Reverse Culture Shock

I’ve been in America for a little over a week now, even though it feels like I’ve been back for about two months already, and I’ve noticed some things I never have before and am learning to appreciate things I took for granted without even realizing it. I am missing Italy so much it hurts and laying around my house all day catching up on movies and TV shows can only satisfy me for so long until it gets old. I’m at that point now and am more than ready to go back to Italy.

Leaving the place you’ve lived your whole life opens your eyes and teaches you things, not only about the new place but also about the place you left. You learn to appreciate the people around you, the ease with which you can get anything in America (I quickly realized we are a bit spoiled in America) and the luxuries we have that not many other places have- just to name a few.

Things I’m glad I have back:

1. Garbage disposal

2. Clothes dryer

3. Chipotle

4. Driving

5. Not getting whistled at, cat called or having creepy Italians say creepy things to me in Italian

6. The availability of so many different types of food

Things I miss about Italy:

1. Basically everything else

2. The mindset and attitude of “Il dolce far niente” (The sweetness of doing nothing)

3. The Italian food

4. Gelato

5. Not having to pay for public transportation

6. Speaking Italian

I most definitely had some culture shock upon returning to the homeland. I was surprised by quite a few things that were very different from Europe-

1. How huge the portions of food are

2. How quickly they rush you out of restaurants

3. I constantly convert everything to Euros

4. I forget that I have to tip here

5. How unhealthy America and its people are

6. How sloppy we all look compared to the always-fashionable Europeans.

Getting a taste for foreign places has definitely left me wanting more. The travel bug took a big bite and has left me with a desire to travel the world. With so many exotic places and far away lands we forget that America has so many gorgeous places of its own. Because I’m (extremely) short on money and obviously in debt to my parents (thank you!) some friends and I have decided to save up and travel more domestically this summer. The want to travel doesn’t go away just because I’m not in Rome anymore. I have to feed my need for travel and I am excited to discover what hidden treasures lay around the corner right in my own backyard.

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”- Terry Pratchett

The Last Supper

After our long day in Florence, the family and I grabbed a very late dinner where we ordered far too much food and stuffed ourselves- I had my new favorite dish that I recently discovered- cacio e pepe, which is pecorino cheese and pepper, it sounds simple but it is fabulous. We finally called it a night and went back to the hotel to go to sleep.

The next day was the last day my family was in Rome so we took full advantage of the beautiful weather and took a nice long stroll down Via del Corso- a main street starting in Piazza Venezia and running all the way to Piazza del Popolo with great stores for shopping and eating. Once again, Nicky and dad were awesome and put up with us girls stopping in literally (yes dad, literally) every store. Renee was awesome enough to treat me to a few things and I think my arm muscles grew just from carrying all of my bags around. We did make a few stops for my dad and Nicky though; dad got an awesome new pair of shoes from Timberland and Nicky stopped in a Footlocker.

Along our travels we ran into some talented street performers dancing and even a perverted clown who made balloons and hugged Renee and me just a little too tight. One store in particular caught all of our eyes- the Perugia chocolate store. Perugia is known for their chocolate and it is where Bacio chocolate has its factory- you can even tour the factory like a real-life Italian Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We were drawn in by the seven-tiered chocolate fountain in the window and we all stocked up to get our chocolate fix- I indulged in my new chocolate obsession- white chocolate.

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After satisfying our sweet tooth we continued on our walk, stopped in a few more stores and finally made it to Piazza del Popolo. I had never been to this Piazza but I discovered that it is definitely the prettiest I have been to in Rome. There were the usual crowds and we somehow ran into two tourists from London and got into a 20 minute conversation with them about New York, New Jersey and England. They asked us what we call sandwiches around where we live (heroes never hoagies and sometimes subs) and ranted about how expensive everything is in England- they were definitely an interesting couple.

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Piazza del Popolo

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We sat on the steps of the fountain in the Piazza in the sun while Nicky and Maddie stared at the street performers who seem to float in mid-air. As their vacation was coming to a close we all just took a moment to take in our surroundings and appreciate how lucky we are and I thought how lucky I am to have such great parents and a great family. Then, of course, it was off to lunch. I feel like most of the time here is spent just killing time between meals; our schedules definitely revolve around eating. The tiny restaurant we decided to eat at was delicious; the pizza I had, the gnocchi Nicky had and the veal my dad had were all so full of flavor and it definitely proved that the little hole-in-the-wall restaurants often have some of the best food.

