A topnotch site

Month: August, 2017

Roman adventures – part 3

Writing this from photos, almost every picture has its own story, so here goes.

I have just dropped off my laundry at the “Lavandaria” (laundry service). “If I ever leave this world alive” by Flogging Molly has been playing almost non-stop in my headset. Great song.

Came to the café where I usually have an evening drink, ordered a double espresso and what I think was an apple Danish. All the waitress could say was “apple” when I pointed. I’m planning on having a very quiet day today. My body is finally starting to complain about the ordeal I have been putting it through. Walking for 5 weeks and eating new food and always open to new adventures takes a lot out of you. So, today, music and series and pizza and beer and home. Well, not home, but my bed, which is pretty much my version of home here and it’s good.



I went in! It cost me most of the money I had left. It was interesting to experience it. I was 12 years old the first time I watched Gladiator, but that’s not why I wanted to go in. I was 7 when I first started learning the old Egyptian, Greek and Roman myths. I have studied archaeology and history and the horrors and wonders human kind have gone through during the ages. It was wonderful to go in, but maybe just because I had some background knowledge. I wouldn’t put it on a to-do list. It is amazing yes, but I hung out with the guide most of the time.

I was rather surprised, the tickets aren’t that cheap, the tour has 3 parts. The colosseum, the Palatine hill and the Roman forum. An entire Canadian-Indian family dropped out when the 5year old son felt sick. I could understand the boy and a parent leaving, but not everybody. After the Colosseum part a young couple left, saying they only wanted to see the colosseum. I was very surprised, tickets for the colosseum were about 85% cheaper than the tickets we had bought. I didn’t mind, I was just surprised at the way people use money and what they think is acceptable for them.


Artist friend

I have been hanging out with an artist from time to time. He sells watercolour paintings in the city centre. It’s flexible, but hard work. Many people look, some question, but few buy his work, even though it’s good stuff. Still, he says he gets buy and enjoys it.

One evening I was sitting with him on the church steps while he packed up his display. He tapped my shoulder and pointed. “Nonie” he said. A tiny old lady was standing in front of the green door of her apartment building. She was signalling to him “No”. I asked what was going on and he told me that he usually helps her walk to the church on the days she wishes to go. She’s rather old and partly deaf, so she cannot make the 200meters from her front door to the church alone. Tonight, she only came down with the elevator to stand in front of her door and enjoy the outside air. She waved at me a few times and I told her “Buono serra” but my friend reminded me that she couldn’t hear me.

One evening him and I went out for a beer. It was picture perfect, walking though the city in tiny streets next to a guy with an Italian accent who knew the city’s secret shortcuts. I was surprised to be taken to an Irish pub, but it was nice there.

He is learning English and I am learning Italian. He thinks it “cute” when I screw up and I have laughed myself silly at his pronunciation. The other day he asked me what you call a “bad lady” in English, I figured out he wanted to say “bitch”. I said this and he confused it with the “beach”. I used my hands, squashing them together to explain that the “i” sound in “bitch” was short, after that I used my index finger to draw a horizontal line in the air explaining that the “ea” sound in “beach” was longer. He confused the word “cup” and “cop” and “shadow” and “shower” as well. I know enough Italian and he knows enough English, we communicate well, but small jokes take a long time to transfer and sometimes stories are skipped because we just cannot understand each other. Or it takes to much energy ensuring the other party comprehends the story.


“Surprise me”

I have been saying “surprise me” very regularly here. I ordered drink the other evening and instead of choosing one, I was “surprised” by a “Sex on the Beach”. A really good drink though. I said, “surprise me” and pointed at the dessert menu, a delicious custard and berry thing was placed before it. I enjoy saying this, I’m not a picky eater and sometimes people choose something for you that you would not choose for yourself.



Most days I eat one meal, usually lunch, in a café. I go out and make it my thing of the day. Order something nice, see some people listen to Italian and enjoy it. Then at night I have a different version of food. I have bought wine in a huge 3liter plastic bottle, I have some plastic cups and plates and I bought some cheese and salami wrapped in paper and sometimes mozzarella cheese. The only cutlery I currently have are plastic spoons.

