Ciao a tutti!
Hello, fans. I apologise for the brief interlude. On with the show. Where did I leave you…?
Ah yes. Last time we spoke, I’d just been to Ostia Antica and Open Testaccio. That feels like ages ago. Put the kettle on, there’s a mammoth post coming up. I’ll split it into three parts to make it a bit more manageable for you.
Last week, Lily came to visit with some friends from uni! I was so pleased to see her. Unfortunately due to bad planning, lectures and a horrible bout of migraines, I didn’t get to spend every second of every day with her as I’d hoped to, but the things we did get to do were really great.
On Tuesday we went for a walk round the Centro Storico and of course, we stopped off at the Magnum Pleasure Store. The following day, Wednesday, the heavens opened and we braved the Vatican Museums – it took me a long time to get there and I arrived a while after Lily and her friends, but thanks to a very friendly man at the front desk called Lorenzo I was able to get into the museums and catch up with Lily (well, ok, she retraced her steps to meet me). The Vatican Museums are huge (according to my guide book there are 7km of exhibitions and if you spent one minute on every exhibit, it would take you twelve years to see everything) and on that day they were absolutely packed, perhaps because it was raining so hard and everybody wanted to be inside. I liked the museums, but in a way there was almost too much to see – after a while you stop being able to be impressed by everything because there’s just so much stuff. I did managed to take a sneaky picture of the Sistine Chapel ceiling though, even though you’re not supposed to take pictures. The things I do for you – now you don’t have to go to the bother of coming all the way to Rome. You can just read my blog instead, you lucky things.
That evening involved a very soggy trip to Lasagnam and I can confirm that the lasagna there is still great even when you’re soaked to the skin and wringing water from your shirt.
On Saturday we made a trip to Tivoli to see the Villa d’Este and its gardens, which I’ve been wanting to see ever since I watched a documentary about Rome which included the gardens (I’m aware of how tragic it is that I watch documentaries about Italy but I’m obsessed with this country). Luckily for us, the weather improved infinitely for the weekend and we were treated to a day of sunshine. After a dodgy bus ride up a hill, we arrived in Tivoli, which is beautiful. Villa d’Este is definitely worth a visit too; the inside rooms are beautiful and painted top to bottom.
I was trying to find out a bit of history by sneakily listening to a tour that was going on in French, but after a while I think some of the old French guys caught on (I’m not a very subtle person) and started muttering and tutting at me under their breath, so I wandered off again to see the gardens.
I thought the gardens were stunning but then I really, really like fountains. You can decide for yourself.
In the Romans category, this week has been spent mostly trying to sort out my timetable, not made easy by the fact that we still haven’t been sent out student numbers which we need to log on to our online portal, but more importantly give us access to wifi at uni.
We finally found the professor that we needed to talk to about our French class; it turns out he hadn’t been standing me up after all, but was based in a different building. Apparently there are two Departments of Foreign Languages and Culture (!?) in different buildings, which he had neglected to mention when giving me his address. Both are on the third floor, and both have an office in room 314. We pointed this out, but he still seemed to think we were complete idiots for not finding the correct building. He was very nice, though he then proceeded to conduct our meeting in a strange mix of English, French and Italian, often switching languages mid-sentence, which was confusing to say the least. The upshot of all of this was that the 11 hour exam we are currently studying for (yes, you read that correctly, we have an exam that lasts from 9am until 8pm. Probably a lot of it would be waiting around, but still, eleven hours) didn’t actually mean anything without another exam from a different course that took place last term, which obviously meant we couldn’t take it the course. I was ready to give up at this point, but instead he gave us the names of two books we could read – then we’d be ready for the final exam, apparently. So attending the course is not a prerequisite for taking the exam, which seems to be a common theme in Italy. Vabbè.
Two other fantastic Roman discoveries: firstly, a new shopping centre called Happio has been built five minutes’ walk away from my flat which houses a Decathlon (a sports shop which is going to be very useful for me, you’ll find out why soon…), a Tiger (that shop that sells loads of random stuff like heart-patterned toilet paper really cheaply) and an H&M, and which is covered in giant plastic snails which glow in the dark for no apparent reason.
The second discovery is Nutella calzone, delivered hot to your door. I might as well resign myself to a heart attack now and just get on with it.
As for countrymen, well, Dad and Debbie came to visit me last weekend! (Yes, they’re countrymen. They live in Wales).
They arrived on Saturday evening and Martina and I went to pick them up from the airport. We spent an amusing half hour pretending Martina couldn’t speak any English and chatted loudly in Italian, making sure to laugh a lot to make them feel as uncomfortable as possible. Then I started feeling too cruel, so we let on that Martina actually speaks English as well (if not better) than I do.
