Monthly Archives: October 2013

How To: Avoid Getting Hustled and Bothered on the Streets

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Okay, so since my last blog probably bored everyone to tears about the academic opportunities Rome has to offer, I thought it would be best to discuss some of the cultural norms I have come across in Rome. Every single day, no matter where I walk, there are street vendors, people doing cool tricks in the Piazza, or people selling roses. When it starts to rain, within seconds there are people selling umbrellas for 10 Euros. When I first got to Rome, I always politely smiled and said “No, thank you”. I then realized that vendors use this as an opportunity to pressure you even more into buying their merchandise. One time my friends and I were eating at a restaurant, and it had started raining. We were waiting for the rain to let up before we headed to the bus stop. A vendor came by selling plastic ponchos for 12 Euros, and one of my friends tried to bargain, but the language barrier made things difficult. After inquiring, my friend decided not to buy any ponchos, but the vendor stayed where he was arguing that my friend owed him money. He stayed there yelling at us for 5 minutes asking my friend to pay him, and then was very indignant and angry after we did not buy anything from him.

If you want to avoid an uncomfortable stare down from street vendors, here are tips on how to avoid uncomfortable situations with the vendors:

  1. Don’t make eye contact. If you make eye contact with a vendor, they will expect you to give them money and will not leave you alone until you do so. On the metro, if a performer is playing a piece, if they catch you smiling and enjoying their music, they will expect you to pay them.
  2. Be a little wary of accepting help from strangers. If you receive help from someone, be it in the form of accepting directions or having them help you purchase a ticket at Termini Station, they might ask you to give them a tip for helping you out.
  3. If someone selling roses holds one out in front of you or close to your hand, do not touch it. If you grab it, they will not take it back and make you pay for it.
  4. If a vendor is talking to you and walking next to you trying to get you to buy something, either say “No” or do not talk to them at all.
  5. Do not let them sweet talk to you. This one is specifically for girls –vendors, and any Italian guy for that matter, come up to women and say, “Ciao bella” all the time. While flattering, if you smile or respond, they take that as a signal that you are interested. In Italian culture, the women are not easily sweet talked, especially when just being friendly typically sends the signal that you are interested and it is okay for the guy to approach you.
  6. Do not be afraid to be a little rude. Italians know better than to engage street vendors if they are not 100% interested in purchasing something. The vendors take advantage of tourists and travelers who are trying to politely decline. If someone keeps harassing you to buy something, try saying, “Vai via!” which translates to “go away”.
  7. If you do want to buy something from the market, do not accept their first price. The good news about street vendors is that they are willing to bargain. Once you decline the first price, they’ll typically give you a “special discount” and cut the price down. Usually I can get an item for a couple bucks cheaper than their second offer.
  8. Side note: Always watch your bag or your backpack when browsing through the street markets. For instance, the street market off of the Pyramide stop is known for pick pocketing people as they browse through the aisles.
Someone told me to pay for this picture I took...he's not even really balancing (I know because I looked this up). I feel so used.

Someone told me to pay for this picture I took…he’s not even really balancing (I know because I looked this up). I feel so used.

My concluding thoughts about street vendors are that they are just trying to make a living and some extra money. It is by far less stressful to just avoid them unless you are keen on buying something.

To The MAX(XI)

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This weekend, while many other people in my program went to Oktoberfest, I stayed behind in Rome. It was not too much of a disappointment because, well, I was in Rome. It sounds super lame to give up a weekend of partying in Munich, but since I’m on a budget, there are plenty of attractions in Rome that will keep me happy and occupied during the fall. I have been trying to pace myself when it comes to visiting museums though. I want to see as much as I can, but it would be completely overwhelming to go to a bunch of museums in such a short amount of time. As a history major, I want to completely immerse myself in each place I go, and it takes a bit of time to make sure I have had a fulfilling visit.

