Today I set out early, to Campo de’ Fiori, a charming piazza that hosts a bustling market in the morning. I had passed through it several times, but never early enough to see the market.

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It was full of fresh produce, but also exotic oils, vinegars, spices, and salts. Have you ever seen purple salt? Flavored and colored by wine! Or black salt, dark from pepper? So I don’t forget: the black salt is for fish; purple for beef; and the smoky salt is for pasta carbonara. There were also some fruits I’ve never seen: wide strawberries, oblong grapes, dragon fruit, and things I can’t pronounce! I tried the fiche d’India (Indian figs), and found them to be delightfully sweet and juicy!

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After breakfast, I hopped on Patrizia’s bike to see the Roman Forum and the Colesseum by day. I passed by the Piazza dei Campidoglio:

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And toured the Foro Romano

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I biked over to the Colosseum and had lunch in its shadow.

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This Spanish man (in the yellow shirt) was having lunch with his toddler son, when along came some Asia tourists. They were charmed by the adorable little Spanish boy, and had a little photoshoot with him! I thought it was hilarious, so I took pictures of them taking pictures:

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The boy’s father seemed kindly amused.

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I biked over to the Spanish Steps. When I first arrived, it was crowded and overwhelmed with tourists.

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But then it started to rain! And the crowds dispersed!

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I climbed to the top and watched the sun set.

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I biked home, showered, had a quick dinner with Patrizia (ear-shaped pasta — the name escapes me– with broccoli and olive oil; and an omelette with caramelized onions), and headed out into the night. This is Piazza Trilussa, in Trastevere near Patrizia’s apartment:

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I met Gabriele there, and he took me to SmashRoma, a popular night club. We stopped at the stand next door for some pre-dancing espresso. I was amused that the shop gave new meaning to “espresso bar”!

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There were three different rooms inside the club, one playing pop music and the other two playing electro. The electro sounded like it was from the future, but the pop was from the early 2000s (they played Crazy in Love by Beyonce circa 2003, Jenny from the Block by JLo circa 2002, and Let’s Get it Started by the Black Eyed Peas, circa 2004). We headed to the stage where DJ Rico was spinning, in front of the biggest screen you’ve ever seen!

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I started the day with a quick slice of pizza on the steps on Piazza Trilussa. I had thought for days that this was Piazza de Santa Maria, but nope, it’s Trilussa. He is a Roman poet, I’ll have to look up his work when I have a chance.

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It started to rain, so I took cover at Pimm’s Good, a bar/restaurant/cafe nearby with friendly servers and free WiFi. I called my mom, chatted with a trans woman named Simone, and waited for the rain to let up.

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I hopped on Patricia’s bike, and set off into Roma…

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I ended up back at the Vatican, this time to see Castel Sant’Angelo, this huge castle/fortress. It is surrounded by a public park, and I enjoyed seeing the pini, the trees I had previously only seen in paintings of the Italian landscape.

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I took my bike down to the river, the Fiume Tevere, and headed north, venturing farther than the extents of my map. At some point I turned around, biked back south and then across the bridge to Piazza Del Popola, the Pope’s plaza. It’s a grand piazza with this huge monument in the middle, where a guitarist played Jimi Hendrix on an electric guitar. (Again, WordPress, rotate my picture!)

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I biked all over Roma! To Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti, the Spanish Steps, to Fontana di Trevi, to the Foro Romano, and the Colosseo, the Colosseum.

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After all that biking, I had worked up an appetite! I dined on ravioli with sage & browned butter, a fresh insalata mista, and the best glass of wine I’ve had so far.

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Then, continuing on my bike, I headed to meet some new friends at a bar/club called Viscious. Not wanting to order my typical gin & tonic, I asked for a cocktail that is more typical for Italy, a difficult request as cocktails are not common in Rome! They asked me if I like Amaretto, and made me an “Amaretto ginger”. I have no idea what was in it, but it was delicious!

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Today I ventured out on my host Patrizia’s bicycle. As it was my first day on the bike in Roma, I cautiously chose to bike to the Vatican. It’s not too far from where I’m staying in Trastevere, and I could bike along the river most of the way there.

