Solo Trip to Rome for Language School

Apr 21st, 2014, 11:04 AM
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Solo Trip to Rome for Language School

After a fabulous vacation in Rome in November 2013, I was having a hard time getting the city out of my mind. I had barely unpacked before I started stalking airfares for a potential return. When I received a Kayak alert for a $780 RT from EWR to FCO on United, I couldn’t contain myself and pulled the trigger.

My usual travel bud was unavailable, so this was to be my first solo adventure. Even after visiting Rome three times previously, I still had a list of “to-do’s” , and the one at the top of the list was calling – attend a language school. I’ve studied Italian off and on for about 5 years, but I haven’t had the opportunity to take many classes. I read a little, listen to Italian radio and instructional CDs in my car, but really want to improve my grammar and conversational skills to get to the next level. Without a co-traveler, it seemed the perfect time to sign up for some lessons. I enrolled for a week at Scuola Leonardo da Vinci, near Piazza Navona.

With airfare and my major activity booked, all that was left was to find a place to stay. In November, we stayed in Monti, a neighborhood I fell in love with. I was very tempted to stay there again, but chose to instead book in an area in which I hadn’t spent much time – Trastevere. The school was less than a mile walk, and friends (and trip reports) touted the area’s appealing quaintness and liveliness, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. Lodging in my price range was tough to find, but I stumbled across this little place, and it was perfect for me

As my departure date approached, I admit I had some knots in my stomach, which were not helped by the look of horror I received from some folks when I told them I was traveling to Rome on my own. I’m a bit of a loner “in real life” and have never balked at doing things on my own, but I started to find myself a little nervous about a solo vacation. Would I be bored or lonely? (no) Would I feel awkward at restaurants? (no) Would I be a target of roving bands of thieves and predators? (no, though a drunken old man did try to stick his hand down my shirt, which quickly woke-up my inner tough girl). My sister/travel partner is typically my trusty navigator, and for good reason. Without her, would I find myself hopelessly lost? (no, which pleased me to no end. I loved that I could find places without the map. Sometimes. And a few times I actually got on the bus in the correct direction )

I’m going to keep this report brief, but wanted to be sure to write because I find reports immensely helpful in planning. I hope mine will be helpful, too. The solo trip reports were great to read when my confidence waivered. And an extra big thanks to Annhig for writing about her language school experience. Those reports gave me the extra push I needed to do it, and I am so very glad that I did. Thanks!
jmct714 is offline  
Apr 21st, 2014, 12:14 PM
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YAY! I am really looking forward to this trip report! So glad you took the leap and went solo! ;-)
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Apr 21st, 2014, 12:20 PM
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Looking forward to more, especially more details about the language school. Thanks!
Marija is online now  
Apr 21st, 2014, 12:24 PM
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Where I Stayed
I loved my little hotel, though it’s probably not for everyone. It’s really not a hotel, with only five rooms, but it wasn’t a B&B type of experience either. A guest house maybe? The hotel is about a half block from the busy Santa Maria in Trastevere, on a somewhat pretty little street.

Pros: super clean and comfy, great staff, strong and free Wi-Fi, lovely terrace complete with a few friendly kitties (I spent a quiet sunny afternoon reading out here one day, and was in heaven), “reasonably” priced (I paid 120euro for a double; the single room was 90euro but unavailable for my dates). Breakfast could be taken on the terrace or in your room. This was new to me – they provided a list of items, and you had to check off what you wanted, and the time. Breakfast was punctually presented at your chosen time.

Cons: the hotel was VERY quiet – except for my room. The noise from Piazza Santa Maria was inescapable, even with the windows and shutters closed tight. It didn’t really bother me much, but a light sleeper would have problems. The piazza was hopping well past midnight, even during the week, and past 2am on the weekend.

I would stay here again in a heartbeat, but I don’t think I would choose Trastevere again. This was my first stay in Trastevere, and I hadn’t spent much time at all here on previous visits, so it was fun exploring and getting to know it. I can certainly see its appeal. The streets are quaint and cobbled, bustling and packed with restaurants, cafes, shops and everything else you could possibly want. I enjoyed wandering around and especially loved my walks to school in the morning, when the streets were quieter with little kids making their way to school and the late-nighters still in bed.

But... it was just a little too Times Square-ish / tourist-oriented for my taste. I was frequently offered a cappuccino after dinner, which of course is not the Italian way, and heard as much English and German as I did Italian. I also heard far too many renditions of Volare and That’s Amore. It was definitely a fun place to be, though, especially as a solo traveler. I wandered the streets for hours taking in the scene, and it was super easy because most places seem to cater to tourists. I spent many an afternoon sipping a cocktail while watching the happenings in the piazza, complete with every thinkable type of performance artist, which I know is super-touristy but it was also convenient and fun. I’m glad I stayed here, but perhaps not my first choice for my next trip.
jmct714 is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2014, 04:27 AM
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I am really enjoying this and looking forward to reading about your experiences in the language school.
tarquin is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2014, 07:37 AM
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What I Did – Language School

The language class was probably one of the best things that I’ve ever done. I loved every second, and would deflate at noon every day when the dismissal bell rang. I was only there a week, and SO wish I had followed Annhig’s advice and enrolled for two. I learned a ton after a week, and was just getting into the speaking groove when it was time to go. I think another week would have gotten me to the next level.