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Following our lunch we absolutely needed Gelato. So I took the fam to Giolitti, a very well-known gelateria. The gelato there is unbelievable and I always get white chocolate and Oreo or white chocolate and milk chocolate. Everyone got their favorite flavors and it got my dad’s seal of approval when he said it was “stupid” -which is dad talk for something is so good that there are no words to describe it. We waddled our stuffed selves to the hotel to take a breather before we went to my apartment so they could see where I live and then go to dinner.

When we got to my apartment my dad joked that he wanted to go back to the hotel where they have bell boys. My apartment is one of the nicer ones students live in here so I consider myself lucky, but after coming from the hotels we had been staying in, I agree with him. I gave them the tour, which takes all of two minutes, and we hung out for a while to pass the time until we were hungry enough again for dinner. Like clockwork, we were ready pretty soon. I took them to Trastevere, a very cute area in Rome with winding streets that are very easy to get lost on, restaurants, shops and cobblestone streets with wine corks in the cracks, my personal favorite characteristic of the area. For dinner we had a little bit of everything- suppli (rice balls), artichokes, bruschetta and prosciutto. My dad once again had ox tail and I once again had cacio e pepe. For dessert I took them to an unbelievable crepe place where we enjoyed a crepe with Nutella, white chocolate, caramel and bananas- and yes it is as good as it sounds and yes my mouth is currently watering. 

Feeling stuffed yet again, it was time for goodbyes as my family went back to the hotel to pack for their flight the next day and I went back to apartment to reenter the real world. It was sad to see them go but it was comforting to know that at that time I would see them in just two and a half weeks and as I am writing this now (very delayed) I only have eight more days in paradise. Time flies.

“Time is free, but it is priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.”- Harvey MacKay

La Famiglia

After a wonderful stay in Sorrento, Positano and Capri the fam and I woke up to catch a train from the station in Naples to Rome, where they were staying until Sunday. We left two hours before our train and thought that would give us plenty of time to make it to the train station, which was only about an hour away. Unfortunately, there was a crazy amount of traffic and it took us a little over two hours to get to the train station and we missed our train. Flustered and running around we bought new tickets and finally got on the train with all of our luggage, which was another adventure in itself. A short train ride later we fought through people with our luggage and eventually made it off the train.

We thankfully were able to be picked up by a car sent by the hotel my family was staying in because the other car that was supposed to pick us up fell through because we missed our train and were late. We arrived at the hotel, which was beautiful and once again the staff was so attentive. It was very close to the Spanish Steps so the location was perfect. After we checked in and got settled we walked a little bit to go to dinner. We found a cute place on the corner and sat down to eat. It was here that my family discovered how annoying Rome can be sometimes- or how annoying the men selling roses on the street can be. Everywhere you turn there are men selling roses and other knick knacks and they come right up to you while you are eating and bother you to try and get you to buy something. Usually I just ignore them or say no grazie but Nicky and Maddie couldn’t help but look at the toys they were selling so we attracted a little bit of attention. My dad finally got so frustrated and yelled at him to go away. We enjoyed a meal of seafood and pastas and listened to two men play the accordion while we ate.

When we finished dinner we decided to walk over to the Spanish Steps and climb to the top. I had never been to the Steps at night but they are really pretty. The lights from the streets lit up the stairs and we were able to capture some great photos. After that we walked over to the Trevi fountain, which is my favorite place in Rome, especially at night when it is less crowded and lit up. My favorite part about the Trevi fountain is going there late at night, after we go out, around 2 or 3 a.m. when there is no one there and it is quiet and the only sound you hear is the rushing water. We took some pictures there and my family got a kick out of how many people there were and how no one here understands personal space as they all crowded around us. We decided it was time for bed after our hectic day- tomorrow we had a three hour tour of the Colosseum and ancient Rome so we went back to the hotel and called it a night.

