In Roma You Gotta Walk the Walk

I recently got stopped fIMG_0007or directions by a woman pushing a stroller in the Prati neighborhood just north of the Vatican. As someone who is constantly trying to be as authentically Italian as possible, this was only the best compliment EVER. Of course, I had no idea what the woman was asking me, and I must have muttered “scusa” and “mi dispiace” about ten times before scurrying away in sheer language deficiency defeat. And yet, something about my appearance must have made her believe I was Roman.

Oh happy day!

So, I got to thinking… What had this mother believing that I, straight from the hillbilly heart of ‘Merica (Texas), was a local? Sure, Ive got the brown curly hair, the olive skin, the tiny frame, but Italians are able to pick out Americans with a mere glance. Usually Im greeted with “hello” when I walk into a bar or panino shop–never ciao.

In order to better explain how I got mistaken for a Roman woman, I compiled a list of ten “street etiquette” tips to help those (like myself) who were not fortunate enough to be born in Italy blend in.

1. Own a fitted, soft-as-butter leather jacket (preferably in red).

2. Oh, and also a suave black leather bag to match. I got mine at T-Nobile, a fantastic leather goods store near Campo de’ Fiori.

3. Master the art of the fastslow walk. The point of ‘flow’ (as I like to call it) is to get from point A to point B as fast as you can. The trick is to make it look as if you are taking a leisurely stroll though.

4. Wear lipstick at all times. Red lipstick.

5. If you are not on the telephone (yelling loudly) while walking, you damn better be listening to musica on your iPhone.

6. Rock 50s Hollywood glam cat-eye sunglasses. They are very in right now.

7. Cross the street as if it pleases the drivers to stop for you. Or better yet, own a Vespa (preferably red) and disregard this.

8. Never but NEVER eat or drink while walking.

9. Make small hand gestures whenever you see something that pleases or displeases you. Nothing too flashy, I’m not talking about blending in with Neapolitans here. Just enough to get your point across.

10. Maintain your bella figura at all times. Pick up your head, push back your shoulders and laugh a little. Confidence makes one truly beautiful, and Italian women inherently understand this concept.

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che talor cresce una beltà un bel manto

A week ago I picked up my custom made Italian high heels from a family owned shoe shop near the ritzy Spanish Steps in Roma, Italia.

Wow. I cannot believe I just wrote those words…

Let me back up a little. A few weeks ago my brother and father trekked to Europe for a week long visit to Roma. It was fantastic. We shopped, we ate, we saw sights, we shopped again. And after showing the boys the admittedly overcrowded and overwhelming Spanish Steps, we took a stroll down Via Vittoria, a gorgeous area perpendicular to the Steps. The street is lined with many fancy clothing and shoe stores, one of which immediately caught my attention. As if the gold trim on the entrance to Dal Co’ wasn’t enough, the absolutely beautiful high heels in the display window quite literally had me drooling. Specifically, a red and black pair. It was love at first sight. And I had to try them on.

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There is a moment, most girls will know what I am referring to, when you try something on (with your mom, your friend, your sister) and everything clicks. It becomes clear that this particular item was made JUST for you.

This didn’t happen.

I didn’t get that “ahhhhhh” feeling when I tried on my beloved red and black high heels. They were two sizes too big. But damn, if they weren’t the most beautiful pair-o-kicks I had ever seen.


And then my dad said something funny. “Let’s get them.”

Caught up in my recent footwear fantasy, I did not understand his words. They didn’t fit. Why would I buy them? And after about ten seconds of pure confusion, I realized what he meant. Let’s get them as in ‘let’s get these made for you.’

Well, I mean if you insist.


