Many years ago, Notre Dame decided that the end of February was a great time to bring parents to campus for a weekend of receptions, Masses, and dinners. Despite often-unfortunate weather conditions, Junior Parents Weekend is a big deal. For some families, JPW is the only time that parents visit campus between freshman orientation and graduation. For other families, it’s one of many weekend visits. But for most families, it’s the only time they’ll willingly visit South Bend in the dead of winter. Why do they come? JPDub, as it is affectionately known, is an opportunity for parents to meet their childrens’ professors and rectors and roommates. It’s an opportunity for the university to court a fresh crop of donors. And it’s an opportunity for newly-21-year-old students to take their parents to the bars.
I fit the criteria for JPW – I’m a junior, I have parents – but I didn’t get to experience JPW two weeks ago. Like 800-some of my classmates (also juniors with parents), I’m studying abroad this semester. It seems that many of the spring study abroad kids create their own sort of “Senior Parents Weekends” in the fall with their study abroad friends, but it’s not quite the same.
About three weeks ago, I got an email from my parents informing me of their rather spur-of-the-moment decision to plan a trip – surprise! I got to have an off-site, extended version of Junior Parents Weekend when my parents came to visit Rome last week.
They arrived on Wednesday, jetlagged. I spent the afternoon getting my mom and dad acclimated to Trastevere’s winding streets and cobblestones. I took them to my favorite pizza place, a hole in the wall called “Pizza,” and to my favorite coffee and snack spot, a hole in the wall called “Snack Bar.” We visited my apartment and met most of my roommates there.
Because my parents had never been to Rome before, I really got to indulge my tour guide side. After a Thursday morning stroll through the Jewish Ghetto, we made our way to Piazza Venezia and Via dei Fori Imperiali. My Ancient Rome & Its Monuments class had met at Trajan’s Forum earlier in the week, so I had lots of good facts fresh in my mind. Explaining the histories of the fora and decoding the ruins was a great way to study for my upcoming midterm exam!
We meandered around the fora of Trajan, Augustus, Nerva, and Caesar before we purchased our tickets and went down in the Roman Forum valley. I had had an on-site class there, too, so I felt very knowledgeable. We rounded out the morning with the Circus Maximus and the Colosseum – two more on-site class topics. I wasn’t as well-informed about St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museums, our Friday destinations, but the Rick Steves podcast tours for the basilica and the Sistine Chapel got the job done.
For the weekend, we rented a car and drove through Tuscany and Umbria on our way to Assisi. More on this excursion in the trip report – coming soon!
It was really refreshing to see the sights with fresh eyes. I had kind of been avoiding taking them to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps – I’m not a huge fan of the super touristy attractions. When we finally went on Monday, I appreciated the sights so much more and realized that I had been taking these priceless landmarks for granted. We plowed through a big list of those sorts of attractions on Monday morning – we knocked off Campo dei Fiori, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, and Spanish Steps in about two hours.
I got a lot of Italian practice during my week with my parents. I understand Italian much better than I speak it – I often have a difficult time conjugating in my head quickly enough to maintain a conversation at a normal pace, but I can understand pretty much everything I hear and read. My parents don’t know Italian. I don’t think they would have had much difficulty if they had been staying in centro storico or in the hotel district because those areas cater to foreign tourists, but because they were staying in Trastevere, they had a much more authentic, much more Italian experience.
My parents said they thought Rome felt like New York City with shorter buildings. The graffiti had completely faded into the background for me – I barely even notice it – but it really stuck out to my parents. They were also surprised at the conspicuous absence of an economic/commercial center in Rome. I think they were expecting the city to be partially composed of yellow buildings with green shutters and laundry hanging out the windows and partially composed of office buildings and shops. It’s pretty much all yellow buildings here.
At our final dinner, I told them how happy I was that they came to visit and that I got to be there for their first experiences of Italy. My mom smiled. “That’s usually something a parent says.” I’ve been in Rome for seven weeks now. I have another nine weeks here, so I’m almost halfway through the semester. I can’t believe how quickly the time is passing. My parents were in the wave of early parent-visitors to Rome. Many of my friends’ parents will be coming in the next few weeks, but I’m glad that mine came at the end of February. It was kind of like JPW, but so much better.
See you soon, Mama and Daddy!