Some of our scheduled events for Tuesday were cancelled due to obstacles beyond our control, but we hoped to use the last day in Rome to complete our arranged adventures.
Because our plans changed, the Hofstra Romans had a very relaxing day and enjoyed a large gap of time between class and our last Tuesday at Randy’s. Half of the day’s issue was the fact that the subway workers were on strike, so we did not have that to our disposal. Once we walked to Randy’s, I was ready to chow down. We started off with salami and prosciutto with cantaloupe, something I will dearly miss about Italy. We then had “the best mozzarella cheese” we have ever tasted, according to Randy. This cheese was freshly made Tuesday, and it was made to be super creamy to the point it was almost like the consistency of a water balloon. It was tasty, but I actually enjoyed Monday night’s mozzarella more. Our main course was salad and vegetable and meat lasagnas, which were out of this world. That was followed by yummy cherries, which I had been craving for about a week. I never liked cherries until I had one at Versailles, and now I can’t get enough of them.
The last movie of the trip we watched was a super intense film called Angels and Demons. The main plotline is to defeat the resurgence of the Illuminate, the Vatican’s worst enemy, from killing four cardinals one by one and then blowing up the whole city. It was an incredible movie and the best one we watched out of all our movie nights.
When we finished at Randy’s, we stopped at our favorite gelateria, where I bought a cup of dark chocolate gelato. I just can’t seem to get away from my chocolate cravings on this trip. I then worked on homework and resumes with my classmates. I could not help but think about how much I will miss everyone when we part ways in two days.
After a class that was less intense than I expected, we met Professor Hillebrad to begin our tour of a few key churches. Our first stop was at one of the sites I had been waiting for the entire trip: the Basilica of San Clemente. This is a church built right before 1100 during the peak of the Middle Ages. The church is nice, but it is not the intriguing thing about this landmark. Below this church are the ruins of a fourth century church, which was originally the home of a nobleman. But wait, there’s more! Beneath these ruins are the remains of a first century village complete with parquet flooring and water that still runs. I am just so fascinated with the fact that these buildings were built upon one another as the ground level rose and centuries continued. I literally walked through a time capsule! I had been here once before and I was so excited for my classmates to see it. Although the church crawl was in jeopardy, I am glad it worked out and we all got to visit it.
Entering San Clemente (Photo: Nick Boffardi)
In the courtyard of San Clemente (Photo: Mitchell Weitzel)
The next church we visited was Santo Stefano al Monte Celio. This church is different because of its round structure. It can also be disturbing to view because of its 34 frescoes that portray martyrdom. Basically, it shows people being brutally persecuted for practicing their beliefs. It was different to see a church with such gruesome décor and I really enjoyed the circular structure. The last church we stopped at is a hugely popular church to the Roman people, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
A mural in Aan Stefano (Photo: Nick Boffardi)
San Stefano (Photo: Nick Boffardi)
On our way back to the subway, we all let our inner child out by playing on a playground we passed. That was a surprisingly fun time and I could tell Professor Hillebrand enjoyed watching was act like children, especially since his twin daughters were now with us.
We had dinner reservations in an area of Rome called Frascati at La Vecchia Frasca. This restaurant first of all looked super quaint and Italian, and the food matched its atmosphere. We were greeted with oodles of appetizers: salami, porchetta, prosciutto, cheese, beans, couscous and chick peas. Professor Hillebrand was excited to have us try tripe, which I now know I can live without. However, I did have the best mozzarella cheese I’ve ever tasted. Our main course was two different pasta dishes: pork ravioli and a yellow pata with rabbit meat. I was not the happiest to be eating rabbit, but I knew I should try and that I will not be eating it on purpose in the future. Both pastas were delicious and I ate way more than I should have. We were served some pastries with jam on them, which were tasty and savory.
Appetizers (Photo: Nick Boffardi)
Appetizers (Photo: Nick Boffardi)
Food and friends (Photo: Nick Boffardi)
Once we got back to St. John’s, Lauren, Sarah, Ashley, Mitch and I got ready to go out to G-Bar with Professor Hillebrand’s daughters. The night was super fun and refreshing, since I talked to some Americans the whole night. I especially loved that by the end of the night, the twins were part of our family.
Sunday was a necessary day of rest and relaxation from our exciting and sleepless weekend in Ibiza (posts to come soon). Most of us slept, ate food or watched Netflix for a few hours before dinnertime Sunday night.
