Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Roamin' Roman vs. Roamin’ America

 I know I stated in my previous posting that the next blog would concentrate on desserts. Don’t you worry, I have not forgotten. However, there are so many more pastries and deserts I have not tried yet. This process is slow because I hate getting looks at the bars and bakeries when I order more than two sweets at once. Most of these shop owners know me by my first name because I come in all the time, especially my gelato shop. I have a card where if I buy ten scoops of gelato I get the 11th one free. I’m on my second card now.

I write the posting in hopes to get some kind of response from my readers. I know you’re out there somewhere (hopefully). Anyways I have been here a little over two weeks and I’ve begun to notice the differences of Italy and the United States. Each time I find a difference or something amusing, I write it down.  Please be reminded that this is purely my opinion. Maybe you will think the same or differently, but I’d love to hear your feedback or stories.  In no way am I complaining. I find these little anecdotes comical.

·      No matter how hard I try to blend in with the Italians, I’m always easy to point out. And I’m not speaking English when an Italian calls out  “ciao bella Americana.” It is interesting that the Italians and vendors at the markets can identify Americans, however, when I see a person who looks American, I am always wrong. Embarrassing!

·      I’ve noticed that Roma is not a place for children. I have yet to see school children running around. Maybe the Italians keep them locked up and off the streets. If I was a parent, I’m sure I would too in order to keep them away from the crazy drivers. However, when I do see Italian children… mostly young teenagers they are smoking cigarettes. Again, a different culture than ours. Where are their parents!

·      Speaking of parents. I have noticed it is not uncommon for children to ride on the backs of scooters or in the front seats of their cars! They have little bones… be careful please.

·       Don’t be alarmed, it is completely normal to see a female dressed to the finest with stiletto shoes and driving her scooter.

·       I must have been living under a rock because I’ve become so sheltered. I was completely caught off guard when I met an Asian at the bar (a bar as in a coffee bar, not a bar where you buy drinks) and she spoke Italian as her native language. Even the Ethiopian man who is hustling the streets is speaking Italian.

·      When you are in Roma, do not feel bad for some of the homeless people. They make money off our emotions. It wasn’t until this past weekend when I saw the same lady who I gave money to counting her daily earnings, and let me tell you she was rolling out 50’s and 20’s. She better buy me dinner next time, I’m the starving student!

·      No matter what anyone says, the Italians do it better when it comes to the kitchen, especially desserts. No further explanation needed.

·      For those who have been to Roma, have you ever seen a person in the morning with a cup of coffee in one hand and a cell phone in the other walking to work? Well that’s because it DOESN’T EXIST! Romans enjoy their morning and don’t rush. They savor their coffee in the morning and chat it up with their friends and then go to work. Whereas people in the States multi task to the extent they couldn’t even tell you if their coffee was good. Slow down America!

·      I don’t know what is worse, garbage trucks coming in the early morning in the States or garbage trucks that come 11:30 at night in Roma. When I was home I used the garbage trucks as my alarm clock to go to the gym, but now the garbage trucks prevents me from going to sleep at night.

·      No one here seems to obey the traffic lights and signs, even the pedestrians!!! I’ve decided neither will I, because when I do obey the lights, I seem to get nowhere.

·      Even the bus drivers talk on their cell phones when they are driving. This gave me even more incentive to walk to school.

·      Even when you are crossing the street, it does not ensure you the right a way. Nor assume if you make eye contact with the driver they will slow down. Mostly likely they will speed up because they know you’ve acknowledge them, and therefore you must yield to them. When you cross the street own it like you mean it!

·      Forget about personal space or the definition of waiting your turn in a line. Too many times have I had someone breathe down my neck while waiting for the lights to turn green. Let it be known THERE IS PLENTY OF OTHER SPACE AROUND ME. Why crowd mine? I’m sure I sound like the typical American…. Mine, mine, mine!!!  There are some things that belong to me and that is personal space.  I hate saying it but I’m even getting competitive with grandmas over here while waiting in line. Aggressive grandmas are not to be taken lightly. There are numerous occasions where I’ve waited in line whether it is at the train station, at the bar, or even the bathroom and the old woman behind me snuck right in front of me. Come on now? Really? Two can play that game.