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I parked my bike and continued to the Musei Vaticana, the Vatican Museum. I got an audioguide, which was an excellent choice, as otherwise I wouldnt have appreciated the art. This is the only picture I took inside the museum:

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After strolling the museum for 2-3 hours, I hurried up to the Sisteen Chapel to see it before it closed at 5pm. I definitely recommend seeing the Sisteen Chapel late in the afternoon, just before it closes. When I got there at 4:15, it was packed with people. I found a spot by the wall and listened to the history on my audioguide. The Sisteen Chapel tells the Catholic story of the origin of the universe, the creation of mankind, and the stories of Moses and Jesus. I was overwhelmed with emotion, for such grand stories and rich history made me reflect on my life and how I ended up there, in that precise location, in that moment in time. Just like looking at the stars reminds you of how small you are in this vast universe, so I felt in that chapel. I enjoyed hearing about Michelangelo, and how one of the world’s most famous painters was self-conscious and unsure of his work. It reminded me that we all feel unsure of ourselves at times, even the greatest of the great of us. I am a little lost in life, so that made me feel so human, and so connected. I shed a few marvelous tears, and it was past 5:30 by the time I left.

The museum exited at the Piazza de Santa Petri (the piazza of St. Peter):

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I strolled the streets to find something to eat (difficult to do in Italy at 6pm), and stumbled into this shop where they restore artwork:

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That arc to the left is from Portugal circa 1300, and the artist was restoring it with silver leaf foil.

I had lasagna bolognese for dinner:

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Then treated myself to a Thai massage. I was surprised to see Thai people in Rome, but as soon as I entered the spa, I felt like I was in Thailand:

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Sorry for the poor quality of these pictures. Below was the massage room. That bar is for massages given with the feet! I elected a simple traditional Thai massage, no feet included.

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I was so relaxed afterwards that I strolled back to where I parked the bike, rode home and straight to bed.

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If yesterday I walked through half of Rome starving, today I did the opposite. Somehow I had four meals today, even though I didn’t venture much farther than the little neighborhood I’m staying in, Trastevere. This is partly because I was finishing up some travel plans for later on this trip (Goa, India and Geneva, Switzerland!), so I stayed close to wifi. I had a quick breakfast at the apartment…
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Then strolled by Fiume Tevere. It’s so tranquil and beautiful. I’m a big fan of libraries, and I downloaded several ebooks for my trip from CPL. And sat by the river and read for an hour or so…
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I had a 2-hour lunch at Pimm’s Good. First a cappuccino, then a contorno (vegetable side dish, one of the five main courses in Italian dining), then another cappuccino, as I watched the passing pedestrians.
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I met with Patrizia, who took me to the post office to send my postcards. Then we headed up to the roof terrace for yet another meal…
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I sat in Piazza di Santa Maria to watch the sunset. This piazza is always, always crowded. I even strolled by the piazza at 2am tonight, and even though it was a Tuesday, it was still crowded! People seem to just sit on the steps and watch the world go by. It was nice to join them for a bit. I scouted out restaurants as I wandered during the day. While Trastevere is a favourite spot for locals, it’s also full of tourists and tourist-focused bars and restaurants. I’m interested in authentic Italian cuisine, so I disregarded the “T-bone Station,” and a beautiful bar called Colors that advertised beer pong. I was looking for a restaurant that had a daily special, based on ingredients found at the market that day; or a restaurant that has advertised their specialty. At the end of the day, I went to ____ for cacio e pepe, a simple and traditional meal of spaghetti, cheese, and black pepper. This restaurant makes the pasta fresh daily, and boasts being the best cacio e pepe in the neighborhood.
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My server, Harrman, suggested this dessert, the house specialty that’s similar to sbriciolata, with Nutella and cream.
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He poured me a complementary limoncello as a digestif to end the meal.

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My first order of business today was to have pizza. I consulted my Fodor’s guide, and was delighted to learn that one of their top recommendations was the restaurant directly beneath the apartment I’m staying in! Fodor’s says, “Romans drive across town for great pizza from this neighborhood institution on a small street in Trastevere. Maybe it’s the dough – made from a secret blend of flours that’s reputed to be easier to digest than the competition.” Sounds good to me! The tomatoes were so fresh and sweet! This is already the third time I had tomatoes in Roma, and they were quickly becoming my favourite treat. Fresh, sweet tomatoes!

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Eating is not something that Italians rush. Service is slow relaxed, the waiters are inattentive don’t hover, and lingering over your meal, wine, or espresso is expected. I eavesdropped some American women distressing over their weight, and got into a conversation with a lovely Spanish couple on vacation. They didn’t speak English, so I used the tiny bit of Spanish I knew, and was surprised to be able to hold a conversation rather easily. For the next 24-hours, I was thinking in broken Spanish, and speaking Spanish to Italians as if Italian was coming out of my mouth! Wow, my brain sure does soak up languages quickly!

Also, that half-carafe of wine was 4 euros ($5) and even after re-filling the Spaniards’ glasses, I still couldn’t finish it.

