Our Roman Holiday

Italy part 1: Our Roman Holiday

As some famous opera composer named Verdi once said, ‘You may have the universe, if I may have Italy.’ While I personally might not go that far, I can entirely understand his reasoning. There is an endless beauty and magic to be found within that little boot and I have been lucky enough to visit it twice now.
My first encounter with lovely Italy was four years ago with my family. It was ‘the big family vaca’ and we spent a summer traveling all over Europe. This time, my travel companions are two college friends who are also studying abroad in Spain. We decided to take a small break from studying Spanish and head to the land of pasta, pizza and gelato for a week. We split the trip into three main sections-Rome, Florence and Venice (each city will have its own blog post) – with each of us taking a different city to plan. Our first stop was Rome.

Rome. Just the word itself invokes feelings of grandeur. Walking through the city, I’m constantly reminded of Rome’s ancient power and splendor (of course, it probably helps that I just watched Gladiator- are you not entertained!?).
Mary was in charge of Rome and had planned for us to see the following sites: The Vatican museum, the National Roman Museum (a.k.a. the cat museum-I’ll explain shortly), St. Peter’s Basilica, The Pantheon and Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, The Roman Forum and, of course, the Colosseum. To keep this blog post on the relatively short side, I’m going to do what I have done in previous posts, and only write tiny reviews and summaries of the biggest, most famous places we visited. Like last time, Mary’s blog has a more day-by-day blow of accounts, so I’ll put a link to her story below.

The Vatican Museum:
We started off our Roman Holiday with a trip to the good ole Vatican Museums. I had previously visited the museums with my family so it was rather fun to see how much of it I could remember (almost everything except the Egyptian room was the same). This time, right before leaving, we had just finished talking about Dali and Picasso in my art class. The amount of art those museums hold is astounding, so I had completely forgotten that some of Picasso and Dali’s work is in the museum. It was very interesting to revisit and take a closer look at their art.
After making our way through the numerous rooms (the map room is my favorite), we finally made it to the Sistine Chapel. Now, I’m going to be honest here, the Sistine Chapel isn’t my favorite. It’s generally very crowded, and there’s a constant call of ‘no photos, no photos’. The chapel itself is fine, in fact the main image is quite beautiful and if I hadn’t seen it before, both in person and in photographs, I might be more impressed, but I find Michelangelo’s other works such as the David and the Pietà to be much more moving and beautiful.


The map room. Pc: Mary (if the Pc is Mary, you can see the picture on her flicker)


The staircase in the Vatican Museum. Hey–it’s cool, ok? PC: Mary


Forlorn Statue that reminded me of Gulliver’s travels

Quick note: There wasn’t any long lines to get into the museums because we went during the off-season, but it’s always a good idea to buy tickets ahead of time.


The National Roman Museum:
After eating a delicious lunch, we took a train to the Palazzo Massimo (also called the National Roman Museum). I hadn’t gone to this museum with my family, so I didn’t really know what to expect. The tickets were €7 which I think was a fair price. In the Palazzo Massimo itself we saw Roman statues, jewelry, a mummy, and a rather extensive Roman coin collection.
Afterwards, we headed to the Baths of Diocletian, a different branch of the museum right across the street. It was here that we met the ghost cat, or what we originally thought was a ghost cat. Here’s the whole story; as we were watching a film about Roman baths, Catey spotted a cat lying on the lap of the lady in front of us. I thought it was rather odd that someone would take a cat to a museum, but I was also envious because I wanted a cat on my lap too. Later in the evening, we saw the same lady walking through the gardens, only this time the cat was nowhere to be found. We looked for it everywhere and when we couldn’t find it, we came to the conclusion that it must have been a ‘ghost-cat’. Some time later, right before we were about to leave, the cat reappeared, scaring the bajeezus out of me. We got to pet it for a while and the museum man told us it was the museum’s cat (or at least I think that’s what he was trying to imply as his english was even worse than my Italian). The cat was very soft and, overall, we had a great time. I wouldn’t call this museum a ‘must-see’ but If you have the time, it’s a great way to spend a cold evening.


