A Weekend in Florence

And so ends another week at Temple Rome! Midterms are done! The semester is flying by quickly.

Looking back on my experience so far, I would say that one of the best parts of studying abroad is the fact that I can walk around Rome, but also experience other cities in Italy as well. Two weeks ago, I took up a classmate’s offer of spending a weekend in Florence with her and some of her friends. I bought my train ticket, packed my bags, went to Termini, and headed north.

All aboard the train to Florence!

Florence, called Firenze in Italian, is a city in Tuscany, which is a province in central Italy. It is almost two hours north of Rome and has an area of over 100 square kilometers (40 square miles; Rome is an area of almost 500 square miles) and has been around since the time of the ancient Romans.

Firenze is known as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance (15-17th centuries C.E.) and was home to the wealthy Medicis, a family who held power in northern Italy. One of the Medicis commissioned works from artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo.

My train ride from Roma Termini to Firenze S.M.N.
I love the views from the train!
Buongiorno, Firenze! Quite a first impression you made there!

I was in awe when I exited the train station on Friday morning. Everything I saw was like looking at a painting. Such grand architecture and brilliant colors complementing the beautiful Florentine sky!

Caught a glimpse of a merry-go-round in downtown Florence.

My classmates and I stopped at a local restaurant, where I tried a maiolona pizza. I thought I liked meat-lover’s pizza in Boston, but let me tell you, when it comes to pizza, the original really is better!

Maialona pizza!

I managed to finish the whole thing in one sitting and decided to sleep it off at the place we were staying afterward. After I woke up, we went to see the Arno river to see the Ponte Vecchio, which is Italian for “old bridge.”

And this is no misnomer: it really is an old bridge, dating back to medieval times! Hard to imagIt was the only bridge not destroyed during WWII. It is currently a major center for jewelry shops in Florence.

Buonasera, Ponte Vecchio!
What a view of the moon over the Arno river!
Sunset in Florence!
The Ponte Vecchio is not only one of the oldest bridges in Italy, it is also a hotspot for jewerly shops.
What a view on the bridge!

For dinner on Friday night, my classmates and I tried some Tuscan cuisine: charcuterie! I tried a lot of different breads and cured meats. I never had charcuterie in the United States, so it was good to try it in Florence!

Enjoyed some Tuscan cuisine with a Florentine charcuterie board! From left to right: bread with olives, slices of mortadella, bread with tomato-chili paste, some olives, slices of prosciutto, some sheep’s cheese, pieces of spicy salami, and some roasted vegetables.

The next day, I took another train north, this time to the city of Ferrara. We had a guest speaker one day in Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy, one of the classes I am taking a Temple Rome this semester. Sara Prestianni is a photographer and advocative for migrant rights. She focuses the effects of migration policies in north Africa. I was fascinated by her talk and heard that she and her colleagues would be presenting at an International Festival at Ferrara on Saturday afternoon.

Went further north to Ferrara on Saturday afternoon.

I knew I was going to be in Florence for the weekend, and it was only an hour away via train, so what was there to lose? Unfortunately, by the time I got to the venue, I asked one of the festival staff about the event and she said that the place was full and could not fit any more people.

At least I got a cool-looking program about the Internazionale a Ferrara! I hope I can read it in its full Italian one day.

Heard about the Internazionale a Ferrara in class – it was so popular that the venues were past capacity!

I wasn’t going to let my efforts to get from Florence to Ferrara go to waste, so I walked around the city for an hour. I was happy that I got to see a new place on a sunny day. The famous Castello Estense, which is a medieval fortress surrounded by a moat in the center of the city, was so beautiful in the sunlight!

At least the sun was shining on the major sights of Ferrara, especially the Castello Estense!
Got to walk around and take in all the architecture and art!

I bought some postcards at a local gift shop. I love collecting postcards everywhere I go; they make great decorations for my bedroom wall! I brought the postcards from Ferrara to class along with the Internazionale a Ferrara 2019 program to class after I went back to Rome. I showed all my souvenirs from Ferrara to Professor Rinelli, who teaches Immigration, Race, and Immigration in Modern Italy. He said that it was unfortunate that I couldn’t see the festival, but he looked amused when I showed him my postcards from the city.

I walked back to the Ferrara train station and went back to Florence. I met my classmates for dinner at another restaurant. There, I tried a maialino – pasta with pork sauce. Two for two with the good food, Firenze!

Tried a maialino – pasta with pork sauce – for dinner back in Florence.

On my last day in Florence, I decided to do a bit of shopping. Florentine leather is known for its high quality and high demand in the global market. There are leather good everywhere, sold both in the vast outdoor markets around the city and in smaller indoor shops along the sidewalks.

San Lorenzo Market – bustling and full of leather, as always!

I strolled through the San Lorenzo market, a major outdoor shopping space in Florence. I got curious about the large building in the middle of the market, so I went inside and was surprised to find in the bustling Mercato Centrale (pronounced mur-cah-toe chen-trahl-le) of Firenze!

Entering the Mercato Centrale of Florence! What a crowd.

I was fascinated by all the food stands. It reminded me a little of the food court at my local mall, only each shop had its own unique history of being founded and run by artisan chefs. I stopped by a fried food station, where I grew curious about one of the items they had on their menu: fried rabbit.

I got curious about the fried food stand in the Mercato Centrale. They sold fried rabbit! Bought some just to try it out (and got some fried chicken and vegetables to go with it as well).

I spent €10 on a special combination of fried foods: fried chicken on the bottom with some fried rabbit on top, sprinkled with bits of fried vegetables and a few lemon slices. (Don’t worry, Mom: I’m eating my vegetables!) To this day, I’m impressed that I didn’t get any of the batter crumbs on me as I ate it while sitting on a bench near the market entrance.

This was my first time trying rabbit. I’ve had boar and venison in Titignano last month, but fried rabbit was really quite something! I could tell it was rabbit because it was the meat that didn’t taste like chicken; trust me, I know what chicken tastes like. It had a mild flavor but a strong aftertaste.

After my spontaneous lunch in the Mercato Centrale, I resumed my stroll through the shops at San Lorenzo market. I stopped at a few outdoor stands to buy some gifts for friends and family in the States (get ready for some real Florentine leather from Hui!) and to buy some new accessories. I think the felt hat and silk scarf fit me quite well after I take off my ponytail!

Strolling among the outdoor shops!
Got a new hat and a scarf! I think Florentine fashion fits me. I’m sure the gifts I bought for my friends and family will look good on them, too! Can’t beat Florentine leather.

I decided to spend my last hour in Florence seeing the Arno one last time. As I headed toward the Ponte Vecchio, I noticed something I had missed on my first visit on Friday evening. There was a statue of a pig that I looked up on my phone a bit later. It is a bronze statue called Il Porcellino (Italian for “The Piglet”). I saw people placing coins in its mouth and rubbing its nose. Turns out this is a tradition in Florence, and feeding the Porcellino some coins before touching its snout is supposed to bring good luck!

Il Porcellino (“The Piglet”) in the middle of Florence. I saw people putting coins in the boar’s mouth. I read that rubbing its nose brings good luck. No wonder why the bronze looks a bit different on its porcine snout!

The river looks absolutely stunning in the afternoon sun! I’m glad I decided to revisit the bridge and enjoy the view at a different time of day. Time seemed to stand still by the Arno that afternoon, and I could have sworn I was there for hours until my phone screen lit up with a reminder that I had agreed to meet my classmates to pick up our luggage at the hotel half an hour before catching our train back to Rome.

It was a wonderful weekend in Florence. Such a rich culture and history in a small city! Very different from Rome in its atmosphere and scenery. I’m happy I got to experience it firsthand. I bought some things for myself as souvenirs. I think of Florence every time I wear my leather jacket. It is the first leather product I’ve ever owned, and the shopkeeper said that it will last a lifetime. Just like the memories of this weekend in Florence.

