The Puglia Diaries

The thrills and spills of a British Council Language Assistant in Molfetta, Italy

Not Doing as the Romans Do


This weekend was another parenthesis in the Puglia experience: I finally visited Rome for the first time. I have wanted to visit ever since I started studying Italian five years ago, a wish intensified by Mum going without me (sad face) and the Lizzie McGuire movie.

It seems that during my visit, I purposely ignored the famous proverb ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’. For a start, the whole capital is swarming with tourists, so I didn’t really meet that many Romans. Secondly, after four months of doing as the Italians do, it was a change to visit a city with three other British language assistants and be unashamedly foreign for a while. We packed in as many cultural visits, calories and Christmas purchases as we could.

I had the day off work on Friday so that I could make the most of an extra day in Rome. After a 5am start, a 5 hour train journey and a 5 minute walk to the hotel from Termini station, we were excited to be in the capital at last. Hotel Touring wasn’t in the most salubrious part of town but we were greeted with a receptionist who bizarrely reminded me of Paul O’Grady. The bathroom was so small that you couldn’t move without being attacked by a towel rail but the shower was hot, the beds were comfortable and everything pretty clean. What more do you need?

As former students of the module ‘Power, Pain and Beauty: Renaissance Art and Literature’, we were extremely keen to get to the Vatican Museums. Pre-booked tickets in hand, we sped across town on the metropolitana and braced ourselves for queues that never appeared. It seems that crowds of people aren’t really interested in seeing the Sistine Chapel ceiling on a Friday afternoon in December. We walked all the way through the ornate hallways of sculptures, old maps, Egyptian artefacts and frescoes, rejoicing at the sight of celebrities like the Laocoön and the Belvedere Torso. We were proud to remember a few artistic techniques from our classes but got all wound up trying to remember what it’s called when an artist uses contrasting colour to create the effect of perspective. It is used all over the place in Raphael’s famous frescoes and on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. An emailed plea to our tutors revealed that it is cangiantismo (don’t say I never teach you anything). The museum visit is apparently equivalent to a 4 mile walk but it was really worth it to see the ceiling that we knew so much about.

Leaving the museum with sore necks but suitably impressed, we wandered over to St Peter’s square and looked round the Basilica just as mass was starting. We had a look at Michelangelo’s Pietà, another famous sculpture on the list, and then headed back to the hotel before meeting up with the language assistants from Campania, Charlie and Sophie. The evening was spent eating crusty pizza accompanied by a house wine of dubious quality, and then flapping around in -5°C temperatures in an Ice Bar. Having being up for almost 23 hours, we got back to the hotel in travel and melon-cocktail induced sleepiness.

Katie and I were seriously productive on Saturday. We were at the Coliseum by half past ten and after wandering around looking lost and confused about which queue we should be in, a tour guide took pity on us and put us to the front of the line. It is truly an impressive sight and we made the most of the audio guide and all its gory details about gladiators. This was followed by a stroll down Via del Corso, a pause by the Trevi Fountain and then lunch in a tiny trattoria that was shyly tucked away in a side street near the Pantheon. We both had a Roman pasta speciality, mezze maniche all’amatriciana, just tomato and bacon goodness. Our energy waning a little, we walked to the Spanish steps and had a quick look before heading back to the hotel. We made the most of the seasonal lights in the evening though, mingling with the crowds of shoppers and hitting Piazza Navona for the Christmas market. One of the top moments of the whole night was a hot chocolate poured over panettone ice cream, a beauteous and perfect thing indeed.

Sunday was spent wandering, shopping and climbing to the top of the monument for Vittorio Emanuele that offered some great sights of Rome. Considerable damage was done to my bank balance as I began Christmas shopping in earnest and visited the Hard Rock Café for the first time (what did I tell you about not doing what the Romans do). I hadn’t seen a burger since June and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, including the Bruce Springsteen soundtrack. I certainly didn’t need any dinner, which was just as well because it was another evening of train travel for me. I had to get back to the comfort of Molfetta, which remains my lovely year abroad home from home. A successful couple of weeks travel-wise but now I am staying put until the 20th when it’s home to Toulouse for family Christmas time.


Author: Elly Cooke

Recent graduate of English Literature and Italian from the University of Leeds. Book lover and part-time Italian speaker.

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