Friday, December 14, 2012

Grazie Roma!

by the time this post goes live, I will be on a plane flying home. this is my thank you note, my love letter to Rome, and a promise to return. it was a heck of a semester.

dear Roma,

thank you for hosting me for three and a half months while I studied abroad. I wasn't sure what to expect when I arrived, but I am leaving with all my expectations blown away by my time here. thank you for letting me learn from you, for letting me explore your holy monuments and historical sites. thank you for making me feel uncomfortable: every challenge I overcame taught me something about myself. thank you for becoming comfortable to me: I will miss my familiar streets. I enjoyed your cuisine immensely, and thank you for helping me add on a carbohydrate layer that will keep me warm this winter. thank you for being a port to the other fantastic places I got to visit this semester.

I love how busy this city is. you are an international city with complicated feelings about globalizing. I love that your citizens are so friendly and so funny. I love that they entertained my efforts at Italian. I love your traditional piatti of carbonara, gricia, amatriciana, arrabbiatta, bruschetta, and carciofi giudia. your gelato has made it difficult for me to love ice cream the same way. I love your steadfast commitment to tradition. I love all the beautiful art that you have produced and patronized over the centuries, and I love that it is (mostly) available to the public (looking at you, French embassy). I love your piazzas and your markets and your churches. I love your weird quirks even when they make my life harder.

at the start of my time here, I tossed two coins into the Fontana di Trevi, one for love and two for a return to Roma, which means it has to come true because I can't bear the thought that I'll never see you again. promise you'll get your stuff together economically so I can come back home here. because surprisingly, inadvertently, somehow, you became a new home, and it would be too sad to not return. 

thanks so much for the adventures and the memories of a lifetime. I'll be back Roma!


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Favorite places in Rome

I lived in the Eternal City for a full 3 and 1/2 months, and while that doesn't qualify me quite yet as a local I managed to find some places to eat, shop, drink, and hang out that I really enjoyed. here's my list, kept for my personal records and memory's sake but also because possibly they will be helpful to somebody out there on the internet. starred ones are places my friends all loved but I never made it to, probably because I was sick for half my time here, but I've left them on this list so I can go when I come back to Rome (one day).

I feel like there's a lot of pressure in this category to pick the 'best restaurants in Rome.' I certainly didn't get around to eating at every place recommended by Trip Advisor or Fodors, and I ate a lot of good places that aren't on this list, but these are simply some of the places I did eat at and enjoyed immensely. note: you need a reservation at a lot of these places after 7:30 PM!
- Zi'Umberto's in Trastevere - get their gricia, their carbonara, their risotto or the pasta with mushrooms and peas and sausage, I forget its name. the fried cauliflower antipasto is also great.
- Da Enzo - incredible carbonara, the amatriciana is apparently good too. get the buffala mozzarella caprese as a starter, you will not regret it.
- Dar Poeta - everything is good, but anything that has their buffalo mozzarella is a guaranteed winner. my favorite crust in Rome, Remo's was really good too if a little salty.
- La Tavernaccia - great carbonara, family owned and quintessentially Roman
- Volpetti in Testaccio - gourmet meat and cheese shop, also sells arancini/suppli, pizzas, lots of other delicious things and owned/worked by the friendliest sweetest Italian guys
- When In Rome in Trastevere - home to the great American breakfast, good if you're craving eggs and sausage and toast as an expat
- Forno in Campo dei Fiori - not a restaurant, but a great bakery. get their pizza bianca! 0.80 euro will get you a slice.
-La Carbonara*
- Cul de Sac wine bar*
- Da Felice*, Testaccio

bars (otherwise known as "caffes") - don't pay more than 1.50 euro for a cappuccino in Rome!
- Barberini in Testaccio - best cappucino in the area/the world, amazing cookies (anything with a shortbread cookie = to die for), great gelato
- Caffe Sant'Eustachio - near the Pantheon, they pre-sweeten their cappucino and it is really good
- Tazzo d'Oro - near the pantheon. the only place to sell espresso granite all year round, amazing whipped cream and the granite is so yummy. granite as in "grah-nee-tay" and not granite the stone. singular: granita.