Professor Hillebrand made reservations at Open Baladin, a pub that promotes an “open experience” with its craft beers, mouth watering burgers and homemade sodas. It was basically an American dream. The restaurant had a whole wall filled with beer, which was really awesome. Lauren and I ended up splitting a huge 18-euro double burger, which was the best burger I have ever had in my life. We all shared their fresh-cut chips, which were all seasoned differently and paired with special sauces. I washed it down with an apple-ginger soda, which was so refreshing. I wish I could have brought some home.
The dinner was just what we needed, although I was ready to jump back into eating endless pasta and bread. We walked back to our dorm relaxed for the night as we prepared ourselves for our last week of class.
What’s the weekend without some wine? Thursday we travelled to Monte Porzio Catone, a town in the outer hills of Rome, for a wine tasting at Casale Sonnino. Our host, George, was a sweet, enthusiastic American whose family had owned the property for centuries.
The whole day was extremely relaxed, with George telling us stories about how his pet cat and dog adopted him and the history of the vineyards, which are the site of buried ancient Roman ruins. The Hofstra Romans were all fond of his pets, and especially his dog Dylan, who may be one of the sweetest felines I have ever met. George also showed us around his property, taking us to find some small shreds of ancient ruins and up in his small barn to overlook the vineyards. The coolest thing about his land, however, was the network of ancient tunnels that run under his villa. They were created by the Romans for storage and refrigeration for food. Someone could easily get scared and lost down in those tunnels, and I think they were magnificent.
The wine tasting was not too extreme, as he simply brought out some red and white wine to taste with the food. The lunch we ate there was absolutely mouth-watering. We had delicious prosciutto and juicy cantaloupe, a homemade chicken salad and saffron rice with licorice sauce. We also got to sample his homemade olive oil, which we can apparently purchase right in New York (score!).
Our time at the vineyard was filled with incredible food, great conversation and gorgeous views. It’s official: only one week left!
The Hofstra Romans were gifted a once in a lifetime opportunity Wednesday. Our friends from Shoot4Change gave us a tip that the Embassy of the United States was holding a workshop and video screening for organizations involved with and helping the refugees flooding into Italy. Although we were too big of a group to secure a spot in the first half of the presentation, we were lucky enough to see the screening.
The screening was a series of short films produced by an American filmmaker who documented the different stories of some refugees who emigrated to Italy. Although the films were mostly in Italian, it was still so fascinating seeing what the lives of these people are now like after they made their long journeys away from home. I also was surprised by the fact that so many countries were represented by these refugees: India, Gambia, Mahli, Afgahnistan and more.
The screening was held at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center, which has been a sanctuary for refugees in the heart of Rome for over thirty years. This is a day center for refugees to visit, and many who come actually have housing paid for by the center in exchange for some work and volunteering. One of the refugees took us in the back room where he makes crafts and jewelry to later sell with other refugees in exchange for shelter. He explained to us that he is an author of two books and had a great life in his home country of Afgahnistan with a family and all. Now, he says his family has been killed and he was homeless for years before finding this shelter. Despite his hardships, he is thankful he was welcomed into this new life and that he has a new family. It was an absolutely heartbreaking story to hear and what was even more distressing is the fact that all he wants to do is return to his home, but he knows he cannot.
We set up some interviews and took a picture with a very kind lady from the embassy once the screening ended. The refugees had some of their art for sale, so I bought a pair of earrings for ten euro. A small contribution, but hopefully something that along with donations from others, will help make a difference.
After our extremely special night, we split up into two groups for dinner. Most of us ventured to an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant. The best part? It was only 20 euro and the food was pretty tasty! The food angels were looking down on us that night. I completely out-ate the entire table, but I am not surprised because I can eat a disgusting amount of sushi.
Everyone eventually met up at St. John’s and went out to our favorite little bar to celebrate the beginning of our last weekend in Europe.
Tuesday was another fairly relaxing day. We put in a great amount of work for Shoot4Change and then had a few hours on our own. A few of us planned our adventures for the upcoming weekend and worked out the details for travel.
