Sunday, August 31, 2008

August Musings

Today marks the end of August in Rome, which is quite a thing to think about. I've been gone for almost two weeks and about to enter a new month here, which is always kind of refreshing. August is great, it's always gorgeous and warm (although warm here is taken to a new level), and it's the heart of the summer.

With September always comes change, and I'm excited for that change. Kirsten leaves today and she begins life in Europe on September 1st (I think that's kind of cool, personally. August was one country, September a new one), and I start more Italian tomorrow as well. My birthday is in just over two weeks on the 16th, and I'm really pretty laid back when it comes to this one. I know my birthday is going to be very non-traditional as far as I've come to know it, but last year, I went to bed early on my birthday to drive to school, the year before it, I moved into college on it, and this year, I'll wake up in Athens and come back to Roma in the evening.

So I'm leading a pretty good life, no question about it. I mean, I go here to meet people. Who can complain about that part? I saw Travis and Camille last night again for an excellent Gnocchi, Bruschetta, and Chocolate Mousse Cake dinner, but with excellent tends to come expensive. 20 Euro is the standard for a good meal, but 20 euros is 30 bucks. When was the last time I spent 30 bucks on a meal just for myself (outside of last week at the Colosseum?) It's been quite a long time.

Everything over here is more expensive. It's just the way of the world. The Euro may be worth 1.5 dollars, but it's buying power is the equivalent of 1 dollar in the United States, if that makes sense. So say a chocolate bar is a dollar in the US; it's also a euro here. See my dilemma? I mean, yes, Wine is very cheap, criminally so, as in like a euro or so a bottle, depending on what you get. Cheese is pretty fair too, as Parma isn't all that far away. Oh, and Mozzerella? Looks like ice cream here. This picture is your basic lunch, Prosciutto, Bread, Mozzerrella, etc. Yum. Gelato, or Italian Ice Cream, is pretty fair too, roughly the same as in the US, and it tastes better, which is nice. Milk is expensive, like to the tune of about 6.00 euro, or about 9 bucks a gallon. Yeah. I pay about 1.50 or so for a liter about every other day.

The food is excellent, yes, and people over here put a premium on it. But if the dollar and euro were equal value, I'd be ok with it. It's just expensive to do everything already, and add that little conversion, it can be enough to make you cringe. My cell phone is another scary bill. I called Kirsten from Germany when I got there for 5 minutes and it cost something like 10 euro. OUCH. But it's not tooooo bad here, but that one charge makes my statement look worse. No worries though, won't be making that mistake again any time soon, so all of you looking to call me when I'm roaming, let me call you.

But just because it's expensive doesn't mean I'm not enjoying it. It's just really hard to budget over here and try to make sure you don't just eat well because you can, but to make sure you don't overspend is tough. Oh, another interesting thing:

Laundry? Like whoa expensive. 4 euro a load (remember, 6 bucks) to wash and 4 to dry. I have to walk 5 blocks to do it too, but I haven't yet. I think Tuesday will be a good day for that. I won't dry much I don't think, especially since it's so hot, but still, yikes. I washed a few things in the sink to try it out and it looks like it works ok, but a laundry machine will be necessary sometimes.

As far as having like hygiene and toiletries stuff, everyone over here washes their hair and brushes their teeth just like we do, so the stuff is pretty easy to find. Pantene Pro-V? Definitely exists, same bottles, same everything. Again, with the Euro-ouch to it, but nothing too horrible. But yes, such is the life here in Italy. We do get new towels once every few days or so when we get our apartment cleaned, which is nice, considering I shower often with the heat here.

But right now, I'm more just excited for Kirsten getting to leave and have lots and lots of fun. In honor of her leaving, I say syncharitiria and good luck! A picture to commemorate you leaving! To the rest of you, until next time,


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sistine Round Two


I know yesterday's blog wasn't all that exciting, sometimes, you just gotta live it and there's not a whole lot to say. I hope today's works a little bit better for everyone and that there is something cool to see here.

Last night, I went out and met Travis and Camille, my friends from San Diego, for dinner and just general catch-up time, which was really nice. It's crazy that we can just meet up somewhere half a world away and ta-da, we're together again. We went out and had an excellent dinner, albeit it excellent and 4 courses plus gelato does not come for free. It's expensive, like most everything here if you want to eat out. When you have company, you do, but it's about 5 times more expensive to eat out, if not 10 times. Yeah.

But anyway, we had a bottle of wine and chatted out in Rome, caught up, and talked about all the good stuff we've missed since we left school in June, which was great. We had awesome gelato and saw a little of Roma at night, like the beautiful Castel Sant-Angelo and the Vatican, which is always so beautiful.