Ghost Cat


We had way too much fun playing with the shadows on the museum wall. Pc: Catey

Quick note: I think all museums should have at least one cat.

Saint Peter’s Basilica:
The next morning we headed to St. Peter’s Basilica. I would like to give a quick shoutout to Mary’s planning skills, because not only did we attend mass in one of the most impressive basilicas I’ve ever seen, but we actually saw the Pope afterwards. Well, ‘saw’ might be a strong term. From our position in the square I could discern a tiny white blob waving its arms around. Still, the square was packed, the crowd was cheering and waving signs, and the Pope blessed us. All in all, a pretty cool experience.



Just exploring Saint Peter’s



Right after being blessed by the Pope


The cutest little blob that you ever did see. Pc: Mary

Quick Note: Michelangelo’a Pietá is absolutely beautiful. After entering the Basilica, take a sharp right and it’ll be in front of you.


The Pantheon and Trevi Fountain:
After eating a quick on-the-go lunch, we took a very bouncy bus to the general vicinity of the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain.
The Pantheon is alright. The structure itself it very interesting and it has a hole in the roof, but you don’t need to spend more then half an hour in there. The same can be said for the Trevi Fountain. It’s absolutely beautiful and a great place for pictures, but you don’t need to spend more than 30 minutes there especially in the winter (I might eat my lunch or gelato there in the summer however).


There’s a hole in my roof, dear liza, dear liza (this caption is meant to be sung).


Like I said- great place for photos


Quick note: I imagine it would be quite cool to watch the rain fall through the hole in the Pantheon roof, so if you get the chance, tell me how it goes.

The Spanish Steps:
I hope the following statement doesn’t make me sound like too much of a pompous, ‘oh, I’m so well-travelled,’ snob, but The Spanish Steps are a lot more fun in the summer. On warm summer evenings, everybody sits on the steps, laughing and chatting. It feels like the place to be, and you can watch the evening sky from the top of the steps. In the winter, it’s just a big, fancy, almost empty, staircase with a church on top (wow that did sound snobbish). Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very nice staircase, and a fine little church, there’s even a beautiful view and a great place for photos, but the summer charm that captivated me the first time I saw it wasn’t there. With that being said however, it was still a pleasant place to visit and I would still recommend that you see it.


Pc: Mary


The view from the top. Pc: Mary

Quick Note: When I visited in the summer I remember eating on the steps, but this time we were told food wasn’t allowed. So eat at your own risk.

On our last day we visited the Roman Forum and, to finish things off, the Colosseum.

The Roman Forum:
In my opinion, the Roman Forum is like a side dish to the Colosseum right next to it; it adds a little spice to the whole experience but probably wouldn’t be sufficient on its own. You should visit if you have time, and if you’re really lucky you might hear an instrumental rendition of ‘Despacito’ while you look the ruins.


Pc: Mary

Quick note: The exit is not the same gate as the entrance, it’s located to the right of the entrance as you walk in. There are signs and arrows pointing it out, but it still took us a surprisingly long time to find.

The Colosseum:
Ever since I did a sixth grade report on the Colosseum, I have been vastly impressed and enamored of it. To me, it represents the epitome of Rome; beautiful, powerful and, at times, terrible. Standing in the Colosseum, I can almost hear the clash of battles happening in the arena and the shouts and jeers of thousands of spectators.


Pc: Mary


Are you not entertained?! Here I am channeling my inner Russell Crowe

Fun fact: One of the coolest tidbits I remember from my sixth grade report is the fact that one female gladiator (not as common as male gladiators but still used), won her freedom by killing three opponents with a chamber pot. Food for thought.


