Wednesday, September 9, 2015

When in Rome..

Before leaving Italy for good, I had to make a quick pit stop in Rome to stay with my friend Kaylin and her mom! I met Kaylin 2 year ago in Italy, she was also an American exchange student in Turin for the year and actually from Ohio too! Anyway, Kaylin did her freshman year of college at Richmond University in London and then this year she transferred to John Cabot in Rome. This was her first week in Rome so she was busy with orientations and moving in but I'm so happy and grateful that she still took the time to let me visit for a couple days :) 

So I took a train from Brindisi to Rome, which lasted 5 hours and cost $75. I found some flights that were actually cheaper but a train was more convenient since it arrives in the center of Rome so I didn't have to take a shuttle from the airport with 2 heavy suitcases. Quick little tip for taking trains in Europe: make sure to use the actual native site (ex. Trenitalia in Italy) to find tickets NOT an American company (ex. Eurorail) because you'll get ripped off. If you don't know the country's train site, just ask a local! Anyway, once I got to the train station Kaylin told me I had to take bus H and get of at Trastevere. I was a little nervous but I found the bus stop easily and then asked the driver which was the right stop so it wasn't too bad but definitely a challenge dragging more than 80 pounds of luggage around with me (not to mention my biggest suitcase is slowly falling apart). I completely ran over some guys foot but thankfully he wasn't too pissed haha 

Trastevere is a cute little area right next to central Rome where John Cabot's campus is located and where Kaylin's mom rented a flat for all of us. Kaylin said Trastevere has better bars and clubs than central Rome as well. So after taking a quick shower we left the flat to go out for dinner and then go bar crawling afterwards. We got bruschetta and smoked salmon as appetizers and I ordered a delicious gnocchi and eggplant dish. The sangria was also amazing!

Tara & Kaylin :)
mmm bruschetta with pesto, tomato & mozzarella plus some sangria ;)

After dinner we went out to a bunch of different bars in the area trying out drinks at each one. We ended up spending the majority of the night at this place called G-Bar. Idk if I would recommend it because it felt like we were in an American college bar since there were so many John Cabot students there! Most of the conversations around me were in English so the moment I heard some people speaking Italian I started talking to them.

I ended up spending a lot of the night talking to this guy about Rome's corruption and issues with the mafia. Back when I was in Italy 3 years ago, at Italian lessons we watched a movie and read a book about the mafia so I knew it existed however I honestly never knew how tremendous it's influence is on Italy. Most Italians don't like talking about the mafia and I've never wanted to offend anyone by asking. This guy at the bar though wasn't shy about telling me the truth and I'm really grateful for that. He said that on the outside Rome is a beautiful city, full of history and culture, but what most tourists don't realize is that it's the central of mafia activity. In order to rent a space to open up a business you have to pay a large sum of money to the mafia. In order to prevent your business from getting robbed or burned, you have to pay the mafia. The mafia uses the money to infiltrate the political system and gain even more power. He said Italy is stuck like this because it's nearly impossible for the people to rise up against the mafia since the mafia already has so much authority; people are scared of what can happen to them and their families. 

He went on further to explain how the mafia culture affects the economic system in Italy, particularly southern Italy. Basically if you don't have money or know people it's impossible to get a high paying job. I understood exactly what he meant because from my exchange year in Italy I learned that even the school system is somewhat corrupted. Expensive private high schools exist that allow students who fail a year of normal public school to do 2 years in one for a high price. I've even heard a story of a someone who paid to receive a high school diploma but didn't actually attend that school at all. 

Anyway, this guy at the bar went to college and got a degree in engineering but now is only working at a train station because he can't find any work. He told me that he has no ambition toward his job but has accepted that there's nothing he can do about it. He said many Italians accept a mediocre job as the best they can do and thus focus a lot more on partying and having fun in their free time. I asked him if this lack of enthusiasm toward work may also contribute to the importance of family in Italy? He agreed with me and said that a lot of Italians value family, friends and having fun before making money. He said that he's not happy with his life but he's just trying to make the best of it and that's why he's out drinking right now. Although I think he was right with many of the things he said, I felt like he was being slightly cynical. I challenged him by saying that my previous host parents in Turin had good-paying jobs but he quickly came back saying that there's much less mafia and more wealth and industry in northern Italy. I couldn't really argue with anymore because I knew he was right. After seeing my host mom in Puglia work for only 3 euros an hour to support her family, I understand that southern Italy is in a much more difficult economic situation than the north. It's very sad that southern Italians can't achieve their career goals but I think it's admirable that they replace that lost opportunity with a new passion towards family, friends and enjoying their free time in order to be happy. All of the southern Italians I know are extremely fun, open, kind-hearted, friendly, relaxed and generous. I will always respect them and their way of life because they do their best to be truly happy despite economic difficulty. 

I thought this was disgusting... sambuca, absinthe and strawberry vodka

The next morning I woke up bright and early (and slightly hungover) to go sightseeing all day with Kaylin's mom, Tara! Kaylin had to go to orientation so her mom (who's favorite city is Rome and has been here more than 10 times) agreed to take me out. I'm so lucky to have had Tara because she knew Rome like the back of her hand; I definitely would've gotten lost without her! Plus it was so much fun having someone to chit chat with all day :) Since we only had one day to see ALL of Rome we just went to all the main sights but didn't take any tours. It was nice to skim the surface of Rome and get a feel of the ancient and beautiful city but I'd definitely want to come back one day and actually dive into the history a bit more! I still managed to take a million pictures though ;)

The Roman Forum, the ruins of what was once the political, cultural and social center of Roman public life filled with marketplaces, government buildings and social gatherings. 

