Home Sweet Home

I’ve been back in Norway for the last three or so weeks, but a combination of sickness and laziness have prevented me from blogging about the present until now. Clearly blogging regularly is not one of my New Year’s resolutions. Anyways, now that I’ve gotten back into the swing of things I’m happy to continue typing out my random thoughts and experiences.

I will say that one of the things that surprised me upon my return to Trondheim was realizing that I consider Norway home. Granted I was sick when I arrived, so being able to sleep in my own bed and consume American meds definitely contributed to my excitement, but not even my tiny college bed and modern medicine could entirely account for the level of happiness that I experienced when I came back. So it seems a bit fitting that I should take a moment and reflect on my experiences thus far and the reasons why I love Norway:

  1. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking and it’s never far away. I wouldn’t label myself as outdoorsy, but I definitely appreciate that nature is never more than a short walk away. Plus, the reindeer are a pretty huge perk.
  2. As a whole, things function really well here. Things tend to run on time, everything works, wifi is everywhere, and you can accomplish quite a bit (banking, travel arrangements, public transportation, grocery store discounts, etc.) on your smartphone.
  3. Overall Norwegians seem to be super active, which means that I’m guilted into exercising.
  4. Norway is an incredibly safe country. I’ve seen five year olds take the bus without assistance and I’ve been told that people regularly leave their young children outside and unattended to nap.
  5. There is a huge focus here on family and less of a focus on work. Almost everything is built to be child and stroller friendly, there are playgrounds everywhere, and Sunday is pretty much a day dedicated to spending time with your family. I’m not a huge fan of the fact that everything shuts down on Sunday (or is super expensive if it’s open) but it’s still nice to walk around and see a lot of families getting in some quality time by going skiing/hiking/running together. The childcare and other welfare benefits for families are also pretty incredible from what I’ve heard.
  6. Work scheduling is really flexible. It’s pretty easy for me to lesson plan at home and I’m really able to take ownership of my time. Granted I, as well as most other teachers, probably have a more flexible schedule than most Norwegians, but overall work scheduling seems to be pretty accommodating.
  7. The small population. Having lived in Los Angeles and Boston for most of my life, I have to say that I enjoy cities. In fact, I’m pretty used to living in crowded areas. That being said, it’s nice to have things be a bit smaller. The biggest perk: public transportation is almost never crowded. Seriously though, Norwegians think having to sit next to someone on the bus qualifies as “crowded.”
  8. A pretty functional public health system (I promise to blog more on this later).
  9. I’m pretty sure that I will never live anywhere more expensive, which means that when I travel everything seems ridiculously cheap.

Now that’s not to say that there aren’t some things that I struggle with or critique. I mean people go out of the country just to buy groceries and alcohol. It’s a bit ridiculous. But any country is bound to have its pros and cons, and overall Norway’s pros weigh heavily in its favor.

It’s recently hit me that in the six or so months that I’ve lived in Norway I’ve come to see it as home. And the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve come to realize that I would actually be quite happy to live here for another few years. Just living here these past six months has shown me why past Norwegian Fulbrighters keep returning to Norway, whether it is to stay permanently or just to visit. And while I don’t intend on moving to Norway permanently, it’s still pretty cool to realize that I’ve fallen in love enough to consider staying for an extended period of time.

Rome Wrap Up

Even though I was pretty travel weary when I arrived in Rome, I still managed to really enjoy the city. Here are my tips and tricks:

  1. Rome is a city that you can easily visit multiple times, so there is no need to rush through the city.
  2. I went in winter and I have to say that going during the off season was a good choice. You can still expect crowds at all of the major tourist attractions, but they are pretty manageable. I think the longest wait that I had was about an hour.
  3. Rome is a fairly walkable city. All of the buses that I saw were packed, but I’ve heard that the subway is pretty functional. You can use this website to figure out how to navigate the public transportation system, though be aware that things generally don’t run on time. If you want to avoid public transportation, all of the big tourist sights are probably within an easy 20-60 minute walk no matter where you are in the city.
  4. All of the fountains in Rome offer clean water that you can easily fill a water bottle with. Now when I say fountain I don’t meant that you should dip your water bottle into the nearest Bernini fountain, I mean small water fountains that are scattered throughout the city.
  5. When ordering water at a restaurant it will be bottled (and expensive) unless you specifically request tap water.
  6. Many sights are close to each other so be sure to glance at a map beforehand so that you can be efficient with your time.
  7. If you are a Dan Brown fan and want to follow the major sights listed in Angels and Demons check out this blog.
  8. People in Rome eat late so many restaurants won’t open until late.
  9. I was warned by pretty much everyone I know to watch out for pickpockets in Rome. Honestly as long as you keep an eye on your things and take preventative measures such as zipping up your pockets you’ll be fine.
  10. You do not need to tip at restaurants since a service charge is generally included.
  11. Sights run by the city of Rome should be free on Sundays.
  12. On Sundays the Pope occasionally appears at noon to give blessings to people in St. Peter’s Square.
  13. Many churches have their most famous pieces of artwork in shady corners. Many of these shady corners have lights that are activated when you feed a few euros into a machine.
  14. Have gelato
  15. Italians HATE it when you don’t have exact change so try and keep track of those pesky coins.
  16. While reservations and tours would probably enhance your experience in Rome I was honestly just fine without them. That being said, the standards for tour guides are quite rigorous so if you do hire a guide you will probably have someone who is very knowledgeable about the city and its major sights.
  17. For me the permanent must sees were: the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica (go through the catacombs and the climb up to the dome), Villa Borghese (you should probably make reservations for this, although you can try and weasel your way in), Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, Church San Luigi dei FrancesiSanta Maria Maggiore, Roman Forum (you can buy combination tickets for the Coliseum and the Roman Forum so buy them at whichever sight has the shortest line), Coliseum, Piazza Navona, and Trevi Fountain (though it’s currently undergoing renovations).
  18. The temporary must sees were: the M.C. Escher exhibit at Chiostro del Bramante and the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit at the Museo dell’Ara Pacis

Church on Sunday

Sunday was my last full day in Rome, and because I was a bit travel weary I decided to take it pretty slow. My initial plan was to spend the majority of the day across the Tiber River. I had yet to visit the Vatican or Castel Sant’Angelo so I was planning on visiting both sights that day. Plus, it seemed appropriate to be going to the Vatican on Sunday.

Unfortunately, I got a bit of a late start in the morning, so by the time I walked across the river, had lunch, and arrived at Castel Sant’Angelo it was early afternoon. I had read online that the castle closes at 2 pm on Sundays, and when I took a look at the line it was pretty clear that by the time I managed to get inside the castle would be closing. So instead of getting in line, I snapped a few pictures before heading off to the Vatican.

IMG_8305  IMG_8309  IMG_8312IMG_8322  IMG_8333  IMG_8332IMG_8330  IMG_8347  IMG_8318Iman was feeling better today so she met me at the Vatican. Now remember how I said I didn’t book any tours? This still holds true for the Vatican, though it’s the closest that I got to taking a tour in Rome. I’ve had a ton of friends give really good reviews of Rick Steves’s Walking Tours so I decided to test one out while I waited in line for Iman. I didn’t get far in the audioguide, but what I heard was pretty good. Here’s a bit of what I learned: St. Peter’s Basilica was built on the site where St. Peter was crucified and buried, and the current church was created in two stages. The old church was left intact while St. Peter’s was built around it. Once the newer building was complete, the old church was knocked down and moved out. The columns in front of the Basilica are built in a circular shape since they are supposed to represent the welcoming arms of the church. Basically it’s supposed to be a big hug. The statues that adorn the columns are ten feet tall and each represents a different saint. Originally it used to be quite difficult to see the dome since when you approach the church the facade hides the dome (see below). It wasn’t until Mussolini closed off the street leading up to the Vatican that people were able to get a good view of the entire structure.

IMG_8356  IMG_8368  IMG_8371IMG_8374  IMG_8375  IMG_8377IMG_8389  IMG_8410  IMG_8405Although the line to the Vatican was long, I have to give them credit and say that it did move pretty quickly. Without too much ado, Iman and I were let inside the church after about thirty minutes. It was well worth the wait. It was stunning.