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I had loosely planned a walking route for the day, starting with Piazza Navona:
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I stopped in the Spanish bookstore (not shown) owned by my host, Patrizia, which is right in the Piazza. We shared an espresso, I bought some postcards, and continued on my way…. to the Pantheon!
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A quick history lesson (so I don’t forget): it was erected in 27 BC under the direction of Augustus, Rome’s first emperor, and was entirely rebuilt by emperor Hadrian around 120 BC. It is HUGE! It was the world’s largest dome until 1436 when Santa Maria del Fiore was built in Florence, Italy, and today it is still the world’s largest unreinforced solid concrete dome. Crazy! The Pantheon is a paragon of architectural balance. The diameter of the dome is exactly equal to its height. According to Wikiarquitectura, “The building was designed to unite man with divinity, but especially with the emperor, proclaimed god in the eyes of the people. The proportions and structure of the Pantheon are representative of this Roman religious conception, the abode of the gods, the centralization of the variety of cults in Rome at the time. An architecture synthesis between heaven and earth.” The opening in the top of the dome is called the oculus, which symbolizes the “all-seeing eye of heaven”. I put on M83 (“Where The Boats Go”, and “Splendor” were particularly apt), and stared at that damn thing until my neck was sore. That’s the great thing about travelling alone: I can linger wherever I want to, without answering to anyone but myself!

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I continued my walk, getting lost every 10 minutes, and stumbled upon Vittoriano, a monument to Victor Emmanuel II. This thing is larger than life, folks!

A little farther in my walk I stumbled upon Fontana Di Trevi (not pictured). I’ll have to stop by there again, so I may toss a coin into the fountain. I did a little window shopping, and stopped for a quick Chianti & bruscetti snack. This was my fourth time snacking on tomatoes, by the way. Yep, I’m apparently counting!
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I continued on to Piazza Barberini, where the Argentinian consulate held a small jazz concert:
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After the concert, I was very tired. I walked all the way back to Trastevere, passing several groups of street musicians along the way. The group below was playing in Piazza Navona, and I thought they were particularly charming:

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I stopped at a small market and got some groceries: bread, eggs, an onion, mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, oranges, and milk. Eggs in Europe are so fresh that they’re rarely refrigerated. Look, mine even still had some dirt on them!
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Even though it was so late, I was really hungry and craving protein. All I had to eat all day was carbs, tomatoes, and wine!  So I cooked this little meal:
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I don’t know why I cooked the tomatoes. They’re best fresh! But I was seriously deliriously tired/hungry at that point, and not thinking straight.
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Those beans were prepared by my host Patrizia, and were so tasty!

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Buongiorno! This is Patrizia, my lovely host through Airbnb. She has a beautiful apartment in the middle of Trastevere, one of the most popular neighborhoods in Rome. As I arrived around 1:30am on a Saturday night, I had to navigate through the bustling crowds to find her door. To my Chicago friends, it’s like being in the middle of the North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection (except without many cars and the associated fear of death), and exactly the vibe and liveliness that I’d hoped to find!

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I took in some of the lovely art in her home….

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Then headed up to the terrace for my morning meditation & yoga. Here’s a quick panorama view with the church bells ringing noon:

It was so hot up there, I got visibly tan in under an hour! So nice to be back in the hot hot sun! Patrizia invited me to join her and her love, Roberto, on a trip to the sea. Rome is about 40km inland from Fiumencio, which is on the water and also where the airport was located. We walked through Rome to meet him, which was my first opportunity to see this beautiful city in the daytime…

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The city’s streets are lined with cafes, as eating is the most popular pastime in Italy.

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I joined in too, starting my day with this centrifugo, fresh-squeezed juice. Carrot, apple, orange & ginger! This juice, and the tomato-mozzarella sandwich I had with it was the only thing I would spend money on today.

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After a breezy 45minute ride, we arrived in Fiumincio! There’s a sandy beach area, but we choose to go to where boats are docked. We climbed up to one of the piers and joined the sunbathers. It’s a beautiful area, and the intimate setting made it very relaxing.

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It turns out that spending the day with Patrizia and Roberto was just like spending the day with your friends’ parents, as I was spoiled constantly. All day long they offered me beer and wine, and refused to let me reimburse them! Roberto bought sandwiches for lunch, and I had a tunafish and tomato on crusty bread. Tuna fish! For the first time in at least 12 years! It was delicious, and I ate it right up. There were some local teenage boys jumping off the piers, so of course I joined them. One of them (the belly-flopper in the red shorts – he was the most adventurous and the least athletic, love his spirit!) spoke Spanish, so I was able to communicate with him a tiny bit. I was so nervous when I tried the swing that I asked the boys to count for me, “un! duo! tre!”


