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Hey Now, Hey Now, ITALY is What My Dreams Are Made Of (Not to Mention the Best Sicilian Cannoli I&#8

Ciao, bellas! I have returned to my abode in London fully refre

shed and ready to take on whatever the world has in store for me, thanks to the most wonderful and relaxing weekend spent in ROMAAAAAAA.

I swear, one day I will return to Italy, hopefully with my mother in tow so we can explore our homeland of Naples and Sicily together. But I will set foot on that Italian holy ground once again to live and practice the Italian language I will finally be learning next semester. I can admit that I’ve managed to learn a few phrases this past semester to get by. You know, like parla inglese? Or un cappuccino or un carbonara, per favore. And most importantly, grazie! Pretty substantial, I’m aware. But knowing culinary terms is all you need to survive in a city that is asking you to engage in carb-indulgence in addition to exploring the amazing history of la città eterna, as Miss Ungermeyer would say. I can’t believe how much ground we covered in just four days! Well, my feet certainly can…

Anyway, where should I start? Well, National Express did NOT abandon us this time. Still can’t believe I actually used their abysmal services again, but Claud already paid for my ticket, so what could I do? At 5:40am we were OFF to Stansted! Much different experience going to Rome vs. Milan. It’s all a matter of relaxing and eating the fresh food phenomenon that is “Pret a Manger

” (New York, you are so lucky to have this awesome chain) as opposed to sprinting and panting and just making it onto your plane with 10 minutes to spare. I much prefer the former.

Our airbnb was in the best location–super close to two excellent Napoli-style pizza places, the BEST Sicilian bakery you could ever imagine (more on that in a bit) and one that my family would 100% live at if we inhabited Rome, and nearly a 20-minute walk to all the major tourist spots, which of course, we frequented in our 4 days.

As soon as I walked into the flat, I immediately called the bed that was under two pictures from ROMAN HOLIDAY!! Or, as all the posters in the souvenir shops called one of my favorite films of all-time, Vacanze Romane. I desperately wanted to ride around on a vespa like Greg and Audrey, but due to the city’s unpredictable spotty rain forecast, we all decided early-on that probably wouldn’t be the best idea. I did manage to channel my girl in other ways though, and while Kris, Claud, and I lived as expats in Rome, we took Dr. Bonnachoven’s advice he gives to the European princess in the film to heart: “The best thing I know is to do exactly what

you wish for a while.”

The restaurant hours are fairly strange in Italy, and in other European cities in general. Lunch is typically between 12-2:30/3:30 and then they simply CLOSE UP SHOP until 7 or 7:30 for dinner. Talk about restaurant owners doing exactly what they wish for a very long while, but I guess that’s the luxury of owning your own place and running it however you like.

That definitely meant we were STARVING though after checking into our airbnb and being ready to leave the house around 3pm. So, rather than dwell, we strolled along the cobblestone streets (thank you, mother, for the flat booties–life savers!).


Where Audrey insists that she wants to cut her long hair “all off!”

We stumbled past some yummy Napoli street food and the Pantheon, which we returned to after dinner! RAFAEL and the first king of Italy are buried there!! Phenomenal. Claud and I had the same reverent feeling we had upon standing in front of Shakespeare’s grave in Stratford-upon-Avon. These were men who influenced and impacted millions of people’s lives, and they were lying right below our feet, literally. The staff of the former Roman temple, now church, did have to remind everyone to hush and pay the place due respect, just like in St. Paul’s Cathedral. I instantly checked myself and silently prayed, basking in the majesty of the rotunda.

But beforehand, my girls and I got some delectable carbonara (pasta with eggs, bacon, pepper, and most certainly, LOADS of parmesan cheese!) at “Roscioli.” They luckily were willing to seat us at the bar despite the fact they were about to close for their break before dinner

service. I do believe that a smile and kindness goes a long way in this world! I LOVED my pasta–ate up the entire thing.