I looked into quite a few schools, but it proved challenging to get much information. Websites for some of the schools had minimal information (Italian websites generally seem to be a little thin, and often non-existent, IMHO), and reviews were hard to come by. In the end, I chose based on size. I had some concern that I’d be placed in a class that wasn’t suited for my level. Scuola Leonardo da Vinci seemed to be one of the larger, more-established schools, which to me meant that they’d have more students and more likelihood there would be classes at my level. Perhaps this thinking was misguided and it would not have been an issue anywhere, but without much meaningful information, I went with the idea that a larger school would increase my odds of a good fit.

Also, I liked that they had “after school activities” every day. There was a lecture about Berlusconi one night, an opera night, a chat night, a movie night. I didn’t make it to any of these, which I regret in hindsight. The school is quite large – I would guess there are a few hundred enrolled at a time, but it’s difficult to gauge because the building is maze-like. I counted 13 classrooms. My classmates told me that participation in the extra activities is high, which is another benefit of a larger school. I will definitely join in next time.

I awoke on Monday, the first day of class, with butterflies in my stomach. It was a beautiful day (I was so lucky – it was beautiful every day I was in Rome. Perfect Spring weather), and after breakfast on the terrace with my kitties I made my way to school. As I mentioned earlier, the walk was great and I’d bounce to school with a spring in my step. The streets of Trastevere are pretty and peaceful at 8am (well, except around the piazze, where piles of bottles and trash from the previous nights’ revelry were being swept up by cleaning crews. Awful). I crossed the Tevere via the Ponte Sisto, made my way down Via Giulia to the Piazza d’Orologio and my Scuola for the week.

Monday began with a test! About 30 new students assembled in one of the classrooms to take a written exam, followed by a chat with one of the teachers to determine conversational ability. I was definitely rusty. I know the present, past, conditional, future and a little congiuntivo (subjunctive), but don’t get much speaking practice, except for answering the CDs I listen to in my car. Learning a foreign language as an adult has become an education in grammar. I often have to re-learn what a tense is in English before I can understand what it is in Italian. I thought I was doing pretty well with the exam, but then… tenses I’d never even heard of! In order to be placed properly, they ask that you don’t guess and only answer what you think you know, and I followed that instruction. Makes sense.

After bumbling through the oral “exam”, I was asked to return at 10:30. The group re-assembled, and we were handed slips of paper with a classroom number and a textbook, and told to make our way to our assigned classroom. I was a level B1.

The day is broken into two parts – 9-10:30 for grammar and more formal lessons, a break, then 10:45-12:15 for conversational practice and activities. You can also enroll in afternoon sessions, as well, but I chose not to this time. This was also vacation, after all!

My class of 15 was a diverse group, which I loved. France, Russia, Britain, Germany, Venezuela, Libya, Holland, the US and Norway were all represented, and everyone spoke Italian with their own accent. We also covered a wide age-range, from 18 to “pensioner”. Some were studying for fun (like me), but others for school and work. We were led by the lovely Vanessa, possibly the most patient woman on earth. I loved her. She always had a smile on her face, and seemed genuinely interested in learning about and helping her students. Most of the group had already been studying together for a week or more, but I immediately felt at ease, and was never bashful to speak or make a mistake.

Over the course of the week, we learned and practiced the conditional, conditional past and imperative tenses, with lots of grammar, usage and vocabulary lessons mixed in. The class was taught entirely in Italian (with an occasional word whispered in English) Everyone was encouraged to speak and ask questions, and Vanessa would gently correct us as needed. I felt like my placement was perfect. Even though I was familiar with the tenses we covered, there are so many nuances that can’t be learned from a text book or CD, and that instruction was invaluable.

As I think back, it strikes me that it must be very difficult to be a teacher with a constantly rotating group of students, all with different levels, backgrounds and needs. Plus, this wasn’t a university class, so there were no grades or formal tests, and a lot of the students were a bit loose with attendance and homework. Yet I immediately felt part of the group and ready to speak and learn. I am not the outgoing type, so for me, this was pretty amazing. I couldn't have asked for a nicer group of co-students, either, which helped.

I was crushed when Friday came and it was time to say goodbye to Vanessa and the class. They were moving on to the ever-confusing congiuntivo the next week and I really wished I could stay on. I sadly said ciao to my new friends and the school, but I feel confident I will be back.