I take my plastic cup and fill it with wine. Then I take my plate and put a few slices of salami, cheese and sometimes a ball of mozzarella on to it. I have mustard, but no knife, so my fingers suffice and there’s sometimes mayonnaise and a plastic spoon involved. One evening I added olives and sometimes tomatoes. It’s tasty food in a cheap setting, I eat it and I enjoy my music and my series and being alone in my room.

I had 2 boxes of left-over pasta in the fridge in my room. I mixed these and reheated them on the gas stove in the kitchen. It was the first time I had been in the kitchen. The son of the lady I rent from had to help me turn on the stove, it’s old school and has to be lit with a lighter. I tipped my food onto a plastic plate and borrowed a fork. After my food was done I Google translated the word for “clean” and asked if I could clean the pot I had used, but he said it wasn’t necessary.

This morning I chatted with one of the waiters at a cafe I’ve been to regularly. I asked him where the other waiter was today, he asked me who I was talking about. The guy I wanted to describe had a big beard and a shaved head. I explained this by running my hand over my head and saying “niente” (nothing) and then running my hand over my chin saying “grande” (big). “Aaah, Marco!” he exclaimed and proceeded to tell  me that Marco was on vacation. Marco had served me previously and we had chatted while I enjoyed my drink and “snacks”.



In South Africa, I never thought about public transport, here it’s a necessity. Without busses and trains and trams me and many other in Rome are stranded. The busses have been running irregularly, so I tend to walk instead of wait. I have the time and the physical strength which is nice. Yesterday I waited for a tram to come, re-checked google maps and found my destination, a flea market, was a 25min walk away. I enjoyed the walk much more than the market in the end. It was rather repetitive.

If public transport works its fantastic, you get to go wherever you want without a car or a license and it can help the environment. Instead of 20 people each taking a car somewhere, one bus takes all 20 people…


Piazza di Popolo

One day my artist friend packed up early and went for a “passagiata” (a nice walk). He brought me here and showed me around Villa Borghese gardens. He hummed Ed Sheeran’s version of “Galway” girl.

I love climbing up to see a city from an unfamiliar perspective and Piazza di Popolo did not disappoint. It reminded me a little of the view from the Vatican, a similar structure had been built here. At the top, it’s panoramic. I hopped up and sat down on the wall and he pointed out the different parts of the city to me, it was even possible to see the Pantheon.


My roommate

I have never had a roommate, I am an only child and my room has always been my own. Now I’m living with a girl who is so different from me. She’s a good roommate, but I don’t think we’ll ever be friends.

We are two very different people, with different ideas of what is appropriate and acceptable. She doesn’t steal my things or eat my food, she comes in late, when I’m sleeping and makes a bit of a racket and then goes to sleep. I get up early while she’s still sleeping, make almost no racket, dress silently and start my day while she’s still sleeping. She’s messy, but keeps the mess on her side of the small room we share.

One evening she invited me to join her for dinner, I comprehended that she and I would be spending time together and getting to know each other, but we ended up meeting her boyfriend and the two of them engaged in their own evening. I was curious about the food though so I stuck around.

At one point, I wanted to laugh and blush simultaneously. My roommate speaks no English, literally. Somehow the conversation turned to sex and she whispered something in my ear, in English. I gagged and laughed aloud and though of Chandler, “Can’t say hello, but she knows [sex position]?!” (FRIENDS). I was so surprised and amused and horrified. She took me to the place she had previously bought me dinner and now I finally knew where it was. I do not plan on hanging out with her in a friend type way again, but I have learned something. I have learned that you can live with someone who is not somebody you would want to befriend and it can be good.


