Monthly Archives: March 2012

A Ponza Getaway

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For me, this semester has been a lot of things: incredible, adventuresome, exciting, and pretty much every other positive thing you could think of.  The one thing I would not describe it as is relaxing. Between school work, exploring Rome, and traveling to other parts of Italy and Europe, I have barely had time to myself. That is why the trip that a professor organized for this past weekend to Ponza was so incredible; it was all about relaxation.

Ponza is a tiny island located 3 hours south of Rome (an hour train ride to the coast followed by a 2 hour ferry ride). The island was formed by a volcano and juts straight up out of the water.  As the ferry approaches the shore you can see the terraces carved in the sides of the mountains that allow for farming. The brightly colored houses are scattered across the mountain as well splattering it with bright purples, blues, yellows, and pinks. Add the crystal clear water of the Mediterranean Sea as a backdrop and you have one breathtaking sight.

The 3 days spent in Ponza were fantastic. To start it off, on our ferry ride to the island we spotted at least 5 dolphins jumping along the side of the boat; talk about magical. Everyone on the island was incredibly kind from the bus driver to the landlord of the apartments we stayed in.  After we got settled in, our itinerary was filled with eating fantastic food, doing yoga, and taking naps on the beach, aka perfection.

Our first night, the 15 of us on the trip got a four course meal at our professor’s favorite restaurant on the island. Every course, with the exception of dessert, included fresh seafood that the owner had caught that same morning. Octopus, anchovies, squid, white bass, bluefish, swordfish, and tuna… it was unbelievable.

The next day, a few of us got up earlier to do yoga (led by our professor) on the terrace of the apartments that was directly over the sea. Since we had the day free to do whatever we wanted, I opted to hike to a statue of the Madonna on the top of a cliff that overlooked the island. It was the best location for a picnic I have gone to yet.

In the evening, our group worked together to cook ourselves yet another 4 course meal. Bruschetta followed by pasta, lentils and roasted red peppers followed by baked fish and finished off with tiramisu (all homemade!). We made far too much food and still had leftovers even after eating more for breakfast the following morning.

There are lots of exciting places to see in Rome, Italy and Europe. But traveling can be exhausting. That is what makes places like Ponza so great, you can get to see a truly beautiful place, learn about a more laid back Mediterranean culture, and simply relax.

So you’re going to Rome?

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Now that spring break has passed and final exams weeks is drawing eerily close, I am becoming all too aware of the fact that my time in Rome in quickly coming to an end.  Sad as this may be for me, it is cause for celebration for those students lucky enough to be coming to Rome for the summer session.  To help those lucky students prepare for their trip, here are some packing suggestions and insights on how to get by in Rome less like a tourist and more like a local.

There may still be two months until summer, but tip #1 is it is never too early to start the packing process.

#2: Hair care-

Hairdryer-

I recommend NOT packing one. They are bulky and heavy and almost always blow up in the European outlets even with an adapter. It is easier to buy one once you get to Rome. I found one that I love for 25 Euro in a shop right across from the residence.

Straightener/ curling iron-

These should work fine with an adapter, however, I would recommend not using the best quality ones as they tend to blow more often in the European outlets (Conair has worked fine for me).

Shampoo-

BRING IT! The grocery stores here have less brand options and only offer small bottles that are far more expensive than in the States. (Body wash is easier to get for cheap)

#3: Money-

I converted a small amount of US dollars into Euros at the airport in the US before coming over so that I could pay for the cab fare from the airport to the residence. This was sufficient. There is a bank next to the residence with an ATM which costs less to use than exchanging at the airport. If you have Bank of America, you can use their Italian partner bank, BNL d’Italia, for only a 1% conversion fee  at the ATM and 3% charge on purchases. The nearest BNL is located near the Vatican (about a 15 min walk from residence).

#4: Food-

I would suggest bringing some tea bags, granola bars, and nuts/trail mix if these are things you like to snack on regularly. They are all more expensive in Rome and quite difficult to find. Peanut butter is a bit more expensive here and hard to find as well, although there are 2 places near the residence that sell it if you desperately can’t go without it (like me).

Also, bring some gum.

#5: Medicine-

Bring some Tylenol and/or Aspirin and any allergy medication you use, just in case.

#6: (For girls) I suggest bringing a small, over- the-shoulder purse for going out. It is easier to keep on you at all times than a big bag and is harder to get stolen.

#7: Crossing the street-

This is probably the part of everyday living in Rome that takes the most getting used to. Drivers in Rome are CRAZY. They tend to view traffic laws as “suggestions” (straight from the mouth of a Roman).

