France | Edible Art: Food in Paris


I have one slice of cake, I mean, one slice of advice for you, be adventurous with food in Paris! I recommend trying the classic french staples, that everyone in the world knows about, but then I challenge you to move forward and try new things. Ethnic food, unique bakeries, unfrench like food! I say this because Paris is a diverse and multicultural city, and as much as trying french food is almost a requirement, I want to push you to press those boundaries and go further than the classic french.

A chocolate and salted caramel crêpe at a family establishment

One of my favorite meals was a falafel wrap in Le Marais (the Jewish quarter). Every establishment claims to be the best, but I found every place there delicious. (L’as du Fallafel is a good place to try.)

I also tried a Persian restaurant in the 14th Arrondissement where I lived called Le Chalizar. It was delicious.

Push yourself to try new things. Discover the diversity within Paris by experimenting with food.

A juicy burger and pomme frites

Profiteroles – A classic french dessert which is a “must taste”

A Falafel from the Marais

A pizza from the Italian square

The best hot chocolate in Paris is not at the tourist filled Ladurée. I found my favorite cup at Café Laurent.

Above were my two favorite desserts in Paris and must visits. First is a meringue cake from Le Merveilleux de Fred. These bakeries are scattered around Paris and the famous Merveilleux is a must-try, perfected by Frédéric Vaucamps.

Second is a chocolate St. Honoré from the oldest bakery in Paris, Stohrer. I recommend trying anything from this bakery. St. Honoré aux Chocolat was my favorite, and I had the best chocolate éclair here.

Persian food from Le Chalizar

Decadent homemade icecream and sorbet from La Crème de Paris

Crème brûlée

Sarah Brandenburg studied abroad in Paris, France in summer 2018:

France| Want to Relax in Paris?


After a long day in Paris, hop onto metro 1 line and take it to the last stop, Chateau de Vincennes. The quiet and peacefulness of this park is a beautiful place to unwind. Perfect for reading, writing, photography, or just to experience a live painting.

The park is filled with activities for people of all ages. Carousel rides, a zoo, rowboats, and pathways for bike riding are only a few of the activities offered. My favorite part of the park was a “Weeping Willow” tree we found at the edge of the lake. It was a beautiful addition to a peaceful place.

The next time you are in Paris, I recommend taking a boat ride here or having a picnic on the green grass surrounded by the shade of trees.

Sarah Brandenburg studied abroad in Paris, France in summer 2018:

France | A Historic Ballroom in the Musée d’Orsay?


I spent a cloudy morning in Paris exploring the famous Musée D’Orsay. The sculptures and paintings inside the museum are breathtaking, but the building itself is a piece of history and a work of art. This museum used to be a railway station called Gare D’Orsay, and the main hall of the station is now lined with sculptures from the past. This extraordinary building adds to the grandeur of the museum.

I made my way through the creative workings of humans from the past. What depth of expression can be communicated without a word being spoken. What emotion that transcends space and time is revealed in a simple painting or sculpture.

After exploring the museum with a guided tour, my friends and I stumbled upon a ballroom covered in gold and embellished with crystal chandeliers. It was exquisite. I felt as though I had walked into a time machine and was visiting Paris at her prime. This ballroom, La Salle des Fetes, is where general de Gaulle hosted a press conference in the year 1958.

The ballroom is rented out for events and parties now. I wonder who the people are that rent out this palace.

Sarah Brandenburg studied abroad in Paris, France in summer 2018:

France | France won the world cup (when I was in Paris)


History was made. France won the World Cup for the second time in history. And I was in Paris. The streets were crowded, noisy and loud, and being in the heart of France during this historic event was an experience I could never create.

Here are photographs to give you a glimpse into Paris at this time.

Sarah Brandenburg studied abroad in Paris, France in summer 2018:

Italy | Water Fountains in Rome

When I talk about water fountains in Rome, I’m not talking about decorative fountains (although there are quite a few of those here in Rome), but about drinking fountains! At first, I was hesitant to drink out of these fountains, but was assured by some locals that it was safe to drink. Since then, these have been a god send in this brutally hot Roman summer when walking or running around the city. You can fill up your water bottle or, if you don’t have a water container, can put your hand under the stream to stop it and water will shoot out of a hole on the top of the water spout just like a water fountain in the US. Pro tip: if the fountain is running a little slowly, you can also cover this hole with your hand to up the pressure and the water speed.

If you look closely, you can see the hole in the top of the fountain spout where water shoots out to drink from!

The water comes from the mountains and follows the line of an ancient Roman aqueduct. (Say whatever you want about the ancient Romans, but those guys really knew how to move, heat, and use water well!) It’s tested for quality by the city multiple times a day in various locations, so its always fresh and its always cold!