bars & clubs
this category is probably less a 'best bars in Rome' list than it is a list of 'where study abroaders go to drink,' but nonetheless for memories sake I shall record them here. this is where either I went or my friends went on a regular basis. also, I realized as I wrote this list that I spent about half my weekends in places other than Rome, so I'm not really much of an expert on Roman nightlife to begin with.
- La Femme, Trastevere - strong pitchers that come with a free shot, other 2 euro shots
- Scholars - the boys went here a lot to watch sports on TV, always full of study abroaders and locals. karaoke on wednesdays is highly recommended
- MOOD - this is the joke on the list, because everybody goes to mood and yet nothing good ever happens inside
- Gilda - supposedly Roman footballers on AS Roma come here, I wouldn't know if I'd seen one
- On the Rox in Testaccio - I actually only went once, at the start of the program, but their drinks are stiff and the atmosphere is fun, plus Testaccio is pretty cool
- Sloppy Sams in Campo di Fiori - not too sketchy and plays international (read: American) music
- Chocolate Bar*
***Drunken Ship in Campo di Fiori - stay outta here!!! it's dangerous! 

- Frigidarium - you are required to try their signature flavor, 'frigidarium.' I'm more of a fruit-flavored gelato girl but every single darn time I get frigidarium flavor with either pistacchio, tiramisu, or baccio (hazelnut) flavor. they'll also dip the whole scoop into chocolate, which is to die for.
- Old Bridge - the BEST strawberry (fragole) gelato I ever had, and they had pineapple too. I'd trek to the Vatican just to have this giant cone of deliciousness again. 

- Via del Corso and its sidestreets - home to a gigantic Zara (and two other smaller ones), a two-story Brandy Melville, and a whole lot of smaller boutiques and big name-brand stores like H&M, Gap, Le Group, Mango, and Accessorize (basically the Claires of the UK/Europe)
- Via Condotti - the most upscale shopping in Rome, but really fun for window shopping
- Trastevere - during the day there are lots of cute clothing stores, bakeries, services like hair cutting, etc, to wander into
- Porta Portese market - pop-up flea market every Sunday until 2PM, full of clothes, knockoff designer stuff, leather goods, electronics, accessories, literally everything you could think of
- Campo di Fiori market - farmers market set up in Campo di Fiori every morning, but there are also home appliances/furnishings, clothes, and flowers.

- Piazza Navona - lots of cafes, great for people watching. during the day there's something like an outdoor gallery where artists set up their easels and you can buy their art
- Trevi Fountain - because it's beautiful
- Vatican Pinacoteca - the Vatican painting gallery is full of seriously amazing pieces. if you aren't blown away in every room you didn't do enough research before you went.
- Temple of the Vestal Virgins - it's pretty amazing how much of it still stands, my favorite part of the ancient Roman forum
- Piazza di Spagna - shopping, the Steps, the Borghese gardens nearby, and of course LADUREE, the best macarons in the world are sold near here
- Museo Nazionale - contains some very, very famous ancient Roman sculpture like Myron's Discobolus
- Castel Sant'Angelo - the view from the top is the best, ever
- Janiculum Hill - another great view of the city
- Borghese Gallery - contains Titian's Sacred and Profane love, as well as a massive collection of Bernini's masterpieces. worth seeing but book tickets in advance!

- St John Lateran - breathtaking Baroque design is what you see first, but the layers on this church is what makes it really fascinating for historians. almost every period of Roman art is represented here
- St Peter's - don't miss Michelangelo's Pieta, Bernini's sculpture, or the Raphael Transfiguration reproduction that if you look closely you can see was done in mosaic. and if you can, arrange a tour of the crypt below St. Peter's to see ancient Roman mausoleums and even the bones of St. Peter himself.
- Sta Maria del Popolo - the Chigi chapel by Raphael and the Cerasi chapel by Caravaggio
- Sant'Ignazio - an incredible Baroque ceiling
- Oratorio del Gonfalone - it used to house a confraternity. called the Mannerist Sistine Chapel, really cool to see 
- Santa Maria sopra Minerva - Michelangelo's Risen Christ, Lippi's beautiful Carafa chapel
- San Pietro in Vincoli - contains the tomb of Julius II and Michelangelo's Moses, and the relic contained here are the chains that Peter was bound with... cool stuff

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Florence was the city that, aside from Rome, I got to know the best during my time here. I visited on four separate occasions and I am so glad I did - the city is much more medieval than Rome is and much smaller. it's completely navigable on foot and it's the place where the Renaissance was born. I would have loved to live in Florence, even though it is small. here's what I saw in Florence.

Piazza della Repubblica: lots of cafes and shopping not pictured. on the other side of the arch is the old city center of Florence and the Arno

Arno River: really beautiful river with several bridges you can cross. 

Santa Croce. contains the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli. there's some great pieces by Giotto inside too. 

Tomb of Michelangelo, self explanatory. 

