A Key to Rome: No Expectations

Our last week in Rome is finally here. It seemed to be going slowly but now I feel like it has flown by without warning.
This weekend we went to the Colosseum (finally) and yesterday I went with a couple of friends to mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. St. Peter’s is probably my favorite site I’ve visited in Rome. The incredible history and pure, simple passion of people from all over the world visiting this sacred site was very moving. It isn’t your typical tourist trap where people shove you to snap a picture of the most famous piece of work and then scram. There were lots of tourists, don’t get me wrong. But some of those tourists had been waiting their whole lives to make the trip to one of the most famous basilicas in the world, where St. Peter himself is buried, where so much of the history of their faith had taken place.

Michelangelo’s Pietà was just as beautiful as I’d heard and imagined. My friend, Tori, and I zoomed in (since we couldn’t get very close to the sculpture itself) enough to find where Michelangelo had left his signature.

Michelangelo's Signature on La Pietà
Michelangelo’s Signature on La Pietà
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Michelangelo’s Pietà
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Cross at the Colosseo

Other than seeing two of the biggest sites in Rome (which I should’ve already seen by now), this week does not hold a lot of new things in store. However, we started a Rome bucket-list our first week here and this is the week where we begin to realize how many things we still have left to do. This is the week to rush around like crazy and try to sink in every last second we have with Rome, with Trastevere, with our group of friends, with our fountain, with our apartment. When we try to accomplish things we felt like we would have ages to do. And when we realize there are just some things we won’t be able to do. But it is the process of making the list and dreaming these things up that makes it so memorable and fun. Half the time it is deciding not to go do something we should do or see something we should see but rather staying in or going to the neighborhood fountain to do what we want to do.

Part of what made this trip so great was learning to let go of expectations. You make these grand expectations about how your study abroad will go. Of course you’ll see the Colosseum at least 4 times and, naturally, you’ll make it to every single museum. You’ll eat nice Italian food every night, with a glass of wine and a bunch of Italian locals. You won’t have hard classes or need to study at all.

In reality, it is so much better than that.

You do have to study, but that is what makes hanging out with friends or seeing sites or going out at night such a precious relief. You won’t eat fancy Italian meals and drink expensive Italian wine every night, but if you did, would it be quite as special? It makes the nights where you buy cheap pasta at the grocery store and cook a terrible meal in your no-air-conditioning apartment even more fun and hilarious. You don’t go see the huge tourist attractions everyday but you’re not missing out. You’re gaining a true Italian experience because you learn to love and appreciate your local areas and attractions that much more. I went to a local flea market more times than I went to the Colosseum…and I’m totally okay with that.

At one market close to our apartment, we were there for just a few minutes but I found a really cool booth selling handmade keys. One of the signs read “Non c’è nulla di più bello di una chiave, finchè non si sa che cosa apre.” In English, this [roughly] means “There is nothing more beautiful than a key, as long as one does not know what it opens.”

This could mean a lot. But I felt like it related to my idea of expectations. There is something great about not knowing what is in store. Not having any ideas or expectations about what your trip will hold. Having expectations for something that should be so spontaneous is just asking for disappointment. My biggest piece of advice is to let go of any and all pre-conceived ideas you have before travelling. Instead, just do what comes to mind each day and each night without trying to plan it out or have a full understanding of it beforehand. If you want to change your routine, change it. If you want to go off by yourself and do something different from your group, do it. It may sound cliché to tell you to live in the moment but that is actually the best thing you can do and it’s something I wished I had been able to do sooner. The best part is that just trying to open yourself up like that helps you grow in itself. So no matter what, you’re making progress.

I hope to be able to take this lesson back to the U.S. with me and try to not have expectations about school, friends, weekends, vacations, birthdays, holidays. You have a key in your hand and that’s enough. That’s beautiful.

This trip was a key for me. It opened up doors to a lot of beautiful things – a lot of great memories, a lot of great experiences, pictures, laughs, emotions, friends and personal growth. Not knowing all of this was in store was what made it that much more beautiful.

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Life in Trastevere

I’ve been living in Rome for three weeks now and it is unbelievable how fast time has gone. I’ve had a chance to really explore Rome, but somehow have managed to not see some of the most typical attractions yet. Shockingly, I haven’t explored Vatican City yet or gone inside the Colosseum – two of the things people do in their first few days here. I guess I’ve just been trying to wait until I had a day with absolutely nothing to do so I won’t feel rushed. Those days are hard to come by when you have class in the middle of the day. 

My friends on the trip and I have fallen in love with Trastevere. There is a fountain right next to the church Santa Maria in Trastevere where we go to sit, talk, and meet people. We’ve found a small stop for pizza that stays open late at night – for when we’re coming home at 3 a.m., which has happened probably too often. We’ve even found the cheapest beer we could possibly find  (a real Italian has pretty much cringed when I mentioned it to him, if that tells you anything) and became obsessed with it. 

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Santa Maria in Trastevere
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Where Michelangelo died.

I’ve memorized the walk to our school, which takes about 30 minutes. I’ve actually been getting around pretty well without getting lost, so that’s a plus! School, thankfully, has been pretty relaxed. Both of my classes center around culture and art of Roman life, from ancient times to present day. They both also involve trips to sites every class period. Yesterday, we went to Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, a private art collection located in a palace in central Rome with works by Caravaggio and other famous artists. We also saw the monastery where Michelangelo died in Rome (though his body was later taken and buried in Florence). Then we saw the church in which St. James and St. Phillip were buried. That’s a lot of amazing history for just one day of class. 

All in all, though, I’ve learned the most about Italian culture by simply living in it. Experiencing the “riposo” time during the day when shops close and people take a break. Seeing families and children playing at the park right outside of our apartment. Watching Italian couples start dinner at 8 and sit there for three hours, just enjoying each other’s company and not feeling a rush to go anywhere. Then having an entirely different feeling when you walk into the center of Rome and feel the rush and energy of the busy city. The way Italians walk, drive (scary), speak and interact with one another is all so different from what I am used to. But I have grown accustomed to it somewhat, and have begun to appreciate their get-straight-to-the-point attitude. 

This past weekend, I went on a weekend trip with 7 other friends down south to Sorrento, where we stayed (unexpectedly) in two trailers right by the Italian coastline. These trailers weren’t exactly what we were expecting (we were expecting typical hostels), but they turned out to be a great surprise. We were practically camping out at the beach, just like an Italian family “getting away” and going to the beach in their RV for the weekend. There was no cell service, no wifi, and very few places to get food or drinks. It was a true escape from the city and barely felt like we were in the same country. We took a day trip on a ferry to the island of Capri, where we each pitched in and got a boat to take us around the island. We stopped at various cliffs and caves, which were all beautiful. We got to jump in and go swimming in the caves with goggles and water so clear you could see for days. It was probably my favorite day in Italy so far. If you ever go to Capri, get a boat – it is a must. 

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Tomorrow, I plan on going to the Vatican super early in the morning with my friend Amy to see the Pope address the public and then to go to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum. I am extremely excited to see this place full of so much history and significance.

I have begun to feel like Rome is a home away from home. It feels familiar yet still manages to surprise me everyday. Ciao for now!