Thursday, March 31, 2011

Treat Yourself

Some days life just calls to you to treat yourself, and for me, today was one of those days. After several days of being sick with a raspy, barely-there voice and nasty cough, I woke up this morning feeling better, if only slightly. So instead of spending yet another day lounging in bed and letting myself fester, I got myself up, showered and out of the apartment into a beautiful day in Rome.

Today has been 70 and sunny. Nothing short of perfect.

After getting myself ready and doing some laundry, I had to head up to school to print out my airline tickets for Budapest (did I mention I'm leaving for three days in Budapest tonight?!). I got to school, lounged in the courtyard with some friends, soaked up the sun, and got my tickets printed. After lingering a little longer in the courtyard, I headed over to a nearby coffee bar with one of my room mates. We ordered our iced coffees, and I ordered a delicious turkey, pesto and tomato sandwich. She headed back to class while I walked over to the bus stop to head back to my neighborhood to go grab some snacks for my trip from the supermarket.

I also decided to pick up a suppli along the way. Now, for those of you who are not familiar with suppli, they are, perhaps, one of the most delicious little snacks I've ever tasted. Essentially, they're balls of risotto wrapped around mozzarella cheese and deep friend with bread crumbs. Can you say, "YUM!" Because I sure can. And for only a euro, it's a nice treat.

Iced coffee: Check.
Sandwich: Check.
Suppli: Check.

Next up was gelato. And although I treat myself to gelato several times a week, today was perfect gelato weather. The most perfect gelato weather there has been since I've been in Rome. And so I wandered into Romagnani (click it to read about its gelato in one of my earlier posts). I got nutella and strawberry yogurt with whipped cream. It melted almost immediately, so I was dribbling gelato everywhere, but man, was it the perfect thing to top off my lunch, coffee and suppli.

Gelato: Check.

And now I've finished packing for Budapest and will be leaving for the airport in only two more hours.

The lesson learned is that, sometimes, you need to treat yourself. Especially if you've been sick or tired or stressed--treat yourself. Because it will make you feel better, and nothing can soothe the mind like a little snack that you really, really love (which for me, happens to be iced coffee, an Italian sandwich, suppli, and a gelato).

What is your favorite way to treat yourself? Have you been stressed, sick or tired lately and not treated yourself to something special? Will you do yourself a favor and treat yourself tonight?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Over at 1000 Awesome Things, Neil Pasricha made a really great post about how incredibly awesome planes are!

And it's true! Planes really are awesome.

Think about it: without planes people could not travel as efficiently, cheaply, or quickly as they currently can. They would have to take cars, or boats, or horses. It would take days, weeks or months to travel instead of hours and minutes.

The problem is that people really do take these amazing machines for granted. They complain about how the flight attendants are not attendant, or how it's too cold or too hot, or how the baby in the back won't stop crying, or how the talkative elderly woman sitting the seat over won't stop talking, or that the seats are uncomfortable.

People, come on! You're flying. And not only are you flying, but your flying in an aircraft that weighs more tons than you can probably comprehend. How is it that it's in the air? I sure as heck don't know how, but it manages to get in the air! It's, to put it extravagantly, a miracle!

Today, I'm stoked about airplanes. Tomorrow I fly to Budapest--a trip that would take me well over 15 hours by bus, 8 by train, or weeks and weeks and weeks if I walked.

So, here's to planes.

What is something you take for granted about planes? Do you have any fun stories from a flight you took, like how you met someone or learned something? What do you appreciate most about being able to fly to a destination of your choice?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Don't Be Afraid to Speak Up

What happens when something goes wrong while your traveling?

Let's face it. It's bound to happen. In fact, on every single trip I've taken, something has gone wrong. It's inevitable. You get sick. You lose your keys. You have something stolen. All of these things will happen if you're a traveler, and there really is not much you can do to prevent these things from happening all the time.

So, when something goes wrong, speak up. Tell someone. Talk to someone who may be able to help you. It's better than suffering alone, and it's one way to ensure that your suffering will be lessened.

For instance, I just got back from a ten day spring break trip to Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris. While it was, quite possibly, one of the best times of my life, it also came with its own handful of problems. It's to be expected, especially considering I was traveling to 4 countries in 10 days with 120 people. Things go wrong, and the best thing that I could do was ask for help when I needed it.