The next morning we feasted on another impressive breakfast spread then hopped in a cab and headed over to the Colosseum to meet our tour group. We started outside of the Colosseum and got a crash course in ancient Roman history. Our guide was informative and presented all of the information in a way that more interesting than the way I learned about it in a class room. Next she took us into the Colosseum. I had been inside it with a class at the beginning of the semester and learned about the architecture side of it but on this tour I learned about the political, social and historical facts about the Colosseum. It was all too interesting and made me want to watch all of the movies about gladiators and ancient Rome.

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After the Colosseum we went to the Ancient Roman Forums where we learned even more information about the ancient civilization. I had been there once before with my art history class but had once again concentrated more on the architecture of it and not on the history so all of the information that our guide was feeding us was very interesting and gave context to all of the ruins we were looking at.

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After walking for over three hours our feet were extremely sore so we walked to the nearest restaurant to eat. Our restaurant was in a great location and overlooked some of the Forum ruins so we admired them as we ate our pasta and chatted. We caught a cab back to the hotel after lunch and walked around to find some gelato and a macaroon shop we passed the previous day. The macaroons were amazing and full of so many interesting flavors- I have definitely become a macaroon lover during my abroad months. It was back to reality after that because I had to go to my last class that day and I would meet my family the next day for another tour of the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica.

I met my family the next afternoon and we headed over the Vatican to meet our tour guide, who was awesome! She gave us so many facts and hours of information. I picked her brain about art and the history of the Vatican and St. Peter’s. She was so knowledgable on the subjects and I really enjoyed her tour. I loved the way she presented the facts, with stories and context instead of just boring numbers and names. She also engaged my little siblings, which made them tolerate the four-hour tour. It was nice seeing the Vatican and everything in it, especially Raphael’s room and the Sistine Chapel. I’m a huge art and history nerd so I loved analyzing the art with her and asked about a hundred questions. She was definitely the best guide I have had on a tour.

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Four hours later and much more informed, we ended our tour at St. Peter’s and got on line to climb to the top of the dome. Renee, Maddie and myself decided to take the elevator to the first level and meet my dad and Nicky who were climbing all of the steps. We arrived at the first stop and looked down into the beautiful Basilica below. There was a mass going on and we could hear the choir singing, which added to the beauty of being suspended above such a masterpiece. Being inside the dome was a very cool experience and we were able to get a closer look at the intricate details and designs and really marveled at how massive and intense the dome actually is up close.

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We continued on our way up about 300 stairs, in addition to about the 200 other steps my dad and Nicky already climbed. It was hot, small and tiring. I am very claustrophobic and the higher we climbed the smaller and smaller the hallways got and the smaller the steps got until eventually we were almost turned sideways and were tip toeing up the steps. The walls and the steps were slanted because of the shape of the dome, which also made climbing difficult. Eventually the steps were so small and the hallway was so curved that there was a rope provided for us to hold onto as we climbed. After a few minor panics and a lot of sweating we finally arrived at the top and the fresh air on my face felt amazing. We pushed our way to the edge and pressed ourselves up against the fence to get the most breathtaking view in all of Rome.

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Made it to the top!
Made it to the top!

We took a lot of photos and then made the trek back down more tiny steps.

Little Maddy going back downstairs
Little Maddy going back downstairs

We climbed the first level of steps and then Renee, Maddy and myself took the elevator the rest of way down. We stepped off of the elevator and into the Basilica where we walked around and admired it. My dad was especially impressed with the massive structure that is so ornately decorated and constructed and he couldn’t quite wrap his mind around how people did something so miraculous so long ago.

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After our long day of touring we hopped in a cab and went off to a restaurant that my uncle went to when he was in Rome and had highly recommended it to us . It was a very cute restaurant and was decorated with sports, fishing and hunting memorabilia. It was run by several bad-ass looking, burly Italian men who suggested dishes like ox tail and cow intestines- I decided on some salad and pasta but my dad and Renee got the aforementioned dishes and couldn’t stop raving about how tasty they were. We stuffed ourselves silly and were then presented with some cookies and dessert wine. After trying to bite into a cookie one of the men came over and showed me that the proper way to do it was to dip the cookie into the dessert wine, which was absolutely delicious. Then we headed back to the hotel to hang out and get to bed because the next morning we were off to Florence- but first I had a paper to write because contrary to what my family may think, sometimes I actually have school work.

“Families are the compass that guide us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter.”- Brad Henry