Place: Rome, Italy
People: Sierra and Daniel
Lessons Learned: In Italy you enter the bus wherever you want, don’t wear your money belt like an idiot, never trust restaurant doormen, do not take hot water for granted.
I had entered the train station across the street from the Coliseum and I wanted to call Sierra* again to see where she was. There were so many people around the station that it made me feel nervous and worried that I wouldn’t find her. I looked at the payphones and I had no idea how to use them. I realized that I had no change for the phones so I asked an English speaking tourist if I could split a 5 euro bill for some coins. Just as he was about to count out change for me, I heard a voice behind me, “Amie!?” I turned around and there she was in real life form, Sierra. She was medium height and thin. Her brown hair was tied up in a chignon and her forehead was fringed with bangs. She had soft brown eyes and a warm smile to boot. She was wearing a relaxed white off the shoulder top with jean shorts worn over top a pair of black leggings. The thing that I liked the most were her shoes, she was wearing a pair of black Superga canvas sneakers. I had never seen that brand of shoes before and they were really interesting and unique compared to all the other usual brands of canvas shoes that I had encountered in Canada. She gave me a hug and welcomed me again to Rome. She admitted to me, “I do not have the key to Giovanni’s apartment but we will go there and meet his roommate, Daniel*, and he should be able to let you in.”
We walked to a bus stop and caught a bus that took us to the apartment. When the it pulled up to the street, it stopped a bit further than where we were standing. I ran towards the front of the bus because I was so used to do doing that in Edmonton. I’m not sure about other Canadian cities, but in my city, the front of the bus is where you always go to pay and show your pass. Little did I know that things are done a bit different in Italy. Sierra stopped me and said, “No, no you don’t have to do that, you can enter here,” she pointed to the middle door of the bus. “Really!?” I exclaimed. I was blown away by the fact that the bus driver didn’t care whether you had a pass or not and nobody checked whether we did. Anybody could have walked on and not paid. I learned later on that they do have officers that check, but when I was there I never encountered them. I wished that the system was like that in Canada. It can be annoying at times to run all the way to the front of the bus and not be permitted to enter the back or the sides even though they may be closer to where you are standing. From the bus I saw so many beautiful buildings and I was filled with awe. We drove past the Palatine Hill where the ruins of ancient Roman elites still stand. I also saw Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus), which contains nothing of the original Stadium but the mere outline of a track.
Eventually we arrived at Gio’s apartment and tried ringing the bell to get inside but no one was there. We sat on a bench outside of the apartment and Sierra started calling Gio and Daniel so she could figure out where to get the key. While we were waiting I looked at my surroundings and I was in awe. I was finally here in Italy and I was in front of Giovanni’s apartment on his street. He had given me his address on Couchsurfing and I had googled it and checked it out on street view. It was nearly the same as portrayed on google, but like all images, you never get a true sense of the actual surroundings until you are there in person. There was the church dividing two streets and underneath Giovanni’s apartment there was a Farmacia (pharmacy), a restaurant, a produce store, and a pizzeria. The sun was out and the weather was hot. The square was bustling with people including a woman wearing a trench coat. Ciara looked at her in disgust, “How can anyone wear something like that in this weather!?” I myself wanted to take off my track jacket but I was wearing my money belt under my shirt over my stomach and it was slightly concealed under my track jacket but I figured it would look weird and bulky if I wore just my t-shirt. I put up with the heat and my sweat, but I was anxious to get inside the apartment so I could take this money belt off. That was the one and only time I was ever that stupid to wear my money belt on such an awkward spot on my body. I now am smart enough to wear it under my pants or skirt, or exposed around my waist if I’m in a dress.
We sat on the bench for a while chatting, waiting to hear back from both Giovanni and Daniele. In this time I got to know how strong willed of a woman Ciara was and it seemed to be something that was passed down to her. She told me about how parents were a part of the resistance movement against Mussolini back when he was in power and how she herself was running late for a bicycle protest, I think it had something to do with Critical Mass. She had studied in university and had also received her Master’s Degree, but she told me she didn’t have a good job despite her education. Italy was hard that way. Gio had a good job though, he worked with computers. While we were talking an old lady had dropped her shawl on the ground and Ciara paused the conversation to run over to her and help her. It was a sweet gesture and it showed me how nice and helping Italians can be to each other and the respect they have for their elders. We did finally hear back from Gio and Daniel. We would have to go and meet Daniel at his work to get the key from him. Again I had to hop on the bus, but this time I didn’t have to drag my luggage with me. Ciara took me to the one restaurant on the street and asked the people working there if they could watch my luggage for me. They were fine with it and I was too exhausted to care whether or not it would still be there by the time I got back. It felt nice to no longer be weighed down by my possessions.
