Monthly Archives: March 2017

A Surprise Around Every Corner

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One of the things you quickly discover when you come to Rome is that there is history everywhere you turn. I am always unexpectedly running into new works of art, monuments, and churches. It seems that there is an exciting ancient story around every corner of this city. Although I am more familiar with the city now and know my way around, I still do not mind wandering and getting a bit lost in Rome because it doesn’t take long to discover something new. Even after living here for two months, there is still so much of the city I have left to see.

Even my first time seeing the Vatican was a surprise. I actually live in an apartment right next to the Vatican. I can look around the corner of my building and see the huge wall of the small city. Yet, somehow I did not actually see inside these walls until I had lived in Rome for a few weeks. To tell the truth, I was coming home from a night out with friends and it was probably around 3am when, seemingly out of nowhere, the entrance to the Vatican was right in front of me. It all felt so surreal. How did I just accidentally stumble upon the Vatican? Do I actually get to live here for four months? I hope Pope Francis is sleeping well while I walk home in the middle of the night.

On another night, I had a similar feeling as I sat outside sipping my drink and enjoying a view of the Colosseum. The bar I was at, Coming Out, is right beside the Colosseum and offers an incredible view of the ancient stadium. Coming Out is also one of the few LGBT+ bars in Rome and it felt very good to be surrounded by my community abroad and to meet Italians and others who identify as LGBT+. While Rome does not exactly have a “Gayborhood” like Philadelphia, and it not the most progressive city when it comes to LGBT+ matters, it is comforting to know that the LGBT+ community does exist in Rome (and has some of the coolest bars in Rome with views like this one).

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Since then, I have had the opportunity to meet more people in Rome’s LGBT+ community and explore many of the LGBT+ hang out spots in Rome. If you are looking to dance in Rome, we also have the best spots to dance. Just sayin’.

Rome surprised me once again when I discovered that just around the corner from this bar and the Colosseum is the Basilica of San Clemente. This is one of my favorite basilicas in Rome because not only is it stunning inside, but you can also explore unground beneath the church. The Basilica of San Clemente is actually built on top of the ruins of two previous churches. Beneath the basilica you can find the remains of columns, artworks, and even a water system that still runs today. The city of Rome was literally built from the ground up. Throughout history they continued building on top of older structures and the city continued to be raised. You can see just how much the city has been raised up from its original ground level if you visit the Basilica of San Clemente.

These are just a few of my favorite surprise spots that I have come across while in Rome. The list goes on and on and I’m sure it will continue to grow, which is why I plan to continue getting lost in this gorgeous city until I find every hidden gem.

Coming “Home” from Spring Break

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I have never been so thrilled to finish midterms before in my life as I was this semester. On Temple’s main campus, I do not typically have an actual “midterm week”. Usually, my midterms are more spread out or consist of performances or projects rather than just large exams. However, at Temple Rome I had to spend countless hours studying for exams the week before midterms and I will admit it was very stressful. However, it was all worth it the second I walked out of my last midterm. Freedom at last! It was time to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. I went straight from my midterm to the airport. My roommate came with me and actually almost didn’t make it, but the spring break gods were on our side. This spring break was one of the most unforgettable weeks of my life. I was so lucky to be able to travel with an incredible group of people and experience three different cities in 12 days. We traveled to Barcelona and Seville in Spain and then to Lisbon, Portugal, and finally back to Rome. We made so many memories that I will always cherish and met beautiful souls from across the globe. It truly felt like a dream. Whether we were climbing a mountain in Barcelona, riding bikes through the small city of Seville, or swimming in the ocean on the coast of Portugal, it was completely enchanting.

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Riding bike through Seville

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Enjoying the beach in Portugal

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On top of a mountain in Barcelona

As amazing as spring break was and although I was sad for it to end, it did feel good coming “home” to Rome. Even after just two short months living in Rome, it has already become like a second home. I especially appreciate it after traveling to other cities that are totally unfamiliar to me. It felt right to come back to a city that I feel like I know well. In Rome, I know how to get around and I walk the same familiar streets for my daily commute. I know where to get the best gelato and I have my favorite spot for aperitivo. I know the history of Rome now and have more of a grasp on the Italian language. I know where to go if I want to dance or if I want to have a quiet relaxing evening. It has taken some time, but I have adjusted to life in Rome and I would not trade it for any other city in the world. I am definitely falling in love with Rome and it is hard to believe that my time here is half way over. I am just going to keep pretending like I never have to leave, but since I do eventually have to leave, I am going to make the most out of my last two months here in Rome. I look forward to new discoveries and experiences as I continue to get to know the eternal city.

