Italian cities exude this something that can’t quite be explained. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it’s as if they have been sprinkled with magic fairy dust because they are too breathtaking to be real. I have been in two Italian cities, Venice last year and Rome this past weekend, and they were both so unique but yet characteristically Italian that they felt cozy and welcoming. In Venice, I was taken aback by its extensive labyrinth of watery roadways and romantic, winding side streets. In Rome, I was in awe of the towering, ancient Roman constructions that still stand strong thousands of years later.
However, what the two cities had in common was the food, and this is what I’m going to begin with because anything good starts with food (a bad expression just created by me).
Both times I went to Italy, I ate pizza, pasta, and gelato the whole time, just as most American tourists probably do. But there are no words to describe the absolutely delicious homemade pasta that can be found there. The picture above is of the pasta dish I had the first night. I had never heard of this type of pasta before, but when the waiter said it was homemade I did not hesitate to order it because I knew it would make my growling stomach extremely happy. It had a simple sauce of cheese and pepper on top, which was exquisite and comforting and so entirely better than any macaroni and cheese dish you might get in the States. The type of noodle was long like spaghetti but it had an almost rectangular shape. I wish I remembered the name of the pasta; I do remember the name looked similar to tortellini but with the n and the r switched or something like that. It was my first dish I ordered in Rome and it made me so content to eat it while sipping a glass of red wine that I could have cried right then and there.
The pizza I ate in Rome was also very good. The Italians generally seem to make pizza with a very thin but delicious crust (think of New York pizza). You know the saying, “even bad pizza is good” or “you can’t mess up pizza” or something like that? Well in Italy, the worst pizza there is probably still far and beyond most pizza you could get in the U.S.
Going to restaurants was one of the few chances we got to interact with Romans. Generally at restaurants, there would be a waiter who knew English, so we could understand them and order just fine, making it possible to eat ourselves into a carb coma with no problems. Occasionally, however, a different waiter or waitress would come up to us and would say something along the lines of “arecchigavichi?” and we would all stare at them with dumb expressions on our faces and, after a beat, they would realize we were silly Americans and would go and fetch the English-speaking waiter of the place.
Despite the difficulties we had, Spanish and Italian are actually pretty similar languages, so we had no problem reading menus. Also, one time a waitress brought one of my friends his food and asked him a question but we did not understand the word as she had said it in Italian. However, soon after, she brought over a spoon so he could eat his pasta and we realized that she had asked him if he wanted a spoon because the word she had said in Italian, “cucchiaio” is actually very similar to the Spanish word for spoon, “cuchara.”
In addition to some crash courses in Italian, we visited all the main sights in Rome. Our guide on the walking tour had rounded spectacles and a top hat and was an adorable, plump, middle-aged man with a very Italian English and very Italian gestures. What stood out to me the most were all the Egyptian obelisks scattered throughout the city in the various squares or “piazzas” as they’re called in Italian and also all of the very interestingly constructed churches. As our tour guide said with his rising and falling Italian intonation, “In Roma there are churches on every street corner!” And there were indeed.
The Spanish Steps. Apparently, I had to leave Spain to see a stairwell deemed to be Spanish. But actually they are called that because the plaza where they are located contains the Spanish Consulate.
The inside of the dome of the Pantheon (a photo of the Pantheon is at the top of this post). There is rain coming down from the opening in the ceiling. It amazed me that this was still in such good condition after all these years. Ingenious engineering.
We saw the Sistine Chapel! Sadly, this is not it as no photography was allowed in the Chapel, but this photo is of just one of the other breathtakingly detailed ceilings in the Vatican Museum.
Scary faces! The Rome metro was the sketchiest thing I have ever been on. I have to say, though, that the Madrid metro is setting a really high bar as far as metros go. In Rome, all the cars had graffiti all over them and inside the cars it smelled icky and even the voice announcing the stops was this aggressive, brusk Roman man’s voice, compared with the Madrid metro, which has this pleasing woman’s voice. In this picture: API students Miguel, Ivan, and Camille.