But I realized this trip that I am much more of a “cheese girl” than my pals. Sure, as a kid I’d always joke about how much I enjoy cheesy things (films, shows, etc.), as I would just “eat up the cheese.” But not only figuratively, I could and nearly do eat cheese every day. It’s delicious! Jarlsberg, parmesan, brie, pecorino romano, provolone, gruyere, gouda, cheddar, mozzarella, ricotta, mascarpone, even feta more now! Anything but blue. We can keep that one far away from my plate.

As I said, we admired t

he Pantheon, and unknowingly took some lovely photos alongside a trashcan, and then went to see the Trevi Fountain! Unfortunately, rain started pouring down so the coin-throwing did not go over as well as it could have, but we still managed our way down the street to get gelato from San Crispino (Elizabeth Gilbert’s fave spot as referenced in Eat, Pray, Love!). We then, of course, got second dinner–some lovely fiori di zucca (fried pumpkin flowers with cheese!) and pizza!!

We were toast and the next morning woke up bright and early to meet for our tour of the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica! We had our first Roma cappuccinos (to which I am now addicted, can’t complain since I’m now having more milk in my diet–hey,

milk helps to build strong bones, right!).

It’s unbelievable we technically went to two countries this weekend–Italy and the Catholic epicenter of the world that is technically its own country/independent city-state within Italy. But it’s only a 2-mile radius! Amazing. Entering the Vatican felt pretty surreal. How often do you get to say: “Oh ya, you know, I hung around the Vatican this morning and then got some lasagna?” Not too much in my lifetime.

There is no way to see and analyze every last minute detail of the Vatican in one day. It’s like the Louvre. There is just SO MUCH beauty for the eye to see that it can actually become overwhelming. Certainly the mad rush of people shuffling along from room to room! My mother would not have been a fan of the lack of air

space. But wow, every single painting, etching on a wall, and the CEILINGS were pure works of art. Claudia, Kristy, and I lost each other a few times, but like the Charmings on Once Upon a Time, we “always found our way back to each other.” I’m finally catching up on all the episodes I’ve missed after signing up for Netflix. Who knows why it took me this long!

In addition to this sassy Roman woman (her facial expression was too flawless not to capture), we saw the School of Athens and the CREATION OF ADAM in the Sistine Chapel. Your whole life, you hear references to the Sistine Chapel, of course. To Michelangelo lying on his back to paint upside down, naturally. And I assuredly think of the 4th grade art project where Ms. Vaughn had us pretend to be our own versions of Michelangelo drawing upside down underneath our desks that turned drastically wrong when my newly-sharpened pencil stabbed me just below my eyeball

when I dropped it. Ya, I still have that scar. Probably isn’t the best for my skin health.

BUT more importantly, walking into this room. Taking it all in. It was breathtaking. I really couldn’t believe I was actually in that sacred space. And when Claud, Kris, and I finally found that painting in the middle of the ceiling, the one I’d studied last semester for Greek Mythology, the one that inspired endless painters, artists, and storytellers like Caravaggio to focus on that

separation between creator and creation, we were all taken aback. It was so beautiful that I felt tears spring into my eyes.

It was difficult for us to tear ourselves away, but when we finally did, we were greeted to the most unsatisfactory form of cafeteria food the Vatican had to offer. Come on, we expected more. I know you’re trying to prevent gluttony and all, but couldn’t you at least make the pizza look more appetizing? Distressing.

The exit area though did feature a display of the Italian and Argentinian football club teams, including who else but my man MESSI, visiting Pope Francesco/Francis (who is also from Argentina). Thank you, Kris, for pointing out this beautiful site to me.

Afterwards, we made our way to St. Peter’s Basilica (didn’t wait in line all that long). Upon

walking through the Porta Santa (Holy Door), I felt such a wave of peace wash over me, like a heavy burden or weight had been lifted off my body and had evaporated into the air. It was wondrous.