To end my Roman Holiday blog post, I’m just going to share a little information about its public transport. As impressive as the ancient ruins and structures of Rome are, its public transportation system is rather lacking. Unlike in Paris where we could travel almost anywhere using the metro, Rome has a very limited metro system. On top of that, we had a bad experience with the bus as we were leaving. Long story short, it arrived to the train station ninety minutes late and although we had given ourselves over an hour and a half of cushion time, we still missed our train to Florence. I don’t think you’ve truly experienced panic until you’re running towards your train and suddenly realize its pulling out of the station. So, just be careful in relying too much on Rome’s public transport.


Mary’s blog: https://marycecelia12.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/our-great-italian-adventure-part-1-roaming-in-roma/



New City, New Hairstyle


So I’ve decided to cut my hair…(English in fourth paragraph)

He decidido cortar mi pelo. Tengo tres razones principales para esto. La primera es debido al clima. Cada día tengo que caminar hasta la academia donde me enseñan español, y el camino es mas o menos 30 minutos. En Oviedo la clima no es tan caloroso (en realidad cambia mucho como en Chicago) pero cada día después de caminar estoy sudando. Entonces voy a cortar mi pelo para no sentir tanto calor. La segunda razón es que soy perezosa y no quiero cepillarlo cada día y la tercera razón es que creo que es la hora de cambiar mi imagen. Bueno, puedes ver fotos de mi pelo al final de la pagina pero ahora tengo que contarte un poquito sobre Oviedo.

Cuando llegue a Oviedo con Mary y mi papa, me recuerda un poco de Seattle porque el cielo estaba nublado y la ciudad esta rodeada de montañas. Después de caminar un tiempo, mi padre me dijo que Oviedo es muy similar a Irlanda. Yo solo he ido a Irlanda una vez pero estoy de acuerdo, los dos tienen el mismo sentido de un lugar cómodo y amistoso. Muchas de las calles son peatonales, y es muy difícil saber donde la acera termina y la calle empieza. La ciudad parece pequeña pero es mas grande lo que pensaba (ya me he perdido muchas veces). En el centro de la ciudad hay una plaza donde hay una escultura. Su nombre real es “L a Maternidad” pero todo el mundo la llama “La Gorda” y eso es donde nosotros (los de Rollins) siempre nos encontramos.

Bueno, hay mucho mas que contar sobre Oviedo, por ejemplo el hecho de que los niños pequeños siempre llevan ropa de moda, o la manera en que un camarero escancia la sidra (una bebida típica de Oviedo), pero sería demasiado largo para escribir ahora porque no tengo tiempo. Entonces, ojalá que te guste y te contaré mas en el próximo blog. Ciao!

I want shorter hair for three reasons. The first is that the weather here in Oviedo is very similar to that of Chicago, which is to say that it changes every ten minutes. Every day I have to walk 30 minutes to my language classes and throughout the walk I experience everything from freezing my butt off to overheating like a lobster in a pot. Having shorter hair will hopefully make this temperature change less dramatic and less of a hassle. The second reason is that I really don’t want to brush my hair every day. I shed like a sheep dog in the summer and my hair always ends up everywhere, so cutting it shorter will make it easier to control. Finally, I feel like it’s time for a change, new city, new hairstyle. But enough of my hair (there’s pictures at the end of the blog), I must tell you a little bit about Oviedo.

When we first arrived in Oviedo, it reminded me a bit of Seattle. The sky was overcast and gray and we were surrounded on all sides by beautiful, soaring mountains. After walking around the town to find our hotel, my dad told me that the city reminded him of Ireland. Turns out, there’s a very good reason for that. Apparently, because of the mountains, one of the places that actually had the most influence on Oviedo in the past was Ireland. Thus, the music here is full of bagpipes and the buildings have an old, comfortable feeling, like that of a small town. Most of the streets in the center of Oviedo are full of restaurants and cafes with beautiful outdoor seating. The streets themselves are all paved with stone, so it’s rather difficult  to tell where the streets end and the sidewalks begin. At first, the city seems small, with maybe one or two main plazas, but after exploring for a bit you realize it’s a lot bigger than it appears. It reminds me of a beautiful maze, every street is surrounded by tall, majestic buildings, but if you’re brave enough to explore all the little side streets and hidden pathways there’s always something to find. I went walking around the city the other day with my friends Camille and Mary, and we stumbled upon a tiny little cobble-stone square and had a little photo shoot. The next day we found out that the tiny square was actually where the existence of Oviedo began. Apparently two monks stood at that spot and decided to build a church, this attracted the attention of surrounding villages and even a king, who decided to move his kingdom here and thus Oviedo was born.