Night at café

One evening I went out for a happy hour drink at a café just around the corner from my room. I asked the waiter for suggestions of what to do in Rome. He asked what I enjoy and I yet again used my “surprise me” phrase. A lesbian couple came in, but only the one girl could speak English and we didn’t want to exclude her girlfriend. The waiter told me to wait, his friend who speaks English would be coming by. I was so glad when an English-speaking human entered I greeted him with a kiss on each cheek, usually reserved for acquaintances and friends but he laughed. He and his friends spent the night scribbling suggestions for me on the back of the waiter’s notebook. We talked and laughed and ate and drank and started arguing about philosophy which is when I left, I was just too relaxed to care about different viewpoints by that time.



Every night I feel too lazy to set an alarm for 5am ensuring I get to see the sunrise. This morning I woke up at 5am all by myself and decided to go for it. I dressed and found one open café for an espresso. It was 5.3km to walk to Gianicolo hill, from there you see the whole of Rome in an eastern direction. It took me over an hour to get here. I loved the walk, it was dark and cold and quiet.

I was wearing shorts and a strap top, I threw on my shawl, but it was a cool morning. My open skin was cold, but the parts where my backpack and the shawl covered me were drenched in sweat. I moved my bad regularly trying to keep it from covering a large area.

At one point, I left the streets where the first cars and busses and cafes were starting and I climbed up some stairs entering a still sleeping residential area. At the top of the stairs I turned around to take a picture, the first light of the day was starting to touch the city. It was beautiful. I noticed an eastern looking man at the bottom of the stairs, maybe Filipino. He saw me but stood with his back against the wall smoking, I moved on. It was twilight and I kept walking.

Google maps said turn right. I turned and saw the young man walk down a parallel street. “Don’t be silly, his just moving in the same direction as you” I thought. All the same I put my backpack on securely, that way it couldn’t be snatched easily. But my phone vibrated, I had turned to soon, I had to double back and take another street. I turned around and gasped. He was standing next to a car watching me. I was lost and he knew it.

My sunglasses were in my hair and I lowered them, not wanting to make eye contact. I can whistle extremely loudly, but who would I summon? There was nobody else around, nothing was open. I walked purposefully trying to seem as if I knew where I was going. I passed an open gate and entered. I thought it might be a hotel, but it was a hospital. I tried to exit the complex from the other side but it was closed. I checked my phone for the time. I would wait here for a few minutes and then leave if he was still there I would tell the staff to help me.

By the time I left he had vanished, I wondered what he had wanted and why he had done it. Was he evil? Was he just curious? How did he see the scenario ending in his mind?

From the hospital to the sunrise spot was easy, just walk straight. There were a few other tourists there, I sat and watched the silhouettes of the mountains in the distance and the city in front of me, everything covered by beautiful light. Finally, the sun came over the ridge of the mountain and almost blinded me. I put on my sunglasses, but it changed the view too much, I took them off and decided to truly see the sunrise. The first few tourists left and a few new ones came. I sat and watched and enjoyed. I opened YouTube and listened to Lion King’s “Circle of Life” which plays as the sunrises in the film.

Eventually I hopped off the wall and walked to the Bridge of Angels and from there to Piazza Navona. It felt the way I remembered Rome 5 years ago. Quiet.

I sat down at my favourite café behind Piazza Navona. I tried to order an omelette, but they were yet again out of eggs (why are omelettes on the menu if they never have eggs?) I ended up having toast with cheese and tomato. I sat there and enjoyed it, I would have stayed longer but the waiter decided to turn on some music I just could not even try to enjoy. I left.

I saw my artist friend again, around 12h but he would not greet me with a kiss on each cheek today. My 5am hike had left me sticky and smelly. I laughed, and bought a “Pizza Romano” and a drink from the café next to the spot he works at. I sat next to him having my lunch and we talked and sat in silence. After lunch, I came home and washed. Somebody must have been in the bathroom before me, my shower was entirely cold. I hope I get to hike the Camino de Santiago someday.


That’s it for today, I think my laundry will also be done by now. Going to pack up, pick up my fresh clothes, get some pizza and head home. Today is my “do nothing” day.