When I got back, I had literally 1 minute to get my shoes back on after I'd taken them off to head back out again, since my roommates wanted to go out and get a drink out by the Spanish Steps and check out the nightlife a bit on a Friday. So, we hopped on the Metro and went out to Piazza Espagne, or pretty much Rome's meeting place to meet up with some friends. We all met up and looked around for no joke, about 45 minutes, trying to find a bar or anywhere we could just get a drink, sit down, and see the world go on around us. We did eventually find a place, but as I said earlier, drinks often cost more per drink than an entire bottle would be at the store, but it's about the company and the experience, and both were great.

Our drink took surprisingly almost an hour, and it was just the four of us, A.J (an apartment mate of mine), Alex (another apartment mate) and Marcela, a girl in our program. We just all sat and talked until almost midnight (then again, we went out at like 10) and decided it was time to go home and sleep. It's so hot here that staying up late without napping is nearly impossible.

So I went out and saw Roma at night, slept, got up, and back to Travis and Camille today. We went and checked out St. Pietro's since they hadn't seen it yet, and man, it's really fun showing off 'my city' as Camille referenced it one time. I've been here 10 days and yet I feel like I know it so well, I can really get to and from anywhere I've been pretty easily, it's fun. Camille didn't have long enough shorts to go in apparently, but we snuck on by the barrier to head in anyway, and Camille was promptly rewarded by God pushing her over on the marble steps. God, it seems, wants shorts to be past the knee, not at them. Take note!

But inside, it was beautiful, as always. It's my third time inside now and every time I go I am less awestruck and more just at ease. Familiarity does that to you I suppose. I mean, I am still in awe, but it's just never like the first time when you're just overwhelmed with the sights and grandeur. My blog houses those reactions, and it's forever captured there, but everytime you go, you see something new, or the lighting looks different, and it's awe-inspiring all over again.

We then got some Pizza and Gelato for lunch, which was excellent, as always, but I was so, SO full I could hardly walk afterwards. It was 33 degrees celcius today too, meaning almost 95, and man, it felt it. We cooled down and they wanted to go to the Sistine Chapel, and although I'd been there just 2 days ago, I thought eh, I'm only in Rome for four months and it's the most beautiful church in the world and probably one of the most famous, what's 8 euro with friends (that thinking? It gets costly. And FAST).

But we went in and I took more pictures, just cause I could. The sculptures didn't get any less fantastic, the walls less adorned, the ceilings less intricate; it was all just so cool all over again. It felt like we were breezing through it, but again, an hour and a half later, we reached the Sistine Chapel and they reminded us again, no pictures.

I had to try though, right?

And try I did.

I feel like this is as good as it's going to get, people. You can totally see God Creates Adam in one of the panels, and overall, for having to really hide my picture taking, I'm pretty proud of my documentation to be honest. Could it be clearer? Sure. Could it be better taken? Any picture can be.

But does it show it off a bit? Yeah, it does. I was there, under those Frescoes, and I've been there twice now, which is two times more than most people will, and for that, it reminds me how lucky I am in my life.

So we spent a good ten minutes in Cappella Sistina before making the trek out and checking out a few more walls and designs before making our way back out to the streets of Roma. We're meeting up for dinner soon at their hotel, and I'm really tired, but it's not going to be too late a night I don't imagine.

Anyway, hope this was a bit more fun than yesterday's was, and until next time, I just want to part with this little nugget: What's McCain thinking? I mean, your biggest knock on Obama is that he's inexperienced and you, a 72 year old man, put a 16 month termed governor of ALASKA as your VP, a heart-beat away from the Presidency? What judgment. Anddddd end rant.

Until next time, Ciao.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Tests and Fridays


Today leaves little time for blogging. I've made it every day since I've been here, but today looks as if it's going to be rather sparse when it comes to picture posting excitement. And for that, I am sorry. I'm sure I'll have more pictures come the weekend, and maybe I'll just toss up a few of my favorites so far that you may have not seen to this point. But I thought I'd just mention a little thing or two before I set out for my evening.

Italy has a very, very volatile election system, and every time parties jostle for power, somebody is angry and unlike in America, they just strike to show their frustrations. For example, there's a bus line here that doesn't run from 8-12 Monday mornings as a protest, and you just don't know that if you don't know about the strike. The company still advertises the route, it's just not worked. And the weird thing is after the strike period, people just go right on, starting at say 12.

It's just weird. In Napoli (or Naples), it's beautiful there, but there's been a trash strike going on for months now, so supposedly if you wander to the wrong area, it smells atrocious and you can get mugged since even the police don't go there. Yeah.

So, what else do people do to show frustrations? Tag. Or graffiti. You see a lot of it, but there are codes about it, like you can't tag monuments or statues, it's highly frowned upon, but political statements and artwork are almost encouraged. For example, outside my metro stop, there's this awesome mural that takes up two whole building sides, and it's just so cool. And encouraged, it's pretty fun to see.