I floated in the sea a bit, tried a Cuban cigar, and learned a game that’s similar to pool, where you flick chips across a board with your finger instead of shoot balls with a stick….

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After the sunset, we drove back to Rome, where Roberto prepared a home-cooked meal for us. He made that tomato sauce in 20 minutes, with tomatoes from a can, spicy peppers, and olive oil (similar to what I’ve done in the past!). And he used Pasta Barilla, a familiar brand.
20140928_202553The olive oil was of such high quality that I could smell it as he served me a plate. If smelling olive oil is a recurring event on this trip, I won’t mind it one bit!
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After the pasta, he placed a platter of meat in front of me, and only me for some reason, even though there were 3 others at the table. He wanted to share this Bresaola della Valtellina with me, served with a drizzle of olive oil and some fresh lemon juice. So delicious, especially with the lemon juice! It was funny, because they didn’t know how to say what kind of meat it was in English, so I asked: “is it beef? pork? veal? lamb?” They answered “no” to all those questions, so I was worried…. what exotic meat did I just accept?! Turns out it’s a special cut of beef. I didn’t eat the full platter, but insisted on sharing. The dwindling vegetarian in me was overwhelmed!
20140928_205945We chatted and enjoyed some white wine on his beautiful balcony. Roberto lives in an apartment that’s been in his family for decades, and it was GORGEOUS! Every inch was covered with oil paintings, antique furniture and silver, and collections of ceramic and crystal from around the world. Roberto is a scuba diver, and we talked extensively about my upcoming trip to the Maldives, and he gave me a lot of useful information.
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Roberto took this picture of me: a Caribbean-American in a Caribbean scuba sweatshirt!

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It was a lovely day, a beautiful start to the trip. Thank you Patrizia and Roberto for inviting me to spend the day with you! It was such a treat :)

 

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Today begins my journey. Myriam dropped me at O’Hare Airport at 8pm on Friday (thanks!), and I had plenty of time to check my bag and say my last goodbyes to family over the phone. My flight was with Turkish Airlines, and as I only paid $525 I wasn’t expecting any luxuries. Boy was I surprised! I walked onto an immaculate and spacious plane, lucked out with a window seat, and was treated to excellent service. 20140927_074517 I’m probably the only person in the world that actually enjoys airplane food. I get a kick out of the perfectly sized and well-organized trays, with every detail attended to. The meals were quite tasty, and I appreciated the fresh salad, veggies and fruit. And the wine, of course! wpid-20140927_000917.jpg
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After two meals, 11 hours, and 9,312 kilometers, I landed in Istanbul. Maybe now’s a good time to explain how I got my flight information confused: The first two times I purchased my departure ticket, my bank blocked the transaction because it was alerted by the foreign transaction. The third time I purchased the flight, it worked. However, this left three different departure itineraries in my email, and for months I was looking at the wrong one. I thought I wasn’t leaving until Monday, and I thought I had a 24-hour layover in Istanbul. Instead, the only part of Istanbul that I saw was from the plane:20140927_090619With only a 5-hour layover, I wandered the airport until I found a coffee shop with wifi so I could make some calls. Already, the coffee was getting good. Somehow it’s been forever since I had cinnamon sprinkled on top of my cappuccino. And look at that delicious brown sugar! Mmmm, America, you better step up your coffee game!

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The flight from Istanbul to Rome was only 2.5 hours, but surprise, there was another meal! Huzzah to Turkish Airlines for remembering my vegetarian meal (funny, as I’m now officially no longer vegetarian). This was my favourite airplane meal so far: roasted eggplant and squash with Mediterranean spices and basmati rice! The salad was served with a little packet of olive oil and lemon juice as dressing. The olive oil was such good quality that I could smell it as soon as I opened it, and it made the salad taste deliciously fresh!20140927_154721 (2)

I landed in Rome around midnight. I had asked my host if I could change my Airbnb reservation to accommodate me arriving 3 days earlier. Luckily there was room available, and she didn’t mind the last-minute change. Still, this was the part of the journey that I was most nervous about: I had only confirmed with her 6 hours before I landed, and I wasn’t sure how I would get to her apartment. Would she even be awake to let me in? Luckily yes! I took a taxi to her place (and totally overpaid; dumb tourist mistake #1, but do you really think I cared at that point?), and was greeted with a warm embrace by Patrizia. I showered, called my parents, and went straight to sleep.

 

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