Orsanmichele. Orsanmichele is a great museum and church, and the exterior of the museum is beautiful. plus its right in the middle of a busy shopping and restaurant street. 

I Fratellini, a great sandwich shop near Orsanmichele. some people say it's overrated, others say it's the best panino in Florence: I'm more in the second camp. I've always enjoyed the sandwiches I got there!

Bargello Gallery. contains LOTS of stunning pieces of sculpture, including Michelangelo's Bacchus and Donatello's David.

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, this is the Florentine Pieta/Deposition by Michelangelo. 

The original Doors to Paradise by Ghiberti, also in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.

Santissima Annunciata. beautiful, beautiful church.

I hiked up to the top of the Duomo! I got really dizzy coming down and was definitely huffing and puffing.

but it was all worth it to get a closer look at the Last Judgment on the dome, this one by Vasari and Zucchero. it's a shame it's so hard to see from the ground level.

so high up!

even with the clouds, Florence is beautiful

Piazza della Signorina. this building is the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence. just to the right of this photograph is the Uffizi.

Replica of Michelangelo's David, Bandinelli's Hercules and Cacus, and Cellini's Perseus and Medusa (one of my favorites). 

If you're ever in Italy don't leave without seeing Florence! It can be done in a day or two and is my favorite place in Italy. Tuscan food is delicious and of course, the leather markets here are famous. I saw other places besides the ones pictured, of course: San Marco is beautiful and has the famous Annunciation by Fra Angelico, the Uffizi gallery was one of my favorite museums I saw, Casa Buonarroti is small but lovely, Accademia has not only the David but also Michelangelo's unfinished Apostles, Santa Maria Novella which houses works by just about every famous painter of the period you can think of (Masaccio, Botticelli, Lippi, Bronzino, Pisano, Ghiberti, Duccio, Vasari, etc), and of course a fair amount of clothing shops and restaurants. If I were to go again I'd want to go the Boboli gardens, the Pitti Palace, and the Piazza di Michelangelo which is a little outside the city but has the best view of Florence.

mi mancherai, Firenze! alla prossima volta.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Things I miss about home + things I will miss about Rome

my time abroad is quickly coming to a close. final papers are being turned in (...eventually), I'm scrambling to cross off bucket-list items, and Christmas music rings through the halls. people ask me a lot if I will be sad to leave or if I'm ready to get outta here, and the truth is it's a combination of both. I will be heartbroken to leave Rome. it's been an incredible semester and I still can't wrap my mind around how lucky I have been to see all the things I've seen. I've gotten to travel to so many cool places I never thought I'd ever make it to, I've seen ancient monuments and spectacular art, eaten SO much good food and made some great friends. I don't know when the next time in my life will be that I will get to travel so much in Europe.

that being said, I miss home terribly and I expect that by the time I need to pack up my little single room and head home, I will be ready to leave. here's a short list of some things I miss about home followed by a list of what I will miss the most about Rome.

- my family, especially my smelly dog tinkerdink
- being able to drive anywhere I want
- having a functional phone
- basically every ethnic food there is but especially Mexican
- my full wardrobe, I'm sick of wearing the same four sweaters every day
- on that note, my jewelry and makeup. why did I only bring one color eye shadow?
- craft beer (blue moon I am coming for you)
- having a refrigerator
- free laundry
- being skinny...well, skinnier
- Oxy!! I miss my friends so much and I miss campus life so much I am so excited to be back!

- the FOOD! pasta, pizza, cappuccini, GELATO, the cheeses and the cold cuts (back to vegeterianism once I'm in the States!), suppli and arancini, the cookies (I will possibly miss the cookies the most)
- having the freedom to travel and sightsee and explore Rome
- proximity to other cool countries
- the three story Zara
- Borghese Gardens, the museums, the piazzas
- jaywalking
- being legal to order a drink with dinner
- and of course, my program - the people, the friends, the faculty and the nice man at the front desk of the hotel that orders my takeout food, kills bugs for me, and fixes my broken umbrellas.

things I won't miss about Rome include the fact that nothing is open on sundays or mondays and the national propensity for running over pedestrians. vehicles 3, Madi 0. also the portion of the European community that doesn't accept body odor as a real thing and won't wear deodorant. and the buses at rush hour.

to do: eat at restaurants I STILL haven't made it to yet, pick up presents for friends and family at home, and finish this darn paper about Michelangelo. sidenote: thanks readers for getting this little bloggy to 1,200 views! my mind is boggled (bloggled?) that that many people have read my rambles. love you all.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving... Roma style

yesterday was Thanksgiving, and while families all over the States (mine included) cooked all day and watched the game and enjoye each others' company, our group of American expats in Rome watched our Facebook newsfeeds fill with Instagrammed pictures of reunions with dogs and tables full of food. feeling a bit homesick, we headed to our formal dinner party at the convent...