At the crosswalks, you will see 1 of 2 things:

1)       A crossing light with a little walking person either lit up green, yellow or red. If the person is lit up green, go. Once it turns yellow, you still have plenty of time (the light stays yellow nearly twice as long as it does green). Once it turns red, DO NOT GO.

2)       A red circular sign with a horizontal white dash in the middle. This is a yield sign for cars. This means that they must yield to pedestrians at these crosswalks. However, they will not yield if they see you just standing on the sidewalk. YOU MUST START WALKING FIRST. This is terrifying at first, but just GO! Wait for a small gap, make eye contact with the approaching driver, and step out. Do not hesitate, the car will slow (it may not stop all the way, but it will make sure to avoid you). If you feel like they won’t stop, you can always run the rest of the way across. You will look like a tourist, but you won’t get hit. I recommend following natives at first while getting the hang of it.

One other pedestrian tip: watch out for dog poop on the sidewalks. Italians tend to not pick up after their dogs and the little presents are lying around everywhere.

And lastly…

… Do not stress too much over packing! If you forget anything, you can find it in Rome. If you can’t then it isn’t something you really need. If you are on the fence about bringing something, leave it at home. It is definitely better to pack light (that way you have plenty of room for gifts/souvenirs, etc)!

Let’s Go, AS Roma!

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A couple nights ago, I attended a very exciting event- my first professional soccer game! More specifically, I experienced what it’s like to be a true European sports fan. Temple Rome organized students to go watch the AS Roma football (no not American football- this is what they call soccer) team play Genoa in a fun evening match.

The whole experience was exciting from the start. My friends and I rode the tram from the very first stop near the Piazza del Popolo all the way to the end of the line. The games are held in the Olympic Stadium, which housed the Olympics in 1960. On the tram, I was able to pick out all the Roma fans- people were decked out in maroon and orange, the team’s colors, wearing shirts, scarves, and hats. People were cheering and singing, getting pumped for the game!

When we arrived at the stadium, from the second we got off the tram we could hear the large crowds chanting from inside the stadium, along with the sounds of some fireworks. We quickly ran inside and found our seats, because we didn’t want to miss any of the excitement. With that being said, Roma scored a goal within the first ten minutes of the game. Everyone went wild- jumping up in their seats, cheering and singing, and some people even set off firecrackers from their seats!

There was a special section for the more spirited Roma fans. From afar, it looked like so much fun to be in that section. The fans didn’t sit down once; they were all standing in their seats, wearing the same black shirts, chanting fight songs for the whole 90 minutes of the game. I was also impressed by how some fans waved these giant flags for the entire length of the game. That’s true dedication to your team!

Being at the game, I couldn’t help but compare it to sports games I’ve been to in America, whether it’s a Temple (American) football game or a Major League Baseball game. I noticed the same kind of spirit in outfits- wearing your team’s colors and logos. Also, the cheers reminded me of American sports. But like I said, the overall spirit of the fans was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I felt like American sports games are a little more laid back compared to what I experienced last night. Imagine every game was like going to the World Series!

Getting tickets for the game was a little different than what I am normally used to. To buy a ticket, you have to go to a specific location or store that sells tickets for the football games. I don’t think you can just purchase tickets online. Also, when you go to buy your ticket, you must bring your passport, because they type your name on your ticket. I thought this was really interesting (and also a pain), but it’s because of security reasons. What was also a bit unusual was that tickets for women are cheaper than tickets for men (good thing I’m a girl!).

Overall, going to a Roma football game is something that I would definitely do again. It was such a special experience, and so much fun. If I go to another game, I want to learn all the chants and songs so I can sing along with the fans!

A Weekend in Florence

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The trip that I took this past weekend was one that I had been anticipating all semester. I was finally able to travel to Florence with my High Renaissance class, and it was everything I was expecting and more! It was only an hour and a half on a train, so it is very close and easy to get to from Rome.

Florence is the perfect city to go to if you are studying the Renaissance, simply because it is where the Renaissance began. Compared to Rome, Florence is a very young city with not as much history. None of its buildings date to anytime before the Middle Ages; there are no ruins whatsoever. Rome is a great place to be to study almost every period of history- from Ancient Rome to the Modern Era. I feel that if you want a more rounded perspective of history, one should study in Rome. However, if you want a stronger focus on the Renaissance, Florence is an amazing city to be in.