One last view of the Arno River. Arrivederci, Firenze!
Sporting my new Florentine leather jacket (and haircut) back in Rome! Nice to get a fresh look abroad.

A Discussion on Race in Italy

I’ve enjoyed attending guest lectures since I was a first-year at Holy Cross. I love not only learning about our visitors and the work they do, but also listening to the community discussions and engaging in the Q&A sessions afterward. I was excited to hear that we were getting a visitor on campus for a discussion on an important topic: race in Italy.

I signed up to attend the event right away. I knew from the start that this discussion would enrich my experience and goals at Temple Rome. I am taking two classes relating to race in Italy this semester. These were the courses I wanted to take since the moment I saw them on Temple Rome’s website last semester. One is a political science course called “Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy.” The other is a Classics course called “Race in the Ancient Mediterranean.”

I was thrilled to secure seats in both of the classes and was excited to compare and contrast the role of race and identity in Italy from both ancient and modern perspectives. I knew my family’s story of moving to the United States from a different country. I know how my race and identity have shaped my experience as a minority from an immigrant family. And now I have the chance to learn someone else’s story through a discussion on race in Italy.

Our guest was Susanna Twumwah, a local activist who will be graduating soon with a degree in International Relations and Development. She is part of the association “Questa è Roma” (Italian for “This is Rome”), which addresses racism and discrimination through activities involving art, sports, and cultural heritage. Questa è Roma also advocates for a more inclusive definition of Italian citizenship. Susanna hosts workshops for communities who arrived as part of a diaspora into not only Rome and other places in Italy, but also in different places abroad as well.

Benedicta Djumpah, who works as a student life assistant at Temple University Rome, is an activist as well and hosted the discussion alongside Susanna. I see Benedicta a lot on campus and enjoy talking to her in my free time. We have conversations about growing up as minorities in our communities and how we empower ourselves to find our own paths and adapt to the world around us. I am grateful to Benedicta for her orientation speech on how the Italian concept and perspective on race are different from how American students see race and racial issues in the United States. The information in her presentation was useful and helped me adjust to living in Rome.

Benedicta (left) hosted a discussion with Susanna Twumwah (right) on Race in Italy. Photo by Jesse Gardner, Temple University ’21, taken and used with permission from the Temple University Rome Facebook page.

Both Benedicta and Susanna are of Ghanaian descent and are part of the Afro-Italian community. Benedicta spoke about how she became “aware of her blackness” at age 6. She was proud of her Ghanaian heritage and learned her parents’ languages and ancestral culture when she went to Ghana at age 10. In her teens, Benedicta felt more proud of and identified as Italian more than she did Ghanaian. It was only a few years ago that she understood herself as an Afro-Italian.

Susanna had a similar story about the “moment of realization” regarding her identity. When she was a child, her classmates asked her, “Are you Italian?” She had an Italian passport and said that she “felt Italian.” She didn’t like using her Ghanaian surname and was afraid to speak English and Twi (one of many local government-sponsored languages in Ghana); she wanted to be “100% Italian.” Currently, she speaks about herself through both an African and Italian view.

Benedicta asked Susanna about her thoughts on the concept of race in Italy. Susanna responded with an explanation how the Italian lacks the vocabulary on the topic. The word “race” is more commonly used in the United States than it is in Italy, where the equivalent razza is rarely used. When the concept of “race” is used in Italian, it refers to “whether a person is white or black.”

In “Race in the Ancient Mediterranean,” I learned that the word “race” is unlike many of the words in the English language. Professor Bessi, a Classical archaeologist who is teaches the course, said that it does not have roots in ancient Greek or Latin. Instead, it comes from “raca,” a word from an early French dialect dating to the 12th or 13th century C.E. “Raca” (and later “raza” in an early Italian dialect) referred to horse breeding and was extended to humans during conquests from the 16th-17th centuries. It took me some time to process this when I learned this story.

One of the questions Susanna hears a lot is, “How do you want me to call you? Person of color, black, or African?” I was surprised that the term “person of color,” which is what I would be considered in the United States, would not apply to me in Italy.  As a response to the question, Susanna replied that she would prefer to be called by her name: Susanna.

I learned a lot from this discussion. Photo by Jesse Gardner, Temple University ’21, taken and used with permission from the Temple University Rome Facebook page.

Susanna then spoke about her physical appearance in relation to her identity. She cut her hair one year ago; she used to wear wigs before then. She wore what she called a “natural hairstyle” four years ago as well. She described how people approached her differently after she adopted her new hairstyle, and she found the experience empowering. She felt comfortable in her own hair and gave us some sound advice: finding your identity takes time. It took years for her to embrace herself in this way.

Benedicta and Susanna also spoke about stereotypes of Africans in Italy. There is a misconception that Afro-Italians are “all the same,” even though individuals and families in the Afro-Italian community come from different backgrounds, identifying themselves as different ethnicities, tracing their ancestry to different countries of origin, and speaking different languages. There is also an assumption that people of color in Italy don’t speak Italian; I almost laughed when I heard this, because I’m sure that Benedicta and Susanna can speak Italian, given what they do.

Both Benedicta and Susanna added stories about their experiences embracing their families’ languages, homeland, and cultures. They stated the importance of knowing where they are from and to learn the culture and history, even if much of it has been lost through imperialism. (Ghana was one of the places colonized during the European “Scramble for Africa” in the late 19th century.) One needs the language to understand the culture, so both Benedicta and Susanna learned the local languages in Ghana.

A map showing were Italy and Ghana are on the Eastern Hemisphere. Ghana is in Western Africa.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, European powers colonized most of Africa. The area labeled “Gold Coast” is where Ghana is today.

I was intrigued by the stories about learning local culture in Ghana. It vaguely reminded me of how my family and I used to visit relatives in China, where no one spoke English. I learned to use Mandarin Chinese from a young age and learned about my ancestral culture firsthand from my parents and from local people in China. I also remember learning about my heritage through museums in both my hometown of Boston and in my parents’ homelands in China. My mother tells me about the historic and cultural contexts of the Chinese artifacts we see in exhibits. 

I asked Susanna about learning about her heritage through visiting not only Ghana as a whole country, but also through seeing smaller parts of her ancestral culture such as through Ghanaian exhibitions in museums. I was especially curious in how she perceives the presentation of Ghanaian artifacts in Italian or Ghanaian museums. She said that she liked the Ghanaian museums better. There is a clear difference in how much one culture would understand another one compared to a culture representing itself on its own soil.

I also asked a question about the earliest Afro-Italians. I remembered how Professor Rinelli, who teaches me in “Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy,” described Italy as a country of mass emigration before it became a country of mass immigration. He stated that there were more Italians leaving than there were people from other countries moving into Italy until the latter half of the 20th century, when larger waves of immigrations occured. I wanted to learn about the history of Africans in Italy and how the term “Afro-Italian,” vague as it is, came to be used as a prominent description in the modern day.

Susanna helped me understand that the term “Afro-Italian” is a fairly recent one and is difficult to apply to a more historical context. The closest people who we can all the earliest Afro-Italians were in Italy since the late 18th century. These “Afro-Italians” were born and grew up in Italy. In the community today, there is a difference between first-generation immigrants and their children, who are referred to as the “New Generation.” Those part of the New Generation have a large responsibility for the contributing to the terminology on the topic.

Glad I could relate to Susanna’s story about being from a different culture and ask her questions about embracing her heritage. Photo by Jesse Gardner, Temple University ’21, taken and used with permission from the Temple University Rome Facebook page.

Some of the other students asked about the social-political challenges the Afro-Italian community faces today. I have a lot of respect for my peers – they were not only listening to Susanna’s story, but also considering the more current and widespread implications of the situation. One of the other students asked about the political scene more specifically. Susanna’s answer was what I think one of the most important take-aways from the discussion.

