Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

This Is What Are Dreams Are Made Of

I feel like the past few days have been a dream, they were so surreal and wonderful that I can’t believe they actually happened, but then I flip through the over 300 pictures that I have and I’m right back on the winding streets of Rome with some of my best friends complaining about how much we’ve walked and planning our next gelato stop. Until now, Rome has just sort of been a place that doesn’treally seem real. It’s a place of such immense history and culture you would have to spend years there to really be able to see it all. We had 3 days.

When we rolled into Rome Fiumicino Airport we had a few hours to kill while we waited for our friend to fly in from London. Luckily, the Rome airports have a very strong free wifi system in place so I was perfectly fine curling up in a baggage claim chair with some Italian vending machine food and the internet. Eventually Sydney finally made it to Italy and we were on our way to the city. (Rome travel tip: there is a really good system of buses that go from the airports to Termini Station for only €4 so getting to the city is no problem). We made it to Termini with no problems and I pulled out my map and compass app and totally got us to our room without any help from the internet. Who says the compass app on your iphone is redundant? Not me (anymore).

Our adventures in Italy started right away that night with a brief tour of the area and an introduction to the public transportation with one of Shelbie’s friends who has been studying abroad in Rome this semester. I cannot recommend getting a tour from someone who knows the area, enough. Those few hours of random facts gave me enough information to feel comfortable taking Rome by storm early the next morning and not missing a moment of this city. We went into a quieter part of the city to find a place to have our first Italian meal and found an adorable little family restaurant where I enjoyed a steaming hot plate of gnocchi. It was absolutely wonderful, and from the first bite I knew that this trip was going to be 90% food and 10% history, and I had only been there for a few hours.

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After dinner we made the walk to a gelato place so I could enjoy my very first taste of gelato. Shelbie refused to let me eat any in France and made me wait it out for Italy and I am so happy I waited. We went to a place called Vale Gelato and I had a cup of pineapple and coconut and it was life-changing. The flavors were just so strong and perfect it was like I was actually eating the fruits but yet it was still creamy and sweet and absolutely one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. I vowed then and there to turn this three day trip into a gelato tour.

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As we had gotten into the city relatively late, that was pretty much the end of the day, so we went back to our room to discuss our plans for tomorrow as well as cleaning up our disasters of luggage and what not. We set our alarms for bright and early so we could make the trip to Vatican City. When we were unwillingly woken up by our alarms the next morning, we took our time getting ready before braving the sunlight and grabbing some pastries dripping with nutella from the cafe next door. This European trip has definitely woken up my love for pastries. Our first stop was the metro station to hop on Metro Line A for Vatican City. We were told that the Pope was giving a mass at 10am so that was our motivation. If I’m going to visit the Vatican, I might as well see the pope.

The metro was probably the most jam packed train that I have ever seen. I saw a guy genuinely get stuck in the door with half of his body inside and the other half out. It was very dramatic, and our ride was just as cramped. We emerged from the depths of the metro station to the beautifully warm Roman day and made the walk over to St. Peter’s square. I would say that this walk was where I truly realized the true tourist nature of Rome. You can’t walk more than 5 steps without trying to be sold something. The current trend is selfie sticks. My one day count of selfie stick sales pitches was over 30, if that gives you any idea how relentless these guys are. I was stuck between feeling frustrated and sympathetic because obviously this is how they earn their living, but I can only take so many selfie sticks being shoved in my face (and my limit was hit after about 5). The street to St. Peter’s square is also lined with countless people trying to sell you tours of the museum and basilica, which I assumed to be scams so we continued forward to the square.

We found what is arguably one of the most incredible squares in the world and joined the thousands of others gathered to hear the pope give mass. He rolled on up to the stage and said a few words before various priests read the verse in a whole bunch of languages. It was really cool to think about how many cultures were being included in this truly amazing event, and even I got excited when the english priest started reading. We didn’t stay too long because it was hot and we had a lot of ground to cover, but I still can’t believe we got to see the pope give mass in Vatican City. It was our first morning and I was already in awe.

