Cimitero Monumentale

One of the most amazing experiences I’ve had was going to the Cimitero Monumentale, a cemetery for the modern elite of Milan. At the cemetery, there are tombs and crypts lining the walkways, with beautiful vegetation accompanying them. The park is completely silent, for the most part, even though there are families, couples, friends and tourists traveling the paths in order to commune with the deceased.

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Starting from the entrance, you’re immediately bombarded with the sheer immensity of what you’re about to see.

I went to the cemetery alone, on a day when the rest of my friends were traveling without me. I was spending the weekend alone in my apartment, and I needed to get out of the house and see some things. I was also going through a lot of personal problems. I was a bit confused as to wether I could take pictures or not, but other Italians were, and nobody was saying anything, so I figured it would be fine.

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The graves and tombs were elaborate—clearly the result of having a wealthy family. I was in awe. As I walked down the paths, I teared up, realizing the frail nature of life. It was an eye opening experience. I hadn’t been in a cemetery in years. It had a profound effect on me.

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This is the crematorium, the first in Europe, if I remember correctly. It was a beautiful building, filled with flowers and love from the families.

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There were hallways and hallways, all like this. People had left notes to the deceased. You really have to respect how the dead aren’t forgotten. We, as humanity, carry them on in our own unique ways.

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This was my favorite. She was a young girl who died around 1917 or so, way before her time. The torn dress, the purple color, the newly placed flowers—I fell in love.

Staying until the cemetery closed at six, I walked until my legs were sore, reading as many epitaphs as I could. It’s not enough to just visit a place like this; you have to devote your time into understanding who these people were, and what their families felt was necessary to leave behind.

I left the cemetery listening to one of my favorite bands. I walked down the street and took a metro into the city center, and headed into a McDonalds. I ate a dinner that reminded me where I had come from. I finished in silence, missing home.

 

Oh, The Friends You’ll Make.

This is an appreciation post, inspired by another one of my friends, Caitlin Dailey, who equally deserves a post of her own, if not simply because she finds my own sarcastic and enigmatic outbursts entertaining.

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This kid right here is Sean Hutzell. If you don’t know him, you really should.

Let me tell you—studying abroad is hard. On most days, it’s amazing and uplifting and exciting, but it’s also stressful and emotionally draining on other days. Especially when you are dealing with a bunch of emotional weight. You’re so far from all of your typical support systems, and sometimes the comfort of a laptop computer just doesn’t cut it.

The first time I met Sean, I have to admit, I wasn’t much in the state of mind of meeting anyone. I was pessimistic and convinced that I would have no friends on my trip. How wrong I was.

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Sean was my roommate, which meant we’d be spending a lot of time together, for better or for worse. Initially, I was just struck by how nice and accommodating he was. I can’t remember anything that I did ever getting him angry, even the things I knew I would habitually do that were annoying. It was a little off-putting.

As the semester went on, I slowly opened up to Sean about some various things. First it was a series of books we had both read, and some similar movies we loved. I started wanting to go hang out with him more when he went out to his wild shenanigans. He also dressed really well, and I was jealous of his wardrobe. I never expected to actually want to hang out with someone on this trip, I thought it would just be the age old college dilemma of making friends due to close proximity.

I remember one particular time I was reading in bed on a weekend night, and Sean came over to me and asked me if I wanted a drink. I said, yeah, sure, why not, and he came and poured me one of his own beers, bringing me the glass in bed while I was still finishing up one of my favorite books. That’s the kind of guy he is. Always generous, always willing to give, always inclusive.

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I recently went through a pretty brutal break up. Sean was the first person I saw after it. He didn’t force any sort of emotion out of me at all. I barely told him anything, just that it had happened. We just hung out, and he never once judged how I was dealing with it (I’ll give you a hint: not that well).

In the ensuing days, Sean was one of the best things a friend could ask for. When I was too upset to get to class on time, he vouched for me. He would buy me countless drinks at the bar, not even stopping for a second to question it. Sometimes, he’d just show up as I was finishing a drink. That’s the kind of friend he is. He even opened up to me about his own personal issues. In those days, we became closer than ever. We’d be up at 3AM laughing about something so stupid—like a video or a joke—that our friends next door could hear. One night, we made a pact to watch all of the Lord of the Rings movies the next day. Of course, we didn’t, but the gesture still counts!

