Saturday, January 30, 2010

Broadcasting Live from Rome, this is Abby, Rachel, and Galya!

Right-o, so I came back from Rome a week ago.

I was in Italy for a week with Galya and Rachel (Galya's friend from home, and at the other location of our Mechina), which is something we'd talking about nearly since the beginning of the year. We bought our tickets the day before going to Gadna (at 2:15am, when we didn't even have official permission to go), because we weren't going to have time afterwards to by them. Luckily, Dan/Orly (from the Israel Experience organization) gave us permission to go.

Anyway, because of the a) lack of computers for the entire week of Gadna, b) Chulyat Kvutza's week (my Chulya) the week after Gadna--at the end of which we flew to Italy and c) the abundance of Art Week (next week) meetings during all of Kvutza's week, it was nearly impossible to plan an actual itinerary for what we were doing in Rome.

In fact, we only decided to go to Florence at 1am last Friday morning, an hour and a half before the taxi came to take us to the airport. We were booking our hostels (like I said, we really did not plan our itinerary in advance. It kind of made me nervous. We were also sort of under the impression that we'd just be able to show up at a hostel and stay there. Luckily, we booked.) and decided it would be nice to take a train to Florence for two days in the middle. So we booked a hostel there too.

We were completely pooped by the time we got to the airport, because none of us had slept more than about 3 hours in the preceding two days... lo nora.


We had no trouble getting to Rome, except when I chekced the weather the forecast was predicted to be mid-50s all week... and when we landed the pilot said "Welcome to Rome. The temperature is currently 0 degrees Celsius." (Galya punched me. She's from LA and doesn't know what cold is.) Although there was a bit of confusion when we were trying to meet up with Rachel's friend Matt (who is studying in Rome for the quarter and who were stayed with for the first two nights), we found our way tiredly but happily. Matt took us on a nice walk around the area (he lives right by Campo di Fiori, which is home to one of the most famous open-air markets in Rome, and is right next to where Julius Caeaser was killed) and also through the Jewish Ghetto (it used to be a ghetto--for 300 years--but the name just stuck) where we got some kosher deli sandwiches, some challah, and some Bartenura wine for Shabbat. We went to Kabbalat Shabbat at the Great Synagogue--where we were only let in by security after having our passports and IDs checked (there was a terrorist attack there in the '80s, I believe). The shul was packed (we were not in the main chapel) which was nice to see, because it means the Jewish community is alive and well. We only found out afterwards that we were at the Sephardi service not the Italian one, so that was kind of a bummer. (Italian Judaism is not considered Ashkenazi or Sephardi, because the Italian Jews came to Rome before the distruction of the Temple and subsequent dispersion of the Jews around the world.) When we got back to Matt's we crashed until he got home--and made us a delicious dinner of pasta with cooked spinach/broccoli and cheese. It was one of the best Shabbat dinners I've ever had, actually.


We didn't wake up in time to go to shul on Saturday, and instead spent the day wandering around the city. We went to Castel de Sant'angelo, which used to be a mausoleum before it was turned into residences (and now it's a museum, like most other things in Rome...) It looks like a giant ship. The sidewalk in front was covered with all sorts of tourist-shop/booths with things like calendars and tchotchkes and really beautiful opera masks that we played with until the merchant said we had to buy or skidaddle.

We skidaddled. We found ourselves at a flea market and got very excited and planned to go back when we could buy stuff (ie: not on Shabbat) but know that it would happen. We also wandered into probably 15 different churches; they literally litter the streets of Rome, popping up between every unsuspecting two buildings filled with beautiful art and mosaics, and tourists. The irony was that we went to lots of churches on Shabbat, and no synagogue. When in Rome do as the Romans, I suppose. At a Jesuit church that we found ourselves in there was a beautiful diorama/replication of Jesuit churches in a number of different countries. The models were all made of wood, and very intricately built.

Somehow in our meandering, we ended up in a museum כלשהו that had an exhibit called Australia Today--aborigine paintings and sculptures. With the map that we bought in Israel (that listed "gay" as a type of food, along with "Jewish" and "Chinese" and "Italian") we navigated to Piazza Navona, famous for the best gelato in Rome. We saw there the fountain of the four rivers (designed by Bernini), which was right next to a church designed by his student, Boromini. From there, we went to the Pantheon which basically is a huge echo chamber, although you're not allowed to yell there. It's as wide as it is tall, and its dome is essentially the inspiration for all domed buildings. The pantheon is larger than ginormous (which is actually a word), and very well-designed (the floor is sloped with holes in the center for water drainage).

