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I'm a 21-year-old journalism student. I spent last semester living in Florence, Italy. These are my adventures.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Mi dispiace — I'm sorry for how long it's taken me to update. I don't even have an excuse.

Rome. I don't even know where to begin.
In the days before I left with 38 other students on one of the school's planned field trips, I hardly even thought about the trip. I have to admit I didn't have huge expectations for the city. It was a little unfair, but I was expecting a city completely overrun by tourism. I figured it would be cliché. I don't know where the pessimism came from, but it vanished immediately.


After an hour and a half high speed train ride (approximately 140 mph), we piled onto a bus and headed to our hotel. We rode into the center of the city and there, nestled between office buildings and shops, were centuries old ruins. It's absolutely insane.
Everyone is whizzing by on their way to work, passing the Colosseum like it's no big deal. "Hey historical landmark. How are you feeling today? Old? I hear ya." I can't even begin to fathom what it would be like to live there.

And that's what the entire city is like. Shop, restaurant, office, shop, caffé, OH LOOK, a historic structure you've seen in every textbook.

We dropped off our luggage at Hotel Navona. It was a nice place but definitely smaller than we were expecting. Caitlin and I shared a cozy room:

After the quick pit stop, we headed out to see the city. Erika Bianchi, Roman achievement professor, lead us to the Forum. Unfortunately, the ruins were closed for a strike. We took pictures from the sidewalk instead.
The weather was absolutely glorious.

Then we headed over to the Colosseum. We had roughly two hours to see Il Colosseo and grab lunch before meeting with the group again. With Amy's help, I added several pictures to my 30 Years Later project. As we walked around I sang her my fifth grade song about Italy.

We stayed at the Colosseum for an hour and 45 minutes and grabbed a sandwich from a stand on the way back. I wasn't expecting something delicious, but this was basically inedible. Amy agreed, so we threw our lunch in the trash and filled our stomachs with some gelato.

Then Erika led us through Rome.

Among other sites, we saw the Pantheon. The colossal dome that defines the building — constructed between 118 and 126 A.D. — was unbelievable. With a span of 43.2 meters (142 feet), it was the largest dome until Brunelleschi built the Florence Cathedral. The concrete walls are 20-25 feet thick. The circle at the top is 27 feet in diamater to give you an idea of the scale of this place. There's no window — it's completely open. Erika said when it rains, there is a column of water falling straight through the middle of the building. She said it's magnificent. I'll add that to the list of things I'd like to see before I die.
But I think the most astounding fact Erika told us about the Pantheon was that no one knows how the Romans did it. How they built this massive concrete dome with the technology of the time is still a mystery.
The picture to the right is one I took later that night when I passed it again. Erika said there was something magical about the structure at night. It's as if you feel more connected to the time it was built. She was right.


Our guided tour concluded at the Pantheon. We had the rest of the day free to explore on our own. But first, I had to take a nap. We all did. We had met at the train station at 7:45 a.m.
We got back out into the city around 6 p.m. Amy, Caitlin, Bethany and I walked around for a while and window shopped for a place to eat. We knew we wanted to splurge a little (When in Rome). Eventually we made our choice. We walked back to the hotel and picked up Erika and Yelena, then returned for a delicious meal. The special was bruschetta, any pizza/pasta and a homemade dessert for €16 euro. I got spinach ravioli, which was apparently too good for me to stop and take a picture.
The bruschetta and desert were however documented.

We met up with other students at a bar. It was a little bit too American for me. If I'm going to go out in Italy... I want to go out in Italy. Not somewhere I could find in Ohio. I didn't stay long. I need to rest up for the next day anyway. I snapped this photo on the way home.
Rome is amazing.


The next day we met in the lobby of the hotel at 9:30 a.m. to walk to the world's smallest country — Vatican City! Rocky Ruggiero, art history professor, guided us through the Vatican, telling us the meaning of the art and the history of the city. It renewed my sadness I'm not taking his class. We visited the Vatican Museum where the art was overwhelming. We all had earpieces and a small walkie talkie through which Rocky explained what we were seeing. It's a good thing he was there to guide us, pointing out highlights and speeding through certain rooms. Had he not been in charge, I would have been lost for days in a sea of tourists, tapestries, frescos and marble. We only skimmed the surface of the museum. We only visited a couple of dozen of the 10,000 rooms in the Vatican. You read that right. 10,000. I still can't believe it.

There was even contemporary art. We raced through that section. I really wish I could have seen more.

And then we went into the Sistine Chapel. As I type that my song still rings through my head. "In Vatican City, there is the Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo painted the ceiling." There were no pictures allowed. And I didn't see the point in risking getting kicked out to sneakily take a poor picture. So I just soaked in the art. My neck was sore from staring at the ceiling in silence. There are no words to describe it. I kept thinking about how much my grandmother, whose wedding ring I still wear on my finger every day, would have loved it. I miss her and the rest of my grandparents. Eventually Rocky took over the dull static in my ear to gather us in the back corner of the chapel, where he told us more about the ceiling, which took Michelangelo four years to complete. You can see his evolution as an artist as he works his way from the back to the front of the room. I wish I could go back. Since I couldn't take my own pictures, here are my mom's. I'm not sure if photos were allowed back then or not. I bet she was just a rebel.


