During her last month studying abroad in Italy, columnist Libby Peck reflects on the aspects she truly appreciates of an otherwise glass-half-empty trip.
I’ve finally come to the conclusion that as much as I complain about life in Rome, I need to suck it up and start enjoying the aspects I do like. It might shock you (and my parents – and my friends) to hear that yes, there are parts of Rome I absolutely love, but my cynical nature makes it difficult for me to remember that sometimes.
So, since I’m returning to America in about a month, I wanted to compile a list of what redeems Rome — not only for you, but also for me.
It should come as no surprise that the history of ancient Rome is the biggest reason people trek here from around the globe. (If it does come as a surprise, how the hell are you in college?) Ruins pop up seemingly out of nowhere, the Pantheon is right across the street from a line of boutiques, and the Coliseum is immediately visible as soon as you exit the Colesso stop on the B metro line. Classical sculpture is about as common as the fresh water that runs in the streets, and ‘unreal’ doesn’t even begin to describe how it feels to see the ancient and modern worlds juxtaposed against each other in everyday life.
Speaking of things that are unreal, the amount and quality of fine art here is nearly as divine as St. Peter’s Basilica. It seems every other fountain or piazza was designed by Bernini and every other palace was decorated with ceiling frescoes from a Baroque master. Although the gallery curators here could improve and the Borghese Gallery shouldn’t kick its patrons out after exactly two hours of attempting to navigate through the massive collection of Caravaggios, Rome is a place every art lover should visit at least once.
If the above names or references aren’t familiar to you, visit the Sistine Chapel. The half-hour maze through the Vatican Museum was more than worth finally looking up to see Michelangelo’s stunning masterpiece.
It’s no secret the Italians consider fashion a very important aspect of the fine arts. I mean, Italy is the home of Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Armani, Ferragamo, Fendi and — my personal favorite — Prada. It’s common to see Romans walking around with shopping bags from any or all of these stores in one hand and a Louis Vuitton carryall in the other. Although it’s more than slightly depressing to acknowledge that my clothing budget is significantly smaller than an Italian’s, I easily find comfort in the quick fix of window shopping for fur, leather and Bulgari without the pain of a wallet in the red.
This little Italian phenomenon is something the aforementioned fashionable crowd would probably shun, but because I’m a college student on a budget, it has become one of my favorite abroad secrets. “Aperitivo” in Italian means “appetizer,” but if you know how to correctly stack a plate, then a great “aperitivo” can be more filling than a 30-euro dinner at a fraction of a price.
Here’s how it works: A few select restaurants or bars open from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. and set cold and hot dishes out to choose from. Guests pay between six and 10 euros, get a free drink and access to the all-you-can-eat spread. Think of it like a sophisticated, healthier version of Hometown Buffet with alcohol. Awesome, right? Keeping in mind a satisfying dinner at a typical sit-down restaurant in Rome runs at least 15 euros, it’s an amazing deal and a lot of fun to do with a group of friends.
Bacchus is the Roman god of wine, and he definitely took good care of his worshippers because the Italians — although usually a little bit creepy to me — absolutely know how to throw a party.
The Merino Wine Festival, held annually in October, consists of thousands of Italians cramming themselves into a tiny town outside of Rome to drink wine from a fountain and from street vendors by the liter, watch a parade of locals in medieval costume, drink more wine, eat pork sandwiches and drink wine.
By the end of the night, vomit covered the streets, and couples were making out everywhere. Purses were lost, mysterious bruises were found, and people were pulled through windows to get on the last train back to Rome.
Spring Flingers, you have nothing on the Italians.
Just as there are things about America I desperately miss, I know I’m not going to be walking by the Fountain of Four Rivers every day once I’m back. Ignoring all the negatives I’ve managed to find in the past two and a half months, and focusing on the silver lining has made me realize one very important fact: I might just miss this place after all.
Libby Peck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.