Miscellaneous

Snow? In Rome?  It snowed for the first time in 26 years in Rome on February 3, 2012. This contributes to the weather erosion of the ancient structures and it’s not too fun for tourists either…

Apparently it is not unusual for Asians to take pictures with random strangers on their travels so they can take them back and show all their friends.  I thought a Chinese man wanted me to snap a picture of him and his family, but the moment I said I would I was suddenly surrounded by five Asian women and was the center focus of the family shot! My roommate managed to get a shot of the second time I was asked to be in a picture.

Say cheese!. . .Why do we say cheese anyway?

Shopping was one of the only areas that I was disappointed in. There don’t seem to be really any chain stores in Rome… (although I did go into an H&M). As a result, a lot of the clothes are really pricey. You can always pick up a shirt for 10 euro from a street vendor, but then you have to worry about quality… I bought a shirt and ended up not even bothering to pack it with me to take home because it ripped.

I felt bad for all of the street vendors. It seems like they were prepared to sell something in any situation! When it rained, *poof* they magically appeared with umbrellas. Where there were romantic candlelit bistros, they suddenly entered with a dozen red roses. When it was cold, they showed up with scarves galore. The problem was sometimes they were there too much. I learned really fast not to make eye contact or show any interest.

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Day by Day

Here’s all that we did to the best of my memory!  We were able to see all of these sites by foot with the exception of the Vatican.  Everything touristy in Rome is fairly close together so we saved some money by not getting a metro pass.  My feet are pretty sore though!  When we did use the metro to get to the Vatican it was very simple.  There were only two lines.

Day by day schedule:

  • 16th: We arrived in Rome around 5 and it was dark outside by the time we found our hostel.  After checking in, we enjoyed some free pizza and wine (special deal with our hostel) and went for a night stroll.
  • 17th: Our morning trek throughout Rome started at 6:30 a.m.  Yes, we were on a mission.  We managed to visit the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Vittorio Emanuele II Monument, and Roman Forum all in one day.  Then just for the heck of it we tried out a pub crawl that night.
  • 18th: This day was supposed to be a nice break from the previous day of walking, but even though we took the metro to the Vatican, the Vatican museum and Sistine Chapel proved to be quite the workout!  Unfortunately St. Peter’s Basilica was closed but at least we didn’t have to wait in line for hours.  Then to finish off the night, we wandered to Piazza di Spagna just in time to spot a wedding procession going down the Spanish Steps.  We also stumbled upon a huge birthday bash in a mansion (I’m talking red carpet, Lamborghinis, tuxedos, and full-length gowns kind of birthday) and talked to some Italians who were guests at the party.  It was a very random ending to the night!

One heck of a birthday party.

View from the Spanish Steps.

  • 19th: By this time, we were beginning to feel the effects of doing so much everyday so we decided to take it easy.  We saw the Diocene Baths, stumbled into the middle of a street carnival procession (I kept finding confetti in my hair all throughout the day), had some pasta in a cosy bistro, went to a painting market in Piazza Navona, and to top it all off we had a delicious buffet meal in a candlelit outdoor bistro in Campo di Fiori (wine, olives, bread, cheese, grilled meat and vegetables).  Afterwards we bought some Italian chocolate and walked around until we were too tired.

All of the paintings were gorgeous and very reasonably priced.

Free entertainment!

  • 20th: I was exhausted and sick this day, but we ended up once again finding ourselves in the middle of a carnival procession near Piazza de Popolo which cheered me up considerably.  This time there were people on stilts, jugglers, and a poi performance (swinging fire).  Piazza de Popolo also has one of the most stunning views of Rome.

Street carnival by Piazza de Popolo.

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More free entertainment…

  • 21th: After all that we had accomplished in Rome my roommate and I were beginning to wonder what else there was to do that we hadn’t done already!  I realized that we hadn’t gotten a taste of what the none-touristy part of Rome was like.  So we meandered into the residential area.  Here we got a completely different vibe.  The dilapidated buildings that look so beautiful next to structures such as the Colosseum and the Roman Forum lose some of their luster when they were removed from the beauty of the historical ruins.  But the beauty of the Italian culture is still just as vibrant.

