Thursday, March 28, 2013

Italy Summer Travel Tips

I studied abroad during Italy's tourist season. Rome's narrow streets were crowded with walking tours and we had to deal with insane lines to enter sights such as the Coliseum and St. Peter's Basilica. Some trattorias in the historic district/city center promoted "tourist specials," which I discovered months later were not really specials. However, I highly recommend experiencing summertime in Italy. 

Here are my top three reasons why: 

1. Coastal beaches - BEAUTIFUL!! It's breathtaking, the water is amazing, and although it gets crowded, it is paradise. 
2. The word "saldi" in store windows - summertime is sale season in Italy, so if you are interested in Italian shopping, June, July and August are perfect timing. 
3. Gelato. Yes, you can have gelato at any time of the year, but it's better in the summer. 
4. Leisurely walks outside, enjoying the "avenues, vias, streets or stradas" (thanks, Dean Martin!) in...
5. Gorgeous weather. It only rained once when we were in Rome, on the day the program ended. 

Since summer is peak tourist season, it is important to do your homework before visiting. 
Some quick tips are: 

1. Book your flights and hotels/hostels early. It's cheaper to travel during the week, especially from the U.S. to Europe. is a great resource. 
2. Get to tourist sights earlier in the day so the line to enter is not as long. It is shocking to see how crowded it gets at places such as the Coliseum, Trevi Fountain and St. Peter's. Sightseeing in the morning and exploring the city in the afternoon/evening is the plan I recommend. 
3. If you are a student, take advantage of discounts. University cities such as Rome, Florence and Padua occasionally offer student deals at bars, hostels and cafes. There are usually specific areas in which both Italian and international students hang out. In Rome, Campo dei Fiori is popular with college students, especially those from the US, UK and Ireland. 
4. Try to immerse yourself with the locals. If you're in central Italy and want to go to the beach, I recommend Sperlonga over Capri. Check out the side streets, markets and small shops. Wandering around and learning about Rome was one of my favorite parts of my trip. 

Summertime anywhere is great, but Italy is beautiful year round (and flights are less expensive in the off season). No matter what time of the year you plan to visit Italy, I guarantee it will be a fabulous experience! 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Roman Sights: Largo di Torre Argentina

Reflecting on To Rome With Love reminded me of how much time I spent at or near Largo di Torre Argentina. The Eternal City is a confusing one, so my friends and I used landmarks to navigate. Largo di Torre Argentina is part Roman ruin, part cat sanctuary. 

The Roman Ruins near Corso Vittorio Emmanuele is the former home of Pompey's Theater, where Julius Caesar was murdered.  It is a true piece of history. The website hosts live webcams of the piazza: 

Photo credit:

As you can see, the ruins are located below street level; pedestrians are not able to walk through. Today, it is home to Rome's stray cats! 

The ancient ruins now function as a cat shelter, run by Roman citizens dedicated to giving these felines a better life. According to International Business Times, foreigners can even adopt! English website provides more detailed information. 

Recent reports state that Italian officials want to close the cat sanctuary, however, Roman cat lovers are fighting them. Hopefully these furry friends are able to keep their home; they make great photo-ops and definitely add character to the ruins. 

Located near a tram stop, Largo di Torre Argentina is not only a 
great navigation landmark, but a fun stop while sightseeing in La Citta Eterna!

Italian Cinema: To Rome With Love

I finally saw To Rome With Love! The 2012 Woody Allen film was shooting in the middle of the streets during my study abroad program. Although it did not receive the best reviews, I think it is a hilarious, beautiful movie about the Eternal City's occupants: citizens, celebrities, students & tourists. 

To Rome With Love Set at Largo Argentina
Woody Allen's tent!

The plot is confusing at some points, but it was beautifully shot and edited. Rome was not just the setting of this film, Rome is a character. Campo dei Fiori, Trastevere, the ancient ruins, even apartments and offices play an active role in telling the story of La Citta Eterna.

As a student that lived there, Alec Baldwin's character stuck out to me. He played a renowned architect that studied in Rome when he was young and was clearly having nostalgic flashbacks to his time there throughout the movie. Although I know on my return visits I will want to sightsee, I do feel some empathy for the character. He is an example of the fact that when you spend time anywhere as more than a tourist, it becomes a part of you. 

Photo Credit:

 If you want to watch a modern-day movie that showcases the city, it is a movie I recommend!