For anyone thinking about a language course, I say – do it! But, I will second Annhig and say a week is too short. I think I was fortunate that I had the right placement and the best teacher, so I was able to jump right in. One of my classmates felt differently than me – she felt uncomfortable speaking because she thought she was “the worst”, so was reluctant to try and did not enjoy the experience. Correct placement is really important.

Now I need to practice… 
jmct714 is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2014, 08:06 AM
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It's fun reading about your experience, especially because I am about to attend a Goethe Institute in Göttingen to try to rehabilitate my German.

Reading about your adventures in Transtevere was especially enjoyable.

Your description of your time in the class makes me wish I hadn't become an Italian dropout. But I still think I was silly to start studying it when my German and my Spanish are not where I want them to be, so I know I made the right decision.

Your classmate who thought she was "the worst" reminds me of a young Japanese guy at a former Goethe Institute who told me he thought he was the worst in our class. I had to contradict him, telling him that I was the worst. I thought he was one of the better students in our class.
Pegontheroad is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2014, 09:04 AM
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Hi Peg,
It's funny, I studied Spanish in school and I often wonder why I didn't stick with that -- I love Spain, have more opportunity to practice, and I was pretty good at it. Now, it just confuses me when I'm working on Italian.

I think one of the hardest things about learning a new language is feeling confident to use it. I always struggle with that, and sometimes feel defeated when I'm not understood. You have to develop a bit of a thick skin, I think, to keep trying.

Anyway, that's my two cents. Good luck with your German class! I hope you have a great time.
jmct714 is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2014, 09:09 AM
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I enjoyed so much your report. I'm heading to Rome in September, staying in Trastevere about which I have some trepidation, but I'm ready to stay in a different area.

Do you think you'll go back to Italy for language school? If so, you might want to consider going to a smaller city/ town. Rome of course its great, but at least in my experience the people there are more willing to engage you in Italian. I find that practicing Italian outside of the classroom is what really helps to bring one to the next level.
cruiseluv is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2014, 09:24 AM
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What Else I Did

I arrived the Friday before classes started, and had afternoons free, so there was plenty of time to continue to explore Rome.

•Protestant Cemetery

I took the bus to Testaccio, with the intent to visit the Protestant Cemetery, followed by a visit to the Montemartini Musueum in Ostiense. I was 50% successful!

I did make it to the Cemetery. Big wow. The Cemetery is absolutely beautiful, and the smell of the spring flowers and trees in bloom was intense. I loved walking around and reading the headstones. It was such a quiet nook of a fairly hectic and noisy area of Rome. My sis and I tried to get here in November, but the day was brisk and rainy so we aborted the mission. I’m now glad that we did, because a sunny day is the way to see and enjoy this. Lovely.

•MACRO Testaccio
After the Cemetery, I made my way to the bus, only 3 stops down Viale di Trastevere… if you get on the right bus! I was daydreaming and found myself going the wrong way. When I realized it, I jumped off the bus and realized that the MACRO Testaccio was nearby – change of plans! What a happy accident. The exhibit turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip.

The MACRO Testaccio is a smaller branch of the Museum of Contemporary art in Nomentana (I think that’s the neighborhood?). It’s an exhibit space housed in an old slaughterhouse, and they’ve left behind enough of the original structure and form that it still has that industrial feel - it even still has stables in the front. Also in front is a huge Bamboo sculpture thingy, which can be climbed for a small fee. I didn’t climb it, but it looked like fun.

The exhibit was of the work of the Japanese photographer Nomachi. I didn’t know what to expect when I walked in, but I was dazzled. Nomachi is a documentary photographer, and this exhibit highlighted his work photographing religious ceremonies in the Middle East and China. The colors and the passion of the subjects were breathtaking.

•Frida Kahlo at the Scuderie del Quirinale: this show was really well-done, with a strong sampling of her work as well as a few pieces by Diego Garcia.

•Musee d’Orsay at the Complesso del Vittoriano
We saw a Cezanne show in this space in November which we enjoyed, and this exhibit featuring works borrowed from the D’Orsay was also very nice. It included works from a lot of the biggies – Monet, Van Gogh, Manet, Degas and lots of others. It’s a small space, and a nice way to spend an hour or so.

•Museo di Roma in Trastevere
This is a very small outpost of the larger Museum. They had some really nice photographs of different Italian cities. Otherwise, not much going on here. Only 7 euro, so worth a pop through if you are nearby

•Roscioli Food and Wine Tasting
I had had a momentary panic about spending Saturday night alone, so signed up for this tasting, in a studio behind the well-known Roscioli restaurant and led by their sommelier. Honestly, I think this may have been the one activity NOT to do on your own… my fellow tasters were mostly couples and not very social. The room was packed but you could hear a pin drop when I walked in. My evening was fine, though, because I was seated next to the absolute sweetest girl from Iowa, in Rome for a study abroad semester. She was here with her visiting mother, aunt and cousin, and took it upon herself to be my bestie for the evening, as her relatives got loaded.

