NCP Says “Ciao, Roma!”
By Kate Clemenz
I love to read itineraries of trips around the world, dreaming about what it might be like to take them. However, visiting one of the many beautiful cities outside of the United States was never a reality until this spring break. Over the break, I was lucky enough to spend eight days on a trip exploring Rome and other important landmarks in Italy. Led by Mr. William Nifong, Language Department Chair, and five other chaperones, I joined a group of 29 other students on the trip of a lifetime.
We arrived at O’Hare International Airport at 4:15 p.m sharp on Apr. 14, making sure to double and triple-check for our passports. After a long wait to check our bags, we were able to make it through security and to our gate with time to spare. We boarded our first flight to Zurich, Switzerland, many of us in awe over the large plane with individual TV screens on the back of each seat. We passed the time as best we could, whether by watching movies, sleeping, or laughing with our seatmates, and the eight-hour flight both literally and figuratively flew by. After a quick layover in Zurich, we boarded a second, much shorter flight to Rome. About an hour later, we departed the plane, made our way through customs, and found our tour bus for the week.
After our long flights, it was around 2 p.m on Monday in Italy. Although we did not have much time left in the day, we made the most of it. Our tour guide, Mimmo, led us to some of the most iconic sites in Rome. We quickly walked down the Spanish steps, threw coins in the Trevi Fountain, and viewed the Pantheon. After this quick tour of Rome’s greatest hits, we sat down for a delicious first meal in Italy. Finally, over 24 hours after we had departed from Chicago, we settled into our hotels and got some much-needed sleep.
On our first full day of Roman sightseeing, we actually left the country -- to visit Vatican City. Our new tour guide, Gianluigi, took us through the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. The Vatican Museums were filled with some of the most iconic pieces of Ancient Roman art, and the Sistine Chapel was an incredible sight to see, even if we were barred from taking pictures. After some more delicious Italian food for lunch, Gianluigi led us to the Catacombs of St. Sebastian. We walked through tiny underground passageways to see the rooms in which Ancient Romans buried their lost loved ones. On our last stop before dinner, we toured St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, another gorgeous church. We finished our day with another enjoyable pasta dinner.
The next day began with a trip to perhaps the most iconic of all Roman sites: the Colosseum. Our tour guide for the day was a professor with a Ph.D. in classical archaeology named Elisabetta. Her tours of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum were both educational and entertaining. After a quick lunch, we were allowed to explore Rome as we pleased -- provided we stay in groups of three -- so my group and I walked back to the beautiful Trevi fountain, did some souvenir shopping, and enjoyed some gelato. We wrapped up our day with another impressive dinner and tiramisu for dessert, and gratefully headed back to the hotel for well-deserved rest.
Day four in Rome led us to Ostia Antica, a town of ancient ruins. The ruins showed us where buildings were placed and what they might have looked like, and gave us a good example of an ancient town. We saw homes, bathhouses, and restaurants, and were able to get a better idea of what life was like so long ago. Back in Rome, we visited the Ara Pacis, or Altar of Peace, a beautiful altar encased in glass. We were set free once again for lunch, so my group of three found a street vendor selling pizza. After our pizza margherita, we were still feeling hungry, so we enjoyed some more gelato. Next, we drove to the Etruscan Museum in the Villa Guilia, which held many ancient artifacts from the mysterious Etruscan society. Before dinner, we had a little more time to explore Rome on our own, and then enjoyed a hearty meal of pasta and chicken. Then, it was off to our hotel for some more needed rest.
Our fifth day in Rome brought some different activities. Our first trip of the morning was to a place called “In Rome Cooking,” where expert chefs taught us how to make spinach ravioli, cavatelli, and tiramisu. After multiple hours of hard work, we were very hungry. Luckily, we were allowed to sample what we had made. Our hard work paid off; the food was quite good, if I do say so myself. After lunch, we drove to the Capitoline Museums, which housed even more incredible Ancient Roman art. Even though I wished we had more time to explore the museums, we were driven away to a new neighborhood, called Trastevere. The winding cobblestone streets were lined with cute shops and restaurants, and was a fun place to explore after another delicious dinner of pizza and gelato. After this, we rode back to our hotel in preparation for an early wake-up call the next day.
We woke up on day six tired but excited, as we were departing from Rome and driving to Pompeii. But first, we made a quick stop at the Abbey of Monte Cassino, which was the most beautiful church I have ever seen- and we saw a lot of churches on our tours of Rome. Built upon a large hill, the Abbey of Monte Cassino already has incredible views outside. Paired with the incredible architecture inside, it was quite the sight to take in. After another quick bus ride, we joined our Pompeii tour guide, Roberto, on entertaining and educational tour. He led us through the ancient town, preserved by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. We saw a theatre, homes, and even casts of bodies. Finally, we made our way to the hotel for the night and enjoyed a meal with a view of the water.
We spent our last day in Italy on the tiny island of Capri, which houses the summer homes of many rich and famous people. We first took a boat tour around the edge of the island, where we were able to take beautiful pictures and learn a lot about the history of Capri. Next, we were taken on a fascinating walking tour of the island, where we saw fancy perfume shops and gorgeous gardens. After another meal with a sea view, we were given some time to shop around and enjoy the island some more on our own. Finally, we took a boat back to the mainland and rushed to our bus, so that our bus driver could take us back to Rome in time for dinner. Thankfully, we made it on time, and enjoyed a wonderful last Italian meal. We traveled back to our hotel, where we finished our packing and went to bed, knowing we’d have a long day tomorrow.
The next morning was bittersweet, for we knew we were leaving the city we had grown to love, but we were also ready to see our friends and family back in Chicago. We drove to the airport and boarded a flight to Frankfurt, Germany, without any problems. A few hours later we landed in Germany and had plenty of time to explore the airport, with a layover of nearly five hours. We were finally able to board our flight to Chicago, where we desperately tried to keep ourselves awake so as to try to regulate our sleep schedules. At long last, we landed in our hometown, and were welcomed home by our families. Although I was glad to be home, I was sad to be leaving, but more than anything was grateful for the incredible experience. Now, I dream of going back to Italy -- if only for the gelato.