·      In Roma, no one pulls over for the ambulances. The only people who do get out of the way are the pedestrians and if you take a closer look it’s usually the Americans. Never in my entire life have I heard so many ambulances in one day. Here are my two theories; first, the ambulance drivers get a kick with driving fast. (It’s a guy thing I suppose) Or second, every time a foreigner tries Italian food including gelato they have a heart attack!  

·      The one thing I miss is fresh air. Every time I’m outside someone is blowing their cigarette smoke in my face. I’m surprised Italy and the European countries don’t have the cure for lung cancer by now. I’ve done some research, but females are affected far more than the males when it comes to lung cancer in Italy. Apparently the nicotine patch is not popular here.

·      PARKING! If I was the parking police I’d be a millionaire! These Italians come up with the most creative ways to park their car in places they DO NOT belong in. Italians give the definition of double parking a whole new meaning.

·      If half the cars in Roma got smog checked, I’m certain they would all fail.

·      Through experience, I’ve realized health care is free, but you get what you pay for.

·      For all you shoppers out there, don’t forget things close down in the middle of the day. Most stores are closed Sunday and Monday, and there are others who have more unusual schedules. My favorite bakery is completely unreliable. One day its open and one day it’s not, but this is not the case for every shop.

·      For all your men out there, don’t be embarrassed to wear your man purse. It’s the new wallet!

·      I love when I go to a shop there is the same person who helped me yesterday. Most of the time it is the owner, and they are extremely kind.

·      The Italians know the meaning of “quality time” and that is why I have grown fond of this culture. When was the last time you sat down for dinner for hours and didn’t even care how late you were staying out? Even though it is busy, busy on the streets of Roma, time seems to stop when friends and family are involved.

You can’t really compare Italy and the United States together. It’s almost as if you are comparing gelato and ice cream, but the thing is…. both ice cream and gelato taste good!

Yours truly,
Roamin’ Roman

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Roamin' Roman and the Porta Portese Market

Jet lag lingers like coughs after a flu. I’m waiting for it to lighten up. Saturday night I finally got to sleep! However, my peaceful bliss was soon shattered by the noises coming from outside. You know when you move into a place and everything is perfect?! (It still is, I have no major complaints.) Well reality is slowly trickling in, and I understand the possibility of why we were placed in this specific apartment. It’s because NO ONE wants this room. It is right over the big iron gate door which slams and rattles the entire room each time a person comes in or out. The building is eight stories tall, and full of apartments and people. You do the math of how many times the door opens and closes. Nonetheless I’ve learned to adapt. On Saturday night I managed to sleep through the normal noises, but yet another distraction… I heard tons and tons and tons of voices outside of my balcony as if there was some major clubbing event happening that I was misinformed about. I couldn’t see anything because at night we draw our blinds. For hours I was trying to sleep and eventually around 5am I was able to fall sleep. At 10:20am I woke up and I felt the presence of a large crowd on my doorsteps. It wasn’t until I opened the blinds and saw the Sunday Porta Portese flea market which attracts thousands of people.
Porta Portese Market

Every Sunday from 7am to 1pm hundreds of vendors set up temporary shops outside on the streets. My entire street (via) and the street over are completely shut down from vehicle traffic. You can find anything from junk to designer clothing (let it be known if it is stolen the labels have been ripped off) There are even guys who steal from other vendors who walk around trying to sell goods. This kind of market is not one to be read about but rather to experience. I do not think my written explanation will do the market justice, but I will try.

A few of my roommates and I went to explore. The market is literally in front of my apartment. My balcony overlooks a section of the market and as far as the eye can see, it continues onto the other streets. It is easy to get lost! We were strongly warned by the program’s officials of pick pocketers. Unfortunately, there are pick pocket land mine all over in the market. Needless to say, I became overly paranoid and clung to my purse for dear life even though I only brought 40 Euros. I swear, I’ll return to the states with some kind of post traumatic pick pocket syndrome.