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Sean’s made me delicious dinners and some pretty generous helpings as well. He’s a great cook. Ladies, take notice.

I could honestly spend years repaying Sean for all the debt I owe him. I try when I can, but it’s hard when you’re faced with someone who is so generous with everything they do. I can only hope in the next few weeks, we’ll be treated to some more late night Kebab and a few more nights of Karaoke. He’s the only person who would sing “I”m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” with me from How I Met Your Mother. That’s true friendship right there.

His music taste is kinda lame, but as the late, great, Hannah Montana said: nobody’s perfect, right?

When you go abroad, you’ll meet people you’d never think you’d meet. You’ll meet people even if you go in with a sour attitude about meeting anyone. And they’ll be some of the coolest people you could ever know. I’m already planning a trip to visit him in Maryland at Washington College. Thanks, Sean. You’re a great friend.

 

Cinque Terre – The Cutest Place on Earth

Cinque Terre was taken straight from the set of a movie. It’s a spot on the Italian Riviera where five little seaside towns have become a huge tourist spot recently. The towns jut out of the side of the mountain, and are all multi-colored. It’s honestly just a place that you can’t understand unless you see the pictures.

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On the side of the mountain where our cabin was, we ate some panini. I’ve never quite had a lunch like that before. The wind was howling, and the sun was lovely. The waves crashed violently against the mountainside.

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This was the off season for Cinque Terre, as most of the prominent tourism happens in the spring and summer months. It was kinda of haunting, the way this town was so beautiful, yet so many residents were missing.

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This was the port of Vernazza the town we stayed in. This was the town center. We journeyed out onto the rocks and got a better view.

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This moment was a bit hard. Across the Mediterranean, then across the Atlantic—I realized—were all of the things I had left behind. New York was just a body of water away. At night, I would look out off the mountain, over the starlit sky and black waters. It would be so dark that you wouldn’t be able to see in front of your face without a flashlight. In those moments, I felt so isolated from the world I have come to be so comfortable in over the years. That world didn’t feel real anymore. People back home, at the same time, were perhaps sitting down for dinner, or getting back from work. Me—I was getting ready to go to bed. For me, shelter was a cold cabin on the side of a mountain, overlooking the sea from a completely different direction. As the days get closer to the day I leave Milan, I’m realizing that I want to be able to look out from that other side of the Atlantic again soon. There is a light on that side and it never goes out.

I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris. The Weekend of February 7th, 2014.

It hadn’t even been a week. Jetlag—the very real and antagonistic foe—was still creeping its way into my bones, into the normal processes of my body. I had been sleeping for three hours a night. I had absolutely no appetite, and had to force my unwilling body to keep food down. My eyelids perpetually sagged, probably giving off the aura of a homeless foreign wanderer to the Italians I passed on the street. I hadn’t made it to the store to purchase a bath towel yet, and had resorted to using a t-shirt to dry myself off after showers (which I still hadn’t figured out how to work—thanks to the fickle faucet, the hot water lasted five minutes). Adjusting was not a word I consulted in my lexicon. Culture shock was a ringed fist punching me in the face. As I picked my bruised head off the pavement, the stars of the city dancing in my head amazed me with overloaded perception. Milan was beautiful. With less than a week to explore, I was to take an early morning flight to Paris for four days of jaw-dropping cultural immersion.

My flight left at a reasonable 6:20 in the morning, meaning—since I had to take an hour-long bus ride to the airport—sleep was a luxury I could not afford. Due to the persistence of jetlag, it probably wouldn’t have came anyway. My experience at the airport was quick and simple. Loading myself like a confused sardine onto the highway tunnel of a plane, I hoped that no one noticed the scared American white boy in between his fits of fighting to keep his eyes open and baffled incomprehension at the fact that he was about to visit Paris.

Of course, things never go so smoothly when traveling; it’s a simple fact of life. Our plane descended among tempestuous skies, only to rise again a couple hundred feet from the runway. Apparently, the angry wind was proving too risky to land the plane, and we began circling the airport for an hour and a half. Eventually, the captain felt confident enough to attempt a landing. Through his voice over the intercom, one could sense the scared reluctance. I have never been a person afraid of flying, but such behavior would make a coward out of any one. The plane swiftly landed as everyone breathed that proverbial sigh of thank god.

On the bus ride into the city center, I stared out the window to view the green sea of fields in France’s countryside. They reminded me so much of the rolling fields of the Hudson Valley, sans the mountains. Home was far away but inconsequential at the moment. These were the green fields of France.

