Seeing as it’s been exactly five weeks since I arrived in Germany for my European adventure, I thought it time to actually write about them.
My first month abroad began with an exciting whirlwind tour of three cities in two countries before making my way to Rome. In six days I stayed with a friend in Schwedt, made a fast day trip to Berlin, and spent two days by myself in Prague (Praha in Czech). The week was filled with great company, lots of cheese “toast” sandwiches, plenty of beer, and a lot of sightseeing! In Schwedt (a town about an hour north of Berlin, on the border of Poland), I stayed with Marie, my cousins’ former AFS exchange student, who introduced me to her high school friends and her summer life. We spent the week biking and hanging around Schwedt by day and playing “bier ball” and listening to music in the park by night. It was a lot of fun and a very relaxing way to start my European journey! In Berlin, we saw popular sites like the Brandenburg Gate and the world clock in Alexanderplatz. We ended the exciting day by relaxing at her dad’s apartment with pizza and German TV.
The next morning, I was on a bus and off on my own to explore Prague! The city was absolutely gorgeous (as I keep obsessively telling anyone who brings it up) and I had so much fun walking around and touring by myself. I saw multiple museums, including the Charles Bridge, Lego, and Prague Beer Museums, and took two walking tours all around the city. One of my favorite things was to see Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral from the Charles Bridge at night.
After two days in the capital of Bohemia, I flew to Rome for my first taste of Italian living! Here’s a bit of how that’s been:
Rome is a dirty, congested, smelly, loud, and rude city. And I absolutely love it.
Rome is an unapologetic city. It’s vibrant and alive, and not afraid to live modernly amidst the omnipresent reminders of an ancient past. The grime and grit are absolute proof that it’s not a city frozen in time, but a city that’s been lived in and home to millions of people for more than two thousand years. Sure, Italians don’t move over when you pass on the sidewalk, they blow cigarette smoke in your face, there’s no concept of personal space, the streets are littered with trash, and crossing the street is a hazard to your life, but Rome has a pulse, a spirit, a passion that animates it in a “ride or die” fashion. If you can’t keep up with Rome (with the Italian way of life, not necessarily speed), you’ll be left behind, and I think that’s an exciting city atmosphere. Italians will not accept anyone telling them to be anything other than Italian.
One of the most surprising things that I noticed when I first arrived in Rome were the trees. I never expected palm trees and prickly pear cacti to be all over the city. It adds a sense of exotic beauty to the urban environment. I don’t think I will ever grow tired of seeing these trees dot the landscape of Rome.
It sounds stupid, especially for someone who’s studied ancient Rome and architectural history for as long as I have, but another thing that surprised me was the state of ruins. Obviously, they are ruins and I expected that, as I’ve read textbooks and seen postcards and photos and movies and more. Yet sometimes we spend so much time in the classroom studying reconstructions and models that we forget about the fact that there’s seldom more than a column capital or a shadow of a fresco to tell us the story of the past. One of the most shocking site visits was to Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s villa) in Tivoli. I remember studying Tivoli in my high school Latin class - incredible architecture, planning, and architecture characterized this massive emperor’s estate from the second century AD. It was one of my favorite “buildings,” and I loved the stories of outdoor dining in gorgeous gardens and servants crossing the grounds in hidden tunnels. But those were romantic reconstructions of the life of Emperor Hadrian at Tivoli, things we know to be true from texts and archaeological evidence. Actually visiting the site was almost disappointing to see what little was left compared to the glory of what we know once existed - until I realized that the more shocking point was exactly how much had survived nearly two millennia, countless wars, multiple regimes, and more. This sort of situation, sadness over how much is gone versus amazement over how remains, pervades all the great sites of Rome and beyond. It is fantastic to finally be able to see these sites in person as they are, after years and years of reading and studying how they once were.
There’s an introduction to my new temporary life in Italy! I’ll be writing more soon and posting photos as well!