Veni Vidi Vici

Five days in Rome.  Then five days in Paris.  Back to back.  Two of the most iconic cities of all time.  I can hardly hope to remember all of the little moments that made the trip what it was.  I have been trying to organize my thoughts about the cities.  Trying to piece together what everything meant to me.  In the process of doing this I came to the realization that traveling isn’t the seeing of new sights or meeting new people or trying new foods.  It’s not anything new at all.  It’s experiencing something old.  It’s experiencing an image that you have heard others talk about or seen in the movies or read in books but that always seemed so…fictional.  Travel is transcending that line and realizing that the only reason that image hasn’t seemed real is because you haven’t experienced it.

So what image came to my mind prior to going to Rome?  Red-checkered tablecloths.  Clinking bottles of red wine.  Soft accordion music.  Heaping mounds of spaghetti.  Plump dark-haired chefs loudly proclaiming “perfecto!” with puckered lips and a raised arm.  With this fragmented idea was ingrained the belief that it was in the realm of make believe because of my travel naivety.  After all, how accurate can an idea of a city be when it is formed from Hollywood-ized sources?  Rome couldn’t possibly be all that it was cracked up to be.  There had to be a catch.

I was wrong.  Rome was exactly what I grew up thinking it was, but better.  I felt like I had stepped right into a movie set.  As I walked along the Spanish Steps I became Audrey Hepburn from Roman Holiday and as I twirled some pasta around my fork, I saw myself as Julia Roberts from Eat Pray Love rediscovering the simple joy of food.

It’s difficult to put into words.  Rome was a series of moments.  Rome was in the violin music across from the bistro.  Rome was in the old Italian man wearing a beret walking down the cobblestone street.  Rome was in the dramatic Italian plays.  I think I understand now why when Rome is depicted in the movies, it is always the same few things that are shown.  The feeling of Rome is easier to grasp in those things!  Most of Rome must be experienced to understand.  So I will try to sum Rome up in a few words.  Elizabeth Gilbert says much more eloquently what I am trying to in this excerpt from Eat Pray Love:

He said, “Don’t you know that the secret to understanding a city and its people is to learn—what is the word of the street?”

Then he went on to explain, in a mixture of English, Italian and hand gestures, that every city has a single word that defines it, that identifies most people who live there.  If you could read people’s thoughts as they were passing you on the streets of any given place, you would discover that most of them are thinking the same thought.  Whatever that majority thought might be—that is the word of the city.  And if your personal word does not match the word of the city then you don’t really belong there.

“What’s Rome’s word?”  I asked.  “SEX,” he announced.

“But isn’t that a stereotype about Rome?”  “No.”

“But surely there are some people in Rome thinking about other things than sex?”  Giulio insisted:  “No.  All of them, all day, all they are thinking about is SEX.”  “Even over at the Vatican?”

“That’s different.  The Vatican isn’t part of Rome.  They have a different word over there.  Their word is POWER.”

“You’d think it would be FAITH.”

“It’s POWER,” he repeated.  “Trust me.  But the word in Rome—it’s SEX.”

Now if you are to believe Giulio, that little word—SEX—cobbles the streets beneath your feet in Rome, runs through the fountains here, fills the air like traffic noise.  Thinking about it, dressing for it, seeking it, considering it, refusing it, making a sport and game of it—that’s all anybody is doing.  Which would make a bit of sense as to why, for all its gorgeousness, Rome doesn’t quite feel like my hometown.  Not at this moment in my life.  Because SEX isn’t my word right now.  It has been at other times of my life, but it isn’t right now.  Therefore, Rome’s word, as it spins through the streets, just bumps up against me and tumbles off, leaving no impact.  I’m not participating in the word, so I’m not fully living here.  It’s a kooky theory, impossible to prove, but I sort of like it.”

Now I can’t say I agree with Giulio’s selection of a word for Rome, but his theory is just about spot on in my opinion.  Except I believe that if you live long enough in a place then the word of that place will become yours.  Even with the short amount of time I have spent in Rome, Paris, and Norway I have been  homesick leaving all three.  I enter places feeling completely out of place and leave feeling like the rhythm of the city is in synch with my own.

