!

Arriving

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I have officially been in Rome for over 24 hours but it feels like I’ve been here for 24 days. This morning feels like last week, and I can’t fathom that two days ago I was sleeping in my own bed. I also think I’ve experienced enough emotion in the 24 hours to last me 24 days.

Arriving has been filled with excitement, nerves, awe, and fears. I’ve felt disoriented, confused, and overwhelmed, but also eager to explore and get to know this beautiful city. When I cleared customs I felt sheer panic, as I couldn’t find the big T for the Temple group. But as soon as I met a few students in the program I began to feel at ease. The first day was spent walking in the wrong direction from our apartment only to get lost, grocery shopping, and eating my first plate of spaghetti. The next day was the real day one. We ventured Piazza del Popollo, Via Del Cosro, the Spanish steps for sundown, and the Trevi fountain. I was blown away. It was perhaps one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. I’d been so overwhelmed trying to get oriented I forgot to look around and take in where I was until I stood at the top of the steps to see the top of St. Peters. It took a minute to take in the fact that I was about to spend the next three months of my life in this city that takes my breath away.

The next stop was Trastevere where we got lost in the windy cobblestone streets and found ourselves at small restaurant with red-checkered table clothes and the most delicious food I have ever tasted. It felt like my first Italian meal complete with pizza, calzones filled with nutella and ricotta cheese, and of course, wine. My legs ached, but my bellyached more. I think I now know the cure to jet lag; a solid food coma did the trick.

It’s been exhausting but so exciting. Beautiful and breath taking. Stressful and disorienting. I look forward to the day when I don’t need to hold my map in front of my face as I walk, or when I can order a meal without speaking a word of English. There’s so much to do, and now it’s beginning to feel like so little time. Perhaps I should get off the computer and go enjoy! Ciao.

First Impressions of Rome!

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Ciao! My name is Rachel and I am blogging to you all from the beautiful city of Rome! I am studying Fine Art and Art History, so Rome is the perfect city for me. I couldn’t be more excited to be here and I’m looking forward to everything that I will be learning this semester at Temple Rome!

From the second I arrived in Rome, I’ve been discovering more and more about the Italian people and their culture. For example, I quickly learned that Italians drive like madmen! Being from New York, I thought I knew what living in a city is all about.  I’m a street-crossing pro, or so I thought. I now know that crossing the street in Rome is like a real-life version of the game Frogger, and I must be quick, alert, and very careful!

Aside from being crazy drivers, Italians are very friendly. Walking along the cobblestone streets, I have been kindly recognized and greeted by Roman strangers. These people aren’t bothered to pass on a smile, and I don’t mind sending one right back to them, along a shy “ciao.”  There was even one situation where an older man approached me and he started speaking to me in Italian (I think he was asking for directions)! I just smiled, but he quickly saw the clueless expression on my face and realized that I had no idea what he was saying. He smiled back and apologized. I guess I’m looking more like an Italian and fitting in well with the culture!

But I would fit in even better if I spoke a little more Italian. I have set a huge goal for myself way before I even left for my semester in Rome: to be able to carry a full conversation with the local people by the end of the semester. Yesterday I went into a coffee bar to get some breakfast on my walk to the Villa Caproni (the Temple building), and the woman behind the counter asked me what I would like to eat in English (okay, so maybe I do look like an American tourist after all?). Instead of replying in English, I tried the best that I can to answer in Italian. The woman could see that I was trying, and she helped me with pronunciation and told me the names of all the different pastries.  I then started speaking to the other servers behind the counter, and they asked me about myself- where I was from and why I was in Rome. One of them made a deal with me that he would teach me lots of Italian if I help him with his English. Sounds great to me!

Being an art major, I love all of the amazing architecture and artwork that Rome has to offer. This is only my third day here and I feel like I have seen so much already! I’ve been exploring with my friends, just walking and seeing where the streets take us. So far I’ve walked down the Spanish steps, been awed by the Pantheon, and was completed mesmerized by the interior of the Vatican! I am already really incredibly inspired to create artwork of my own! I love how there are so many buildings that are hundreds of years old next to modern buildings. I am looking forward to everything I am going to see today and in the next week! On Sunday, the whole Temple Rome Program is taking a trip to Todi, a medieval hill town a few hours away. I’m so excited!

I can’t wait to take more pictures and share my experiences with all of you! Arrivederci!