Sunday, February 23, 2014

Rome Without Gelato...

Buona Domenica amici!

Happy Sunday everyone, how's it going? I'm getting worse and worse with blogging; it's hard to sit down and document it all when I just want to be out there doing everything, but now I'm relaxing and taking time out of my House of Cards marathon to update you guys. You're welcome :D

Last weekend I was so lucky to have ol' Jim Young come visit me in Roma! He was in meetings in Amsterdam the week before so Kath helped him book an EasyJet over here to hang out for part of the weekend. Unfortunately due to scheduling, he only really had about a day and a half here but we packed in everything... Not kidding. The only other time he was here was for my choir performance in high school, which was great, but I don't think he got to see much of what Rome has to offer. He arrived here about 2 hours before I was done with Italian class on Thursday the 13th. He was staying in the hotel 1 block down my street so I was rushing home from class once we were released. I wasn't expecting to cry when I saw him but I totally lost it. Being abroad isn't necessarily hard, it's just a lot of experiences that are unfamiliar and stressful at times, so seeing one person that I was completely comfortable with and that I had missed so much hit me like a shitload of bricks!

Quick side story: my dad was wearing the infamous salmon shirt... My mom bought him a work shirt that is a salmony (sp?) color, that he was not fond of at first, like at all. He would always say, "You're kidding Kath, it's pink... I'm not wearing a pink shirt to work". But he did wear it a lot, and it's one of my favorites! So the summer before senior year (he was living in Switzerland alone at this point), I was leaving to head home to Chicago and wasn't going to see him for about a month, and I thought it would be funny to leave him a special note that he would unexpectedly find sometime that could remind him of home. On a piece of paper I wrote something stupid like "Rock the salmon shirt, dad! Love you!" or whatever, put it on the hanger with the shirt, and left it in his closet. I remember a couple days later I got a text from my dad saying how much he loved his note, and to this day, he still puts the salmon shirt on the same hanger with the note still attached. So whenever I see the shirt it's always kinda special. Dumb, but special!

Anyway, it was about 5pm so JY and I decided to just go for a little walk down into the center of Rome. I took him on my route to school so we passed the Castel Sant'Angelo which he thought was really awesome! Then we walked quickly by my school and then down to Piazza Navona. The sun was setting so a lot of the bustle from Navona was dying down. He was so excited to see parts of Rome he never got to the last time. In the piazza, there is a beautiful fountain constructed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini called Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, or Fountain of Four Rivers. It has bare chested men, meant to signify large bodies of water, the Nile representing Africa, the Danube for Europe, the Ganges for Asia and Rio de la Plata representing the Americas. One of the figures (the Danube guy) is facing toward a church, but has his hand up blocking his face. My Italian roommate, Arianna, told me it is because Bernini was rivals with another architect named Francesco Borromini who actually built the church in the piazza (the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone, or Saint Agnes in agony... you probably figured that one out yourself). It was meant to signify that Bernini didn't think that Borromini's church would stay standing and it would fall on the fountain. Pretty cool, huh? Arianna is really great with history so I love when she tells me those interesting little secrets!

Dad and I went into the church, which is incredibly underrated and beautiful. If you or anyone you know is headed toward Piazza Navona, I highly suggest seeing it! It is really cool. The altar is really elaborate and toward the side is a statue of Saint Agnes surrounded by flames. She was a young 13 year old girl who was always pursued by old creepy guys, so she became a Saint and wanted to be celibate, but the men were so mad that they set her on fire. Poor girl...

After that my dad and I walked around the streets of the center for a while. We saw this poster for a production of Romeo and Guilette, and he got such a kick out of that... He just kept trying to pronounce Guilette, butchering the name each time. It was hilarious. Then for dinner I took him to my favorite pizza place near school (Pizza Del Teatro, the best), we got a couple bottles of wine, and watched Arrested Development together. It was a really great night.

The next day was packed with tons of sight seeing! We took a tour of the Castel Sant'Angelo. It was really interesting and I enjoyed seeing the inside of the building I walk by 3 times a day.There were so many levels and different rooms or secret areas I had no idea existed. Plus the statue at the top was really cool; it's the angel saint holding a sword to wipe out plagues. After Sant'Angelo, we walked over to the Vatican and looked around outside before we went in. I love all the statues of the angels at the top of the pillars that surround the courtyard. Inside is indescribable. I've been inside the Vatican before, but this was my first time since being here, and it never ceases to amaze me. I'm not particularly very religious, but when you walk into a place of such magnitude in size, history and belief, you definitely feel something.