IMG_8419  IMG_8416  IMG_8421IMG_8467  IMG_8438  IMG_8451IMG_8473  IMG_8431  IMG_8454After we walked around the church, we took stairs down to the catacombs and saw what we think was the grave of St. Peter. We’re still not entirely sure since talking was not encouraged in the catacombs and all of the signs were in Italian. The grave of Pope John Paul II was towards the exit and we paid our respects before leaving.

After that all that was really left for us to do was to climb to the top of the dome. Now there are two options for the ascent. You can either climb the whole way to the top (around 550 stairs) or take an elevator up about halfway and then take the remaining set of stairs (around 350 stairs). Considering that Stephansdom in Vienna was around 340 stairs and I found that to be plenty, I was happy to pay the extra two euros and pass the first 200 or so stairs on the elevator. After a bit of a wait, we caught the elevator and were whisked up to the base of the dome. From there you could get a really good view of the dome’s artwork before continuing up to the top.

IMG_8485  IMG_8482  IMG_8489IMG_8493  IMG_8500  IMG_8497There were two things that surprised me on our way to the top. First the complete lack of handrails. When I mentioned this to Iman she just laughed and said something along the lines of “Welcome to Italy.” The second thing that surprised me was that the stairwell actually curves to match the curve of the dome. This means that you couldn’t stand up straight as your approached the top of the dome, otherwise you would risk hitting your head on the curved ceiling. But soon enough we were at the top. The views were great and were enhanced due to the fading daylight. We had inadvertently timed our ascent with sunset.

IMG_8503  IMG_8505  IMG_8507IMG_8508  IMG_8511  IMG_8510IMG_8518  IMG_8519  IMG_8521Once we were done we began the descent back to street level.

I did have to laugh at the public toilets at the Vatican. Based on their signs it’s clear that the male dominated church has only recently had to include female restrooms.

IMG_8535  IMG_8541  IMG_8538IMG_2294  IMG_8556  IMG_2296Now one of the great things about Sundays in Rome is that apparently sights that are run by the city (usually things like museums) are free. My original plan was to go to the Capitoline Museums, but cold symptoms made me decide to cut my day short. Overall I had a great day though. I don’t happen to be religious, and going to a Lutheran school from a young age means that I am definitely not Catholic, but it was it was really nice to go to such a holy place. Even though I don’t share the beliefs of many of the visitors, it was still very touching to see how much St. Peter’s meant to them.

On My Own

The next day I was planning on meeting Iman, but medicine had yet to work wonders on her cold and I ended up spending the day solo. My first destination was the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. Gargi and I had already been to a number of the sights listed in Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons so I figured I’d finish up most of the remaining sights today. Here is a helpful blog that we used in order to accomplish this. Now the church I was going to is the sight of Bernini’s The Ecstasy of St. Theresa, and the blog wasn’t kidding when it said that it was a bit out of the way and tiny. But it was worth the pit stop. To my great surprise, I was expecting to be tired of churches at this point, but even now it never fails to amaze me how beautiful they all are, regardless of whether or not they contain famous artwork.

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My second stop of the day was the Villa Borghese. Now remember how I mentioned that I didn’t make any reservations before my trip? Well you pretty much need a reservation to get into the Villa Borghese. Now I knew that going in. That didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to try and get around this, especially considering that almost all of my friends who had gone to the Villa Borghese had managed to fabricate their way in. So I figured I’d give it a shot. And remembering Italian lesson number two (in Italy rules are really just suggestions) I set off for the Villa.

Now the way things work at the Villa is that you sign up for a time slot and then view the Villa at your allocated time. I figured my best shot was to come after the people who had legitimate reservations had already entered the Villa, so I arrived about thirty minutes after the 11 am time slot. Sure enough I was initially told that I could not get into the Villa for the next available time slot, BUT I was told that I could pay and enter with the ongoing time slot. I also had to laugh when the ticket lady gave me a pitying look for having only an hour and a half in the Villa as opposed to the normal two hours. I on the other hand was just excited to get in.

