Friday, June 27, 2008

A Final Retrospective

As my time in Italy is over, I offer a final retrospective on the 3 topics I chose to cover during my stay. I will attempt to summarize as best I can the basics of the beverages in Italy, soccer in Italy and Europe and Campo de' Fiori and other piazzas.
The beverages in Italy are varied and unique. Not only the beverages you get are different, often times the way you order them (i.e. cafés) is different. Wine and coffee, as you might have been guessing, is one of the best deals you can get. Other beverages, such as water at dinner, can be costly. My advice would be to try a wide variety when you can. You will never know what you might like until you try it. And if you don’t, it will only increase your appreciation for American beverages.
Soccer in Italy is truly a way of life. It is often times at the center of conversation and weekend entertainment. It is a pastime for youth, and a lifelong love for adults. The local players are celebrities, which is not a surprise given the adoring support their clubs receive. One doesn’t have to go much further than to stop at Campo de’ Fiori on a Sunday afternoon during the season to see the excitement and emotions of these fans who seem to live and die on every goal. While soccer may not be one’s sport of choice, the respect for its importance in Italy cannot be denied.
Lastly, piazzas in Italy are a source of much interaction in Rome. A quintessential example of a piazza is the one in Campo de’ Fiori. The campo changes into different this depending on the hour of the day. In the morning it is a vibrant open air market, as you get a true taste of Italy as you struggle to order prosciutto from an elderly woman who speaks only Italy. At night, it is an area filled with tourists and Italy young people alike. In a given night you will meet a diverse variety of people. And one can’t even count the number of times a walking vendor will come up to them with the same old sales pitch in a given night. The campo and piazzas in general, are experiences not to be missed.

Piazza di Santa Maria

The last stop on my extended theme on piazzas is Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere. The five of us in the Trastevere apartment traveled here on a Thursday night and it was lively as ever. The surrounding bars and restaurants were full people. However, it likely isn’t the bars and restaurants where your attention is drawn; it is the magnificent Santa Maria church. According to our Eyewitness guide, this was likely the first Christian church built in Rome. Walking up to the church, you can see statues of saint adorning the balcony over the rounded arched doorways. This design reminded me of Saint Peters. Above the balcony are mosaics dating back to the 12th Century. We proceeded inside of the church and on this particular day, the boy’s choir was putting on a performance. We stayed for a few songs and were very impressed. These boys must have ranged from 6-14 years of age and sung with perfect harmony. I also couldn’t believe how loud they sung. We were in the back row and could hear them with good clarity. One of the noticeable aspects of this church is the statue of Saint Anthony. I was told Saint Anthony is the patron saint of lost things. So, when people have lost something important in their lives, the leave a note in the shrine of Saint Anthony. There must have been hundreds of pieces of paper lying on and around this statue.
This piazza was not much different than other piazzas in the way that there were many vendors and restaurants were priced higher than others in the vicinity. So, we decided to save a bit of money and dine a few streets over, and thus ending our trip to Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Soccer in another part of Europe

A final entry on soccer isn’t an Italy one, but rater a Dutch one. Our final weekend venture was to Amsterdam. Saturday night the Netherlands were playing Russia in the quarterfinals of the Euro Cup. Brian, Dom, and I headed to Liedsplein, a large public square in the city to watch the game. We were greeted by a sea of orange-clad supporters huddled around the LCD televisions displayed out side of bars in the square. Earlier in the day, we couldn’t help but give into the fever of the city so we all purchased orange t-shirts. For once in Europe, we felt like we didn’t stick out like Americans upon first glance.
Midway through the match, a Turkey fan (not sure why he was here watching this game) began agitating the Dutch fans. His antics came to a crescendo whenever he aggressively shoved Brian out of the way to try to get closer to the TVs. This did not sit well with the Dutch fans, as one took it upon himself to head butt this man. This man was essentially sticking up for Brian because they were wearing the same colored shirt. It was just one example of likely many, where soccer fans will stick up for “their own”.
The most exciting time of the game came whenever the Netherlands scored with 3 minutes left in the game to tie it at 1-1, and send it to extra time. The crowd was in frenzy, people were setting off flares; it was really like nothing I have ever seen before. Unfortunately for the Dutch fans, the celebration would be short-lived, as the Russians prevailed in extra time. With the game ending, and the riot police coming in, we knew it was time to leave. Despite the disappointing finish, we knew we had all witnessed a truly unique spectacle, which would not be soon forgotten.

Beverages in Italy- The free kind!