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The crowd for the Pope.

Before we decided on what we wanted to do I had wandered off to take a picture of some road, as I so often do these days, and found myself talking to this really nice man about where to go to get into the museum. I don’t know if it was because I was in such a good mood or what but I didn’t even realize he was selling tours until he pulled out the pamphlet. I found myself being very quickly convinced that a tour was going to be the best option for us to see the sights of Vatican City. The main selling point was that we got to skip the massive queue of people who would inevitably be rushing to the museum doors the second the pope finished speaking. I do not have that kind of patience so I all but ran to the tour office where we paid and got our stickers before jumping on the english tour. That’s another thing you quickly realize in Rome, everything has to be offered in a bunch of languages because people are there from all over the globe. Although, I would say the vast majority of people in Rome speak English, making being a tourist that little bit easier. I know that it’s incredibly ethnocentric but I miss the widespread use of the english language so much. This kind of travel has so many elements that add stress, but then you arrive and everything is in a language you don’t recognize and it’s very intimidating. It’s nice for a while, but I quickly started to miss the familiarity that the same language brings.

Anyway, I digress. We bought our tours, had a brief introduction to what we would be seeing before heading off to the museum. It wasn’t long before I realized how happy I was that we bought a tour. I don’t know how on earth it slipped my mind, but I had completely forgotten that the Sistine Chapel was there, so as soon as we started learning about Michelangelo’s famous works, I was almost giddy with excitement. After our brief intro lesson, we made our way over to the museum where, as promised, we got to skip the massive queue that wrapped around the Vatican City walls all the way back to the square, again reassuring my decision about the tour. They hooked us up to our little headphone packs so we could hear the guide when we wandered off and we were headed into the museum. There was a brief pause to locate a missing wallet (remember to grab your wallets when you pay kids) and then we started our BRIEF walkthrough of the Vatican Museum.

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I’m emphasizing the word brief because unless you’re going to devote an entire day to wandering the corridors of the museum, there is no way you can even come close to seeing it all. I had absolutely no idea how massive this place was, but even after walking into the first corridor I knew that this museum was not one for a casual visit, again I was very happy we had a guide to show us the highlights and keep us from getting lost in the artifacts.

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My first view inside the museum.

We wandered through a few rooms and learned about the big pieces within them and I can’t even really spit out any of the facts that I learned because the whole experience was just so absolutely overwhelming. From the insane number of pieces housed in rooms that would even take hours to admire, to the sheer number of people in there, it was a task to just stay focused on what direction we were walking. For the most part I kept my cool but there was a point in one of the tapestry rooms, that have to be pretty environmentally regulated to maintain the integrity of the pieces, that I got pretty claustrophobic and anxious to move into a more open area. I suggest that if you don’t handle crowds well you steer clear of this museum, at least during peak hours because it was pretty intense.

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Hall of Tapestries.

Regardless of how many people I bumped into and how many pictures I accidentally photobombed, it was all worth it to walk into the Sistine Chapel and see the incredible paintings that adorn it’s walls. The whole experience of seeing the chapel is quite humbling, and sightly contradictory in my opinion. Obviously this building is off incredibly significance to a lot of people so in order to maintain its significance there is no photography allowed and it’s expected that you remain quiet during your visit, which I agree with. A room like that deserves respect and being able to view such an incredible piece of history in a quiet room is a good way to try and distract you from the fact that you’re packed in there with a thousand people trying to sneak pictures and embrace the history. Now, while I agree with the regulations, I don’t really agree with their enforcement. Every few minutes one of the guards would come over a microphone and shout for ‘silencio’. Talk about ruining a moment. Their shouting was by far more disruptive than any of the occasional whispers of awe shared in the crowd. Couple that with the stands immediately outside selling art to make up for you not being able to take pictures and I was sufficiently confused as to who really needed to do the respecting of the chapel, but hey I’m just a tourist what do I know.