You will basically see these fountains everywhere. They can be found in tiny alleys and big main roads. I still haven’t quite figured out the placement, and, to be honest, it seems a bit random. There are two main types of water fountains: the nasoni which are the “big nose” fountains that you see everywhere, and the fontanelle which are the less common, more decorative fountains. I definitely made a mental note every time I came across one, especially in central places such as in Trastevere, near the Pantheon, on my favorite running routes, etc. If you can’t manage to remember all the locations, fear not because you can actually get an app on your phone called “I Nasoni di Roma” that tells you where all of them are, which can be incredibly useful if you’re thirsty. You can also google it if you’re in a pinch, and the website for the city’s water provider should come up with a map of where they are.

When I first arrived, I was bit distressed to see that these fountains were continually running. The Californian in me panicked a little bit thinking “Oh my god that’s so much wasted water!” But some basic research informed me that the water that isn’t used for drinking is used for fountains, gardens, industrial purposes, etc, so please don’t think it’s just not being wasted after it runs through the nasoni! Additionally, because the water in regular, decorative fountains is recycled, its not recommended that you drink water from those fountains. There are, however, places at the Trevi fountain and at the fountain near the Spanish steps where they have nasoni attached to the fountain, and feel free to use those!

In a country that makes you pay for water every time you sit down to eat at a restaurant, the abundant free water in Rome is definitely appreciated. I’ve seen these in other cities in Italy (Milano, Torino, Catania), but no other place has as many or as cold of water as Rome does. Make sure to use it while you’re there! I know I will miss this city feature when I arrive home in Westwood.

Andrea Zachrich studied abroad in Rome, Italy, in Summer 2018:

Italy | Trevi Fountain


We went to Trevi Fountain on our first evening of our program here in Rome. I thought the history of the Trevi Fountain was fascinating, so I’m going to share it with you.

As with most things in Rome, the Trevi Fountain has an ancient, medieval, renaissance, baroque, and modern history. The ancient history begins with Marcus Agrippa, who was the right hand man of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. He built an aqueduct called the Aqua Virgo that began up in the mountains and ended in the spot where the Trevi Fountain stands today. There is a myth about the name of the aqueduct, which means “Virgin Water”. The legend goes that when Marcus Agrippa was looking for a source for the aqueduct in the mountains, a virgin miraculously appeared, led him to the water source and then disappeared. Professor Gurval believes that the myth was made up after the aqueduct was named, but I think I prefer this story.

The aqueduct was function for a few hundred years until the fall of Rome in the fifth century. Many historians think that one of reasons Rome fell was because many of their aqueducts were destroyed. The city simply could not support that many people without a lot of water, and population quickly dropped from 1 million to 50 thousand.

The aqueduct was mostly forgotten in the Middle Ages. The next time it makes an appearance was during the time of the Renaissance. Pope Nicolas restores the aqueduct and seeks to build an ornate fountain on the location. However, the pope dies before he can commission a fountain, and no fountain is built until the mid 1700’s. The one that stands there today was dedicated in 1762 and designed by a Roman architect named Nicola Salvi. Sadly, he didn’t live long enough to see the fountain finished. The fountain was not particularly popular until movies such as Three Coins in a Fountain and La Dolce Vita featured it. Now, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Rome, and is currently the largest fountain in Rome.

The statue features the god ocean, and representations of abundance/prosperity and health as people. The facade behind the sculptures features an order of Corinthian columns with little apses for smaller statues.

The legend with this statue, popularized in the movie Three Coins in a Fountain, is that if you throw a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder into the fountain, it will bring you back to Rome.

Andrea Zachrich studied abroad in Rome, Italy, in Summer 2018:

Italy | The Roman Forum


Visiting the Roman Forum was one of my favorite days of the entire program, but also one of the most difficult for me personally because it was ludicrously hot and I’m pretty sure I got some mild form of heat stroke (nausea, headache, all that super fun stuff). I know I’ve said this before, but it is blazing hot in Rome in the summer, especially because most days there’s not a cloud a sky. But, we learned a lot and got to see a lot of cool places that I’ve discussed a ton in my classes at UCLA. There’s nothing quite like being able to see the real thing after these past three years studying it, it’s surreal.

We started the day by splitting our class into two smaller groups, and then we got a tour of the Forum by Professor Gurval, and ended with a tour of the Palatine hill with Diana, our Teaching Assistant. This post reflects our schedule for the day – I start with some of the more notable and/or places in the forum I thought had an interesting history, and end with some information about the Palatine hill and the museum up there.

History of the Roman Forum

For most of ancient Rome’s history, the Forum Romanum, or the Roman Forum in English, was the center of life in the city. There was space here dedicated to civic, religious, commercial, and political activities. It served as the place for civil and criminal trials, elections, triumphal processions, and religious ceremonies. Unlike many other fora from antiquity, the space developed gradually over time and was not planned, making the layout a bit chaotic and confusing (in a good way).  Eventually, more fora were built next to this original one by the emperors as the city expanded, but the original Roman Forum remained the heart of activity in the city.