Rome’s word for me was EMOTION.  Rome perfectly fit the entire concept of emotions.  Emotions with all their variety and passion and chaos and contradictions.  This was Rome.  It was apparent in the condition of the stores, the atmosphere of the streets, and the culture of the people.

The stores in Rome were incredibly unorganized.  In the bookstore, the books were piled haphazardly and strewn about carelessly and in the supermarkets you had to hunt for everything.  The universal rules of the road (red means stop, green means go) were acknowledged but overridden by unwritten laws it seemed.  Cars would drive on red lights and zoom in front of pedestrians and vice versa pedestrians would walk across the street when they pleased.  People also seem to pay no mind to lines.  Leaving a space in front of you is an invitation for someone to take your spot.

The Italians themselves have a contradictory way about them.  They will spend hours eating together and laughing, not paying any mind to the time.  However, once they start going somewhere they are suddenly extremely conscious of punctuality and rush to their destination.  The time flux of Rome somehow manages to feel relaxed and stressful simultaneously.  People are constantly whizzing by on their vespas and mini cars, yet you are never more than a few steps away from a peaceful candlelit bistro.

These were tucked in the streets everywhere!

Some favorite catch phrases of the Italians are “domani” or “va bene” meaning “tomorrow” and “it’s okay”.  Procrastination and going with the flow of things seems to be part of the culture.  When you go to a restaurant you eat first and pay after (not just the fancy sit down restaurants like in the U.S.); it would be easy to slip out without paying.  The bus system is based on the honors system as well.  They don’t check if you have a ticket when you get on so it is possible to ride the public system for free.

They are also extremely expressive people-both verbally and with hand gestures.  When an Italian has a phone conversation, it is never private.  Even the women have lower powerful voices that carry far.  Likewise, Italians won’t keep their opinion of you to themselves.  I experienced both ends of the spectrum; I got stares and dirty looks from one couple and a “Ciao, bella!” (translates to hello beautiful) from one man.  Public displays of affection are also quite common.  I’m beginning to think that hiding emotions is an American characteristic…  Europeans seem to think that doing so is a waste of time and energy.  Perhaps this is why we think of them as being rude and they think of us as being fake.

If EMOTION wasn’t such a perfect fit for the description of Rome then FOOD would be a close second!  Rome had amazing wine, pasta, panini, pastries, pizza, and bread!  The panini were way different than what I thought they would be…  Honestly I think I might prefer American-style panini which surprises me.  They were still good but Italian panini are kind of like white bread sandwiches with a soft filling (egg salad, crab salad…etc.).  The pasta and pizza were delicious though!  The pizza had less sauce but the crust was delicious!!!  Then there were the pastries…with their perfectly crispy crusts and crème fillings…divine.  And I can’t possibly forget the gelato.  There was a flavor for everything!  Kiwi, grapefruit, pistachio, orange…and the list goes on.  I personally tried caramel crème, nutella, chocolate, mint, coconut, strawberry, strawberry crème, blackberry, and champagne.  Yeah.  I ate a lot of gelato.  It wasn’t cheap either!  A tiny cup (about the size of a Like It from Cold Stone Creamery) was around $3.35.  But it was worth it.  VERY worth it.  The cappuccino in Italy is frothier and has a different flavor than in the U.S. because they put lots of latte in it.  Wine is dirt cheap there!  A bottle of red wine (probably really bad wine but I can’t tell the difference!) can be obtained for around two bucks.  Just the dining experience in Rome was a treat.  I loved the whole atmosphere of the restaurants (or as they say in Italian, “ristorante”).  It’s sometimes difficult to know what you are ordering though.  My roommate found herself chewing on some octopus by accident.

Choosing a flavor was incredibly difficult!

Wonderful atmosphere. 🙂

If you’re interested in where specifically we went in Rome then you can check out a day by day breakdown of all that we saw in my next post and see lots of pictures.  Other than that, I think I thoroughly covered my experience in Rome.

I came.  I saw.  I conquered.