A Cactus in Rome

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There are cactuses in Rome. They pop up every so often; giant flat paddle-shaped branches coated in spikes marring the lush green landscape surrounding the city. You’ll see them in passing as you rush by, growing out of place in some garden, in someone’s yard, giving it little more than the passing thought of “huh- that’s strange.”

I am the cactus.

Not literally, as I hope would be obvious, but metaphorically. Us American students are the cactuses of Rome- these funny little out-of-place things that are just…there. There’s no issue, but there’s also no getting rid of us. And try as we might, we’re never going to quite fit in with Rome. But that’s okay- we’re going to stick around anyway.

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I tried to get a good photo of some cacti from a train (didn’t work) so I found one on Cactiguide.com (source: https://cactiguide.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=15493) I also found from that article that these cacti are an invasive species, and a massive nuisance. I think there’s a metaphor in that, too…

If you read one of my first posts about being an American abroad, you’ll know that one thing I’ve had difficulty with is the feeling of “otherness” that hangs over my head, subtle as a neon sign. That I am not Italian, not Roman, and as hard as I try I’m not going to be. Not in the few months I have here. 

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Real Italians definitely are so pale they reflect sunlight, and they all take dorky photos in front of classic art

But now, I’ve reached the halfway point of my stay here. And I’m starting to get a little more comfortable with that “otherness.” I’m not Roman. But I do go to school in Rome. I eat in Rome, I drink in Rome, I sleep in Rome. Like the cactus, I may not look like I belong here, but it’s where I am. It’s where I live. 

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I still can’t believe I get to see this (almost) every day

I’m embracing my cactus-ness. (My cactus-ivity?) I’m American! So what? If I’m going to have that stigma over my head, I may as well take advantage of it. I’m going to take as many photos, do as many typical tourist things as I can. I’m already seen as an outsider, may as well get away with it while I can.

This spring break has also afforded me a bit of time to reflect on some of the incredible experiences I’ve been able to have while abroad. I know it’s a very cliche thing to talk about when travelling- how its “totally changed my life.” But it has, in ways. I’ve done things I wouldn’t have done otherwise (like gotten a tour of the Vatican Museums by a brother in the seminary), and met people outside of my little advertising bubble I wouldn’t have met on Temple’s main campus. 

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Our Vatican tour group, taken by our incredible tour guide

One thing I always mentioned before coming to Italy, in just about every application that asked “what do you want to gain from studying abroad?”, was that I wanted to step out of my comfort zone in Rome. I’ve made a lot of progress in the last year with my anxiety- I don’t get as nervous in crowds anymore, I find talking to strangers (and even not strangers!) a little easier, and little slip-ups don’t embarrass me half as much as they used to. So I was pretty nervous about the dramatic change in surroundings- what if I completely regressed and became a shy, nervous mess again? My biggest goal was to keep pushing, to not get complacent and to keep pushing myself. Get out there! This is a once in a lifetime experience!

So while this trip hasn’t been entirely anxiety-free (as I’m sure is also completely obvious), it’s not been a wreck. I’ve found myself talking to new people, actually trying new things. I ran around like a loon with a camera for several hours and only felt weird about it for half that time! I’ve reached out to people I only barely knew, and ended up making some great friends from it.

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The G(r)eek Squad! I ended up on this trip to Athens by responding to a post on the Temple Rome Facebook group- something I don’t think I would have done last year. And I’m really glad I did, I loved Athens and had an awesome time.

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Also went to Barcelona on a whim, thanks to a friend-of-a-friend situation (we were pretty bad at group pictures), another thing I don’t think I would have done this time last year.

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And through the people from Barcelona, I got invited to go to Paris! There’s something to this whole “making friends” thing, isn’t there.

For the rest of my time in Rome, I’d like to keep doing that. My continuing goals are to get better at Italian, as I still find myself reverting to English almost immediately after “Ciao!”, and to continue to build friendships with people. While I know these things are meant to be organic, they can take a lot of effort for me. But I’m not about to let a little work stop me. Like the Roman cactuses, I may be a bit strange, but I’m here to stay.

Working from Rome

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Easy as it may seem, taking photos is my…job, of sorts, while in Rome. I take photographs for many things. I need them for this blog, I need them to fulfill my role as an Overseas Ambassador with Diversity Abroad, and sometimes, I get tasked with photographing events for Temple Rome.

Last week was my first time being the photographer for a Temple event. My job was to capture the Wine Tasting Night- get students participating in the event to later share on social media.

