For today’s A to Z post, I’m featuring the only foreign location on my list that I’ve actually been to. I studied abroad in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland, in the spring semester of 2009. While there, we had classes Monday-Thursday, so our weekends were wide open and designed for independent travel. For Spring Break, my 3 roommates and I planned a trip to Rome, Pompei, Athens, and Santorini. It was an incredible nine days.
Rome is the only place I went while in Europe that I really, really want to return to. (It’s not that I don’t want to go back anywhere else, it’s just that there are other places I haven’t been that I’d prioritize higher, given the chance.) I don’t know what it was about being in Rome, but something stuck with me. I barely spoke the language, I was embarrassingly ignorant of the history and culture, and didn’t know my way around, but I loved something about the experience. I’ve been thinking about getting back there ever since.
We did our best to hit the highlights and figure things out as we went.
The first night, we arrived by train at about 1am. Four American college girls, completely clueless and intimidated by the huge city. We each had rolling suitcases (filled with everything we’d need for a week of travel) and one map between us, and looking back, I’m surprised that we weren’t all kidnapped, Taken style. (We had an almost-brush with that kind of experience en route from the airport to the train station, but that’s another story.)
We somehow navigated the middle-of-the-night streets in a foreign city and wound up at the hostel we had booked for the first night. (I had rented an apartment for us to live in for the 5-day span we’d spend there, but since it was privately owned, we inaccurately assumed that the owner wouldn’t have met us at 2am to let us in. We learned the next morning that he would have…) The hostel was easily the sketchiest place I stayed in my entire time in Europe. Aside from the check-in desk and the majority of the rooms being a separate building from the room we stayed in, we had to walk back outside and around a corner down another alley-like street, then CARRY OUR LUGGAGE OVER A SLEEPING HOMELESS PERSON to get into the door to the building that our room was in. The room was dirty and cold and felt like it would be broken into at any moment, based on the location and the other people we had seen in the area. Suffice it to say that I slept in my clothes–hoodie included–with the hood pulled up over my head. I didn’t want the blankets to touch my skin, and none of us dared to shower in the bathroom (which was about 3×5 feet and was shared by 3 actual apartments on the same floor of the building) the next morning. We were so glad to leave.
Anyway, I look back on it all now and somehow long for it. Everyone experiences a city differently, and that was part of Rome for me.
The first day, we found the Spanish Steps, the Piazza Del Popolo, the Pantheon and the Trevy Fountain, and we got our first glimpse of the Coloseum.
The Pantheon still sticks out in my memory as one of the coolest places I have ever seen. We rounded a corner, nearly ready to give up on the seemingly impossible hunt for it, and BAM! There it was, right in the middle of bustling streets, completely out of place in the 21st century. That’s probably why I liked Rome so much: the sharp contrast of old-vs-new in a city that almost didn’t acknowledge how amazing its history was. I’ve never lived in a place so brimming with history around every turn, and it amazed me how much there was to learn. A place like that will really make you realize how small you are in the grand scheme of things. Maybe I liked that I was able to hang with it all, regardless.
We stopped for gelato in a shop to the right of the photo above, and just sat on a bench outside and ate and stared. I don’t even remember talking or anything, I just remember being fascinated and feeling like the whole experience couldn’t have been happening to me.
Next, we made it to the Trevy Fountain, yet another world-famous attraction tucked quietly away amongst modern buildings and people who hardly seemed to notice it was there.
I can’t recall what we did or talked about or even ate for most of the time we were there–all I have now are the memories that stuck out most in my mind and the photos I took. I have pictures to commemorate the ‘major’ things we saw, and I have a journal somewhere that records some pieces of the trip, because we had to keep one for a class. But the small details are now lost forever, which leaves me with a strange feeling.
Anyway, that first night (according to the dates on my photos), we made it to the Colosseum. We were all excited to see it, because it’s the one thing that we all knew and associated with Rome. Even though we couldn’t go in at night, we still walked around and soaked it all in.
I’ve always loved this next picture, because it perfectly embodies what Rome was to me: ethereal, fleeting, spine-tingling, magical.
Even looking at all my photos now, I realize that I can never quite capture in words just what it was that I felt while I was there, because even now, some of it has been lost to me. It was a time of discovery and empowerment; learning and exploring; trying my hand at world travel. I long for the place and the feelings: I’d trade almost anything to be able to go back and do it again.
This is only a brief summary of day 1, and we were there for 5 days (including a day trip to Pompeii). I have many more pictures and a few more memories, but those might just have to be a post for another day.
To anyone who has been to Rome: were you swept up in all the gloriousness of the city? Have you ever felt this way about another place? Any other emotions tied to a specific location?