IMG_8116  IMG_8117  IMG_8118IMG_8130  IMG_8134  IMG_8136IMG_8138  IMG_8141  IMG_8159IMG_8147  IMG_8145  IMG_8153As you can see, the artwork inside the Villa Borghese is pretty stunning. My favorite statue ended up being Bernini’s David (picture on the bottom left). There were also a number of beautiful paintings. What actually surprised me about the Villa was how small it was. It only has two floors of artwork. The other thing that surprised me was that they had a modern art exhibit on display by Mat Collishaw. The first component of his work were these glass picture frames that contained paintings by Caravaggio. When first glancing at these frames it seems as though they only contain Caravaggio reproductions, but if you look at the paintings for long enough the figures inside the frames move ever so slightly. I actually thought it was a great exhibit since it helped demonstrate how realistic Caravaggio’s pictures are. His second work is a zoetrope based on Ippolito Scarsella’s The Massacre of the Innocents. The content wasn’t exactly pleasant but it was still a pretty impressive work.

Once I was done with the Villa I went for a quick walk around the grounds. The grounds are fairly extensive and are on a hill so you get a pretty nice view of Rome. From there I walked down to Piazza del Popolo.

IMG_8218  IMG_8213  IMG_8227IMG_8229  IMG_8230  IMG_8222IMG_8233  IMG_8238  IMG_8237Once I was there I went back to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo this time in search of Bernini’s Habakkuk and the Angel. After that I had managed to go to all of the places in Angeles and Demons, with the exception of Castel Sant’Angelo.

The only other thing on my agenda for the day was to visit an M.C. Escher exhibit that was on display at Chiostro del Bramante. So I set off in that general direction. It was in the middle of this wandering that I stumbled across a Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit at the Museo dell’Ara Pacis. I had taken three years worth of photography classes in high school and Cartier-Bresson was one of those photographers who we had to talk about every semester. I hadn’t actually seen any of his original works so I figured that this exhibit would be worth a stop. The exhibit turned out to be great. My one qualm with it was that it was unclear in what direction you were supposed to be moving through the exhibit, making it very easy to go through his work in a haphazard and non-chronological way. Before leaving I also stopped by the Ara Pacis, or the alter of peace, that was on display on the top floor.

IMG_8254  IMG_8258  IMG_8273IMG_8262  IMG_8268  IMG_8272From there I slowly made my way towards the M.C. Escher exhibit. In the midst of my wandering I noticed a line forming to go into the church San Luigi dei Francesi. So, not being in a hurry, I decided to join the line and go inside the church. Remember how I mentioned that my Rome trip consisted of a lot of wandering? Case in point. Anyways, I entered the church and realized that there were a series of Caravaggio paintings there. So after struggling with the crowd I was finally able to see the series of paintings below.

The_Calling_of_Saint_Matthew-Caravaggo_(1599-1600)  inspiration-of-saint-matthew-1602-1(1)  24conta

After that I finally made it to the Escher exhibit. Now thanks to two of my college roommates, I have lived with reproductions of Escher’s work for a few years. The two ones below specifically. So, when I kept seeing signs all over Rome advertising an Escher exhibit I knew that I had to go.

001761_2_Escher_DrawingHands  LW306-MC-Escher-Sky-and-Water-I-1938

I will say that the Escher exhibit was excellent. They did a really good job of organizing his work chronologically and showing his transformation as an artist. The audioguide that they had was a bit lengthy (and thus went unused most of the time I was going through the exhibit) but the signs did a good job of explaining things.

In case you are like me and know nothing about Escher’s personal life, I thought I’d let you know what I learned here. Escher is actually a Dutch artist who ended up moving to Italy. He lived there continuously for fourteen years and met and married an Italian woman. He and his wife ended up having two sons together while they were in Italy. The reason behind the family’s move away from Italy came when his youngest son came home one day in a youth fascist uniform. Escher did not want his family to get mixed up in Mussolini’s politics and so he moved his family out of Italy. Escher was a very well respected artist during his lifetime and earned a number of awards before dying in 1972.