Meanwhile, once I got over the strange regulations, I took my time to take in the artistic spectacle that I was witnessing. To be very honest, I didn’t see the Creation of Adam at first because for some reason I was under the impression that there were two rooms. Admittedly the world renowned finger touch that never was is a lot smaller than I imagined, I thought it made up the majority of the ceiling. In reality it’s only a small portion of the art and is surrounding by a ton of other incredible pieces of biblical art. I was, understandably, in awe.

Following our visit to the Sistine Chapel we made our way over to San Pietro and an amazing view overlooking St. Peter’s square, feet away from where the Pope had just given his speech.

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We then took a brief detour into the Basilica to admire the amazing art that adorns its walls and ceilings, as well as seeing the Pieta, another piece of incredibly notable art, and I must say it is pretty spectacular. We didn’t stay in the church for long, partly because of a misunderstanding with another set of Vatican rules. Apparently you aren’t allowed into the church with exposed knees or elbows, which is something that I really would expect to be more widely advertised for such a popular tourist destination. So I guess if you plan on visiting the Vatican, where more conservative clothing or settle for buying a ‘decency scarf’ to cover up your exposed skin.

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When we finished up with sight seeing at the Vatican, we grabbed our second cup of gelato at Old Bridge gelato outside the city walls where I had more coconut, orange, and the best tasting strawberry treat I had ever eaten. It was basically like eating a frozen strawberry and it was heavenly. We grabbed a patch of grass in the shade to enjoy our gelato and plan out the rest of the day. Before grabbing the metro back into the city, we got a sandwich and did some tourist shopping. Souvenir shopping is such a competitive market in Rome that you can basically get all of your souvenirs for under €10, especially if you stop at the €1 table and sift through the hundreds of keychains and magnets, all for €1.

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Our next stop was the Trevi Fountain, which I was so excited for (you just can’t beat that scene from The Lizzie McGuire Movie) but to my dismay, it is currently under construction and therefore has no water in it and is covered by scaffolding (which is something you should really get used to in Rome). It’s still absolutely breathtaking, even under construction, and because there was no water, they had a bridge set up that you can walk over and get right up next to the statues, which is pretty incredible. All I know is that I will be returning to see it back up and running because it is absolutely stunning. Which is good because apparently whenever I got us lost, I accidentally rerouted us past it. I mean if your going to walk in circles, it might as well be past the Trevi Fountain right?

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It may be covered in scaffolding but it was still incredibly beautiful.

The rest of our night was spent walking over to Ancient Rome to get a quick glance of the Colosseum, which is such an incredible sight to behold, and we didn’t even go inside until the next day. We got our tourist pictures out of the way (not without at least 10 people trying to sell us selfie sticks even though we very obviously had the situation under control) and wandered around looking at the various forums before setting off to find dinner.

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Since last night was pasta, tonight was pizza. You’ve got to make sure to switch up your Italian carb intake. I had an amazing margarita pizza before we found a gelateria with an adorable sitting area to sit and enjoy gelato while enjoying a beautiful Rome evening. Day to night, Rome truly is beautiful and sometimes just sitting down to relax and take it all in is the best way to appreciate its beauty. We filled up on gelato before retreating to bed to watch the Lizzie McGuire Movie and prep for another long day of exploring tomorrow.