After we’d got them settled into their Air BnB, we went for dinner at a small restaurant where Martina used to work that’s just 5 minutes from my house, called Mithos. I’d only ever had aperitivo there before, but this time we had a full meal and it was delicious. I know I say that about all the food I eat here, but it’s always true! I had a gnocchi dish and tirimasu for dessert, and Dad was very impressed when they actually rounded the bill down for us.
On Sunday I accidentally took them on a 10-mile walking tour, forgetting that they’re old fogies and can’t handle it (joking, it was my feet that were hurting the most). We started at Mercato Monti which I have been wanting to check out for a while; it was a lot smaller than I expected, but a very cool market full of hand-made jewellery, clothes and other crafts.
Then we walked to the Colosseum…
…past the Forum and the Victor Emmanuel II Monument…
…over to the Pantheon where the police were chatting up girls…
…and Piazza Navona where we stopped for a drink and to people watch…
…then along Via del Corso to Piazza del Popolo (with a quick stop in the Perugina shop to buy some chocolate shot glasses) and then all the way back along the Tevere, past the Vatican, to Trastevere, where we gratefully collapsed at Pizzeria Ai Marmi. This time I tried the suppli, which I had never tried before, and are basically balls of cheese inside breaded tomato rice. It’s difficult to describe…
On Monday we had quick coffee breakfast at the bar opposite my house and were served by the sweetest old lady I have ever met in my life (I would say except those related to me, but none of my grandmas are old ladies. I love and miss you all, by the way, I know you’re reading!). Dad and Debbie immediately nicknamed the bar ‘grandma’s’. Then we headed to St Peter’s Basilica because I wanted to practise using my new camera (more about that in a second!) but unfortunately I had a lecture to go to in the afternoon and we got there late after a lazy morning – well, we were tired after all that walking. We would have had to have queued for at least fifty minutes, so as we only had about an hour before I had to go to uni, we went and drank wine instead. Then I headed to my lecture, and met Dad and Debbie afterwards back at grandma’s. Then we settled down back at my flat for a picnic of cheese, olives, homemade guacamole, bread, breadsticks, salami and other goodies.
Tuesday was their last day, so we had a second try at St Peter’s. When Dad and Debbie saw the queue they insisted that there was no way we were getting in in less than two hours, but I am a seasoned Roman woman now who knows how Rome works. Advice: even if the queue extends all the way round St Peter’s Square (why is it called a Square? It’s circular), it’s probably not going to take you more than an hour to get in. I know the queue is probably the longest one you’ve ever seen in your life, but I promise it moves quickly.
So, for the fourth time in my life, I went through security and walked up to the huge, imposing façade that is St Peter’s. Whether I’m inside or outside, I always forget how big it is until I concentrate on how tiny the people are in comparison to everything else. I’ve seen it cited as both the largest and the second largest Cathedral in the world, but however you look at it, that’s pretty bloody massive. I’m not religious, but I never fail to be stunned by just how beautiful it is. I’d like it a whole lot more though if I didn’t know that a large amount of the marble used to make the Basilica was stolen from the Colosseum – did you know the Colosseum used to be entirely covered in marble? Imagine how beautiful it would have looked, completely white. Apparently the canopy in the Basilica is made from bronze stolen from the dome of the Pantheon too, which is a travesty. Though that doesn’t stop it from being incredibly beautiful.
On the way back to the metro, by chance we stumbled across a gelateria that sold affogato after having searched for it all weekend! We’d only found one other place that did it in Piazza Navona, where they wanted to charge 10€ (yeah, right). In this small geleteria, one affogato cost us a modest 3,50€ for three scoops of ice cream, cream and a shot of coffee. I’m convinced it was destiny. It was (altogether, now) delicious.
Then it was time to say goodbye. I was sad to see them go, but felt an overriding sense of pride at having made my first phone call in Italian to book a taxi. I had understood next to nothing of what the guy on the other end was saying, but a taxi turned up for them at the right place and at the right time, so I’m counting it as a success.
Last but not least, look at my new toy! Isn’t it pretty!?
Dad is a photographer (a lot of these pictures are his) and helped me pick out a camera and showed me how to use it. When I say helped me, he basically did it for me as I’m something of a technophobe. I practiced taking photos with it this weekend – it turns out photography is much more technical than I’d banked on it being and I had to learn a lot of new words, like ‘aperture’ and ‘ISO sensitivity’. I took some okay-ish photos and I can’t wait to get more used to using it and taking some nicer photos for this blog.
Phew, told you that was going to be a mammoth post. Finished your tea? I had finished my tea, quite literally. As in, I’d run out. I was getting desperate and considering sending out an SOS on Twitter. I may be adopting an Italian attitude, but I’m always going to be English at heart and therefore capable of drinking 10+ cups of tea in a day, even in the heat of summer. Luckily, Debbie brought me some more, oh happy day!
That’s all for now folks. I promise not to leave you hanging for that long again, I know you were dying to hear the latest installment of my dolce vita in Rome. Never fear, fans, I am back.
Ciao for now,