Since I saw part of the filming and it showcases my former home so well, 
To Rome With Love holds a special place in my heart. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Belated Tribute to St. Joseph's Day

Unfortunately St. Joseph's Day 2013 fell during my winter quarter finals, and I did not have a chance to indulge in a cannoli or three. My family celebrates this feast day with food, the color red and cannoli. Both my brother and Nonno are named Joseph, so our celebration was twofold. Growing up, I always heard stories about the St. Joseph's table at my mom's family's church in the city. A St. Joseph's Table is a large table to which those celebrating the holiday bring various treats to share with those celebrating!

Cannoli, a personal favorite.
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I personally started to embrace the holiday through my high school Italian class. Although there was no organized "Italian Club," all four levels of Italian students brought in treats to share in class. From meatballs to zeppolle, we feasted on March 19th. We also collected pasta and canned sauce for local food pantries. Italian class was intense, so it was always nice to take a break and remember why we were coming together to learn the language. 

Thanks to the quarter system, my personal celebrations often take place during spring break, or when I recruit friends to eat pasta and some sort of Italian dessert. Since my public relations final went well, I like to think St. Joseph was still on my side on Tuesday! 

La Bella Vita in America: 2013 is the year of Italy!!

Did you know that 2013 is the year of Italian Culture in the US!? I did not until I saw a sponsored post on Facebook last week. The Italian Ministry on Foreign Affairs and Italian Embassy in the United States, along with various government and corporate partners, organized this year long program. Held simultaneously in Italy and the United States, its main goal is to educate potential visitors about Italy's contributions to art, music, film, science and technology.

I think this is fantastic. Italy is a contributor to world culture, unfortunately, news stories about unstable government may take away from that. The events in this program will hopefully show unlikely visitors that Italian culture is relevant in the 21st Century.

Italy in the US 2013's Logo
photo credit:

Exciting Italian events are happening all over the country! Some of the events I find interesting are: 

  • Italian Film Festival (Italian film with English subtitles) - taking place in midwestern and mountain states!
  • "Digital Italy" a presentation at the Massachussets Institute of Technology
  • Week of Italian Language 2013
  • "Save Venice" Lecture Series in New York and Boston
  •  Divina Natura Jam Session at the Chicago Field Museum
Best of luck to all involved with the Year of Italian Culture, I hope to attend some of the Chicago events! 

For more information on events in your area, is a great resource!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Vatican City - My Study Abroad Backyard

The Conclave put a spotlight on the smallest country in the world, which happens to be inside La Citta Eterna: Vatican City. Although it most definitely blends into the Roman landscape, walls surround it, and foreign countries even have embassies separate from those for Italy.

Residence Candia, the apartment style hotel we stayed in during our program, is about two blocks away from the Vatican's North Wall.

Photo Credit:

St. Peter's Square was the backdrop of many of my Roman adventures. The area around Castel Sant'Angelo, is filled with life into the early morning. My friends and I spent many a night walking down Via della Conciliazione to the river and the castle.

Walking towards St. Peter's on Villa della Conciliazione
As someone who went to Catholic schools for elementary and high school and always heard about Vatican City, it was surreal to see St. Peter's Basilica on a daily basis and casually walk through the square to go out. Since we walked through Holy See almost every day, my study abroad group and I did not visit St. Peter's Basilica or the Vatican Museum until our final days in Rome.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica

Vatican City is beautiful, however, when visiting in the summer it is crowded with tourists. If you are visiting from June through August, prepare for long security lines and heat. Also, all visitors must cover their shoulders and knees.

Courtyard in the Vatican Museum
The Vatican Museum, separate from St. Peter's Basilica is filled with famous artwork, such as Raphael's School of Athens. I took History of European Art before I even thought about applying to study abroad, so it was thrilling to see artwork that I saw in PowerPoint presentations.

The best and worst part of Vatican City is the cupola, the very top of St. Peter's Basilica. Climb thousands of stairs to the top for the best view of Rome. One of my sorority sisters and I paid extra to take an elevator halfway up, which was totally worth it. The climb we did was painful, but once you get to the top, it is amazing to see the entire Eternal City. Unfortunately, if you are claustrophobic or cannot climb stairs, this is probably not a good idea.


The media coverage of the Vatican over the past few weeks brought back a lot of memories of living, studying and playing in one of the most historic parts of the modern world. It was thrilling to see so many people in what I felt was our "backyard" while in Italy.

Screen grab from live stream

Aguri a Papa Francesco I!

Vatican Tourism Resources:

Vatican Museum
St. Peter's Basilica/Cupola