The Forum is one of the few places in Rome that has been almost completely excavated down to the ground level during the time of ancient Rome (which is about 2 – 3 stories below the modern level). You have to walk down a ramp/stairs to get into the archeological site.

Some of the main buildings and a brief history (with pictures!)

The Temple of Saturn

Pictured above is The Temple of Saturn. This building was rebuilt many times. The original one is said to date back close to the founding of Rome and built by one of the first seven kings. The second one was built during the Republican era. The third one, which is the ruins you see in the pictures, was completed after a fire in mid third century AD. This is one of the better preserved temples in the forum; it still has 8 columns, the base, and the frieze above the columns. The god Saturn for whom the temple is dedicated is associated with wealth, and in antiquity this temple was where the Roman treasury was stored (so basically the ancient version of our Fort Knox).

Temple of Romulus

Little is known about this temple, but many scholars believe that it is dedicated not to the first king of Rome but to the son of Maxentius – the rival emperor of Constantine – who had the same name as the founder of Rome. Romulus dies at a young age and his father decided to deify him and build this temple. Fun fact: the bronze doors that you see on this building are the original doors from the early 4th century AD when it was constructed. Nowadays, the temple is the vestibule of the Basilica Santa Cosma e Damiano (which is why it’s so well preserved), and you can go inside the church to see the inside of this temple.

Arch of Titus

This monument is interesting because it has one the first Roman depictions of a Jewish menorah ever recorded. One of the reliefs inside of the arch features a scene where Roman troops sack Jerusalem. The triumph over Jerusalem occurred in 71 AD and the arch was build 11 years later in 82 AD. The arch was incorporated into a defense wall in the middle ages (which is why the reliefs on the outside of the arch are damaged). In antiquity, Jews refused to walk under the arch because of what is celebrated and due to ancient ban. The arch is one of the last structures you encounter before you continue upwards to the Palatine hill.

Portico of the Harmonious Gods

This structure, which lies at the foot of the Capitoline hill at the edge of the forum, was built in 367 AD and was the last pagan shrine to be built in the Forum during the time of the last pagan emperor of Rome – Julian – a descendant of Constantine. The gods to which it was dedicated are the twelve gods in the Roman pantheon. It was excavated in the 19th century, and what you see today is largely a reconstruction from that time.

Temple of the Divine Faustina and Antoninus Pius

This temple was built in 141 AD to honor the wife of the emperor Antoninus Pius, Faustina the elder, after her death. The emperor deified his very popular wife following her death. After the death of Antonius, the temple was rededicated to include both of them and an inscription was added above the original one adding Antoninus’ name. The inscription essentially says that these two rulers were deified by decree of the senate. The original, and very pretty, marble frieze of the building still remains today, although other elements such as the roof have been replaced over the years. The structure was converted into a church called San Lorenzo in Miranda, which is why it still stands in good condition today.

Arch of Septimius Severus

This triumphal arch was dedicated to Emperor Septimius Severus (along with his two sons Geta and Caracalla) in 203 AD to commemorate his victory over the Parthians. Septimius Severus wish for his sons to rule as joint emperors, but Caracalla had Geta killed (as he ran into his mother’s arms, it was a messed up assassination) and then purged representations of him from public record. As such, the images of Geta that were on this arch when it was made were removed by Caracalla. The arch is made of marble with a travertine base. The arch was a military fort during the middle ages and there was a tower built on top of the arch. Half of the arch belonged to the church and was incorporated into a church and the other half owned by a private family (the ones who used it for a fort), and both are credited with keeping the structure in good shape. It is, however, pretty dirty right now (pollution builds up over time) as you can see in the picture above.

Temple of Vesta

Temples dedicated to the goddess Vesta were always round (but not all round temples belong to Vesta). Vesta is the goddess of the hearth and the home. This temple in the Forum is particularly important, because it was the temple that held the sacred flame of Rome, which the Vestal Virgins who lived in the House of the Vestal Virgins were sworn to keep alight. The Vestal Virgins were a group of six women who performed religious functions for the state of Rome. They were usually given the state by their parents at a young age. They were usually part of the senatorial or equestrian class – although in later times families did not want to give up their daughters and some Vestals were lower class or even slaves. They took vows of chastity that were strict – the punishment for breaking this vow was being buried alive (which did happen a few times, although some scholars suggest it was due to political motivations). After they served their time as Vestals, these women were released from their duties and had many rights that normal Roman women did not. They could marry whomever they wanted, could own land, and did not have a male guardian in charge of them or their finances. The Vestal Virgins were eventually disbanded when Rome became Christian in the 4th century AD.