Rome is known for its ancient history, but the MAXXI is a modern art museum that has some really interesting rotating collections. There was an exhibit devoted to alternative energy and the construction of a post-oil society, which was pretty awesome. I know next to nothing about science-related things, but seeing this futuristic world was still amazing. There was also an exhibit by Francesco Vezzoli who used Roman sculptures with contemporary media to highlight our society’s changing preferences. One noticeable difference between museums in Rome and the museums in America is that you are not allowed to take pictures of the gallery objects. I could take pictures of the outside of the museum though, which was a really cool building. It was designed by Zaha Hadid, who was also the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Here are the few highlights of my trip to the MAXXI:

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This was also an especially exciting week because I visited the Galleria Borghese as well. It was such a contrast compared to the MAXXI. I think it’s accurate to compare the Borghese Gardens in Rome to Central Park in New York City, although I can’t decide which one I find prettier. Everything about the Villa Borghese was over the top and absolutely beautiful. The building and decor were incredibly ornate and expensive looking. The Borghese family was one of the wealthiest families in Rome, and their home collection includes some of the most famous paintings and sculptures in the entire world. There were paintings by Titian, Caravaggio and Raphael and sculptures by Canova and Bernini. Without a doubt, Bernini’s sculpture of Pluto and Proserpina was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

Here's the entrance to the Galleria Borghese. Gorgeous, right?

Here’s the entrance to the Galleria Borghese. Gorgeous, right?

I’m not trying to bore people with so much information about museums. It’s kind of hard not to love the historical aspect of Rome, history major or not. It’s so amazing to think that Rome has such a rich and well-preserved background that is so accessible to me. I would highly recommend that anyone who travels to Rome should go to a couple of its world-renowned museums. Rome is definitely unique in that it has a beautiful combination of modern and historical attractions. There might never be the chance to see these priceless artifacts again!

Ugh, Midterms

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So midterm week has finally arrived, and I am so incredibly unprepared it is ridiculous. Classes here have less busy work assignments and assigned readings, but teachers are also just less on top of you to keep up in class. They expect us to be responsible college students and motivate ourselves, which is kind of an optimistic idea of what college students in Rome are up to. While normally I am much more prepared and attentive to my classes, here I’ve been spending weekends going to wine festivals and museums and days exploring the city. Even though I know that we’re here primarily to study, any time spent on studying or doing work for classes feels like time wasted, time that could be spent exploring the streets of Rome or planning day or weekend trips away from the city. But, it’s finally past the time where avoiding studying is a good choice and moving in to panic time. So, with that in mind, here is my guide for studying in Rome even though you don’t want to at all!

First, I recommend going to the school building and studying in the library or computer lab. There are less distractions here, and you’ll feel more of a push to study than if you stay at the residence. Rome doesn’t have a lot of coffee shops with wifi, so the Starbucks studying method is pretty much out. For reliable internet and an actual drive to be studious, coming to school is probably your best bet.

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Don’t study on your computer! Grab your textbook or class notes and go sit outside and work. If there’s no internet connection, you’ll study better anyways, that’s just a basic rule of life. I’ve been trying to study on my laptop, but it always seems to morph into googling things to put on my Rome sightseeing list and booking tickets to other places. But this way you can be outside in Rome and still be be productive! There are a variety of parks or public piazzas that you can go sit in, and you’ll actually get some work accomplished. Try not to get distracted by people watching though. While entertaining, you came out here to study, so get on it!

Try to focus on doing actual work as well. As soon as studying comes up, all of a sudden everything else seems so much more important and I guess studying will just have to wait then, won’t it? Classes are important, the grades you get here are important. It seems like sitting down for a couple days and just seriously working is a tragic waste of time when we’re only here for three months, but the classes here are just as important as learning on our own. We won’t be able to have classes where we visit actual historical sites and museums like this ever again. Actually treating these classes as valuable is an important part of the study abroad experience, and we should treat these classes as more important than the ones we can take back home.

Well, this post makes me kind of a hypocrite as I have been writing it as a way of procrastinating about studying, but I think I’ve managed to inspire myself to study. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel though- next week is Fall Break!

Umbria Trip 2013

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Monini showing us around

Monini showing us around

Monini Olive Groove

Monini Olive Grove

The man who showed us his love for Olive Oil... By talking alot.

The man who showed us his love for Olive Oil… by talking a lot.