While the exhibit was great, getting into the exhibit was a bit of a pain. When I first got to the church there was a line out the door. Soon after I got in line there was an announcement made in Italian, and by using my sketchy Spanish and by asking around I realized that they were telling us that it would take an hour to get into the exhibit. Now I thought that they were just trying to make us come back in an hour, but low and behold beyond the ticket booth lay a courtyard that had a line snaking around almost the entire perimeter. So I settled in to wait and after the promised hour I finally gained entrance to the exhibit. But the wait was totally worth it.

Once I was done with the exhibit all that was really left for me to do was to slowly make my way back to my hostel and prepare for my last full day in Rome.

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When In Rome, Do As the Roman (Fulbrighters) Do

One thing that I noticed in Rome is how some of the simplest things make me happy. It was sunny and warm almost the entire time I was in Rome, and that just made every day seem amazing. Even just waking up to the sunshine made me ridiculously happy.

Anyways, I picked up Gargi in the morning and we walked to Santa Maria Maggiore, which is one of the churches in Rome that is actually owned by the Vatican. Apparently this gives the property something akin to diplomatic status. Because I was with Gargi hiring a guide or going on a tour wasn’t particularly necessary. Between Gargi’s knowledge and Wikipedia we managed to do alright. We even managed to find Bernini’s nondescript grave.

IMG_7826  IMG_7859  IMG_7861IMG_7840  IMG_7845  IMG_7852IMG_7849  IMG_7833  IMG_7835From there we walked South towards the Colosseum. Unsurprisingly the line was out of control. But again traveling with Gargi is great. She steered us towards the Roman Forum since you can buy a combination ticket there for both the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. So instead of waiting for hours in the Colosseum line we waited in the much shorter line for the Roman Forum.

It was pretty incredible once we were inside the Roman Forum. While everything is more or less ruins, you still get a pretty good sense of the scale and craftsmanship that must have gone into everything.

IMG_7875  IMG_7877  IMG_7878IMG_7903  IMG_7901  IMG_7906IMG_7913  IMG_7919  IMG_7939IMG_2203My favorite thing that Gargi told me about the Roman Forum was that if you look at some of the inscriptions you can tell that things have been replaced or chiseled over. She told me that this was because new battles, generals, and victories would be recorded on these monuments and the old ones would be erased. I guess you really had to be quite the military stud to have your name stay on these memorials.

Once we were done walking around the Forum we retraced our steps to the Colosseum. One thing that really surprised me was the size of the Colosseum’s steps. Now I’ll willingly admit that I’m a short person at 5’3” (160 cm), but I like to think that I would have been tall in ancient Rome. So I was really surprised at how steep the steps were. Gargi also told me that these steps are called a vomitorium. The idea behind them is that the stairwell slope downwards and causes you to rush down the stairs. So the Colosseum was designed to “vomit” its crowds out quickly and efficiently.

And now for a few more Colosseum facts. Fact one: you might notice a number of holes in Colosseum when you take a look at my pictures. This is because the Colosseum used to have a marble facade. The marble was taken and used in other constructions, one of the most notable being St. Peter’s Basilica. Fact two: historians suspect that the Colosseum used to have some sort of shade system, which considering that I was feeling pretty warm in the middle of winter seems like quite a good idea. Fact three: apparently ladies had to sit towards the top of the Colosseum since it was thought that the violence would be too upsetting for them to view up close.

IMG_7944  IMG_7957  IMG_7962IMG_2215Now by the time Gargi and I had finished with the Colosseum we were starving. So we sat down for lunch and waited for Iman to join us. Once our hunger had been satiated we walked towards the Pantheon since I wanted to actually go inside.

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We took a small detour just before the Pantheon since a few blocks away lies the church Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Right outside the church is an obelisk by Bernini and inside there is a statue of Jesus Christ done by Michelangelo. I wouldn’t have said that the statue was particularly striking, but the church was quite beautiful.

IMG_8029  IMG_8033  IMG_8039When we were done looking around we quietly left the church and continued on to the Pantheon. Gargi had told me early on that it was her favorite building in Rome and I would have to agree. There isn’t too much to do inside but that doesn’t stop it from being incredible.