The Column of Phocas

This column was actually the last monument dedicated in the Roman forum. It was dedicated to honor the Roman emperor in the East –  Phocas – in 608 AD. The column was likely recycled from an earlier dedication in the 2ndcentury AD. There is an inscription on the base dedicating the column, and then the column stands nearly 50 feet high. It’s one of the tallest structures in the Forum, and has become a bit of a landmark.

The Curia Julia

The Curia Julia was the name of the senate house in ancient Rome during the imperial ages. As you can see, the building is fairly well-preserved. A safe bet with ancient buildings is that if it’s well-preserved today, it was either put back together by a more modern restoration or that it was turned into a church so it was maintained and forbidden to rob pieces from it. The Curia Julia was turned into a church. This building was actually started by Julius Caesar after the old senate house burnt down and finished by Augustus. Caesar was actually murdered in the Theater of Pompey and not in the senate house because this one was under construction at the time. The original doors of this building are actually at the Basilica of St. John in Lateran (the original mother church before St. Peter’s was built).

The Palatine Hill


The Palatine hill has an extensive history and people have lived there since around the 9thcentury BC. The Palatine Hill, which is one the original seven hills of Rome (which did vary and change through history by the way), was the home of the elite during the Republican age, and the location of the Emperor’s palaces during the Imperial age of ancient Rome. Augustus was the first to build a palace here, and most emperors followed suit by either building their own palace or making changes to existing ones. On the other side of the Palatine hill is the Circus Maximus – the race track for horse chariot racers (a wildly popular sport in ancient Rome). Some emperors would even build boxes to watch the races on the top of the hill so they would not have to go down into the stadium (although the people of Rome never appreciated this very much). The word “palace” comes from the name of the hill “palatine”.

Nowadays, the hill is a sprawling archeological site open to the public. It can be a little confusing, as some of the buildings overlap, some are buried, and some are actually in pretty good shape. Our class used our SUPER ticket to visit the House of Livia (wife of Emperor Augustus) where the two of them lived. The tour included projections on the walls of what the frescoes would have looked like which was very cool. The Palatine hill also boasts great views out onto Rome and also overlooks the Roman Forum, which can be a picture – take opportunity.

The Museum

Also on the Palatine hill is the Palatine museum – a small building that houses statues and other artwork found on the Palatine hill. It’s kind of small, but it has some interesting pieces of art and it’s nice to take a break from the sun for a little while. I would go inside if you get the chance.

Overall, the Forum and the Palatine hill are interesting spots and they’re full of history. If you can, I would go with someone who has some knowledge of ancient history (like a UCLA Classics major). If you can’t, however, phones exist and the site is beautiful all on its own. It’s included in the ticket you purchase for the Coliseum, so you might as well go! The site is iconic of Rome and there is a lot to be learned here.

Some tips for visiting

Go early! It gets blazing hot and there is very little shade in either the Forum or on the Palatine hill. I think that most of the tour groups start their tours at around 10 am, so if you can manage to get there before that it’s nice because you won’t get stuck behind massive groups of people (I passionately believe that tour groups over 15 should not be allowed anywhere ever.) Also, make sure you bring a water bottle because there are a bunch of fountains where you can get water in the actual forum and on the Palatine hill. They’re connected to ancient aqueduct lines, and are incredibly convenient and cold. Also, your ticket will get you into both the Coliseum and the Roman Forum for 15 euros. If you get the SUPER ticket, you also have the opportunity to go inside some of the buildings in the Forum and do some virtual-type tours on the Palatine Hill. I don’t think its something you should get unless you’re a huge ancient history fan AND you plan on spending a ton of time in the Roman Forum/Palatine Hill. When I went back a second time with my brother, we just did the Coliseum in the morning and the Roman Forum in the afternoon without all the extras, and it was fine for my brother who doesn’t know a ton about the ancient Romans and isn’t as interested in the history.

I think the Roman Forum is a must see. You can learn a lot about Roman history by studying their buildings and monuments because it gives the modern viewer a sense of what was important to these people. Take your time and try to notice some of the details – the beauty that comes out of these ruined buildings when you give them a second glance just might surprise you.

Andrea Zachrichh studied abroad in Rome, Italy, in Summer 2018:

Italy | The Pantheon

By Andrea Zachrich

The Pantheon

I love the Pantheon, especially as a college student and a person who studies classics. As far as being a college student goes, its completely free which is awesome because many of the sites in Rome can get expensive. You can go back as often as you would like (I actually took 2 of my friends to the Pantheon while they were on vacation in Rome and my brother and went another time on my own). As a Classics enthusiast, the Pantheon is perhaps the best preserved ancient monument in Rome (and maybe even in the world). The structure, floors, and walls are all mostly original (with some restoration work and later Christian additions). While there have been some modifications in terms of the sculptures due to its conversion to a Christian church, what remains can really give you a sense of the grandeur and beauty of ancient Rome, which is difficult to imagine in many of the other ruins from antiquity, even in places like Pompeii and Ostia, where the buildings are very well preserved, because they have lost a lot of the stucco and marble facing that would have made them so incredible.