My dad and I did the touristy thing and took one of those red double-decker buses that takes you all over the city and explains the history to you over crappy headphones. I love these buses! we stopped first at the Trevi Fountain to quick throw in a coin and walked over to the Pantheon. I think the Pantheon was my dad's favorite. We spend a ton of time in there. It is such a bizarre building since it was built so long ago and is still standing with that massive hole in the middle! When it rains the water gets drained from something like 24 holes in the tiles on the floor. We went around trying to count them but never got all of them. Damn...

About mid afternoon we decided to walk over to the Spanish Steps. Not only did we see them, but we walked up and counted them, but of course I can't remember the number. The steps are so beautiful. There was even a Parkour group there just bouncing around to some bad rap which was awesome. Once we were back down the stairs, I asked my dad if he wanted to get gelato and he said, "Gelato!? Of course I want gelato! You can't leave Rome without gelato! That's like Romeo without Guilette!" My dad has the worst dad jokes; I wonder how long he was waiting to pull that one out of his pocket...

After the steps, we walked all the way down Via del Corso to Piazza Venezia to see the Vittorio Emanuele monument, or the Wedding Cake! One of my favorites, and the size of this building is insane. I still can't believe that in a city of ruins and crazy history, this building stays so white and looks brand new! JY and I walked up more stairs to the inside of the building and found the elevator that takes us all the way to the top. I recommend this view to every Rome traveler. You can see nearly everything from up there. They have maps to show each building which was cool seeing how far we had walked and how much of the city we had covered. It was sunset and I was very aware that time with my dad was fading fast, so it was a really nice moment to be up there with him. We hit up the Colosseum and then headed back home. That night we had dinner with Arianna and my 2 friends from school, Kim and Peter. I absolutely love when my friends get to meet my family! We goofed around with our waiter, drank nice wine and overall had a really great time together.

Dad left really early on Saturday to make sure he caught his flight back from Amsterdam. I was super bummed for him to leave, but it was the perfect dosage of home to hold me until I see them in Amalfi for Spring Break! Can't wait guys! :)

That Saturday night, some kids and I got together for the 'America Party'. This party was dedicated to our Italian roommates and their friends to show them just what it is like to party in the states. We made them try jungle juice, jello shots and grilled cheese, lol. We also got them all in a line to teach them how play flip cup. Arianna and Sara ended up being really good! They're all obsessed with it now, even though we don't have regulation Solo cups...

Lately I've just been muddling through my classes. Most all of them are great but sometimes we have very long days. For most classes we get to go on field studies, kindof like mini field trips through class. Like last Wednesday, my Rome as a Living Museum class went over to the Roman Forum to take a quiz, awesome right!? :) I'm definitely not used to that! Next weekend I get to see 4 awesome friends in Seville, Spain and I am SO excited! I'll post about that later.

Hope all is well! Ciao everyone!

PS. For those who haven't heard, there has been a tragic loss of an American boy studying here in Rome. His name was John Durkin from Bates College and he was here on the Trinity College program. So for all of you reading I just ask that you keep him and his family in your thoughts. My friends and I have not taken this lightly so we are being much more cautious while we are still here as well. Thank you.

Monday, February 10, 2014

My First Week in Roma

Buongiorno and hello to everyone back home! I am missing everyone immensely but I have been having an awesome time here in Roma. I really need to get better about this blogging thing. I feel like I just got here and before I knew it, it’s been a week, I’ve started class and seen nearly everything so I’ll try and update you on my adventures!  I’ll take you back to the States as I left it:
My parents drove me and my 2 heavy bags to O’Hare for my flight over to Heathrow where I would connect to Fiumicino in Rome. It actually wasn’t as hard to say goodbye to them right away. I’d been home from end of December until early February so think I had had enough of them by the time I left (kidding mom and dad!) As they waved me goodbye I got through security and after quite a long wait, I made it onto the plane. I sat by 2 cute boys, which in my 21 years of life and countless plane rides has NEVER happened to me! I tried saying hello and learned that they were Polish visiting family in Chicago and spoke about 10 words of English. But they were nice and interested in what I had to say, or what they understood of it, hah. I was nervous I wouldn’t sleep on the plane, which I didn’t, but that was by choice. British Airways luckily had the final season of Breaking Bad on demand which I had yet to finish at the time. So all 6 episodes I watched got me through the plane ride with ease, but I was tired for my next flight. I tried staying as awake as possible even though it was a solid 3 hour layover with no wifi. Once I was on my next plane to Fiumicino I had a window seat so I crashed. Then I finally woke up to a rainy Rome. I grabbed my bags and some euros and found a taxi. Advice to anyone taking taxis from an airport to their destination city, the cabs will totally rip you off. I had 2 giant bags, a backpack and my purse, plus had no idea where I was going so I decided to take the hit. Even though it drained my pocket, my cabbie was super nice. He pointed out sights and history in broken English for me. He even pointed out a Lambo that had to be at least 400,000 euros… PS the driving situation in Italy is absurd! I would have an anxiety attack trying to drive here! Everyone speeds, honks, yells and makes obscene hand gestures while driving.  It’s an experience, hah. 

