Tuesday, June 5, 2012

15: It Never Really Ends

Welp, it's about that time. The last blog post.
On Saturday, June 2nd, I boarded a plane at 11:05am that landed me in Charlotte, N.C. at 3:50pm. I had about a 3 hour layover in Charlotte but my aunt surprised me at the airport and took me out to lunch! I was back on a plane by 6:45pm that dropped me off in Knoxville at 7:43pm
... and then it hit me that this experience is over.

Being back the first couple of days was frankly depressing. For three weeks the people I was with became my family. We weren't able to have much communication with home so for three weeks we were each others' therapists, best friends, and family. When you spend such a concentrated amount of time like that with a group of people and then have to come home and quit them cold turkey, it can really put you down. Not to mention that you'll feel a little off-balanced with the friends and family that you left at home. You've just gone through a big life-experience and they can listen to you and your stories but they won't ever quite "get them" since they weren't there. They won't know the inside jokes or be able to patch together pieces of stories you forgot or help you relive the experiences. You'll feel out of sorts for awhile after you return from a trip like this. I've reunited with a few of the Rome group members since returning. Tonight I'm actually meeting up with three of my closest Rome family members to go see a movie. But people live all over the place, some have jobs, some are still traveling, so it's been hard to get people together with so many different schedules.
While wallowing in self-pity, a revelation dawned on me:
this experience isn't really over. In fact, it'll never be over.
The experiences and new perspectives I gained from this trip will always be with me. The memories will always be with me. And a few of the people I became close with on this trip I have no intention of letting go. So collectively, I gained some life lessons, some wonderful memories, and some hopefully lifelong friendships that I would never have been blessed with otherwise.

I have some final thoughts to share about this trip from the top words/phrases that one should know before coming to Rome, to life lessons I acquired, etc. If you ever get a chance to go to a foreign country with strangers and have an adventure... do it. You'll never forget it.

The Imprudent Student's Advice: 

1. Don't cling to the comfortable. Experiencing a new city is interesting, but experiencing new people is life-changing. This experience was a tune-up for my social skills. I came to Rome not knowing a soul in my group. I came to find out that we were an extremely eclectic group of individuals, many of us lacking common interests and personalities. Amazingly enough, we managed to mesh together exceptionally well without much effort at all. When you live with strangers 24/7 for three weeks, you quickly stop being strangers. You're forced to either find a way to happily coexist with them, or be miserable. The way I phrase it may sound negative but it's a great thing. Learning to find common ground with people who differ from you is a life asset. You'll end up learning and teaching each other without even realizing it's happening. I am grateful for the fact that I didn't begin this trip with any friends or previous acquaintances. It forced me out of my comfort zone. I couldn't cling to any reputation or previous notions about myself or them. We were who we are and you could take it or leave it. Also, surprisingly enough, it seems that oftentimes the people that at first glance, didn't seem your type at all, are your type to a capital T. Find a way to become comfortable with the uncomfortable and get to know strangers. They could end up being a friend you keep for life. And even if they don't end up being that for you, they'll have changed or affected you in some way and vice versa. And that's what drives life... change.
2. Be a kid. I've always admired how easily amused and amazed kids are. You can pull a coin out of their ear and boom- you're the coolest person in their life. When you go to a foreign country, especially one that doesn't speak the same language as you do, it's as if everybody is pulling coins out of your ear every which way. My advice to you is to be a sponge- absorb everything; be in awe of everything. I asked a lot of questions to myself and others on this trip. What does that mean? What is the significance of that? What are you saying? What do you think? And if they couldn't answer them for me, Google could. Be curious and ask a lot of questions. Also, before and after you go see famous sites or monuments research them. An artwork is just paint on canvas and a statue is just shaped rock until you know the story behind it. And trust me on this one: Everything you see and everyone you meet has a story to tell. But you won't know until you ask questions and look for it. The other great thing about kids is they aren't cautious and afraid of embarrassment. They are who they are and they make no apologies about it. Be yourself, be curious, and be silly. This trip will be exactly what you decide to make of it. If you don't attempt to get anything of substance out of it, then you won't.
3. Always ask your server what they recommend. I am not an adventurous eater. If I can't pronounce a dish or recognize its ingredients, you best believe I'm just going to order a cheese pizza. One of the girls on my trip, Paulina, is one of the most adventurous eaters I've met. We gave her a hard time for the strange dishes she ended up with (most of them had eyes staring back at you). But, I envied her food bravery. Truth is, mom had it right the whole time: You'll never know if you like it or not until you try it. Most of us, with the exception of Paulina, stuck to safe italian dishes: pasta and pizza. Consequently all of us, with the exception of Paulina, grew sick of the italian food we were eating and ended up on the steps of the Hard Rock Cafe 4+ times begging for a morsel of American food. Ask your server what they recommend and be adventurous in your food choices. If it ends up being bad, at least you'll walk away with a funny story. Or you can just go to the Hard Rock Cafe.