Also, there are several types of police here. There are the Guardia di Finanze, or the Finance Police Force, that are in tan with green adorned uniforms, and they look like they just stand around and smoke cigarettes, chew gum, and look scary. I've heard that's their whole job, just to make sure things look like they're under control, and they just patrol away.

Then, there's the Polizia, or the standard police. Now, these aren't donut packing cops, they're sleek, fast, and look pretty in shape. They actually do things, like rush around in their cars that sound, and I'm totally not kidding here, like clown cars. They're in either green or light blue uniforms, and they're lightly armed for the job.

Now, the last group are the Carabinieri, or the Carbine Paramilitary Forces. And whoa. They're pretty crazy. They we're dark blue with red berets and have HUGE guns, and they kind of work like SWAT, but way more intense looking. They are actual soldiers who's job is to be out on the streets by monuments and pretty much assure nothing bad happens. And really, for lack of better words, just stand around and look buff and badass.

But yes, I have to get going, I'm meeting Travis and Camille, two close friends from back in San Diego, down on the other side of Roma in about 40 minutes, so I must make this one short and just kind of observational. Tomorrow brings more excitement, I promise, but until then,


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Endless Possibilities

Today, I woke up not knowing what I was going to blog about. Until about 1:30, I didn't know what I was going to blog about, actually. Then I walked right by the entrance to the Musei Vaticano, or Vatican Museum, and there was no line, a first.

Then I knew what I was going to blog about.

I walked up through St. Pietro's Basilica (if you need reminding what that is, check the post on the 21st. Should ring a bell or two) and saw all the beautiful statues again, but this time saw it from the East side, whereas I usually come at it from the west. Today I saw Pietro, or St. Peter, instead of Paulo, or St. Paul, and these 15 foot sculptures never cease to impress me.

Anyway, I got in through Vatican security (it is, after all, a sovereign nation) and bought my ticket. If you're not a student, it's 14 euro, or 20 bucks. Luckily, io sono studento, and I have a card to prove it, and it was only 8, a much better price. Whatever I would've paid would've been worth it, I just prefer paying less is all. This is the Sistine Chapel I'm going to see, after all, only the most renowned church in the world.

From the inside, past the point you pay, mind you, you're bombarded with sculptures, paintings, ceilings, tapestries, and more artwork that you could possibly absorb in a day. Each hallway has at least 50 artifacts, and each artifact could be looked at for 5 minutes at minimum, but knowing there just isn't enough time in a day to see it all, you almost have to make the whirlwind tour the first time, so the first few halls got exactly that. Oh, and the sign to the right is that of the Vatican, and it's everywhere. The keys signify Peter's keys to the Pearly Gates, etc; Roman Catholicism has so much imagery and lore attatched to it there's a degree specifically for it's artwork, so I won't / can't delve fully into it all, just absorb it for now like I am and come back to anything in particular later.

So I keep going through hallway after hallway of sculptures pretty much as impressive, if not more impressive, than the one to the right. I know I mention this all the time, but the intricacies of each of these works makes them astounding, and if you're curious what I mean, enlarge these and just check the adornments, the little scenes going on on each object, and on the statues, just see their knees, for example. Just so exquisite and mind-blowingly precise that it's hard to keep moving through everything and making sure you see it all (trust me, you can't see it all).

Have you missed video? Well, I took some today. Ignore the sound on this one, it's not the Sistine Chapel, it's the halls leading up to it. I meant to say that when I recorded it, but I got distracted and forget to say "halls of," but beyond that, it gives you a little scope and insight into just how big this place is. This the first of about 20 hallways, so just know that I'm trying my best to include everything I can.

After this, I pressed on into further halls, each one with more excitement and just little things to see than the last. I am just going to throw pictures on here to be viewed whenever you want, since I can't really describe everything, I'll just let you browse as much as you want. I know I've got emails asking for more pictures, and so hopefully this can help that out. The picture to the right shows just the average ceiling panel painting, and there about 5 of these per hallway, and imagine about 20 or more of those hallways, just to get a scope of the amount of invaluable art here. I really liked a lot of the more human, action filled scenes, like the one to the right here, they really just seem to come to live and look so cool.

I really could go on for days like this, but I've got to move on to show it all. There's more good stuff to come, and if you want more, I'll have more time to do so later.

The next hallway was filled with tapestries, or what look like paintings on rugs, essentially, except way cooler than that. Sorry for the low picture quality, it's a low-light room and everything is no flash, as to preserve the artwork, and I can certainly respect that (I'll get to what irritates me about the Vatican a bit later). Anyway, the tapestries are really neat, and very old, and depict only the most crucial and important events of the time, since they were very, very expensive to make and even more so to have done well, which all of these were. I'm not sure how they'll look enlarged, but feel free to take a gander and see up close the texture, it's really something.