My girlfriend, Lucia, who was studying abroad in Paris, picked me up at the bus stop. For us, a month had passed by not seeing one another. We reunited in Paris of all places, a weekend ahead of us that would make honeymooners writhe in jealousy. The Parisian monuments, I knew, were about to reconfigure my DNA into another believer in the magic of the French city. The apartment we were staying in that weekend was nothing short of a movie set. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ve read so many novels and poems about Paris, and now I was going to experience that city like so many brilliant people before me.

We wasted no time. First on the agenda was a trip to the Sacre Coeur, the first of the infinite number of churches I would visit in Europe. I’m not a religious person in any way—I teeter between the useless definitions of atheist and agnostic and reject organized religion like most other students my age—but visiting such beautiful churches really gives you an appreciation for the beauty humankind can be capable of. After climbing the steep steps and traversing the neighborhood of Montmartre, I got my first look at the cityscape of Paris off the top of the hill. Unfortunately, photographs couldn’t do the view justice. I tried in this picture anyway.

View from Sacre Coeur

View from Sacre Coeur

I suggest you just go there yourself. The Sacre Coeur’s interior was entrancing as well.

Climbing down the hill, we found a cute restaurant to get dinner. Of course, I went for the three course meal with a glass of wine. I wanted the French experience. The first course was a thick Pumpkin soup. I was already finished after that delicious plate, but was then handed a whole steak with potatoes. It tasted so good, but my stomach was already bursting. I had to force down every bite in masochistic pleasure. For dessert, I had some strange amalgamation of flan and caramel. It was… not the type of dessert for me. I left the restaurant happily awaiting a food coma, but not before visiting the Moulin Rouge.

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At a Parisian restaurant, in total culinary bliss.

The next day was a blur of monuments. The outside of the Louvre was first. The sheer massive structure was enough to spend a lifetime gazing upon in awe. My apartment back home is three bedrooms. From there, we went to get lunch at Ladurée, the famous macaron shop. I had a veggie sandwich and some potatoes, which I could eat for the rest of my life. Dessert was a caffè and a macaron. Surprisingly, the meal wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be, and I wasn’t thrown out for wearing a denim jacket. No, the punk doesn’t ever leave my spirit, not even when fine dining. Sorry Parisians, for trampling on your customs. I hope we can still be friends.

Caffè at Ladurée

Caffè at Ladurée

It was back to the Louvre, where I was able to see the Mona Lisa. Unfortunately, the Louvre is just so massive. You could spend a week there and not see it all. I plan to return again at some point in my life. I felt like I was missing out a bit, by not spending a whole day there, but art isn’t really my area of expertise anyway.

At the Louvre

At the Louvre

Of course, dinner was the best ham and cheese crepe I’ve ever had in my life, paired with some nice cider. Parisians know their food, a trait which I will forever appreciate and admire.

Day three was Notre Dame, and I happily shouted “Sanctuary!” when I saw the towering cathedral. I’ve always been a big fan of the Disney movie. Now I’ve been there.

Sanctuary!!!!

Sanctuary!!!!

I have so much more to say, but my rambling can only be tolerated for so long. Every hour was a story.

All in all, Paris was everything I dreamed it would be. In reading and watching movies, I had formed this grandiose romantic ideal of how the city was. Somehow, Paris managed to smash my expectations while simultaneously humanizing its people. No place I’ve been to since has quite been the same. The moveable feast now follows me.

Eiffel Tower

Thank you, Milan. You’re just another city.

The question people ask me the most is, “How is Milan?” or the slight variation, “What is Milan like?”

The truth is that Milan is just another city. There are hundreds of cities in the world; they’re the areas of most concentrated population. So if Milan is just another city, what’s the point of coming here? If you’ve been to one city, what’s the point in seeing the rest?

The beauty in traveling to another city is the simultaneous realization of how similar, and yet how different the city you’re familiar with is to how this particular city is in reality. Many things are exactly the same, for the most part: the subway systems (or metros) and taxis operate much in the same way. Same with the busses. Then you begin to notice some slight culturally significant things in these areas. A group of Italians standing around a coffee vending machine during the morning commute. A 24-hour tabacco shop. The fact that most shops are closed on sunday. The absence of people wearing sneakers. One time, at a coffee shop, my friend and I witnessed a short, middle-aged woman barge in at 9AM, order a globe sized glass of red wine, chug it in one sip, and walk out. Nobody batted an eye. This was common.