One of the best and most incredible examples of Renaissance architecture is the Duomo. Built by Filipo Brunelleschi in the mid 15th century, the Duomo is the most iconic building in all of Florence. It is famous for being the first ever free-standing dome that was not made from poured concrete. With my class, I also visited the Uffizi Gallery, which is the second oldest museum in the world, while the first oldest is the Capitoline Museum in Rome. The Uffizi Gallery is the most important museum in the world for Renaissance painting, as it houses the Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, the Venus of Urbino by Titian, and the Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci. We also visited the Museo del Bargello, the most important museum in the world for Renaissance sculpture, which was home to sculptures by Donatello and Michelangelo. But the most popular and well-known sculpture by Michelangelo is housed in the Academia, which is the David. When I first saw it, I didn’t realize how huge it was! It stands at 17 feet tall and is carved out of pure white marble. It was meant to go on the top of the Duomo, however it was so beautiful everyone wanted to keep it on ground level so it could be admired up close.

Florence is well-known for its leather district, where there are tons of little shops and stands that sell everything you could possibly imagine that is made from leather: bags, gloves, book covers, belts, jackets, wallets… and the list goes on and on. As a result, I ended up burning a slight hole in my wallet- it was so hard to resist all the beautiful leather!

I spent more money than I had intended not only because I couldn’t resist the leather, but because Florence is an expensive city in general. I was shocked when I had a sandwich and soda for lunch and it cost ten euros! In Rome, I could get the same lunch for 5 euro. Another surprise was how it cost money to go into all of the churches, whereas in Rome it doesn’t cost anything to simply go in and admire the church’s interior.

Another strong comparison that I made between Florence and Rome is that Florence is a lot smaller than Rome. Florence does not have a metro system, and basically every place is within walking distance. After being there for one full day, I already had a good sense of direction and could easily navigate around the city, whereas it took me a few weeks to become familiar with the streets of Rome. Florence is a beautiful city and I’m so happy I was able to visit there. With Rome now being my second home, I guess its natural for me to be making comparisons!

Spring is Here!

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Spring has officially arrived! I know this because my allergies have really started to kick in… But aside from that, there are plenty of other things that just yell out spring!

I have finally put away my hat and gloves (thank goodness!) and started pulling out my colorful tops and lightweight jackets. Surprisingly, this doesn’t seem like the case for the Italians of Rome. I’ve noticed that some people are still bundled up in their puffy jackets and scarves, and even still wearing their winter boots. I think that boots, as well as dark colors – particularly black – are just part of the Italian fashion. I almost feel out of place when I wear my sandals on the subway. I am aware that it’s a big no-no to wear flip-flops and short denim shorts any place aside from the beach, whereas in America, it is customary for girls (and guys) to wear these items of clothing anywhere in the warm weather.

Springtime doesn’t just bring out the flowers, but also the tourists. Warm weather means more time to spend outside, which also means that more people want to travel. Of course I’ve seen plenty of tourists in Rome over the winter, but nowhere near as many as I am seeing now. Common tourist attractions, like St. Peter’s Square and the Trevi Fountain, are more crowded than ever. I’ve been hearing a lot of English from American and British travelers!

Like all the people who are traveling to Rome, I want to spend more time outside walking around my neighborhood. This past weekend, I walked a few blocks around the street that I live on- something I haven’t yet done since arriving. I found it hard to believe that I had been living here all this time, and I didn’t even know what kind of shops and restaurants were behind the Residence! I wandered around with my camera, not sure what I was going to come across. I found a cute little park where I saw some people had brought their dogs, as well as some shops. Unfortunately, they were all closed because it was a Sunday, so I’ll have to go back another time.

With the warm weather, I feel more motivated to walk to and from school instead of taking the subway or bus. I also want to start sitting outside when I eat my lunch, and maybe go for a little more gelato!

I definitely have plans to spend more time out of doors within the upcoming week. This weekend, I am traveling to Florence for my High Renaissance class, and I couldn’t be more excited! I’ve been waiting all semester to travel to this beautiful city, and I can’t wait to look at all the amazing art and architecture. Also, next Monday night, I am going to my first-ever European soccer (well, football) game! Rome is playing Genoa, and I can’t wait to be in the crowd with all the hyped fans. I plan on blogging about both of these events next week. Ciao!

When you’re here, you’re family

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I will not be writing about Olive Garden in this post. I simply borrowed their slogan because it sums up so well the way many trattorias in Rome are. It was certainly a family affair when I brought my parents to Trattoria Da Lucia since, like many trattorias in Italy, Da Lucia is family owned and operated.