The next room literally took my breath away (first of many times today) and I hope my pictures can do it a little justice.

This room is known as the Hall of Cartography, as it is filled with tons of maps, but they're all paintings done by the best cartographers of their time. The maps were used by the Pope to literally divvy up pieces of the world by God's plan as he could divine. There are maps of everywhere they knew of at the time (sorry Western Hemisphere), but equally impressive were the ceilings. The ceilings everywhere here were cool, but this was top three cool there, which is an acheivement in and of itself. I took a video in here and I hope it can help illustrate what I am talking about just a little more.

I'll take a second here just to say something kind of funny: the signs all make it sound like Cappella Sistina is really just around the corner, like you're about to just walk right into it. It does this in every room for about 15 rooms or so. It's really kind of a suspenseful atmosphere, but also kind of irritating since you feel like you're getting close and the Museum just keeps throwing more at you. Not that I'm complaining, I'm just saying, it's kinda misleading.

From there, the hallway spills over into several dimly-lit rooms, making it really hard to describe here. But there were tons of things to mention and of note. Namely, the ceilings keep getting cooler and the paintings keep getting bigger. And bigger. And bigger. It's really crazy to see how huge some of them get to be honest.

I went through another few rooms, most looking more square now rather than hallways like before, with usually about 4 paintings on either wall. It's really tough to take photos here, but trust me, it got even tough for other, let's just say "reasons out of my control." But it's so hard to digest what you're seeing you're seeing so much. You could spend weeks in here and still have hallways left to discover, so I'll press on and mention what I continued to find interesting. Like, for example, there are gift shops lining the walls of the hallways and . . . wait for it . . . that you're forced to go through before you can see the next room (I'll leave it up to you to insert remarks about money and such here, but let's just say the Vatican is making it and knows how to "capture" their audience).

One of the last rooms before actually reaching the Sistine Chapel is Raphael's Rooms, and Raphael is probably the most revered Italian artist after Michelangelo. Frescoes, ceilings, everything is so artistically planned and preordained, the vision and preparation for their work was so insane it's hard to portray with any real hope of accuracy.

Anyway, the ceilings are just so striking, there really is nothing like it that I've ever see. The paintings are just amazing . . . it's pretty awesome to behold.

Now, the famous Chapel. And my mini-rant against Catholicism's ways in their holy land. My video is not great, nor or my 3 (yes, only 3) pictures in the Chapel itself. Why? Because they don't allow ANY pictures whatsoever in the Chapel. It's not to preserve the art, there's no flash on video or anything, and sunlight comes in, which is much, much worse, right? Then why no pictures? Why no video? Because they sell a 50 Euro DVD of the Sistine Chapel to buy at the exit and entrance to the Chapel. Can't have you competing I guess. It's lame. But the video is ok, it shows some of the ceiling, and if you look closely, you can see God Creates Adam on the center-right, and you'll probably recognize that one even if you've never taken any art history.

The Chapel is the most amazing artistically done anything in the limited world that I've seen, bar none, no competition WHATSOEVER. The other rooms? Amateur. Just awe-inspiring, and absolutely breathtaking. I literally felt nervous in there, it was just so . . . perfect. Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting says that you can know everything, but you'll never know what it's like to stand under the ceilings of the Sistine Chapel, and he's right. You just can't know unless you've been there. Some of the most famous paintings ever are all along the ceiling, and all done by Michelangelo. God Creates Adam. The Temptation of Christ. Scenes from the Life of Moses, they're all here and so beautifully preserved, just so amazing. It's in my top three things since I've come, unquestionably. I guerrilla shot the video and two pictures, but one picture didn't turn out and the other is blurry, so I'm sorry I can't post more. Know that I would've liked to. If you want the 50 dollar DVD, send 75 bucks and I'll go buy it for you and everyone wins, right?

Well, after that, it's tough to be awestruck by anything else you see, but a few things did it. The next room (after the gift shop, mind you) had the second-most beautiful ceilings in the place after the Sistine Chapel. It's just so cool to see the intricate work here. Please, enlarge this picture and see the scale of it all, it's so cool to see it all in size.

The last few rooms show some really cool artifacts, but nothing particularly that I can really write anything about, but it truly is something so beautiful, it just cannot be fully described.

I saw this all alone today, or io solo c'e giorno, and I'm kind of glad I did. I mean, without the people here. I'd love to see it with someone I love, someone I can truly know would appreciate and love this experience and never lose sight of how amazing it is. The closest I'll get with this visit is sharing it with you, so I hope you enjoyed your mini-tour, and know that it's waiting if you can ever make it to see it, just like it has been for centuries now.

I guess all I can say now is Ciao, and I hope you enjoyed it. Send in requests if you'd like to see anything else or hear about anything, I am officially looking for them now. Email me or comment, and let me know what you think.