Silvia and Rose

Silvia and Rose

Thus began the long process of getting custom made Italian shoes. I went in for three measurements and became friends with Silvia, the designer of the shoes. After a stint in Spain taking dance lessons, she was inspired à la Flamenco to create my wonderful shoes. Bellissima. I have yet to wear my designer heels for fear they might get scratched. Perhaps one day I will build up the courage to wear them in public. For now? They stay locked up tight and secure in my room. And as they say in Italy, “che talor cresce una beltà un bel manto.” Fine clothes make beauty even more beautiful.

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Chi Be Vive, Ben Muore

The Capuchin Crypt

1136-capuchin-cryptThe Capuchin Crypt is located underneath the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Piazza Barberini on the Quirinal Hill in Rome. After winding through a series of rooms dedicated to the history behind the crypt, there is a dark staircase leading underground. The crypt consists of several rooms adorned with human bones. Scholars believe it contains the skeletal remains of around 3,700 Capuchin friars. All of the bones are placed in intricate patterns on the walls, artistically styled.

The sight is absolutely horrifying. And fascinating. I could only stay in the crypt for about 10 minutes before feeling nauseous and overwhelmed.

3,700 skeletal bodies.


So much death.


The Catacomb of Priscilla

The Catacomb of Priscilla dates back to the 2nd century. Although it was already customary to bury the dead underground, Christians established a more intricate postmortem resting place in order to incorporate whole communities within one necropolis. Enter, the Catacombs.

I toured the Priscilla Catacomb on a class field trip. Our tour guide? A four foot five inch Italian nun, who hardly knew any English. Not to worry though, the dark, winding pathways spoke for themselves. Before entering, our professor muttered “down we go into the bowels of the earth.” A cheery and motivational speech prior to our descent.

Fun fact: the Catacomb of Priscilla contains the oldest known Marian art.

I would highly recommend visiting both the catacomb and the crypt. Although death is not easy or fun, these two sights reminded me of how fleeting life can be. Every day is a precious gift, and if you do not treasuring every second, then you are not living right. As the Italians say, ‘chi be vive, ben muore.’ A good life makes an easy death.



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Under the Tuscan Sun

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This weekend I took a trip through Tuscany. My study abroad program organized a weekend getaway to the quaint cities of Siena, Montalcino and Trequanda.

First I stopped in Siena, home to Saint Catherine, the patron saint of Italy. Medieval castles dot the town’s horizon, and ancient family crests decorate the streets. Siena is made up of seventeen contradas, or wards, that date back to the Middle Ages.  These districts are still in existence today, although their primary function now is to promote patriotism. I toured San Domenico, the church that contains the relics of Catherine of Siena (her head and her thumb). I lounged in the central Campo, people-watching and enjoying a delicious margherita pizza. I explored the Siena Cathedral, a gorgeous medieval church that contains works by Donatello and Bernini.

Next stop was Montalcino, a hillside town world renowned for their Brunello di Montalcino wine. After several tastings, I decided to purchase two bottles of Brunello and one bottle of Rosso di Montalcino.

After Montalcino, we arrived in Trequanda at the Fattoria del Colle, a farmhouse turned winery/estate. The property is gorgeous with its vineyard, gardens and old stone buildings. Not to mention it is situated on a hill overlooking the rolling green hills of Tuscany. We stayed at Fattoria del Colle for one night, enjoying a delicious dinner. In the morning we had a pici (thick, hand-rolled pasta native to Montalcino) making demonstration, as well as a tour of the estate. After eating the pici, we did a wine tasting in which we sampled a variety of wines made on the vineyard.

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Front Row Seats at the Papal Audience

Selfie with Pope Francis

Selfie with Pope Francis

This Wednesday morning I stood within 10 feet of Pope Francis at the weekly Papal Audience held in St. Peter’s Square.

Because I have class Wednesday morning, I hadn’t been able to attend one yet. Luckily our professor decided to take us on a field trip to attend a Papal Audience. We met up with our Mystics, Philosophers, Saints and Sinners: Studies in the Roman Catholic Tradition professor at 7:30AM in front of the square.

And it was packed.