The next morning I was up bright and early eager to see the inside the colosseum and experience the history. We bought our tickets the night before online to try and avoid the inevitable queues to get in. Turns out the line for pre-purchased tickets was just as long as the line to buy tickets onsite. My advice? Skip those lines all together and buy your ticket at the Roman Forum ticket office. They are the same tickets and there is virtually no queue at that spot. Regardless, we got into the Colosseum with the hundreds of other eager visitors. To be very honest it wasn’t what I was expecting. From the exterior it looks like this enormous building, and it is, but when you get inside it really doesn’t seem that menacing. I’d say it’s easily smaller than a football field, and I was definitely expecting it to be a lot bigger. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t fascinated by it, I was like a kid in a candy store while I was there. All I wanted to do was figure out what everything was and learn anything and everything that the Colosseum had to offer. I was so into it that I bought a reconstruction book there that showed pictures of what everything used to look like, which I think is essential to a visit to the Colosseum and understanding what everything really did, because while it may look like it was just a storage area or something, it was probably just the support for a set of seats or stairs that are long gone. The highlight of my exploration of the Colosseum was by far when I saw a cat down in the underground.

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Following our time at the Colosseum, we went and grabbed some lunch. I finally got my hands on a caprese salad and it was absolutely wonderful. Italian food is by far my favorite cuisine so I am 100% in my element here. When we finished lunch we headed back down to Ancient Rome to check out the roman forums and all the ruins, which are pretty cool. We didn’t spend too much time down there because it’s basically all just ruins that all sort of look the same, and we were hot and exhausted with a full list of other things to do. The forums really were amazing, but it was another thing where you sort of need a guide or a book to tell you what everything used to be and how the ruins fit into it all, otherwise it just sort of looks like organized rubble.

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Our adventure then took us towards the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. The exterior of the Pantheon is absolutely incredible, and the sheer number of years that it’s been standing is just unbelievable. The interior is another church, and at this point I’ve seen so many churches that they’ve sort of started blending together. And after you see the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica not much can really compare.

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The Pantheon.

Piazza Navona may be one of my favorite places we visited, and we almost didn’t even go there. In all honesty, we really only ended going because it was on all of the tourist maps and was right around the corner from the Pantheon. Essentially its just a really big open square with some cool fountains and is full of street vendors and artists. I wandered the square admiring the art for a long time, wishing I had the space to actually buy some of the art because it was all just so cool. The fountain in the center of the square is really incredible, and I read that the four figures on it are actually representative of the four major rivers in the world, which I find fascinating.

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Piazza Navona.

When we finished admiring the square, we started our walk towards the Spanish Steps and through the shopping area. The Spanish Steps ended up being the biggest disappointment of our tour. They’re really just a set of stairs where exhausted tourists go to sit and do some shopping, oh and tell salesmen that no, we still don’t want a selfie stick. The walk there was worth it though because we did stop in some cool stores (Italian Disney Store oh yeah) and we had to walk that way back towards our place anyway. I would say not to bother with The Spanish Steps unless you’re over there and need a place to sit, otherwise I would make time for something cooler like one of the many museums in Ancient Rome that we didn’t get a chance to see. We didn’t visit any museums other than the Vatican one but if we had more time there I definitely would have tried to see the Capitoline Museum because apparently there’s some really incredible stuff in there.

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Mickey in Rome.

Our last night in Rome involved a long walk back towards our place and a search for a dinner place that looked good, and provided free wifi. We settled on a little place for some delicious bread and spaghetti alla bolognese (you can’t go to Italy and not get spaghetti) and had a nice dinner after another incredibly long day (another over 15 miles walking on top of the 15 yesterday; we did so much walking). Another stop for gelato was the end of our day and I enjoyed a massive cup of banana, coffee, and chocolate chili gelato on the steps of a massive church where we just watched the city shut down for the night.

We finally made it back to our room where we packed up our bags (again) and went to sleep after an incredible few days in Rome. It was an amazing time with my wonderful friends and I know that I will be returning to Rome someday to experience it all again. Rome is magnificent, it has its flaws, but overall I would consider it a must-visit for anyone, especially for the gelato.

(side note: I’m currently sat in my hostel in Prague getting ready to head off to the last stop on our European adventure so still no laptop, but hopefully the pictures work better in this post?? my ipad is not a great way to go about this blogging thing but I really didn’t want to bring my laptop around Europe so this will just have to do)

 

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