When my parents came to Rome for a long weekend to visit me, I wanted for them to get the true Roman experience. I wanted them to see the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, Sistine Chapel, St, Peter’s Basilica, Campo De’ Fiori… you get the idea. I wanted them to see everything. Similarly, I wanted them to experience all the foods of Rome as well, and along with it, the different dining environments. We had aperitivi at an enoteca (wine bar), had pizza in a pizzeria, ate a good amount of gelato (and then ate a good amount more), and most fitting of all, ate a traditional Italian style dinner at Da Lucia, a quaint, authentically Italian trattoria on a small side street in Trastevere.

We finally arrived at the restaurant after making several wrong turns down the ever-changing and famously confusing streets of Trastevere (another Roman tradition, at least in my experience) and were lucky enough to snag the last open table in the tiny restaurant; all the other tables had been reserved, a good sign to say the least.

The staff had been friendly from the moment we walked in the door, greeting us with a hospitality that is characteristic of homey places like this one. It felt like we were joining a family for dinner as the husband and wife team set the table and welcomed us to our seats. When we finished ordering, an older man seated at a different table asked us in Italian about our family. The man seemed a bit odd, for he was roaming from table to table, occasionally joining other diners for a brief visit. After a few moments, we realized this man was not as odd as he seemed, he was simply checking on the satisfaction of his clients, for he was in fact the grandfather of the family who owned the restaurant.

It is common in Rome to come across similar family dynamics in trattorias throughout the city. Trattorias are most frequently the type of eating establishment that has maintained the family tradition Italian dining has acquired the stereotype for in the United States (thanks in large part to Olive Garden). This quality of trattorias often makes them feel the warmest and most welcoming, and the food is often good quality, fairly priced, and as comforting as the food from your parents’ kitchen. This was all certainly true of Da Lucia. After 4 courses of delicious food and a bottle of wine, my parents and I walked home fuller than ever. It had been my favorite kind of Roman dining experience: one with family.

The Half-Way Point

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It’s hard to believe all the different things I have done since arriving in Rome. Today is my official half-way mark- it has been two whole months since I first set foot in Italy, and two months from today I’ll be heading back to the United States. Looking back on the past couple of months, I can’t believe the number of places I’ve been and seen!

This week I was able to visit, for the first time all semester, the Protestant Cemetery. Now I know that visiting a cemetery doesn’t sound like anything special, but this one is out of the ordinary. Although located in the heart of Rome, not one Italian is buried within this cemetery. This resting place is specifically for foreigners, who had such a strong love for Rome that they wanted to remain there for all eternity. Another requirement for people who wish to be buried here is that they must be either Protestant, Jewish, or Agonostic (surprisingly, no Catholics!). Not to mention, it is home to many stray cats who are very well cared for and fed. This was probably the most peaceful and beautiful cemetery I have ever visited. It’s very quiet, but comfortable to be in, like a park. I had the opportunity to go there with my painting class, and sit on the grass and enjoy the morning sunlight. For a little bit, I forgot I was in a city!

There are also plenty of things I haven’t done yet, and places that I haven’t been that I’ve been really anxious to see. With this in mind, I have made a check-list for me to complete during my remaining weeks in the beautiful city of Roma.

I want to discover more places in Rome that make me feel as the Protestant Cemetery did. On my list of places to visit, there’s the Jewish Ghetto, The Capitoline Museum, and the Barberini Palace. Places that I have already visited include the Borghese Gardens, Trastevere and Testaccio, however I wish to more deeply explore these areas and see what else they have to offer.

Over the past week or two, the weather has really made a complete turn-around. It is now warm, sunny, and nice enough to walk around without a jacket (my FAVORITE type of weather). This means that I will be able to be more adventurous than ever, exploring the city without having to worrying about trekking through mounds of snow!

Even though I am very excited to continue exploring Rome, I am unfortunately starting to feel a little bit homesick. Like I said earlier, it’s hard to believe I’ve been here for two months, yet it is also hard to believe that I won’t be home for the same amount of time that I have already been here. Of course, I know I shouldn’t take my time here for granted, but it just feels like I’ve been here for a long time. That’s probably because I’ve been doing so much since I’ve arrived! I will most definitely be able to keep myself distracted from being homesick by going on more adventures and hanging out with my friends.

I checked the weather for the upcoming week, and there’s even more beautiful weather! Next weekend, I will be traveling to Florence for my High Renaissance class, a city I have yet to visit. A lot of exciting things in the week ahead, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

A new appreciation for Rome

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Last week was Spring break for the Temple Rome program. This meant most students left Rome to travel near and far and get a taste of new places, new cultures, and, for me at least, new foods! While the trip was amazing (I got to visit Edinburgh, Paris, and Barcelona), by the end of it I was definitely ready to return to Rome. Being away from the city I have lived in for the past 2 months made me realize how much I have grown accustomed to Roman culture. While life in Rome is similar to how it is in the other European cities I visited, especially Barcelona, there are subtle differences and inconsistencies between them. I especially noticed this when it came to the dining cultures. My week away has given me a new appreciation for several dining qualities in my Rome home.

