Ciao from Roma!
So far I have been in Rome for 1.5 days, and it seems like I have just arrived and been here forever at the same time. I am probably more exhausted than I feel at the moment, due to the extra energy demanded while traveling, absorbing the quirks of a new country, comprehending a new language, and most daunting of all – learning the names of my fellow students…womp.
The journey: I sat next to a Microsoft manager from Kirkwood on the way to Chicago, and I befriended a man named Colin who works as a solo percussionist on the six-hour flight to London (Here is a link to his website – I don’t think he’d mind me sharing. Good musicians deserve all the credit we can give). We talked a lot about our lives and his experiences traveling internationally (he’s been lost in Forest Park before and has played with the STL Symphony, which he placed on his list of top 10 US orchestras!). I pulled out the Let’s Go Travel Europe book because he wanted to evaluate their suggestions for London entertainment and food. “This all looks sound.” (BRITISH LINGO!). He gave me his email address so he can give me specific suggestions if I go there, and then he gave me a sky-view tour of the city as we flew above it in its waking hours. After the long, restless flight, he restored my enthusiasm with a parting hug and genuine words: “All best, Grace. I’ll be thinking of you.”
Terminal 5 in the London Heathrow airport is RITSY…high-end stores and huge seating areas surrounded by restaurants nicer than I would ever expect in an airport. There’s even a department store with Forever 21’s sparkly floor tiles…Jane, you are so secretly high-end!). British lingo – “Mind your head when leaving seat” and the women’s bathroom symbol that has a full, Cinderella-ish skirt. I paid a ridiculous amount to get 10 pounds (not going to look for the symbol, it’s an L with a line) so I could buy a sandwich that was only 2 pounds. Thanks, money exchange guy for suggesting an airport breakfast would be 10 pounds to an American teenager. I knew it was a rip-off but my stomach wanted food.
A girl from Emory recognized me at the terminal for the flight to Rome-Fiumancino, and then a few other girls from IES overheard us and joined us (a boy told me today that he heard us all talking about IES Rome in the terminal but didn’t want to introduce himself because he was feeling anti-social. I hear ya..I was planning to fix my ragged bag-ed face up in Rome before I met anyone, but NOPE, the world wants me to look like an addict when I meet people. Yesssssss.
Destination: We all sat next to each other on the gorgeous plane ride – I scored a window for flying above the ALPS! All of us also scored snickers from Italians when they saw us struggling with our huge amount of luggage. IES greeted us and took us to get information packets, cell phones, and soon shipped us off to our apartments by a Mercedes-Benz shuttle. Now I don’t want to spoil the experience of first witnessing Rome for la mia famiglia, but I kept thinking of a giant paintbrush dipped in soot and lightly brushed across the many pastel buildings with green plants spilling over every window box and balcony rail. The trees are more tropical than I imagined. The Italians exceed the Americans in dangerous driving and J-walking. I thought we were about to hit peds at least twice and then a vespa squeezed into the 2 foot space between our van and the sidewalk, barely escaping us. It was awesome.
Our apartment is in the perfect location, an area called Prati. It a neighborhood with the perfect combination of close location to the city center, a neighborhood feel with a grocery store and a pizzeria across the street and a gelato shop next door (among other shops, some tacky trinket shops), but it is just far enough away from the touristy section – Trastevere. Three of us live on the first floor apt 1 and four (including an ISC – italian student companion, Sara) live next door. My roommate Elizabeth and I were locked out of our apartment for enough time for me to have my first Italian conversation: Buongiorno! Ciao. Mi dispiace per..*gesture toward luggage*. Oh, oh no c’e` problemo, no c’e` problemo. I apologized to an older man for having our luggage all over the foyer. Then I unpacked and we met up in apt 2 for dinner with 10 girls total. It was loud and DELICIOUS and too much fun probably. We sliced potatoes and baked them in the oven with rosemary and olive oil, then Sara made bruschetta, and we all shared a bottle of Rozay. Thennnn around 9pm Sara led us through a couple blocks to a small bar outside the oldest basilica in Rome, meanwhile I’m still wondering: am I really in Rome right now..? Is this real life!? The bar was a tiny place, half the size of Hannekies (grocery section). Although it had a sizable seating area inside where it was warm – all the natives seem to prefer the fenced in patio. The atmosphere hits you like a wave. People of all ages sitting together at small tables, sipping wine, kicking back, chatting, hand-motioning, observing, simply enjoying each others’ company because that is the best thing to do on a Monday night. It was so content..their lack of restlessness and stress was effortless. It was as if everyone there believed that they were exactly where they were supposed to be.
We stayed until about 12:30, meeting the rest of the IES students and their ISCS, conversing with the friendly natives as best we could (an Italian approached me who studied in Arkansas in high school. Arkansas? Perche`, Arkansas? Why there? He shrugged. At least he picked up the word “redneck.” Definitely worth his time). I attempted to strike up a conversation with an old man sitting alone while my friend used the toilet…I got myself into a conversation I couldn’t handle! I understood every fifth word and smiled, nodding while a younger, English-speaking Italian laughed at me. I tried to tell the man that I only speak piccolo italiano (should have said un po` – “a little bit” instead of “small”), but the old man cracked up and said something like, “Want to see a piccolo italiano? Stand up!” When we both stood up, I saw that the laughing, wrinkled Italian was a full foot shorter than me.
My group left first because we were freezing and really jet-lagged. I skipped a shower and washed my hair because the water was freezing – we get just enough hot water for one person every two hours to get wet, turn it off while soaping, and then rinse off. Energy is expensive in Italy, so the apartment is only heated 10 hours per day, power surges turn off the electricity if too many appliances are plugged-in, and there are no clothes dryers (or dishwashers – Italy would have solved Dad’s headache already!)
That’s all…I’m a day behind but ho sonno, I’m tired. By the way, do you like the inserted Italian vocab? I’m trying to help you out, family, but mostly get some practice in! The book I’m reading, The Agony and the Ecstasy, does it so I have to do it too. Cultural immersion. You’re lucky this whole post isn’t in Italian. Below are all the pictures I have so far…I have either forgotten my camera or not wanted to seem touristy while I’m still so vulnerable here. I’d rather look like a target once I know how to find my apartment and speak more Italian. They’re not much – but more will come. I’m sorry for the long post..I’ll work on that, I promise. Love to all of you.
P.S. I think you can see captions if you hold the mouse over the photo. Check out the cool old door to our apartment and the views from our living room balcony. And my breakfast – that’s half of it. 🙂