I absolutely love my life here in Italy. Sure, it definitely took some time adjusting to new living arrangements, new language, and new culture after my brief Christmas break, but now I can’t get enough of what I have in front of me. A lot has happened to make me feel so happy about my new home, and it all starts with our Orientation field trip.
Amalfi Coast: For our Orientation Weekend field trip, we all went south, past Naples, to the Amalfi Coast. It was beautiful. We stayed in a hotel on a cliff right over the beach. While the weather was too cold to utilize the beach to its fullest, I still got to take morning walks on the beach and collect these extremely unique pebbles on the surf. There were small pebbles with colorful ceramic tiles glued on them, most likely remains of a shipwreck that washed up on the beach, mixed with translucent sea glass. I collected my full, and can’t wait to distribute them to people back home.
The first day of the trip we went to a site that was originally an Ancient Greek city state before Rome took it over. There were three monumental and well preserved Greek temples with extensive remains of their ancient market place (Agora). The Greeks were everywhere! I still have loads of Greek pride in me, so I was so happy to see such intact Greek remains. Italy does not owe all its history to the Romans, the Greeks certainly had their place and influence…just something I like to remind people!
The next day we went to a Buffalo Mozzarella farm! We got a tour of the buffalo farm itself and the factory that makes the heavenly cheese. If I had to choose one animal to be reincarnated as, I would now have to say an Italian Buffalo. They have it made! In this farm, the buffalo have three jobs: eat, get massaged, and get milked. Their routine is on a cycle that they all know by habit. Watching a buffalo get massaged was actually one of the most entertaining things I have seen. They just walk over to the massage station, wait patiently, and then just stay there for ten minutes or so in little buffalo heaven! And if that wasn’t enough, they listen to classical music while they get milked! No reason why the products they help make are so good. And I mean…heavenly delicious. After the tour we each tried some buffalo mozzarella. I died. It was incredible, the most flavorful bite of cheese I have ever had in my life. I also had a cappuccino and pistachio flavored gelato from the buffalo milk. Unfortunately, nothing else can compare to the quality of those treats. Oh well, there goes not getting spoiled on the first week!
The last part of the trip was going to Mount Vesuvius. We went to a winery that is on the slope of the volcano and had a tasting of their wine. The orchard itself was beautiful, because the view was simply breathtaking. You can actually see Pompeii and the island of Capri from the winery. The wine they make is called “Lacrimi Cristi”, or “The Tears of Christ”. According to Legend, when Lucifer fell to Hell, he went through Vesuvius and took the land around it for himself. God, in response to losing such a beautiful land, cried tears that are supposedly the water that started the growth of the orchard. The story is beautiful, but the wine was even more beautiful. I am not a white wine person, but this white wine was delicious. The red was very unique; you could really taste the salty volcanic soil in it. After our visit, it was back to Rome. But what made the weekend special was the bonding experience between me, my new friends, and even the Italian buffalo!
My Vatican Backyard:
Out of all the places in Rome, the Vatican is quickly becoming my favorite. Perhaps its because it is just so easy to get to. My campus is in a suburb north of the city, so the Vatican is the first place I hit on my journey down. So, I like to think of it as my backyard. I have spent many days walking around and exploring the area. Of course, St. Peters Square is exquisite, and much bigger than I expected. When I went for the first time, they still had all the Christmas decorations up, including a huge lit tree and a beautiful manger scene. The Basilica itself is simply breathtaking. It is the biggest church in the world, and definitely the most moving. I have never had such an initial impression that took my breath away. Every square inch of the basilica is decorated, beautiful, and most importantly: has a purpose. The sculptures, the mosaics, the windows, the lighting…it all blends together to make the quintessential example of a heaven on Earth. You can spend hours in there. I also did not expect to see so many tombs of previous popes, including the tomb of Pope John Paul II. And of course: Latin everywhere! Seeing that made the classics nerd in me go crazy. The Basilica is by far my favorite building in the city.