The perfect example of what to do when things go wrong was when I was on this trip. To put it simply, I had a lot of problems with locks and keys. For some reason, the god of locks and keys was not on my good side throughout my spring break.

In Prague, I locked my suitcase in order to keep my belongings safe in the hostel room while I was out exploring the city. The second day into the trip, I lost the keys to the lock. I sat there frustrated for a few minutes, pissed off at myself for losing the keys, and then decided to do something about it. Sitting in my room sulking would not solve the problem, so I went to the reception desk of the hostel and asked if anyone had turned in a blue lanyard with two keys on it. The answer? "No." I walked back up to my room even more frustrated, sat on the floor, and fiddled with the lock and two bobby pins in hopes that I would somehow open the lock like they do in the movies. The result? No luck. So I walked back down to the reception desk and this time asked the receptionist if he was able to break a lock. After getting a puzzled look, I told him that I had locked my suitcase and lost the keys, and he smiled, went to the back room, and grabbed a lock cutter the size of my arm. He followed me up to my room, broke the lock for me, and we laughed--me at my stupidity and him at the fact that "It happens all the time."

Additionally, in Prague, I also locked myself out of my room. But the best part of it was that I locked myself out of my room while I was off to take a shower. So not only was I locked out of my room, but I was in a towel with my shampoo and conditioner bottles. This time there was no chance I was walking down to reception since I was dripping water and in a towel. I locked myself in the bathroom, and thought, "Well... my room mates should be back in an hour after their Czech beer tasting... I'll wait until they get back." Of course, I got bored after twenty minutes of sitting in the bathroom, and decided it would be smarter to wander the hallway in hopes of running into a girl who I could ask to run down to reception for me. Lucky me, I found a girl, and she helped me out. I got into my room and was able to get my clothes.

Then, as if that wasn't enough of locks and keys, I ended up sleep walking out into the hallway in Amsterdam without my room key. After spending several minutes banging on the door hoping to wake one of my room mates up after I realized I was out of the room, I paced the hallway deciding what to do. Should I go out into the bar/reception area in my pajamas even though the bar was still rockin'? Or do I sit like a lost (and sleepy) puppy in the hallway. Of course, I go to reception. I was greeted with some chuckles and pointing... but I got back into my room.

So the moral of my stories? Don't be afraid to speak up, even if it makes you look dumb, or ridiculous, or lost, or silly, or anything. Because more often than not, you aren't the only person it's happened to, and others can help you out of embarrassing situations. It's better to speak up than to be left out of your element.

Do you have any stories of when something went wrong during your travels? Was something stolen? Did you miss a train? Were you locked out of a room or your suitcase? What did you do to solve the problem and what did you learn from it?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Public Transportation is... Well.... Just Better

Let's face it.

When people travel (especially when people who have money travel), they typically they don't take public transportation.

This fact is a sad, sad, SAD thing. What is so great about going through the process of renting a car or van, learning how to use it, learning the traffic flows and quirks of a new place, and getting lost when the streets are one way in the opposite direction of the way you want to go? It's frustrating, sometimes dangerous, and always a hassle.

Instead, there is this wonderful thing called public transit, and amazingly enough, it works wonderfully, especially here in Rome.

I would swear by public transportation after living in Rome. And although it comes with its own frustrations, for the most part it is reliable, easy to use, and a great way to see the city. The busses of Rome literally go everywhere that you could think of. They have huge double busses for the most popular routes, medium sized busses that travel out to residential areas, and even little electric busses that zip in and along the small back roads of the Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo. The trams are quick and come every couple of minutes, giving you an even more reliable source of public transit. The subways, although limited here in Rome (there are only two lines, with a third still in construction because they keep finding ancient ruins and having to reroute it), are even more reliable than the trams because they come on a constant time line, and are perhaps the quickest way to get to the most popular tourist destinations.

While the public transit here in Rome is not so reliable after midnight during the week or 2am on weekends (they all stop running for the most part besides the occasional night bus with limited routes), it is still a great way to get around and see the city during the day. Not only that, but it has also been a great way to see the people who actually live in the city that I'm visiting for the semester. I've also been lucky enough to meet some of these people when they've mistaken me for an Italian speaker and asked me a question, only to discover I'm an English speaker and visiter instead of local. Most people have then been happy to talk to me, even though it often consists of a lot of charades and broken Italian on my part or broken English on their part.

