Europes and Downs: When in Rome

Europes and Downs is a travel column by Talisman writer Hayley Robb. Hayley is currently studying abroad with the Council on International Educational Exchange. She will study in three countries for six weeks each through the spring semester. Follow her column all semester as she travels to Rome, Madrid and London.

I like to imagine I am living the life of Michelangelo.There are birds flying overhead, and I’m sitting next to a fountain near my apartment. The sun is beaming on the bench I am sitting on in a city full of enough history and spectacle to inspire creatives.

Sitting here as if I were Michelangelo, watching the continuous circling of cars around me, I have noticed the one constant in this world: its continuity. The world keeps moving forward with or without you.

My brother celebrated his high school basketball senior night since I’ve been gone. My mom celebrated another birthday. Valentine’s Day came and went with my boyfriend and I more than 5,000 miles apart. And yet, I am moving forward here in Rome. That has been my unintentional mission here: to find a way out of getting lost in this world’s constant motion. How can I find a way to freeze the moments here abroad and make them last forever?

The answer: Write about them.

Six weeks have come and gone. Although it feels like I arrived yesterday, my time in Rome is up. I have only two days left in a city I may never get to see again. How am I supposed to cope? When I first arrived, I despised this place for not having all of the people I wanted desperately to be with. It was a place I despised for being a little less than normal by own standards.

Now, it is a place whose beauty and history intrigues me. It is a city full of hidden streets I could get lost in for hours, the same streets I once feared getting lost in. They are the same ones that intimidated and overwhelmed me when I got out of the taxi. The address written on the Post-it handed to me on the first day I arrived in Rome — 191 Via degli Scipioni — is now an address of home to me. I once cried in fear of not knowing the address by heart after only two hours of being in Rome. Now I could walk to and from my house and class with my eyes closed.

My time here in Rome has been nothing but constant motion. My intensive class schedule and the amount of things to see and do in this city keep me moving from one place to another all day, everyday. This was the best thing for me. A busy schedule keeps my mind from wandering. It’s when I’m channeling my inner Michelangelo that the gears start to turn.

My day starts early, not as early as it would at WKU, where I lead clients through workouts at 6 a.m., but I’m still not sleeping in — contrary to the vacation feel of a study abroad trip.

La mia giornata tipica a Roma mi sveglio normalmente alle sette di mattina. Faccio colazione con le uova, il pane e lo yogurt ogni mattina e mi vesto sette e quarto di mattina vado a lezione di archeologia. Studio arte e archeologia e italiano. Loro sono molti interessanti ma differenti dalla lezioni in America. A lezioni, vado al Colosseo, Pantheon, e Forum di Roma.

This translates to: I normally wake up at 7 a.m. I make breakfast with eggs, toast and yogurt and get dressed to go to my archaeology lesson. I study art and archaeology and Italian. They are very interesting but different than my lessons in America. For my lessons, I go to the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Roman Forum.

Learning Italian in Rome has not only challenged me as learning any new language does, but it has aided me in my daily life tremendously. I can order in a small café that may not have a lot of English-speaking employees. I can have a simple conversation with Italians I pass by on the street to ask about directions, places nearby or problems I encounter. Taking the course allowed me to immerse myself in the culture by understanding the city’s natives in their own words.

When I spoke to people at the gym in Italian, it felt like another barrier had been knocked down. I didn’t feel so foreign, and I think they appreciated the effort I made to understand them. I even find myself saying, “Sí, sí, sí, sí, sí…” on the phone or out in public for no reason at all. Meeting Italians interested in learning English proved to me again we are all one in the same – a little different but all making an effort to grow.

Rome has forced me to reflect on my own life while being here. From interacting with Italians to learning from my teachers and observing the world around me, I have found that although I feel like my life is anything but extraordinary, my life is not simple. I am very high-maintenance. I have grocery items that I HAVE to have. If I don’t eat my yogurt and granola each morning (and when I say each morning, I mean every single morning) all hell breaks loose. It took a lot to accept that Rome didn’t have the exact granola I eat at home. I had to adjust. At home, I would go to Kroger maybe three times a week if I forgot something. That’s not how it works here. They don’t even have Kroger in Rome. They have a list. They have a budget. And they know exactly what they’re getting for the next two weeks, not two days.

They may even go to three different stores before they’re done shopping – a specialty fruit vendor, a bakery and then to the convenience store for the small amount of processed foods they buy. In a way, that’s extravagant to me. In America, we have superstores to purchase it all in one trip (at least in theory).

The inside of my gym. Gym culture is very different in Italy. Italians as it is have different perceptions about personal space, so in the fitness realm, it is exemplified even more. I had to get used to sharing space, weights and sweat with lots of new people in the first week.

I have to make time for a workout every single day. I paid for a membership to a gym here that hardly any other students would pay for. That makes my day a little bit harder to plan around. It closes off at least two hours that I can’t do anything else. A regular Italian would think that’s crazy. Most people I have met work from 7 or 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then go home to their family to make dinner. They work all week because their weekends are their rest days. They spend their time outside walking, shopping and with family on these days. That is a simple life to me. How can a 20 year old from Kentucky’s life be more complicated? Because I make it that way.

