Lessons in Rome

 When you stay in Italy for a long time, you have to obtain a Permesso di Sogiorno, a permit of stay. It consists of a hefty tax, pages of bureaucratic papers, and several visits to the chaotic Italian post office. Umbra students were told not to make any weekend travel plans until we received a permesso appointment. Besides my lighter school load, I and other students studying in Perugia occupy most of our time preparing meals (A side note: It never ends, I tell you. My stomach is always thinking of the next meal. Alas, this is blog for another time.), uploading photos and being a little too connected to Facebook, and planning weekend travel. This permesso appointment was seriously messing us up.

Last Wednesday, though, Abby walked into the apartment with an announcement.
“We’re going to Rome!”
Well, okay. Apparently the permesso, in typical Italian fashion, had been postponed to next month. We began planning our weekend travel in a spirit of spontaneity, booking hostels, buying train tickets departing Thursday afternoon, and consulting the dependable Rick Steves’ Guide to Italy.
Allow me to cut to the crux. I am not going to tell you about every single thing we saw in Rome. That is boring; I don’t even want to read that, much less write it. We cycled through the typical tourist’s “Rome in 3 Days” route. I did, however, gain some eternal perspective and practical travel tips. Those, I think, are worth sharing.
The millennia of history seeps through city stone, and the museums displays mankind’s most coveted pieces of historical and artistic creations. It is the ultimate fieldtrip, and one really must experience it for himself. I found myself retrieving tidbits of the history and Latin I had learned in school (thanks Mr. Duckworth and Mr. Wagner) and wishing those teachers could be there with me, allowing me to know and appreciated more. Even in my ignorance, though, I had some takeaways.
First, worship is part of the human DNA. Pagan, Christian, or political, I was struck by the historical tendency to worship and honor. There are so many masterpieces humans devoted their whole lives to creating: an ancient, massive temple to Jupiter; ornate tapestries running the length of walls hand-sewn by nuns; the more recent Victor Emmanuel monument commemorating Italy’s unification. We like big, impressive things, showing how great our devotion is. I think that speaks to the way God created us.
Second, I gained a new understanding of the brevity and unimportance of my small, meager life. Seriously, just living abroad has tripled my existential moments. I look around and realize that I am truly a speck. Over and over I admired statues and paintings, dumbfounded. All I could think was, Wow.  This is a masterpiece, this is old. It was here long before me, and it will remain long after me. Here I am, miniscule and temporal.  Then I walked down a hall with several hundred busts, and I would think to myself, These are the important, rich people. For each of these, there are billions more unrecorded lives in the world’s history.That’s something to chew on.
Third, I am thankful to be in Perugia. Speaking Italian (or trying to, anyway) isn’t a question here. In Rome, you can speak English to everyone. It is crawling with tourists.
And now for those travel lessons.
Learn military time.
Other than saving space on the face of a clock, AM and PM really is more conducive to error. It’s what I’ve used my whole life, though, and right now mistakes go the other way. I’m constantly subtracting ten and two to figure out the time, and my mental math – however simple – isn’t that accurate. Because of this, we ended up arriving at the stazione an hour after our train departed. We had to wait another hour to catch a later train. Sorry guys.
Plan and prioritize.
I left my passport in Perugia. I am not joking. And my phone charger and one less pair of underwear than I would have preferred. Thank goodness I had a copy of my passport, lax hostel receptionists, and friends that take lots of pictures to suffice for my dead phone/camera. We tried to meet up with the guys we met in Assisi last week. With the advent of cell-phones, the world has adjusted to last-minute planning, and you just can’t do that when you travel. We did finally rendezvous, and it was wonderful to see them again, but our delayed arrival and vague communication was not helpful. We didn’t think about where our hostels were located in relation to each other, or where exactly to meet. I also didn’t really check the weather. While Perugia is quickly turning to brisk fall weather, Rome was still hot and humid, and long-sleeved shirts were not the right clothing choice.

We did a lot. I’m glad we packed a lot into our days with a go-get-‘em attitude, but it was exhausting and not too fun.

Vatican city should be enjoyable, but it just wasn’t. St. Peter’s Basilica was so crowded with tour groups that I felt like we were defiling its holiness. I was so claustrophobic and frustrated that I couldn’t appreciate it at all. If you try to do everything, you will go from looking like this:

To this by the end of Day 2:

Exhausted. Let me sleep.
Not worth it.
Be bold.
Don’t be stupid, but don’t be afraid to start conversations with people. That’s one thing I’m not too bad at. All it takes is one question and a friendly face. As we enjoyed lunch, Abby could see into the kitchen and was eyeing the chef’s pizza-making skills. He invited her in; she was hesitant. “Abby, if you don’t go, I’m going for you.” She went.

The pizza dough is flying in the air.

I’m always the one talking to people and breaking group bubbles. I met a girl traveling around the world by herself, a missionary family living in Perugia that I hope to reconnect with, and these crazy Brits:
The result of a drunken bet two years ago. They all bought crazy hats and shirts and drew lots for who wore what. They then had to sport them around Rome for the day. Not a bad idea.

 Abby wanted to take a picture. They all looked to me. There is literally nothing to lose in a situation like that, so I went and asked if they spoke English. We got our picture and heard a great story.

Let your plan go.
There is a balance between doing the touristy necessary things, and just stumbling upon a memorable moment. I am such a list maker and achiever, that this is often hard for me to digest. While I have an agenda for each day, my parents have long held the philosophy that the only way to travel is without one. I am beginning to understand their wisdom. Unlike museums, the experiences you happen upon also tend to be more relaxed, enjoyable, and free. We finished our whirlwind checklist by Saturday afternoon, so we slowed the rest of the weekend down. We sat in a piazza and watched the street performers. We wandered to the Spanish steps, and low and behold a group of families were making a night singing American rock songs.

Sunday morning we meandered through Rome’s largest park, Villa Borgese. I loved this. It was my favorite walking of the whole weekend. Trees! Grass! Locals!

Rome is a big city, and it’s not to my liking. It gave me the chance to reflect, gain important travel lessons, and relax, though, and I needed to do that before I go anywhere else. I still learned  a lot from this Italian metropolis, and my whirlwind trip has transformed my travel style. 

Photo credits to Abby Wilson. Bring a charger for your camera…

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