You yourself get offered a beer or a glass of wine every day at lunchtime. Aren’t people who drink before nighttime drunks? Around the block from my house, the priests and nuns smoke cigarettes and drink wine after mass. This would not fly in America, and this is why it’s necessary to leave one’s home country at least once in their life—to witness a way of life that does not coincide with your own constructed reality and preconceived notions of the world. It shatters what you think you knew. This is Italy, and it existed in this same way before you came here.

One particularly jarring difference is in the treatment of women in public, as well as in private. In America, these are hot button issues that many fight over every day. In Italy,  it’s a bit different. Public displays of affection, or PDA, are the common way. It’s fairly normal for a guy to approach a girl on a train and try to talk to her; sometimes not taking no for answer. With large age gaps, it can be rude to ignore someone completely or not hear what they have to say. In America, we respect personal space. If you want to be left alone to your book on the metro, you’d better bring a pair of headphones.

Not to pass moral judgement on another culture. You can’t expect to go somewhere thousands of miles away and have every social cue be the same. You need to adapt to something you don’t always necessarily believe in, and this is probably the most frustrating part of being abroad. It’s also where you learn the most, funny enough. One area where it’s necessary to adjust is in schooling. The class structure is very lax—teachers don’t hunt you down or take anything personally, or check up to make sure you’ve done a single one of your assignments or readings. Then grading is incredibly harsh and unforgiving. Sometimes it feels like teachers don’t care how you do. I walked with my teacher the other day and talked about our different memories of 9/11. Another teacher, a professional actor, gushed to me about how upset he is with the state of current theatre productions in Italy. It’s not that they don’t care—this is just how things are for them. You can either leave class in frustration or go up to their desk after class and ask them a question. It’s all your choice. They can’t raise your hand for you.

Now we come to the language barrier. What other way can I put it? It’s horrifying, yet once again, it forces you to put every word, every skill you’ve learned in the language you’re learning to the test. It’s worth it. I spoke solely in Italian today when I ran errands. In the beginning of my time in Milan, it was just a “si” or “grazie.” Now it’s asking for help, describing what I’m looking to buy, commenting on the state of things. It’s a work in progress, but once again, it’s the kind of progress you can make by resolving to try. The one thing most people don’t learn how to do is to apologize to someone when you didn’t understand them, or when you just can’t progress further in the conversation. “Scusi, sono americano. Non ho capito.” (Excuse me, I am an American. I didn’t understand.). People appreciate your humbleness, your try at assimilating to their way of life first.

If you walk into a shop, a store, or a government facility and try to speak English only, don’t be surprised when you get some sideways glances and a bit of a standoffish aura. Remember the times in America in which you were frustrated someone was speaking solely in Spanish to you. Remember what it was like when they at least tried to speak in English. Now, I have the utmost respect for the countless immigrants who come to America and really do assimilate themselves as best they can. What’s it say about Americans, when they expect to go to a whole other country in the world and expect signs, menus, and people to communicate in English? These are the same people annoyed with multiple language options in America.

Overall, Milan is just another city. It’s taught me so much, though. I could write a book on how much it’s taught me. I probably will someday. Thanks, Milan.

 

 

 

Appreciation.

This will be a short one, as I will be traveling very much in the next few days, but it is something which needs to be said.

Going abroad is interesting in that it opens you up to so many new feelings and experiences which just aren’t possible in your home country. I learn something new every day, and inquire as I go along. You can talk for hours with your Italian friends about social nuances and cues.

Another enriching thing about going abroad is a bit paradoxical. By leaving the people you care about the most, you realize how truly important those people are to you. They’re the ones who make your life so amazing, and when you’re not near them, you have to work hard to stay connected. The peculiar thing I’ve learned is that sometimes you need to leave to know how much people mean to you.

I couldn’t ask for better friends, and they are some of the main reasons for my happiness. I miss you guys, and I wish you were here. You would all love it.

And to all my family, I can’t wait to see you again. Thanks for supporting me in this experience.

And to all the amazing friends I’ve made here, and will soon be leaving: we’ll keep in touch, much like the way I’m keeping up with the amazing people across the ocean.

Thanks.

Next week will be an overview of my experience in Milan so far.

