I’m currently sitting here in bed, in my pajamas, at 11:30, what would almost be considered a regular lunchtime in the States, completely exhausted and sore, but at the same time totally happy and content. I got home last night around 1:00 AM, after an extremely harrowing experience with a cab driver who didn’t know how to get to my very specific and easy to find address in Alcalá, and therefore spent roughly 45 minutes to an hour driving me around, completely lost. He was really nice, usually the cab drivers are, and I honestly impressed myself with my ability to converse with him in Spanish and tell him that we were not in the right location and give him directions to get him to my house. Also, and this was a little strange, after we had been lost for quite awhile, I had to tell him to stop the meter. I don’t know if he was just leaving it running for no reason (it’s a set price from the airport to Alcalá de Henares) or what, but I was kind of proud of myself for having enough of a grasp of Spanish to say, “Excuse me, but why is the meter still running? I thought it was a set price to Alcalá, and well, we are lost, which isn’t my fault.” haha, I hope that wasn’t rude, because he really was a nice guy in the end, just directionally challenged, which makes his choice of profession a little strange.
But, yes, I made it home after two and a half of the most amazing days of my life. It’s such a surreal experience when, while you are LIVING an experience, you realize it’s going to be one that changes your life. Ever since I was a little girl and found out about my Italian heritage, I always dreamed of going to Italy. And I still can’t believe I was given the opportunity to realize that dream. Here’s the thing, if you are currently thinking about studying abroad but are held back by some reason, like you’re afraid you’ll miss your family too much, or you’re scared to go somewhere and be by yourself, I want you to sit down and take a long look at what you will gain. There’s a phrase in Spanish that goes “vale la pena” that I think, at least for me, completely encompasses the study abroad experience. It basically means “worth the pain” in English, but is used all the time in Spanish to say something was worth what you had to go to in order to accomplish it. I won’t lie, every day I miss my friends and family. There are always moments, like last night when I was completely lost in a cab in the middle of some pueblo between Madrid and Alcalá, when I wanted to just sit down and give up, and get someone to come fix my problems, take me home, and tuck me in. But, then, there are moments, like this weekend when I was eating Italian food, in Italy, or when I was staring awestruck at the Coliseum, or Saint Peter’s Basilica, or the Sistine Chapel, and just wondering how could someone create something so beautiful and wonderful and how did I get some blessed that I got to actually stand there and see it. I can honestly say I am changing as a person because of this experience. Not changing fundamentally, no, but bettering myself. That’s what study abroad does, it makes you a better, stronger version of yourself, who realizes that even though you will always miss your family and friends and life back home, for now, the life you are experiencing, well, vale la pena.
But, I will get off my soap box now, haha, and get to telling about what I did in ROME (please excuse me if I keep capitalizing that, because I still can’t believe it happened.) The adventure began actually Thursday morning when my first class was cancelled and I spent the morning trying to pack in compliance with the extreme luggage restrictions of Ryanair, the super cheap airline we used to fly to Rome. Basically there were dimension requirements, but what I was really worried about was the 10kg (roughly 22lb) weight limit of my bag. The problem is, you have this internal issue of wanting to look decent if not cute for pictures you will be looking at for the rest of your life, but also wanting to leave as much room as possible to bring back souvenirs. My host mom saved my life by letting me borrow a little rolling carry-on that the family has used to fly Ryanair before, and I absolutely fell in love with it. I’m planning on buying one to bring things back to the States in, because it’ll be perfect to put some of the more fragile purchases I’ve made and keep them with me. Even if I have to check them planeside, they will be much more safe in a little carry-on then my suitcase which will probably get tossed around. After the stress of packing came the stress of exactly how many euros to bring, wondering how much we would be able to use our debit cards. Finally, after attending my single class of the day, we were off to the train station to head to Madrid, and Las Barajas, and Italy! Side note, Rosa and I met these really amazing two women on the train who we had a really fun Spanish conversation with. Another crazy thing about study abroad, you meet all these people who you know you will never see again, but for a couple moments you are connected by great conversation and laughter.
We got to the airport expecting to have to jump through 500 different hoops to get onto the plane, but it turned out to be relatively easy. We went to the Ryanair desk and had our passports checked and our tickets stamped (which made me sad, I wanted an Italy stamp in my passport, but I don’t think they do that when you are traveling within Europe.) For Ryanair, there aren’t any assigned seats, basically you line up in front of the ticket desk and board in the order of the line. Actually, I think you can get an assigned seat, if you want to pay an additional like 50 euro, and when your flight itself only costs 16…not worth it. So, somehow, we all managed to fit our baggage and ourselves on the plane, and thankfully they didn’t weigh any bags haha. From all the stories I’ve heard of Ryanair, I was honestly expecting some kind of rinky dink propeller plane with seats squished together so tight you can barely move, where you spend the entire time praying for a safe landing. But, I was completely surprised when the plane was really just a normal plane. True, there are ads for different products covering just about every available surface, and if you want any sort of food or drink you have to buy it, and the flight attendants spend the entire flight trying to sell you things, but you know what? For sixteen euros to fly to Spain, I’ll take it.