Kristy and I quickly popped into a service to see what was going on (we were unaware it was a service at the time), but we kneeled down to pray nonetheless, and every word I wanted to say flowed so easily and as if some alternate power was guiding me. I don’t know how to describe it. I had never felt so spiritual in my whole life. I felt so cheery and like every step I took was as light as a feather. The Pieta is just as beautiful as every photo you’ve ever seen.

How we wished we could have attended a service, or gone up to the most ornately engraved altar I’d ever seen. Golden leaves and vines adorned the columns, statues were in every corner. I barely took any pictures because I was just trying to take everything

in with my own eyes. Every shot I took anyway in no way compared to what I was seeing in front of me. The lights blinded every image (I think that’s pretty telling).

Post-Vatican City, we had some lasagna and fettuccine alfredo in the Campo de’ Fiori right near Piazza Navona. We remembered just as we finished our meals that we needed to print our vouchers for the Colosseo and the Roman Forum the next day, so we were scrambling

to find a place for stampare. Nowhere seemed to work, but Kris thought on her feet, and we asked two guys at the front desk of a boutique hotel around the corner from the square. They were nice enough to say yes and wait for our emails to go through. We chatted with our new friends Esteban and Valerio, who we think, probably helped us also because they were so bored from sitting behind their desks doing nothing all night! BUT we were SO, SO grateful, and had a fun time joking around with them too!

It’s crazy how many people in Italy know English. There are so many lingua francas that are easy to pick up when you live in Europe. A little Spanish, a little French, a little

Italian, maybe some German. I feel so unlearned. That’s partly why I’m so excited to take Italian finally! I want to learn this language so I can come to Italy and actually feel like I can get around without having to switch to English after basic pleasantries but also to feel more connected with my mother’s family’s culture. This is where half my family comes from! Stepping on the soil made me feel so excited to be there, surrounded by familiarity but also opening my eyes to a much wider breadth of culture that I was a part of but had never been exposed to before!

At the end of the night, we went to my new favorite bakery in the entire world and got cannoli. OH. MY. GOODNESS. I’ve had cannoli before. I’ve gone to Italian family gatherings and had them on holidays or fun occasions. But never had I had a cannoli. The ricotta cheese, the chocolate chips, the pastry shell. UGH. YUM. I devoured it. Claud and Kris again weren’t

much of cheese fans, but I loved it so much I vowed I had to come back for more before we left!

The next morning we went back to the Vatican to wait from 10am-12pm to see the Pope give his Angelus to all of us waiting in St. Peter’s Square. Yes. I SAW THE POPE. No, I was BLESSED BY THE POPE. Whichever religion you do or don’t practice, if you regard yourself as spiritual, agnostic, atheist, being able to say that you have seen the Pope in your lifetime feels

pretty amazing. I still am getting shivers down my spine just thinking about it. He seemed so genuinely happy to see all of us waving in the square. I didn’t understand much of what he was saying, but feeling the communal love and joy of everyone else in the square embracing the moment was a flashbulb memory-creating experience. On 13 November 2016, I, Tara Bitran, saw Pope Francesco in Vatican City. I now have it written down for posterity somewhere else aside from in my journal. It happened. It was real!

We next went to the Colosseo!! Immediately I thought of my girl Lizzie McGuire and knew I had to do her proud by shaking my tail feather to the tune of my favorite 00s’ jam “What Dreams Are Made Of” (and that of every other early-00’s girl). I was in the COLOSSEUM.

GLADIATOR. CAESAR. CHARIOTS. FIGHTS TO THE DEATH. This ampitheatre was built nearly 2000 years ago and is still standing (for the most part). Despite all our modernizations, maybe the

ancient architects could teach us something.

We then headed over to the Spanish Steps in the Spanish Square (SO much walking, 8 miles a day, practically!), and I found the spot where Audrey sat down with her gelato and was charmingly greeted by a smarmy Gregory Peck early on in the story! It was so cool. That’s an awesome thing about movies and why I love the entertainment/communication/humanities fields so much.

Meaningful stories truly can resonate with people at any age or time, even 50 years later than their initial release date.