Our professor told us not to worry, because a priest would be coming to meet us and take us to get seats. We waited for about 15 minutes, and sure enough, a young, South African  priest met us at the gates and let us in.

The priest took us on an exclusive Vatican tour of an ancient graveyard and a beautiful, serene garden. He then persuaded a Swiss Guard to let us take our seats early. Royal treatment.

Two hours later Pope Francis came out, riding through the screaming crowd in St. Peter’s.

Attending the Audience was the highlight of my trip thus far. It was an absolutely moving experience. To be in the presence of such immense greatness and power was breathtaking. Watching people cry as the popemobile rolled around was moving. Seeing il Papa kiss the foreheads of children was beautiful. Breathtaking, moving and beautiful. “People can choose either to tackle life’s challenges with the loving and wise heart of God or be driven by their own passions and interests.”




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Polar Opposite Paradises

The past week went by much too fast.

My study abroad program gave us a week off for Spring Break, and I took FULL advantage of these 11 free days. I explored several cities in the exotic land of Morocco. I hiked through a uniquely beautiful park in Croatia. I even had time to relax on the charming Isola di Capri off the coast of Naples.

My one goal for the trip was to get lost. To absorb myself in an array of new, rich cultures. My entire break was planned from an extremely wanderlust perspective. I yearned to explore areas that were unfamiliar and romantic. Morocco, Croatia and Capri seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

Before I left, I had a conversation with a Benedictine monk (studying at the Benedictine monastic college Sant’ Anselmo on the Aventino hill) who said “I have all day to get there and nowhere to go.” What a way to think, a way to live. I kept this slogan in the back of my mind throughout my trip.


Morocco: First I explored the “blue city” of Chefchaouen. A majority of the buildings in the village are painted a breath-taking turquoise and/or baby blue color in order to keep bugs away. I bought a hand-made artisan blanket from a woman named Suara, and two paintings from a local artist named Abdellatif. For dinner we had traditional Moroccan cuisine (meat, couscous etc.) and were entertained by a belly dancer. In Tangiers we rode camels, discovered the hidden Grotto of Hercules (the supposed cave where Hercules stayed), which has an opening in the shape of Africa. We took in the view from Cabo Spartel and then headed to Asilah, a quaint white-washed town on the northwest tip of the Atlantic coast of Morocco.

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Croatia: From crystal clear coastal waters to cascading waterfalls, Croatia truly is a hidden gem. Our hostel was in Split, the second largest city in the country and home to Diocletian’s Palace (a retirement home for the infamous Roman emperor, Diocletian). After laying out on the beautiful Bačvice beach, we decided to explore the island of Brač located off the coast of Croatia in the Adriatic Sea. We ate traditional, dalmatian-grilled fish at a provincial restaurant for dinner and had drinks at the local hipster bar, Ghetto. The highlight of the trip was seeing the famed Skradinski buk waterfall at Krka National Park.

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 Capri: What struck me most about Capri was the sweet scent of lemons permeating the island air. I bought a bottle of Carthusia perfume (a unique Capri citrus scent first created in 1380) to forever remind me of the island. Although it was rainy for a few hours, we were blessed to see a double rainbow spread wide across the marina after the shower. The Giardini di Augusto provided splendid views of the sparkling blue water, and we ended our trip by indulging in some lemon gelato!

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This incredible journey was unforgettable. I loved every second of it, and feel very blessed to have experienced life in these different countries. But now, it is time for me to return home. Roma awaits.

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Crazy Happenings in Roma

An encounter with the Swiss Guard: In preparation for my father’s visit to Rome, I headed up to St. Peter’s Square with the intention of getting three Papal Audience tickets. The Vatican website suggests that Swiss Guards stationed at the “bronze gate” will grant you free tickets to an Audience a few days in advance.

Very vague Vaticano, you sly dog.

