The first thing that the students had to do when they got here was to go straight to Palazzo Lazzaroni to check in and get their apartment keys. The palazzo is beautiful! It was built in the 17th century, and you can still see some of the original paintings on the ceilings. It is on Via dei Barbieri, off of Largo Argentina, a main road, which is a transportation hub that has a tram stop, bus stop, and taxi stop. It is very well located in the center of the city or centro storico. Since my roman apartment is right by the palazzo I walked there instead of taking another taxi. The apartment was so charming! Small but cozy and very homey. It is always great to move to a completely new and different place and find out that your apartment is really nice and well located. It makes it a lot easier to get used to a new place when you know you are always going back to a nice place at the end of the day where you can relax and spend time with people you like.
Note to self #5: Try to sleep as much as you can on the plane; and once you get to Rome, follow the Italian schedule at once. Do not take a nap, just go to bed at a normal time and wake up early in the morning. Being jet-lagged is not fun. Even though most students, if not all of them get to their apartments and are completely exhausted, the excitement of being in a city like Rome gives you a boost of energy that is disconcerting to those around you who have not had the same experience. Thus, that first week that the students spend in Rome is one of intense exploration. At first, they all thought they were never getting to understand the city because of its crazy street system, and to be honest, the trick is to get lost by yourself once. It is amazing how much you learn by not knowing where you are or in which direction you’re going. This might seem daunting to many, but the reality is completely different. In a place like Rome, there is no place you can go that is not interesting and beautiful in its own way, especially at the city center. Hence, this experience is not only important so that you understand and find your way around, but it is also a way of learning about the city and seeing things that you wouldn’t normally see. You start developing a sense of what you would like to see again or experience once more. Also, you immerse yourself in this collage of history that you had only seem from a car, and are blown away by how different the layers are to one another but how perfectly they work together to create a visual experience that you can only live in Rome. Note to self #6: Get lost as soon as possible, and take a notebook with you so you can write down places to re-visit and their addresses.
During this period of intense exploration you do not only learn about the landscape and the architecture, but also about the culture, and to be honest, not all lessons are learned easily. Some of them are pretty uncomfortable to learn, but this is all part of the experience. Let me tell you another story so that you understand what I mean. This one is Note to self #7: Never judge a restaurant by its facade but by its menu. On my first night here, my friends decided that since they had been here for a while, that I should choose where to eat for dinner. Italian food has a reputation for being amazing. I chose this little restaurant near Piazza Navona that looked very nice, and that was affordable for us students. Our first clue that something really wrong was going to happen that night was that as an appetizer, the waitress brought us a bowl of Pringles. All six of us stared at if for a few minutes until one of us asked if we were all thinking the same thing. There were eight Pringles in the bowl, so it was not like they brought us a bowl of Pringles to eat while talking, we each had one Pringle and that was it. We looked around to see if anyone else had Pringles on their table but we were the only ones. It was bizarre. Since we had already ordered our food we decided to stay, but the atmosphere was changed completely, and tension was high. The waitress brought us our food a little later along with a bag of bread. The food was good, not the most amazing dinner we’ve ever had, but good. Maybe it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been because of the Pringle incident, but nevertheless good. The bread was delicious, so we decided to order another bag. We finished our dinner and we were in much better moods, until we got the check. Note to self #8: If you feel like you must get out, do it. The price you’ll pay for staying will be a lot higher… literally. They were charging us 14 euro for the bread. 14 euro! None of our dinners were even close to that! At this point no one was even trying to pretend that everything was fine: eyes where the size of quarters, heart rates were through the roof, hairdos were coming undone… things were getting out of control. After a heated discussion, where emotions were all over the place, I went up to the waitress to talk to her since I was the only one who spoke some Italian. I saw the manager and decided to go straight to him instead, and I explained our situation and that we were never told that we had to pay for bread. The waitress just brought it without us asking for it, at least the first bag. The manager looked at the waitress in a very judgmental way; clearly she had played with us. He agreed to not charge us for the first bag but that we would have to pay for the second one, and to be honest at this point we just wanted to go home and relax after an unexpectedly stressing evening. So, we paid for everything and left. It is safe to say that we’re never going back there again.
Don’t be afraid though, not all of Rome is like that. I have seen more acts of kindness here than anywhere else. Once, an old man was crossing an avenue when his grocery bag ripped and all of his stuff fell on the ground. It was pouring rain and the light changed so there were cars honking their horns because he couldn’t move. A lady that was standing on the sidewalk jumped into the street to help him get his things. Then a man who was on his bike waiting for the light to change, gave him a plastic bag that he happened to have in which he could put his belongings. This is a perfect example of Roman generosity and community values. It was a beautiful thing to see and experience. Thus, Note to self #9: There are beautiful people everywhere, and they are the majority of the population.