The Mole Diaries: Rome (Volume 2)
What to bring
There are a couple of essentials you don’t want to be without when you start your new Roman life.
1. An EU laptop power cord and a standard EU adaptor. I bought a laptop cord online before I left. When you’ve just arrived and are flat hunting the last thing you need is for your electronics to run out of charge!
2. Warm clothing! Rome is not blistering hot all year round and the temperature drops quite rapidly in mid-November. Make sure you pack a winter coat and a jumper or two. The must have winter-fashion item in Rome is ankle boots, so if you fancy doing as the Romans do get yourself a pair! Remember that any trip home during the year is an ideal opportunity to swap your clothes.
3. Bring more casual clothes. Italians dress more casually than their British counterparts, even on nights out. You can do without bringing heels. You might also want to bring as many things to wear as you can because Italian high-street shops are generally more expensive than those in the UK.
4.A few passport sized photos. You will definitely need these when getting your University card and any other Erasmus cards.
There is a huge demand for student accommodation in the capital but also lots of dishonest landlords, so to find a good deal you will need to start planning early.
To avoid the mad rush for rooms before the start of term, go on a trip to Rome at Easter or after exams in June. You can probably be fussier about what you want before the summer as the best flats will still be available.
You should expect to pay around €450-550 to rent a single room. Single-sex flats are more popular than mixed flats and some rooms are advertised for both students and young workers (lavoratrici).
If you are not sure where to start looking in terms of areas, I would say the best areas for students are Piazza Bologna, Parioli/Pinciano, Salario/Trieste and Monti. It is best to avoid all areas around the Termini station, such as San Lorenzo, because they are not safe at night. Start by looking at adverts online to get a feel for what is available.
The notice boards at the Sapienza University campus are also covered in adverts.
Picking up the phone is by far the best way to arrange viewings. Make a list of questions to ask the landlord just in case you forget some when trying to speak in your best Italian! Are guests allowed? How much are the bills? These should be in the range of €30-45, and might even be included in the rent. Is the flat non-smoking? Italians smoke more than us so if you would prefer a non-smoking flat ask about this. Does the landlord live in the flat? This may seem like an odd question but some adverts don’t make this obvious. I went to view a room and discovered that the old lady who was showing me round actually lived there. She wanted a student to rent the spare room to help cover her rent!
Definitely try to get a contract. Nowadays it’s quite common for Roman landlords to insist on just having a ‘friendly agreement’. This is so they can avoid paying taxes but it gives you no legal protection. Also check if the length of the contract is negotiable if you want to rent for less than 12 months.
Improving your language skills
If you don’t manage to live with Italians it may not be the disaster you think it is. What matters is who you socialise with. Some British students purposefully avoid mixing with other Erasmus students so they don’t speak too much English. In my experience it’s worth keeping an open mind.
Going to Erasmus Student Network events is a great way to meet like-minded people who you could travel with during your months abroad. ESN also organises a Tandem language exchange and free Italian film nights. I joined a student Amnesty Group and from this I was able to go to talks and events and speak loads of Italian! Other friends of mine met Italians at Couchsurfers meetings. There are plenty of opportunities to speak Italian constantly even though Rome is a tourist city and Romans are usually happy to help you practice!
Studying at Sapienza is an experience to say the least!
What surprised me most when I went to my faculty Erasmus office to register was that you don’t actually have to enrol for modules. The username and password you get sent is to be used to book your exams on infostud (there are both winter and summer sessions when you can sit these). If you don’t have to take an exam you might want to get a letter of attendance signed by your professors.
The lectures themselves are usually long and overcrowded. In my French linguistics lecture some unlucky people (and myself) had to sit in the aisle and on the windowsill for two hours. But there are ways to make going to lectures easier for yourself. Introduce yourself to your lecturers and find out when their office hours are. They are happy to give extra help to Erasmus students.
If by mid-November you are still sorting your learning agreement, don’t worry! Sapienza is not known for its organisation. The other state Universities in Rome like Tor Vergata and Roma Trehave a reputation for being less chaotic! The disadvantage of doing Erasmus at these Universities is that they are not as centrally located as Sapienza.