...which turned out to be really fun! the convent dining hall had been transformed, with flattering lighting and long covered tables. it was definitely an Italian Thanksgiving, with antipasti including bruschetta and a meat & cheese plate, then our first course (primi) was ravioli followed by penne arrabbiata. second course was the TURKEY with spinach as a side vegetable, and dessert was an apple cake, presumably an interpretation of apple pie.

our table

our program director cutting the turkey

it was a lovely dinner. people gave nice speeches and most of our professors even came, which was so fun! I wish it could have lasted longer, but all that wine was making me sleepy. if you have time, try the sparkling wine called Fior d'Arancia, which means orange blossom. it's sweet and sparkly and the best ever. 

happy Thanksgiving to all in the states! I'm thankful for a lot this year. don't all kill yourselves Black Friday shopping. 


last weekend, I had a class trip to Brussels, Belgium! I went with my European Union class and the Public Finance kids came too. the purpose of the trip was to see first-hand the legislative bodies of the EU: the Commission and the Parliament.

our first night in Brussels, the night we arrived, we got Asian food! such a nice change from Italian. I had Vietnamese pho, and while it wasn't quite as good as some I've had at home it more than satisfied the lack of Vietnamese food in my life lately.

the second day, we headed to the European Commission in the morning for a talk about the CAP and just some general discussion about the EU and the Commission. we had lunch at the Commission cafeteria, then were free to explore Brussels.

the Commission building

I really loved Brussels. it was chilly and a little windy, but the city itself was so clean and beautiful. I liked that it was a very international city (as the seat of the EU, go figure), and the local foods were right up my alley - sugary waffels, french fries, and beer! I tried a bunch of different beers while I was there, and I wish I'd written them down for later reference - next time. the waffels are delicious, they're baked with sugar crystal chunks in the batter so when you bite in there's a bit of a crunch. yum.

bonjour Bruxelles!

anyway, we did some shopping, some eating, and a lot of drinking, all of which was very fun.

the next day was similar. we headed to the European Parliament for a brief overview of the structure and workings of the Parliament, then we went to the Parliamentarium which is this pretty cool museum that helps you learn about the history of the EU and the Parliament. I played a fun game where you had to see how many Parliament members you could seat before time ran out. then we got lunch and then heard a brief talk from a member of a research team of a DG about what it was like to live and work in Brussels. afterwards, we went back to the hotel room, watched some MTV music videos, then headed out again for dinner and drinking. dinner was seafood at maybe the most random restaurant in the world, where the ladies got sugary sweet champagne and the men got beer. the sexism was not lost on me, but at least the food was good. if you go to brussels, you must eat mussels and chips!

it felt like a short weekend but it was a lot of fun to be with almost our whole program and eat lots of delicious things! I'll be back for you Brussels!

ps. it's so cool that everybody in Brussels speaks English, French, AND Dutch! wish I were that cool.

Monday, November 12, 2012

How My Rome Experience Is Like The Lizzie McGuire Movie... and How It Isn't

hopefully, you've seen the internationally acclaimed, saccharine sweet teen flick The Lizzie McGuire Movie. as the first Disney Channel Original Series to get a movie, and as a film set in Rome and therefore joining the ranks of films like Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita, The Lizzie McGuire Movie certainly had high expectations to live up to. as a pivotal movie of my childhood (to this day I can sing every song off the soundtrack), it set my own expectations for my study abroad trip very high. some of these expectations have been realized, others have not been. here is my evaluation of how close my Rome experience has been to Lizzie's.

Shared experience 1: I visited the Colosseum!

this would never happen.

Shared experience 2: I wandered in beautiful gardens!

not with an Italian pop star, however.

Shared experience 3: I magically got over my fear of stage fright and sang with my doppelganger/CGI double of myself on an international stage in front of thousands of fans who weren't confused when two of me showed up!

calm down ladies, I'll hang around for autographs after the show.

okay, that last one didn't happen.

"Lizzie got everything you're supposed to get when you go to Europe. Adventure, romance, total confidence..." - Kate Saunders

here's hoping I leave Rome with everything Kate Saunders thinks I should have gotten! if it's not Kate approved, I don't want it.