We met our professors and Melissa Connolly at 4:30 to depart for our excursion of the day: a ruins tour! I was so excited to get to go back to the Coliseum, the Forum and Pantheon and learn about ancient Rome. The first stop was the Coliseum, which was even more extraordinary than I remembered it. We spent well over an hour learning about the culture of ancient Romans and their entertainment. I was surprised to learn that there were only about 15 to 20 gladiator battles in the Coliseum per year, which were all financed by rich people. I was absolutely astonished by the massive size and grandeur that was once the go-to arena for entertainment. The engineering and money that went into erecting such a structure is astounding.
Unfortunately, we were unable to actually go into the ruins of the Roman Forum because it closed by the time we were done with the Coliseum. I just think it is amazing that the ruins of once vital government buildings were excavated and now can be learned from and observed by the whole world.
We ran into one more problem—the Pantheon, an ancient temple dedicated to the Pagan gods, was closed. The Pantheon is said to be the best preservation of ancient Roman architecture known to man, as the inside of it is still completely intact with all its marble. Luckily it is free to enter, so we plan to visit it at a later time.
To make up for our missing of two thirds of our tour, we headed over to Torre Argentina, the ancient ruins where Caesar was murdered. However, this is not the most interesting thing about the place. The best thing, in my cat-loving opinion, is that it is a sanctuary for homeless cats. I remember going here last time I was in Italy, and I even told my classmates about it, but I had no idea I would get to go back. I got to pet stray cats in ancient Roman ruins; could life get any better? It was a nice surprise and definitely lightened my mood.
Torre Argentina (Photo: Nick Boffardi)
One inhabitant of the ruins (Photo: Nick Boffardi)
Cat bonding (Photo: Nick Boffardi)
After our ruins tour, we had reservations at Interno 92. Unfortunately, Mrs. Connolly had to leave Rome early to take care of some exciting news: Hofstra University will be holding the first presidential debate this coming September, making it Hofstra’s third presidential debate in a row! Professor Hillebrand mentioned that we would be eating raw meat, which I was totally excited about. It’s basically like sashimi, but from a cow, right? We started off with an array of appetizers: porchetta, roast beef with pineapple and balsamic and beef prepared with two different dressings. It was absolutely delectable. We each were able to order our own course and I ended up ordering steak with caramelized pears and a balsamic cream sauce, cooked rear. The sweet taste of the pears was paired beautifully with the sweet, but acidic taste of the balsamic. The steak was cooked to perfection, and the whole meal was absolutely mouth-watering. It was hands down one of the best steaks I have ever consumed. We finished dinner with fresh and juicy watermelon and a rich chocolate mousse. I think I was in food heaven Tuesday night.
After dinner, we headed back to St. John’s. I worked on our weekend plans with some people, others went out and others worked on homework. It is always nice coming back after a tiring day to relax and spend time with my new family.
We had a very relaxed day after our return from a lovely weekend in Florence (posts to come in the future). This week was our major production and work week for class, so we were tightening our ship and preparing to sail.
After about three hours of working on material for Shoot4Change, we had a few hours to spare before dinner at Randy’s. Sarah, Lauren and I took the time to walk around the sunny streets of Rome and see new things. We actually ended up all the way near the Trastevere area, which was nice to see during daylight instead of at three in the morning.
This week had been switched up a bit, so instead of eating at our professors’ apartment on Tuesday, we changed it to Monday. It was an extra special night because Hofstra University’s Vice President of University Relations Melissa Connolly joined us for dinner and would be traveling with us the next few days. We were also delighted to be joined by Shields, our bus2alps tour guide from our Sorrento weekend.
The movie of the night was Roman Holiday. It was the first Audrey Hepburn movie I have ever seen and I think it is awesome she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role, especially with it being her breakout lead. I appreciated the movie and particularly the fact that it was filmed in its entirety in Rome and at Cinecitta. The movie was accompanied by pork and beef mixed with vegetables and mouth-watering chicken matched with perfectly seasoned potatoes. We also had lemon-flavored frizzante water, which I completely appreciated. I do not enjoy sparkling water one bit, and it is a major drink in Europe. However, I loved the lemon flavor and it reminded me of my grandparents because they always have lemon-flavored water at their house waiting for me.
We stopped for some tasty gelato at Gelateri dei Gracchi on the way home. I could not believe I would be leaving my new family and this amazing city in just a short ten days, but I knew I would make the most of it.
Something that has surprised me on this trip is how well everyone wakes up and comes to class after having late nights. Then again, if someone did not get up, we would be banging his door down and dragging him to class.
Even though I went to bed at 4 a.m., my body really would not let me sleep, so I easily woke up for class. I can thank being young and being a morning person for rising so effortlessly.
