Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Group Walk

This past Monday, our small groups convened at various meeting points throughout the city to participate in guided walks put together by the undergraduates. My group (Carley, Kelley, Brooke, Brian, Traci, and Joe) met at Campo de Fiori to explore the morning market and then proceeded to several bars/cafes and a couple of other interesting sights as we walked north toward Piazza del Popolo. Everyone humored me (what great sports!) and allowed me to take photos in front of the fountain in Piazza della Rotonda (near the Pantheon).

Although the heat was extreme, everyone was in good spirits. We compiled our individual knowledges of Roman points of interest and took turns teaching and learning. I have included the aforementioned photo (purely for embarrassment purposes).

Jenny in the Big City

Last week, my friend Jenny sent me an e-mail that I was sure I was misreading. In the message, she said her employer would be sending her to Rome at the last minute for a conference. I wondered how this trip would come to fruition since she did not have a passport. Well, Jenny took care of all the necessary document business and landed in Rome last Thursday. After her long days working at the conference, I ran her ragged all over the city, trying to fit in as much as possible in the four-day span she was afforded in the Eternal City. It was an almost unreal experience to be the Roman tour guide for my close friend, especially since I have spent all of my time here with PSU folks until Jenny arrived (and they with me, of course--that can't be too much of a picnic). To get outside of the education abroad bubble was valuable, and in some ways, it refreshed my eagerness to experience Rome and in different ways (and to re-experience some of the sites I had visited previously). Evidence of our (mis)adventures can be found below.

Friday, June 20, 2008

It's hot . . .

Since we arrived in Rome six weeks ago, the weather has been a bit erratic--clear skies in the morning and downpours in the afternoon; one day it's scalding hot and the next, we need to wear jeans and sweaters to walk around the city. All this time, we've been waiting for the weather to conform to the information that past participants in the Rhetoric of Rome program provided us. Lucky us! It's finally happened (now, go back and read the two preceding two sentences sarcastically). We've had nothing but ninety degree weather (plus) for the past few days, and it looks like it will remain that way until the end of our brief semester. Keep up with the Roman weather here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Protestant" Cemetary

The "Protestant" cemetary isn't solely for Protestants . It's actually a cemetary for non-Catholics (it was originally restricted to Protestants and practicers of Orthodox faith), and it's located just a few blocks from our apartment in Testaccio. I went for the first time today with the crew of instructors and a few undergrads. The cemetary contains the graves of Antonio Gramsci, John Keats, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, some friendly cats who act as pseudo-keepers of the graves, and tons of colorful and smartly kempt but unkempt flora.

In order to be eligible to be buried in this cemetary (yes! it's still a possibility), one must be a non-Catholic or non-Italian national who was a resident of Rome or died near Rome ("FAQ"). As burial sites go, I preferred this one to the catacombs we visited on the Via Appia Antica (San Sebastiano). Perhaps I gave into the romanticism of the dead poets and intricate marble gravestones . . . nah, I'm sure it was the kitties.

"FAQ." The Non-Catholic Cemetary in Rome. 19 June 2008. 2008. .

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Musei Vaticani

Oh, the hours I passed today in the Vatican Museums. Aside from having to bump up against sweaty tour groups in a few of the rooms, this was a thoroughly enjoyable museum visit. I paid the extra six euro for the audio guide, which was completely worth it. It's difficult to do all the necessary (and unnecessary) preliminary research ahead of your visit because there is so much to see in these museums. Relying on the audio guide turned out to be a more than suitable alternative, and that fashionable lanyard around my neck was less cumbersome than carrying around my Eyewitness guide. My favorite fresco--the School of Athens in the Stanza della Segnatura.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On Your Honor, You Will Bike

Walking around Rome these past few weeks, I noticed some road work--or what appeared to be road work--where short, metal posts encompassing lots of colorful wires were being run into the ground in long rows. Two-ish days ago, I finally found out what the deal was. Rome has implemented a bike-sharing program, and oh, how I wish I could join (but alas, I leave in about ten days). The bikes are bright red (and super shiny at this point in their lifetime) with an all important basket in the front. I do enjoy walking and busing in Rome, but a bike would be a great option in a pinch, and with a bike-share program, can pick one up at various locations throughout the city whenever the mood strikes or it somehow becomes necessary. In the process of researching Roma'n'Bike online, I found a bike-sharing blog out of Washington, D.C. that recently posted some details (and a great photo of VIPs in suits on bikes), so I'll just link to it here.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Euro 2008

In case you were unaware, my dear readers, Euro 2008 is in full swing. Italy's performance thus far has not been stellar (a loss to the Netherlands, a tie with Romania), but we'll see what happens with France on Tuesday. Do check out this website if you have no idea what I'm talking about.

