As I mentioned in my last post, my graduation ceremony took place recently. To celebrate, my mom flew in from Toronto, friends drove down from Groningen (a 2+ hour drive) and I was showered with gorgeous flowers and gifts. Our group sat down for what started out as drinks but ended up turning into dinner, dessert and coffee before we parted ways late in the evening. It was an overwhelmingly awesome day and (as I know I often do) I have to pause here for an instant to marvel at how lucky I am to have you wonderful people in my life. Thank you!
Anyway. After you receive your degree, it’s a Leiden tradition to sign your name in the Zweet Kamertje (literally ‘sweat room’). My signature is now amidst thousands of others, including those of Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, and Queen Wilhelmina … Pretty exciting I must say!
To further the celebrations, my mom treated me to four days in Rome. It was my first time in Italy and I simply loved it. The trip was incredible and, although it would be impossible to try to capture it in all of its glory, I wanted to document some of it – in pictures mostly. I hope you’ll indulge me in this non-Dutch post, particularly since my updating record has been less than pristine lately! Ahem.
I’ll try to spare you the most typically touristic shots I took, although restraining myself is likely to be a challenge. The internet is full of gorgeous images of the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum and Saint Peter’s basilica. Really, what can I say about Rome that someone hasn’t already expressed, likely more beautifully, eloquently and knowledgeably, before? Surely nothing, but here goes!
We stayed at the Hotel Locarno, right off the Piazza del Popolo. The room was lovely and quirky, and the location was just perfect – very central but not packed with tourists. I loved taking a seat on our teeny balcony and watching the activity outside. One morning I got quite the show: a man wearing nothing but his underwear very casually lit a cigarette, took out his phone, and had an entire conversation out on his balcony, which happened to be right across the street and on precisely my level. Oh my prudish North American heart!
Also conveniently located was the Villa Borghese, what our travel book called the Central Park of Rome. Here we had reserved tickets for the Galleria Borghese, which houses a stunning and enormous collection of sculptures and paintings. It was definitely one of my favourite sights of the trip, made all the better by the smaller groups of visitors allowed in at a time (something like 350 per slot).
On our second night, we went out in search of Il Margutta on the Via Margutta, an all-vegetarian restaurant that has apparently won awards for its food. When I later mentioned this to a fellow tourist, I was met with a blank, uncomprehending stare. I know what she was thinking: we went to a vegetarian restaurant in Rome of all places?! But even my mom, who has a penchant for rare meat, found the food delicious.
We started with a sort of appetizer plate and it was absolute heaven. The pictures I took really didn’t do it justice so: suffice it to say that it included a mini pot of truffled cheese fondue, a fennel and orange salad, and chunks of golden, almond-crusted goats cheese.
Fortunately we also did our fair share of walking.
I was overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of things to see, and occasionally rather frustrated by the Romans’ seeming disregard for their surroundings. We came across several beautiful and yet unacknowledged fountains, buildings and ruins … How far we were from home! Can you imagine 2000-year-old ruins in downtown Toronto being totally unmarked and used to house stray cats?!
We followed a neighbourdhood walk of the Jewish Ghetto and Campo dei Fiori from the Fodor guide to Rome which, although aggravating at times (the directions were awful and the accompanying map inexplicably left out a lot of what the book suggested we see!), allowed us to discover a lot of beautiful architecture and a more ‘typical’ side of Roman life – at least, that was the feeling I got. Particularly at Campo dei Fiori, where we had a ‘light’ (cough cough) lunch, I loved watching the market vendors go about their business, pretending I could understand their banter.
One evening we joined a food and walking tour of the lovely neighbourhood Trastevere with Eating Italy Food Tours. I had read about them online and the evening even surpassed my already high expectations. I had my first-ever burrata (if you don’t know, look it up because OH MY GOODNESS); we sipped wine in a cellar older than the colosseum at Spirito DiVino; and we had fantastically, amazingly delicious gelato at Fatamorgana. On top of that, we were treated to a surprise visit of an old pharmacy concealed within the church of Santa Maria della Scala, which was shut down in the 50s and still contains remedies that are many decades old (and are made with live vipers!) as well as big leather-bound volumes on herbs and plants and their healing properties. We were all fairly awe-stricken when we saw where we’d been lead … (There had been some apprehension as we turned down several unmarked corridors at the back of the church. The words ‘murder’ and ‘kidnapping’ were thrown about in a rather nervous, not altogether casual manner …)
On top of the delicious food and exciting surprise, we got to discover Trastevere which is extremely charming and lively, and which offers a totally different feel from the other areas of Rome that we got to explore.
While we were able to see the Colosseum and the surrounding archaeological area/dig, one major attraction that eluded us was Saint Peter’s basilica. We foolishly turned up around eleven in the morning, only to be met by a line the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever encountered before. Unwilling to waste so much time, we swore to come back the next evening … Which we did, only to find out that the basilica had been closed early for a wedding.
We were rather reckless and attempted to sneak to the entrance by squeezing ourselves between fences, but to no avail – the way was blocked off and we were forced to admit defeat. Disappointing though it was, it was still a highlight of the trip for me: I’m unlikely to forget the sight of my innocent little maman carefully sizing up a fence, considering whether or not she could climb it, in her determination to get in.
I guess I’ll have to go back!
I’ll leave this post here as I’ve just noticed the word count has passed 1000. If you’ve been to Rome, I’d love to hear about your favourite sights/experiences there! I may not have a job after December first but I’m already planning my next visit. That’s adulthood right there …