The Pantheon really has 5 main histories: 3 rebuildings in antiquity, it’s use as a Christian church from the end of antiquity onwards, and it’s modern history as a tourist attraction in Rome. This building was very influential during the Renaissance, and is one of the most popular sites for tourists (and locals) today.

Ancient Times

The word pantheon is actually Greek in origin. It roughly translates into “all the gods”. Pan means “all” and theon means “gods”. It is, as the name suggests, a temple dedicated to all of the gods. Some scholars, however, think that it was dedicated not to all the gods in the Roman pantheon, but to all the planet gods. Due to the removal of the Roman sculpture on the inside, however, we cannot be sure exactly which gods the temple was dedicated to.

The first Pantheon was built during the years 27-25 BC by Marcus Agrippa. Marcus Agrippa Agrippa was a powerful and influential man who was the right hand man of Emperor Augustus, and essentially served as co-emperor. He has a lot of building projects in the Campus Martius (which is where the Pantheon is). Originally, Agrippa had wanted to put a statue of Augustus inside the temple alongside all of the gods, but Augustus would not allow it, stating that he was not a god yet. Instead, Agrippa decided to put statues of Augustus and himself on the outside of the temple in order to show that they were favored by the gods.

This first Pantheon was destroyed in a fire in 80 AD, and rebuilt by the emperor Domitian. This second temple was again destroyed in 110 AD. Very little is known about these earlier buildings. No one is quite sure what they looked like or their decorations. Some ancient authors have written about them, but even these writings lack clues as to what the building may have been like. Some scholars have speculated that the original entrance actually faced in the opposite direction, but we really don’t know.

The Pantheon we can visit today was built during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, sometime from 117-138 AD, although most scholars agree that it was probably finished at some point during the 120s. We’re not sure because Hadrian actually put up the original inscription on the new building that reads (in latin of course) “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, during his third time as consul, made me”. Most believe that he put up this inscription because he wished to associate himself and his rule as emperor with that of Augustus.

Middle Ages and Beyond

The Pantheon was given to the Catholic Church in 609 AD by Emperor Phocas, who was the Byzantine emperor in the east. The temple was then turned into a Catholic church. While the church left most of the exterior and interior marble decoration intact, they did remove the pagan sculpture from the inside. Eventually, the marble that covered the exterior brick you see today was taken, as well as the marble decoration from the pediment. We can’t be entirely sure, but many scholars believe that the decoration on the pediment was that of an eagle based on the holes left from where the decoration was nailed into place.

The interior and exterior dome of the Pantheon, as well as the interior roof of the porch used to be covered with bronze. This bronze was taken by the Catholic church in the mid 1600s during the reign of Pope Urban VIII and was actually used to make canons for the Castel S’ant Angelo (known as Hadrian’s Mausoleum to us Classics nerds), and Bernini’s bronze baldachin that you can see inside of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican today. It must have been a marvelous looking building before the bronze was stripped away (although it is still quite impressive without it).

During the 1600s two bell towers were built on either side of the porch, but they were removed in the late 19th both because they were fairly unattractive (they were nicknamed the “ass’s ears”) and because they did not reflect the original design of the building.

Today, the Pantheon is still used as a Catholic church, although they only have services on Sundays (Saturday evenings for English speakers), and also do not enforce the usual rule of churches in Italy where you must cover your shoulders and legs down to the knee. It is treated much more like an ancient monument and much less like a typical church. It is, however, free to visit because it is still a church.

The Building

The structural integrity of the building has not been compromised in the nearly 2000 years since it was built. The building has managed to survive fires, earthquakes, invasions of the city, and floods without any worry by modern engineers that it will collapse, which really is remarkable.

The building can be divided into two main areas: the porch and the interior (with the dome). The porch is beautiful. It features monolithic columns of granite imported from Egypt. The word monolithic means that these columns are each made using only one piece of stone! They each weigh over 60 tons, and it would have been an incredibly costly and time consuming process to import them. The pink granite columns on the left side, however, are from the Baths of Nero and replaced the original ones in the mid 1600s .

As stated earlier, the interior of the porch roof used to be covered with bronze, and there were two giant statues of Augustus and Agrippa in the niches on the porch. While the decorations from the pediment and the bronze have been stripped away from the porch, it is still a very imposing and beautiful building to look at from the front.