Rome – Summer 2017 – part 2

Currently sitting at a small Italian café (the only open one I could find). I wanted to write my blog, but blogging about Italy while sitting in my room just seemed non-sensical. So, here I am, with a Spritz and some snacks, people around me are speaking Italian and a small street market run by a Bengali guy is selling clothes.

No body, literally nobody, believes me when I say I’m from south Africa. They stare in surprise when I tell them. It’s been 5 years and still people don’t always believe me. They ask from which country my parents come and ask where my family was originally from. Some times I explain that many people in SA are white, sometimes I laugh at their surprise.

Today I bought some pizza froma small pizzeria, walked home and had pizza and beer in my room while watching One Tree Hill. I just felt filled up with cultural experiences and interesting food.


  1. Central station = mall and other stuff

The central station is called the “Termimi” (terminal). I came here and the atmosphere was restless. People coming and going, jetlagged travellers arriving and hurried tourists leaving. It was unsettling. I found the shopping area later, but there wasn’t much there. It was small, I walked slowly through it, hoping to find something, a non-touristic souvernir. I couldn’t, I found a t-shirt that stated “Afraid of Nothing” and bought it. Fear is a killing force. I am cutious and I calculate risks, but I don’t want to be afraid. There are things I don’t like, e.g. spiders, but I refuse to be scared anymore.


  1. Boncompagni Ludovisi, a little-known museum dedicated to costumes, fashion and the decorative arts – termini area

Still can’t find it. I wanted to come here, sat down at the buss stop and waited after waiting for the bus for about 10 minutes my senses kicked in and I googled the museum hours. It was closed on the day I wanted to go and so I picked something else. I retried coming here a different time but yet again was thwarted by something. It must be interesting once you find it.

While I’m writing this, two Italian men are whistling trying to attract the attention of their friend on the other side of the road. The man finally crossed the road to join his companions, an old man with wispy grey hair, an electronic cigarette and glasses and a young man with a partly shaved head and a choker.


  1. Rione Monti: Monti is Rome’s oldest district and is best explored on foot

This was on my list, I finally googled what it was and found I had been here multiple times. This is where I have spent many of my days. It is the oldest part of the city, with the statues, bars, cafes, pizzarias and cathedrals around every corner.

Street artists sell their art and tourists mill around, real Italian people and startled tourist try to walk passed each other in the narrow alley ways.

In one street the tourists all gather, trying to walk to the next “sight”. Moving to the next alley way you are immediately alone in a quiet street with a  traditional Italian café. No tourist and incredibly beautiful buildings.


  1. Via del Corso and Via Condotti are shopping havens

Whom ever wrote this has a very diffent idea of shopping than me. The same franchises which line the Dubai Mall and Oxford Street in London and Fifth Avenue in New York are here. Why, oh why, would I travel to Rome to shop at Zara and H&M?


Yesterday I found a reason. Many places are closed, it’s summer holiday and at the place I’m renting the laundry machine broke. The laundy service is on vacation and so I went to H&M to buy new clothes. It seemed so American, buying instead of washing, but I literally didn’t have any other option. The laundry service will reopen in 5 days, I am literally counting my clothes, making sure I get to day 5 with something clean to wear while I wash the rest!


It’s the weekend of August 15th. Nobody warned me about this, but according to Roman Catholic religion, August 15 is the day that the Virgin Mary went to heaven. Every thing closes down and it feels almost like Christmas. Only the touristy places are open, but the real places shut down. In a non-touristed part, I found an open restaurant and asked for a table for one. They asked if I had a reservation, I starred at the guy non-plused. Only later I realized it was a public holiday. I sat there eating my food, while around me Italian families gathered together and joined each other, just like we do on Christmas day. There was a set menu which included water. I guzzled down the whole 2 litres before my food came. Walking in the heat takes a lot out of your body. Food was served. Fish, raw salmon which surprised me, I thought this was a Japanese tradition. The salmon was accompanied by an octopus and potato combination, shrimps and something fishy I didn’t know, but liked.

