Benvenuti a Roma: When in Rome do as the Romans!
So things started off a little shaky at JFK. The flight was delayed about 1 hour 45 minutes due to thunderstorms. However, once we taxied down the runway, the time went by very fast.
Taking the red-eye is something everyone should do at least once in their life. The thrills of the jet propelling to intense speeds then the ascension into the sky, first 10 thousand feet at 300 miles/ hour, then you’re at nearly 40 thousand feet traveling over 500 miles/hour. This feeling sends a rush of adrenaline through my body and I know this adventure has officially begun.
I finally arrived in Rome exhausted and wanted nothing more than to shower and get some much needed sleep. I got a taxi from the airport to my hotel. Another thrill on the ground, the taxi driver zoomed away like we were taking off in a NASCAR race; suddenly traveling in his little Fiat at speeds over 160km (100 miles) this was scary and exciting. Zipping around turns, passing through cars in what seemed like very tight fits, was the jolt I needed to wake me up. Less than 10 minutes and 41 Euro later, I was at the hotel.
NOTE: You do not have to tip extra in Italy unless you really want to, usually rounding off to the nearest Euro will do.
I checked into my hotel and was upgraded to a single deluxe room — not too shabby. I got in and realized that single deluxe must have meant the addition of a bidet in my bathroom … just kidding. I awoke the next morning, enjoyed a fabulous breakfast complete with a double espresso (delicious), and prepared to go into the city central to meet the rest of my group.
I took the shuttle into the city central it dropped me off in an area where there was a mini Colosseum and it had ruins just outside. It is amazing how throughout Rome you see beautiful classic architecture mixed with contemporary buildings and a ruin here and there to show the city’s character. I arrived at Hotel Navona, a little side alley hotel with a beautiful courtyard. My group had just arrived from the airport about 20 minutes before me. We had a little time to get our rooms organized. This was where I met my classmates formally for the first time. We went around and introduced ourselves and indicated why we chose this study abroad, handled some administrative tasks and decided how we wanted to tackle our walking tour of the city and other sights based on new information we received about Rome.
NOTE: Italy literally offers hundreds of opportunities to plan a study abroad.
The best lesson it provides is in planning, be patient and know things can cancel without little notice, artwork can be taken down for no reason; being flexible will minimize your stress and also help you adopt that Italian way of life. We also found out that the Vatican Museum offers free admission on the last Sunday of each month. You have to arrive early and should expect up to a two-hour wait, but if you are up to it, getting there between 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. will guarantee you access and get you into the Sistine Chappell.
You can also observe Mass in the Piazza de San Pietro (St. Peter’s Square), after the museum tour. You must be dressed appropriately, shoulders and part of arms covered, and covered to at least the knee, anything else is inappropriate and people will let you know. I suggest you visit churches. Every traveler to Italy should have their own favorite classic Italian artist and you can see their work in many churches. Church touring in Rome is free to the public unlike the churches in Florence. Visiting hours vary, but are worth it to see some amazing artwork.
We started out our tour in Piazza Navona where there were several local artisans selling their works, fountains, official buildings, gelato shops, and restaurants that lined the sides of the street. Each Piazza will usually have a fountain. Fountains with the God Neptune are very significant because that has symbolism to the founding of Rome. We continued on to the Pantheon which was very crowded and had another fountain by it. On most fountains there is the Roman architecture of divine and mortal beings, then an obelisk (Egyptian Pyramid), most of which came from Egypt, then either a peace or religious symbol at the top. We continued on to the Trevi Fountain passing side alleys and ruins. We came across people dressed as gladiators.
NOTE: Do not take their picture, they will charge you 10 Euro and hassle and follow you until you pay them.
The Trevi is nestled through several alleys and is crowded al hours of the day, but is an amazing fountain on the back of an old palace and the architecture is absolutely beautiful. We walked down Via del Corso — the Rodeo Drive of Rome — where you can buy any top Italian designer’s fashions; and made our way to the Piazza di Popolo (People’s Square). We finished our walking tour at the Spanish Steps. These are a long set of steps that ascend to a church. In front of the steps is a fountain. Normally it is frowned upon to walk into a fountain. Not in Rome… This particular fountain actually has 2 fish at each end both spouting water. There is a large step to walk on to get into the fountain. You’re probably wondering what is so special about this particular fountain … Well, the water from the fountain is actually drinkable. People go onto the steps and drink straight from the streams or fill their water bottles.
NOTE: Drink directly from your mouth, not your hands as they are considered dirty.
This water is clean, delicious, and is fed from natural springs via the aqueduct. Coincidently this is one of a handful of fountains that still works. Even a germafobe like me joined in the experience … When in Rome do as the Romans!
From here, we were free to enjoy dinner and the rest of the city on our own. Some of my classmates and I went to a lovely Italian restaurant and dined al fresco — the preferred way in Rome. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, there were literally several on each block and Side Street and it’s nearly impossible to remember all their names. We simply took the friendly recommendation from a local and decided to eat there.
One question I will ask myself through this trip: How can I design a study abroad that goes beyond tourism and provides a truly educational and cross-cultural experience? I will address this in other blogs.
Same holds true to the innumerable gelato shops. Some of us tried the local wine; the house wines are usually dryer but very delicious. We spent some time talking about our various student affairs programs at our respective universities and what we do in our grad assistantships. We also managed to play 2 truths and a lie, a popular student affairs practitioner’s icebreaker.
NOTE: Save your receipts when you leave.
In Rome, there are police forces everywhere; the main police are the Carabinieri, the national police. There are also the Guardia di Finanza, these are the equivalent to the IRS … but with guns. An agent may stop you within 200 meters of a shop and ask to see your receipt. If you don’t have one, they can fine you and will fine the store. This is to combat corruption and accounting fraud. At this point, the combination of jetlag, physical exhaustion from walking, and maybe the wine, we were ready to go back to the hotel and enjoy a little downtime and get some rest.
Tomorrow’s agenda includes the Vatican and the Colosseum.
— Ryan Geiger, graduate student