After a painstaking travel planning session, the blood sweat and tears formed some semblance of an itinerary for a weekend in Rome. This is quite a hike—my host family laughed when I told them the night before that I was leaving for Italy. The distance was unaided by Ryanair airline’s questionable customer service/sobriety. Confirmation for entry into Italy consisted of a scribble and a rip instead of a customs office. (This means that I will have to go back again if I want a stamp—I am hoping for a future trip to Florence to see the notorious Ellen Black.) The violent yellow of the interior combined with the insistent vending of Ryanair brand scratchcards as well as the music played at the end meant to convey a message of victory in safe landing, added a tacky veneer. Regardless, it is my new favorite mode of transportation. The United States could benefit greatly from a budget airlines due to its vastness–bus and train just isn’t completely viable. Overall, roundtrip, a flight to Rome from Oviedo with a layover in Barcelona cost somewhere the equivalent of $100.
With an 8 hour overnight layover in Barcelona on our hands, Jess and I took the train into the city to meet Julia, Xenia, and Tatiana for drinks at Oveja Negra. The drinking hall La Oveja Negra has two locations in Barcelona, and its serving style (in liters) and huge wooden tables mean that it is very popular in study abroad crowds. Because Xenia and Tatiana had showed us their lives in Barcelona, it was our turn to present an Americanesque experience. So “drinks” became liters of sangria. Which became Sergio teaching us sobriety tests used in the Spanish police force. Which became sitting on a Gaudi creation on the main drag and giving it a kiss before heading back to the airport for some open eyed napping before the next flight. Julia and Jill told me that they would laugh every time I would message them asking to meet up during these layovers, when I would have three or four hours to rush into their arms.
Oh, well. Veni, vidi, vici!
Rome turned out to be part paradise, part tourist trap. This weekend in March landed us right before the peak of its tourist season, though hordes of Japanese tourists carrying flags and kilted rugby fans packed the streets throughout the day regardless. This was also my first time in Europe outside of Spain, and my first time in a country where I knew absolutely nothing of the local language. This meant that I was floored every occasion when greeted in Italian, though we came to realize that Spanish and Italian have similar structure and sound. And like all other places that have such heavy waves of tourism, there are always English speakers on hand.
Temple University has a large campus in Rome, and so a number of friends had started the spring semester there–the perfect opportunity to visit. The metro system was packed though easy to navigate because it only has two lines that run in the formation of a cross, much like in Philadelphia. The sheer volume of people using it was what presented the real challenge. A few friends studying architecture in Rome are renting an apartment in the posh shopping district near the Spagna stop. The first thing to do after emerging from the metro was to beeline for gelato and lounge on the Spanish steps in the sun(two blocks from apartment!) This neighborhood is what provides The Sartorialist with his daily material. This was a hilarious contrast to the obvious tourists-—jacket tied around waist, high socks &Velcro sandals, and Peroni hat. As for the Romans, I have never seen such emphasis on such ostentatious and coordinating elegance—it really even put Oviedo’s fur coats to shame. Another contrast in Italy was with interpersonal interaction. I am an avid fan of people-watching, which meant that I viewed the Spanish steps as the ideal elevated surface for this activity. However, the eye contact in this district is brazen and unflinching; you are people-watching, and they are watching back. It is an area driven by fashion and personal effects as a status symbol. The buildings in Rome consist of a palette of orange, rust, and ivory, oozing warmth. So, waltzing past Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, past the smell of Italian leather and quality cappuccinos, and past a hundred varieties of gelato, we came upon the massive wooden doors of the Spagna apartment. We could then drop the backpacks we’d be living out of for the weekend, which felt incredibly limited when faced with the gargantuan prospect of sharing the streets with the beautiful Italians. Somehow, unbelievably so, the apartment is less expensive monthly than the Temple University-Rome dorms outside the center. Go figure.
All of the major sites are accessible from this location—they were magnified in proportion and awe by night, lit angularly with just the right emphasis of shadow to strengthen their presence. I loved that Rome’s artifacts, its ruins and ancient remnants are intertwined with the modern face of the city. Often when turning corners, you come across deteriorating columns and frescoed walls, untouched by agents of construction. I actually let out a scream when turning the corner into the plaza that holds the Pantheon. It is a monstrous vision that rises out of nothingness, hidden until just the right moment by those walking Spagna. We toured the broken faces occupying Villa Borghese, which also offers a great view of Piazza del Popolo. An Italian rock enthusiast struggled with a recording of “Hotel California” that filled the space between.
Later that night we found a safe haven in the presence of the unusually unoccupied Trevi Fountain. Without the usual crowd, it was really quite peaceful, but then again, 4 a.m. is an unusual time to be there.
By day, Piazza Navona, the Coliseum, and Vatican City occupied our excitement. The highlight of Rome, however, was Old Bridge Gelateria bordering Vatican City. We joined a long cue of people, including a line of nuns, to order. Though the wild cherry and chocolate were mind-blowing, the pistachio was the real game-changer. Viva Italia.
Rosa’s birthday was exactly as you would expect it to be if you have indeed ever come across the fiery vision that is Rosa Hassan de Ferrari. Celebrated in Testaccio, somehow, everyone survived.
My favorite neighborhood of the few we visited was Trestevere, just across the Tiber River (where we witnessed a dead body being extracted from its rapids). This neighborhood contained a particularly charming bar poignantly named “Bar”. It reminded me of the innards of a pirate ship, dressed in the skeleton of a piano, pillars, red velvet, and smooth lounge music. Its crew served cappuccino out of fancy china with all of the aloof and unaware swagger of Keith Richards.
So I leave Italy with more chins and a gnocchi bloat, incredibly satisfied with the experience.