Landing in Italy at night was gorgeous. The pilot turned out all the cabin lights, and all you could see where these beautiful twinkling lights of Rome. After we landed, we took a shuttle bus to the city center at Termini Station, and then walked to our hostel a few blocks away and checked in. The hostel we stayed in was really great the first night, then not so awesome the second night. It was in this old building that I think used to be a hotel or apartment building, and we had an entire room to the four of us with our own suite bathroom, which was pretty great. The first night, the room was pretty nice and clean. We had to spent the second night in another room because we booked so late, and the bathroom was a little moldy and the showers weren’t exactly hot, but that’s hotel living for you, I guess haha. After we checked in, we went to a restaurant right next to the hostel because, and I quote, “if old people are eating there, then it must be delicious,” which actually turned out to be a very useful rule-of-thumb, haha. The restaurant was called La Famiglia, and there are not words to describe how delicious the food was. We had this amazing bread, there was like four different types in the basket, but my favorite was these circular rolls with some kind of mushroom mixture baked into the middle. I think I literally ate eight of them. And, for dinner, I had “big” spaghetti with bacon and mushrooms, which turned out to actually be big spaghetti noodles, haha, and was absolutely delicious. I almost died four or five times over from the absolute amazing taste of it.
After stuffed ourselves pretty well, we walked over to Trevi Fountain, because one of the owners of our hostel told us we HAD to see it at night. I’m so happy she did, because it was gorgeous. We sat for awhile and looked at the fountain, and each got up and made our own wishes and threw our coins in. I can’t tell you what I wished for, because then it might not come true, but it was a good one . After Trevi Fountain, we walked back to our hostel, and got to bed to prepare for the long, long day ahead of us.
I can honestly say we did Rome in Friday. We almost say every single major site in one day, which judging by how tired and sore my legs are, I realize was quite ambitious haha. We set out around 9:30 in the morning and started our day off by taking the metro to the Vatican City. It’s so weird to me to think that we literally took the metro to another country and spent the morning there. We all had to make sure to dress appropriately so we could enter the cathedrals. For us, that meant not wearing shirts that showed our shoulders or dresses/skirts that were shorter than knee length. This last one was a little frustrating, as all of my dresses and skirts hit just a teeny bit above knee length, and I wasn’t too sure as to how strict the guards would be, so I went the safe route with jeans and a t-shirt. We waited in line for maybe thirty minutes to get into Saint Peter’s Basilica, which turned out to be free to enter, which surprised me, but I was also very happy about, haha. The Basilica was gorgeous, beautiful, amazing, and more than anything, it was humbling. I feel like walking around in there was like a spiritual journey, it was amazing to realize that all of the Basilica was built by hand hundreds of years ago. I can’t even begin to imagine how. It was incredible, and I’ve never felt so empowered yet humbled by the experience. It took us two or three hours to make our way through the entire thing and see all of the different areas. They were multiple prayer rooms, and it was really a great experience to sit and pray in such an inspirational place. The ceiling was incredible, with these amazing rays of light beaming in in random places creating an amazing effect. I loved the building, and even more, the experience of being in it.
After the Basilica, we ate lunch at a little corner cafe. I had a delicious “stuffed pizza” sandwich with fresh, home made mozzarella and tomatoes. It was delicious and refreshing to sit for a couple minutes. Afterward, we walked over to the Vatican museum, and after paying a discounted rate of 8 euros, walked through to the Sistine Chapel. The Vatican museum was really neat, I wish we had more time to explore it fully, but the Sistine chapel closed at 4 and we were on a bit of a time crunch. You had to walk through almost all of the rooms of artifacts to get to the Sistine Chapel, which, again, there almost are no words to describe. There were tons of people in there, and everyone spoke in very soft whispers, though there was supposed to be no talking. I managed to snap two illegal pictures of the ceiling, haha. But, after staring upward at the ceiling for a couple minutes, I managed to find a seat along a bench in the wall and just tilt my head back and stare for a long time. Again, how do people do things like Michaelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? It was inspiring to sit and look at all of the paintings in gorgeous detail. And one of those experiences where you honestly just can’t believe you are actually there, looking at something you’ve learned about your entire life.