Not only is it difficult to have a national conversation and discussion about race in Italy because of the lack of terminology (the Accademia della Crusca, a key institution that focuses on the Italian language, isn’t listening to Afro-Italian communities on the topic), but also because movements of anti-racist sentiment in Italy are not unified and not strong compared to the more racist beliefs of the larger political parties in the country.  Furthermore, there is a lack of representation of Afro-Italians in the media. When there are people from the Afro-Italian community in TV programs, they are usually based on stereotypes. Susanna said that some people “think there aren’t black Italians” or harbor misconceptions about the community because of this.

This event was a fascinating and eye-opening experience for me. Even though Benedicta and Susanna have a different cultural background than I do, I could relate to their stories. I could relate to hearing myself described in generalized terms (in particular “Asian-American”) while I identify as a Chinese-American and to growing up in an environment where people used to ask me, “Are you American?” I was also self-conscious of my foreign name (both “Hui” and “Li” are Chinese) and what I “want[ed] people to call” me. I could also relate to how I rarely saw people like me on TV and didn’t feel represented in the media.

I stayed after the end of the discussion and thanked Susanna for coming. I learned a lot from her talk and said that even though I could not identify as a “person of color” in Italy, I understood and could relate to her experiences. I went home feeling empowered and not alone in my experiences as a woman of color in the United States.

The discussion “Race in Italy” took place on the evening of Tuesday, October 1. Photos from the event were posted on Temple University Rome’s Facebook page on Saturday, October 12. 

One Month in Rome

Today is October 9, exactly one month since I started classes at Temple Rome. And what a month it’s been! It’s hard to believe I arrived in the eternal city just over a month ago! I can’t tell if it feels like I’ve just left Boston, or if I’ve been in Rome for over a semester already.

It’s been over a month since I left Boston (and my family) for my adventure abroad! I’ve called them a few times to keep them posted.

I’ve experienced and learned a lot in Italy during my first month abroad. I like to think that I’ve grown considerably (in maturity and wisdom…not physically, i.e., sideways – all this walking keeps me in shape!) in this one month. I’m happy to take some time out of my busy class schedule to reflect on what I’ve learned since September.

Getting used to Rome was certainly a crucial experience by itself.

Adjusting to my apartment was unlike my housing situation in my first two years at Holy Cross – I had much more to work with but also much more to maintain. Chores and shopping every week. I’m used to doing chores for my family at home, but it feels different because they’re on the other side of the Atlantic. At least I can make dishes (like my favorite stews) in the kitchen. Just like Mom used to make. Surely makes me feel at home!

Making do (and stew) with the kitchen in the apartment. I’m doing all the shopping, cooking, and cleaning for myself.

Figuring out the city and its sights was a lot easier thanks to the advice Temple Rome gave me during orientation. I learned how to get my monthly pass and how to take the Metro. I figured out the transportation system and can see places I had only seen in books and screens back home. It’s very fulfilling to see wonders like the Pantheon in person!

You look much better in person, Pantheon! Excited to see the landmarks I had previously only seen in books in real life!

I’ve more or less gotten used to my schedule. I’m getting to know my professors and classmates better by the day. I love the interesting details I get from lectures and discussions, and I like staying after class to talk to my professors more about the topics we learn in class and about being in Rome in general. I also get to go on field trips for a lot of my classes this semester. What better way to learn about Rome than to see Rome itself?I’ve gotten a lot of suggestions about places to see on my own while I’m abroad this semester. I appreciate the heads-up on cool sights I can see at my own pace.

I also learned a lot about Italian and other European perspectives on certain topics such as race and immigration. Some are similar to perspectives I’ve listened to in the United States while others are unlike anything I’ve heard before. It’s good to enhance  I also got to learn more about modern issues in Italy from events with guest speakers. So far, I’ve heard from activists and photojournalists focused on migration. Really adds to what I’m learning in my classes!

I admit that I do get homesick sometimes. I’ve called my family a few times since moving into the Residence. It’s nice to hear my parents’ voices and to get caught up on what’s happening back at home. I also made the space my own by taping postcards and setting up sentimental trinkets from the United States at my desk. I’ve put them alongside the expanding collection of new postcards I’ve been collecting every time I go to a new place in Italy. I also bought some international stamps (francobolli internazionali in Italian; it’s what I ask the cashier for in gift shops) so I can write to people in the United States.

Made myself feel at home with some decorations from my old dorm! Also adding new postcards every time I see a new site – can’t wait to add more!
Got lots of postcards and international stamps! Going to be writing a lot of these.

These little bits of home and local comfort aren’t the only things I’ve kept close to me in Rome. I always leave the residence with some important things stored in a discreet travel belt that goes under my shirt. Passport (for identification – also needed for checking into hotels in Europe!), mini-wallet, cash, driver’s licence (my American ID), credit/debit cards, insurance cards, and apartment keys all stay close to me while I’m out and about.

I also got a stick-on phone wallet before I left the States. It’s been very handy in holding the cards I use the most: my monthly pass, my Residence Candia gate key, and Temple Rome ID. The detachable wrist strap is a nice bonus, too! I like being able to feel where my phone is at all times.

I don’t go anywhere without my travel belt – it holds my documents/IDs, credit cards, mini-wallet, cash, and keys. My stick-on phone wallet holds my monthly pass, my Residence Candia gate card, and my Temple Rome ID. It has a detachable wrist strap, too!

In addition to my locking backpack, I also have a crossbody camera bag that I carry my digital camera in. I like the security of having my precious camera by my side. I also have an anti-theft crossbody bag with locking zippers and a slash-proof body for my leisurely walks around the city.

Wearing my crossbody camera bag and travel belt. I also have an anti-theft crossbody bag that has locks and slash-proof material.

I’m also glad I got an eye exam before I left and used my updated prescription to get not only a good pair of glasses, but also a handy pair of prescription sunglasses. I’m so happy that the sun and my nearsightedness can’t get in the way of enjoying the sights of the city! If you wear glasses and don’t have contact lenses, I highly recommend you invest in a pair of prescription of sunglasses! There are sights you don’t want to miss.

Too much sun and less-than-ideal eyesight shouldn’t get in the way of taking in all the sights abroad! Glad I got sunglasses with my prescription before I left.

In addition to seeing places with my own eyes for the first time, I also tried a lot of new things. I tried a classic Roman dish for the first time last month; carbonara is my favorite dish by far. I also went to a Roman salon for the first time. I liked talking with Federico, the local English-speaking hairdresser, about being in Rome. It was interesting to hear what he had to say, too.

My new haircut!

I’m proud of how much I learned from my first semester abroad. I’m happy with how much of the city I’ve been picking up, piece-by-piece, as I explore my home for the semester. I’m learning new things every day, and that’s not limited to new Italian phrases I see and hear on my way to class – I’m learning more about myself and how I’m adapting and growing in a new environment. I look forward to applying my new skills (and new Italian skills) in my next two months in Rome! Ciao for now! A dopo! (See you soon!)

A Special Visitor from Siena

This Saturday was a special day: I had a visitor! A familiar face I knew before coming to Rome: my friend Simeon was coming to vist from Siena.

Simeon has been a friend of mine since our first year at Holy Cross. We are both juniors studying abroad in Italy this semester. I am at Temple University Rome while he is at the Siena Art Institute, about a 3-hour bus ride away. He is a studio art major with a concentration in Africana studies. It was nice to hear that he was in Italy as well and we were excited for our day in Rome.

Simeon and I had a great time together in Rome! Glad he got to visit from Siena!
Simeon’s trip from Siena to Rome – long ride!
A sign leading to the Siena Art Institute, where Simeon is studying this semester. He took this photo earlier in the semester.

I was more than happy to meet him at Roma Tiburtina station (I wasn’t late this time!) and buy him a day pass for the buses and trains in Rome. We are both from Boston and are used to the busy city. Simeon said that spending some time in Rome was a nice break from life in Siena. I was very curious to know what he meant by that.