Things I appreciate about Rome’s food culture:

  1. In Rome, you can sit in a restaurant as long as you want to after eating without being pressured to leave or given any sort of attitude (this is certainly not true in America and I found it is not true in other parts of Europe either).
  2. You can sit in a restaurant or café even if not everyone in your group is ordering something (In Paris we were often told we could not stay if not everyone got something).
  3. Fresh fruit and vegetables are easily accessible and incredibly affordable (I cannot describe how much I wanted an apple after 4 days of nothing but bread!).
  4. The FREE aperitivi buffets! (They are perfect for a cheap, light, and quick meal).
  5. The generally accepting attitude of Romans toward vegetarianism and the ability for one to find vegetarian choices in restaurants (this is nearly impossible in Paris).
  6. The freshness of food in restaurants, regardless of the price of the food (sadly, I paid for meals that were made up of frozen vegetables more than once on my trip).
  7. How easy it is to find a pasticceria (bakery) in any part of Rome that offers traditional Italian baked goods (we had to hunt all over Paris to find a place with macaroons!).
  8. The large quantity of outdoor food markets everywhere!
  9. The best gelato for the cheapest price making Rome the place to find the best value for gelato anywhere.
  10. A sense that Romans have a true pride in the food of their city, and the importance they place on food in their everyday lives that I did not see in the other cities I visited.

Do not get me wrong, I had several great dining experiences over my spring break. But I found myself missing these characteristics of Roman dining and it has felt good to get back to them now that break is over.

Feeling at Home in Rome

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I have now reached the point where I now refer to Rome as home. When I travel to other cities and countries, without thinking, I compare everything about that place to Rome. Currently, I am approaching the end of my Spring Break, during which I have been traveling.  Without even realizing it, I am automatically comparing the food, people, and ambiance of “other” cities to that of Rome.

So far this semester, I have had the opportunity to travel to two other major cities in Italy: Naples and Milan.  I went to Naples for my Baroque Art History class, and found that Naples was more of a scenic city than Rome. It is right along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and climbs up along the mountainside. Also, there is a beautiful view of Mount Vesuvius as well as some islands, such as Capri. However, I quickly discovered that Naples is a lot dirtier than Rome- trash and graffiti everywhere. Naples is well known for their food, particularly their pizza, which did not fail to satisfy my stomach! Also, there is something about the water in Naples that allows all breads to taste extra delicious. Naples is also famous for cooking with a lot of seafood since they are directly on the coast. Of course Italians everywhere care about the quality of the food, but I felt that in Naples it was more important, and more part of the Neapolitan culture.

My teacher told me that if you could drive in Naples, you could drive anywhere. The second I arrived in this city, I immediately understood why. I thought people drove crazy in Rome, but in Naples, people drive like madmen! I noticed that when the traffic light turned red, people still continued to drive! It just didn’t seem like the citizens of Naples followed the rules there, which could explain it’s bad reputation for theft and crime.

I spent this past weekend in Milan, just in time for Fashion Week! Even though I went for the same amount of time (2 days, 1 night), my experience in Milan was a bit different than my experience in Naples because I didn’t go with a class. Instead, I went with one of my best friends for leisure. While Naples and Rome are two of the largest cities in Italy, Milan is a lot smaller. It’s very compact and easy to great around. One thing that surprised me was that Milan had a more efficient subway system than Rome- it has four main metro lines while Rome only has two! I thought this was strange because Milan is much smaller than Rome, but then I remembered how difficult it is to do construction in Rome. Many times during the construction process, workers accidentally come across ancient ruins, and construction has to be put to a halt. In Milan, this problem does not exist.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to try many different foods in Milan. But I did get to communicate with its people a lot, and I quickly learned that people in Milan are very friendly. I also noticed that when saying goodbye, the Milanese ALWAYS say “arrivederci,” unlike in Rome where it is common to say “ciao” or “buena sera.”

While I was in Milan, I had the opportunity to see a small fashion show, go inside the Duomo, and see Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper. The Last Supper is Milan’s most prized possession, just like how the Colosseum is Rome’s.

In the next few weeks, I will be traveling to Florence for a class trip, and hopefully Venice for a leisurely weekend. I’m looking forward to not only comparing these cities to Rome, but also to the other Italian cities I have visited!