I’ll be honest, it was a little intimidating. I’m a quiet person, the idea of running around and shoving my camera in people’s faces didn’t seem ideal. I hate getting in the way, and sometimes it seems like the photographer’s job is to get in the way. It’s how you get that perfect shot, right?

So nerves aside, I grabbed my camera and set to work– by standing awkwardly in the back.

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Picture me, hiding in the last row of seats and totally out of view. That’s where this photo came from.

The wine night began with a presentation from a sommelier. She came prepared with a PowerPoint, video clips, and speech. This was a legit event, and it was packed. I felt so strange, running up and down the aisle while someone was clearly speaking. I have manners, I know it’s impolite to disrupt someone when people need to be paying attention to them. 

Eventually, after many assurances I would not be in the way and being publicly named as the photographer, I got over myself and actually got to work.

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A toast, before we begin

And it was actually…pretty fun. Turns out, people just like having their photo taken. People would see the camera, and immediately pose and smile. Everyone was having a good time, and clearly didn’t mind me capturing that.

And the event itself was pretty fun, too. I was lucky, as I got a free ticket in (and a pretty nice wine glass) as the photographer. The sommelier taught us what wine should look, smell, and taste like, and how to test those things.

We all learned about the process of making wine, what really makes white and red wine different (aside from color), and how to pair food with wine. Did you know pizza goes best with white wine? (I didn’t). 

And of course, everyone got to drink some (the best part of the night for everyone involved, I think). 

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Drinking on the job

So despite my initial fears, photographing the wine night actually went pretty well. (I think, somewhere in there, is a metaphor for my entire semester here) I felt like part of a weird little wine-drinking community, where I was the overzealous soccer mom trying to capture every last moment. Strange, but hey, at least I was a part of it.

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Group photo!

Learning to Cook Like an Italian

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Of course, Italians are famous for their delicious food and I have sampled as much of it and as wide of a variety as I possibly can, but it isn’t just about eating the food. It Italy, food is a way for people to come together, socialize and bond. The dinners are longer and more courses, which gives ample time for loved ones to enjoy each other’s company. Cooking is a part of this process too. The Italian way to cook means buying all fresh ingredients and cooking together. I am by no means a chef. Fortunately, pasta is a staple part of the diet here in Italy and something simple that even I can handle. However, I wanted to broaden my horizons and learn how to cook some other, more complicated Italian dishes. I have had the pleasure of taking two cooking classes so far over this semester.

The first cooking class I took was part of my Intensive Italian course. Part of our assignment for the course was to go out to the market and order all of the ingredients we needed in only Italian. It can be a little intimidating going into a huge, unfamiliar food market and trying to order in a foreign language, but I’m so glad we did it! Our group was able to find and order everything we needed without using any English and now I actually love going to the market. It is great practice for Italian, all of the food is very fresh, and if you go to the same stand each time, you start to form a relationship with them.

For our first course in the cooking class, we made Zuppa di Lenticchie (Lentil Soup). Next, we had Peperoni al Forno (Baked Peppers). One interesting difference in food names in Italy is that what we typically think of as pepperoni in the US, is not at all the same here. Peperoni here just means peppers, so essentially bell peppers. The following course was a tasty Insalata Ricca (a type of salad). Next up was my group! We made Mozzarella in Carrozza, which is comparable to mozzarella sticks, but they are not entirely breaded and are even more delicious. Finally, we had a dessert of Salame di Cioccolato. When I first heard this, I was prepared to be disgusted. How can salami and chocolate possibly taste good together? I soon found out that Salame di Cioccolato doesn’t actually contain salami. It is just called that because it is made in a sort of log shape and looks almost like salami.

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Me looking a little terrifying with a huge knife while I cut bread for our mozzarella in carrozza

In the second cooking class I took, we learned how to make pasta from scratch! It actually was a lot easier than I expected and I can now say from experience that handmade pasta from scratch is, in fact, the best pasta. All it takes is a little flour and egg, mix it together until you get the proper consistency, and then just keep rolling it out until you get it flat enough to cut into pasta noodles.

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Carefully handling our fresh hand-made pasta

For dessert, we made small pastries that look like pies, but are similar to the consistency of cheesecake, as they are made with ricotta. We made a mixture of orange and chocolate pastries and tried them all together. I might be biased, but I swear my pastry was the best.

I still may not be ready to go on Master Chef, but I can say I know how to cook at least a few traditional Italian dishes and had a lot of fun while doing it. I definitely plan on cooking some more home made meals here in Italy and maybe I’ll even continue cooking them in the States!

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