Simeon told me about Siena and how different it was from a heavily urbanized place like Rome. Siena is a less-populated city, with a little over 50,000 living there compared to Rome’s over 4 million inhabitants. With an area of 118 square kilometers (a little over 73 square miles), Siena is also much smaller in size than Rome, which has an area of 1,285 square kilometers (496 square miles, over five times as big as our hometown Boston’s area of under 90 square miles). Simeon showed me pictures he took at Siena. I can see why Rome is much different now!

A street, seen through the walls of Siena. Looks quiet.
A street in Siena.
A European Union flag next to an Italian flag in Siena. Pretty empty!

We talked a bit about our housing arrangements abroad. I live with five other girls in the Residence near a Metro stop while he lives with a host family whose home is a five-minute walk away from the Siena Art Institute. Simeon showed me some more pictures, this time of landmarks in the city. I liked seeing the pigeons at the fountain at the Piazza del Campo in northern Italy: it reminds me of the pigeons that flutter about in the Piazza del Popolo near Flaminio station, where I walk to Temple Rome in the morning. I also like the Duomo Cathedral – it strikes me as so simple, yet so complex, in its design!

A picture of the fountain from the Piazza del Campo in Siena.
The Duomo Cathedral in Siena – what a sight!

Navigating the city was a challenge – even though I have been in Rome for almost a month, I am still not used to the altered format of the Roma Metro on weekends. There is construction going on until December, which means that on some weekends, there will be no service for part of the Linea B train. I have to figure out where I can take the subway and where we’ll need to find a bus shuttle to the right Metro stop. Getting around the city looks a lot different when you’re seeing a Metro path above ground!

A rough approximation of our trip from Roma Tiburtina to the Colosseum.

After transferring from actual Metro to substitute bus on Linea B, we made it to the Colosseum, which Simeon wanted to see while in Rome. I was relieved that we managed to make it there with all the confusion and questions I asked transit staff at the stations. I’m glad the locals could understand some of my Italian through my thick American accent.

Satellite view of our path at and around the Colosseum.

We stopped by a local ristorante for some pizza. It was nice to shout “Due!” (“doo-eh,” which means “two” in Italian) after greeting the waiter at the entrance. I usually say “Uno!” (“one”) because more often than not, I’ve eaten out alone. We got a table for two and talked about our study abroad experiences over some fresh pizza. It really hit the spot, after all the energy we spent just getting here! I had fun switching from my conversation in English with Simeon (I don’t  talk much when eating out because I’m usually eating by myself) to shouting “Scusi!” (“Excuse me!”) or “Conto, per favore!” (“Bill, please!”) in Italian. It was quite an experience.

What better way to start an afternoon in Rome than with fresh pizza? We were both exhausted after our journey from Tiburtina.

We split the conto (the bill) and headed toward the Colosseum. We had both learned something about the site before coming to Rome. Simeon learned about the place in his art history class while I learned a little about it in my Roman history class as a high-school senior. It was interesting to hear Simeon’s knowledge on the place and to combine it with my own.

We started at the southwest part of the Colosseum and looked at the Arch of Constantine. As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” This area is no exception. The massive arch was added in the early 4th century C.E. while the Colosseum was built in the late 1st century C.E. It was interesting seeing the later monument before the earlier one. When we walked further into the site, the opposite happened: the Colosseum was closer in sight than the Arch was. The panoramas I took say it all.

The Arch of Constantine next to the Colosseum.
The Colosseum (left) and the Arch of Constantine (right).

We wandered around the Colosseum, weaving past cars trying to drive through tight spots and other visitors in line for the archaeological park. I want to come back to the Colosseum sometime and see more of the place; you can only get so much from an outside view. But as students who have never seen the place in person, this experience was breathtaking. In the time we had, we were happy with what we saw.

Definitely one of the more popular places in Rome!

We walked back outside and spent a lot of time looking for the substitute bus back toward Tiburtina. Simeon had a bus to catch, and I was not going to make him miss his ride to Siena. During our search, we looked at the horse-drawn carriages around the Colosseum and got souvenir coins from a machine near the closed Colosseo Metro station.

If only the subway worked: we wouldn’t be looking for the bus stop in the first place! We joked that squeezing into the bus was going to be a lot like taking the bus in Boston, and that we were trying to get to Downtown Crossing or South Station, the larger stops on the public transportation in our home-city. I was surprised to feel a little homesick now, of all times, but thinking about how funny the situation is because it feels like home in a way made me feel better.

Classic horse-drawn carriages at the Classic Colosseum! (Try saying that five times fast…)
Simeon and I both got Colosseum coins. Did you know that some 5-cent coins in Italy have the Colosseum on one side as well?

We eventually found the bus stop and took the substitute shuttle back north. We made our way to the functioning part of the Linea B and got to Tiburtina with what we thought was a few minutes to spare. We asked drivers around the bus station (in a mix of English and Italian) about the 5:45 service to Siena. Turns out there was no rush on our end: the bus was late!

We waited for the bus together and made sure the bus that had arrived after 6:00 was the right bus. I was sad that Simeon was going back so soon, but after a hug, I felt happy that he was happy with his day in Rome. I like to think that he learned a lot from me just like I learned a lot from him. It was nice to see a familiar friend in a place I’m still getting used to, and I hope to visit him in Siena during my time here someday.

And that’s the day! Back to Tiburtina for both of us, and to Siena for Simeon. I might take the bus to northern Italy one day.

An Evening in Ostia

Friday: the end of the week, a time to wind down. I had just finished my third week of classes at Temple Rome and was thinking about what I wanted to do. I finished taking care of business on campus and just got back to the residence in the afternoon when I got an idea: I was going to see Ostia!

At orientation, I heard that Ostia was a common destination for Romans who wanted to go to the beach. It is easily accessible via Roma Metro. I would need to transfer subway lines a few times to get there from the residence, but it was affordable with the unlimited rides on my monthly pass. My Metro card is really paying off.

I brought my camera with me as I made my way onto the Linea A, and then the Linea B to take a new train: the Roma-Lido line. I did some research on transportation in Rome, and it turns out that the concept of this particular urban railway was a pressing issue since the 19th century, because people wanted a way to connect the center of the city to the shore. Projects to construct the line went on and off for over a century until eventually, the modern Roma-Lido line became what it is.

The stop I got off at was called Ostia Antica: Ancient Ostia. And for good reason: it was close to the Parco Archaeologico di Ostia Antica! I ran across the bridge outside the train station to the entrance of the archaeological park: I realized that the staff would stop admitting visitors after 5:00, and it was already 4:40 by the time I arrived.

I made it to the ticket office in time and got into the park without a problem. I had about two hours before the park closed, so I made the most out of my short visit. I was stunned by the sudden change between the modern park entrance and the first thing I saw inside: archaeological ruins! The remnants of a place where actual ancient people lived in!

First glimpse of the ruins in Ostia!

Ostia was a significant place in Roman history. Some historians argue that it was the first “colony” of Rome in its early days from the 8th century B.C.E. Access to the Tiber river delta was crucial for resources in Italy, and eventually, Ostia became a valuable port town of Rome. The ruins are what is left of the houses and public spaces people used, and are what we modern visitors wander around and look at today.

It’s not just 21st-century humans who walk on the ancient stone roads: I had an unexpected encounter with a friendly cat that approached me, meowed, and sat at my feet, purring. I stroked my new feline friend for a while. The way the stray cat walked up to me reminded me of how my cat would greet me every time I returned to my family home in Boston. The meows and purrs sounded like the ones my cat makes, too. I felt like I was missing something in staying in Rome, and this cat seemed to fix that by being so much like my pet at home.

Made a feline friend at Ostia – I miss petting my cat at home. Playing with this friendly kitty made me happy!
Quite a walk in the park! Nice view.

I walked around the park and got curious whenever I saw steps leading to platforms. I thought it would be interesting to record my experience walking up the steps and taking in the view, so I did just that on my phone. I found stunning sights of Ostia from the high vantage point and discovered things I would have missed on ground level. Some of these things include a large mosaic that covers several rooms of what was once a large house and a view of the theatre that I would have missed otherwise.