What amazed me the most is the variety of vendors. Some vendors seemed to have brought every single nick knack from their house in hopes of making a buck or two. You can honestly find anything there and that is why I am going to protest all my retail shopping days and wait until the Sunday.

My first mission was to buy a pillow. The pillows provided at the apartments feel as if they are the same ones you receive on airplanes. (Again, this is only a minor hiccup.) Additionally, I needed odds and ends, all of which I was able to find at the market and then some. I discovered with some vendors I was able to bargain the price down. I bought a twelve Euro pillow for six, a fifteen Euro purse for seven, a silver necklace for three instead of ten (I’m sure if it will make my neck turn green.), and a steal dress for ten Euros compared to its originally price of 20. I found I was not able to bargain with the essentials. For instance, band aids, deodorant, etc.

Guilty Indulgence
My guilty indulgence was a vendor who sold glass jewelry. I was completely overwhelmed by the numerous and colorful choices. I literally spent 30 minutes trying to decide what to get, and at the end I bought three. I made a promise to myself if I go next weekend I’m allowed two more.

Around 1ish it starts to wind down and people start packing up. All of a sudden, all the vendors were gone, but not their trash. I have NEVER, EVER, EVER seen a street so dirty in my life. (I guess growing up in Marin County made me that sheltered.) There were bags, boxes, trash, food, and other things (I do not want to mention) on the ground. My beautiful street was now a dump! To this day I cannot understand how people can just leave their mess. Who was going to clean this?!?!?! Even the locals didn’t seem to mind. All of a sudden a few mini green trucks came and men in bright orange pants came to clean up the streets. In less than an hour they had picked up the trash, swept the streets, and then had the street cleaner come and power wash. The Romans have it down to a science.

All Better!!!
The market experience was enough to entertain me for the entire day! I’ve already started a list of what I’ll be purchasing next week. For those of you who follow my blog, I dare you to challenge me to find something at this market, because I can guarantee they have everything (within reason…. Sorry you monkey lovers, I did not see any monkeys for sale, but they do have birds.)

Next week is JUST DESSERTS! If anyone knows me best, they will understand pasta and wine is just a bonus; dessert is a MUST!

Yours truly,
Roamin' Roman

Monday, September 20, 2010

Meeting the Fellow Romans

From Left to Right--Kat, Lauren, Alece,Juliet, Meg, Rachel

After much anticipation I finally got to meet the people who I’d be living with. This brought me back to memory lane freshman year in college. I remember the night before moving being nervous and wondering if I’d get along with the people I’d be living with. But this time I was just anxious to meet my future roommates. I’m happy to report I have met all five of my roommates. We share a four-bedroom two-bathroom apartment in the Trastevere District. Which is approximately a 45 minute walk to school or a 20 minute metro ride. Since the gyms here are expensive, I’ll be walking to school every day.  But if it rains, that will be a different story. I’m sure there are short cuts to be discovered, but until I am comfortable with the city, I’ll stick with the main roads.
Thanks to Kat I had a meal to eat!

The first night together we spent at home and Kat made us dinner. There is a cheap grocery store by our house and has almost everything one could need. In my opinion Kat is talented in the kitchen. She made us pasta and something resembling close to bruschetta. We bought a baguette, tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese. It was a very pleasant dinner to say the least, better than what I could ever do. I am going to be utilizing Kat and her cooking skills. Our first dish we plan on making together is vegetarian lasagna. Lets all pray I don’t burn down our apartment.

My bedroom
Each bedroom has a small balcony that overlooks the street. I find myself out there a lot. I seems I’m the only one in the building that utilizes it. I have yet to see anyone else on theirs. On Sundays there is a huge market where hundreds…. Yes I do mean hundreds of vendors who show up and sell everything! I’m sure the experience will be blog worthy!!!