“I have found that I like Italian coffee a little bit more than American coffee. If my Einstein Bros. Bagels’ ladies are reading this, I’m sorry. That may be subject to change when I get back to campus.”

I still make time for the bucket list items. I have seen the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Santa Maria sopra Minerva church.

I found time to shop and spend money I shouldn’t be spending on the famous Via del Corso (shopping strip). I passed by Gucci, Tiffany & Co., Michael Kors and Chanel and fought the urge to go inside. Passing these stores reminded me that my life may not be as extravagant as I’d like it to be, but it leaves room to work toward. I am still mastering my own Michelangelo lifestyle.

Each day, I pass by the Parliament building on my way to school. It makes it hard to ignore the fact that I live in Italy’s political center. I live in the capital city 15 minutes away from Pope Francis himself. I live 15 minutes from a country within a country, which is a concept I still have yet to grasp, housing one of my favorite paintings of all time, “The School of Athens.”

I have found that I like Italian coffee a little bit more than American coffee. If my Einstein Bros. Bagels’ ladies are reading this, I’m sorry. That may be subject to change when I get back to campus. It’s just so strong here. I once complained about the size of the coffees here, but the sweet taste of each individual cup makes up for it. Although I’d love for my large serving from Dunkin’ Donuts, the Italians have tamed my coffee addiction. One cup can suffice here.

This is Roberto. My roommate and I are pretty sure he’s the owner of Caffe Guaxüpe. He is there from 6 a.m. to close every single day. He works the same registers, orders the production of the same recipes and same menu day in and day out and yet remains smiling. I go to bed looking forward to a cup of coffee from his café. I know I am not the only one with this thought so Roberto must be doing something right.

I have found my go-to place here in Rome – Caffè Guaxüpe. I know if I ever make it back to Rome, that it will be the first place I go. I love being able to walk in, not say a word and the employees already know what I want. Feeling like a regular at a coffee shop, or “bar” as they call it here, has made my transition to a new environment so much easier. So, thank you Roberto and the rest of the employees at Caffè Guaxüpe. You have impacted my time here in Rome more than you know.

My doorman, Luis Fernandez, has made me feel at home since the first day I walked through my apartment door. The language barrier has made it hard for us to get to know each other, but his daily “Ciao, Bella” and his inquiring of how many kilometers I run every time I leave with my tennis shoes on makes my day so much better. I still have yet to figure out the kilometers to miles conversion so Luis probably thinks I’m some kind of Olympic athlete with the numbers I’ve been telling him. I will miss him as I travel to Madrid.

My goodbye at my temporary gym here in Rome was probably the hardest. When I was planning to come abroad, not being able to workout was my biggest concern when I sat down with my study abroad advisor. When I walked into Dabliu Prati Fitness Club, there just happened to be an English speaker at the desk. His name was Nicolo. He gave me a personal tour of the gym and I remember seeing the Olympic plates and squat rack and getting excited – something I hadn’t seen at any of the other gyms I had visited in my neighborhood. Then, he took me upstairs to the performance studio with everything I needed. If I had made a checklist of everything in a gym I wanted when in Rome, this one would’ve checked all of the boxes with battle ropes, kettlebells, box jumps and BOSU balls. I joined the gym immediately.

While working out here, I have met frequent patrons I see everyday now. I have met all of the personal trainers who yell my name as soon as they see me walk in. I have met their functional fitness trainer, Alex, who basically teaches the same class I do at WKU. I have watched them train their clients day in and day out, and it has only made me miss training my clients even more. Seeing it from the outside looking in has given me a new appreciation for what I took for granted. I was comfortable in the U.S., and I needed to be uncomfortable to see what I truly had.

I will miss hearing the trainers yell “Ayley!” as soon as I walk in the gym (the “H” is hard to pronounce in the Italian language). Just them knowing my name reminded me of all of the people I have back home at the Preston Center. They were my temporary Preston people and I can’t thank them enough for filling that void.

The stories behind the people I have met here in Rome have impacted my personal story. They helped show me what life is truly like here. They have helped me discover things about my home life that I couldn’t have learned anywhere else. They have shown me that there are people just like me all over the world. They’ve also reiterated the cliché saying that everyone does have a story that’s worth knowing.

I have to move on now. There are more stories waiting for me in Madrid. I will be living with a host family there. My host mom is everything I could’ve asked for, and I’ve only read her biography on paper. Her name is Raquel, and she works at an elementary and high school and as a nurse. She loves to hike the mountains outside Madrid, a hobby I hope to join her in. She also has an 18-year-old daughter named Candela, the same age of my oldest brother. I hope it gives me a sense of my own family that I long for so much.

“I was getting too comfortable in Rome, anyway.”

As the great Michelangelo once said, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.”

I have made my mark in Rome. There are experiences, lessons learned and memories made I will carry with me to Madrid and even beyond. There are friends in Rome that I plan to keep even when I return to the U.S. It’s hard to believe I’ve become so attached in six weeks that passed so quickly — a whirlwind of nothing but motion — yet somehow I am able to stand still when in reflection.

Here’s to the next whirlwind in Spain. I was getting too comfortable in Rome, anyway. So, until next time, “when in Madrid…”