I wonder how long it took to install all of these mosaics! Makes installing floor tiles look easy.

What a view of the ancient theater!
I may be centuries late for the show, but at least I got a good seat! No one is blocking my view.
Show’s over. Time to head out! What a show!

I kept an eye on the time. I managed to find the exit and head out before the staff was scheduled to do their rounds and ask people to leave before closing time. I’ll definitely come back here some other time and explore the rest of the ancient port-town.

The sun was starting to set, and it dawned on me that seeing the sunset from the west coast of Italy is an opportunity I’ve only seen once. As a Bostonian, it was impossible for me to see the sun set into the ocean: the Atlantic Ocean is on the east coast, not the west. I decided to take the Roma-Lido line further toward the shore.

I explored the more modern part of Ostia and came across a bustling, lively area near the sea. I saw a lot of restaurants and shops. Even this late in September, business is still booming at the beach!

Ostia-mor? Roma-itso? Oh, it’s “Roma Ostia!” Of course.

I’m glad I caught the sunset over the Tyrrhean sea that evening. It was beautiful and reminded me of the fun time I had in Santa Marinella a few weeks ago. I was amazed at how a view like this is now so accessible to me from the Metro. It’s not something I can have in Boston!

Caught the sunset at Ostia! Seeing the sun disappear into the sea never gets old. I can’t see this at home!

As the sun sunk into the waves, a wave of hunger sunk into my body. I thought that since I was already so far from the Residence, and there were a lot of popular restaurants in the area, I might as well eat out.

I stopped at a place with a lot of outdoor seating. I felt more comfortable greeting people in Italian (“Buona sera!” means “Good evening!” Formal and appropriate.) and in ordering food. I find myself hesitatint less as I learned how to get the waiter’s attention with “Scusi!” (“Excuse me!”) and start my order with “Vorrei” (“I would like…”).

I learned how to conjugate verbs in the present and how to form sentences. My pronunciation is improving, and I didn’t struggle as much with long words with a lot of consonants. I managed to order spaghettoni alla carbonara, a speciality in Rome. I found it funny how most of the ingredients – eggs, bacon, and cheese – sound like something I’d eat for breakfast in the States in an omelette, but in Rome, would be components of a classic pasta dish in the city. I enjoyed my carbonara and salad very much.

Spaghettoni alla Carbonara, a Roman classic! Egg, bacon, and cheese over fresh pasta.

I walked back to the train station and made my way back to downtown Rome. I retraced my steps on the Metro and returned to the Residence, tired from all the running I did at the archaeological park and at the shore but satisfied with my photographs and the dinner I managed to order in not-as-shabby Italian. Most of all, I was pleased to learn that an adventure does not have to be a huge undertaking to be meaningful; the little things like riding a new train, seeing just a bit of an ancient port-town, petting a local cat, and trying a regional dish matter just as much, if not more!

Etruscans at the Museum

Ever since I was in elementary school, I loved going on field trips. Museums are some of my favorite destinations in any place, and I was excited to explore one on my first class trip of the semester!

I usually have three-hour lectures on Thursday mornings, but this Thursday, I went to the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia (National Etruscan Museum of Villia Giulia) with my classmates.  I am taking a class called “Race in the Ancient Mediterranean” this semester. I am excited to be studying the Classics in Rome, and I have been looking forward to this course since I first learned about it while applying to study abroad.

My classmates and I met our professor at the start of class and walked ten minutes to the museum. Temple Rome’s campus is in a very convenient spot – not too far from cultural gems such as the Villa Giulia!

Going into the Villa Giulia – my first class trip in Rome!

The Villa Giulia was built as a suburban residence for Pope Julius III in the 16th century. The Via Flaminia (which is the long road behind Temple Rome and very close to the museum) was an ancient street that lead into the city, but had some parts of it built in rural areas. The Villa was meant to be a comfortable, colorful dwelling away from the chaos of downtown Rome for the Pope.

What intricate paintings on our way to the exhibits!

However, the pope’s palace on the Via Flaminia was reclaimed by the state and repurposed into a museum for artifacts attributed to the Etruscans, an ancient people who lived in central and northern Italy before Rome was founded. The land they cultivated was called “Etruria” and spanned from the Arno River in the north (around where Florence is today) to the Tiber River in modern Rome.

Their civilization was a major independent power from the 8th to the 6th centuries B.C.E., but the cities were scattered and never unified into what we might consider a “nation” today. They were eventually “Romanized” and fully absorbed into the Roman civlization by the 2nd century B.C.E.

Many major geographic features of Italy are named after significant aspects of the ancient Etruscan civlization. The body of water to the east is the Adriatic Sea, named after the ancient port of Adria in the northeast, and the western sea is the Tyrrhean Sea, which comes from Thyrrenoi, an ancient Greek word used to describe the Etruscans in the context of piracy (a negative stereotype the ancient Greeks and Romans held about the people). The Romans called the Etruscans the Tusci, which is where the modern region of Tuscany gets its name. The Etruscans themselves, however, called themselves the Rasenna.

A map of the region called “Etruria,” where the ancient Etruscans lived.

After looking at the map and discussing the possible oriental (i.e., from Asia Minor, where modern-day Turkey is today) origins of the Etruscan people and their culture, we looked at ancient Etruscan artifacts. Many of the objects on display come from tombs, which were sealed after funerals and kept away from corrosive elements outside of the sites.

Wealthier Etruscans could afford more lavish grave goods such as chariots and intricate bronzework for their tombs. Some rich families even buried their dead with ancient Greek pottery, which was highly-prized by the Etruscans. There was a lot of interaction with the ancient Greeks through trade. Ancient Athens in particular benefitted exchanging pottery for goods from the mineral-rich Etruria.

The Etruscans had their own special type of pottery called “bucchero” (a Portuguese term that does not have origins in the ancient world, interestingly enough!) that saw vases turn black in the kiln, but the reddish-orange vases from Greece were especially valuable. Along with pottery, the ancient Greeks also had an influence on Etruscan religion, which involves the worship of deities similar to those from ancient Greece. The imagery decorating the traded goods is a sign of cultural exchange in the ancient world.

A reconstruction of grave goods in a wealthy Etruscan tomb – complete with fancy bronzework and other luxuries!
The ancient Etruscans loved Greek pottery. There was a lot of trade with the ancient Greek city-states, especially with Athens, because of the popularity and high demand.

In the basement of the museum are more reconstructed tombs, this time from specific burial mounds called tumuli. I’m fascinated by how the archaeologists and curators managed to recreate the atmosphere and setup of a tomb outside of Rome in a modern museum setting. Walking into these reconstructions is like walking into the past. Only the past is ageless, with how the recreations are displayed today.

Another reconstruction of an Etruscan tomb.

Through a brief lecture on artwork in tombs, I learned that death was not necessarily a dismal time of grief. Some tombs had lively patterns and colors painted in them, with scenes of pleasure such as feasting and other cheerful social events meant to celebrate the life of the deceased. What an interesting combination of contrasting concepts!

Tomb painting – a lively scene meant to celebrate the dead.

At the end of the hallway on the first floor is a famous artifact in Rome: the Sarcophagus of the Spouses. The terracotta piece is modeled after a sculpture and portrays two figures, one male and one female, reclining. They are dressed in traditional clothing and wear the enigmatic “Archaic smile” that was common in art from the 6th-century B.C.E. The stylized features and outfits imply that there was artistic influence from Asia Minor.

The Etruscans were very different from the early Romans in the region in not only the places they drew inspiration from, but also in their social structures and cultural norms. The Sarcophagus of the Spouses is significant in that it exemplifies the trope of representing male and female figures together: Etruscan women joined men in pleasurable social events such as symposia (similar to the ancient Greek symposium, except in Greece, only men took part in the activity).

