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Have you seen Under the Tuscan Sun? There’s a scene where Marcello and Frances are driving through Italy. As he’s speeding around she asks “Do traffic lights mean anything around here?” he replies “Sure, green light: avanti avanti. Yellow light: decoration.” “What about red light?” and he says “Just a suggestion”…. This doesn’t even come close to describing drivers in Italy. They’re crazy!! They actually do pay attention to traffic lights, but they take everything else as a suggestion. Cars swerve between lanes, or even drive down the middle of two; people cut each other off without blinkers and barely enough room; mopeds speed by cars, shouting and honking if a car gets in their way. I don’t know why people even have cars in Rome. The streets are so small and packed with people that cars squeeze by, almost running people and mopeds over.
Rome is much busier than I expected! There is a constant stream of noise. Outside our apartment there is a market every morning that has fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as meat, cheese, and bread. It’s amazing! However, in the mornings, we can hear the vendors getting ready, setting up, and the people on the streets. In the afternoon there are horns honking, people shouting (Italian’s talk REALLY loudly) and dogs barking. At night there’s bar noise, more car honking, more Italian’s yelling and even occasional construction (our first night they were doing construction outside our apartment at 1am)! It’s crazy because Rome is this bustling city, yet everywhere you look there is a reminder of the past. Walking down a street, where cars are speeding by and street vendors are trying to get you to buy a rose or scarf, you’ll suddenly come across some ruins, or the Colosseum… and it never ends. There are ancient temples that were enclosed and became churches, then renovated later and turned into theatres, and now they are museums or just ruins. There are decades and decades of years that this city has seen and survived, I can’t even wrap my head around it!
My first full day in Rome we had orientation. We walked around our neighborhood and I went to the Piazza Venezia and Colosseum. The Piazza Venezia is a HUUUUGEEE white building that the locals call God’s Typewriter because it’s so big. Apparently it was built just to say “look what Rome can do” but was later turned into a monument and museum to satisfy the Romans (who still hate it). There are two eternal flames that burn “until the last soldier comes home” and are guarded by military guys with big capes and guns! They’re like the soldiers at Buckingham Palace who don’t speak or move or barely even blink! I was there at the perfect time because I got to see the changing of the guards ceremony, which was very elaborate and interesting to watch.
From there I went to the Colosseum. It’s much bigger than it seems in pictures, and even more stunning than you can imagine! I haven’t gone inside yet, and I was running out of time, so I just took some pictures from far away, but I really want to go back. At the Colosseum, and all over Rome, there are guys dressed in gladiator costumes, and they try to get you to take a picture with them, and then the charge you a bunch of money! I wanted to take a picture with one, but wasn’t willing to pay so I’ll just have to settle for pictures of the Colosseum without the gladiators… I guess it’s a price I’m willing to pay J
Over the weekend our class took a trip up to Tivoli (tee-voh-lee) and saw some pretty amazing villas and ruins. We went to Hadrian’s Villa, or Villa Adriana (Italian version). This was a HUGE living complex that was the farthest a person could be and still be allowed to be a Roman Senator. Hadrian was emperor of Rome in the 2nd century AD, but he didn’t want to live in Rome, so this was as far as he was allowed to be. But this place wasn’t just for him. Everyone who was anyone had a villa there and could enjoy living there permanently, or just for vacation/get-away purposes. Hundreds of underground tunnels and passageways were built so that servants were never seen, but food magically appeared and rooms were magically cleaned. It’s amazing to think about the amount of money that went into this place. Now we only see ruin of brick and stone, but in Hadrian’s time every surface was covered in all colors of marble, mosaics and other decoration. Occasionally you get a glimpse of a small piece of marble or mosaic that still remains, but it’s hard to imagine what it would actually look like.
After Hadrian’s Villa we went to Villa d’Este that is up in the hills of Tivoli. This was a palace was built by Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, a guy who was trying to be pope, but was denied 5 times! He was later named governor of Tivoli by Pope Julius III. Even though he never made it all the way to the top of the church ladder, he had TONS of money and built a huge palace with gardens and amazing fountains in the 1550’s. As a visitor you would be dropped off at the bottom of the hill, and as you made your way up you would encounter several different fountains and the sound of the water would grow louder and louder as you reached the top. This villa is preserved really well and was absolutely gorgeous. It’s interesting because when these gardens were being built, they would take pieces from Hadrian’s Villa to decorate Villa d’Este. So there are some pieces incorporated into Villa d’Este that actually would belong in Villa Adriana. Since Villa d’Este was on a hill, there is an incredible view of Roma!
On Sunday night a couple of us took a quick trip out to the shore. It was a short bus and train ride out to the beach. Unfortunately we couldn’t get down to the sand because they have it all walled off so you can’t go in at night, but we walked out on a dock/pier and took some pictures. It was dark but we all loved going out where we could hear and smell the ocean! It was beautiful and we hope to go back and make a day trip out of it.
I can’t believe all that I’ve done and seen so far, and I’m just getting started!