The main plaza of Oviedo is called “La Plaza de Escandalera”, and in the plaza is a statue of a women and her child. The actual name of the statue is “La Maternidad” but everyone here just calls it “La Gorda” (the fat woman). Around the edge of the plaza are rainbow colored benches that show support for the gay community and right across the street is a giant park called Campo de San Francisco. It’s like a tiny version of New York’s central park and it’s full of cool statues and busy vendors.

There is so much to tell about Oviedo, like for example, how stylish all the little kids are (seriously, I’ve seen a toddler in a full blown suit and tie), or how the waiters pour la sidra (a typical Oviedo drink made from apples) from above their  heads and into the glass without looking, but right now I’m afraid I don’t have time. I’m about to leave to see a silent Charlie Chaplin movie in the plaza. So I hope you’ve enjoyed this tiny glimpse of Oviedo, thanks for reading!

Foto del día 9-7-17 a la(s) 7.03 PM #2.jpg

It’s like my head lost five pounds! (weight loss tip: cut your hair)


Mary and me eating pastries before I cut my hair PC: Camille

shan y los reyes

PC: Mary



The little cobblestone square where the Oviedo began PC: Camille


It was hard trying to get my message across in Spanish. The hairdresser kept saying ‘segura?’ (are you sure?). PC: Catey

blue and pink building

One of the bigger streets, no cobblestone 😦 PC: Mary

La Belleza de España

  • *English begins in fourth paragraph*

Estaba tan cansada después del vuelo y lo que sucedió con mi equipaje que, por un momento, me olvide mi español casi completamente. Cuando llegue al hostel donde me quedaría por dos días en Madrid, la recepcionista me pregunto para mi reserva. Yo, pensaba que ella estaba ofreciéndome una cerveza, dije ‘No gracias, a mi no me gusta alcohol.’ …Soy una genia.

Pero después mi suerte cambio drásticamente, porque en eso momento mi amiga Mary llego. Ella no había tenido un problema con el equipaje como yo, pero yo había tomado una taxi y ella había tomado el bus entonces yo había llegado antes que ella. Después de saludarnos, Mary, mi papa, y yo, fuimos a ver la ciudad y a almorzar.

Madrid me recuerda de una mezcla entre Nueva York y Grecia. Hay los anuncios cubriendo las ventanas de las cuadras mas grandes como NY, pero también tiene la arquitectura vieja y elegante como en Grecia. Es una mezcla perfecta entre lo viejo y lo nuevo. Solo era un jueves pero La Plaza del Sol ya estaba muy repleta. Vi todos los tipos de personas en la calle; turistas como yo, empresarios caminando con prisa, ancianas sonriendo, niños gritando con risas, pobres pidiendo dinero, todo.

The last couple of days have been a blur. I am currently sitting in my new bedroom in Oviedo, trying not to give in to the call of the bed behind me (I must finish blogging!). For those who couldn’t read the above paragraphs, I’ll give you the run down. I was pretty tired after the flight and mix-up with my baggage so my Spanish was not at its prime. When I got to the hostel where we would be staying for two days in Madrid, the receptionist asked me for my reservation. Unfortunately, the Spanish word for reservation is ‘reserva’ and the Spanish word for a beer is ‘cerveza’. In my befuddled state those two words sounded exactly the same, so when the kind lady asked  for my reservation, I responded with ‘No thank you, I don’t like alcohol.’ Yeah, I’m off to a great start…

Madrid itself is quite beautiful. It reminds me of a mix between New York and Athens, Greece. There are advertisements all over the biggest squares just like New York, but among the modern day structures there are many buildings with beautiful Greek-like architecture that invoke feelings of ancientness and solemnity. Walking among Madrid, you feel the bustle of modern-day city life but also the insignificance of all of it compared to the ancient structures and civilizations of the past. Madrid is the perfect mix of the old and the new.