Early Greeks and Romans had a negative view of the Etruscans because they saw their women as “too free.” Ancient Greek and Roman women were excluded from social events; a woman who was present at a symposium was never a wife of one of the men at the event. Women at such events were dancers or learned conversationalists who entertained guests. None of them were related to the men at the symposium.

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses in the Villa Giulia is one of two of its kind: the other existing piece is in the Louvre in Paris. I think I might go see its counterpart in France one day. I’m curious to compare and contrast the two myself.

The famous Sarcophagus of the Spouses in Rome – the only other piece of this kind is in the Louvre in Paris!

I joined the Spouses in watching the 21st-century museum-goers in the exhibits.

I went outside of the exhibit halls during a short break and looked at the nymphaeum, an open area resembling a grotto, where nymphs would be found in ancient mythology. I was stunned by the beautiful mosaic on the ground surrounded by shrubbery and complex columns and arches. What a sight!

The nymphaeum of the Villa Giulia, complete with plants and mosaics.

The final parts of our museum visit took place in the halls of Greek vases behind the Sarcophagus of the Spouses before we headed upstairs. On the second floor is a wide exhibit about the ancient Etruscan language. Our professor told us that Etruscan was not like ancient Greek or Latin, which are categorized as Indo-European languages in the linguistics family tree.

However, the ancient Etruscans modeled their alphabet from the ancient Greek one, which in turn was adapted from the ancient Phoenician alphabet. The Latin alphabet, which many western European cultures use today, also comes from the Etruscan alphabet. The challenge lies in not transliterating ancient Etruscan, but instead in identifying the grammar and syntax from the very little the Etruscans left behind in writing. I asked my professor why this is the case, and I learned that because the Etruscans were “Romanized” later on, they adopted and wrote in Latin instead of their former main language.

The second floor of the museum; we learned about the Etruscan language here.

We finished our visit with a discussion about the “contrast” and “otherness” with which the ancient Romans perceived the Etruscans and people who were “not Roman.” The ancient Etruscans were technologically advanced with their craftsmanship compared to other people in Italy in the 8th century B.C.E. and had complex religious rituals. The Romans took their ritual of using animals to fortell omens, whether through searching the intestines and livers of sacrificial animals or watching the flight patterns of birds, from the Etruscans.

Yet the Romans did not want to be as “primative” as the Etruscans, whose art and culture were different from those of other tribes in the area. Etruscan women were seen as “too strong” and “loose” compared to the “proper” Roman ladies who stayed out of social events, and Etruscan men were considered too lavish and “soft” because of a stereotypical tendency toward luxuries like jewerly (a large collection of which was on display in the museum) compared to the “harder” and “proper” Roman men.

This broader contrast in itself was good food for thought as I headed back to campus for my next class.  It is fascinating how someone can want to be both like and unlike another who is perceived as “other” or even as a complete opposite. My first instinct was to react with confusion because I initially perceived the concept as a paradox, but after I took my professor’s advice about thinking more deeply about the visit for the next class, I think I’ve learned how to start processing seemingly-contradictory information. I am looking forward to writing my reflection paper about this visit and sharing my ideas in class next time.

A Day in Pompeii

I am pleased to share that after my unexpected delay and improvised adventure (hence my previous post), I made it to Pompeii on Saturday, September 21! Glad that went according to plan, at least.

After a three-hour bus ride, I arrived at Pompei (spelled with one “i” in Italian) at 3:10 p.m. I got to see the central and southern Italian landscape we drove into and past the city of Naples (Napoli in Italian).

My non-stop bus ride from Rome (Roma Tiburtina station) to Pompeii.
What a view from the bus!

I walked thirty minutes to the Parco Archeological di Pompei (Archaeological Park of Pompeii). Almost two millenia ago, in 79 C.E., Mt. Vesuvius erupted and destroyed several ancient Roman cities in the area of southern Italy (which is now the Gulf of Naples).

A Google Earth view of Mt. Vesuvius and Pompei. The Parco Archeological di Pompei was established on the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii.

Pompeii was one of the cities wiped out during the volcanic eruption, but the ruins of the city and eyewitness accounts from the ancient Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder still exist today and tell us the story of the place both before and during the eruption. While the volcano that buried the city in ash was a destructive force, it was also a protective one by shielding the ruins from erosion on the outside.

I learned a bit about Pompeii in Classical archaeology. My professor said that the site has been excavated, studied, and visited since the 18th century – it was a stop on the “Grand Tour” during the Enlightenment. Men from wealthier families, who studied the Classics as part of their education, travelled around the Mediterranean to see the ancient world. In the 19th century especially, Pompeii was a common destination for the “Grand Tour-ists.”

The rich were not the only ones who stopped by Pompeii after its rediscovery. In addition to the city itself, people have also found tunnels dug by robbers who looted valuables from the site. I wonder which areas of the park were excavated by trained archaeologists or looters first.

A closer look at Pompeii on Google Earth.

I was fascinated by Pompeii even before I came to Holy Cross. I took a course on ancient Roman history in high school and learned about Pompeii. We read a well-researched realistic fiction book about the city before and during the eruption of 79 and wrote our own short stories set in 1st-century Pompeii. My classmates and I used the names of actual people who lived in Pompeii at that time and reconstructed their lives and final moments during the pyroclastic flow of the eruption.

I first saw images of Pompeii through images on books and screens and learned more through videoes and documentaries. I was curious to see Pompeii firsthand when I researched aspects of daily life in the city and found interesting details about the eruption. It was one thing to see and learn about Pompeii in two-dimensions when I was younger: now, I got to see the real thing with my own eyes as an adult.

I thought about Mr. Blake, the teacher who first introduced me to Pompeii in high school, during this trip. He is the Head of the Classics department at Noble and Greenough School, which is a few minutes south of Boston. I graduated from Nobles over two years ago. He taught me Latin and ancient Roman history in high school and was my academic advisor. Mr. Blake and I have stayed connected and we talk as fellow Classics majors on occasion. I also come back to Nobles sometimes to give guest lectures to his students.

I knew quite a few things about Pompeii before I even planned to study abroad, but I was still blown away by my first view of the archaeological park. For years, I had seen Pompeii through pictures smaller than I was. I was amazed by the sheer size of the place – these were the ruins of a full-size city in front of me!

Now that’s what I call a first impression of a place!

I walked into the entrance of the park after buying a ticket (I paid the adult fare, or €15) and saw bright colors still on the stones they were painted onto two millennia ago. Impressive how colorful the place is!

Splashes of color at the entrance to the ruins!

After I had recovered from my mini Pompeii-shock, I walked into main sites within the site. The Basilica and Forun were huge, open spaces which would have been the equivalent of a central square in a modern city today. There would have been a lot of busy buildings and people walking about in antiquity – now, it is like the remains of a ghost town of sorts. Stunning, but also haunting, with the fragmented pieces of Pompeii standing on site with the currently dormant Mt. Vesuvius in the background.

Remnants of the basilica in Pompeii.
Stunning view of the Forum!
Modern people walking in the center of an ancient city.

Here I am! With Mt. Vesuvius looming in the background…

On my walk around the Forum, I found a fence that separated the site from a storage area where I saw a lot of artifacts organized into shelves and displayed on ground level. Interesting to catch a glimpse behind the scenes of the archaeologists’ work in Pompeii.

Some artifacts in storage next to the Forum. Got a closer look at the work behind the scenes through a fence.

Like I did on my first day in Rome, I walked around the city. There is something about walking on the cobblestone paths that makes it feel like I’ve gone back in time. Pompeii is a city frozen in time, after all!

I love walking on the streets of the city – Pompeii is no different!
New surprises at every corner!

I headed toward the enigmatic-sounding Villa of Mysteries after exploring the streets. I walked past some tombs and grave monuments once I exited the central part of the ruins. I had learned to read some grave inscriptions in Latin when I was at Nobles and knew what some of the abbreviations stood for.

