Thursday, November 10, 2011

Do As The Romans Do

Are you planning a trip to Rome? Even if you're not, here is my step-by-step guide of how to survive in the Eternal City. It'll come in handy if you ever visit. The first thing I want to talk about is the buses. In order to 'legally' take the bus, you have to buy a ticket for 1 Euro at a news stand or tabacchi and stick it in the little yellow machine on the bus. This machine will stamp the date and time on the ticket to prove that you've paid for your ride. But really... Who can afford to do that every single time? Not me! However, sometimes the polizia comes on the bus and checks to make sure you have a valid ticket. You'd think that if you see them, you could just hop off the bus, right...? Wrong! Usually there are several of them so that they can block to doors to make sure no one gets off. They check your ticket, and if you don't have one, you're charged 100 Euros. No questions asked. A big, fat fine because you don't have a bus ticket. Now, I'm smarter than most people. What I did was I bought a couple tickets and kept them in my wallet. They haven't been stamped, but I take them everywhere. Every time I get on a bus, I stand by the little yellow machine, so if the police ever come on, I just stick it in the machine and I'm good to go. I haven't bought a single bus ticket since September.
The second thing on my mind - always, always, always act like a Roman. Just follow them. This is especially smart when crossing the street. Sometimes there aren't lights at crosswalks, and so if you ever want to cross the street, you have to walk like you own it. There's no hesitating, no 'maybe I'll cross...' You decide whether or not you're going to do it. If you do, look in the direction of oncoming traffic, stare into the eyes of the driver, and they will stop without any problems. Then you move along. 
The goal is to look as
similar to this guy as
you possibly can.
Another very important tip is to try not to look like a tourist. Blonde hair, pale skin, blue eyes = TOURIST. Map-in-hand, looking confused, snapping pictures every ten seconds = TOURIST. I can relate, because even though I act like a Roman, I still look like a foreigner. And I will continue to stick out like a tourist unless I get a tan, dye my hair dark, and invest in some coloured contact lenses. I'm not suggesting you do this, but try to study the map in your head before venturing out. The nice thing about Rome is that there are a lot of clues around the city for what area you're in. For example, if you want to get to Piazza di Spagna (Spanish piazza), look around at what you see. There is a very famous hotel close by called Hotel Madrid. Madrid, as in the capital of Spain - so Piazza di Spagna must be close by, right? Right! Think about it - simple. As for the snapping photos, I love photography, and anyone would be crazy to come to Rome and not want to take a hand full of pictures. So go nuts on that one.
Have you ever heard the expression 'keep your money in your front pockets'? There are a lot of pick pocketers in Italy, and when you go anywhere, you should actually hold your purse in front of you as if you were a football player carefully protecting the football as you carry it to the end zone. And men - never keep your wallet in your back pocket. You are guaranteed to be robbed.
Now, the annoying men you will find throughout the city... I'm having trouble beginning this because 1) I hate judging people and 2) I feel that what I am about to post is racist... But its important information to know. There are a lot of men working here from Africa who go about the city selling things. There are hundreds of them, all selling the same things - some sell these annoying toys that make these God-awful noises when you throw them on the ground. Some sell laser pointers and will point them at you in the night and laugh, hoping you will laugh along with them and maybe purchase one. The most
"Free roses? For me?" Don't be this person.
notorious sellers are the men who hangout at the Spanish Steps selling roses. They walk around to women and say, "Would you like to buy a rose?" When the women says no, he'll say, "You're so beautiful, you can have one for free." This is never true. The oblivious woman will take it and say thank you, thank you, thank you! Luckily for you I'm giving you the down low. As you begin to walk away, the man will try to make small talk by asking where you're from, and then ask for money. I know what you're thinking. Didn't he say I could have this? For free? Liars! All of them - liars. Just walk away from these guys. And if its raining, dozens of these men appear - out of NOWHERE - with umbrellas. The other au pairs and I think they all have their own secret underground mad house where they discuss what they're going to sell and how they can ploy more people into giving them money. Its crazy.