Now more specifically, if you ever do decide to go to Italy, here are the top 10 words/phrases that I strongly suggest you become familiar with before you go.
1. Hello/Goodbye; Ciao; (chow)
2. Goodbye-formal; Arrivederci; (ah-ree-vay-dehr-chee)
3. Thank you; Grazie; (graht-seeay)
4. You're welcome; Prego; (pray-goh)
5. Please; Per favore; (pehr fah-voh-ray)
6. Excuse me- to get attention; Mi scusi; (mee skoo-zee)
7. Excuse me- to pass; Permesso; (pehr-may-soh)
8. How much is it?; Quanto costa?; (kwahn-toh koh-stah)
9. English; inglese; (een-glay-zay)
10. I don't understand; Non capisco; (nohn kah-pees-koh)

Thanks for making such an amazing experience everything that it was to me. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

14: Smell the Cyclists

On Saturday, 5/26, four digital media students went in search of some quality italian food after being abandoned for the weekend by the architecture class who had left earlier that day for Ponza. They've returned now from Ponza and have rubbed their sand and sun-kissed photographs in our faces. But, we did see something that they didn't that was frankly impressive: Critical Mass Bike Protest Ride. And it was intense, gritty, and aggressive, you pansy Ponza vacationers.
Here's what I saw: what appeared to be a thousand bikers shutting down public transportation in Rome for a solid hour and making many an Italian driver mad. Rome Critical Mass is an international event where bicyclists spontaneously block traffic with their bikes and risk their toes to protest for more safer biking conditions. Frankly, I see this as a bit counterproductive, seeing as how making drivers angry and shutting down the public transportation system is not going to make commuters and the like any more fond of road cyclists than they already are. But we did find it entertaining to watch drivers attempt to almost-hit bikers who chose to block them or bargain their way through- but those bikers wouldn't budge. It's a good thing those Ponza kids were absent- they couldn't have handled the extreme frogging and dodging we did to get across the streets.

On Monday, 5/28 our digital media group visited the Vatican Museums (italian: Musei Vaticani). The museum boasted an immense collection built up by the Roman Catholic Church over centuries. The Sistine Chapel and the Stanze della Segnatura decorated by Raphael are on the visitor route through the Vatican Museums. The sculptures and paintings were beautiful but the general and mature theme of the day remained to be: "Hey! Let's go pose like that statue and take a picture!"
 Saw Amy Winehouse at the Vatican. She was looking pretty fresh. (Is it too soon for this joke??)

Last night 5/29 a few of us went to get some dinner at a restaurant we had not tried before. All of our meals were good but Brandilyn ordered the homemade lasagna and got misty-eyed and emotional over how delicious it was. I think it creeped our server, Emilio, out but he was a good sport about it and sang the summarized and slightly altered version of the American song "Best I Ever Had" by Drake. It went something like "that lasagna was the best you've ever had... best you ever had... best you ever haddddd."
Afterwards we bought some gelato and then went to Scholar's pub for karaoke night! Didn't get the courage to sing but one day... one day.

Today, 5/30 we went by the Pantheon and then took a half-day trip to Villa d'Este. It was commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este. He had been appointed Governor of Tivoli by Pope Julius III, with the gift of the villa. The garden were realized with the aid of the painter-architect-archeologist Pirro Ligorio and Alberto Galvani, court architect-engineer of the Este family. Together they revived the Roman techniques of hydraulic engineering and also an ancient Roman tunnel diverting water from the Aniene river, to supply water to the sequence of fountains. I loved this place. It was absolutely gorgeous and probably my favorite place that we have visited while being here. Also, I touched a tadpole.

For dinner tonight we went to the same restaurant as last night: Il Miraggio. Emilio was our server again. We got the lasagna that Brandilyn had raved about. No one was as emotionally moved by the lasagna as she was but it was delicious. Afterwards Emilio proposed to me... I had to say yes of course because that lasagna was so good.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

13: Wooing Lorenzo

Operation Woo Lorenzo
Step 1: Get Lorenzo the italian nightshift doorman to recognize my existence.
Step 2: Marriage.
Step 3: Happily Ever After.

(click on box in bottom right corner to enlarge video)

Other videos from the trip:

Creepy time at the Cin Cin Bar...

Last but not least...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

12: Class Superlatives

Living and interacting with a group of people for two weeks 24/7 can really force you to get to know one another very well and very quickly.
Introducing Rome 2012 Group Superlatives!

(click to enlarge)
*Side-note: These may be altered throughout the remainder of the trip if deemed necessary and appropriate. But for now... enjoy!

11: Speedos should be illegal

On Thursday 5/24, we all went to the Hard Rock Cafe- again. I had a full length conversation with my fries before eating them... letting them know how much I appreciated them being there and how much they reminded me of home. I took their compliance as a positive response. The server looked at me like I was crazy, but she was the one that had half her head buzzed and the other half permed and teased up. She looked straight out of the 80's yet it wasn't socially acceptable for me to talk to my food? I have issues with this country.
Afterwards, Logan, Greg, Briana and myself went to Villa Borghese. It's the largest public park in Rome. It's a refuge from Rome- the easiest way to get away from the hustle and bustle of Rome without actually leaving Rome. The area started as a vineyard in the 16th century. In 1605 cardinal Scipione Borghese, a nephew of pope Paul V, turned the vineyard into a park. At the end of the 18th century, an artificial "lake" (more like a pond) was created in the middle of the park. On the "island" in the "lake," a small iconic temple was built. It was dedicated to Aesculapius, the God of healing. In 1903 the city of Rome obtained the Villa Borghese from the Borghese family and the park was opened to the public. The 148 acres park now features wide shady lanes, several temples, fountains, and statues.
We paid 3 euros a person to go row a boat in this "lake." We let Logan and Greg hold the oars whenever pictures were taken so it would appear that they did all the work, cause we're generous girls like that.
(click on pictures to enlarge them)

On Friday 5/25 our group went to the beach! It was an easy 45 minute train ride, a walk across the street and we were there! It was a perfect sunny day, 80 degrees. We're all sunburnt and recuperating today. Everybody looks slightly lobsterish. We walked by a seafood restaurant today and somebody thought we were on the menu and tried to order us. Bon appetit! :(