Friday, June 27, 2008

Piazza Walk

On Tuesday our small group did a walk around the north part of town. Our first stop was Piazza del Popolo, which was thankfully located near my new apartment so I did not have much of a walk. Today was excruciatingly hot, easily the hottest day since we have arrived in Rome. In my short walk to this piazza, I was already sweating bullets. While walking around this piazza, I attempted to find any spots that were covered in shade. From Popolo, we moved onto our next destination: Piazza Espagna. It was kind of bizarre seeing the Spanish Steps this early, as there were not many people there. Usually this area is packed with both tourists and Italians, but around 10 AM it is actually a peaceful area. We filled up our water in the nearby fountain, took a break in the shade, and then braved the sun as we headed to our final piazza. The final stop on our journey was the Piazza Republica, which is the area where many of the Italian rallies and protests are held. For instance, when President Bush came to Rome the piazza was covered with protestors waving their posters and belting out anti-Bush chants. This is a very beautiful piazza, and one I did not get to see very often because it is not very close to our apartment. This was a fun walk despite the heat, because it forced us to visit spots that we did not frequent often. It was nice going to different areas since this was my last week in Rome.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Vatican Museum

It took a little over a month and a half, but I finally made my way to the Vatican Museum. It was one of the hotter days of the summer, and the walk was far. By the time I finally entered, I was dripping sweat and anxious to enter the air-conditioned halls. After rinsing the sweat off my face in the bathroom, I was prepared to begin my expedition through one of the most famous museums in the world.

I did not go until later in the afternoon, so the crowd was extremely managable. I could easily maneuver through the halls and was never pushed around. Although many guidebooks suggest going early in the morning, I would actually suggest going in the late afternoon.

The museum lived up to all of my hype. There was so much amazing artwork that it was almost overwhelming. Everywhere I turned something grabbed my attention. As a result, it took nearly three hours to explore the entire museum. I would also strongly suggest the purchase of the audio tour. Nearly every piece of art has a story, and the audio guide does an excellent job of explaining these stories.

No More Cheap Coffee

Although I was never a heavy coffee drinker in America, I would sometimes need it to survive the long and arduous school days. I never really liked the way in tasted, or how you would have to sip it little by little because it was steaming hot. As a result, I never drank it for enjoyment, instead only out of sheer necessity. In Italy, everything changed. I love the quick shots of espresso and the relatively cheap prices. For a euro, I get all of the artificial energy that I need daily in order to brave the early morning wake-up calls. I also really enjoy the taste and friendly service, which will add to my sadness of no more Italian cafes.

I will miss this in the States. I can not see myself going to Starbucks or another coffee shop and spending a decent chunk of change on coffee I do not even care for. My only worry is that I did not become like many Americans: caffeine dependent. I have had some sort of coffee almost every morning for seven weeks, so it would not be too suprising. But I am still holding out hope that I will be able to survive the nine-to-five workday without the aid of American coffee.

Tourist Season

When I first arrived to Rome, I was initially overwhelmed by the hectic city lifestyle. I have never lived in a city before, so the swarms of people driving and walking through the city was different than the sprawling atmosphere that I grew up in. However, after a week or two I learned how to navigate some certain areas properly and I became accustomed to the city. Things no longer seemed too overly crowded, and grew to love living in a city.

However, over these past two or three weeks I have noticed that the downtown areas near school have become far more crowded. Places like Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon are constantly packed with tourists from all over the world, especially during the afternoon. It is interesting walking around these areas because of the numerous languages that you will hear being spoken. It is safe to assume that we are entering the prime tourist season, which also coincides with the recent influx of extreme heat.

Bank Adventure

For the first time, I randomly received a 100 Euro bill from the ATM. The giant green bill was neat to hold, knowing that the flimsy piece of paper that I was clenching in my hand was worth around 150 dollars. However, my puerile ecstasy quickly evaporated when I remembered the difficulty I would ensue while attempting to find a store that would accept this bill. Most stores do not even break fifties, so using this bill on a random purchase was out of the question. My only option was to enter a bank and change the bill there.

Of course, this was quite the experience. I nervously opened the door at the entrance, simply hoping that the teller would speak English, which would alleviate some of the hassle. Little did I know that the potential language barrier would have no impact on my first time in an Italian bank. As I grabbed a numbered ticket and waited in line, I was glad to see that there was only one man in front of me. When number 164 was announced, the middle-aged man calmly approached the teller. I only had fifteen mintues before class started, so I hoped this would be a swift transaction.

The oppisite occurred. The conversation between the two Italians was initially cordial, but the situation promptly turned sour. Within two minutes, the customer began yelling at the teller. The teller responded while yelling louder. Then the customer started to pound his fist on the desk, which meant the teller had to increase his voice one more decibel. Through it all, no one else in the bank budged. They continued with their work, like this was a normal occurance. Usually in the States, if something turns this ugly a manager comes and intervenes. I have also never seen a worker yell back at a customer either, so this was a completely shocking experience.

After about ten minutes of yelling, I realized that I was low on time and this argument made no progress. I had to leave for class, and hope that next time I try to break my bill I will not encounter this again.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

They Missed Me

Earlier this week, I was not feeling too well and as a result I overslept by about ten minutes. After quickly changing and brushing my teeth, I made a mad dash to our tram stop. Luckily, my timing was impeccable and a tram was waiting at the bottom. I arrived to class on time, but sadly I did not have time to stop at the Gi-Ma for my morning shot of espresso. Needless to say, class was a struggle without my temporary injection of energy.

The next day, I made sure to wake up a little earlier so I would not have to battle my morning drowsiness. When I walked in, the woman behind the counter smiled and came to hear my order. As she handed me my cafe latte, she attempted to say "We missed you yesterday." It was a little broken, but I could make out the message. This made me feel good, as it is like I have finally be initiated into the secret coffee society of Gi-Ma. They expect my business around 8:45 AM, and if I am not there they actually notice. Sadly I leave in a week, so they will lose my loyal business.

I am not Italian

Anytime I see an Italian walk towards me, I promptly know what is coming. They are about to either ask me a question or start conversing with me. After they finish talking, I give them a blank, confused look back and simply shrug. However, I am not the only one who feels awkward after these exchanges. Usually the Italian person is visibly ashamed for mistaking me as an Italian. This is very understandable, as I am sure that they do not necessarily feel good about not being able to pick out people of their own ethnicity.

The confusing thing about these mishappenings are that I do not dress anything like a young Italian man. I wear tee shirts, shorts, sandals, and walk much differently than them. For the most part, my Italian counter parts dress much sharper and they have a certain sense of style, something I completely lack. As a result, it amazes me that these awkward encounters are still happening on a regular basis.