There aren't any beaches in Rome, but there are plenty of beautiful beaches in Italy that are for sure worth visiting. If you're traveling from the Western world, you are in for a very rude (or wonderful, depending on your philosophy) awakening. In North America, women especially are pressured to look a certain way. Tall, thin, big boobs, round butt. If you don't look this way, you should be ashamed. Cover up. Italy is 100% not like this whatsoever. At the beaches the men wear speedos, and the women are bare-breasted with thong bottoms. Or perhaps nothing at all. Its just how it is. Italians are not ashamed of their bodies, but if you want to wear a one piece bathing suit, they don't care. But understand that you are in Italy, and that you should adjust to their way of life. So don't expect anyone to cover up because seeing skin makes you feel uncomfortable. Deal with it. When I went to the beaches in Tuscany, I actually had Italians, both male and female, coming up to me with bottles of sunscreen asking if I wanted any. I still don't know if this was a joke because I'm pale or if they actually cared about my well being. In addition to talking about clothing, do not pull a Snooki and walk past a Roman Catholic church wearing a revealing outfit. The fact that I have to use a Jersey Shore reference in my blog deeply depresses me, but you get the idea. Its inappropriate to dress scandalously when walking by a church. In fact, most churches in Italy do not allow you to show your knees or your shoulders. So suck it up and wear a shawl.
Worth every single calorie - I promise.
Food. This is my favourite subject and I have a huge smile on my face just writing about it. I think its safe to say that Italian cuisine is the best over any other type of food - Mexican, Chinese, Indian... You just can't beat a bottle of red wine, pasta, fresh tomato sauce, pizza, gelato... You just can't. When you come to Italy, do not worry about what you put into your body. I don't care if you've been on a diet and are trying to shed those last 10 pounds. How many times in your life will you get the chance to eat true Italian food? Do as the Romans do and savour every bite. Enjoy your food, because in Italy, that's what their culture is all about - enjoying. So enjoy the food, because you deserve it, and because you can worry about your weight once you leave the country, because at this moment in your life, it doesn't matter. Italians take great pride in their food, and for good reason. The great news about this though is that its definitely possible to eat all this delicious food in Italy and actually lose weight. In fact, I haven't seen many overweight people while I've been here, because everyone is constantly walking. Through museums, churches, cobble stone streets, parks, beaches, mountains, hills - Italians love to walk. And while you're here you should, too! Also, one of the best experiences you will have with food is dining alfresco. Italians like to enjoy their food while also enjoying the weather, the scenery, and people watching. Also, dogs are welcome almost everywhere, so don't be surprised if you see a Yorkie or a beagle sitting alongside their owner at the table.
View of Rome from St. Peter's basilica.
It is said that the best art museum in Rome is actually Rome itself. There are beautiful fountains, statues, monuments and paintings everywhere you look. You will notice in Rome that there are many different depictions of the Virgin Mary. The interesting thing about this is that it is not to honour her, but because the Romans believed that if thieves were around and saw the Virgin Mary, that they would have a change in heart and behave like a good Roman should.
Italians are very laid back. This is sometimes a problem for me, because I grew up learning how to do things quickly - this is why we have places like Walmart, because we don't want to waste our time going to different stores. We would rather one-stop-shop and get it over with quickly. Italians like to take their time. I remember going to my favourite bakery in the centre one morning and saw on their sign that they opened at 9 am. Well, it was just past 10 am, and the owner was outside carrying boxes inside. I was disappointed by this and asked how soon they would be open. She said, "Whenever these boxes are finished moving. Anytime." Italians do not care about time. It means nothing to them.
Does this scene from
Eurotrip ring a bell?
Annoying men part two: Women, do not come to Italy expecting to fall in love or be swept off your feet by some stallion. Sadly, Italian men find it appropriate to behave like New York construction workers. Whistling, following you down the street, honking their horns, and basically acting like perverts. Its disgusting, degrading, disrespectful, but worst of all, its accepted. This has been very difficult for me to deal with, even after being here for nearly two months. What's even worse is that you can't exactly get away with telling them to F off or give them the finger. Italian men are aggressive, and they will get in your face and harass you even more.