Città dei Ragazzi

Yesterday, we visited Città dei Ragazzi (Boys Town) in Rome--actually, it's a few longish bus rides outside the center. We were given a tour of the town, learned about its structural aspects (education, self-governance), and were educated on the founding. While Father Flanagan is the historic face of Boys Town in the U.S., Father Carroll-Abbing, an Irish priest, is responsible for the founding of Città dei Ragazzi in Rome. There is also a Girls Town, Città delle Ragazze, that was established when American actress Linda Darnell donated funds for Carroll-Abbing to do for the poverty-stricken girls of Rome what he had done for the boys.

Ostia Antica

top to bottom: "Can you spot the bug?" and "Mia in front of the Forum at Ostia"

Last Tuesday, we visited Ostia Antica as a class. This ancient port town is a little further away from Rome's busy city center, just a few stops out on the train from Ostiense (past the E.U.R.--Fascist suburbs are weird). There are some gorgeous ruins (lots of them) to see here, and having spent the previous weekend sandwiched between tour groups at another popular site for ruins--Pompeii--it was nice to meander through the wide open and virtually empty streets of Ostia Antica at my own pace. It is prohibited to pick the wildflowers growing in and about the town, or to climb on the ruins, so I had to exercise some restraint and settle for photos.

Bush Protest

As you may be aware, Dubya set out on his last "grand tour" of Europe this past week. Lucky us, he made a stop in Rome (you know, the usual Papal audience, blah, blah, blah), and we had the opportunity to attend a protest/march/demonstration in response to his visit on Wednesday afternoon. The initial meeting point was Piazza della Repubblica and, according to news reports, we were four (Hillary, Jessica, Mark, me) among only about 2,000 demonstrators. Anti-Bush protests in previous years have drawn folks in the tens of thousands. In spite of the smaller turnout, it was nice to see people gather, and under the banners of several important causes (and speaking many languages). Here are some photos.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Challenging Bidet Assumptions

Admit it. It's a word that make you snicker. You couldn't possibly be expected to have an adult conversation about a bidet. I say stop blushing and discover the utility of these little guys (I'm not quite sure why I've gendered them male)! Bidets are commonly found in Italian bathrooms, and yes, they were perhaps invented with a particular function in mind, but I shall attest to the fact that they are more than they seem to prudish (U.S.) Americans.

I spend a lot of time walking in Rome, and I sincerely enjoy it. The Eternal City is very pedestrian friendly (although one must be vigilantly on the lookout for scooters, buses, taxis, and Smart Cars when crossing the street). The best part about all of the walking: it's the sole reason that I feel no shame about eating gelato on an almost daily basis. Anyway, the point is that my sandal-clad feet tend to get a little dirty after a day's worth of walking around the city, and I hate to get into bed with dirty feet. No worries, though, for the bidet is great for doing the pre-lights out foot rinse. You laugh, but it's super convenient.

Bidets are also useful in terms of conserving bathing water. Rather than running the shower each morning or filling up the bathtub, some folks prefer to go the bidet route and use it as a wash basin. There is also plenty of information online about the bidet's functionality for elderly and/or disabled persons, for whom the bath tub/shower experience may not be feasible. Many sources note the (U.S.) American dissonance regarding their obsession with cleanliness and their simultaneous revulsion toward the bidet, which is considered elsewhere to be a means to achieving good hygiene.

The photo above is the bidet in our swanky bathroom at our hotel in Sorrento. I washed my feet in it after a day of traipsing about Southern Italy. Here's an online history about the subject. Still afraid of bidets?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Back in Rome

In spite of the mostly rainy weather this past weekend, Hillary and I enjoyed our trip to Sorrento (and while we were at it--Pompeii, Amalfi, and Capri). We passed a lot of time on one form of transportation or another--metro, bus, ferry, funicular (ATTN: Pittsburghers--that last word means "incline"), and I was mildly to more-than-mildly nauseated for most of the bus rides. I had not anticipated the amount of twists and turns that one must endure in order to get from one coastal town to another. In spite of the motion sickness, the trip was (of course) completely worth it. Please see evidence for this claim above.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Blogging to be continued . . .