On Friday we went to orientation and the weekend was ours to explore Rome. I have a favorite restaurant already.  Antica Taverna is conveniently located by my school. I don’t know if that’s a good thing for my wallet.  I’ve been there twice, first with Tamara’s family and second with my roommates. My favorite dish is the Lasagne al Forno. Words cannot describe the tastes. All I know is I’ll be packing my own lunches because otherwise I’ll be there everyday for lunch.
Lasagne al Forno
The one thing I’ve learned to appreciate is the passion the Italians have in regards to life, love or even their jobs. Take for example last night at dinner. The waiters seemed to be so humble with their jobs. They smile and I have no idea what they are smiling about but it doesn’t really matter. (And if you’re thinking they are smiling because they want my money, you may be right. BUT it’s the kind of smile that is genuine.) Then a violinist came to play in front of the restaurant. I wish I had taken a photo of his facial expressions. He looked in love and at peace with what he was doing. I couldn’t help to smile. It’s the simple things in life that I have begun to notice. Unfortunately, it took thousands of dollars and thousands of miles away from home for me to understand simplicity of life.

On Saturday two of my roommates and I attempted to go to the beach. In the morning it looked overcast but Rachel was determined to go, and I was determined to get out of the house so it was going to be an adventure nonetheless. Meg and I were the navigators. We had to get from our apartment to the treno stazione. (train station). We walked all the way to Via Nazionale and took a bus to the stazione. However, we had a hiccup in our route and ended up in Foro Romano. Foro Romano is located between the Palatine Hill and the Capitoline in the city of Rome, Italy. Citizens of the ancient city referred to the location as the "Forum Magnum" or just the "Forum". It is part of the centralized area around which the ancient Rome developed.
Meg, Me, Rachel at Foro Romano
Right as we arrived at the treno stazione it started to sprinkle. Luckily I was in jeans but my roommates were in sundresses. Initially we thought we had to take a train to get to the beach and waited in line for a ticket, but 20 minutes later found out we were in the wrong line. We were directed to the tobacco shop to buy a metro pass. It appears the tobacco shop sells EVERYTHING, even stamps. I’m proud to announce with the little Italian I knew I was able to communicate where to go…. or so I thought. We went out to the terminals and couldn’t find Metro B.  The rain started to come down a bit harder, and neither one of us had an umbrella.  Hungry, tired, and a bit frustrated, we were about to give up until we saw an information booth. (thank gosh the lady spoke english, although she looked VERY annoyed when we asked her questions.) Through our small conversation we found that the “metro” was not apart of the metro busses, that the metro was underground. From personal experience I know the“metro” as the busses, however once you get to the treno stanzione, there are certain  metros lines that go under ground. After all the perseverance, we decided the weather would trumped us. Instead we got pizza and went home. All was not lost, at least we are able to confidently navigate ourselves through Rome now.

From your favorite Roamin' Roman

Friday, September 17, 2010

The First Week of Roamin’ Rome

First day in Rome

     You know when you have a moment where you can’t believe this is your life? Well I my “ah ha” moment three days ago when I was on my friend’s balcony staring at the statue of Vittorio Emanuel. The weather was sunny and all I could hear was the busyness of the streets.

     Life is a lot faster, chaotic and as an outsider there doesn’t seem to an order. I am sure the Romans have a different opinion than I do. I learned very quickly pedestrians do not have the right away in a cross walk or in the streets.  On my first day I got side swiped by a car. If this had happened in the States the driver would have stopped and apologized profusely, instead the car kept on going. Initially it did not hurt; I think I was more surprised than anything. I now have a wonderful war bruise I show off.  I consider it my initiation to Rome and a friendly reminder vehicles dominate the road.

Another Piazza I visited, although I don't remember the name
           I’ve watched Romans crossing the streets--they do not rush. Instead Romans cross trusting that they will not be hit. On the other hand, tourist are easily spotted as they run for their lives in fear the cars won’t stop…. which is partly true. My taxi ride from the airport to Rome was an experience in its self. Within the first five minutes I said a prayer in hopes I would get to my destination alive. Previously friends have tried to explain the taxi drivers have their own set of rules when driving. As nerve racking as it was to be in the car I made it alive. How that is possible, I am not sure, but I prefer not to take a taxi. I rather walk than have a heart attack at the age of 23.