Then came the pasta, also with fish. Fresh pasta with a few prawns (still with the heads and shells on), mussels, in their shells and a gorgeous tomato sauce. In my mind, I thanked Jamie Oliver for the fact that I knew how to eat the food on my plate. I picked up the prawn and peeled them without thinking. I ate the mussels and remembered the first time I cooked a Jamie recipe which contained both, that day I had no idea what I was doing, today I did it naturally. And I enjoyed every single creamy bite of the pasta.

The pasta was followed by risotto. And then came the bill. I had to wait rather a long time, I sat there and for the first time in a long time I realized I was a solo traveller, all the families around me reminded me of that fact.


Some places reopened again today, but many are still closed. I googled where I could update my phone contract and walked 20min to find a closed store. I went into the nearest café and asked the guy working there in broken Italian where to go. I never found the place he sent me to, instead I found a food market. A local place to which no tourist has possibly ever come. This is the beauty of renting a room outside the tourist area. I wandered in there and found a stand selling salami and cheese. I needed food for the week and the prices were surprisingly cheaper than the supermarket. I bought 500g of salami and 500g of cheese along with some cherry tomatoes.

listened to some music.

I carried this home, realized that my shirt was drenched, but somehow not smelly. I hung it out the window to dry while I watched one OTH episode. After this I went to the supermarket. I got some other necessities, which included slippers for Dubai. I also found wine sold by the litre. I’d never done this, the wine was in a large metal container one stating “vino rosso” (red wine) and the other “vino bianco” (white wine). Below the barrels were bottles, 2 litre and 5 litre plastic bottles. I took a small 2 litre bottle, the wine was 1euro and 20 cent for a litre. This made me question the quality, I asked an Italian lady who was walking by “vino bene?” she corrected my pronunciation and removed my doubts in one “buono, buono, si”. (good, good, yes). She continued talking in italian, but I only caught snatches and understood single words. I gathered it would be worth in in the end. My experiment cost me about 3euros and turned out really good. Combining this with my salami and cheese I had a little feast in my room for dinner.

My roommate’s boyfriend just joined me for a few minutes. It was nice having somebody just sit down and share a few friendly words. Now back to blogging. I skyped with my best friend this morning, it felt odd to be in the same time zone.


Oh, here’s a moment I should write. While I was still living in Trastevere with Mum I went down the plaza with the guitar player and his friends once. It was rather late when I decided to walk home. I didn’t want to walk home alone. The streets were dark and deserted, I asked Max to walk with me, but he avoided me and suggested one of the older men. Rob, the man he suggested was one of the men I actually wanted to avoid and part of the reason I didn’t want to walk home alone. When I said no he insisted in broken English that Rob was a “good boy”. Rob was about 50 years old and rather tipsy on said evening. Max kept talking and I gathered that what he was trying to say was that Rob was a good person, but the words “good boy” were repeated and I wanted to laugh.


Another Max memory: One evening he asked me whether I change my English when I speak to him and I said yes, I adjust my tempo, my terminology and everything to ensure that he and the others on the plaza understand me. He replied, “thank you” rather slowly as though thinking about each sylabbe. I said, “you’re welcome” in the same tempo and he smiled.

The first time I met Max he tried to tell me that he and the guitarist, Fred, had been friends for almost 20 years, since they were boys. Max kept saying “loui” to which I would reply no, Fred, until finally I learned that “loui” means “him” in Italian.


I’m slowly, but surely making my way through Game of Thrones. I still don’t get all the hype but I keep reading. I usually respect books very much, but this one I am demolishing page by page. It’s rather heavy carrying 700 pages around every day, so the pages I’ve read I trash. I rip out a chunk at a time and read this, trash it when I’m done and carry on. I have never done this to a book, but at least I’m reading it. Man, the mosquitos are eating me while I’m writing this.