Pantheon & Trevi

These pictures were taken January 10th. It was our second day of exploration, and first day of exploration during the actual day. The plan was to go see the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain.

 View of the Tiber River during the day. It’s usually a meeting ground for a variety of Rome’s birds.
 There are a number of bridges crossing the river about every quarter mile or so. This is a shot of one island in the middle of the river. On it is a hospital.
 This is one of many trams that runs through Rome. It’s almost like an above ground subway. They come about every 15 minutes and provide transportation from one block to the next for the busy working class of Rome and us exhausted students after a long day of sight seeing. These cannot be found in NYC and so I was impressed…underground subways can be sketchy. I’d much rather take one above ground and be able to look out while I travel.

 

 These two photos are just some buildings that can be seen as you walk towards central Rome from the outskirts.
 This is a photo of absinthe, something that can definitely not be found in the States cause as everyone knows it’s illegal. It’s approximately 45-74% alcohol and from what I heard tastes like drinking nail polish remover. Yuck, I think I’ll stick to wine.
Funny story, I took this photo before realizing that this was the back of the Pantheon. I just thought it was another cool looking building. Little did I know.
 Coming upon the Pantheon from the left side.
 The Pantheon! Pantheon means temple consecrated to all gods. It was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus and was rebuilt in 126 AD but the emperor Hadrian.  It is one of the best-preserved buildings in Rome today. It’s been used continuously since its erection but has been a Roman Catholic church dedicated to Santa Maria Rotonda since the 7th century.
 I’m pretty sure its physically impossible to get a photo of yourself and the Pantheon without also getting at least 25 other people in it. It’s always poppin’ around the Pantheon.
 This is a fountain that can be found facing the Pantheon. It was designed by Giacomo Della Porta in 1575 and sculpted out of marble by Leonardo Sormani. In 1886 the original marble figures were removed, and replaced with copies by Luigi Amici. To see the originals you must travel to the Museum of Rome.
 Horse carriages are a common sight around the heart of Rome.
 The pillars are seriously huge.
 And tall.
 Everything is so meticulously and mathematically detailed.
 Entrance…
 Looking out…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 All these pictures pretty much speak for themselves. The inside of the Pantheon is elaborate decorated with all kinds of artwork from ceiling to floor.
 These are gladiator guys that hang out outside the Pantheon. They may look fun but you definitely don’t want to take your photo with them. They’ll grab your camera and wont return it until you pay them what they ask. Sometimes Rome seems pretty hostile to me.
 There was some live music in the Piazza where the Pantheon is located. This definitely reminded me of home…plus they were playing Coldplay. (Most of the restaurants and stores that I’ve been in actually play American music which I find really strange.)

 

 Big beautiful churches can always be found tucked away in between busy streets. We happened to stumble upon this one on our way from the Pantheon to the Trevi fountain. Couldn’t tell ya much about it.
This one can be found on Via Del Corso, which is a main shopping street that runs though the heart of Rome. It reminds me a lot of Broadway in NYC. This the street that we take to get to the Trevi fountain….and sometimes more importantly H&M and other stores.
This is the entrance to an indoor shopping mall off of Via Del Corso.
More Via Del Corso…
Don’t be surprised if you see this around every turn…
We made it to the Trevi Fountain! It was the only monument that was larger than I had expected and was absolutely as gorgeous and magnificent as I imagined and as the pictures portrayed it. It too was surrounded by modern looking, sometimes-grimey buildings on every side. Not to mention was was buzzing with people from all over the world taking pictures and making wishes (even in the off season for tourism). There are also men walking around with roses here…you don’t wanna accept one. They’ll trick you into thinking its free and then make you pay for it. If you can tune out the world and focus on the fountain though…its breathtaking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photostory: First Exploration!

This is going to be more of a photo story of our first trip into the center of Rome to explore. By this time my roommate Mariana had also arrived so the three of us met up with our friend Tylar and hit the streets!