The first day in Rome was spent trying to fight jet lag. My friend, Tamara, made sure I wouldn’t fall asleep and literally kept me on my feet-- we spent the entire day walking around Rome. My feet got serious millage and serious blisters. It is extremely important to find comfortable shoes. I envy the Italians. They all look like they are walking to a Giorgio Armani photo shoot, and their shoes are the highlight of their outfit. I tried to dress up like the Italians and wear fashionable shoes, but within 10 minutes I realized it wasn’t do able. My feet were swollen (I blame the airplane ride, and maybe dehydration). Finding comfortable shoes is a huge dilemma. Did you know the biggest female shoe size in Rome is 41? I was lucky to be blessed with the BIGGEST FEET ever! I am a size 12 men’s in the United States, and a 45… that’s right, a 45 in Italy. You should have seen the looks on the storekeeper’s faces when I asked if they had a size 45. Most pointed to the very masculine and ugly man shoes.  After shoe shop for nearly half the day and being disappointed store after store, I randomly walked by  “Louis Big Shoes.” What are the odds? The Roman Gods answered my request. Right when I was about to give up I stumbled across the store. As I was about to enter I realized it was closed. For those of you who do not know, most stores close during lunchtime and reopen around three. How convenient. I haven’t had time to go back, and I will very soon because my outfits are being limited by my lack of shoe choices. (Not that it really matters)
One of the many places I visited on the first day--Piazza Navona

The first three days were spent with Tamara’s family. I’ve decided to adopt them as my new Italian family, whether they know it or not.  She moved from Marin County to Rome with her family.  I consider myself fortunate to have them close by. I will be visiting them weekly and taking her son out to gelato and practice my Italian with the family. Because of her family, I do not know how it feels to be homesick. How can one be homesick if you feel at home?  They have a beautiful apartment with phenomenal views of Rome. Most of the meals take place on the balcony. It is a nice way to end the day. No rush, no stress, just good conversation and company.

 I find myself at night not being able to sleep, and it’s not just because of jet lag. I am excited for the next day and what I will see, smell, and even taste. The food is amazing. I’ve now tried three flavors of gelato. My favorite so far is pistachio.  A gelato owner said there are over 100 flavors, whether it is true or not, I’m dedicated to tasting every gelato until I’ve tried them all.

From your loving  Romin’ Roman

Word of the week: Polverizzare. (Tamara and I looked it up to try and explain what had happened to me when during the car swipe. My vocabulary keeps on getting bigger and bigger)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lessons to be Learned

This was it!!! This was the moment I had been waiting  for the past six months and I thought I would be ready. Wrong! No matter how many months, days, or even books read in preparation for living abroad it was never enough. Please remind yourself, and for those who do not know, this is my first experience leaving home for an extended time period. Let alone in a foreign county and additionally a country that speaks a different language. Italy will be my new “home” for the next couple of months.  I will be residing in Rome for the first two months and then Florence for the last two. In between living in the cities I will have ten days to travel, most likely to Greece. But then again, there might be other countries calling my name.   

 For those who do not really know me, I am probably the most stubborn, intense, and slightly impatient (alright, alright, impatient), person I know, when it comes to myself. Some of you may not have noticed, as I try to disguise these personal traits, though I doubt I’m fooling anyone. But at the same time I am driven to achieve my goals. There was a quote I once read and it has become one of my philosophies in life. Look, I've never had a dream in my life, because a dream is what you want to do but still haven't pursued. I knew what I wanted and did it 'till it was done, so I've been the dream that I wanted to be since day one." So when the opportunity of moving to Italy came along, without thinking twice I wrote the deposit check. I didn’t even know at the time if it was financially possible, but I knew when I get an idea I grab onto it and don’t let go. So instead of working 40 hours a week during the summer I worked 60 to 70 hours. Now with work behind me, I’m sitting on a plane writing this blog and thinking of what I will encounter while in Italy. Don’t worry I am prepared to eat all the gelato, pasta, and whatever else I can get my hands on, and at the end of the night put on my stretchy pants in order to blog about these experiences so you can live vicariously through me.