After the Sistine Chapel, we stopped at a little place and got some delicious gelato. And by delicious, I mean mouthwateringly, mindblowingly, tastetantalizingly AMAZING gelato. I had nutella, limon, and strawberry flavored on a cone, all for 2.50 euros. It was so good. I already miss the gelato, haha. While we were eating, we walked over the river to the Piazza Navona, and saw an artisan fair with amazing artwork. We then walked back on some of the side streets, and went in this really cool shop with hand blown glass artwork, and met a very nice older spanish man who makes all of the artwork. He explained to us the first word we should learn in Italian is “bella” because were were all beautiful, haha. I honestly love the fact that Spanish men use the word “guapa” (beautiful) in a very normal, noncreepy way with women; same thing in Italian, many men called us “bellas” in a very noncreepy, kind of sweet way. After the shop, we went and saw the Pantheon, which was just really cool. It was weird to just come out of a random side street and all of a sudden the Pantheon is right there in front of you. We walked around inside and took pictures, and then we found a restaurant on a close side street for dinner. Again, the food was absolutely amazing. I had gnocchi with pesto sauce and fried mozzarella.
After dinner, we walked back by Trevi Fountain and headed back to our hostel. We met a really sweet girl, and we all walked around a little bit that night. We went and saw the Spanish Steps and then got gelato for the second time (surprise, surprise, haha) and, no joke, went to the Trevi Fountain for the third time. I can’t describe to you how gorgeous it was at night, and how fun it was to sit and watch people making their wishes and throwing in their coins. After walking around, we went back to the hostel and our moldy bathroom, haha and slept hard. I realized when we finally got back that we literally walked around Rome for twelve hours. My feet were about to fall off when we got in bed.
On Saturday morning, we got up and left a little later, around 10:30, because we honestly saw almost the entirety of what we wanted to see on Friday, haha. We went to the Coliseum, which was ridiculously amazing. It was crazy to see this giant Roman monument from hundreds of thousand of years ago, right next to a crowded highway. We walked around and took pictures for a while, and then we decided to step off the beaten path a little bit and walk over to this neighborhood that is purely Italy, instead of super touristy like the areas we spent our days in beforehand. I think the neighborhood was called Trastevere, but I can’t remember for 100%. We also had a couple very good recommendations of this restaurant in that neighborhood, and we decided to make it our last meal in Rome.
Trastevere really was pure Italy. It was full of cobblestone streets, beautiful, colorful buildings, side streets, all set on the side of the River. It was gorgeous, and I’m so happy we went, because I really feel like I got a taste of what real Italy is like. If I were to live there, that is where I would want to live. We found the restaurant after a bit of a walk (okay, it took us like an hour to walk there, which was a bit long, haha.) but oh my gosh it was AMAZING. The owner is named Tony, and he loves American students, apparently, haha. As soon as we walked up, he sat us at his best table, situated inside but in a large opening so we could look out on the street and be almost half inside/ half outside. He gave us free bottles of water, which in Europe is extremely rare and was wonderful after the long walk to get there. I had mushroom bruschetta as an appetizer, and wanted to cry over how delicious every bite was, haha. We also had fresh baked bread with oil and parmesan that was amazing. For my actual lunch I ate rigatoni al “moro” which was in kind of a vodka sauce with mushrooms, zucchini and bacon. It. Was. Amazing. I want to eat that meal over and over again, though I think I would definitely die an early death from the carb overload, haha. After our amazing meal, the owner gave us free tiramisu and free limoncello, a liqueur that is very traditional to drink a little of after a meal in Italy. It was so, so delicious, and the experience of sitting in the window, overlooking the beautiful street and eating our amazing Italy food was one I will never forget. At the end of the meal, our bill totaled to 56 euros for five of us to eat all that, that’s how much free food the owner gave us, haha. Even more, when we asked for separate checks, he said that all we needed to do was pay ten euros a person. It was amazing, the owner and waiter were both so kind and genuine. When I go back to Italy, I will be eating there again, possible for every meal. It was so wonderful, we took pictures with them after the meal.
After lunch, I literally thought I was going to die from all the food I ate. We explored the area a little bit, and then made a very slow, lethargic walk back to the metro to get to the hostel. Once we were at the hostel, we grabbed out bags, and my friends headed to the train to head on to Florence and Pisa until Tuesday , but I, for various reasons, such as not wanting to miss class on Monday and because the flight was a heck of a lot cheaper haha, took the bus to the airport to head back home late Saturday night. I did a little shopping in the Ciampino airport and then boarded my flight to return back to Madrid. After my previously told experience with the taxi driver, I finally fell into bed last night around 2:00 AM and rested, which is my plan for the rest of today, haha. I’m going to write in my journal, work on the scrap book I’m compiling, and possibly take a nap. Oh, and maybe do some homework at some point.
Such an amazing weekend, though I’m also kind of happy my marathon three weekends in a row of traveling is over now, and I can spend a weekend or two here in Alcalá, exploring. This week is a fiesta week, with el Día de Cervantes on Tuesday and el Día de Hispanidad on Friday. I’m excited about seeing all the festivals here.
Miss everyone lots. Besos, abrazos, y amor.