Before tasting we needed to 1. Warm our cups  2. Put our whole nose in the cup

Before tasting we needed to 1. Warm our cups 2. Put our whole nose in the cup

The incredible Olive Oil we tasted

The incredible Olive Oil we tasted

The group at Monini Olive Oil factory

The group at Monini Olive Oil factory

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Students looking for the gold reflections.

Students looking for the gold reflections

Students at the Novelli wine tasting.

Students at the Novelli wine tasting

The Leader of the trip Prof. Aldo Patania.

The leader of the trip Prof. Aldo Patania

Students inspecting the color of the wine!

Students inspecting the color of the wine!

The Group at Novelli's Wine Tasting

The Group at Novelli’s Wine Tasting

Grazie Ceramics shop

Grazia Ceramics shop

A Grazia employee stays at work to do a demonstration for us!

A Grazia employee stays at work to do a demonstration for us!

The Owner of Grazia talking to us!

The Owner of Grazia talking to us!

The group at Grazia Ceramics

The group at Grazia Ceramics

We Survived The Death March Weekend

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Everyone who goes to Temple Rome over the years has seen or heard of professor Jan Gadeyne. As my art history professor, he leads my class and I every Thursday morning through a new ancient site, talking our ears off for 3 hours about every detail there is to know about wherever we are. This weekend was the infamous “Death March” weekend, in which my fellow students and I embarked on a 5-city adventure through many ancient sites. These cities included Terracina, Sperlonga, Pompeii, Paestum and Naples. With Jan’s words from the day before still fresh in our minds, “This weekend is going to make the Afghanistan War look like a frat party,” we hesitantly loaded the bus at 7 am on Friday morning. Day one included a trip to Terracina, Sperlonga, and Naples. We visited many ancient villas and archaeological museums. The views were incredible, and we even enjoyed a break at a quaint little town in Sperlonga, right by a breathtaking view of the ocean.

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The weather was beautiful and there was even a newly wed couple celebrating with family and friends. It was the perfect break we all needed from Jan’s rigorous tour schedule. After our final stop in Naples, where we spent a few hours taking notes about the entire museum, we were more than ready to head back to our hotel in Paestum. The hotel in Paestum was a small, family owned hotel right by the ocean. It was owned by two brothers who welcomed us in with big smiles. After putting our stuff into our rooms, we realized we were all starving, so we hurried down to dinner as a group. The dinner was delicious! They made a delicious 3 course meal, including delicious bread, pasta, pork, chicken, and dessert. Some students enjoyed local wines that were served or a delicious hot chocolate or cappuccino. With the sounds of Frank Sinatra filling the air, it was the perfect way to end the night. After heading back to our rooms and enjoying some Italian X-Factor on the TV, we fell right asleep, preparing for the long day we had ahead of us. Saturday morning we woke up to a delicious breakfast and headed out the door at 8 am. We toured some amazing ancient villas that gave us a spectacular view of Mount Vesuvius.

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After this we headed onto the buses to go to Pompeii. This is the point when the dreaded rain began, and it didn’t stop, in fact it only picked up.

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It continued throughout the entire day, completely soaking us on our day-long venture through the ancient ruins of Pompeii. Jan wasn’t going to let the rain stop him, so we carried on! Around 4 o clock, towards the end of our trek, the rain finally stopped and we were overjoyed that we could actually fully enjoy our surroundings.

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The preserved houses of the elite in Pompeii that we toured were amazing – people back then really knew how to live lavishly! We even got to see some of those people, at the very end of our day. After seeing them, it made me feel a little better about the day…at least we made it out alive!

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After getting on the bus, we were all relieved to take off our soaking wet shoes and start to dry off. When we got back to the hotel, we changed into dry clothes and headed down for another delicious dinner full of seafood, pasta, and delicious desserts. We headed straight to bed and woke up this morning exhausted and ready to finish the weekend. Today, we went to Paestum and visited an archeological museum and saw some amazing unrestored temples that we were all in awe of. We finished our trip with some delicious gelato made with buffalo milk and in between sleeping on the way home we saw some amazing views of the mountains and the Italian countryside. It was so beautiful to see mountains right outside the window that reached higher than the clouds.