Ciao tutto.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Campo De Fiori and the Open Air Market

Salve tutto, I know I said yesterday probably wouldn't be all that exciting of a blog, but apparently it was a hit, getting over 115 hits, more than 30 over my next most viewed entry. So I can guess a few things, and both may be true, and neither may be. It seems like people like to heat about things that aren't just monuments and such, and that maybe more about my daily life, trials, and tribulations may be cool. If either of those things are true, then today's blog is going to be another hit.

Last night, I went to a Roman Country Club, or a really nice athletic club with our landlord, Gianni, who's about 55 and like American kids and he took about 16 of us to his club (in his 10 seater van, oh yeah. No seatbelts in Italy) and we played soccer for an hour at night under the lights on a outdoor pitch and it was really, really fun. A guy in the program is a little too good, but I had a lot of fun. It was still about 75 at around 8:30, so it was still really warm, but I had a really, really nice time out there.

I got up this morning, talked a little AIM and got up for class. It felt pretty cool this morning (relative to the past mornings, so it was like under 70) and hoped today would be a bit cooler (it hasn't been). Today marks a week that I've been in Rome, and it's been over a week that the high has hit at least 31 degrees celcius, or about 88 fahrenheit. With high humidity, mind you, so basically it's been really, really hot and I have a bit of a farmer tan going.

Anyway, I got out and went to class to learn a bit more Italian, which was bene, or good. After we got out of the first two hours, we got a fifteen minute break where we saw this INSANE pigeon lady feeding some pigeons and she had them all over her and was having a bit too much fun. They ate out of her hand. She encouraged them to land all over her. I could only think of bird flu.

But after that bit of ridiculousness, I went to the Campo de Fiori, or the scene of an open air market with a bunch of Italian, organic fruits, vegetables, meats, cheese, spices, alcohol, breads (I could seriously go on all day. Do not provoke me.) We went as a class and checked it all out. It's about a 10 minute walk from the study center, and when we got there, I was much impressed. The Ferie, or holiday, is still going on until Sunday, and there were still a lot of stands up and not a lot of tourists, so it felt pretty Italian overall. I like authentico. And I like food. And boy was there a lot of delicious food there today, man.

First came the beautiful fruits and vegetables. The produce was beautiful, green, and leafy, and slightly expensive, yes, but not too bad. It looked awesome, and fresh. You can see the prices for most of this stuff if you enlarge the pictures, just remember, a chiligram (or kilogram) is 2.2 pounds, and a euro is about 1.5 dollars.

The fruits were delicious, and I just bought and orange for the sake of doing so and ate it as I walked around, careful not to juice my camera with all of the citrusy goodness. And hey, if juicy fruits aren't your thing, they even had a gorgeous dried fruit section to it that was so colorful and inviting, the free sample just didn't seem like enough, although it had to be since I wasn't 'ripe' with cash (I know, I'm a comedic genius. I hear it all the time).

But yes, if you enlarge that picture (and why wouldn't you? It's really, really pretty and appetizing) and look to the back-center of it, it's the carneria, or literally, meat place. It was impressive and had just straight meat cuts, not dried, cooked or anything, just the full rack of lamb, giant pieces of beef and pork, and steaks, etc. One interesting thing to note: eggs and chicken products in general are really, really not easy to come by. Same with butter. When you do find eggs, they're organic and they aren't refridgerated at the store, you have to refridgerate them yourself. Weird.

But after that, I went over to the pinnacle of deliciousness in my opinion, which was the dried meats, like Prosciutto, Salame, etc, and Parmaggiano Reggiano, Pecorino, Monzzerrella, and tons of other cheeses. I went into the market not planning to buy anything today, but I ended up getting some salame (singular salami . . . basically, all nouns end in o, a, or e if they are singular and have an i or e added for plural, so yeah, weird spellings not actually so weird anymore. Coca-cola becomes Coca-Coli pluraled, which I think sounds like a disease). The lady was really nice to me, offered me a sample, and I talked some Italian with her and seriously had to bottle my excitement. I could not have done that 2 days ago. She asked me how I was and I responded, asked her, and she offered me salame, I thanked her, liked it, and asked how much it was. She told me three Euro for a little loaf, and I couldn't turn her down. She offered me salame and suffered through my Italian, it was the least I could do.

After that purchase, I checked out the spices. Now, spices here are a big deal, and they're sold by bags and bottled at home, and the spices are fresh in buckets, mixed that day, and then sold in a clusterjam of insane yellow signs that made me feel a little overwhelmed, but it was so cool to see. Enlarge it to see the names and see which ones look similar. It's kind of fun.

