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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.