LIFE/Risa Johnson Calling Viterbo Home


“It’s small” or even simply “It’s too small” is the first response I usually get when I ask locals or international students how they like Viterbo.

With a population of about 60,000 people, this city quickly becomes full of familiar faces. I can walk across from the walls of Porta Romana to Porta Fiorentina in about 30 minutes, taking care to not get my toes run over by cars speeding down the teeny alleyways. Shops close down for several hours each afternoon and almost everything is closed on Sundays, in order that workers can rest and spend time with their families. Most locals I have met do not speak English.

None of that bothers me. Non preoccuparti. Viterbo has an undeniable charm that I am sure I will not be able to find again at home, even if I forage every Little Italy from Los Angeles to New York City.

I love going to the local butcher shops, fruit markets and bakeries – just thinking of Le Cose Buone, Polozzi and Pasticceria Casantini makes my mouth water – where workers can’t constrain their curiosity and must ask foreigners where they are from.

I am so spoiled here, because on every casual stroll, I am surrounded by ancient architecture, from the 11th and 12th centuries. When possible, I take a detour through San Pellegrino or catch the sunset from Il Palazzo dei Papi. I love the sound of the bell atop the Church of San Sisto, and how it rings throughout my apartment even from blocks away.

I will never forget the late nights here, how we always shuffle to the same little bars, Baretto dell’amore and Due Righe. I love being greeted with a kiss on the cheek by Italian friends. And the food – how will I live without aperitivo!

Whether it’s the challenge of completing a two-plate Monastero pizza or making a selection among hundreds of choices on the menu at La Spaghetteria, going out to eat never disappoints. And I even enjoy cooking here, since I have time to plan out meals and get fresh ingredients. You just can’t make lasagna back home like this, with Italian sausage and fresh cheeses at hand.

From late morning coffee dates to pausa pranzo, I love the slow pace of life here.

At home, I feel like I am always rushing, not leaving much time for anything outside of classes and working. While here, outside of journalism and Italian classes, I have had the chance to try new things.

I am currently going to archery and salsa classes, two things I have always wanted to learn. I also have found more time for things I’ve always loved, like running and writing. Although I don’t enjoy running in Viterbo (one downside to the cobblestones), I love going in the woods near Monti Cimini.

Studying abroad has taught me invaluable lessons and given me a new outlook on life – living for a year in this little town has ironically made me realize that the world is bigger than I ever imagined and that people from all over the globe aren’t essentially very different at all.

There is so much I wish I could bring back with me, mostly people, of which I can only carry memories. But I know I will take home Italian traditions and that Viterbo will always have a place in my heart.

Risa Johnson  studentessa USAC

Hi everyone, I am a journalism student from Chico, California. I study Italian and journalism at the Università degli Studi della Tuscia. In my free time, I enjoy eating Italian food, creative writing, being outdoors and traveling as much as possible.

Ciao tutti, sono una studentessa di giornalismo di Chico in California. Studio Italiano e giornalismo all’Università degli Studi della Tuscia. Nel mio tempo libero, mi piace mangiare il cibo Italiano, scrivere creative, stare all’aperto e viaggiare per quanto possibile.