Altare della Patria (in English: altar of the fatherland), also known as the national monument of Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of unified Italy.

The Tiber river, the second longest river in Italy (after river Po in Turin of course!)

The Colosseum, the largest amphitheater ever built, used in the Roman age for gladiator contests, public spectacles and mythological dramas.

The Trevi Fountain, the largest Baroque fountain in Rome, completed in 1792. Sadly while we were visiting the fountain was under construction so I couldn't throw a penny in :(

Piazza Navona, a long oval shaped city square built in the area that once used to be a very large arena. Navona was definitely my favorite square in Rome because it was so picturesque with all the artwork, cafes & cute little apartment windows with flowers :)

The Spanish Steps, 135 steps built in the early 18th century to connect the Bourbon Spanish Embassy and a church under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France.

The Pantheon, finished in 128 AD, it's STILL the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome and is still in use as a church today. Definitely my favorite building because it's hard to believe that such an archetectural feat was constructed 2,000 years ago... wow.

All that sightseeing and walking got us exhausted so we stopped for lunch. I bet you'll never guess what we ate?! Pizza of course! We went to a little cafe called Osteria Margherita, which we were surprised to discover is actually a chain restaurant in Rome! I would definitely recommend this place, they had an extensive menu with at least 30 different types of pizza! I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a pizza with smoked salmon and buffalo mozzarella... literally my 2 most favorite foods on top of a pizza! To say the least it was the best pizza I've eaten in my life. Kaylin's Italian friend Giulia, who's also going to John Cabot this year, met up with us and walked around the Vatican with me and Tara afterwards! 

After the lunch break we continued our tour with St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. St. Peter's is the most renowned work of renaissance architecture and one of the largest churches in the world. I was also really impressed by the square surrounding the basilica with the array of pillars surrounding the wide open space. We walked all the way around the basilica to see the Vatican museum so we could go inside the Sistine Chapel but it was closed :( But there was a gelateria right across the street that Giulia said we had to try. Tara said one of her tour guides form a previous trip to Rome said that it had some of the best gelato in Rome too. Oh my gosh that tour guide was right. They had so many unique flavors, I tried kiwi and my personal favorite flavor yogurt on a cone. Two huge scoops only cost 2.50 euros too! Although we didn't get to see the museum, I at least ate the most refreshing, delicious, flavorful gelato ever! :) If you go to Rome be sure to stop at Old Bridge Gelateria

Even though by this point our feet were killing us, Tara and I decided to rally and make the climb up the Gianicolo hill to see one of the best views of Rome. By the time we reached the top we were a sweaty, hot mess and chugged a bottle of water! Honestly, I think Rome is an outstanding city but the view from above isn't nearly as gorgeous as Naples. However, it was still really awesome to point out all the buildings that we had walked around and saw that day. It was a perfect way to end the sightseeing by looking down at all that we accomplished. 

That night we walked around a did some shopping for Kaylin's dorm then got dinner and wine. Of course I got more smoked salmon (I might turn into a fish one of these days from all the salmon I eat...). I had SO much fun on this mini vacation to Rome, I'm really thankful to have such great friends like Kaylin and Tara to show me around! :)

The next morning I had to pack up my messy suitcases once again and hit the road to catch another flight. It was tough packing because we didn't have a scale and Norwegian Air limits my large checked in suitcase to only 20 kg (44 lbs). I really didn't want to pay extra so I put all of my shoes in my carry-on along with heavier clothing items like sweaters wrapped up into little balls. Tara also took some of my summer clothes back to Ohio for me, which was really nice! My carry-on was  so densely packed, it must've weighed at least 14 kg (30 lbs). I then put all the light clothes into my checked in suitcase. I prayed that my luggage wouldn't exceed the weight limit and no one would question my extremely fat, bulging carry-on. 

My next struggle... getting from Trastevere to the airport. Kaylin and Tara said that they always just take taxis to and from the airport because it's such a hassle with heavy luggage. I didn't want to spend 50 euros on a taxi ride though so Kaylin and Tara said they heard from someone that there's a tram that can take me to the train station then a shuttle to the airport from there. It sounded really complicated and they weren't sure exactly where the tram was either... I was really paranoid of missing my flight since I missed my flight last time in Rome to Bari so in the end I decided to call an Uber but it turned out being more expensive than a taxi ride because I messed up the directions of where he was supposed to pick me up and canceled by accident... there's a $9 fee every time that you cancel. Oops... oh well eventually the driver found me and I made it safely and on time to the airport! Honestly, one thing I'm learning from traveling is that sometimes it's worth it to dish out the money for more comfortable transportation when you're all alone and carrying 9 months worth of clothes and belongings. I think it would be different if I was traveling with a friend because we could help each other out but alone I get a little intimidated and worried sometimes. 

The good new is that when I checked in my large suitcase only weighed 16 kgs (35 lbs) so I did a really good job packing! However, once I boarded the plane, one of the flight attendants questioned whether my carry-on was under the "10 kg weight limit"... I just said yes and shoved it in an overhead locker and walked away ahaha I mean come on what airline seriously weighs carry-on luggage? Psh whatever. 

Sorry this post was a bit long but I hope you all enjoyed! If you have any questions, don't be afraid to leave a comment below or send me a message through the contact form on the left of my blog! Look out for my next post in a new city... COPENHAGEN!! :)

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