Erica Husting is a journalism junior and Mustang Daily study abroad columnist.
It took 551 stairs to reach the top of the cupola.
I was literally hovering over Rome.
I had made it to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica and the view that awaited was worth the climb.
Down below, Saint Peter’s Square stretched out before me, sprinkled with ant-sized tourists mingling about.
Straight ahead was the familiar Tiber River, snaking through the city, making the occasional appearance between the clusters of miniature trees and tiny toy replicas of buildings intricately dispersed on the Roman skyline.
The city of Rome was laid out in front of me, and I was seeing the city I had been calling my home for the past three months in a new perspective.
Saint Peter’s Basilica is one of the main fixtures on the Roman horizon. If one stays close to the city’s center, the iconic dome can be seen looming off in the distance. And yet, up until that point, I had never actually paid a visit to the Basilica.
As school began to pick up its pace, it was easy to fall victim to a scheduled routine.
It took having my first visitor, fellow study abroad columnist J.J. Jenkins, to make me realize I hadn’t explored all of what Rome had to offer.
Rome was literally my backyard, and it was time to play tourist.
In the whirlwind of a weekend, J.J., some friends and I managed to knock off many of the must-see sights that appear on a typical Roman bucket list.
Besides paying a visit to the Vatican City, we saw our middle-school textbooks come to life as we toured the Colosseum, explored the expansive ruins of the Roman Forum and experienced the Trevi Fountain as it should be (practically deserted and without the throngs of eager crowds).
With the help of J.J., I was able to explore the sights I knew were there but hadn’t stopped to explore.
With the adventure bug still with me, the next weekend my friend Ana and I set off on a brisk Saturday afternoon to explore the suburban neighborhood of San Lorenzo. This region of Rome is known for its contemporary culture and artistic atmosphere, for it lies outside of the more well-known and concentrated center of the city.
Therefore, it was the perfect place to go exploring.
After navigating our way through and away from the crowds of the Termini transit station, the ambiance instantly changed. The cobblestone streets and ancient buildings in the aged shades of yellows and reds I had become accustomed to were replaced with quiet two-lane streets and industrial buildings.
The environment was very different from Trastevere, and I became a little hesitant as we trekked further and further from our familiar ground.
My second thoughts heightened when we found ourselves in front of a deserted, dark underpass covered in bright graffiti.
This was our channel into our awaited journey.
With an exchanged look of encouragement and mental preparation, we set out, trying to maintain as much composure we could manage as we half power-walked, half-sprinted through the tunnel.
When we reached the other side, we had arrived into a little pocket of authentic Rome.
With the GPS in hand and the goal to find a highly recommended pizzeria, we began to meander through the neighborhoods of San Lorenzo.
However, as we passed countless deserted, dark restaurants and shops we came to the stubborn realization: Everything was closed.
It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon — right in the middle of the Roman siesta time.
On that day, however, the siesta worked in our favor.
As continued on our mission, our path intersected with a tiny street filled with culture — we had stumbled across the iconic street art San Lorenzo was known for.
If one was to pass the street and not pay close attention, they could easily pass by without a second glance.
On both sides of the long block, the outsides of shops and the metal roll-down doors beside them were covered, wall-to-wall, with the most distinctive and intricate street art I had ever seen.
Each metal roll-down door served as a different canvas.
As we walked down the street, we admired liberating slogans, abstract portraits, hand-painted murals and spray-painted designs all in a plethora of sizes and colors.
My personal favorite amidst the collection was a giant, real-life depiction of the human heart, with the slogan “Amor è Roma,” or “Love is Rome,” filling up the center of the organ.
Those three words were so simple, yet that slogan perfectly captured my sentiments and growing admiration toward this great city.
It pays off to be a tourist every once in a while.