I am now at the mid-way point of my semester here in Rome. These past two weekends I spent traveling in Italy—the first weekend in Palermo, and this last one in Tuscany—and it has been amazing, but I’m glad I will be in Rome these final few weeks. Palermo was fascinating though. It was very different from Rome. It had ruins of sorts, and while some were created by neglect and decay, many others were remnants of World War II—with whole facades of buildings gone, revealing hallways to bombed out rooms, abandoned chairs and tables—eerie but beautiful. It was also a very diverse city. Some of the street signs had Hebrew and Arabic translations, and there were lots of Indian restaurants and kebab shops which you don’t see as much of in Rome.
That weekend also tested my Italian skills. Most of the waiters and shopkeepers spoke to us solely in Italian which was refreshing as well as challenging. In Rome, people often respond in English once they hear your accent (or pick up on one of the many other innumerable clues that you are in fact American). I try to respond in Italian anyway. I like to think that it gives both myself and the person talking to me a chance to practice our language skills. In Palermo though, 90% of the conversations we had with locals were conducted in Italian. It made me appreciate how far my language skills have come, and how rewarding it was to be able to practice a language with locals while learning (something I hadn’t experienced when I took Spanish and French back in the States).
Still, the dialect in Sicily is quite different. There were a couple times the words they used were completely different from the Italian spoken in Rome. When we went to one of the main street markets for example, the vendors used a different word for ‘bag’ than what I had learned. Not to mention the market itself was so different from the placid farmers’ markets you see in Rome--people were shouting everywhere (“Fragole, belle fragole!”), and I tripped over a fallen fish head trying to avoid a group of boys fighting in the street and it was all a shambolic, wonderful mess.
Tuscany was a completely different experience. First of all it was a trip organized by the program so there was none of the stress of having to figure out the when/where/hows of the trip, we just got on the bus and got off the bus when it stopped. Then there was the fact that Tuscany is more about the sweeping landscapes, and quiet glasses of wine than frantic cityscapes. It was just as much fun though. We stopped in Sienna which was grand and medieval looking, and then Montalcino, which was practically empty which I loved. Montalcino is known for its Brunello wine and there are 210 vineyards in the area. We stayed the night in a 15th century farmhouse and vineyard with views of the rolling hills and it was relaxing and quite.
Rome will be somewhere in between. It’s not quite Palermo levels of chaotic but it is still a loud, frenetic city. The number of tourists is also increasing every day, making the narrow streets feel claustrophobic at certain times of the day. Still, the weather is beautiful and all of the flowers are blooming now. All this time I’ve been gone during the weekends but now I need to focus on Rome—the countless museums, the farther flung neighborhoods, the food and the wine—there’s still so much to see! I can’t believe I only have a few weeks left.