Sunday, January 15, 2012

Getting lost in a foreign to a great start!

Ciao tutti! I am now officially living in Rome for the next few months. I got in this past Wednesday and have managed to cram in quite a bit in only 4 days. Woot woot!

Starting in the airport, I have become aware of one thing since I arrived in Italy: I am very very blonde. Who knew?

  Looking around the airport, I found I stuck out like a sore thumb. Not necessarily a bad thing though :) On my flight from London to Rome, I met some other people heading to Loyola, so we were able to share a cab. On the ride, we were mostly too tired to talk, which did not suit our taxi driver in the least. After a few attempts at broken, language barrier conversation, he decided to fill the silence by playing music and whistling. Maybe it was the jet lag, but I found that extremely amusing!

We got to the John Felice Rome Center (JFRC) campus late. I basically had time to eat dinner, unpack, and then head off to sleep! Speaking of unpacking, here's a picture of my very small, but mildly messy room:

I tried to post more perspectives of the room, but the program is refusing to allow it.

Anyways, on to the good stuff. The next day, I went out with a few girls from Loyola and SLU in search of shampoo and a hairdryer, among other things. Having missed the neighborhood tours the day I arrived, I had absolutely no clue where to go. Apparently, the rest of my group was also struggling with our sense of direction, leading to my first experience of getting lost! After a long while of walking mostly uphill, we were able to find the Simply Supermercato. For any of you ever missing America while in Italy, go find a supermarket. Firstly, Italians like American music, so blasting over the speakers in the store was Bruno Mars and Coldplay. Also, they apparently have a lot of American brands in terms of shampoo and other like products. Now, I'm all for trying new things, but when it comes to my hair, I'll stick with my Garnier products, thank you very much! 

Fair warning, though, if you don't speak Italian, it is rather difficult telling the difference between hand soap, body wash, and lotion. Don't believe me? Try scratching the labels off of all the bottles in Walgreens and see how you do! Detergent vs fabric softener was also tricky. Now cereal, that is a much simpler task.

Though I never did find that hairdryer, we managed to find our way back to campus. Later that night, a group of us took the bus to downtown Rome. We started at the Vatican and then wandered through a few of the nearby piazzas (not pizzas!). For starters, the Vatican is absolutely gorgeous! In addition to the spectacular architecture, they also had a giant Christmas tree and a life size nativity scene of the 3 kings visiting Jesus. No shepherds in this scene. The Vatican people like accuracy ;)

After the Vatican, we wandered a ways to il Catillo del Angelo. It used to be a palace/fortress for the pope, complete with a large (though now dried up) moat. There is a passage way connecting it to the Vatican, giving the pope an escape route. It is still in use, however, so we stuck to the street. We crossed a bridge with sculptures by Bellini and wandered around some piazzas.

 Il Castillo del Angelo
Bellini Bridge

It's crazy because what looks like alleyways to me are actually cobblestone streets that people drive on! The problem is, there is only enough room for one car, so I'm looking forward to see what happens when two cars come at each other from the same direction! We eventually found the Pantheon, which is ginormous! I wished I was spiderman, so I could scale the columns. We also got gelato in one of the piazzas. It was delicious, and the man working there was funny. I asked for un gelato piccolo (a small gelato) and he kept pointing to the large cone saying "Piccolo" and the small cone saying "Grande!". It got a bit ridiculous, but we eventually all got our proper size of gelato. 

We encountered some complications trying to find the right bus, leading to a longer walk back to campus uphill. Apparently, it is pretty easy to get into Rome, it's getting back to campus that's the problem! That became extremely clear the next night, but I'll get to that later.

Friday night was the night I got more lost than I have ever been. The evening started out really good. A few of us attempted to plan a trip to Bologna for my birthday on the 28th. It fell through because, being so close to the travel date, prices were pretty high. Sadness :( The evening improved from there, with dinner at one of the neighborhood restaurants. Small, very cute place with amazing food

 Hungry and ready!

