Europe Week One: Ciao Italia
Ciao from Italia!
I've been in Rome for a week now and all I can say is wow. So much readjusting (time zones, internal clocks, living conditions, lifestyles, languages) in the last week but I can't complain. I've living the dream! Spending all this time in the Eternal City and being able to travel on a daily basis...what a life. These moments are surreal.
Not being able to access my phone data (thanks, T-mobile) is a blessing in disguise, as I get to concentrate my full attention on the world in front of me. I'm learning to rely on technology less, since a stroll around the neighborhood can provide all the excitement I need for a super fun day. Walking through the streets and charming little alleyways, I feel like I'm in a movie. I can't believe it's actually happening. Here's a blog post diary entry journaling my first week living la dolce vita.
Flying sixteen hours with a layover in Russia wasn't too fun, but getting to see Earth from above is worth being stuck in tiny spaces. I flew Aeroflot, the Russian airline, and immediately, being on the plane where almost everyone spoke Russian to one another and announced things in military time, I felt so far away from home. When I finally landed in Rome late Saturday night, I got my passport stamped (yay!), dodged the nagging taxi and shuttle bus drivers at the airport, dragged my luggage up the stairs to the train station, and found my way to the correct platform. After getting off the train in the heart of Rome, I walked my giant suitcases across unpaved sidewalks and past poorly parked Fiats and Vespas and checked in before midnight when the humidity finally settled down. I was thirsty and drenched in sweat, but the adventure had begun :D
The next morning I woke up to the kerfuffle of a huge flea market set up right outside our apartment complex. From the third floor, we're located at the corner of the street with balcony views of everything going on at the ground level. My roommates and I walked to the local grocery store and attempted to buy the right things. (Thank goodness that shampoo turned out to be shampoo.) At the check out, no one stood behind us in line because we had carts and carts of things. Leaving the store awkwardly carrying heavy grocery bags screamed "Warning! Americans coming through." Lesson learned. The weather also took some getting used to. It was obnoxiously hot at the beginning of the week, with temperatures in the 90s, and by the weekend, heavy thunderstorms welcomed us as we started our fieldtrip day at 6am. Also, bug bites are real. So real.
The first day I strolled around with my roommate through the area of town we live in, Trastevere, and we wandered along the Tiber River and to the Roman Forum. I walked everywhere and stared at everyone. Tourists stumbled around with maps in hand, restaurant hosts greeted us in English (we really do look American don't we?), and locals drank water from the fontanelle water springs located everywhere on the streets (they look shady but the water is refreshingly good, cool, and safe to drink!). The rest of the week I spent my lunch breaks and early evenings scarfing down pizza (no shame) and embarking on little adventures to unbelievable places within walking distance: The Pantheon, The Trevi Fountain (currently being drained and cleaned out so it's closed off, I cry), Piazza Navona, Tiber Island, and Campo de' Fiori. It's surreal finally seeing the things we've been learning about in classes for years. Wow, they're real.
We started classes Monday morning. The walk to our "classrome" (ahaha I'm hilarious) right outside the Jewish Ghetto is just under a half hour, and the piazza it's located in is the most charming thing. We enter the building (which used to be a cardinal's palace) under a huge archway, up a circular staircase designed back in the day to fit horses-drawn carriages, and unlock our way through 16th century technology doors with a serious combination of old-fashioned latches and locks. (Half of us still cannot manage to unlock the front door and have to embarrassingly buzz in.) But getting to know our three professors and starting Italian lessons from day one seems promising, and I can't wait to learn from them as we not only sit in classrooms but tour the city together and learn by going. This past week they took us on mini field trips around our school: checking out restaurants and bakeries to learn Italian food terms, visiting giant piazzas to sketch for studio, and touring the Jewish Ghetto neighborhood to learn how Roman history affected architecture and the urban landscape. I absolutely love how travel is integrated into our classes. And there's so much sketching involved too! I'm in heaven.
Ah, the shining glory of Italy. I'm not an expert on pasta and vino and gelato and charcuterie just yet, but so far what I've had here has been pretty good. Our Italian teacher introduced us to one of the best pizza places in Italy, Forno in Campo de' Fiori. I had my first piece with prosciutto and formaggio and fell in love. Been going back there for lunch everyday. The pizza is fresh and baked to perfection. The pizza bread is thin but flavorful, and the layers of quality cheese and ham are so much more artisan than that greasy stuff back in the States. Markets sell a variety of fresh foods, and I can't wait to buy some off street vendors instead of relying on supermarkets. I love how everything has tax included in the price too. You hand over the cash and leave. Easy and efficient. Saturday night our professors invited us to a nice five-course meal at a restaurant right by our school. We dressed up, sat at a long table, drank wine, and enjoyed our artichokes, pasta, veal, and sorbet desserts. I felt so Italian and grown-up dining with real so many different forks and making conversation at the table. Feeling very classy, as if I've achieved post-war expatriate status...
The city, as well as the rest of Europe, I'm guessing (and probably the rest of the world), is so not ADA-compliant it makes me happy. Growing up in the States, it's safety this safety that. Live in gated communities, child-proof your entire house, drive your kids to school in private soccer mom vans. We grew up in such a protected pampered culture; no wonder the rest of the world makes fun of us. Here in Rome, it's exciting navigating around over bumpy cobblestone roads and aggressive drivers and poorly-labeled Italian streets and narrow doorways and dimly-lit places without air conditioning. Yeah I may be sweating profusely on a daily basis, but I enjoy living in an environment that lives on as a remnant of history. This was the same place Romans raced chariots, gathered to watch gladiators fight, developed Classical art and architecture, and give birth to one of the world's greatest empires. Rome may not be luxurious, but the place sure has character.
So this week has been exciting. I've done so much I feel like I've lived here forever. At dinner last night, my classmates and I talked about how lucky we are to be here. This is truly what dreams are made of :) I may be far away from home but I think I'll be okay. I'm definitely looking forward to trying new things everyday and traveling lots more these next few weeks. Look out for those blog posts! For real-time adventures, follow along on my Instagram.
To be a traveler rather than a tourist, a scholar rather than a student. That is the goal.