We got on the same bus once more, but this time it was traveling in the direction of the city centre. Again, I saw so many beautiful buildings and I began to brandish my camera and snap photos on the bus with glee. I was excited but at the same time I blushed and felt shy and slightly embarrassed about my behaviour in front of Sierra. I was one of many silly tourists who were captivated by Rome and Sierra had likely seen hundreds of thousands of people like me, people that crowd their streets and make the beauty of the city and it’s tourist spots somewhat unbearable and annoying for locals. I myself felt that feeling later on after having spent a month in Rome and it’s one of those feelings that one always feels once they become more localized and familiar in such world renowned city. On the bus ride the one building that really caught my eye was Il Vittoriano (pictured below), I looked at Ciara with awe, “This building is so beautiful.” She responded quietly, “It was built by Mussolini” her gaze dropped to the floor. The light hearted feeling inside went away and I felt a twinge of guilt. The structure was a product of sad modern history and like many other people I was captivated by its form without realizing the true implications and meaning behind its beauty.
We got off the bus and we had to walk a few blocks to Daniel’s work. We saw many interesting things along the way. I was so excited to see a United Colours of Benetton store, I had never seen one in Canada before. Sierra smiled, “Of course we have it, it’s an Italian brand,” a fact I never knew before. On the way, we walked passed the Pantheon and I was awestruck. I’ve always been fascinated by its architecture and I wanted to go in. Sierra said that I could if I wanted to but I saw how overcrowded it was at the entrance and so I decided I would enter it some other time and merely admired its outer structure from the piazza. We walked on and I saw the big Zara shop that is several stories high. It made me giggle to see beside it another Zara store in the shopping centre across the street. I guess Italians really love their Zara, so much so that they need two shops within a block from each other. We eventually got to the Piazza Barberini in front of the Hotel Bernini where Daniel worked. I loved the beautiful fountain and it was there that Sierra took the first picture of me in Rome (pictured up top). As we walked closer to the hotel, Daniel approached us. I was taken aback by his good looks. I had no idea that Gio’s roommate would be so attractive. He said hello, introduced himself and shook my hand. I felt so ashamed to have met another cute guy in my sweaty dishevelled state wearing nothing but sport clothes. He gave Sierra the key and from there we walked back to the bus stop. As we were walking I was snapping photos and my tourist behaviour caused the doormen of the restaurants to call after us in hopes that we might enter their restaurant. They were always there in the touristy areas and they always put on a sweet demeanour which was fake and annoying once you see it in all the tourist traps. They always try their best to convince you that their establishment is the best in Rome and from my experience I would say that their food is almost always crummy and overpriced and never is true authentic Italian cuisine, which to me is made with time and care with only the freshest ingredients. I’ve also noticed that real authentic Italian restaurants that have good food inside do not have doormen at all. Sierra rolled her eyes at these men, she told me, “They see you taking photos so they know that you are a tourist. They want you to eat in their restaurants, saying they’re the best in Rome, like we don’t know any better, it’s so annoying.”
We caught the bus for the third time that day and again I got to see these beautiful buildings and again I was standing there in front of Gio’s apartment. We got my luggage back from the restaurant, which was sitting in the same place where I left it. We dragged it up to Gio’s floor, which unfortunately was only accessible through stairs and had no elevator access. Here I got a glimpse of how Italian apartments typically look like. There was a large courtyard with a beautiful garden in the middle, the kitchen was tiny and there was a laundry machine in the bathroom. Gio’s room had beautiful latched windows that weren’t restricted by a pane of glass nor a screen and opened up to the street below. Like most men, he had a messy room but it was a nevertheless a place to sleep. Sierra opened up the little cot which would be my sleeping area for a few days. She showed me a picture of Gio, although I had already seen photos of him on his Couchsurfing page. Once I got to see the whole apartment Sierra left me so that she could meet up with her friends at the bicycle protest. I sat on the cot for a few minutes and decided that it would be best to quickly shower and go to sleep right away, I was so exhausted and I felt so dirty and sweaty from such a long flight. I went to the bathroom and there I saw how different things are in Europe compared to North America. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to flush the toilet. I eventually realized that the flusher was merely a button on the wall. I had never seen anything like it in Canada. And to my displeasure, in the middle of the shower the hot water was gone and I had no choice but to endure the last few minutes under freezing cold water. It was so different from North America. I was used to always having a plentiful supply of hot water and it definitely made me realize how much I took that for granted. When I met Gio a few days later, he showed me how to turn on the heater so that the water would stay hotter for longer. But in the meantime I was alone and I was tired. It was not yet 6pm but I didn’t care, once I was washed and dried off I slept the deepest sleep of my life and endured my first ever experience of jet lag.
*Names have been changed
In my next post: How I met Gio’s other roomate Corradino.