One eveing, while being very new here, my tram passed an incredible sight. The sun was setting, the sky was silver and purple. An old bridge crossed over the river and the lights from a street market lined the left side of the river. I got off the tram impulsively and stared. The bridge was perfectly reflected in the water along with the trees. The street market wasn’t what I expected, but I loved it because of the view. I passed a shisha stand and asked a guy who was smoking whether it was worth it. He looked up from his phone and shrugged, “it’s better in Germany”. I kept walking.


A friend told me to visit “Parco centrale del lago”. I came here and fell in love with it, there’s a river and on the opposite side tall pine trees stretch towards the heavens. People come here like they came to Central Park in NYC. They sit and walk and eat and jog. The second time I came here somebody was doing a fantasy photoshoot. He was photographic a girl from a comic I’d never heard of, but the scenery seemed to fit. It felt otherworldly to me as well.

I had a snack at a café near by and returned to the park. I sat down under a tree and two guys who spoke no Italian and barely spoke English shared their lunch with me. They were cousins who had packed a picnic and decided to share it with me. I got a pita bread with some cheese and ham, a few cherry tomatoes and a beer. I wasn’t hungry, but it was such a friendly gesture I accepted it and proceeded to chat with them in our limited language which just then didn’t seem to matter much.


So, Ive read about an Italian starter: stuffed zucchini flowers and it sounded romantic and delicious. I have ordered it twice and it’s not bad, but it’s not what I expected. Not sure if I’ve had it at the wrong places or if I just don’t like it, there must be a reason it’s well-known. In the end I’ve never tasted the “flowers”. They are breaded and stuffed with cheese and all I taste is deep fried batter stuffed with cheese, which, of course, isn’t bad, but it’s not romantic in any way.


One evening I went to a café, I ordered a Spritz and drank it standing at the counter (this is acceptable). I chatted with the waiter while he cleaned up the place. I asked him something and he started telling me about a motorcycle accident he had been it. What started out as a cute story turned into a hilarious Italian lesson during which I learned to cuss in Italian, so I can now say many “bad words”. I have wanted to come back this café, but they seem to be on holiday. It’s open in the morning, serving coffee and pastry, but it closes sometimes during the day and doesn’t reopens for evening drinks.


The toilet at my current accommodation has broken. It’s not that big a problem, but it’s not nice. I’m living in a house which reminds me of our home in South Africa. The broken laundry machine, the old toilet, the no AC. It’s all familiar and foreign at the same time.

I am loving it here, though. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a roommate and it’s not bad. We’re just two very different people. But that doesn’t have to be bad. It’s just new and different, but I thought about doing it again and realized that I wouldn’t want to change a thing.


After living in my room for about a week I suddenly realized one day that I hadn’t taken a decent shower in a few days. I had rinsed off every night, but the city and it’s opportunities made me hurry on to the next adventure. This evening I washed my hair and used conditioner and then soap on my body and I actually picked up a razor and used body lotion. I felt so squeaky clean. I was never dirty, but this was better.


I have fallen three times. Once while walking passed the Roman Forum I tripped over a step that was porbably important and old and special. To me it was just annoying and gave me a few bruised, then I slipped on the stairs while taking out the trash and stained my “Afraid of Nothing” t-shirt and then today I again slipped on the same stairs for no good reason.


The room I’m renting is on the fifth floor. There is a tiny and very slow elevator, but I usually just take the stairs. I was very happy to see the elevator the first day when I had my suitcase, but most of the time I don’t mind climbing the stairs. It’s fun. Here’s a name plak on the door of the third floor which always gives me an idea of where I am.


While sitting here blogging this, the café has filled up. A group of itallian men are chatting, beside them one man is sitting alone. Next to me a man and a woman have been chatting animatedly for the past 30minutes with a little chiwuawa excitedly watching them. A balding man wihta vespa helmet sat down at a table saw the couple and happily joined in their conversation. Sometimes I wonder what they talk about, other times I’m happy I don’t know, I get to enjoy the sound of the language without being part of their conversations. The young man with the shaved head follows almost every young and pretty girl with his eyes while now smoking what appears to be a small cigar.