IMG_8054  IMG_8047  IMG_8059After that it was gelato time! Now that I’m an adult I can do things like have dessert before dinner and that’s basically what happened. After we grabbed gelato we walked back towards Piazza Navona and paid Borromini’s Sant’Agnese a short visit. After we were done we stopped by a drug store for Iman (take note that Italian pharmacies do not tend to sell American drugs) and then found an Argentinian restaurant for dinner. Now both Iman and Gargi have been living in Italy since October so I couldn’t blame them for wanting to eat literally anything other than Italian food. The restaurant, Baires, actually ended up being really good and I would highly recommend their sangria if you get a chance to go.

Once we had finished we slowly walked back towards our hostels. It was here that Gargi and I parted ways since she was going back to Messina the next day. Overall I had a great day and can’t thank Gargi enough for showing me around.

New Year’s

After spending an appropriate amount of time recovering from New Year’s Eve (keep in mind that teaching generally gives me a 10 pm bedtime so even staying up until midnight was being bold), Gargi and I started our day. To my great relief, most of the major sights in Rome are closed on New Year’s. Now you might be wondering why I was happy about this fact, but to be honest after about two weeks of travel I was pretty content to have a rest day.

Now before I go on to detail the rest of my time in Rome, I’m going to state right off the bat that I arguably didn’t do Rome “right.” Enough of my friends have gone to Rome that I have a nearly endless supply of advice on the city. I freely admit that I ignored most of it. I did not eat gelato every day (just most days), I did not eat pasta/Italian food for every meal, I did not make any sort of reservations in advance, and I did not book a tour to anything. In short, my trip to Rome mostly consisted of me just walking around and discovering things. But hey, it worked for me. I will say that one huge benefit of all of the advice that I got was that I never expected to visit everything. Being overwhelmed with attractions just meant that I was content to take things at a more leisurely pace.

Now back to New Year’s. I will say that one of the great things about Rome is that chances are you are going to stumble upon something beautiful. My late morning wander with Gargi accidentally led us by the Palazzo Chigi, or the official residence of the Italian Prime Minister, and from there it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to Trevi Fountain.

IMG_7658  IMG_7661  IMG_7662IMG_7673  IMG_7665  IMG_7671Luckily I’ve known for a while that Trevi Fountain is undergoing restoration work, so I wasn’t surprised to see the fountain dry and covered with construction work. The one huge advantage of this is that you can actually get quite close to the fountain’s sculptures.

Now like most fountains, it’s not uncommon for people to toss coins into Trevi Fountain; however, at Trevi Fountain there is a particular tradition associated with how you toss in coins. Now no one disputes that throwing in one coin is supposed to help you return to Rome. Gargi then told me that throwing in two coins is supposed to result in a marriage, while three coins results in a divorce. But the meaning behind the second and third tosses is a bit disputed (some people say two coins is supposed to bring a new romance while three coins brings marriage); however, by the time the two of us had even remembered the coin toss we had left the fountain and were focused on finding lunch.

IMG_7677  IMG_7680  IMG_7679We were successful in our quest and eventually came across a pretty good pizza joint. Once we finished we hit the streets, this time to visit the Pantheon. Again because it was New Year’s the Pantheon was closed, but I had a good time snapping a few pictures before heading off to our next destination.

IMG_7691  IMG_7694  IMG_7696Only a few blocks West of the Pantheon is Piazza Navona. Now if any of you are Dan Brown fans you might recognize Piazza Navona as the place in Angels and Demons where Bernini’s Fountain of Four Rivers is located. I happen to be a Dan Brown fan so I was excited to see the fountain in person. If you happen to visit you will also notice that the fountain is fairly shallow, making the drowning scene in Angels and Demons hard to believe.