There were several problems I ran into with these irritatingly ambiguous directions. The first was locating the supposed bronze gate. The second was approaching the Guard. While funny, their uniforms are, up close, frightfully intimidating, and the halberds didn’t help to alleviate any nerves. My roommate and I powwowed for about 15 minutes, planning out our every move, before approaching the guards. They should really give a how-to session for this kind of thing during study abroad orientation.

Sam and I, rather embarrassingly, tried to enter through the Basilica exit. We were then publically shamed by a Vatican official who told us that to approach the Swiss Guard we would have to cross a large, sectioned off piazza. The area hosts the entrance to the Vatican and is closed off to tourists.

So we entered.

In the middle of the square we were met by a Swiss Guard who politely explained that the Papa would not be in town this week. People took pictures of us–perhaps thinking we were trying to break into the Vatican or something. #oops

DSC01469Limoncello Overload: Tuesday evening my roommates and I decided to try out a new restaurant in Trastevere called Hostaria La Botticella. After receiving the check, our elderly waitress brought out a free round of Limoncello shots for us. In typical Italian fashion, we casually sipped our sweet drinks. Just as we were finishing, she came back and poured us all another round. Grazie mille signora.

Orange Picking in Roma: On top of the Aventino hill in Southern Rome exists a beautiful garden. Fragrant with the aroma of fresh citrus, Giardino degli Aranci boasts many orange trees and a magnificent view of the city. After soaking in the magical panorama of la città eternal, we decided to pick some oranges!

A Lizzie McGuire Moment: If you have seen the Lizzie McGuire movie, continue reading. If not, immediately go watch and then read this post. While enjoying the glorious view from atop Piazza del Popolo, my roommate was mistaken for a famous singer. In broken English, a Roman citizen came up to Sam, kissed her on both cheeks, and exclaimed how terrific her singing voice is. Apparently she looks exactly like the new favorite contestant on American Idol. These things only happen in Rome, I swear. I obviously played along as her manager.

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Dancing the Night Away in Barça

Bursting at the seams with energy, Barcelona exudes modernity and a youthful vibrancy. From Antoni Gaudí’s whimsical architecture to the rich nightlife, the seaside city offers a multitude of impressive sights.


On Friday, after checking into our hostel around noon, we went in search of food. We stumbled upon a hole-in-the-wall joint with beautiful vines covering the brick exterior. On the stoop was an elderly Spanish woman smoking a cigarette. We asked her politely if they were open. She nodded and proceeded to take her key out, unlock the door and let us into the restaurant. The Spaniards don’t eat lunch until 2PM generally, so she opened the restaurant and cooked just for us. ¡Muchas gracias!

Marina Port Vell

Marina Port Vell

From there we headed to the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. Very interesting. Very Eclectic. My favorite piece in the collection was entitled “The Nature of Visual Illusion” by Juan Muñoz.

"The Nature of Visual Illusion" by Juan Muñoz, 1994-1997

“The Nature of Visual Illusion” by Juan Muñoz, 1994-1997

In need of something refreshing, we hit up La Boaqueria, a local fruit/vegetable/meat market. The colorful array of fruit juice was a highlight.


Fruit juices at La Boqueria

We then wandered up to Park Güell and marveled at Gaudí’s unique masterpiece.


Mosaics at Park Güell


Park Güell

In line with the traditional Barça lifestyle, we took a mid-afternoon siesta, ate a delectable seafood dinner and danced until the sun came up.

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Sam, Irem, Rose, Sarah at Disco

On Saturday we visited the magnificent Barcelona Cathedral.


Barcelona Cathedral

 We went to the Picasso Museum and saw a multitude of works by the master. I took some pictures, rather sneakily, and got yelled at by a guard. Definitely worth it.


Femme en costume espagnol, Pablo PIcasso

To end our Barcelona trip we ate Tapas and drank Sangria at Bar Lobo, an authentic tapas bar. Our meal included pita y hummus, guacamole nachos, tataki de atún con guacamole, tempura de espárragos, and tosta de steak y hongos.