Eventually I made it to my hotel. I ended up arriving a day before my program started because the flight was cheaper, so I booked a small single person hotel (relatively close to school) to stay in for the night. There was a tiny older man working the desk who initially was a little harsh toward the dumb American, but then warmed up to me. I think he felt bad because I was struggling with my little knowledge of Italian and my credit card declined. So I paid in euros and he helped me with my bags up the stairs to my Harry Potter sized bedroom. Forcing myself to stay awake, I decided to try to walk and find my first Italian dinner. It was pouring so my walk wasn’t too far, but I found this tiny pizza place called Pizza de Teatro. I stared at all the types of pizzas and decided on a delicious one with pumpkin sauce instead of tomato, bacon and basil. Probably the best pizza I’ve had in a long time, so it was a successful first meal. That night I slept from about 8-midnight and woke up, completely not tired and bored. My room was super hot, so I had windows open but there were birds outside my window that sounded like old women having an orgasm. These weird screaming birds would not shut up all night! So I figured since I wasn’t tired, I’d put the tv on. No English channels whatsoever, but Spongebob and the Super Bowl were on in Italian so that was the best I could do. I fell back asleep around 6 and woke up around 9 because the man with my breakfast knocked on my door.
The next day, I walked over to my school, IES, where I was greeted by Rosie, a super nice girl who works at the front desk at school. She gave me my housing information and orientation schedules. I went back to my hotel, grabbed my stuff and took a cab over to the Prati neighborhood to see my new apartment. Ok guys, my place is HUGE! Way bigger than I ever expected to be a euro-apartment. It’s no NYC penthouse or anything but I am still pleasantly surprised whenever I’m in it. I walked into the lobby and met Arianna, my ISC (Italian Student Companion, kind of the equivalent to an RA at home). She is this beautiful Italian girl who’s about 4’11” and teensy. Over the course of this week, Arianna has become one of my best friends here. She has taken me to aperativos (which are small Italian dinner buffets) and Porta Portese (cool vintage markets in the Trastevere neighborhood only on Sundays). But anyway, once I was settled and unpacked, she and I got to know each other and clicked pretty fast. She has been a great friend to me this week so I am very lucky to have her as a roommate. I also met my other roommates and some boys that live downstairs. That night, Arianna cooked dinner for all of us! Us 5 girls and the 4 boys sat around the table getting to know each other over 1 bottle of vine which didn’t give us much, but we were in good company. We went out later that night with other ISCs to an Italian pub in Prati, but we quickly realized that 5 euro beers aren’t the best idea for that night, so we all got our own alcohol, went down to the boys apartment and played drinking games. It was a really nice time with the new friends. 

Tuesday morning, we struggled over to school at 9am for orientation. IES is a tiny school. There are about 90 kids on our program, many populated by Penn State or the east coast. Now I know how kids at IU feel if they aren’t from Indy or Chicago! The building is cute, it reminds me of a middle school. The floors are color coated and the desks are super tiny, hah. Everything we did there for orientation was pretty uneventful. Just seminars on studying, drinking, traveling, etc. Whatever. I came home and went grocery shopping with my roommates and my friend from school, Peter. I am definitely no cook, so that’s a bit of a bummer. It’s hard trying to cook when you are on a budget and aren’t interested in pasta 24/7, I’m learning though. That night the roommates, Peter and I went out to an American karaoke bar which was hilarious. Peter and I met an Italian boy named Jacopo who studies in Rome and lives in the south of Italy. He took tons of photos and added us on Facebook which was pretty awesome.