For example: I met Giulio, an 86 year old man who has lived in Rome for his entire life. He told me I have wonderful eyes, and that he is happy to see a young person traveling the world and studying in a country besides her own. He was pleasant, sweet, and cordial. After giving me a kiss on each cheek, he got off the bus at his stop and proceeded on with his day. Had I not taken the bus that day on my way to school, I would not have met Giulio.

So when you find yourself in a new place, even if it's only for a few days, take some form of public transportation, even if it is an ox-drawn cart in Costa Rica or a rickshaw in India or a dala dala in Tanzania (just hold tight to your bag if you do). You'll find that you will probably enjoy it more than the process of renting a private vehicle or dealing with taxi drivers.

Have you ever had a rewarding experience while taking public transportation, whether at home or abroad? Did you meet someone, see something, or end up somewhere you never expected? If you haven't taken public transportation, would you be willing to sacrifice a private vehicle in the future to take a ride on a bus, even if just for a day?

Monday, March 14, 2011

My Heart Goes Out to Japan

As a student studying abroad, and as a student who has made a conscious effort to make herself a global citizen, I find it absolutely heart wrenching when a country is devastated. Even though watching videos from earthquakes, mudslides, fires, tsunamis and hurricanes is upsetting... I find that I can't not inform myself when something happens in another part of the world, or even to my own country.

This past Friday Japan was hit by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake, as I'm sure all of you know. And then it was hit by a tsunami that has killed thousands of people, and thousands more are missing.

Although my first thoughts when I heard were about the well-being of the people whose lives were taken, their families, their homes and now broken lives I also began to think about something else...


Every semester, students from all over the world go abroad to study to other countries. There has been word about the safety of many students who were abroad in Japan for the semester, but some families are still waiting to hear about the safety of their students.

I could not imagine being in Japan during this time. But this natural disaster has really made me think long and hard about being in such a situation.

It was just this past May and June that I was in Costa Rica when Guatemala was hit by Hurricane Agatha, suffered a lot of damage, including an enormous sinkhole (technically a "piping feature" which is much more dangerous than a sinkhole) in Guatemala City that was 100 feet deep and 66 feet in diameter, and then had Volcano Pacaya erupt. In Guatemala alone, 153 people died and almost 180 died if you factor in Honduras and Nicaragua.

The difference between me being in Costa Rice instead of Guatemala during this natural disaster?
$10 in a plane ticket.
Thankfully, I was in Costa Rica and not in Guatemala (or Nicaragua or Honduras where they were hit). But regardless, it was a close call nonetheless.

I've thought the same thing several times now this semester: "Thankfully, I'm in Italy and not ________." (Take your pick as to what to fill in the blank with... the answers include but are not limited to Egypt, Japan, Tunisia, Morocco....)
So, thankfully I'm in Italy.
But it was just over a year ago that there were problems economically in countries like Greece, Italy, Ireland and Portugal, and while these are not as devastating as natural disasters or political unrest like that of Japan or Haiti or Egypt or Tunisia, they are still problems that can possibly affect students while abroad (not to mention student citizens of these countries).

It's a lot to think about when traveling. Things happen that are out of our control, and while it should not stop you from traveling, it is something to take into consideration and prepare for nonetheless.

Have you been keeping up with the news about Japan? What have your thoughts been? What has made you the most worried? Just as one of my first concerns was about students studying abroad because I can relate closely to them, what was one of your first concerns? And have you ever found yourself saying, "Thankfully I chose to travel to 'A' and not 'B' country"?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Panini Bonanza

I've been writing a lot about food in my time here, but that's only because it's so... damn... delicious.

Seriously! I can't get enough of the food here. And as I've written before, it's a lot of carbs. Thankfully, I've avoided putting on the pounds because of all the walking I do, in addition to all the fresh fruits and vegetables I eat.

Gelato, pizza... and now paninis!

Funny thing about Paninis... the American name for it is actually incorrect in several ways. First, panini is plural for panino, which is a loaf of bread used for sandwich making. So not only are you saying you want more than one when you say "Panini please!" but you're saying that you'd like more than one loaf of bread instead of more than one sandwich.

Confusing. I know. However, the Italians have caught on to the tourists' stupidity and caved to the fact that people will visit and order a panini instead of a panino, and that they will expect a sandwich instead of a loaf of bread. So, when you walk into a sandwich shop, feel free to continue using Panini, as long as it's in a more touristy area.