Be careful on the streets because Italians are terrible drivers. They chat on their phones, text, don't look at the road, hog two lanes, park on the sidewalks, triple park in front of other cars, and even READ BOOKS while driving. Ok, so I've only seen this happen once. Yesterday when I was in the centre, I actually saw a man reading a book while driving. I couldn't believe my eyes. If you ever take a taxi in Rome, don't be surprised if the driver begins talking into his cell phone or pulls out the latest copy of their favourite author's series. The funny thing to me is that police are very strict on the no drinking and driving policy. This
rule of course isn't actually funny, but I heard a story on the news the other day about a woman who was charged with drinking and driving. She had not been driving erratically, but the police were doing car checks to test people. Normal - this often happens when I drive by the local bar by my house back home in Canada. This woman had a small amount of alcohol in her system and had her licence taken away immediately. She had no alcohol to drink, but rather, she ate some baba bread. Baba is a soft dough that is soaked in rum. In my opinion, the rules in Italy make little to no sense.
Never ask an Italian about politics. At least, not right now. The Italians are very ashamed of the way their government runs because it is dominated by Berlusconi, who is extremely corrupt. Asking an Italian about their government is like asking a French person how their mood is. Odds are, the answer won't be a good one. It even depresses me to think about Italian politics. Actually, cross this whole paragraph out. Never ask anyone about Italian politics. If you're interested, ask google.
Silly Pope!
The two most holy things in Italy are  the Pope and nutella. Stick them together, and its like Adam and Eve. They take religious and nutella seriously over here. While living in Milan last year, a friend of mine was at the dinner table with the Italian family she was currently working for. You know how sometimes if someone asks you a question with an obvious answer, you reply with a sarcastic question back? For example, Zack asks Katie, "Did you buy the new Harry Potter book?" Well, duh, because Katie is a huge Harry Potter fan. So Katie can respond by saying, "Is the sky blue? Do fish swim? Does James Brown get down?" Well, the Italians asked my friend an obvious question to which she responded, "Is the Pope Catholic?" Jaws hit the floor, because in Italy, you never joke about the Pope! It just isn't something you do. And nutella is a serious business. These people are obsessed with it and eat it every chance they get. In my opinion this is quite intelligent.
Pope condoms.
You better enjoy that last breath of fresh, cold Canadian air, because in Rome, everyone loves to smoke cigarettes. Its a very European thing, and you will even notice the waiters smoking outside while still doing their job. It may not be healthy, and you may still think its 'dirty', but this is just what Italians do. I've been singed a couple times by careless Italians limply holding their cigarettes in the hand as I walk by in a pair of shorts. In North America we have vending machines where you can conveniently buy a drink or a snack. In Italy, they have cigarette and condom machines. So if you need to have a smoke or want to have sex, just go outside and grab something from the 'vending machine'. 
Easter at Vatican City.
You definitely want to consider what time of year you plan on visiting. Christmas and Easter is the craziest time to come to Rome because of all the tourists. There are many nuns, priests and monks who travel all over to world just to come to Rome at this time to hangout at the Vatican. Between January and February is quite rainy. March and April offer warmth and sunshine. In April, the Spanish Steps are blooming with flowers, so its a very beautiful time to visit. May, September and October are the ideal times to visit because its hot, but tolerable. June to August is the absolute worst time to travel in Rome because there are literally millions of tourists every day who crowd the streets. Its hot, sticky, and super uncomfortable, which is why most Romans actually flee the city. You are guaranteed to sweat buckets and stand in line to get in anywhere for hours on end.
My final paragraph will be on random little tips. If you're a North American visiting Italy who is thinking about hopping over to a nearby country, check out Ryan Air. Ryan Air is a British airline company that flies all over Europe for as cheap as 9 Euros per flight. Amazing. Another thing I want to mention is that when you go to a bistro or pizzeria, they sometimes charge you extra if you stay there to eat. Its common for them to charge you an extra Euro for using their utensils, table cloth, etc. I feel like I've already explained the bidet is a low and looks like a toilet. Its actually used for after you use the bathroom to wash yourself, and to use before and/or after sex to keep clean. If you don't use it for this you can also wash your feet in it. Its a nice idea, really.
Well, I think I've covered all the important tips and insiders on how to get around Rome without any trouble. If you have any tips for me, or are planning a trip to Rome, I would be more than happy to be a free and personal tour guide. I know all the best bars, shops and restaurants to hit. I hope you enjoyed reading.

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