This weekend (which is starting on Thursday, thanks to a short week of classes), Hillary and I are making our way south, to Sorrento. We're hoping to also do Pompeii and maybe Capri while we're there. This is the kind of trip that means no Internet access for a few days (which is fine with me), so I won't be blogging until Sunday (June 8th) at the earliest. I'm off to the land of lemons for now--back online soon. Arrivederci!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Some Photos

There are only so many things a traveling blogger can attend to, so here are a few images of Rome and beyond that I'd like to share with you (yes, you) and brief descriptions.

From top left: cappuccino freddo (mmm); Jerry Lewis DVD set at a newsstand (awesome); Immanuele Monument; marching Polizia (view from the Pincio); Jessica attempts to buy stamps at the Vatican (and fails); I am studious when I travel (on the train to Siena); Piramide di Caio Cestio (in Testaccio)

Two-Wheeled Observations

I have been a serious slacker in terms of my scooter/motorcycle posts, and one of the reasons is that it's difficult to get photos of the darn things in action. I will thus do my best to illustrate that Romans can accomplish tasks while driving these vehicles that put the cell phone conversation while driving your Ford Focus to shame.

The first feat of scooter multitasking that I witnessed on the streets of Rome occurred during our morning bus ride to the Sede di Roma. While we were stopped at a traffic light, a woman on a scooter next to the bus received a call on her mobile phone, answered it, placed the phone snugly between her helmet and her ear, and drove away engaged in a hands-free conversation. No Blue Tooth necessary here. Also, it was rather amazing to think that she could hear the person on the other end of the call above the noise of morning traffic.

The second observation worth noting is that scooter & motorcycle riders travel with animals on board. "Sure," you're thinking, "there's probably a basket or sidecar thingy that one can purchase for driving with the pets." Perhaps there is such an item for purchase, but that seems unnecessary when you can ride along with your parrot on your shoulder (Jessica actually saw this one) or your dog on the footrest (I saw this in Trastevere). Because the city traffic doesn't allow vehicles to travel too fast, I suppose this animal transport system works somewhat safely. Please do not try this at home, however.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Festa della Repubblica

Today is the Festa della Repubblica. It is the anniversary of June 2nd, 1946--the day that Italy became a republic (just thought I'd spell it out for you). Streaming into the open windows of our apartment last night, we could hear the sounds of the extended celebrations--including fireworks and late night/early morning conversations--that were taking place on Via Ginori and beyond.

This morning, the streets of Testaccio were eerily bare by contrast. Only the dog-owners were out and about for their morning walks, and the shutters were pulled on nearly every business. We were happy to find that the buses were running on normal schedules, and the 95 was forced only slightly off course in order to accommodate a parade route. Although Rome looked a bit like a ghost town in some spots, the presence of Carabinieri and Polizia was almost overwhelming. Check out Allison Columbus' blog for more information on the different types of police in Rome.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Cremolatta di Frutta

I've been eating more than a fair amount of gelato lately. While I have been thoroughly enjoying trying a different flavor every time (my favorite is the cannella--cinnamon--at Giolitti), it's nice to break up the dessert pattern every once in a while. After our long walk on Via Appia Antica on Saturday, Hillary and I tried a gelato substitute at the Cafe du Parc, near the bus stop at Ostiense. Cremolatta di frutta is basically an enhanced fruit experience (and when I say "enhanced," I mean there's a ton of sugar in it). It's thicker than Italian ices that we usually get in the U.S., full of fruit chunks, and has a goopy consistency--I think goopy captures it. I had fragola--strawberry--and it tasted quite a bit like strawberry shortcake. Man, I'm going to miss Italy.

Appia Antica

Since I was too whooped to participate in sightseeing activities on Friday (there was extended napping--I'll say no more), I was happy to get back into the swing of things on Saturday morning (see the smiling evidence above). The weather was just about perfect for walking along Appia Antica, on the outskirts of Rome. There, we had lots of beautiful scenic moments, saw a ton of random ruins, and ended the day with a tour of the catacombs of San Sebastiano. This trip was a welcome respite from the indoor sights and large touring groups within the city proper.

We walked just a small portion of the ancient street--one can only make it so far on cobblestones (unless you're the Roman woman who was doing the whole thing in wedge sandals). Renting a bike from one of the nearby vendors is probably the best way to see more on Appian Way, especially for outdoorsy folks who want to make a longer day of it. There are plenty of water fountains along the path, which we shared with cars, horses, runners, dogs, and bikers. Touring the catacombs after a few hours in the sun was a nice choice (it probably sounds weird to say it was "nice" in the catacombs)--it is substantially cooler several meters below ground. The church of San Sebastiano above-ground is small but it houses two sculptures, by Bernini and one of his pupils, that are worth passing a little time inside.