The Pantheon is, of course, most famous for it’s dome. It was the largest dome in the world until the mid 1800s, and is still the largest unsupported concrete dome in the world. Roman engineers were able to accomplish this thanks to a well-made design and their choice of material: roman concrete. Roman concrete is particularly strong because it makes use of volcanic ash as one of the ingredients. The chemical reaction from using this material actually makes the concrete stronger over time. The design has also allowed the dome to stand for as long as it has. The supporting base of the dome is very wide, at 21 feet thick. As it climbs upwards, the concrete dome gets thinner and thinner until it’s only about 4 feet wide so that there is less weight to support as it gets taller. The dome is a perfect half sphere. The diameter across is as long as the dome is tall from floor to oculus. There is an oculus that’s about 8 meters wide at the top of the dome to allow in light and air. The photos show what the inside looks like today.

Two tombs of Italian kings (and one of their wives), and the tomb of the painter Raphael reside inside of the Pantheon. The tomb of Raphael is surprisingly simple for such a great painter; it simply has his coffin and statue of St. Mary that one of his students made. Even though his tomb changes the ancient design, it seems fitting that he would be laid to rest in such a beautiful place.

While we did not get to experience it while we were there, Professor Gurval says that his favorite time to visit the Pantheon is when it rains because rain will actually fall though the oculus (and all the tourists usually clear out). If you look closely, you can find drains built into the floor directly under the oculus. Originally, these drains ran out into fountains that lined the portico that surrounded the Pantheon.

Why I’m So Obsessed with it

The Pantheon is easily my favorite place in Rome. Besides having a courtyard on the outside with a fountain where you can fill up your water bottle and being close to my favorite gelato place in Rome (Giolitti’s), it really is one of the few places in Rome where you can really get a sense of the grandeur and wealth of ancient Rome. Most of the other buildings from antiquity are in ruins, and when they are not, they have been stripped of their decoration. The Pantheon still has all of its original interior marble decoration on the floors and the walls, and the impressive dome still stands in near perfect condition. It’s hard to walk into the forum, or even the coliseum, and fully grasp the wealth of Rome when all you see are dilapidated structures devoid of any sort of decoration, but walking into the Pantheon really shows you what ancient Rome would have looked like, and you get a sense of how powerful and wealthy the empire really was. It also helped me envision what the other sites would have looked like their prime, with beautiful, colored marble decorations and statues decorating the inside. The Pantheon may be one of the best preserved ancient monuments in the world, and it really allows you to get a taste of ancient Rome with much more accuracy than many of the other ancient sites.

Best Time to Visit

Unfortunately for those people who are not morning people, the best time to visit the Pantheon is right at 8:30 AM when it opens. I managed to drag myself here this early, and it really was incredible compared to the other times when I went in the middle of the day. There were maybe 20 other people inside with me (compared to the hundreds during other times). With less people there, you can really examine the floor and the walls (especially if you’re short like me), and admire the tombs and decorations without other people crowding you in. Additionally, with less people you really grasp just how large the structure is, it seems much smaller when you’re surrounded by people. The emptiness really allows you to take it all in.

In short, I love this place. It’s so well-preserved and really a beautiful site, and it’s completely free to visit. Definitely make sure to stop by if you’re Rome! It’s worth taking the time to see.

Italy | Roman (and Italian) Foods You have to Try

By Andrea Zachrich

Just like many large cities, Rome has some food that is distinctly Roman. Unlike many big cities, everything I tried that was distinctly Roman was delicious, so I thought I would made a list of my favorites. I have also included some Italian foods on this list that you should also try while you’re in Rome or Italy. A lot of these things you can only get in Rome (or they are done the best there), so be on the look out on menus for these items. I don’t have pictures of everything, as I’m not really one to take photos of my meals, but I tried to snag some when I remembered or when it looked particularly delicious.