Another big place to go out in around here is in Campo di Fiori. It’s very American/ British populated so that’s where a lot of kids in our program either go initially, or end up unintentionally. I’ve been out there a few times already. It’s fun and wild, but I’m trying to go out more locally to meet new people and practice Italian. The American bars jack up the prices of drinks to get suckers like us. Last night, Arianna took us out and showed us some more authentic places with cheaper deals in Trastevere so I was excited to do that. Quick side story; she also brought us to this tiny place that looked like a bookstore, which sold shots with chocolate shot glasses that you eat all in one. Plus each shot is named after a sex position in Italian, so that was awesome. 

We also had a few exposures to our Italian teacher and what to expect out of class. I have a teacher named Madda and a good class. We had two days of 3 hour Italian exposure to make sure we are each in the right level. Madda is a great teacher because she is very practical. We never spent all 3 hours in the classroom. The first day we did some introductory stuff and then she took us to a pizzeria to explain (in Italian of course) how the pizzas are made. Where did we go, you ask? THAT’S RIGHT! Pizza de Teatro! I was so pumped. This pizza place is phenomenal and dangerously close to school… ok enough about food. We watched a super cute Italian boy make the ‘za and she bought us a piece. The next day we went on about a 2 hour walking tour all over the smaller piazzas of Rome (piazza, not pizza). She showed us obscure spots of history, like where the prime minister got beheaded, or fresh fruit markets in Campo. I think she is going to be very helpful with my exposure to the Italian language. I keep telling people, it’s getting easier because instead of being 1 hour out of your day, now the exposure is constant… And I love it!

On Saturday, we had one last mandatory orientation for IES which was a brief tour of a certain section of Rome. This one I actually really enjoyed! We learned how to use public transport to some historical places. Each apartment had a different spot to go to, so we went over by the infamous Victor Emmanuel Monument, or the Wedding Cake. That has to be one of my favorite landmarks here in Rome! That and the Castel Sant’Angelo (which I get to walk by every day). But I feel like every landmark here is beautiful so I shouldn’t even have a favorite. Anyway, the Wedding Cake is MASSIVE. It’s a huge building in Piazza Venezia, across the street from a controversial balcony where Mussolini did all of his speeches. Our tour guide was an IES professor of the Rome as a Living Museum class (which I am in!) so he definitely knew what he was talking about. He also took us up Capitoline Hill where we looked over the Roman Forum and Coliseum (which is under construction right now, boo). After that tour, I decided I wanted to do some more sightseeing, so I set off on my own to go to the Vatican. Il Vaticano is about 15 minutes from our place, so I took a quick walk over there to snap some pics with my awesome new camera from Christmas. It was the first sunny day all week so I wanted to take advantage of it. I didn’t go in because the line was astronomical, but it’s an amazing and beautiful structure. I hit up literally everything that day! After the Vatican, I went to Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, back to the Wedding Cake and down to the Coliseum. I kept asking Italians for directions to new places in Italian. Some replied in Italian and some in English, but it didn’t matter because I liked practicing. That was probably my favorite day here so far. Traveling and sightseeing alone is incredibly underrated. I was efficient and happy exploring the city, and my independence…

That night, Peter and I chose not to go out and drink, but instead walk over to Piazza Espagna and people watch at the Spanish Steps. It was an incredibly peaceful night. We just talked, practicing Italian and expressing feelings about our time here so far. We wandered down a side street with hole in the wall restaurants and wine corks stuck in cobblestone and it’s moments like those that I realize I’m not home anymore.  It hasn’t been all easy (right mom?) but I’m really working to learn more about this country, this city and myself. I have a feeling that if everyone knew how hard something would be, no one would try it. Right?

Until next time everyone, ciao!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

From Boredom to Blog

Hey everyone! This is going to be a super short post because I'm just trying to get the hang of this before the adventures start, but for those of you who don't know me, my name is Sara Young and I will be studying abroad in Rome, Italy for the spring semester! I've never blogged before (let alone been much of a writer) but I know if I don't write down everything that happens I'll be kicking my own ass later. Unfortunately, my program starts in early February, so I am just here in bed reading the blogs of my friends who are already living their lives over in Barca, Paris, London, Seville, and even Hong Kong! I already miss them dearly, as well as my friends at school. Since I'm in this awkward limbo for like 3 weeks before I depart, I've gotta keep busy until then! So I figured I'd get the hang of the whole blogging thing now. Anyways, I'm off!

Ciao my friends,

PS- Sorry for the uncreative title, I'll work on it :)