So what’s better than seeing the Vatican? Seeing the Pope of course! Last Wednesday the school gave us free tickets for a Papal Audience. These are held every Wednesday in St. Peter’s square, and consist of the Pope’s greeting, a gospel, homily, and a blessing. It started at 10:30, so naturally I woke up at 5:30 to get a good seat! Now you might think that is a little ridiculous, but it all paid off when I got FRONT ROW! It was amazing; he drove by in the pope mobile literally ten feet away from me. He looks a bit older than I thought, but it does not take back from his positive energy and his smile. The square was packed with people of all different countries. The experience was very humbling. People praying, chanting, hugging; there was an intense feeling of purpose, longing, and mostly love there. Perhaps the best example of this was the group of young Italian boys (around 10 years old) who were exuberantly chanting, “PAPA, PAPA!” when he came out. It was an experience I will never forget. Papa Francesco certainly has made a mark on the world. It was great hearing him speak, and of course understanding what he was saying from the many cardinals who translated his Italian into many different languages, including Arabic! At the end, I got some rosaries and holy water blessed by him, and then sang together the Our Father in Latin. It certainly was an experience I will not forget.
Most exciting for me is that I am finding my favorite places to eat near the Vatican! Since the section of the city is a massive tourist trap, it is really nice knowing exactly where to go for top quality food. For gelato, I go to “Old Bridge Gelato” to get the delicious ice cream. My top flavors are: pistachio, cookies, and ricotta pistachio, and it comes with amazing whipped cream. For a sandwich, I go to “Due Cento Panini” to get delicacies like my favorite grilled combination of mozzarella, proscuitto, pesto, and sun dried tomatoes. Finally, for pastries I go to a place our school likes to call “The Secret Bakery” because it is underground and tiny. However, it is overflowing with baked goods. It reminds me of Willa Wonka only if he had baked goods instead of chocolate. I go there for the best pastries in town. So good, so cheap, so addicting.
My Local Neighborhood: Balduina
Living in a small suburb is really a treat. I have easy access to the city whenever I want, but also have a small town feel where I can really get to know people. I am finally starting to get to know my way around the neighborhood, and of course where to go for food.
Last week I got a job teaching English to a 17 year old a couple streets away from me. His name is Francesco di Giovanni, and he is a ton of fun. Seeing him and his family is always the highlight of my week. I go once or twice a week and either help him study for a test or simply have a conversation in English. Then, his mom brings me food and drink half way into our lesson. It is so nice there and I always feel happy leaving his house. Doing things like that is exactly what I love the most about study abroad: making these personal connections with locals to both help them and help myself. I really feel like I am making the most of my experience when I venture off campus and go to his house. Most importantly, it’s just nice having a new friend.
After my first tutoring lesson, I got the confidence to find a place for me to do studio art. Since my campus here doesn’t offer a painting or drawing class, I decided to search for a studio in the city. One day after an onsite class, I found a huge art store and asked them for recommendations. I got the contacts of a teaching studio and went for my first lesson last week! It is the best feeling ever finding something that you always wanted to do on your own. I knew for a long time I wanted to take art lessons in Rome. We meet every Thursday from 5-7 for a Life Art class, meaning figure drawing with live models. It is me, three 50 year old Italians, the model, and the instructor. So, it is a small environment where I can actually improve on my skills. It is also in a different part of downtown Rome that I haven’t been to yet. This means another place I will be sure to explore and make my own! I have already found my favorite pizza in the whole city there, right next to the studio. Alas, my weekly schedule is beginning to be forged between these tutoring sessions and fantastic art lessons, and I could not be happier.
To me, there is not a better feeling than mastering the public transportation in a new city to really feel at home there. After a month of constantly getting lost (and I definitely still will get lost in the future!), I finally know how the metro, buses, regional trains, and intercity trains work. I have my routine, and now know how to get there. Mastering public transit makes life so much more enjoyable, and almost makes me feel like an actual Roman.
So, things are good here in Bella Roma! I had the inspiration to write this post after I came back from my art lesson, because now I have the ability to actually follow through with my Rome dreams instead of simply dreaming about them. Until next time, Ciao!