  • Suppli – THIS IS MY FAVORITE FOOD IN THE WHOLE WORLD. Basically, it’s a ball of risotto rice that’s breaded and fried and it’s bomb. There’s often cheese or meat in the middle. My favorite flavor is just the classic red sauce with cheese, but they come in all kinds of flavors such as cacio e pepe(cheese and pepper). Another variation is called aracini (found in Southern Italy and Sicily), that’s shaped more like teardrop, but is basically the same concept – a fried ball of risotto rice. The picture below is of aracini from Palermo because I ate the suppli too fast everytime to get a picture. It’s usually served as an appetizer or you often find them as snacks in to-go restaurants for around a euro. My Italian friend recommended them to me, and I think I had one just about every day.
  • Cacio e Pepe – a fan favorite for dinner in our study abroad group. This dish can be best described as adult mac ‘n cheese. It’s spaghetti noodles with cheese (usually grana or parmesan) and black pepper mixed with a little bit of the used pasta water to make in more creamy. It sounds simple, but its very good.
  • Gricia – This is cacio e pepe but with meat added – usually pork belly or pork cheek. It’s not as common as cachio e pepe, but I like it more because the meat adds a kind of smoky flavor.
  • Carbonara – very similar to Gricia, but with egg added in the sauce. This is more common on menus and considered distinctly Roman.
  • Amatriciana (fun word to say) – This is another pasta dish similar to the ones described above, but it’s made with a red sauce instead of a cheese sauce. There’s usually pork belly or pork cheek in the sauce (although it often says bacon on menu translations into English).
  • Fried artichokes (carciofi is the Italian word for artichoke) – These are very good. I couldn’t tell you why, but these kind of taste like potato chips, but better.
  • Saltimbocca – I was a little skeptical of this at first, but it grew on me. It’s veal with ham and herbs (usually sage). It can be a little more expensive, but it’s pretty tasty.
  • Pizza – you can’t go to Italy without eating pizza. Many places actually serve pizza by the weight instead of by the piece (it’s awesome and usually a really good deal). As you can tell by the photos below, we ate a lot of pizza!
  • Pasta alla Vongole – If you like clams, this dish is for you. Before I came to Italy, clams weren’t really my favorite. I thought they tasted like you stuck your head in the ocean and opened your mouth. BUT, I really enjoyed vongole whenever I had it in Italy. It’s in-shell clams in a simple garlic sauce tossed with pasta. Best part of about eating it in Italy is that it’s usually not more than a euro more than the rest of the pasta dishes, unlike in the US where clams can get expensive!
  • Charcuterie Board – You cannot go to Italy without eating some meats and cheeses. There’s various different names for this kind of appetizer in Italy, but keep your eyes out for something with a bunch of different meat and cheese names on the menu. Or, go to a salumeria (meat shop), get the ingredients to make your own, and go sit down by the Tiber or another scenic spot and have a picnic.
  • Bruschetta – a classic. Toasted bread with olive oil, salt, and toppings. Often fresh tomatoes or olives. Some restaurants get creative, but I prefer the classics tomato and olive oil.
  • Focaccia – This bread is everything good in life. It’s a flat, simple bread often flavored with herbs and olive oil. The most classic ones will just have olive oil and salt, some have herbs such as rosemary, and some even get more creative and bake olives or cheese into the bread. The best ones have a slightly crispy outside and a soft, fluffy inside.
  • Gelato with panna – well, of course! You probably know what gelato is, but I view it as basically upgraded ice cream. Panna is the Italian version of whip cream, it doesn’t have the pressurized air, so you’re basically getting another scoop of gelato.
  • Tiramisu – If you’ve never tried tiramisu, you’re missing out. It’s ladyfingers that are dipped in coffee and layered with a creamy filling. Good news too – you can make this at home fairly easily!
  • Canolis – This is more of a Sicilian specialty, but I had some delicious ones while in Rome too. I grew up eating canolis. My great-grandma used to make a million little tiny ones for holidays. It’s a shell of dough that’s fried until its crunchy filled with a ricotta cheese and sugar filling. Sicilian ones (which are the ones you want) often dip the shells in chocolate and have sugared orange slices on the filling.
  • Cornetto – This is the Italian version of a French croissant. They’re usually a little less sweet, and can come in more flavors and with more fillings such as marzipan and nutella. When my brother and I visited relatives in Sicily, this is what they served us for breakfast every morning (we were very spoiled) and I think it’s usually viewed as a breakfast food.
  • Granita – picture a slushie, but it’s actually made with real, fresh fruit, and you get a granita. These things are so freaking good. My favorite flavors are strawberry and lemon. I especially like them because they’re not too sweet (with the exception of chocolate, I usually stick to more sour and bitter desserts). In Rome, you’ll usually see them in a spinning slushie machine similar to ones in the US. In Southern Italy (where they’re better, honestly) they scoop them like gelato out of metal containers in a freezer. They’re both delicious, and a nice, cheap treat to cool you down in the Roman summer heat!
  • Cappuccino – Coffee in Italy is amazing. Again, you probably already know what a cappuccino is, but if you don’t, its espresso with steamed milk usually topped with a little foam. You can often find them for under two euros in Rome, but only if you eat at the counter of the bar instead of sitting down (which you should!)
    • SIDE NOTE: Italian servers will correct you if you do not pronounce espresso correctly. It’s es-press-o with a “s” in there, not ex-press-o (no “x”).
  • Crema di Cafe – I think I might have touched on this in an earlier post, but this was my second favorite new food item I found in Rome (with suppli being the first, of course). Picture a really strong and not overly sweet coffee milkshake that’s often so thick you eat with a spoon, yum!

This was the best Crema di Cafe I had in Rome, and it was in a cafe inside a church! Weird.

Go forth and eat lots of good food! There’s amazing food to be found all over Italy, and I had some of the best food I’ve eaten in my life while I was there (and writing this post really made me crave some!). Make sure to try these Roman and Italian dishes while you’re there, because some of these you can’t get in the US (or, at least, I haven’t found them yet)!