Then we went into Saint Peter's Basilica. There aren't enough words to describe the enormity of that church.

But let's start with this. The tall brown structure at the alter at the very other end of the church is 103 feet tall. That's approximately 10 stories.

The entire church is so elaborate. Every inch is intricate and full of thought, like much of Italian historical churches and art.

See the base of the dome in the final picture? Amy and I walked up there. And then some.
The stairs started out wide and far apart.

We made it to the base of the dome. A cage blocked our view, but it was still amazing!

We thought that was as far as we could climb. But that was just the beginning. We kept going, and the stairs kept getting narrower and narrower. The hallway started to tilt with the curve of the dome.

We finally reached the narrowest of the stairs and the final ones. I was literally on all fours for this last part.

It was worth every step and the €5 it cost to climb. It was an absolutely gorgeous day. It was warm and clear. We could see for miles. I wanted to just stay up there and take in the sun and the view, but by that time it was past 3 p.m., and I had long burned off the pastry I ate for breakfast at 8 a.m. before I even started to climb the duomo. Food was an immediate need. I gazed out over the city for about 10 minutes before descending the stairs.

We found a small sandwich shop on a side-street as we headed back into the heart of Rome. The environment reminded me of an Italian version of Did's Deli. It was small and cozy, and a framed photo of a baby — undoubtedly a relative — told me it was a friends and family kind of place. The man was incredibly nice. As soon as we walked in, he pulled two chairs from the occupied tables and set them by the counter so we could sit. He taught me a couple of new Italian words as he made Amy and I mozzarella, tomato and zucchini sandwiches. They were so good. More than just a step up from Friday's sandwiches. But we had places to see and more stairs to climb, so we took our food to go and ate while walking like the true Americans we are. The brief few minutes we sat on his stools were the only ones we weren't on our feet from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
It turns out Amy does vacations like me: see everything you possibly can regardless of how hungry, exhausted and sore you are. Just. Keep. Going. I learned that technique from my dad. Don't miss a thing. Who knows when I'll see Rome again. I couldn't stand to leave and feel like I missed something.
So when everyone else went home after the Vatican to nap, I kept going, with Amy loyally by my side. I kept looking for my mom's photos and new things to explore.
Besides, if you push through long enough the pain in your feet and legs will dull to a numbness. Then you're golden.

We went back to the Forum, hoping to use our two-day tickets if they weren't on strike. But by the time we got there, they were closing. So we meandered around streets, up some random stairs. We headed over to the Colosseum and saw the Arco di Constantino. We walked up a hill just to see what was on the other side. We found our answer: four Italian men standing on the porch of a church judging us and looking at us as if we don't belong. So back down the hill we went and across a bridge over more ruins, onto the Fontana di Trevi and over to the Spanish Steps where we climbed more stairs to look out over the city from the top.

Finally, we climbed down the stairs and let our numb feet somehow carry us back to the hotel. One last flight of stairs to our rooms, and I got to sit. Or rather sprawl across the floor and not move for 10 minutes.... until we had to get ready for dinner. 
The program organized a four-course meal. Pasta, eggplant, salad, dessert. For free! Not really. It was again part of our fees, but nothing out of pocket for dinner, so I was happy.
Afterwards we went out to get drinks with Petra, our student adviser and probably the greatest person ever. 

We were hoping to go dancing but didn't find a discoteca. However, sitting down at a bar and talking to  Petra wasn't a bad alternative. Pretty soon Amy and I realized just how exhausted we were, so we headed back to the hotel. I don't even remember changing or getting into bed. I slept pretty well that night.


Saturday caught up with me and hit me with an incredible amount of force. I was alright to start. I got up, showered, fueled up with breakfast and coffee, and met Petra and Rocky downstairs with the rest of the group to get on the bus for the Galleria Borghese. Cameras were strictly prohibited. I had to check my camera and bag at the door. The only thing I walked around with was my coat and the headset through which Rocky continued to pick out the best pieces of art to admire and describe.
What hit me were the stairs. Those darn stairs. We had to go up a spiral staircase — our favorite! After two steps I could feel every single one from the day before. I made it to the top and scanned the crowd for Amy. Our eyes met and we gave each other a knowing look. No. More. Stairs. Please, anything but stairs.
It was a 15 minute bus ride to the museum. Afterward instead of climbing onto a bus as I had expected, we walked back into the city, passing various churches, monuments and the U.S. Embassy.
Although it wasn't as nice of a day as those prior, everything was still beautiful.

Santa Maria della Vittoria:

Rocky left us with almost 4 hours of free time.
We grabbed lunch. Amy and I split bruschetta, a margherita pizza and a bottle of water. It's becoming a tradition.
We visited Fontana di Trevi one last time.

Drinking from Fontana di Trevi 

Not thinking the two-day Forum ticket would work on Sunday, I left it in my luggage. So when the others went to finally see the ruins, I was stuck outside. Caitlin, who also didn't have her ticket with her, didn't want to go anywhere, but in true Lydia-traveling fashion, I refused to sit for my last half hour in Rome. So I did what any crazy person would do: climb some more stairs.
And it was glorious.

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