After a quick class, everyone took the train to Cinecitta, or “Hollywood of the Tiber.” This studio is known as the center of Italian cinema and is probably the most famous film studio in Europe. Our tour guide walked us through different permanent sets that were constructed to look like ancient Rome and Israel, took us to the most famous stage, Stage 5, and left us at an indoor exhibition. It is absolutely incredible to me that these sets are used over and over again, and are manipulated so they look different each time they are used. The world of film is so fascinating. Some famous movies shot at Cinecitta include La Dolce Vita, Casanova and Gangs of New York.
After Cinecitta, I took the train back to campus with some of my classmates. Once there, I had some time to pack for our next weekend adventure: a weekend in Florence.
Wednesday was a super special day. We traveled to L’Aquila, which as I mentioned before, is one of Shoot4Change’s big areas upon which they want to shed light after it has not been rebuilt following a devastating earthquake.
What we came across with S4C is far worse than I imagined: homes completely in ruins, piles of rubble along the roads, a sliced open university. The streets of this poor town did not look like it had been struck by disaster seven years ago; I would have believed if someone told me it hit one year ago. Apparently, there are funds available towards rebuilding L-Aquila, but politics keep getting in the way. It truly brought feelings of sadness and despair over me, and I wish there was something more I could do to help.
Ruins of L’Aquila
Ruins of L’Aquila
An empty school desk
The most help I could provide, however, was working with Shoot4Change with my class to help spread awareness to not just Italians or Europeans, but to more English speaking countries. That is one of the tasks my class wants to undertake, so with not much direction in mind besides the idea of a new promotional video, we were determined to make a great video for S4C and L’Aquila. We had a series of interviews set up, but due to strict bus driving regulations, we had to leave early and miss two of our interviews. We were fortunate enough to interview Andrea, the head of the Rome branch of S4C, Dario, another volunteer from S4C, and a first responder who helped when the earthquake struck. It was a an enriching experience watching the film students set up cameras quickly for the interviews and the public relations students working together to delegate tasks and create interview questions.
I feel so fortunate that we got to meet and hear from people so directly involved in the earthquake and its aftermath. The first responder explained how it was so fresh in his head. He told us about a surgeon who worked on victims around the clock, and who unfortunately lost his wife and daughter in the quake. Dario sorrowfully told us he wants to be involved and make a difference because he lived in L’Aquila and lost one of his good friends in the disaster. The only big issue was the fact that Dario and the first responder speak Italian, so Andrea had to give us a summary of their answers. This actually ended up changing the direction that our video will take, but hey, it’s just a small detour in the long road!
We got back to St. John’s that night to find out we were eating dinner without our professors. After a small pow-wow, went back to Morrison’s to eat, and then enjoyed an absolutely fantastic night on the town at a small place called G-Bar. We actually ended up meeting our tour guide from Sorrento there, who showed us around and took care of us all night.
It was another long day with a late (very late) night, but I would not have it any other way.
Our first full week in Rome has come and gone much too quickly. Tuesday was filled with excitement for the new week, but also with some bitterness as we moved further away from our dream weekend getaway to Sorrento (posts to come). In class, we finalized our final proposal to send to Shoot4Change and then we were ready to begin the day.
The first thing on our agenda was a relaxed picnic in a park that was a train ride away. Professor Hillebrand bought cheese, meats, bread, olives and watermelon for us to pick on and it was delicious. There I was, having a picnic in Rome with some of the most incredible people I have ever known. La dolce vida.
After our picnic, we headed over to the Capuchin Crypt. This is a series of small chapels located beneath the church of Santa Maria della Conezione dei Cappuccini. The chapels are intricately decorated with over 3,000 bodies of Capuchin friars and is supposed to represent the swift course of life. I had been there once before, and it really interested me. I was eager to see my classmates’ reactions as they laid their eyes on probably the most macabre expression of art they have ever seen.
We took the train back to St. John’s for a small break before heading to our second Dinner at Randy’s. Professor Hillebrand bought us some mouth-watering food for dinner: rice-stuffed tomatoes and stuffed eggplant. The movie of the night was Cinema Paradiso, which is about a boy who grows up in a small, war-scarred village, and abruptly leaves the town to realize his dreams in cinema.
Once we got back from a pleasant night, some of us enjoyed each other’s company in the courtyard of our university before departing to bed.