Italy | Public Transportation

By Andrea Zachrich

Coming from Los Angeles, where the public transportation is seldom used and pretty inconvenient, I thought the public transportation in Rome was awesome. Yes, it was almost never on time, and yes, it was often crowded with people who couldn’t seem to figure out a bus map, but the whole month I was there it got me where I needed to be mostly on time.

So there’s three kinds of public transportation in Rome: the subway, the busses, and the trams. We mainly used the busses and the trams. There are only a few subway lines in Rome because every time they attempt to build a new line, some ancient monument or site is found and they have to stop construction. They’re attempting to build a new one by the Coliseum at the moment, but it has been slow going. They also don’t have any subway lines that go under the river and into Trastevere. I only used the subway twice the entire month I was there, so I didn’t find it particularly useful, but it could be if you’re staying near a stop. The trams are awesome, but there’s only 2 lines – the 3 and the 8. BUT, both lines go to very convenient places. The 8 ends in one of the main piazzas of Rome – Piazza Venezia – and goes to Trastevere, and the 3 has stops near the Coliseum, Largo Argentina (where Julius Caesar was murdered!) and other ancient sites. Another advantage of the tram is that it’s almost always on time. If the tram gets you to your location, it would be my first choice of public transportation to use. The busses are the most extensive type of public transportation in Rome and can get you almost anywhere in the city that you want to go. The one downfall to them, however, is that they are constantly running late. Sometimes they’re running so late that you think they’re on time because they get there at the time it says the bus after them should be there. There’s a ton of tourists on busses, because this is the form of transportation that stops at many of the main tourist sites, but as long as you’re not going as peak hours it’s usually isn’t unbearably crowded.

What I did

So, I was there for a month, and I knew I was going to be using public transportation extensively. If we ever used the bus as a class, those tickets were covered, but everything else was our own responsibility to pay for. So I decided to get a month long unlimited bus pass. Our program director offered to reimburse us the cost of all the tickets we would use as a class (16 euros) if we decided to purchase our own pass (which was 38 euros). It was a great deal. I definitely used the bus/tram more that the 15 times I paid for (in terms of individual tickets) and it was nice to have the peace of mind that comes with knowing I could always use it if i needed it. Also, with our apartment a 20-25 minute walk from where we met every morning, the bus pass was a god send. I used it to get around town when friends visited, my brother was here, or I just wanted to go out and explore. It made exploring Rome easy and fast, and I’m very glad I purchased one.

What you should do

If you’re just there for a few days or a week, and know you’re going to be using the public transportation system a lot, I would get one of the passes that will let you have unlimited rides. I think they have 1 day, 2 day, 3 day, and 1 week passes. If you don’t think you’re going to be using public transportation that much, then you can also buy individual tickets. They’re 1.50 euro and are good for 90 minutes. If you’re there for a month like we were, I would get the month pass. It really depends on the length of time you’re going to be there and the amount of public transportation you think you’re going to use.

Where do you buy bus tickets?

Italy is very unique in that you cannot buy bus tickets at the bus, and you cannot buy bus tickets at the bus station (unless you’re at one of the main ones such as Termini). You have to get them at Tabacchi. In English, these are translated into Tobacco Shops, and, even though they sell cigarettes, they also sell a lot of other items as well. Tabacchi are the place to go for stamps, snacks, bus tickets, occasionally SIM cards etc. It’s basically just a very specific convenience shop. Look for a white “T” enclosed in a blue square, and they should have public transportation tickets!

A photo of a typical Tabacchi shop I stole from the Internet

Some tips for the public transportation

Part of the reason using public transportation in Rome is so easy is because you can use Google maps to tell you the route you have to take. This is awesome, because in many places the public transportation system isn’t mapped out on an app like this. You type in where you want to go, and Google maps will tell you how to get to the station, how many stops you have, which stop to get off of, and how to get to your destination. They also usually provide more than one option of how to get there. I included some photos below.

So the way the tickets work is that you get them stamped by a machine as soon as you walk on the bus as a way to start the 90 minute time. You should always stamp your ticket. I know it seems like you might be able to get away with not stamping it and then reusing the ticket, but one of the students on my trip got a nearly 100 euro fine for not stamping her ticket (even though she had one!) If you have the passes for more than 1 trip, the officer will scan it to make sure its still valid (but they’re not really looking for you because most of the times tourists with those tickets don’t abuse them).

Another tip: watch you stuff closely. They’re aren’t a ton of pickpockets on the streets of Rome, but they are a lot on the busses and trams! One of the students in our group got here wallet stolen by a group of pick pocketers who had a baby with them, so don’t assume that just because people look like a family on vacation that they won’t take your stuff. Always zip your bags and hold it in front of you.

Public transportation in Rome is super easy! Have fun and be safe 🙂