Monaco, Take 2

I visited Monaco for the second time with a friend today, and maybe it was because we arrived at a fancy train station, or perhaps it was the magic of sunshine and blue skies after weekends of rain, but the principality looked so much prettier this time.

We wound our way down several hills to the port area, where we were very confused by some sort of official bike race composed entirely of children. After climbing up a hill, we stopped for a well-deserved, delicious lunch of bread and cheese before meandering along a path bordered by lovely flora and a view of the Mediterranean. (Just fyi, I am neither a part of the flora nor the sea.)

I was so excited about the flowers, I got a bit distracted and my friend thought she’d lost me (Sorry, friend!).

By chance, we ended up in front of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, our intended destination, so we bought tickets (thank you, student discounts) and went inside. We explored the aquarium section first, which was full of cute, stupid-looking fish, sharks, seahorses, jellyfish, creepy-looking eels, and neutral-looking anemones and coral. Once we’d finished looking through the two-story aquarium, we walked through the actual museum area and then the rooftop level, which included tortoises and a panoramic view.

Somehow, we’d managed to spend two hours in the museum, so we decided it was time to head back to the train station. We made pit stops at a Starbucks so that my friend could get some coffee (I’m telling you, Starbucks are very rare in Europe) and then at an itty-bitty playground so that I could bounce on a spring rider because I’m 21 and an adult.

When we returned to Nice, we went to Fenocchio to get gelato—and holy crap, I have never seen so many flavors in my life. They ranged from typical ones like vanilla, chocolate, lemon, and mango, and then more unusual ones like cactus, Bailey’s, chocolate chili, thyme, and Irish coffee. I ended up getting lychee and coconut, which actually tasted like the fruits, before hopping back onto the tram so that we could go home.

Lessons Learned

It’s been two weeks since my last update (oops), and I’m running out of inspiration, so I’m going to make a post out of realizations that I’ve sort of cobbled together over the past six months. It’s a work-in-progress because I’m not done studying abroad, but voilà :

  • International students are all incredibly friendly and nice, because they know that you’re in the same situation as them—thrust into a random country, miles away from your home. So it’s actually pretty easy to befriend international students. Europeans also tend to be more inclined to physical affection than Americans are. Even if you just met someone a few hours ago, they’ll hug or cheek-kiss you.
  • Apparently, telling people that I’m from the US isn’t enough, and I’ve had it people asking me what my “country of origin” is. Clearly, POC can’t be born in the US. So why don’t you ask a white American where they’re from? Oh, right, because we like to pretend that indigenous peoples don’t exist and that white people were never immigrants. Carry on.
  • You’re expected to be a lot more independent: nobody tells you anything. You have to either ask or figure things out for yourself. Example: when you get hopelessly lost, shyness goes out the window. (I’m glaring at you, OFII. Even police officers didn’t know how to find your elusive office building, probably because you’re managed by incompetents who stick two different addresses on the envelope to ensure that you get lost.)
  • It’s amazing how quickly studying abroad makes you go from “I want an A!” to “Eh, whatever, I just need to pass.”
  • Being an international student here is completely different from being an assumed international student at R-MC. Here, European students ask me about English words and pronunciations, inherently trusting my knowledge of the English language because I’m a native speaker. Whereas at R-MC, I legitimately had a boy in my creative writing class tell me that it’s nothing short of a miracle that I have a natural grasp of “English grammatical syntax” and that I can “identify and correct English pronunciations without second-guessing [myself.]” He even said that my poetry has “a sort of redefined Eastern essence,” whatever on earth that’s supposed to mean.
  • Hearing small children speak French is adorable. (And somewhat jealousy-inducing because their accent is better than mine will ever be.)
  • Some people will tell you not to use Facebook while abroad. Don’t listen to them. Sure, it might make you homesick and overly attached to your laptop, but it’s the easiest way to keep in touch with your friends. And unlike texting, it’s free, so it’s a good medium for making plans with your newly acquired international friends.
  • Since the dorm kitchen doesn’t have an oven, I’ve learned that basically every vegetable can be stir-fried. Cooking for myself isn’t so bad, either, because I can choose what I want to eat and don’t have to suffer through questionable Estes/Commons fare.
  • A lot of European international students are insanely multilingual and tend to speak a minimum of three languages. America, step up your game and stop judging people if they speak English with an accent.
  • Google maps and paper maps are lifesavers.

I “Study” Abroad

A little bird remarked that people might like a picture or two of myself somewhere, and she has a point: for a blog that’s supposed to document me studying abroad, it’s a bit photographically lacking in that department.

So, without further ado, here’re some photos of my awkward, smiling self, conscientiously studying away in Europe:

My Final Full Day in Rome

I spent the better part of today’s gray, cold morning exploring the entirety of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Every time I see ruins, I’m fascinated by the idea of all that history, of all those past lives and civilizations. That’s probably why it took me about three hours to walk through the sprawling labyrinth of ruins, because I had to stop to read all the signs, absorb my surroundings, and go inside the Palatine Museum.

In addition to all the ruins your heart could ever desire, thanks to Palatine Hill, you can also get panoramic views of the city and the Forum. It’s too bad the Forum was abandoned during the Middle Ages, because I can only imagine how impressive it must’ve looked in its original state.

Leaving the archeological site was like walking out of the Colosseum; after surrounding yourself by ruins, it’s the strangest feeling to see cars and streets and traffic lights again. If you ever want to immerse yourself in disorientated anachronism, go to Rome.

