Making Amici & Meeting Famiglia: My Trip to Rome
Experiencing la dolce vita as a tourist, but also as a guest, meeting part of the family for the first time.
By Gina Faustini, Quinnipiac University
If you’ve looked at my byline, you can understand why I was so excited to visit Italy during my semester in London, England. Not only would I get to experience la dolce vita as a tourist, but also as a guest when I traveled 45 minutes south of Rome to meet one-fourth of my family for the first time. Rome was unbelievable, but it doesn’t equate with the liberation felt when I broke away from friends to do something purely for my family and myself.
The trip to Italy started with a missed flight to Milan and an hour of sheer panic until we managed to catch a plane straight into Rome; originally stop number two on our Italian excursion. After plopping my miserable self on the plane – Milan had been a priority of mine – I met a delightful elderly man named Francesco. He had a small luggage bag and two bottles of red wine seated next to him, which immediately alluded to the fact that he was awesome.
I spoke with him as best I could with my broken, poorly translated Italian. Things started to look up when Francesco decided the cute Italian flight attendant and I would make a great couple (I agreed), and he facilitated a conversation between the two of us. I never thought I’d be so grateful for a talkative plane passenger.
We grabbed a taxi to our hostel and I attempted to converse with the driver in Italian. He didn’t enjoy it as much as Francesco did. Where we stayed was a bit odd; imagine the hostel version of Toddler & Tiaras, dripping pink and glitter. My nerves were calmed when the owner came into our room with a welcome gift: wine.
We dressed up and wandered the streets until stumbling upon a small restaurant in a seemingly desolate area. I had to teach my non Italian-American friends that no, chicken parmagiana and penne a la vodka are not going to be on real Italian menus. We all had a laugh over an amazing meal and two bottles of Prosecco, followed by a night starting with post-dinner limoncello shots and ending on a pub crawl.
The next day my friends and I boarded the surprisingly easy-to-comprehend metro, Rome’s subway, which took us to the starting point of our walking tour provided by The Yellow hostel (a popular one among young travelers that I highly recommend). My feet were getting sore from hours of walking, but my mental state was high off history and cobblestone and thin crust pizza.
The only uneasy part about Rome was the abundance of pick-pocketers…they don’t even try to hide the fact that they are, indeed, pick-pocketers. It’s important for men to carry their wallets in their front pockets and for women to ensure purses are shut and tightly held; Rome is known for thievery, especially among tourists. No matter how “Italian” you think you look, trust me…they will know you’re a tourist. There were men dressed as gladiators running loose in front of the Coliseum, and I didn’t know how to react when one got unbearably close to my face and asked why I didn’t want to dance with him. Thankfully a male friend stepped in, but it’s important to never make eye contact with these people – many times, they’re dressed up as a means to grab your attention and pounce once they’ve captured it.
Once the tour was done with, we stopped for some gelato at a small place with about thirty different flavors. A friend of mine was disappointed upon realizing he chose the only type that was ice cream rather than gelato – don’t make the same mistake he did! Seeing as I was leaving the next day and it was our last night together in Rome, we returned to the hostel preparing to go all-out at a highly acclaimed restaurant La Cabonara and bar hop throughout the main plaza. We met some amazing people from all over the world and had an even better time than I’d imagined.
The next day I parted with my friends and headed south for my cousin’s baptism. I nearly had a panic attack on the train when the conductor told me my ticket wasn’t valid. I forgot to have it stamped before boarding (I managed to scrape up 5 euro to pay the fee, but please be sure to stop at the green ticket boxes and have yours stamped when traveling in Rome!). The ride was consumed with thoughts of what I wanted to say to my family, translating it all in my head in an attempt to enter the situation confident of everything I wanted to talk about. Luckily, they were much more impressed with my Italian than the taxi driver a few days earlier.
I was greeted at the train station by my second cousins, and at their apartment by a table full of food intended solely for me. After stuffing myself to the point of oblivion, we got ready for the baptism. Before leaving we called my grandparents in New York who were thrilled to hear my voice coming from an Italian phone number. At the party I finally met cousins who I only knew from hearsay, but hugged as if we knew each other for a lifetime. I can’t quite find a way to relate this to any other feeling, in the best way possible.
Chances are, the Americans reading this blog post have family rooted in other countries. If you can find the means of transportation and communication to safely meet them while abroad…. do it! I may have missed out on the trip my friends took to Vatican City, but I don’t regret a second of the time I spent finally meeting and getting to know my fabulous Italian relatives. All cheesiness aside, I’d choose my family over Vatican City any day.