But after that, I was offered alcohol by the guy behind me, and Limoncello, or pretty much vodka steeped with Lemon zest and sugar then diluted with sparkling or non-sparkling water to be sold as a liquor. I was intrigued. I accepted and it was very good, but homemade limoncello is very expensive, so I didn't buy anything, although some friends did as a group for their apartment, but I didn't have any apartment mates to split it with me, so I just shuffled away and met up with a group who was heading home, which brings us to now.

Anyway, that's the open air market, which I am a big fan of. I will go back eventually, and document further, but until then, I hope this showed you my food buying and shopping options and explained my daily life a bit more.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Everyday life as a Roman

So I know yesterday may not have been as thrilling or awesome as some other days have been, but I'm not on vacation, as much as the pictures may proclaim I am. I've got school, homework, and commutes, they all just take place in Rome.

Which is really, really cool.

Last night we went out to dinner as a program, and I thought it'd be just a dish or two and away we'd go, but oh no, we had 4 courses, with water included (hey, that may not sound like much, but water is expensive in restaurants here since they only serve it out of a bottle) and a glass of wine. I mean, I ate a TON. We had bread and olive oil, followed by a Rigatoni con panna di pomodoro (or tomato sauce) and parmigiana, then it was pork and salad for the main course, finishing with Tiramisu. And it was all included, no charge, so hey, can't complain. It was delicious and totally filling.

And in fact, I've lost near 10 pounds since I've arrived, I know it's all the walking and constant sweating, but still, I eat HUGE portions and don't gain weight? Good by me!

But one of the best parts was the walk back. We walked back the 40 minutes to our apartment at 10:30 and it was gorgeous out, about 75 and just lit up like you could only imagine. The Tiber was gorgeous, and I couldn't get a good enough picture of St. Pietros, but I did take a picture on the Tiber that gives a clue of how cool it looked.

Anyway, today was school again, and I'm learning more and more Italian as I go along. I decided for today's blog to chronicle two-thirds of the shopping for food experience here in Roma, and that's the Supermarket and the more authentic feeling market store (part three is the open-air market, where we go tomorrow). In Italy (and Europe in general), electricity is very expensive, so the freezer section is very, very small, if existant whatsoever. The market doesn't tend to have it at all, and instead, they just have a very small, workers-accessible case only for chilled things. The market has tons of different noodles, drinks, grains, cheeses, and meats, which are really fun to just look at sometimes. The selection is much higher in these stores--but so are the prices. I mean, it's not a total rip-off, but it's still more expensive for even the same product. To the left, enlarge the picture to see just a glimpse of the insanely packed walls, it's pretty cool to just take it all in.

Both the standard, community market and the Supermarkets both are very compact in their spaces since all of the buildings are old and they cannot remodel them to have huge space, but the cardinal difference outside of the prices, selection, and size is the friendliness of the people. The marketplace is friendly, and it's rude not to greet each other when you walk in. Today I said Buongiorno to the lady at the counter and asked "come stai?" which means simply "how are you?" and she returned the question and I was absolutely beeming over my improved Italian.

The Supermarket people, however, are jerks.

This is notorious in Italy. They don't like their job, and it's totally culturally acceptable for them to be unhelpful, frosty, and generally just pissy. They really don't help with anything for the most part (the cashiers, anyway. The department people are a bit more friendly). But their stores work like a maze. I still can't get over how tigh the aisles are and how compact the store is, but it just winds around corners and everything to fit more in to a smaller space.

In other words, it's the polar opposite of a Fred Meyer's or a Ralph's. Todi's is just winding, cheaper, and more intimidating in many ways. I shop there more for the discounts and the proximity to my apartment (it's probably 20% cheaper and 5 minutes closer, or 10 minutes round trip). They have a cheese section that still makes me smile, however, along with a produce section and store-brand sodas that are much, much cheaper (try 1.50 euro per gallon on for size, yeahhh).

But anyway, today--still beaming from my recent Italian foray at the market--I tried to do the same thing with the lady at Todi's. I came up to the register, she began ringing me up (they don't acknowledge you) and I said "salve, come stai?" and she just looked at me like I was lower than trash and went back to stacking my groceries (they don't bag for you in Europe) and not saying anything until she asked if I had more exact change.

But in Italy, as in most places, the saying is true: you get what you pay for. It's a lifestyle here. I mean, people feel entitled to treat you like crap at Todi's since you're not paying as much. The market appreciates your business and they expect you to converse a bit with them, but you pay a bit more.

Things you learn living in places. Who'd have guessed?

Anyway, hopefully tomorrow with the open air market will provide some more excitement, and until then, as always,


Monday, August 25, 2008

First day of class

So sorry today's post isn't going to be riveting like the others, I actually have class now.

Bummer? Sorta. I like exploring. But kind of awesome to get it started? You bet.

Today, I believe, is going to be a little about my classes and a little about my commute, which has pretty pictures, so there's that to keep my picture fans out there satiated, and I know that's more exciting, but it can't be all excitement I guess.