After lunch, I discovered that it had started raining, so I took shelter inside the Museum Capitolini, although I still maintain that the 15 euro admission fee was a bit of a rip-off. (I bought a ticket online for 14 euros that not only granted me access me to the Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine Hill, but also allowed me to skip all the lines.) Don’t get me wrong, the museum was gorgeous, even if I started to get a little creeped out by the endless lines of marble busts: I couldn’t shake off the feeling that they were all staring at me.

Despite my aching feet and shoulder, on my way back, I noticed that whoever said that cities look different in the rain was right: the River Tiber took on this magical van Gogh-Starry Night-quality that my camera didn’t really do justice.

Feeling Small and Insignificant

If you ever want to feel like a small, insignificant, temporary blip in time, then a visit to the Baths of Caracalla and the Colosseum ought to do that while simultaneously leaving you in a state of awe.

The Baths of Caracalla are in ruins now (I mean, what else would you expect?), but they’re nonetheless still impressive: the bath complex even takes up more space than the Colosseum does. Wandering through what’s left of the walls and mosaic floors, trying to picture life during CE 212-216, was a pretty sobering experience. I mean, the baths have been on Earth for 2000 years and I’ve been here for twenty. Looking through every hole in the wall was like looking through a window at a different world.

After getting a little trigger-happy with my camera, I hurried over to the Colosseum for my tour. The online ticket mislabeled it as an underground dungeon tour, when in fact the tour led us underground and then up to the third ring. The building’s been pilfered by looters, ravaged by barbarians, and damaged by earthquakes, but it’s still standing today, nearly two millennia later, which is rather remarkable considering it only took eight years to build.

Fun (disturbing) facts:

  1. Did you know that arena, which derives from the Latin word harena, means sand? If you know anything at all about Roman history, I think you can guess why that’s relevant to the Flavian Ampitheater.
  2. Most gladiators died of, surprise surprise, infections! Salt water has its limits.
  3. “Emperor Commodus filled the arena with a large number of ostriches and decapitated them with arrows.”
  4. “Gladiator blood, mopped up with a sponge, fed a profitable business…drinking human blood was considered to be a remedy against epilepsy.”

(I take no responsibility for anything that’s inaccurate. Blame that on the tour guide and the plaques.)

It’s always astonished me how humans managed to build such massive structures thousands of years ago, without the aid of modern technology. Despite all of our flaws, humans can be incredible, resilient creatures.

Walking through Rome

  1. I began my day at the Largo di Torre Argentina cat sanctuary, which is a set of ruins that house about 250 cats. A lady in the human area gave me a brief tour and asked if I wanted to meet the disabled cats, to which I replied, “Sure!” So she introduced me to 10-20 cats, and I kept making sympathetic “oh” noises, because what’s the proper response to meeting cats who are deaf, blind, missing limbs, neurological, or some combination of the four? One cat in particular, Grumpy, demanded the pets, so I happily obliged. (His name may have stemmed from the fact that, if you stopped petting him, he glared up at you until you gave in. I only escaped because he got hungry.)

  1. I looked around a multistory bookstore (yes, I know I can’t read Italian, and no, I don’t care because I’m a bookworm) before setting off to find the Pantheon.

  1. Then I moseyed over to my next destination, Piazza Navone.

  1. Pulling my map out multiple times and thus looking like a bamboozled tourist, I found the Trevi Fountain (which was sadly undergoing construction) and meandered over to the Piazza Spagna to climb the Spanish Steps, or the Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti in Italian.

  1. I tried to find the Mausoleum of Augustus, because it’s in the same general direction I’d have to take to get back to the apartment, but I managed to get lost and ended up in the Piazza del Popolo instead. That was fine, though, because I found the Leonardo da Vinci Museum and got to pay a student discount of 8 euros.

I found some other places, and a church, but being the good tourist I am, I don’t know/don’t remember their names. By this time, though, I was getting a bit grumpy because I really needed to go to the bathroom but couldn’t find one, and my feet were starting to hate me after I used them for seven hours, so I decided to head back.

A Six-Hour Exploration

After reluctantly forcing myself out of a comfortable bed big enough to fit three of me and then poring over a map and guidebook, I set off to explore the city. Being the competent adult that I am, I confusedly walked in a circle by crossing the Tiber Island twice before finally figuring out that, if I wanted to see Ancient Rome, I was heading in the wrong direction.

Eventually, my meandering brought me to the archaeological ruins of the Portico of Octavia, which were pretty awesome.

Next, I found my way to the free area of the Musei Capitolini (I wasn’t enough of a nerd to wait in a line that stretched all the way across the piazza), where I marveled over the rooftop view of Rome and happily took advantage of the free bathrooms.

(I’m too tired/too lazy to figure out how to write this post without repeatedly using transitions, so I’m numbering them now.)

  1. I reluctantly climbed up the Victor Emmanuel II Monument’s hundreds of steps, and once I’d reached the top, I walked into the Basilica St. Maria In Aracoeli.

  1. I stumbled upon a photo exhibition of Germany, snagged a free bag of gummies, and then explored the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento di Roma. All the Roman history was pretty cool, except for the sad fact that I can’t read Italian.

  1. A revisit of the Musei Capitolini area led me to stumble upon a hill with a ridiculously gorgeous panoramic view of the Roman Forum.

  1. I paid 12 euros to get into the Museo dei Fori Imperiali (more than what I spent on food for the entire day, sigh). But the view was well worth it, and as I looked around the museum, I amused myself with the knowledge that the chunks of marble in there are older than the US.

  1. Before walking home, I found a tiny church, whose name I don’t remember. By the time I reached my room, I’d been on my feet for 6 hours, so I figured I deserved a rest.

PS. Usually, I prefer weekly updates, but I might just do daily posts for Rome; otherwise, I’m going to forget what happened.