The Trevi Fountain (water for the Trevi Fountain gets recycled via aqueduct to the Fountain of the Four Rivers) is possibly the most packed tourist-attraction that we saw. We were asked by countless men with polaroid cameras if we wanted to pay for a picture, and also tried to convince one man that we didn't know English so he'd stop bothering us; we failed when he saw that the tour book we were looking at was in English. Oh well. We walked to the Spanish Steps, because we'd read that there were free tours at 5:30--we found the tour... and were more than a little surprised when the tour wasn't actually of the Spanish Steps, rather of all the sights we'd seen that day (seriously: Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, etc.) It was actually really nice to have been able to wonder and discover by ourselves, and then to get a briefing (not the right word. for Hebrew speakers, think תידרוך) of the history and importance of everything. For dinner we crossed the river, to the less touristy side of Rome, and found a nice Indian place to eat; we decided it might be funny to eat a different cuisine each day we were in Rome.


We had planned to sleep in a bit and then to head out for the farmers' market in Campo di Fiori to get some fresh vegetables and bread for breakfast. When we walked outside and saw that there were no shops there, we realized that we were in Rome, and Sunday is their Sabbath. Oops! We tried to find something to eat, but everything was closed, not just in the market. "The Jewish Ghetto probably has something" we decided, but got lost on the way there and ended up finding a corner-store type place to grab a pizza and some pastries. The store happened to be right across the street from the Vittorio Emanuel monument and a tribute/statue "for the unknown soldier" (it's a rather large statue for someone who they don't even know who he is).

With our map in hand, we headed back to Matt's, packed up, left a note, and booked.

To get to our hostel we walked--backpacks, suitcases, and all--through the more downtown-y, less tourist-y part of Rome, which was really great to see. By that time, stores and shops had opened, so we stopped at a grocery store and bought ourselves some good, American PB&J materials. When we got to the the Chianti Hostel the Romanian girl who works there asked for our name. We said "Rachel Wolf." She said, Äll of you? Here I have Rachel Wolf as one person, three nights. But you are three people." Luckily, everything worked out and there was enough for three people, one night.

We didn't have a knife with us to spread the PB&J... so I found a pencil in the bottom of my backpack and we used that. Afterwards, we headed over to the Colosseum. You know, that big famous building? We read about it in the guide book we borrowed from Matt, and then got in line (actually, there was no line. That's the great thing about going in the winter, during a time that's not high tourist-season!). We saw that going with a guide was somehow 50 euro cents cheaper than just an entrance ticket... so why not? We went with a guide. The tour was a lot shorter than we expected it to be, but I actually did learn a lot (there's a maze of paths under the Colosseum which is where they kept the animals before releasing them. The boards/sand with which the paths were covered was called arena, which is where we get the word. Also, we read something that said that Jewish slaves were among the slaves who built the Colosseum). Our tour guide had very bizarre speaking mannerisms, but we enjoyed it a lot. We also ran into a woman who had been on our free tour on Saturday.

We attempted to find the entrance to the Roman Forum, and instead found ourselves on a dead-end path that led us straight to SURPRISE an abandoned church. When we got to the entrance to the Roman Forum, it had closed 15 minutes prior. What a bummer, because our Colosseum ticket would have gotten us in to there, as well! No need for regrets, but it is frustrating to know that if our planning had been a bit more organized ahead of time we would have been fine. I started to get a little nervous that we were going to get to see everything we wanted to see, because I'm not used to doing trips without planning ahead of time--but I think it was good for me to be with Rachel and Galya who weren't into a strict-schedule type thing.

On our way to Capitol Hill we got sidetracked when Galya saw a sign for a surrealism exhibit (she's a bit of a surrealism freak). We went in, and ended up spending about 2 hours at the exhibit there. I really enjoyed it, and saw a lot of artists that I'd never heard of that had really interesting work! (I kept a list). One of my favorites was a painting of a woman's back, onto which the artist had painted the openings that are on a violin--I don't know how you call them. Basically a violin-back. My other favorite was an empty page of sheet-music (ie: a page of music staff) where the artist had started drawing notes, but by the end it had turned into scrawled words.

On our way back to the hostel we saw some anti-Israel graffiti, which was more shocking than disappointing, I think. We just weren't expecting it at all; it was clearly by the same person. We passed a sign for an exhibit about Leonardo da Vinci, but it had just closed. We took a flier and wanted to go back sometime (but never found the time). True to our thought about a different cuisine every night, we found ourselves at an Irish pub for dinner, where we had an excellent hour-and-a-half of people watching: an Asian man with dreads, a woman with too many piercings, an elderly man who read the menu with a large magnifying glass, a couple that we weren't sure if they were a lesbian couple or a heterosexual couple, and a group of four middle-aged women friends, one of whom we decided was "Abby Senior." At one point during the meal, a man walked into the restaurant trying to sell roses to the patrons. We ordered one glass of italian beer, which was a lot better than any of the beer any of us have had in Israel.

Back at our hostel, we were glad to find that the two Brazilians we were sharing our room with had computers. One, Daniel, selflessly helped us plan our trip to Florence for the next day. He looked up train times and alternatives and prices and everything for about an hour, and even came to the rescue when Galya's ring fell down the drain.

I'll continue writing about the rest of the trip later, but I figure it's better to get at least something on the web.

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