 Via della Penitenza is the name of the street in Trastevere where our apartment complex is located. As you can see the street name is engraved right into the stone. This is the way pretty much all streets are identified in the city. I think it’s a pretty cool idea because the street corners aren’t littered with big metal signs.
 One of the first things I noticed about Rome were the cars. I’d estimate that about 75% of the cars I’ve seen have been smart cars varying from small to really small. Everyone else either drives a fancy sports car or a Vespa. This car is always parked at the end of our street and makes me smile every time I see it.
 This is the road I commonly walk down to get to campus, it’s also the way to get the central Rome.
 This is the entrance to the Guarini Campus. It’s the more Roman-like of the two campuses. I prefer it above the Tiber Campus because it’s characterized by lots of winding stairs, almost every hallway and doorway is an arch, it has lots of outdoor places to sit, big beautiful plants everywhere and when you get to the top theres a pretty decent view of Trastevere.
 More mopeds…
 I’m not sure if this has some meaningful name, but we like to refer to it as “the arch.” I’ve been told that it’s one of the oldest in all of Rome. We have to pass under it to get pretty much anywhere. It’s also just really pretty and makes me remember that the arch is a keystone (literally meaning central summit of an arch that locks the whole together) feature of Roman architecture and life.

 

 

 La Boccacia! Our favorite pizza place!
 The famous Tiber River that runs through Rome.
 This is a typical sight around most turns, not complaining…

 

For all my jewish friends out there, we stumbled upon a synagogue! Trastevere is actually right next to the Jewish ghetto of Rome. Since it’s no longer a place of hostility, you can stroll through and witness the still-strong Jewish presence.

 

 This was a huge menorah outside of the synagogue.

 

 More kitties at the cat sanctuary!
 This is a better picture of the actual ruins that the cat sanctuary is located on.

 

The one thing about Rome is that it’s basically a huge interactive museum. You can walk from historic place to historic place but unlike the buildings in Washington DC or Philly, there are no signs saying what anything is! We can only guess or google what everything is. That being said, I’m not exactly sure what these are the ruins of but they’re located right off the sidewalk and are surrounded by modern (if you can even say that here) buildings. It’s pretty weird walking along seeing more modern-looking buildings and then all the sudden seeing ancient ruins.

 

 

 

 

 This building is called Alter of the Fatherland, made by the Italian Parliament in 1878. It is a monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, who was the first king of unified Italy. He is depicted on a horse in front of the building. The two woman on either side of him are depictions of the goddess Victoria.

 

 

These are the ruins of the Roman Forum. It is made up of several ancient government buildings. It was the site of triumphant processions and elections; it was the place where public speeches and criminal trials were held, and was the nucleus of commercial affairs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Seeing the Colosseum at night definitely made it more magical for me. Being lit up made it stand out more against the backdrop of the city. The other photos are of the arch of Constantine. It was made by the Roman Senate to commemorate Constatine I’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312 AD.

Roomies!

Dinner by the Colosseum!

Tylar!

Orientation & the First Supper

In the middle of the night my roommate Emily arrived! It was an interesting, half-awake first conversation. Now we were just waiting for one more roommate.

It felt like in the first couple days that I was in Rome I learned more about the United States than I did about Italy. Most of the schools people said they were from I had never even heard of before, but I guess its not like anyone knew of SUNY New Paltz either…of course they’d heard of New York. For the first couple of days I was here I didn’t meet a single person from NY but I met people from Oregon, Illinois, Texas, Minnesota and…well some other states that are located in central America that I cant remember. All I know is that I thought to myself, “Wow, people live there?” (I’m terrible, I know). Point is, I was really exposed to my east coast mentality for the first time. It’s cool to think about other places even within the United States, but who knew I’d be experiencing it in Rome.

The first couple of days in Rome were governed by a long list of orientation activities including obtaining a permit to stay, a campus tour and a very quick walk around central Rome to get a gist of how to use public transportation. All the activities were surprisingly… uninformative. We all really had to learn these things by just getting out there and doing it ourselves.

This are a few photos I took on our way too fast walk through the center of Rome. Later I went back with my roommates and actually took it all in.

 

 

On the ruins of the building where Julius Caesar was murdered (“Et tu Brutus?” yeah that guy)….well now, there’s a cat sanctuary there. Being a crazy cat lover, I couldn’t have been happier. I heard someone say that there are Italians that think it’s disrespectful and are trying close the cat sanctuary. I vote that it stays…think of the kitties. (Unless of course when it closes I can take them all home).

 

 

 

 

I’m not going to go into depth about what these building are right now because at the time I took these pictures I had no idea what they were either. I’ll talk more about them when I post better photos later.