 In typically Italian fashion, the meal was 3 courses lasting 3 hours. I thought I would fill up in the first hour, but it was actually very leisurely, with smaller portions. I could get used to that (especially with food this good!).
  And this was only the first course!

After walking to campus, a different group of us (I kind of bounce from group to group) decided to go out and explore the Italian night life. One of the guys in the group, Garrett, turned out to also go to SLU. Anyway, we took the bus down to Piazza Navona and found a small sidewalk cafe type place. Lorrena, who was going to be my roommate, but switched before I moved in, speaks fluent Spanish and charmed the owner of the restaurant to the point that he gave us all free shots. Don't worry, the drinking age is lower here, so I was not doing anything illegal (I knew you'd be concerned lol).
An Italian night on the town

After sitting for about an hour with our drinks (mine was the house chardonnay, case you were wondering), we drank our free shots and headed to another bar. While it was fun to people watch there, it definitely isn't a place I'd go back to. Fun atmosphere, but 10 euros for a mixed drink is nuts! Here was another example of staring Italians again. I didn't do so bad keeping a straight face this time, but some of those guys were actually pretty cute ;) 

We moved on to another more crowded bar next door, which was not a favorite of the boys in our group. Matthew and Garrett were in guard duty mode and they were not pleased with the guys ooggling the girls in our group. According to Matt, his "spidey senses were tingling". We didn't stay long, but while we were there, I tried to talk to two Italians with Lorrena. I attempted to speak Italian, but they very nicely told me I could just speak English (basically, stop before you hurt yourself). Before leaving though, I met another American. His name was LJ and he was studying at the Pantheon Institute. It's amazing how friendly fellow Americans are when we meet each other abroad. Instant bonding! 

After one more stop in an Irish pub (there are a surprising amount of Irish pubs in Italy) called Abbey Theater, we decided to head home. This was at 2:30am. Keep that in mind, because our travel plans did everything but lead us home. 

The buses in Italy stop running at midnight, except for the night buses. We knew the N6 would take us home. Unfortunately, we could only find the N5. We tried to ask this man for directions, but he didn't know. He was sweet though, trying to figure it out. He told us to get on the N5 bus. While waiting, a really creepy guy came up and started to kind of circle us, moving very close to us. His glasses were askew and he had blood running down his nose. Whether it was the right way or night, we all jumped on the next bus faster than you could blink!

The bus driver told us to stay on until the end of the line, claiming it would bring us closer to campus. On the bus, I met a guy from Ohio who'd been living in Italy for the past 7 months. We talked for awhile and then mentioned that he did card tricks. Obviously I asked for a demonstration. Not only were the tricks impressive, but he managed to do them while standing in a speeding bus, which kept whipping us around. He definitely got points for style :) 

We eventually got to the end of the line, only to be told by the bus driver that we were no where near campus and he had no idea where we should go, but we needed to get off the bus. Not good. By then, it was past 3am and the streets were pretty empty. We actually tried to chase after mopeds and cars to attempt to get directions. Eventually, two guys pulled over and asked me if I needed help. Problem was, the directions they gave us were in the opposite direction of the school! After some more walking, we found a group of people buying food from this stand (open at 4 in the morning, what?!?) and they pulled up GoogleMaps on their phone. With their help, we found the N6 bus stop...just as the bus was driving away! We literally jumped in front of the bus but, like a typically Italian driver, the driver swerved around us and kept going. 

We convinced ourselves we were supposed to go in the other direction anyway and crossed the street to the other bus stop. Bad idea! We got on the N6 bus alright, which took us in completely opposite direction! We eventually just gave up, got off the bus, and started the 4am. After a lot of blind wandering and climbing up too many hills, we finally found the area we recognized! We all but ran home! While it was nerve racking at the time, looking back, it was actually pretty fun. I just wish it hadn't been so late and we weren't so darn cold!

In conclusion, while getting lost in a foreign city lets you see a lot of places, it is not recommended in the middle of January or in a place with this many hills! 

Well that's all for now. Buona sera!

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