Although it was only a Thursday, the Plaza del Sol (which happened to be right outside my hostel) was already quite crowded. I was quite surprised by the level of diversity I saw. There were people from all over the world and from every walk of life; tourists like myself, businessmen and women talking loudly on their phones, old ladies smiling at passersby, young kids shouting with laughter and homeless sitting in darkened doorways. During the day, there was a feeling of busyness and a little chaos but during the night, things slowed down and almost everyone outside was dressed up and smiling.

The food situation in Madrid is quite interesting. The first restaurant we ate in was right off of the Plaza del Sol. The food from this particular restaurant was, in all honesty, quite disappointing. The pile of the sandwiches on display were made with a white, wonder-like bread that had no crusts and looked so processed that the pile looked like a cake with different layers of frosting. Later in the day, however, we found a Greek restaurant that was quite delicious and fairly priced (we got free chicken too, although I claim it was because our waiter was hitting on Mary). For dinner, we found another restaurant and had the chef’s choice of turkey with cheese sauce, which was quite good. The first after-dinner ice-cream was so delicious that Dad decided to get more at another place, but the second was so disappointing that he threw it away after a couple of bites. Thus, the food situation in Madrid is a mixed bag. Here are some of my observations: most of the food near really touristy areas is very expensive and not that good (definitely explore!), coffee here is actually more of an espresso with milk, and water isn’t a given drink during the meal so you must ask for it.

So there you have it! I hope y’all enjoyed reading and found the tips helpful. I gotta go now and figure out how to walk from my host mom’s house to the University tomorrow so I’m not late for class. Also, I just wanted to let everyone know that my suitcase was found and returned to me so I finally have a change of clothes!

MADbldg1 (1)

That architecture though!


The Greek restaurant where Mary’s admirer gave us free chicken. The city is surprisingly clean!

MAD street

The highway outside the train station

New York, Baby!

I thought my years of living in Chicago would have prepared me for New York City, and yet, I was still surprised. It wasn’t that New York is that much different from Chicago on an individual street level, it’s just that it’s so much bigger. Chicago city ends, it has boundaries; if you walk for a good hour in any direction from the center of the city, you’ll be out of the jungle of buildings. The concrete and metal of New York, on the other hand, seem infinite. Even when we reached Central Park, a beautiful grass oasis in a sea of metal, I knew that we were still surrounded by the city.

Pensé que mis años viviendo en la ciudad de Chicago me habrían preparado para la ciudad de Nueva York, y aún así, me sorprendió. No es que Nueva York sea tan diferente de Chicago a nivel de calle individual, es sólo que es mucho más grande. La ciudad de Chicago termina, tiene límites; si caminas por una buena hora en cualquier dirección desde el centro de la ciudad, estarás fuera de la selva de edificios. El hormigón y el metal de Nueva York, por otro lado, parecen infinitos. Incluso cuando llegamos a Central Park, un hermoso oasis de hierba en un mar de metal, sabía que todavía estábamos rodeados por la ciudad.

IMG_9062 The only time the city faded a little into the background was when we headed down to the southern tip of Manhattan to see Governors Island and the statue of Liberty. There I felt more of a balance between man-made structures and nature. 