The other fun fact that Gargi pointed out is that if you look carefully at the Bernini figure facing the church Sant’Agnese in Agone, you will notice that the figure looks noticeably in pain (granted most of the other figures do too, but this one looks a bit more tragic than the rest). Gargi then told me that Borromini was one of the architects of Sant’Agnese and that he happened to be great rivals with Bernini. Apparently Bernini in an act of vengeance has this figure shielding his face in order to convey the idea that Borromini’s building was so ugly that not even his statue could bear to set eyes on it (check out the bottom row of pictures). Now I’m not sure I would agree with Bernini on whether or not Sant’Agnese is ugly, but I found the story highly entertaining.

IMG_7708  IMG_7716  IMG_7712IMG_7717  IMG_7718  IMG_7720From there we walked by the Tiber River until we got word from the boys that they were awake and properly fed. We decided to meet them by the Spanish Steps and set our feet in that direction.

IMG_7733  IMG_7744  IMG_7737IMG_7749  IMG_7755  IMG_7752When we made it to Piazza di Spagna it was absolutely packed. You could barely see the Spanish Steps due to the number of people standing on it. This was one of the many moments that I had in Rome when I was grateful to be visiting in the off season.

IMG_7756  IMG_7757  IMG_7762Having lived in Norway for about 6 months, where the population is a mere 5 million, this was a bit overhwelming. But luckily we weren’t at the Spanish Steps for very long. From there we walked to Piazza del Popolo where Naji led us to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo. It just so happens that this church has not one, not two, but three Caravaggio’s. Caravaggio is one of my favorite painters so it was incredible to see these paintings. It was also great to see them exactly where they were supposed to be instead of in a museum.

IMG_7767  IMG_7765  IMG_7770From there we crossed the Tiber River to walk towards the Vatican. Now it just so happens that Matt’s favorite Italian restaurant, Mama’s, is near the Vatican. So we called ahead and made a reservation for 9:15 pm. Once that was accomplished all that was left for us to do was to meet two friends at the Vatican. It just so happened that one of my friends from undergrad, Caro, happened to be in Rome on vacation with her family. Having not seen her for about two years, I was really excited to see her and catch up with her over dinner. Once we picked up Caro and Iman we killed the remaining time until our reservation by walking around St. Peter’s Square and the nearby area.

IMG_7781  IMG_7784  IMG_7793Eventually it was time to head over to Mama’s. To our disappointment they weren’t ready for us. Now one of the huge benefits of going to this restaurant was that Matt happens to have quite a rapport with the owner. So instead of standing outside in the cold we were invited inside. When it became clear we weren’t going to be dining in the near future we were given free glasses of prosecco. After a bit of a wait, Matt struck up a conversation with one of the waiters and managed to get the reason for the delay: there was a cardinal dining there. Apparently the restaurant hadn’t properly accounted for how long the cardinal was going to be eating and had planned on giving us the same table. We spent the rest of our time sneaking glances at the cardinal and trying to guess who he might be. Our guess is that he was an Irish cardinal but that is entirely unsubstantiated. Eventually the cardinal and his fellow diners left and we sat down to dinner about thirty minutes later. Considering that we got a free glass of prosecco and in theory some brownie points with God, I didn’t mind the wait too much.

Once we were thoroughly stuffed we began the long walk home and enjoyed some of the beautifully lit up sights along the way.

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New Year’s Eve

So I didn’t bother writing about the 30th since we spent the day going back home to the UK from Salzburg. How did we do that you might ask. By train. I’m currently very happy not to be taking a train anytime in the near future. Though to be somewhat fair this time it took less than 26 hours.

Anyways, on to New Year’s Eve. As much as I enjoy traveling with my Dad and spending time with him, I decided that I would rather spend NYE with friends. It just so happens that I know a few Italian Fulbrighters and we all agreed to meet up in Rome.

So I dutifully packed up my things on NYE and took an afternoon flight out to Rome. When I landed I encountered my first surprise: people in Italy eat late. After I landed I managed to send a message to my friends letting them know that I was 1) alive 2) awaiting transport from the airport into the city. It was then that I was told that we would be eating at 9pm. Now I’m the sort of person who normally starts eating any time between 5 to 6 pm. Even 7 pm on an adventurous day, though I make notable exceptions when visiting the Taylor family (love you guys). So to me a 9 pm dinner seemed like madness. Then again I wasn’t actually due to get into the city until around 8 pm so I figured I’d just roll with it.