So class. I got up, chatted online and said goodnight to KK (who leave in 6 days! Yay for her!) and took a quick shower and ate to get out of here by about 8:45 to get to class at 9:30. My building is a ways away, and I thought I'd give you a little insight into my daily travels to and from school. The study center is across the Tiber and near Piazza Navone, or the place that houses the Quattro Fiuri (aka the Four Rivers fountain . . . for those of you who've read Angels and Demons, it's where the water killing occurs). But to get there, I have to leave the Prati neighborhood where I live. This picture is the scene outside my apartment, literally as soon as you hit the street. I'm on the third floor, but our front door of the building leads out to this madness on Via Candia. Rome is busy, filled with buses, cars, and about 50% of the vehicles are scooters, like Vespas, only a bit cheaper. Economical and chic, they are probably the prefered way to travel in Rome for a Roman.

But I turn right out of my apartment and head up Candia for about 6 blocks and take a right, leading me towards a large Piazza, but not until after you pass by the Vatican walls, which are in the picture to the left. Enlarge it to see, but the Vatican is literally surrounded by walls, and they're very steep and very tall. Pope's gotta be protected people! Swiss guards and their fancy getups, the walls, the metal detectors . . . he's pretty safe.

But yes, I go into a large piazza that is absolutely filled with tourists, who I mentioned yesterday I have begun to resent. For the most part. Some are respectful, but more often than not, they're loud and seemingly disrespecting of such a pretty place. Anyway, not my place to say, but it's worth mentioning. These tourist seasons beget large stands that sell beer, drinks, water, and some food for ridiculous sums of money and look a little something like the stand to the right. And as a rule of thumb, you can tell if it's for tourists if it's in English. Don't know if that says anything about it, but take it for what you will. They're everywhere.

But after that Piazza, you head straight away into the Vatican, with St. Pietro's Basilica and out again about a minute (or 10) later after you can pry yourself away from its grandeur. So, if you're counting, that's two countries in my commute to school, which makes it me seem like a total beast of a traveler and I like the sound of that. But you head down this little channel and reach the basilica and it's breathtaking, as always, and in day one's blog, there are many pictures of it, but just in case you've forgotten, I've included another because hey, that's just the kind of guy I am.

The, it's down Via St. Pietro and all the embassies that line the way to reach a bridge across the Tiber, which is located right next to Castel Sant'Angelo, the Castel I visited yesterday and has gained a special place in my heart since I feel like it's some kind of secret. It's not, but I like to think of it as such.

You cross the bridge and there are beautiful statues lining both sides and when you cross it leaves you this nice little view back to it and it makes me shake my head every time I see it, it's just so cool that it's on my walk to school, it takes a little time to digest something like that. In fact, it's hard to remember that sometimes that I go to school in Rome, it's just so unfathomable in some ways that when you really think about it, it's hard to conceptualize. Views like that certainly make it seem more real. But after that walk, you just keep walking for about 5 blocks, turn left and walk about 4 more and you're there. All in all, about a 35-40 minute commute, but I know some people have worse. And my building is just right there. It's pretty cool that I live on such a cool route to head to school, and it even sounds cool: walk to the Vatican, go straight from there to Castel Sant'Angelo, and then cross the Tiber and 9 blocks through Rome to class.

I'm not complaining. 2 Countries and a river to cross, awesome.

But yes, then class. It was over 3 hours of just Italian, and in 3 hours, I've really picked up a lot. I mean, I learned to count to 100, ask some basic questions, and learned about 50 words of vocabulary, pretty handy stuff to know. We learned about food since tomorrow we go to an open air market to test our skills, so that'll be fun to post.

And I went to lunch afterwards with a few people and ate a ton of Prosciutto e Formaggio and had a huge coke for 8 Euro . . . learning how to eat cheaper. It's a good thing. But I've gotta bail for dinner, free one on the school tonight so I've gotta go. But I'll leave you with a cool picture from the bridge. It's one of a dozen on the bridge. In public. Not even in a museum.

Yup. This is where I live.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday in Roma

So before I start today's exciting stories, I feel like I should take an aside and put down some of what Rome is like culturally and not just act like a tourist and react only to what I've seen historically. Rome is gorgeous, and overall, it's pretty clean. There is gelato, or a sorbet-esque dessert, literally every street, and beer and wine are sold freely on the streets. Those drinks are sold in little carts that line the street, along with clothes, sports uniforms, trinkets, you name it. The streets are always busy, and especially now during the ferie, or "holiday." In Europe, most people get up to 8 weeks off a year, and pretty much everywhere slows down greatly in July and August as far as businesses go, but as a result, tourism explodes, since everyone is off. Roma, being a very exciting place to visit, gets hit hard. And by hard, I mean it's swathed with people. I mean, to the right is the Spanish Steps where I went a few days ago, and I mean it was just jammed full of people.