La única vez que la ciudad se desvanecía un poco en el fondo era cuando fuimos al extremo sur de Manhattan para ver la Isla de los Gobernadores y La Estatua de la Libertad. Allí sentí más un equilibrio entre las estructuras hechas por el hombre y la naturaleza


Although I had been a little overwhelmed by the city in the daylight, that was nothing compared to the city at night. Following my younger brother’s desire, we decided to visit Times Square after the sun went down. When we got there, the lights from the advertisements were so bright that it didn’t feel like nighttime anymore. My ears were bombarded with sounds ranging from car horns and blaring music to laughter and shouts. There were so many different and interesting people that I could have watched the commotion for a century and never have gotten bored.

Aunque había sido un poco abrumada por la ciudad durante el día, eso no fue nada en comparación con la ciudad en la noche. Siguiendo el deseo de mi hermanito, visitamos Times Square después del atardecer. Cuando llegamos, las luces de los anuncios eran tan brillantes que no parecía que fuera de noche. Mis orejas fueron bombardeados con ruidos de bocinas de coche y musica, risas y gritos. Había tanta gente interesante que podría haber visto la conmoción durante un siglo sin ser aburrida nunca. 

IMG_9403Every twenty feet there was a new street performer or artist showcasing themselves and their work to the world. Crossing the street was like a game. A crowd would gather at the edge of the pavement and when we got big enough, one person would brave the street. As soon as their feet touched the tarmac, everyone else scrambled to follow. It was like a small human dam breaking. No one wanted to be left alone when the cars came, blaring their horns.

Cada viente pasos había un nuevo artista callejero mostrando sus obras al mundo. Cruzando la calle era un juego. Un grupo de personas se reunía y cuando el grupo sea lo suficientemente grande, una persona empezaba cruzar. Tan pronto como sus pies tocan el asfalto, el resto del grupo luchó para seguir, como una represa de agua rompiendo. Nadie quería ser el último. 

The noise, the smells, the people, the bustle, the pulsing lights, were all utterly overwhelming. My brain kept switching between wistfully thinking of a quiet, dark room and jumping in delight when I saw something really cool or unique. It was hard to keep following my family. My brain kept focusing on street performers and vendors and somehow my body would take me there of its own accord. I often found myself watching a performance or asking the price of food with my family nowhere in sight (thank goodness for cell phones).

Los ruidos, los olores, la gente, las luces, todo era tan abrumador. Mi cerebro seguía cambiando entre el deseo de silencio y paz, y la emoción cuando veía algo realmente genial o único. Era difícil seguir mi familia. A veces me encontraba viendo una obra o pidiendo el precio de la comida sin la minima idea de donde estaba mi familia. Gracias a Dios que tenia mi celular! 

After staying for no more than two hours, we left for Penn Station. Even after leaving the lights of Times Square, I could still feel their pulsing glow, like it had been imprinted on the insides of my eyelids. The entire train ride back to Long Island (where we were staying with relatives) I desired nothing more than darkness, silence and contact solution.

Después de quedarnos ahí, no más de un par de horas, salimos para Penn Station. Incluso después de salir las lucas de Times Square, podia sentir el brillo pulsante, como que había sido impreso en el interior de mis párpados. Durante el viaje en tren, regresando a Long Island (donde estábamos visitando familiares) yo no quería nada mas que oscuridad, silencio, y solución para mis lentillas del ojo. 

Overall, my experience of New York City was wonderful. In my limited time interacting with it, the city felt like it was the crazy, fun uncle to Chicago. It was bigger and more intense, great for a short visit but I would think rather maddening after a long while. New York City is a loud, screeching, bustling, diverse, beautiful jungle of madness that I hope to return to someday.

En total, mi experiencia en Nueva York fue increíble. En mi tiempo limitado interactuando con la cuidad, llego a la conclusion de que Nueva York es el tío loco y divertido de Chicago. Es más grande, más intenso, perfecto para un viaje corto, pero probablemente un poco excesivo después de mucho tiempo. Nueva York es una jungla ruidosa, diversa, bulliciosa, y hermosa y espero volver algún dia.