In Rome and Florence I’ll be studying at  Leonardo Da Vinci. I will continue studying Italian in addition to a History class and an Art History class.  Hopefully I will find some cooking classes as well. Many of my friends and family know when it comes to cooking, my best cooking tool is VISA. Yes, that is correct, I am not ashamed to admit it but I cannot cook, I burn water. A friend told me that’s not bad cooking skills, it’s not being able to pay attention. Which is true, I do not pay attention when cooking. I don’t pay attention because cooking is not an interest. However, I have an interest in eating. But I realize after eating the same foods day in and day out, and ordering at the same places it’s time to face this challenge. What better place to learn than in Italy!

 Before I left for Italy people shared their traveling stories with me and the “dos and a donts.” I promise I listened to all of them and even took some notes.  Sadly, not even 24 hours into my travels and I have learned a lot. Travel Lesson One. I know I’ve been told this a million times!  Always check the airplane for ALL of your belongs before you leave; you might just forget one thing. In my case unfortunately and embarrassing as it is to admit I forgot my Itouch. I remember my books just not the small electronic. (Maybe if Apple stopped making their electronics smaller than the last their invention I would have been able to SEE what I left behind… Actually I was just forgetful and stressed I was going to miss my connecting flight and I rushed myself) I wish I had a different story to tell, but this will probably one of the many (hard) lessons to be learned during my duration in Italy. (ACTUALLY I WAS AN IDIOT AND REALIZED AFTER SIX HOURS INTO THE SECOND FLIGHT I WAS SITTING ON MY ITOUCH THE ENTIRE TIME. I DID NOT LEAVE IT ON THE LAST FLIGHT. I THOUGHT I HAD TAKEN IT OUT MY DURING MY SECOND FLIGHT BUT I WAS TOO TIRED AND FORGETFUL THAT I FORGOT I DID HAVE IT, I JUST WAS SITTING ON IT. I COULDN’T EVEN FEEL IT. HAPPY ENDING)

Travel Lesson Two. I have realized it does not matter if you pay the extra 30 dollars to reserve an isle seat or a window seat, most likely you’ll be an instant target for the middle seat and there won’t be anything you can do at that moment other than to get comfortable. (Or maybe I just have bad luck. I’ll be calling American Airlines and ask for a refund. That money could have gone to massive consumptions of gelato!)

Lesson Three. “Kill them with Kindness.” I found being overly cheerful  to the lady who checked me into my flight at 6am was nice enough to pretended not to acknowledge that my bag was over six pounds the limit. Instead she winked at me and then put the ”heavy tag” on my bag and wished me well with a smile. To the two people (you know who you are) that helped me pack and repack my bags trying to get me to eliminate, “you were right.” Less is better. I had to touch the fire for myself, and boy was it hot! When I arrive to my apartment I have five flights of stairs to lug up all my bags and I doubt the taxi driver will help. Again, more lessons for me to learn and share with you in hopes you will not be as dense as me.  However, the intention of this blog is not solely about lessons but also experiences to share. It would be nice to have all my friends and family by my side in Italy, BUT that would defeat the purpose of this journey. This will be the first time I will be teaching myself new things, first on the list PATIENCE! The second is to deal with change gracefully, (if that is even possible). Additionally, I write this blog not only for myself, but for the readers. If there is anyone out there that has been debating on traveling or living abroad I say GO FOR IT!!!! I’m almost 24 and just starting. I have no idea what I am doing, but I do know I won’t forget this experience. I hope this blog will create an open channel of communication between the people I left at home, the people I will meet and any one else who is clumsy enough to stumble over this. I encourage readers to leave comments, suggestions, and recommendations.  Thank you everyone’s support. I love you all.

Alece the Roamin' Roman