That’s it for today I guess. I’ve typed for almost 2 hours, but I’m not sure what comes next for today. It’s 7:30 here and the sun is out and the light is nice, the temperature is pleasant and I’m not in the mood to head home.

I’m kind of out of ideas about what to do each day, I’ve done most of the things on the “lists”. I have done many things which are not on lists. I tend to use food to give my day direction, skip breakfast, have an early lunch around 12h and eat very slowly. Then around 2pm I head home and after a nap I stare at the rest of the afternoon and evening, unsure. Sometimes I go for an evening drink somewhere, something outside the apartment, but that also fills up only so much time.

I’m in this amazing city, but I’ve been here for a month and I’ve had free time which means I’ve had time to do a lot of different and wonderful things.


One Sunday I decided to go for mass at San Paulo Basilica. The communion was served and I went forward, I vividly remembered the time in Paris I had not known the correct response when receiving communion. The holy person giving it says, “the body of Christ” and then the correct response is “amen”. In Paris, l I had said “thanks”. I reminded myself to say “Amen”.

The lady at the start of the queue received the bread in her hands, the person in front of me went old school and opened his mouth for the reverend father to place the bread into it.  I took my round piece of communion bread in my hands, said “amen” and intended to return to my seat.

The reverend father chased after me “senora, senora!” then he started speaking Italian very rapidly, it ended up with him taking the bread out of my hand and placing it into my mouth. I stood there and swallowed the dry biscuit. One of the girls spoke English and explained that in Italy it’s expected to eat the communion bread in front of the alter. For a moment I burned with humiliation, intending to seize up my bag and leave. Then I realized that I had just participated in something sacred.

I sat down and thought about it, it was such a small moment, I had just broken a cultural rule, learned the correct way and now I knew how to take communion in Italy. Wasn’t that bigger than the momentarily weirdness I had experienced? I sat down and the service ended shortly after. By the time I left I saw the hilarity. It was funny being chased down by a priest and “force-fed” communion.


Men here live on beer. I have rarely seen a man in the evening sitting without a beer, usually Peroni.

Rome – Summer 2017

I’ll post the rest of my adventures in the next update, but here goes:

My holiday has two parts: the first part was 2 weeks with my mum, in Trastevere. The second part is my own. I rented a room from an elderly Italian lady in Ostiense. It’s a shared room and my roommate is an Albanian waitress who speaks no English. I speak very little Italian after 3 weeks here. I seem to have the ability to learn Italian, it just all sinks in. Not sure why though, but I’m loving the benefits and the effects.

Yesterday I was speaking Italian with somebody and he said something which I did not understand, he was rather surprised to learn I wasn’t fluent, saying that my Italian was really good. I almost didn’t believe him, but I’ll take that compliment any day.


  1. Trastevere: Porta portese market

This was on my “to-do” list. I woke up the first Sunday morning in Rome only to find the market all set up directly under my bedroom window. It was interesting, but in a sad way it seemed generic, I recognized many of the things. From other street markets in Rome, and from street markets in other countries and on other continents. I felt blessed to be able to know this, but I was also sorry not to find anything very authentically Italian here.


  1. Piazza Vittorio food market

I have travelled for food for years, but by now I have seen it all. Going to a food market to just wander around and browse is no longer interesting for me. I mean I love going shopping for something, searching for it at different stalls and coming home. This time I went just to “browse” and I could think of all the recipes I’d make with the stuff in front of me, but then reality kicked in. Carrying it home would mean heavy bags and time and the kitchen… The beauty is that I could have gone there. After the market, I went to the park next to it. I think it’s Rome’s version of “Chine town”. The park soon filled up with Chinese people and children. From my limited knowledge, I think they were speaking Manderin. I sat among then for a while, but when the sun started beating down on me I decided to move on. They, however, continued to sit there and live their daily routine.