As for getting into Rome, I had initially planned on taking the train; however, the man at the ticket office convinced me to take a shuttle since he claimed it would be faster. So I paid the extra euro and hopped onto the shuttle with around seven other people.

Now having heard terrible things about the taxis in Rome, my attitude towards cars in Rome was more or less the same as my attitude towards New York City taxis, which is: pay, buckle up, and pray. Turns out my logic wasn’t totally off. After about 15 minutes of driving, we heard a loud bang and a continuous grinding sound. Our driver appeared completely unconcerned with the state of things. My fellow passengers and I were not in the same mind frame. Once it became clear that our driver had no intention of pulling over, one of the other passengers finally pointed out that we had probably blown a tire. I’m not sure if this speculation  just didn’t phase our driver or if he simply didn’t understand what we were trying to say, but he continued to drive until a few more concerned murmurs got him to pull over at a rest stop. To give him credit, we had not blown a tire, and from the quick way our driver hopped back into the car he didn’t see anything that troubled him. But as soon as the car got going the grinding sound continued. Eventually whatever was causing the noise fell off the car, and I suppose it will simply remain an unsolved mystery. Anyways we made it to Termini Station without any more problems and I made it to my hostel safe and sound.

So I got settled in and then headed out to meet friends for our now 9:30 pm dinner. I’m not going to lie I was pretty hungry at this point. Luckily food was forthcoming and I tried Rome’s specialty, carbonara. So it was over pasta and a bottle of wine that I got to catch up with friends, Gargi, Matt, and Naji, and meet new ones, Dan and Iman. With the exception of Matt, all of them are Italian Fulbrighters, so I had fun learning more about what it’s like to be living in different parts of Italy.

I particularly enjoyed talking to Gargi since she has my same ETA job in Sicily. I found out that our students are pretty different and, from I could tell, this largely seems to be a product of the different cultures that we work in. Here are some of the biggest differences that we talked about:

  1. Italian students apparently chatter all the time. From my very brief experience in Rome, Italians seem to be both social and loud people. In Norway, I often face very silent classrooms and Norwegians (at least from an American perspective) are practically antisocial. I have never had a real problem with my students interrupting me or talking when I’m lecturing, a fact that I am now more grateful for.
  2. Gargi also mentioned that her students don’t always do the best job when it comes to paying attention (see point 1). Most of the time my students at least appear like they are paying attention. Plus I occasionally have them play games based on my lectures, which of course requires them to listen to what I’m saying. Now like most teachers, I am fully aware that my students spend a good portion of their time on Facebook (and don’t think I know), but I prefer this to them talking when I’m lecturing.
  3. Language abilities also seem different. From what Gargi told me it looks like Italian students have a lower level of English than my Norwegian students, or at least the ones that I teach in the college track. Turns out starting a language in preschool and kindergarten really pays off.
  4. Lastly our students also have different vocational tracks. I had a good time talking to Gargi about a tourism track that she works with (obviously reflecting the fact that tourism is one of Italy’s biggest industries). In contrast to this, I’ve worked much more with engineers, people going into alternative energy, and the shipping industry. To be fair, being based at the science and technology university significantly skews my viewpoint.

But back to NYE. In classic European style it took us about two hours before we managed to leave our restaurant. So it wasn’t until around 11:3o pm that we finally managed to extricate ourselves and walk towards the Roman Forum. It was here that I learned my second major Italian lesson: in Italy rules are really just suggestions. Both low and high grade fireworks were being set off sporadically, and many them were clearly being set off by amateurs in the middle of the street. There were even a few times that we were concerned for the surrounding trees since they were being peppered by fireworks. Despite the madness around us, we managed to buy a bottle of champagne and get a good fireworks watching position by the Colosseum. This means we managed to ring in the New Year in some sort of style, though unfortunately we did not manage to find glasses for our bottle of champagne. Oh and of course the fireworks went off late. But hey, as one of my new friends succinctly said “It’s Italy…what did you expect?”

From there we wandered to one of Rome’s many piazzas where we bar hopped into the wee hours of the morning.

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