As I did with gelato and pizza, I have two favorite sandwich shops in the city.

Il Fornaio
As with their pizza, Il Fornaio win again with their sandwiches (location mentioned in previous post). Not only are many of their sandwiches made with their pizza bianco (a white pizza bread with no sauce, only a little olive oil), they slice the pizza into a top and bottom and stick all kinds of deliciousness inbetween. Prosciutto crudo or cotto, lettuce, spinach, egg, zucchini, mozzarella, eggplant, fontina, swiss cheese, parmesian, turkey, a tuna are just a few of the many ingredients they may be serving on their sandwiches that day. Their salami is also something to be tried, more so perhaps than any other food item, and it's not hard to see why when you lay your eyes on the enormous salami roll sitting in their doorway. I can guarantee, you will not be disappointed with any of their "paninis."

DueCento Gradi
Around the corner from Old Bridge Gelateria (one of the gelato places I raved about two posts ago) is DueCento Gradi... quite a sandwich place. Located in Piazza Risorgimento, this little hole in the wall sandwich place is surprisingly large on the interior. However, their fairly priced paninis are almost better eaten wrapped in the brown paper, standing up outside on a sunny day after spending the morning in the Vatican Museums. Their sandwiches are named after locations both in Rome and in Italy, and each one lives up to the name. You can have essentially any type of sandwich fixin that you can think of in your panini, and the combinations are endless. My recommendations? The Siena or the Popolo.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Pizza Pie!

Being in Italy means eating some of the best pizza in the world. I mean, the stuff was invented here in Naples--it should be good. (Technically, pre-pizza forms have been around since Ancient Greece... but the pizza we know today originated in Naples, Italy).

Back home I eat pizza maybe once every two to three weeks. It's a treat. It's greasy, cheesy, and oh so delicious. I would never imagine eating pizza once a week... or even more than that. But here in Rome, it's a food staple. There are pizzerias on literally every street, and they all smell delicious as you walk past them on your way to wherever you're heading.

Seeing as how I've picked my favorite gelato places, I figured I'd do the same for pizza. There are three places in particular that stick out in my mind here in Rome.

Di Simone's
Not only is it conveniently located on Via Carini right by The American University of Rome where I study, but it is, by far and without a doubt, the most incredibly delicious pizza I have ever tasted in my life. Even sitting here now, writing about it and thinking about its flavors, my mouth is watering despite having already had dinner. That's how good this pizza is--enough to make my mouth water when I have an already full belly. This place gets packed every day of the week during the lunch hour, and it's not hard to understand why. Offering over a two dozen varieties of pizzas and plenty of other delicious foods like suppli (deep fried risotto balls with mozzarella cheese in the center) and fried veggies, lasagna, gnocchi, broccoli rabe, and spinach, Di Simone's is the place to go to grab a bite to eat. You go in, pick out what you want, tell them how big or small a piece you want, they weigh it, and you pay by the weight. You're in an out before you know it, chowing down on some savory proscuitto e formaggio pizza or some buttery zucchini pizza or some classic pizza pomodoro. It's tough to go wrong, because each pizza is as delicious as the one before it.

Dar Poeta
If you want something a little less hectic and more classic, head over to Dar Poeta in Trastevere located on Vicolo del Bologna. The crust is made from a secret recipe, and locals head here to fulfill their pizza cravings for lunch and dinner. With checkered table clothes and a kitchen you can see from some of the tables, Dar Poeta is cozy and worth checking out. Aside from the cute ambiance, the pizza is really, really good. It's a softer crust, instead of crunchy like Di Simone's, but it's what you get on the pizza that makes it a perfect hunger satisfier. On my visit, I ordered the four cheese and chili powder pie, and all I have is one word--perfecto. I also plan on going back to try out their dessert calzones: from what I've read, a perfect blend of ricotta cheese and nutella.

Il Fornaio
Looking for that deep, bready crust that seems to be lacking in more of Rome? Look no further than Il Fornaio located on Via dei Baullari on your way to Campo dei Fiori. It's pizza rosso is probably the best Sicilian pizza I've ever had (although, I'm sure if I went to Sicily I could find better.... so I'll settle for best I've had so far). I was lucky enough to get a corner piece fresh out of the oven so that the crust was nice and crunchy and the inside was doughy and soft. As if the tomato sauce wasn't good enough, it was supplemented with cherry tomatoes tucked into air pockets in the dough and came as sweet little surprises with every bite. Truly satisfying after a morning spent meandering around Campo.