Rome is full of the types of things you would see in NYC. Some common sights around both cities are street performers, vendors selling knock off bags and iPhone cases, homeless people, graffiti and the likes. Although it wasn’t a total culture shock for me, I was still taken back. I guess I’d never really thought about what Rome was like outside of its most famous monuments (how naive of me). As we approached the Colosseum I felt a big wave of disappointment flood over me. Somethings just aren’t how you imagine them to be from the medias portrayal of them…see below:

First, understand that Gladiator is one of my most favorite movies of all time. I know that this movie is completely fictional but its the best visual representation of ancient Rome that I can recall. Not only was the Colosseum surrounded on all sides by city but it was under construction. Poo =[ I know this is the way it always was, even in ancient times. To me it almost felt disrespectful, like a flower in a garbage can (thats a dramatic metaphor but the first one that comes to mind). Don’t get me wrong, the Colosseum alone is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my entire life but taking into account the surrounding landscape…it initially didn’t live up to my expectations…thanks popular media.

 

One thing that did not disappoint was my first Italian meal. Wow! I did stick to my comfort zone a little bit by ordering penne alla vodka but it was better than anything I’d ever tasted in America. This was also my first time legally purchasing and drinking alcohol.
I’m going to talk about drinking a little bit because its definitely something that I spent a lot of time thinking about before coming here. Everyone is going to tell you something different about legally drinking so its better to just feel it out when you’re living it. I feel like everyone assumes that us underaged students will go crazy once we reach a country where we can legally drink (I’ve witnessed this more than once and its not all fun and games). It doesn’t have to be this way.
One of the first horror stories we had to absorb upon arrival was about a kid who died last semester after he fell off a bridge onto concrete while he was drunk. Another story, from this semester, that even reached the states is about a student that was last seen at a bar (in Campo di Fiori, where we usually go to drink) and was found dead a few days later. There have been stories about muggings and girls who were raped and it’s not just a scare tactic, here it’s real. If you study in Italy, it’s really important to remember that you’re in a country thats going through a financial crisis, there are a lot of unemployed young people here and they don’t see you as a nice American student, they see you as a target. If you study somewhere else, just be aware of the way people view Americans and take steps to not put yourself in a vulnerable situation. I always walk places with other people and I don’t get blackout drunk. Be careful. Thats my rant about that. No more serious stuff now.

The First Night is the Loneliest

The first day I arrived in Rome my other two roommates were not here yet. At an orientation meeting for our building I made friends with a girl and we made plans to meet up later and go explore a little bit.

The part of Rome that we live in is called Trastevere, or Old Rome. It’s located in southwest Rome below the Vatican and left of the Tiber River. It’s characterized by cobble stone roads and narrow streets.

When we met up we had no working phones, no idea where we were or where we were going. All we had was a hard to read map provided to us by the school. As it turns out…I discovered that I actually love walking around with no destination. At home I’m always glued to google maps on my iPhone. All that was about to change.

Heres are a few pictures I took on my first night of exploration around Trastevere…

These are all photographs of restaurants. Almost every restaurant in Trastevere (or Rome for that matter) has an outdoor seating area, sometimes fully equipped with awnings due to the common occurrence of rain. They’re all lovely and adorable and for the most part their menu items are pretty similar. They’re all absolutely delicious and if you search around, most are relatively affordable. (Not to say that I’ve tried every single restaurant, pshh I wish, but from what I’ve experienced so far these are my observations).

At the time, we thought this is just a random fountain and church that we stumbled upon after getting some gelato (of course the first thing I bought in Italy was gelato). Earlier in the semester, I couldn’t really tell you anything about it other than that its somewhere in Trastevere. Now after living here longer I know that the Basilica is called Santa Maria and it is located in Piazza Santa Maria. It was made in the 4th century AD. It’s one of the oldest churches in the city and possibly the first to openly celebrate mass. You can still attend mass here, in fact my roommate went this morning for Palm Sunday.
This is one of many bridges crossing the Tiber River. The water is definitely cleaner than the Hudson River but I’m still not sure I would swim in it. Apparently, the news showed a bunch of Italians who were jumping off a bridge into the river one summer.
More restaurants. I can tell you that this one is located close to the river because its named after the bridge Ponte Sisto, one that we frequently cross to get to Campo di Fiori…which is basically an entire plaza of just bars.

Since my roommates weren’t here yet and I was still in shock that I left my entire world behind me and was in a completely new place….I put on Friends (my favorite bedtime show) and fell asleep.

What an exhausting first day, and I was only just getting started…