I’ve been in Rome for almost one week now and I’m still trying to shake off the feeling of hesitation I feel when doing…practically anything. From crossing the street to buying groceries, I’ve realized that anything and everything is fair game to become a new experience. It’s kind of crazy.
This, while exciting at times, obviously results in a lot of trial and error. On the first day of orientation, two of my roommates and I decided to take a detour on the way to the university around the Vatican (I can’t believe I can say that – Vatican City is less than a mile away from the Residence Medaglie D’oro, Temple Rome student housing). Vatican City is a landlocked sovereign city-state within the city of Rome, housing the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Vatican Museums. Unfortunately by the time we arrived there on the day of our detour, the main square was blocked off by “polizia” for what I believe was the Catechesis of the Holy Father. People of all ages and nationalities packed the square inside and out. Vendors selling flags bearing the pope, flowers, and noisemakers persistently shoved their wares in our faces. We were totally unfazed, paying more attention to the growl that was beginning to sound in our stomachs.
The first place we stepped inside to seek lunch was packed with Italians, serving up trays and trays of warm food cafeteria style. A long extremely crowded line had formed, one with no room for three novice American students. Intimidated we took a quick look around and a quick step backward. “We’ll save that for when we’re a little more experienced,” we said.
Closer to the main square of the Vatican we found exactly what we needed, or so we thought. A young Italian stood outside of a spacious looking café, and called out to grab our attention, “Bellas!” We walked over and saw a menu repeated in five different languages for visitors to the city, the English writing extremely comforting. Then the café waiter said the only two words he needed to to get us inside: “cappuccino” and “omelets.” So the three of us sat down, ordered two cappuccinos, one latte, and two omelets.
Then the bill came: 80 EUROS – the equivalent of 108.21 U.S. dollars for a meal that would have cost us perhaps $15 at home. Can you say rookie mistake? Live and learn. I can guarantee we will not be doing that again.
A few days later at orientation (could somebody have told us this sooner?), we were given a few helpful tips that I’ll share so you don’t make the same mistakes as us!!
1) Don’t eat near the Vatican. It’s full of places catering to tourists.
2) That said, don’t go to places where the menu is displayed in more than one language. This is also to attract tourists.
3) Don’t listen to café owners who call to you on the street. If their food and service is good enough this should be unnecessary.
4) Don’t sit down at a restaurant if you are looking to save money. They often charge an additional fee for the table.
5) Do go to places where you see a lot of Italians! Don’t be intimidated or worried that nobody will understand you. Body language is international – and will save you 80 Euros.