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Finally in Rome

Ciao Tutti (Hi All)!

It has been a week since I have arrived in Rome and I am finally getting around to updating my blog.  I think that says a lot about how crazy my week has been!

I arrived in Rome last Friday (a few days before my program started) to do some sightseeing before I had to start my classes.  I stayed at a hotel near the Vatican which was nice in that it was a bit quieter than staying in the city center of Rome, but it also meant that every time we wanted to get to the main part of the city we needed to either walk 25 minutes or take a taxi.  I normally took a taxi, but it set me back about 10 Euro each time.  In hindsight, I think it would have made more sense to stay a bit closer to the city center.

My first impressions of Rome are pure excitement and amazement.  The weather is gorgeous (55 degrees Fahrenheit or higher every day I’ve been here) and it seems like there is a beautiful building, statue, or fountain around every street corner.  I think it is impossible to see all the sites in Rome in a lifetime, yet alone in 4 months!  Given this, I got started right away by going to see a bunch of sites the right after I got to my hotel.  I took a taxi to my apartment’s address and started from there.  As I mentioned in my last post, the Castel Sant’Angelo is literally a 2 minute walk from my apartment, so I saw that one first.

Castel Sant'Angelo

Castel Sant’Angelo

There is a pathway that connects Vatican City with the Castel Sant’Angelo.  Whenever the Pope was in danger, he would leave Vatican City and take refuge in Castel Sant’Angelo.  It was essentially his fort!  At the top of the Castel is Michael, the Arc Angel.  The statue was put there after a plague devastated Rome and the Pope led a procession around the city of Rome praying for God to intervene and end the plague.  When the procession made it to the Castel Sant’Angelo everyone saw an image of Michael, the Arc Angel, holding a sword.  Shortly after this, the plague ended.

After seeing this, I ventured into the winding cobblestone roads behind my apartment.  My apartment is situated in what was the rich section of Rome during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, so chances are that I am walking on the same roads some of the great minds of Rome walked on.  There are so many great looking restaurants close to me – I hope I can eat at them all!  After about a 10 minute walk (and passing the famous “Steeler’s Bar” in Rome), I stumbled into the Piazza Navona which is considered to be one of the nicest Piazzas in Rome.

One of the fountains in Piazza Navona

One of the fountains in Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona - Artists

Many local artists display & sell their beautiful art to tourists in the Piazza.

Piazza Navona is a very touristy place, but that does not detract from its beauty.  There are artists selling their gorgeous art, a lot of cafes along the sides of the piazzas, and musicians playing the “typical” Italian music.  I could definitely see myself walking down to that Piazza to people watch while enjoying some gelato.

After seeing the Piazza Navona, I continued on to see Largo Argentina.  It is actually below street level by at least 30 feet.  The reason for the change in street level is because the Tiber River used to flood every year.  This led to a higher street level.  The Romans eventually built walls around the Tiber River to keep this from happening again.

Largo Argentina

Largo Argentina

Then, I continued my walk and visited “Il Vittoriano”, a monument commemorating the first king of a united Italy.  The monument is also called the “Wedding Cake” by tourists for obvious reasons.  Il Vittoriano is also home to Piazza Venezia, another well known Piazza in Rome.

Il Vittoriano

I then walked down the Via del Corso which can be equated to New York’s 5th Avenue.  It has a lot of very well known stores.  Along here, I bought a cell phone with a company called Tre.  This was very challenging because it was the first time I had to use upper level Italian, but I succeeded and got a phone.  Very proud of myself, I continued on my way up the Via del Corso and took two quick detours to visit the famous Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps!.

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps

I then walked to the Piazza del Popolo and went back to my hotel.  I was amazed to see how many beautiful & famous sites were within walking distance to my apartment.  I even missed a site along the way – the Pantheon which is only a 10 minute walk from my apartment.  Rome is truly the most unique & historical city I’ve ever been to.

The next day, I took a hop-on, hop-off tour and was able to see some other sites like the Colosseum, Circus Maximus, and the Baths of Caracalla.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

Then, it was the day I’ve been waiting for since I knew I wanted to study abroad – move-in day.  Our apartment is absolutely gorgeous and exceeded my expectations in every single way.  It is less than a 2 minute walk from the IES Center where I will be taking all of my classes and a great view of the Castel Sant’Angelo from my window.  There are two bedrooms, a huge living room, a kitchen with a dishwasher and a washing machine, and separate dining area.  I was so happy that we have a washing machine because it would have been painful to bring my laundry to a laundromat every week!

The view of Castel Sant'Angelo from my window

The view of Castel Sant’Angelo from my window

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I am in an “Italiano a Casa” apartment which means that all four people who live in my apartment can only speak Italian within the confines of my apartment.  The hope is that by using Italian in an everyday conversational context I will be able to pick up Italian at a much faster rate than I would otherwise.  It is definitely working – one of my roommates, Silvio, is an Italian student who attends the University of Roma Tre, another of my roommates, Jordan, is an Italian major and goes to Seton Hall, and the last roommate, Zach, is an Italian minor at Connecticut College.  My Italian is definitely the worst out of the group, but I look at it with a sense of optimism in that I have the greatest chance to improve my Italian.

I can already see a difference in my Italian.  When I first arrived in the apartment, I understood around 60% of what my roommates said.  This was mostly due to the fact that Italians speak at a quicker pace than my teachers in high school & college.  I am starting to improve, though, as I have gotten used to the pace and have improved my vocabulary.  I would say I understand about 70% of what everyone is saying, which isn’t too bad at all!

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday served as the orientation period for all students enrolled at IES Rome.  We were introduced to the staff, listened to a police officer talk about the rules of Italy and how to stay safe, learned how to take the public transportation in Rome, and took our Italian placement exams.  I placed into Italian 301.  I’m very happy I got into this one because I did not do very well on the oral exam.  The questions they asked you were hard to answer in English, yet alone Italian.  The hardest one was “If you were the President of the United States, what would you do?”.  I obviously did well enough to get into the 300 level class which will transfer to Penn State and satisfy the requirement for my minor.

We also had the chance to introduce ourselves to the other students.  It definitely is true what they say about Penn State – we travel well.  There are 16 other Penn Staters in the program (143 students in total), so Penn State was the most common school.  I had the opportunity to meet people from many schools including Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Emory.  Everyone at the program is outgoing and fun to be around.  I could easily see myself socializing with anyone over here.

On Friday, we took a tour of the historical section of the city.  We saw many sites that I already saw like Piazza Navona, but I saw a few new ones like the Jewish Ghetto which was very interesting.  Most of it has been torn down, but all the Jewish people of Rome had to live in an area of four square blocks between the years of 1555 and Italian Unification in 1861.  It is estimated that at one point, there were over 9,000 people living in those four square blocks.  The Jews were also forced to go to Catholic mass on Sunday & the residents who remained in the Jewish Ghetto after Italian Unification were also the first people to be sent to concentration camps in Italy during World War II.

On Saturday, IES hosted a scavenger hunt called the Amazing Roman Race.  This was very exhausting as we had to walk to pretty much every major site in Rome in period of three hours.

That brings me to today.  This morning, my roommate and I went to an open air market called Porta Portese which is the largest open air market in Rome.  It is open on every Sunday and the vendors sell things from clothes to electronics to old books and postcards.  I bought an alarm clock for 10 Euro, so I was satisfied.  Tonight, we’re going to one of the “American Bars” in Rome to watch the Super Bowl.  It starts at 12:30 AM, so it is going to be a long night.

Note: This post was originally published on February 5, 2011 in a blog entitled “Romeing Around Europe” which chronicled my study abroad experience.  

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