The tasting room was cramped and I found the leader to be a bit snooty (he is a wine guy, so maybe that's his thing), though funny. I found my previous experience with Vinoroma to be more enjoyable. They seemed more focused on making wine “accessible”, and I think that laid-back approach is more suited to my style.

•Basillica San Clemente
Somehow I had never made it here before. I really enjoyed exploring the different levels. As a bonus, I saw a little bit of the Celio neighborhood, because I couldn’t find the bus!
jmct714 is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2014, 09:30 AM
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Cruiseluv -- you are very right. Rome is a tough place to practice Italian! It's very easy to get by with just English. I did consider that when I was deciding where to go, but my desire to return to Rome won out. I do have my eye on a school in Chiavari for a future visit.

Have fun on your trip!
jmct714 is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2014, 11:23 AM
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Thanks for sharing. I'm going to Rome in a month on a solo trip.
I also have done a wine tasting at Roscioli and at vinoroma. I much prefered Hande and vinoroma
johnnyomalley is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2014, 07:16 PM
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I have to agree with you on the Roscioli wine tasting experience vs. the VinoRoma wine tasting experience. I feel/felt exactly the same way about Roscioli, mildly entertaining, but snooty and I didn't learn a thing about wine, he just "told us" what we should be tasting. Whereas at VinoRoma, they really strive to walk you through your own taste and smell senses to determine the characteristics of the wine.

Now you have me thinking I need to enroll in a language school in Italy! ;-)
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2014, 07:40 PM
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Wow, what a great report. Something I'd love to do, maybe this year! Thanks very much for posting.
Leely2 is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2014, 08:20 PM
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Good for you! Bookmarking to enjoy your adventure later
Bokhara2 is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2014, 09:58 AM
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Thanks for the nice comments.

LCI - exactly. He actually laughed a few times when people said what they liked. What???
jmct714 is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2014, 10:06 AM
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What I Ate

Last installment, since I’m failing on the promise to be brief.

This was definitely not a ‘foodie’ trip, but there were a few highlights. I didn’t take any notes and very few pics, so I’m working off of my crummy memory... sorry for the lack of detail

I probably had too many meals in Trastevere, mostly out of convenience (laziness? Maybe). I have to admit that I did not enjoy having dinner by myself. I didn’t feel uncomfortable (well, maybe once) but it just wasn’t fun and seemed like a waste of money and calories. I really enjoyed lunch on my own. I probably should have just skipped a few dinners, but I also didn’t want to stay in my room since it was so lovely outside.

Da Teo

I had a great puntarelle salad here and a nice pasta with fava beans. Portion sizes were way too big. This was also my uncomfortable dinner. The room was very bright and jam packed with friends and families, a real convivial atmosphere. I would have loved this place with my sis, but on my own I felt a bit out of place. But it was worth it for the salad.

Beppe e I Suoi Formaggi

This was a repeat visit for me to this cheese shop + restaurant. I had a fabulous salad, a lovely crisp glass of wine and a delicious panna cotta (to make up for the salad). It’s really quiet at lunch time, but I enjoyed the time to relax. I also ran into Elizabeth Minchilli here, author of the Eat Rome app, which was a treat. I love her blog.

Armando al Pantheon

This was also a repeat visit. I enjoyed a bruschetta with a vignarola-type of topping (I told you this wasn’t a foodie report…) and followed with a special sausage dish. Everything was fabulous. I love this place, and the service very friendly. (humbling moment – I was using my Italian, and the waiter said – “you can just speak English” Oops, better keep practicing!)

Taverna degli Amici (Trastevere)

I went here twice, and it was actually packed with a lot of Italian people on Friday night. I enjoyed being able to eavesdrop on some conversations I had a tasty pasta one night, and a broccoli flan that was quite good. It’s nice that many of their employees are special needs. They also have a pretty little outside area overlooking the piazza next to the Muesum of Rome in Trastevere

First solo trip is in the books, and it was a definite success. I will always prefer to travel with one of my sisters, but if that's not possible, I would not hesitate for a second to go it alone. It was a great experience.
jmct714 is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2014, 01:07 PM
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jmct...great report and if your family wants to adopt me, I'll be another one of your sisters and we can travel together. ;-)
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2014, 04:46 PM
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LCI - I've read your reports... I know you (and your mom) would be a great fit!
jmct714 is offline  
Apr 28th, 2014, 06:54 AM
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found it, jmct - great report and I'm so glad that you got to take a class - even one week is much better than no weeks at all!
annhig is offline  

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