A tomb with bright flowers stood out to me. I couldn’t read all of the text because of the lighting, but once I returned to my apartment and enhanced the photo, I recognized enough of the words to read the inscription. I did some more research online for the pieces I was having trouble with and found out that this was the tomb of a man who was a major leader in Pompeii. He had an expensive funeral and a monument dedicated to him in the Forum.

Grave monuments at Pompeii.
Here lies an important man. I did a bit of research on this tomb: a lot of abbreviations in Latin! A(ulus) Umbricius Scalus, son of A(ulus) of the tribe of Men(enia), was a duumvir, one of two political leaders in Pompeii. He had a grand funeral and a monument in the Forum!

The Villa of Mysteries was farther along the path. It is a large building separate from the rest of the houses in Pompeii. The “mysteries” in its name do not come from the literal sense of the word. The ancient Romans had many gods, but some deities has more of a cult following than others. The rituals of these worshippers are more obscure than the more common religious practices. I have seen the activities of certain cults referred to as “mysteries” in my studies.

From inside the Villa of Mysteries. Having a hard time imagining what went on in here millenia ago.

The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius claimed the lives of many Pompeiians, and several of the bodies were buried in volcanic ash. As time passed, the ash hardened and preserved the spaces the people once filled. Archeologists have been able to create plaster casts from these voids and gain insight on the final resting positions of the victims.

The villa also houses colorful paintings on the walls. I learned about the four styles of Pompeiian wall paintings in Mr. Blake’s class, and I recognized some of the paintings as art in the Second Style, which features realistically-proportioned architecture similar to those in the backdrops of theatres. The Second Style is an older style that was in fashion a century before the eruption. This is a good indicator that the Villa of Mysteries is an older building in Pompeii.

A plaster cast in the Villia of Mysteries. The volcanic ash which engulfed Pompeii and its people created natural casts over the bodies of people and animals. Archaeologists have been able to recreate the physical positions of the victims using the voids preserved by the ash.
“Is it just me, or am I being watched? From the outside, on a two-dimensional surface?” A very relatable question, person on the wall!
A colorful mosaic inside the Villa of Mysteries. This is in the Second Style of art in Pompeii – a good indicator of an older building in the city!

The park was about to close by the time I stepped out of the Villa of Mysteries. I also had to catch my ride back to Rome: couldn’t stay out too late because it would already take more than three hours to get to Roma Tiburtina. I bought some souvenirs. I’m particularly excited to read an interactive book about Pompeii in the past and present! I bought a copy in English and another in Chinese (so I can learn to describe Pompeii in my other language).

Perfect souvenirs from Pompeii! Bought “Pompeii Reconstructed” in my two native languages : English and Chinese!

I wish I could have spent more time at Pompeii. There was so much more I would have liked to see, but I was happy that I finally saw the ancient city I had learned so much about since I was younger. I got to see Pompeii come to life in three dimensions.

I emailed Mr. Blake and told him about how, years after I was vigorously reading about Pompeii for my Roman history project, I got to live my dream of studying abroad in Rome and seeing Pompeii with my own eyes. I thanked him for teaching so much about the ancient world and asked if I could mention him in an anecdote in my blog. He was pleased to hear from me and to follow my adventures online. He said that I could mention him and his history class.

On my way back to Rome, I watched the sun set over Pompeii. The colors of the sky over the deep blue of the sea and the black silhouette of the coast were beautiful. Like Pompeii, it is a sight I want to see again. I think I might revisit Pompeii sometime and see more of the place.

Until then, dear Pompeii! May we meet again. As Mr. Blake would sign his emails to me in Latin: cura ut valeas! Take care, so that you are well!

And so the sun sets on my day in Pompeii. There is so much more I want to see – until next time!

An Impromptu Stroll in Rome: Making the Most Out of a Delay

Greetings, from a bus I boarded at the last minute! I didn’t plan to do this, but I’m glad that at least for the next three hours, I can rest assured that the rest of my trip will go according to my original plan. I feel relieved to be on my way to Pompeii and to be typing this amusing story on my phone.

I look like I’ve been through quite an adventure! At least I have a ride to Pompeii.

I booked this day trip a few days ago. I bought a ticket to Pompeii online and woke up early to catch my 8 a.m. ride at Roma Tiburtina station. Unfortunately, I didnt know that I’d be delayed by weekend construction at Termini station, where I had planned to catch the Linea B train to Tiburtina. The Linea B platforms were closed.

I took the replacement shuttle to the next Metro stop, where the Linea B was going to Tiburtina, and arrived at exactly 8:00. I think I saw the bus to Pompeii leaving the moment I got to the station. Ah, so close! And it was all because of the delay at Termini.

I got here just a little too late to catch the 8:00 bus I bought a ticket for.

I ended up buying a ticket for the next bus to Pompeii at the station. It was for 11:35 a.m. There was no way I was going to stay at the bus station for three hours, so I decided to explore.

The delay at Termini became an impromptu trip around the area. I did a lot of things for the first time. I took a bus for the first time (fun fact I learned at orientation: in Rome, a bus might not stop for you unless you wave at it like you would do with a taxi in the States!) to a local Linea C station and rode the new line as well.

This Bostonian’s first ride on a Roman bus!
That’s Linea C! I have now taken all three of the subway lines on the Roma Metro!

I walked around the Lodi stop and found some interesting sites. There were plenty of remnants from the ancient world that I didn’t expect to find today. There is an ancient amphitheatre and several gates and walls from antiquity as well. I saw a Latin inscription on my stroll. I’ll try to figure it out from the picture I took when I can enhance the photo on my computer.

The amphitheater (Anfiteatro Castrense) on Viale Castrense! Wasn’t expecting to see that today!
The Porta Maggiore is a huge gate! Wonder how long it took the ancient Romans to build it.
An ancient Roman wall! There are a few aqueducts in the archaeological site nearby.

I gave myself about an hour to get back to Tiburtina. I made it to the bus station at 11:30. Close call!

I’m helping myself to the fast food I bought porta via (the Italian equivalent for “to go”) before I went to Tiburtina for the second time today. I think I’ve earned some lunch for my unexpected adventure this morning. Fries have never been so good on the bus!

I can now truly understand the importance of being flexible, able to adapt to sudden situations out of one’s control. I feel brave for improvising a new plan on the spot and for trying new things in a new part of the city.

I’m glad I could figure out what was in the previously unfamiliar area and how to get to interesting sites I found on Google Maps. I’m glad I got a nice Italian phone plan at Temple Rome during orientation. The local coverage and high monthly allowance for high-speed data was very useful in this “trip.”

This ended up being a fun adventure into the past, with all the ancient monuments and the archeological site I walked around this morning. And I’m enjoying writing this previously-unplanned post for my blog! Thank goodness I brought my battery pack and the portable WiFi device I rented during orientation.

I’m very happy that things worked out in the end, even if they didn’t at first. Making adjustments on the road is an special experience in itself.

Ancient Artifacts in a Modern Metro

As a city person, I appreciate the conveniences of public transportation. I was pleased to find out that both the Residence and the Temple Rome campus are short walks from Metro stations in the city. I bought my first monthly pass from a local Tabacchi for €35 during orientation. It has really come in handy: unlimited rides on the bus, tram, and Metro for an entire month! Just have to remember to pay another €35 at the Tabacchi when October comes.

I’ve been taking the Metro to class every day. The Cipro (pronounced “Chee-proh”) stop is five minutes away from the Residence.

Using my monthly pass to ride the Metro! €35 a month, value renewable at local Tabacchi (by giving money to the cashier, who will refill the pass).
Here comes the train in the Metro! At Cipro Station, five minutes from the Residence.

I also ride the subway to other locations in the city. The Spagna (pronounced “Spahn-nya,” Italian for Spain) Metro station (one stop away from Flaminio, which is a 10-minute walk from Temple Rome) in particular is a convenient location for sightseeing. I see a lot of tourists taking pictures of the iconic Spanish steps and of the famous Trevi Fountain all the time – most of them walked from the Spagna stop. It’s a busy station!