A final entry on beverages is on one which is free in Rome. I am speaking of the many public water fountains around the city. All you need is a water bottle and you drink for free all day. I have to be honest though, I was a bit skeptical at first. Having grown up on Brita water, I wasn’t sure how “safe” this water would be. But after 2 weeks where none of my fellow classmates perished, I felt I was good to go ahead and try the water. What a great decision that was. Not only was the water good and cold, I was overjoyed at the money I would save over time. Two Euro a day on water was really adding up. And nothing else could possibly be more refreshing on a scorching hot summer day in Rome.

Group Walk- Markets

Our group chose Courtney’s walk, which was the walk of different markets in Rome. The first stop on our walk was to a market in Testaccio. This market was an indoor market and sold everything from fruit and bread to shoes and clothes. As you enter the market, you walk past a line of about 6 different fish dealers. This, unfortunately created a somewhat pungent aroma inside of this closed in market. The market wasn’t overly crowded at about 9am when we where there, and it looked as is some people were just finishing setting up shop for the day. After everyone took a lap or two around this market, we decided to head on to our next stop on the walk: the market in Campo de’ Fiori.
I had already been to the market in Campo de’ Fiori several times, so I had an idea of what to expect. This market sold pretty much the same things as the market in Testaccio, but on a larger scale. There were probably 2 or 3 times as many vendors in this market. There was one vendor who I hadn’t seen before. He was selling, in my estimation; the largest selection of soccer jersey’s that I have seen in Rome. He had jerseys from just about every European team imaginable. And at 10 Euro per jersey, it wasn’t all that bad of a deal. I picked up a few for friends back home.
Campo de’ Fiori ended up being the last stop on our market walk. It was nice to compare two different markets: one indoor and one outdoor. I prefer the outdoor, because I feel it is more enjoyable to walk around outside and the odors aren’t quite as pronounced outdoors. For vendors, the indoor is likely the market of choice because many don’t have to set up the shop from scratch and take it back down again every day. That must get annoying after a while.

Day Trip- Vatican Museums

This past week, I had to opportunity to explore the Vatican Museums. Before coming to Rome, this was one place that I was certain that I wanted to visit, and although it took longer than expected, I finally made it there. We traveled to the Vatican by way of the Vatican Corridor. After a surprisingly short wait to get in, we started at the Cortile della Pigna. This was an extremely well kept courtyard, which did well do offset the business of inside the museums. We then ventured to another courtyard, the Cortile Ottagonale. This courtyard held many famous sculptures including the Laocoön. In my opinion, sculptures are presented much better outside, such as this courtyard, rather than in a dark hallway sitting in a line of 30 some more sculptures. I feel like these sculptures can be appreciated much more in the outdoors.
Once inside we started to make our way toward the Sistine Chapel, checking out several other exhibits along the way. One such exhibit was the ancient Egypt room. This room contained a bevy of Egyptian artifacts and works of art. However, I found the mummified body which was over 2000 years old to be the most impressive. We also took a walk through the modern art exhibit, which was a nice contrast to much of the artwork which we have seen in Rome thus far. My favorite paintings in this room were to two works done by Dali. The way he used color in his paintings was impressive, especially when he painted a sunset in the background of one of his paintings.
We had finally made it to the Sistine Chapel after we had taken about 100 different turns along the way. The ceiling fresco done by Michelangelo certainly lived up to expectations. However, I was maybe even more impressed with his Last Judgment on the front wall. There is so much going on in his rendition of the Apocalypse. There was so much to be awed by in the chapel, it was only a shame that no pictures could be taken. The good news is that a place like this will likely leave an impression with you which will last a lifetime.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Piazza del Popolo

One of the busier pizzas in Rome is Piazza del Popolo. Located in the northern end of the city, the piazza can be easily recognizable by the giant obelisk with Egyptian symbols engraved in it, sitting in the center of the piazza. While the piazza may be a bit far from other parts of the city (for me, in Trastevere, it is) it can be easy reached by walking straight north along Via del Corso. While in the Piazza, you can take a walk up Pincian Hill which offers a nice view down onto the piazza and surrounding areas. You can also go to the northeast corner of the piazza and look around in the Cerasi Chapel. The Cerasi Chapel is home to two of the most famous Caravaggio paintings: The Crucifixion of Saint Peter and The Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus. There are also several fountains in the piazza including the Fontana del Netunno. The fountain proximately shows the sea god, Neptune, standing over two dolphins. After spending some time in the piazza, you might want to take a walk down Via del Corso and check out the many shops which line the street. Some information provided by Photo courtesy of