When in Rome...

Headshot of Ian Donahue.
Ian Donahue
March 27, 2023
Castel Sant'Angelo is illuminated by bridge lights in the dead of night.

The original meaning of the phrase “All roads lead to Rome” was meant in the literal sense: the interconnected road system of the Roman Empire did in fact all lead back to Rome. The meaning of the phrase “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” refers to a conversation between St. Augustine and St. Ambrose. When Augustine came to Milan from Rome, he was surprised to see his new congregation did not fast on Saturdays. St. Ambrose then told him that “Romanum venio, ieiuno Sabbato; hic sum, non ieiuno: sic etiam tu, ad quam forte ecclesiam veneris, eius morem serva, si cuiquam non vis esse scandalum nec quemquam tibi.” This roughly translates to “When I go to Rome, I fast on Saturday, but here I do not. Do you also follow the custom of whatever church you attend, if you do not want to give or receive scandal.” If the history is right and my sources are not lying, that is how the story goes. The reason I bring up these two phrases is despite their overuse Rome was the center of the world for a long period of time. How can one really describe Rome? Augustus called it a city of marble, but I call it my home for this semester. And it occurred to me that after blog posts detailing my travel, I had yet to actually talk about Rome itself so today I seek to correct that. So hello, welcome back. Let us talk about Rome.

            As a lover of history, I don’t think I have to explain the joy I feel walking the streets of Rome every day. Of course, there is the Pantheon, Roman Forum, Colosseum, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and the countless churches of splendor on almost every block. I’m not here to give you the best hits of Rome, but if I didn’t acknowledge them then I would not be giving you everything there is to see. Castel Sant’Angelo and the Vatican City are ten minutes away from my dorm and passing those everyday puts my walk in Ithaca to shame. Now that I’ve listed the heavy hitters, we can move to the things that you may overlook or not know about. Three of my favorite places that I’ve been to are the Aurelian Walls, The Milvian Bridge and the Villa Borghese. The Aurelian Walls is what you think it is based on the name: A wall. But not just any wall! During the Crisis of the Third Century, the Roman Empire was almost on the verge of collapse. Multiple invasions from Barbarian tribes, multiple usurpers, an economy in shambles, rapid inflation, and two breakaway states within the Empire itself. It was during the height of this period that a new emperor was crowned: Aurelian. I won’t go into detail but this guy single handily reversed the entire situation and restored Rome in five years, and that is not an exaggeration. He was given the epitaph Restorer of the World for a reason. Anyway, he built a wall around Rome to protect it. And it is cool. Visit it.

            The Milvian Bridge is another fun historical note. In the midst of yet another Roman Civil War, Emperor Constantine decisively defeated his imperial pretender at the Milvian Bridge. The significance of this battle is that with Constantine securing the throne, Christianity was made the official religion of the Roman Empire. We all know why that’s significant. Unlike the Aurelian Walls, the Milvian Bridge is still a normal bridge. But walking across it, it made the world seem small for a short moment. The Villa Borghese is not an infrastructure related to a Roman Emperor but instead a large park. And if you have read my previous blogs, you know I love a good park. I’ve visited the Villa Borghese multiple times in the past few weeks and each time it is a beautiful experience, especially since the weather has been particularly picturesque lately at a warm 65 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny. The best part of the park? Boating! In a small pond in the center of the park, you and three other friends can rowboat for four euro in twenty-minute timeslots. It is an absolute must do, no exceptions.

            But no city guide is complete without food recommendations. Before I go on, I need to profess that in Rome, you will be eating pasta and pizza multiple times every week. Is this a bad thing? If you have dietary restrictions, yes. Is the variety a bit lacking? Yes. Is it some of the best pizza and pasta ever? Most definitely. I also cannot leave out sandwiches in this section because those are also incredible. Since I take classes during the week and do not want to blow all my money, I frequent a small group of cheap and quick places. For pasta, Pasta Imperiale and Pasta di Roma are down the street from the IES Abroad center, give student discounts and are delicious. Pastasciutta is another solid pasta spot. Rosamunda is a pizza place in a similar situation and also incredible, though it is a different style compared to New York. I would also be shunned by my friend if I left out his favorite spot: Il Gianfornaio. Alice Pizza is also great, but that is a chain of stores across Rome, but by no means bad! For sandwiches, Antico Vinaio, La Salumeria and Bono Bottega Nostrana are all great spots. And now dessert. Gelato is key in this city and every king needs a crown. And that crown? Giolitti. The only thing I can say is that the Nutella flavor is just frozen Nutella. The only complaint I have about food in Rome is the lack of bagels. However, I stumbled across an amazing bakery called Dolce Maniera which is underground. Chocolate filled croissant for eighty cents isn’t a bad substitute.

            The next thing I want to talk about is ease of travel across the city and beyond. The public transport in Rome is… iffy. Due to Rome essentially being a city built on top of itself for thousands of years, it makes creating new metro lines tough, so there are not many. The bus system is not too shabby but get used to cobblestone roads and slow service. Walking is my go-to method of getting across the city, and I feel like that’s the way it is supposed to be. But the real star of the show is the regional train network: Trenitalia. Getting to places like Florence, Tivoli or Naples is simple and easy. Tickets are reasonably priced and service is frequent. Just make sure to get there more than five minutes before it leaves.

            Rome. It really is the eternal city. I miss New York but walking the narrow streets, watching aggressive drivers and if I close my eyes while eating pizza, I’m almost home. The one thing I truly miss is that Ithaca snow but when I told this to my friend Molly she gave me a death stare considering the college had gotten four feet of snow and ten degree weather. The moral of this blog post? Go to Rome. Simple as that.

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Headshot of Ian Donahue.

Ian Donahue

Hey! My name is Ian and I am a junior at Ithaca College, where I major in history meaning long papers are my specialty. I play on my school's club ultimate frisbee team and we even went to the national tournament! I am from New York City so navigating public transit is a refined skill of mine. I am beyond excited and grateful for the opportunity to study abroad in Rome, eat amazing food and see places I've dreamed of seeing my whole life.

2023 Spring
Home University:
Ithaca College
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