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With pages upon pages full of notes, some local wines we bought as souveniers, and a long but fun weekend full of memories- we finally made it back to Rome. We survived the Death March.

Marino Wine Festival

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One of my goals for this semester has been to get a feel for Italian life and culture. Since I’m spending almost four months here, I want to really feel like I have lived here, not just visited as a tourist. So with that in mind we decided to go to a little town outside of Rome to attend their annual wine festival. It’s an extremely popular festival that many Romans attend. Plus, come on it’s a wine festival. Why wouldn’t you want to go?

The festival is a celebration of two things. It is a harvest festival, celebrating wine and grapes from the area, and it is a commemoration of the return of Marcantonio Colonna from the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. The victory prevented the Ottoman Empire from expanding into the European Mediterranean. The festival now involves many people dressing up in Renaissance garb and a procession of a prince on a white horse to meet his princess waiting on the steps of city hall. The costumes are all really elaborate and well put together, as well as accurate for the period. It was so much fun to watch the people going by!

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The best part of the festival was, as always, the food! We had the traditional porchetta sandwiches, and they were some of the most delicious pork sandwiches I have ever had. And they were cheap, too! We also had some delicious crepes for dessert, and of course, lots and lots of wine. There were vendors everywhere selling red wine, white wine, sangria, and anything else you could possibly want.

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The reason the Marino Wine Festival is so famous is because for a while, after the procession has gone through the town, the fountain is filled with wine instead of water. Everyone swarms around the fountain to get a bottle full of the free wine. We decided it was worth it and fought our way to the front. There were so many people that you couldn’t move, and the only way to get anywhere was to shove the people around you. This turned completely terrifying when it came time to take the train back. There were people literally climbing in the windows of the train trying to get as many people as possible back to the city.

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The Marino Wine Festival was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in Italy so far. It was a great time, and we really felt like we were participating in Italian culture. Next Sunday Marino is having a donut festival- and I’ll definitely be there!

Round Table – With Italians!

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So this Tuesday the university organized a round table discussion for the students and some Italians. The room was packed, with many students from Temple as well as other American universities in the area coming in addition to the invited Italians. The tone of the whole discussion was very light and fun, with questions like ‘Why don’t Italians pick their dog poop up off the side walk?’ and ‘Do Americans really think all Italians are in the mafia?’ being asked.

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One thing we talked about were the different stereotypes that we held of each other’s cultures. It was mostly superficial things, like how you can immediately tell an American tourist by the fact that they’re wearing flip flops and how they eat spaghetti. Authentic Italian tip: don’t use spoons. EVER. The discussion evolved into comparing how our two cultures looked at PDA, something the Italians don’t even have a word for! There’s no concept of ‘not appropriate for public’ here, just people displaying affection all over the place. The discussion was mostly light and fun, but occasionally serious topics were discussed like race and gender relations.

I did have a problem with the tone of the conversation when serious issues were brought up. No one was willing to say anything bad about Italy at all, even on issues that were clearly a problem. Even comments made in the round table by the Italians present were indicative of some serious problems, especially about race and gender. Comments about how men’s catcalling and behavior at clubs made women uncomfortable were brushed away with ‘well Italian men are just more forward!’ and ‘they’re really just being complimentary’ rather than acknowledging that these behaviors are a result of the sexism that pervades Italian society. Some of the personal stories shared by students, especially those about encounters with racism, were met with responses of ‘well they didn’t mean anything bad by it!’ and ‘it’s really not that big a deal, don’t let it bother you.’

I was also surprised by the lack of political topics that came up during the round table. With the American government in the middle of a total shut down and Italy still dealing with the giant mess that is Berlusconi, I thought that both sides would be a little more interested in what was going on politically.

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At the end of the meeting, it was clear that Italians were not that different from Americans. They have some major political issues, but as America is currently in the middle of a government shut down, I think it’s safe to say that we do too. While the talk wasn’t exactly the discussion of actual issues that I thought it would be, it was still a fun night where we got a better view of the true Italian perspective.

Round Table

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Gianni Introducing everyone

Gianni introducing everyone.