What is the best pizza you've ever had? Where was it and what made it so delicious?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Hey! Ho! Gelato!

When in Italy, one of the first foods to try is gelato. Not only is it a staple in the Italian diet (no, I'm not kidding. People actually go for their "camminare" (walk) after dinner to get gelato in order to help with digestion. And although one may think that gelato is just the Italian word for ice cream, one would be wrong... gelato is actually healthier (and, in this blogger's opinion, better!) Gelato has a lower fat content and a lower sugar content than ice cream.

I personally can't get enough of the stuff. I think it's smooth, light, full of taste, and extremely delicious.

And so, I've compiled a list of my favorite gelato places in the city of Rome that I've been fortunate enough to try at this point. I'm sure there is an endless list of amazing gelato places here in Rome... but if I were to attempt to hit every single one before I left the city, I would be forced to do nothing except eat, sleep and breathe gelato (hmmm.... maybe this doesn't sound like such a bad idea....)

Located right by the Argentina 8 tram stop, this gelateria is "artigianale," meaning it's all made with real ingredients instead of artificial ingrediants. With flavors like "Frappe" (a fried dough with powdered suger), "Biscotti Rum," and "Dolci di Leche" it has some pretty unique gelati. I highly recommend trying it right when you get off the 8 Tram. It's quite delicious, they pile it on, and they even include a shortbread cookie!

Checco er Carettiere
Not only a Gelateria, but also a delicious pasticceria and restaurant located on Via Benedetta in Trastevere, right off the Tiber River, this little place is by far the best place to satisfy a chocolate craving. Not only are their pastries, hot chocolate, and cakes very good, but their Nutella gelato is out of this world. Mix it with their fresh (and made with real) Banana gelato and you've got yourself a party in your mouth. Trust me. I have yet to have a better Nutella/Banana gelato in the 5 weeks I've been here.

Fior di Luna
My first gelato in Rome on my third night in the city (sadly, it took me three nights to have my first gelato. If you're even in Rome... or Italy... don't let this happen to you). Located on Via della Lungoretta Their gelato is packed with flavor and made with fresh, in season, and organic ingrediants, so don't expect Fragola (strawberry) in the winter months. However try the pistachio and chocolate... it won't let you down.

How about a heaping helping of gelato after a long morning walking around the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and Pantheon? Head to the back streets the Pantheon and you'll be greeted with the huge lettering of this gelateria, found on Via Uffici del Vicario, that was featured in the famous movie Roman Holiday. Not only is it famous for the movie, but its gelato lives up to the hype. After paying at the front register, head to the back to squeeze your way through the crowds to the counter to ask for a variety of flavors. After picking not one, not two, but three flavors, you'll also be asked "con panna?" ("Whipping cream?") Obviously, the only answer is yes, after which you can elbow your way back out into the streets to enjoy your treat... that is... if you can avoid the tempting other sweets the shop has to offer.

Old Bridge Gelateria
Spending any amount of time in Rome and not going to Old Bridge to get gelato should be a crime (or a sin, I suppose, for it's location near to the Vatican and St. Peter's). It's claim to fame is being the oldest gelateria in the city, and it's located on Via Bastioni di Michelangelo. Their fruit flavors are, almost literally, to die for. Try the arancia and ricotta canella (orange and cinnimon ricotta) and you won't be disappointed. I was so surprised by how incredible the ricotta canella was the first time I had it, that I literally went back immediately and ordered more. Not to mention, the servers behind the counter are some of the kindest I've experienced here in Rome--they're fun, jovial and always willing to listen to you botch Italian as you try to order like a local.

Romagnani Cafe
Last but not least, I've included my neighborhood gelateria--Romagnani. Hard to miss thanks to its huge pink neon-lettering, located on the corner of Via di Monteverde and Via della Donna Olympia, this little cafe has quite tasty gelato. Certainly not the best in the city, but the best in my neighborhood, for sure. Sitting at the outdoor tables, enjoying a cappuccino and gelato--typically their crema and fiordilatte--is a great way to ease my stress after my class days. Obviously out of the way for the typical tourist visiting Rome for only a few days, it's worth checking out if you live here for several months in the residential area of Monteverde.

Have you ever been to Rome? If so, what's your favorite gelato place? Or do you have a place near your home that serves gelato?

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