The transport network in Rome is pretty good (certainly compared to that of my Northumbrian village!). A good thing to buy when you are using public transport daily is a student abbonamento. This €35 monthly subscription card gives you unlimited travel on any mode of transport within Rome!
Although there are not many Metro stops right in the centre, it is still a great idea to live near one of the metro lines. This would mean that you could choose to live miles away from your University but still get to your lectures in 15 minutes. There are night buses on every day of the week but they are more frequent at weekends. If you know you’re going to be travelling back late, plan your journey home carefully and write down the nightbus times, or you might find yourself with a long wait! On the Roma transport website, there is even a tool which allows you to plan your journey by entering your destination. I used this almost every day when I was in Rome and could not have done without it!
On a more negative note, pickpocketing really is rife on public transport, and Rome has been crowned the city with pickpockets in the world, after Barcelona. You need to have your wits about you when in big crowds.
Best places to visit outside Rome
Rome is a great place from which to explore Italy because it’s so well connected. ESN organises regular trips to all the big cities, although most students prefer to plan their own. The best place to go near Rome is Tivoli. The best thing there is Villa Adriana, Emperor Hadrian’s summer retreat which has been turned into a lovely archaeological site. I enjoyed visiting Viterbo (north Lazio) because it had a great medieval historic centre.
You can get to both these places on a COTRAL coach, which is cheaper than getting the regional train.
I would definitely plan a trip to Naples, it is worth going just to taste that Pizza! If you fancy seeing some Tuscan landscape, Siena is your best bet. After sipping cappuccino in the main piazza, go up the Torre Del Mangia and enjoy the all-round views! Show your Italian student card at all the museums you visit and pay a reduced price. You can also get hold of a Cartafreccia. This is like a free railcard which allows you to get good deals like half price high speed train tickets!
Where to eat on a student budget
My first tip would be to look around for the best meal deals. There are many restaurants which now which offer a starter, main and dessert for a set price.
‘Carlo Menta’ in Trastevere is a student favourite, and for just €10 at lunchtime you get to taste some of the best Italian food in Rome. The Trastevere area is full of cute restaurants and it’s less touristy than the historic centre. For aperitivo I loved going to ‘Meeting Place’ in Piazza Bologna (also €10 all inclusive). If after eating out you fancy having some drinks there is a bar called ‘La Cuccagna’ just off Piazza Navona where you can get €3.50 cocktails on a Tuesday evening.
Top 10 things to do in Rome
1. Visit the Colosseum. This will always be my personal favourite. It’s great to walk past in the evening as the lighting makes it look stunning. Handy tip: Book online to jump the queues!
2. Grab an ice cream at ‘Gelateria della Palma’ in via della Maddalena. La Palma boasts over 150 flavours, with a good range of soya and lactose free choices too. The ice cream is just as amazing as the amount of flavours!
3. Visit the Trevi Fountain and be a shameless tourist. It is so much more visually impressive in real life than on any postcard you’ve seen!
4. Have a walk up the Gianicolo Hill, one of the best places from which to see views of the whole city.
5. Relax in the peaceful Villa Borghese gardens and book to see the art collections in the 17th Century Borghese Villa.
6. Have a walk around the Monti disctict. Full of quirky cafes, good value bars and cool markets, Monti is the perfect place for students to socialise. The district even holds its own festival in October, the ‘Ottobrata Monticiana’.
7. Go on a trip to Ostia Antica, said to be one of Rome’s best kept secrets. Located near the coast, the ruins of the ancient harbour city are in better condition than Pompeii.
8. Go to the open air markets at Campo de’ Fiori and try some fresh food. Don’t forget to have a peep in all the interesting food shops and alimentari’s on the way there!
9. Visit the Catacombs of Priscilla on Via Salaria, some of the oldest catacombs in Rome. Amazingly, there are 13km of underground tunnels!
10. Walk up the long staircase to the Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of heaven, off Piazza Venezia. On a tour I was told that Romans used to throw unwelcome wedding guests down this stairway!