Americans asking questions

Americans asking questions.

Students listening to the interesting discussion.

Students listening to the interesting discussion.

Students listening to the interesting discussion.

Students listening to the interesting discussion.

Round Table event.

Temple Students and Italians mingling.

Temple students and Italians mingling.

Temple Student unsure of this Italian....

Temple Students and Italians mingling.

Temple students and Italians mingling.

Why not try sign language instead! =)

Why not try sign language instead? =)

Italian friends saying hi!

Italian friends saying hi!

Temple Students and Italian friends

Temple students and Italian friends.

Temple Students and Italian friends

Temple Students and Italian friends

Andiamo!

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Today marks my month-aversary since I arrived in Rome. But seeing as this is my first post, I think it would be best to contribute my first experience to arriving in Rome, and how so much has changed since then. After an exhausting 13 hour flight, the airline losing my luggage, and me sweating in jean pants on a hot summer day, I had finally made it to Rome. I was more than ready to relax and take a nap in the apartment I would be staying in for the next three months. My shuttle driver took me on a fantastic tour of the city, which kept me in a better spirit. However, I was less than amused at the size of my apartment – it consisted of three rooms: a bathroom, the bedroom area, and a living room/kitchen/dining area. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be living in luxury, but it seemed a bit small to be sharing with two other roommates. To be honest, I already wanted to go home.

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After taking a nap and meeting one of my roommates, we took the metro and went to an orientation held at the University. After meeting some amazing people, and eating even more amazing pizza, a group of us too the long way back to our apartment building. As I was walking back, I fell in love with the unique building structures, the multiple boutiques, and of course the gelato. My apartment was less than a ten minute walk to the Vatican. How absurd was it to complain about the size of my apartment when I was in such an amazing city? I came to realize that that was my first bit of culture shock when coming to Italy. I think as Americans (though I can’t speak for everyone), we put more value on obtaining things that we can show off to people, like big houses and fancy cars. The impression I have of Italians so far is that they don’t need what they can’t really use. My apartment has all the essentials, and honestly there shouldn’t really be that much to complain about. I have the opportunity to travel, shop and eat to my heart’s desire, as well as talking about and seeing all the magnificent pieces of art and museums that normally I would only get to see in a textbook. It is such a small price to pay in order to have the adventure of a lifetime.

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Now, a month later, I am more than accustomed to my apartment and to Rome. I’ve made great friends, mastered the Metro, and even had conversations with Romans (albeit in broken Italian).  There are some things that will still take a while to get used to though, like the breathtaking view of the Italian countryside, or the fact that Italians always greet each other with a hug and a kiss on each cheek (I am far too awkward to pull that off). It is completely thrilling to wake up knowing that each day is an adventure and enchanting in its own way. There are plenty of times that I miss my family dearly and wish they were here with me, but I can tell that this experience is already shaping me into an open-minded person that I always hoped to be. And now, to be totally cheesy, I’ll end this post with a quote I recently read that resonates with the traveler in me:

“The World is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine

Wine Tasting Night

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Students get a Temple Rome wine glass, bag, napkin, and crackers.

Students get a Temple Rome wine glass, bag, napkin, and crackers.

Bread sticks are passed out as student wait in the hallway.

Bread sticks are passed out as student wait in the hallway.

Friends at the wine tasting

Friends at the wine tasting

Students receive their wine glass when they enter the room.

Students receive their wine glass when they enter the room.

Someone is excited about the wine tasting!

Someone is excited about the wine tasting!

The Crew is ready!

The Crew is ready!

The 411 on Vino.

The 411 on Vino.

Oh no! Someone broke their wine glass!

Oh no! Someone broke their wine glass!

Contest: who can open a bottle of Spumante the quietest.

Contest: who can open a bottle of Spumante the quietest.

These students are in need of some wine.

These students are in need of some wine.

A student learn how to taste the wine by using: Sight, Smell, and Taste.

A student learns how to taste the wine by using: Sight, Smell, and Taste.

Students learn how to bottle a bottle of wine.

Students learn how to open a bottle of wine.

Cheers! Students enjoy their wine together

Cheers! Students enjoy their wine together.