I still remember my first day in Trastevere. It was the start of the semester’s orientation week, and I had just arrived at the Gianicolo Residence. After receiving my apartment assignment, I headed upstairs with all of my bags and nervously approached what awaited me on the other side of the door. I went in, met the roommates who had already arrived and began settling in. I remember being surprised at how nice the apartment was. It was spacious, modern, and comfortable – all giving me the impression that this would be a great place to live.
The rest of the morning was a blur of unpacking, organizing, and getting to know each other. But, after some time, we–two of my roommates and I–decided to go for a walk. We wanted to get acquainted with our new neighborhood. After strolling past the Guarini campus, we made our way towards Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere. I remember being completely in awe of Rome’s beauty. Every street corner, every ornate building, every church was new and exciting.
Getting Lost in Trastevere
Looking back, Trastevere seemed so huge. We felt so small, and our new town was fascinating–yet intimidating. I was enamored by the winding side streets, and charming little alleyways. But I wondered how people walked to class without getting lost, or how they ever found which street they were looking for. We followed different routes, walked under flower-covered archways, tripped over uneven cobblestones, and jumped out of the way as scooters quickly hurried past us.
After buying our very first gelato, we grabbed a seat on the steps of the fountain in the middle of the piazza. We sat in silence and watched the people come and go. There were tourists, locals, and fellow JCU students doing the exact same thing: discovering what would be our home for the next few years. As the sun began to set, the street musicians started to perform and the restaurants prepared their outdoor tables for dinner. It was absolutely magical.
When the time came to get up and head back to our apartment, we couldn’t even remember which way we came from. It all seemed so confusing. We took all the wrong streets, and cheered when we finally made it home (after about an hour).
It’s funny how quickly things changed. Before we knew it, we were the locals. While the beauty and magic of Trastevere never wore off, it became beautiful in a different way. It was no longer new. It was home.
By the end of my time in Rome, I could walk through Trastevere’s winding streets blindfolded. With my eyes closed, I could tell you the quickest route home, or the best way to get to class. I could twist my way through the alleys and side streets to meet friends in the evening. Every corner of that neighborhood became familiar.
It feels the same way today. Whenever I go back to visit Rome, no matter what part of the city I’m in, I know that I can be “home” in a matter of minutes. As soon as I step foot into Trastevere, it all comes rushing back. Muscle memory guides me through the streets, and everything feels right. I can’t wait for my next visit back. When I get there I will look at my surroundings through the eyes of that excited, nervous freshman student. I will look back with gratitude, remembering that very first day and how far I have come since then. And I will return to those steps of the fountain in Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere, take a glance around and sigh with relief that nothing has changed.
Alexa Vujaklija (Shearer)
Class of 2015
Grew up in the United States, Germany, the Republic of Georgia, Russia, and Bulgaria