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Sangria at Bar Lobo

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Assisi: City of Peace

On Friday, my Mystics, Philosophers, Saints and Sinners: Studies In The Roman Catholic Tradition Professor took our class on a day trip to Assisi. The picturesque hills are amazing, the air fresh and fragrant, the history rich. The tranquil atmosphere of Assisi contrasts completely with the bustle of daily life in Rome. With so much ancient history, it is easy to forget that the Eternal City is a metropolis complete with smelly car fumes and garbage littered sidewalks. And while the pace of life in Rome is more laid back than that of any U.S. city, the atmosphere is remarkably more casual in Assisi. The whole town seems at peace. It is said that St. Francis of Assisi has watched over his town since the time of his death in 1226—protecting it from destruction and change. Assisi even managed to stay away from World War II bombings.

View of Assisi


First we toured San Damiano, a small church built in the 12th century. The church acted as the first monastery of the Order of Saint Clare, and is the site where she established her community and following. We were then taken to various churches in Assisi including the ancient Temple of Minerva, which is now home to the church Santa Maria sopra Minerva. From there we visited Rocca Maggiore, an enormous castle built by Cardinal Albornoz in 1367. The views from the top of the castle were absolutely incredible and it almost felt like we could see the curve of Earth’s sphere. The highlight of the trip though was the visit to Basilica of Saint Francesco d’Assisi where the tomb of the beloved saint is housed.

In front of Saint Clare statue at San Damiano

In front of Saint Clare statue at San Damiano

Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi

Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi

Recently my Godfather passed away. He was my father’s best friend, his brother. I called him Uncle. If ever asked, my father would describe Uncle Louie as the embodiment of Saint Francis, a saint remembered for the compassion he gave to the poor, the sick and the wounded. Francis generously offered his love to all humans and all animals.

Uncle Louie shared the same outlook on life. He was kind and selfless. He opened his door to an endless amount of stray animals. He took in people who had nowhere to go. He cared for his family deeply and extended that love to strangers who were in need of guidance.

When I walked into the chamber where Saint Francis is buried, I felt as if Uncle Louie were smiling down upon me. I said a prayer for him at the site of the tomb, and thanked him for being such a dear friend to my father.

Statue of St. Francis staring at his birthplace

Statue of St. Francis staring at his birthplace

Rocca Maggiore Castle

Rocca Maggiore Castle

I probably would not have gone to Assisi on my own, but now I cannot imagine anyone NOT going to the town when visiting Italy. If you ever have the chance to visit the most peaceful town on Earth, you absolutely must.

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Mass at St. Peter’s

On Sunday I attended the 4PM Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

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When I set foot in the Basilica I was overwhelmed by an intense feeling that, as I write this post, I am finding hard to put into words. The best I can do is this… I sensed holiness. I sensed divinity. But most of all, I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was looking down upon me, protecting me. I like to think this presence I felt was that of a loved one watching out for me and blessing me with the goodness of Heaven.

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Modernity bows down to the sanctity and antiquity of the Basilica. There is no other structure on earth comparable to St. Peter’s.

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The throng of tourists inside the building were stunned into an uncanny silence. Every mosaic and sculpture seeped with the rich mysteries of Catholicism. The air inside the Basilica was ancient and calming. If you have ever been to the Vatican, you must know what I am talking about.

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Pietà by Michelangelo 1498-1499

The Mass, which began promptly at 4 (and which we were about 5 minutes late to), ended at 4:30. It was a short and simple service, and everything was in Italian. The words were mesmerizing and beautiful. Beams of light came down from the windows. I am sure God was present.

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Pope John Paul II will be canonized on 27 April 2014, alongside Pope John XXIII. Below is a picture of his tomb, which was situated in a small cathedral inside St. Peter’s.

Blessed John Paul II will be canonized in Rome on April 27th.

John Paul II

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