Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Study Abroad Re-Cap: A Weekend in Roma

In February, I had the privilege of traveling with my Study Abroad program to one of the largest and most famous cities in Italy: Rome.  For years I had dreamed of standing in front of the Colosseum or throwing a coin over my shoulder into the Trevi Fountain, and I could hardly believe I was finally going to be able to do just that.
From left, Katherine, Molly, me, Liz and Lindsey in St. Peter's Square. (Photo courtesy of Molly Byrne.)

Since our trip was planned through AIFS, all expenses but meals were paid and all of our tours were given by professors from Richmond University or people affiliated with the school.  It was not quite tourist season yet since it was only late February, but the pick-pockets and vendors were still out in force and the weather still felt like it would in late February in the U.S.  We had three beautiful sunny days in Rome, and we did basically everything we could fit into those three days.  On the fourth day, I decided to do an optional field trip outside the city to the Villas (see next blog post). I went in with really high expectations for Rome, thinking it would be a history double-major's absolute dream to be there.  It seemed like a dream come true for some of it, but I was rather surprised by my opinion of Rome after the trip.

When our bus pulled up to Hotel Portamaggiore near the outskirts of Rome, I did not feel like I was actually in the city.  In fact, I did not even know we were in Rome.  When we got there, we were able to walk around a bit, but Rome is a VERY big city so we were not able to go very far.  It just felt like we were in another Italian city.  Now obviously, my romantic visions of Rome mixed with the exhaustion of waking up early and being on a bus for over three hours got the best of me on that first day.  Since Rome was so big, it was bound to have some disappointing or rather sketchy parts.  My one complaint about the trip was that I wish we stayed in a different location.  Our hotel was nice, but it was located in one of the more sketchy areas of the city.

Beds inside the hotel room.

Hotel Portamaggiore, where we stayed.

On the afternoon of our first day, we took a walking tour of one of the parts of Rome.  Each day we were in Rome, we toured one chunk of the city since the city itself was too large and it was overwhelming to get a group our size from one point to another multiple times per day.  My tour group was led by Peter, my art history teacher.  I'm really glad I had him as a guide because he knows how to make both history and art really interesting and somewhat funny.  As the trip went on, many people caught on that Peter was one of the best tour guides, and his group grew day by day as others mysteriously shrank.
Peter chatting with another tour guide and professor, Angela, before giving the tours on the first day. 

Peter reacts to his own joke about the bathtub. "Children, you will never believe this but this looks just like the bathtub in my hotel room!"

The moment I truly felt like I was in Rome was when Peter took us to the Trevi Fountain.  The fountain itself was spectacular, and of course, my friends and I all threw our coins into the fountain! (You have to throw it in your right hand over left shoulder or else your wish won't come true!)  That day, we also visited the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, the most expensive cade in Italy (Cafe Grecco), the best gelato place in Italy (or possibly even the world!), several churches (well... actually, more than just several... so many I can't remember all of their names), and the Quirinal Palace (or the residence of the President of Italy).
The Spanish Steps.

The Trevi Fountain! 

The best gelato place in the world! (Or so they say.)
Cafe Greco, the most expensive cafe ever. 
The Pantheon.

Inside the Pantheon.

The Quirinal Palace.

The view of the Vatican from the Quirinal Palace.

The next day was almost completely devoted to Vatican City.  I kind of knew what to expect after seeing countless slides of the Sistine Chapel ceiling and the Last Judgement by Michelangelo in my art history class,  However, everything is always more spectacular in person! The entire Vatican, from the museum to the Sistine Chapel, and then again to St. Peter's Basilica, was so elaborate and beautiful! We first saw some Raphael paintings and the fake version of Michelangelo's "Pieta" in the museum.  The real version of that sculpture is located behind bullet-proof glass after the face of Mary had to be repaired from being smashed in by a crazy Vatican visitor.  We then proceeded through a very long hallway filled with gold leaf and frescos to get to the Sistine Chapel.  The Sistine Chapel was spectacular, but I had expected it to be bigger for some reason. People were herded in and out of the chapel by Italian guards yelling "Silencio" and "No photo." Those who were lucky enough were able to snap a photo or two or take a quick video of the ceiling.  Peter then beckoned us to go straight to St. Peter's Basilica.  However, he wanted us to take the short-cut that was only for specific people authorized to take the route - which we were not.  "Just be good little beautiful smiling children," he cooed at us, "and once you reach the stairs, you are safe!"