One of my housemates who explored the city more than I did told me something interesting about the Metro. A lot of the main attractions are accessible from the subway stops, but was I interested in an archaeological site that was literally INSIDE a Metro station? You bet I was!

The San Giovanni Metro station, which is three stops away from Termini in the center of the city, is a significant station on Linea A of the Roma Metro. It is one of only a few stops on the entire subway system with a connection to the new Linea C of the Metro.

I was surprised to hear that Rome didn’t have that many subway lines – I thought a large city would have at least five lines. My hometown of Boston, which is much smaller than Rome, has more lines on the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority) than the eternal city does. (There are four subway lines in Boston.)

Here is the Rome Metro! Three lines: Linea A, Linea B, Linea C. (Pronounced “Leen-ee-ah Ah,” “Leen-ee-ah Bee,” and “Leen-ee-ah Chee” in Italian, respectively.)

The city of Rome has wanted to add a new Metro line for years. However, construction was delayed fairly often. Every time the city dug underground, chances were that people might find ancient artifacts buried there. It is important to preserve the archaeological context of any artifact so any research on the found material can be more accurate and give us a more complete understanding of the past.

San Giovanni has been the site of several of these ancient artifacts, and the city of Rome decided to install an exhibit inside the Metro station, displaying artifacts where they were found. The city even added artwork of the objects and timelines that indicated what time period and depth beneath the ground (in meters) they came from near the stairs and escalators. The first time I saw the station, I thought I was daydreaming about Classical archaeology in the middle of a Metro stop!

First view of San Giovanni station – can’t tell if this is a museum or a Metro stop!
The artifacts on display! There is also a chart on the wall with a timeline of Roman history.
Artwork and timelines on the side of the stairs and escaltors.

I took Classical archaeology at Holy Cross as a first-year student. One of the concepts I learned was the Law of Superpostion. Layers of earth form on top of each other for passing each time period – the oldest layer hidden deeper underground while more recent layers are closer to the surface. I got to experience this firsthand riding down the escalator at the station.

I kept track of how far underneath the surface I was going and what time period the layer of earth at that depth corresponded to. The lower the escalator went, the further back in time I went. There were artifacts from the Middle Ages to times of the Roman Empire to the Roman Republic to the Roman Kingdom and even to prehistoric times!

In Classical archaeology, I also learned about how modern people react when they encounter ancient artifacts while digging underground. I learned that in Athens, Greece, there is a Metro stop that is like San Giovanni in Rome. In fact, there is an entire collection at the Syntagma Metro station in central Athens! It is called the Syntagma Metro Station Archaeological Collection and is on display in the busy subway.

The collection at the Syntagma Metro Station in central Athens. Image found on Wikipedia. Funny how I found an analogous station in San Giovanni!

I’m grateful to my housemate for telling me about the hidden gem of San Giovanni. I’ve gotten to know my housemates over the past three weeks, and they have gotten to know me. They know that I love Classical archaeology and would love to see remnants from antiquity. I was thrilled to see the exhibit in the Metro with my own eyes! I now have a better sense of what it’s like to live a city that has been around since ancient times – I surely won’t find anything like this back home! Speaking of home, time to go back to the Residence! Going back up to the modern era by walking back up the stairs to 2019!

Returning to the modern time by going back up to the surface, toward the uscita (exit in Italian)! That’s the Law of Superposition!

A Day Trip to Santa Marinella

I am entering Week 3 of my semester in Rome! And what a busy two weeks it has been! I was as excited and exhausted after my first week of classes at Temple Rome as I was when I started my first classes at Holy Cross.

The biggest difference is the temperature: I got to experience the Mediterranean breeze at the beach in mid-September! Not expecting any New England weather here!

At orientation, we got plenty of tips on travelling around Italy and Europe during the semester.  I took one of the Temple Rome staff’s suggestion of taking a train from Termini station (in downtown Rome) to Santa Marinella, which is northwest of the city. I heard that the beaches close in mid-September, when students go back to school, so I wanted to see a Roman beach before it closes.

I bought a ticket for last Saturday. The ride was an hour long. As the train moved closer to the coast, I noticed the stark contrast of the bustling city and the quietness of the seaside.

My first glimpse of Santa Marinella, after a one-hour train ride from Roma Termini.

The beach was a 10-minute walk from the train station, and once I stepped foot on the sand, I felt like I was in a completely different time of year. The sea breeze, the smell of saltwater, and the soft sands reminded me of hot July afternoons on the other side of the Atlantic, where I would go to the beach with my family from a young age. I couldn’t believe that this was what I was feeling in the middle of September, of all times!

I loved looking at the rows of umbrellas planted on the beach like a bright orange and red forest by the sea. It surely made my day even brighter!

Perfect beach weather!

I walked further inland away from the seaside restaurants and sat in the shade at a local park. I enjoyed the quiet atmosphere and cool breeze under the trees. I also enjoyed seeing a name I recognized: J.F. Kennedy, of all names! I did some research on JFK in Rome, and it turns out that the 35th president of the United States went to Rome in the 1960s! The park also has a pizzeria and bar further along the road. I found a sign that said “Funny Park” on it. My thoughts, exactly!

Stopped to rest at a park – J.F. Kennedy Park! Thought the “Kennedy” in “Kennedy Park” looked familiar…turns out JFK visited Rome in the 1960s!
The park also has a pizzeria and a bar. And it’s also sometimes called “Funny Park” as well!

I walked south again toward the shore and walked past a curious site called Castrum Novum. I caught a small glimpse of the sign. I did some research on the place and found out that the archaeological site, whose name means “New Camp” in Latin, was first identified in the 1600s.

The most recent archaeological dig was an international effort in 2010. The report I found online said that the researchers found pottery under the sea near the site and that there is evidence of an ancient settlement that used a very worn Roman road.

A small glimpse of Castrum Novum from the road along the shore – wonder what else they’ll find here! The most recent international excavation started in 2010.

Looking out toward the sea, I saw wooden paths to little sunbathing spots above the water. If only I weren’t so keen on finding dinner at the time! I would have loved to sit on a chair and read above the sea.

This looks like a nice place to rest!

I found a ristorante (restaurant in Italian) on my way back toward the train station. I got to practice my improving Italian with the waiter, who smiled at my attempts to read the menu and order food in an unfamiliar language. I still had to stop and think for a bit before I spoke, but I think I’m getting better at forming sentences.

And what timing: we learned about food in Italian class! I learned that the primo (primi in the plural) is usually a pasta, rice, or soup dish, and the secondo (secondi in the plural) is usually meat or seafood. I think I did well with my Italian – I got exactly what I ordered, and I loved eating fresh seafood by the shore! I enjoyed my Spaghetti alla Pescatora (Seafood Spaghetti) and my Frittura Calamari e Gamberi (Fried Calamari and Shrimp).

Ordered my first dinner in Italian! Got to experience a real primo (pasta, rice, or soup) and secondo (meat or seafood) for the first time.
What better way to enjoy dinner at the beach than with a primo of Spaghettii alla Pescatora? Squid, mussels, clams, and shrimp all fresh from the sea!
The secondo: Frittura Calamari e Gamberi! Fried squid rings and whole shrimp…fresh and crispy!

The food was so good that I ate until I was stuffed. I ended up taking some calamari home with me. The waiter was happy to give me a box for my leftovers at the cash register and to give me the bill when I said “Conto!” (“Bill!”) afterward. This was a word I learned at orientation, when Temple Rome staff told us about Italian culture in eating out. I paid the bill, thanked the waiter, and went to the train station as the sun set.

I turned back for one last glance of Santa Marinella. What a view, with the colors in the sky! So different from the view I captured in the afternoon. I stopped to enjoy the breeze one last time.

What a beautiful seaside sunset!

Finally, it was time to go back. My train would be departing the Santa Marinella station at 7:41. I made the 10-minute walk back to the platform and waited for the train. Back to my home in Rome I go!

Here comes my ride back to downtown Rome! Riding away from the sunset.