Pickpockets are very, very common, so much so that supposedly 20% of program people lose some sort of belonging to them over the course of the year. Most of the time, they're drunk or being stupid, but other times in near-indefensible.

Especially during tourist season. I don't think I'm allowed to, and it may sound sort of hypocritical, but I really do loathe some tourists. I know, I pretty much am one, but those people who are just ignorant and don't try at all to embrace Italian customs and only eat at restaurants where they'll speak English, etc. I feel for why Italians don't like most tourists, since they just don't make an effort to embrace the culture. I came here for that, so it makes it a bit more difficult to deal with I think.

Also culturally, Italians are very judgmental and put a lot of value on the idea of "bella sopra realita" which translates roughly to appearing beautiful, like in nice clothes, expensive shoes, etc, is more important than actually looking all that good in actuality. Therefore, they look you and everyone up and down in such a way that would be creepy in American culture, but encouraged here. Girls in the program have felt a little over-stared at a few of them really don't mind so much and just take the attention in stride.

It is what it is, I suppose.

Anyway, today is Sunday. And Rome is VERY Catholic (Roman Catholic, see the root? Ahhh). Everything is closed except for food places, much like in the US, but to a greater extent even. But the monuments are still open, so Chad, Bert, and I went to Castel Sant-Angelo, or also known as Hadrian's mausoleum. Hadrian was a Roman emperor, one of the most successful, and his ashes, along with many others of his family, are buried there. The picture above shows how it looks from right underneath, and it's just at the very end of our street, but still over a kilometer away, towards the Tiber. It is now a museum, and houses lots of old Roman weaponry and armor, along with a few extraordinary pieces of art and architecture. Unfortunately, cameras were not allowed in.

Fortunately, I know how to turn my flash off, and I took pictures anyway. So sue me.

There is a beautiful sculpture by Rafael, to the right, which is a depiction of the titular Saint of the church, Saint Michael. It stands over 10 feet tall and is mounted, and I took a picture from a second story window to give perspective. It's truly beautiful, with such intricate and delicate features, it's amazing to think it was once a chunk of stone and could be made into something so astounding.

If you could tell from the outside picture I provided, the Castel (yes, that's how it's spelled in Italian) is very, very tall. What you can't see in the picture is that it has several terraces that overlook the city in beautiful fashion. I thought it was so cool to see so much of Rome and the Tiber, I took a video so I could show you all where I live more than ever before. It really is something, seeing this place all at once. But it got even better, if possible. The view kept getting more and more spectacular, and I kept taking more and more pictures, some of me, some of the view, some just to make sure I got it documented properly.

There are so many churches, basilica, monuments, you name it, in Roma, that it's easy to forget that this city is so jam-packed in and tightly bound together. The history never ceases to show itself the more you look around, and seeing it all from up above was a real treat for sure, and one of the better views I've had since I've been in Roma, and I don't hesitate to say it's one of the best views any eyes could take it as far as cityscapes go, it's just everything you'd imagine such a city to be, and then times about a thousand.

The stairs kept winding around, and we passed through a couple rooms full of art and sculptures, many outlining the period of co-influence Rome and Egypt had on each other, specifically the latter on the former. There were lots of little sphinx and Ra, the Sun God of Egypt, made of Ebony and Ivory, and documented Rome's copying of some things Egyptian. The walls and ceilings were also adorned with spectacular decorations that unfortunately I couldn't document due to Politizia being near by, but I went up a staircase from there and ended up on the roof of the Castel. What I saw there will remain with me forever.

That view I just talked about? It got better. Nothing in the way, just pure, 360 degree views of all of Rome. Saint Pietro's Basilica (day one of my Rome Blogging), The Pantheon (day two), and the Roman Forum (day three) were all visable, and it was just awesome to be able to see it all. This is probably my favorite video so far, and that's saying something. If you ask me. The Castel also has another sculpture of Saint Michael on top, which was really cool to see up close, and hey, I took more pictures, so you can see it too! Aren't I just so thoughtful?

From there, we just absorbed the view for a while, seeing all that Roma has to offer from up above. It really makes you realize that you're living in Rome, Italy: Capital of one of the greatest empires of mankind. And there was no doubting it for standing in its presence.

Tomorrow brings class and probably meaning a whole lot less exciting things to blog about, but who knows? Every day is an adventure and hasn't disappointed yet, why should tomorrow be any different right? I'm sticking with that attitude while I'm here, and hopefully, I'll just keep on keeping on with the awesome.

So, class, school, work, it's on the horizon, but so are some more awesome things, like trips to Florence, Milan, Venice, Greece, Naples, Hydra, and that's just in the next month. So, hope this wasn't boring today, and enjoy one last big ol' picture of me and the Vatican.