Afterwards, I tried some pumpkin and amaretto gelato (why wasn’t I born in Italy?), and we then raced back to Trevi Fountain to beat the sunset.

We got there JUST in time to toss our coins in the fontana and make our wishes. So glad no deceitful Paolo showed up.

Next, we walked around to see the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, the Altar of the Fatherland, and to try some real arancini. Had to do my mom proud, of course!

Pizza was on the menu for dinner–Cappricciosa, to be exact, with olives (YES indeed, Claudia :P), prosciutto, mozzarell’, tomato sauce, mushrooms, and artichokes. Mmmmmmm easily ate the whole pizza, but people don’t usually do slices in Italy. We saw lots of fork and knife action. I still stuck with my modus operandi of folding

my slices in half. Guess it’s the New Yorker in me (I did wear a shirt today that said New York Raised Me, if you catch my drift).

For a last night treat, we returned to our favorite little Sicilian bakery, and I got a cannolo to-go for breakfast the next morning. I felt just like my dad always eating his sweet leftovers in the morning (although he usually fulfills his Cookie Monster duties in the very wee small hours of the morning as opposed to when there’s daylight).

Funnily enough, as we readied for bed, 21 Jump Street came on our Italian TV in English. We all died laughing over how hilarious the film is. The Jonah Hill-Channing Tatum bromance was too real.

The next morning post-cannolo breakfast, we headed over to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.

Like the Vatican, and practically everywhere in Rome, you find yourself easily  understanding the meaning of the phrase “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

The architecture, the feeling that you’re walking in the steps of numerous generations before you who truly existed and led full lives in the vicinity you’re only visiting is quite humbling. We saw the Temple of Julius Caesar amidst the “ruins” of parliamentary buildings and village dwellings. Sure, their structures weren’t perfectly intact, but the Foro Romano felt far from ruins to me. Like walking through the halls of the Vatican, I was blown away by the beauty of Rome, the seeming perpetuity brimming everywhere you turn in the city–from the buildings, the fountains, the food that’s been cooked in kitchens for generations over. The Eternal City is the most perfect epithet for Rome.


Our last stop was the Mouth of Truth, or La Bocca della Verità, as seen in Roman Holiday! Our hands did not get eaten once we placed them inside the statue’s mouth (unlike the joke Gregory Peck played on Audrey in the film–a candid moment where she actually believed he’d lost his hand!), but we enjoyed embracing the mythology all the same.

We then wrapped up our time in Rome with what else but some lunch, of course! I got a calzone with egg, mozzarell’, and prosciutto! It was so yummy that the woman sitting at the table next to us even had to give me a head-nod.

We then made our way to Leonardo da Vinci/Fiumicino Airport and headed on

our flight back home–no problems transport-wise (grazie mille!!!!!!).

Rome was one of the most beautiful and enriching cities I have ever visited. I love so much about the Italian culture (this whole post is essentially a love letter to the country–well, two, actually), and I have to concede that my Italy trips have to be my favorites that I’ve taken on my entire abroad experience. Honestly, what my dreams are made of (and have been made of ever since returning on Monday night).

At the end of Roman Holiday, Audrey is asked at a press conference which city she enjoyed most on her European tour. She at first endeavors to give the typical, diplomatic response praising all the cities as unforgettable in their own ways. But she then stops herself, exclaiming: “Rome! By all means, Rome. I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live.”

I’d have to agree with Audrey.

Off to Liverpool tomorrow, and then Paris with Claud on Saturday! I can’t believe my time in London is coming to an end–in less than a month now. We actually played a very sweet game in class today where we all told stories of our shared experiences here in London, and it brought on a certain sense of nostalgia and gnawing pangs that our journey is almost over. But really, we shouldn’t think of the end of the semester that way. Our experiences are only just beginning, for as many of us said today, studying abroad in London has helped us grow more independent and confident in our abilities to handle anything life throws at us. I know I feel that way.

Cheers to the next 3 weeks, let’s make the most of them.

Cheers, Tara xx

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