We all made it through safely with the constant prompting of Peter to keep smiling and make it look like we were supposed to be there.  St. Peter's Basilica was my favorite building of the entire day.  My jaw immediately dropped when we entered.  The church itself was beautifully constructed, but the sunlight streaming through the windows almost gave it a heavenly feel.  Inside the Basilica we also saw the body of a dead pope who had been sanctified. He was displayed in a clear coffin, but his body was covered in wax as sort of a protective cover for his skin.  "Ok now children, go steal your picture of the pope!" Peter said to us when he was done talking about the building.  When we left the church, we walked out into the giant space that is St. Peter's Square.  The only memory I could tie to that place was when Pope John Paul II had died, and I watched on television as the square was filled with people mourning and carrying signs and rosaries.  After lunch, we met back up with Peter to explore churches and a chastity belt exhibit, as well as taste the best coffee in Italy  - or maybe even the world - and visit the gelateria that gives you the most gelato for your money.  When we went to taste the coffee, Peter told us the Queen of England had brought her own water for the coffee makers to make her coffee with.
The fake "Pieta."

Peter explains the Sistine Chapel ceiling to us since we wouldn't be able to talk in the chapel.

According to Peter, the most beautiful boy except for all of our boyfriends! This sculpture was of a man that (I think) Michelangelo fell in love with.

The hallway through which we passed on our way to the Sistine Chapel.

The inside of St. Peter's Basilica.

The dead pope! 

Beautiful lighting in St. Peter's Basilica.

The tour ended and we were left to wander around on our own.  My friends and I found our way back to an art fair that we had seen on our tour, and we decided to explore that for a little while before making our way back to the hotel.  There were street performers and artists all over the square, and I just sat and people watched for a while.  We then decided we wanted to make our own way back to the hotel without using the subway.  We were doing well until we got to a certain point and decided to stop underneath a street lamp to consult the map.  That is when one of my favorite moments of the trip happened. We never made it back to the hotel before dinner.  That night I also had a delicious pumpkin ravioli dish for dinner, and I met my friend Katherine's friends Kate and Araceli.
A musician in the piazza.
Candlelit dinner!
People watching in the square to which we returned.   This guy was begging for money.
Favorite parts of the day from Day #2.

Our favorite Peter quotes! 

The next day was my last whole day in Rome.  We went to the Colosseum first in the morning and then to the Roman Ruins.  It was such a surreal feeling to know I was heading toward one of the most famous sites in Rome after I had done nothing but romanticize about it for years.  I had seen countless pictures of the gigantic circular arena with a chunk taken out of the top.  What they don't show you on the postcards though is the neighborhood around the ancient ruin.  We walked through a neighborhood with some pretty unattractive houses and graffiti all over the place, and all of a sudden, the hulking figure of an ancient Roman colosseum emerged almost out of nowhere at the end of the street.  All this time, I was under the impression that the Colosseum had a more central location in the city or that it was surrounded by roads or nicer houses.  I later found that we walked toward the Colosseum from the opposite side from which the pictures of the ruin are taken for postcards.  The Colosseum was really amazing though, and the inside of it was humongous! Next we went to the ancient Roman ruins.  We were able to see Julius Caesar's grave there, which I had no idea was there.  Peter led us to a particular spot of the ruins and told us, "It was on this spot that Julius Caesar was stabbed to death." I had a similar reaction to when I had toured Boston for the first time and was told I was standing on the exact spot that the Boston Massacre occurred.  It was very shocking.
Walking to the Colosseum.

There it is! 

Me on the inside.

Roman Ruins.

Caesar's grave.

More ruins. 
Roman Senate building!

After lunch we were set free to wander the city for the rest of the day.  My friends and I walked to the Jewish Synagogue and then to the island in the middle of the river and found a nice angled wall to lay upon and sunbathe with other tourists and Romans alike.  We got gelato, which I thought was even better than the gelato we had at the supposed "best" gelato place in the world, and laid in the sun for a while.  We then walked along the river back to the Vatican, and it was beautiful! Our last day was very relaxing.
Walk along the river to the island.

Love locks. 

Where we sunbathed! 

Vatican from along the river.
Looking back, my experience in Rome was quite positive.  We saw everything we could in the three days that we were there, and it was really cool.  I still wish we had stayed in a more central location, and I was also sick at the time so that may have tainted my experience.  Further, I missed Florence while I was away.  Even after only a month of living in Florence, it had become my home, and I was homesick for my bed, the food, and the life I had there.  Someday I'd like to go back to Rome and see if my experience would be more positive - and also to say hi to the Pope since I didn't see him this time.
If you have any questions about my study abroad experiences or life in general at Saint Michael's College, do not hesitate to email me (, Tweet me (LittleLizzie33) or ask me a question on formspring (lizmurray3).  I will do my best to answer any questions you might have!

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