  1. Borghese Gardens (Rome’s Central Park)

I came here, but I’m not sure I ever found the “real” garden, but I sat in the park. The weather was unable to make up its mind. It started to rain, but then the sun peaked out and the sun beetles continued their song. I walked until I was entirely surrounded by trees, the sound of the sun beetles was almost overwhelming. I sat with my back against a tree and looked at a statue of which I didn’t know the history. But at the base there were two human faces carved. It was beautifully done, the hair flowing, but the eyes stared unseeing, above the faces the statue stood on it’s plinth. A rider on a horse, surrounded by trees infested with sun beetles in a non-touristed corner of the park. Perfect.


  1. Capitoline museums

This museum has 2 parts. I attempted to do it, but I’m not one for museums. I went with Mum, did the first part, but just didn’t have it in me to continue to the second part. I think museums are important, I adore art, I believe it should be protected. I just struggle to take it in all at once sometimes.


  1. St. Peter’s

Did this with Mum as well. Came early in the morning to avoid the queues. It was beautiful, I climbed the tower. It’s almost 600 stairs to the top. I was really pleased to find how fit I was. I did it relatively easily, guzzling water at every level place. At the very top, the final stairs are so narrow, there’s no hand rail, there’s a rope, just something to hold on to while you climb. The air catches in your chest as you just keep climbing and then miraculously, you’re at the top. The whole of Vatican City and its gardens are visible and beyond that the city of Rome stretches out. It’s an indescribably beautiful view. The red roofs of Europe…

  1. The Colosseum

I went out with a friend I met here one evening and while he walked me to the train we passed a point in Piazza Venezia with a clean shot of the Colosseum. It was the first time I had seen it on this trip, I grabbed his arm “Colloseo!” I exclaimed. He stared at me as if wanting to ask whether I knew I was in Rome. I didn’t care, it was twilight and the old structure stood there, magnificently, the last daylight silhouetting it against the evening sky. It looked almost “pink”.

I have never been in here and I’m still not sure I want to enter. It’s so touristed that I’m not sure if I want to join the crowds. I was 12 years old the first time I watched the film Gladiator and probably 8 when I started reading the roman myths and legends. Now I’m here, and the reality is hot, sweaty, expensive and crowded.

From my current room (the shared one) the nearest Metro station to the city centre is the Colosseum.  I get to see it almost every day and some days, unfortunately, I don’t even look. I just walk, other times I stare watching it and the people around it. The tourists, they don’t look “happy”.

  1. Trevi fountain

Did this with mum while she was still in town. It’s an incredible sight. I also came here with an Italian friend. He wanted to tell me that the Roman Catholic Priests live in the house behind the fountain. His English and my Italian is rather bad, but we still communicate. Being unable to find the word for “priest” or “reverend father” we ended up concluding that the “Piccolo Pappas” (tiny Popes) live there. I’m still laughing about that one.

  1. Pantheon

In front of the Pantheon there is a man, his dirty blond hair tied back into a bun. He sits under an umbrella, which is tied to his bicycle. And he plays the most beautiful cello music. His bicycle has been adjusted for his lifestyle, it has a place for his cello and umbrella, he cycles to the pantheon, and starts playing.

I heard the music and followed it, when I found the source, I sat down on the steps in front of the obelisk facing the pantheon to listen to him play. Most people just milled around him, some paused for a few seconds, maybe minutes, but I sat. Next to me a young man sat down as a new song started, he closed his eyes and listened. I could feel the droplets of sweet running down my back. The song finished after 6 minutes and the young man opened his eyes, he had listened and then left. I stayed for another.

The pantheon itself is incredible, the floor is almost 2000 years old and the walls are (correct me if I’m wrong) 5m thick. It’s this amazing, ancient monument.

I’m going to write this here too: 5 years ago near the Pantheon I had an amazing pasta dish and I couldn’t remember the name of the place. I could remember how to walk there from the Pantheon. So, this time I went back. I ordered the same food and it was different. Not just the food, but me. I hadn’t known Italian food or different food or excellent restaurant food the last time I had ordered that, now I have cooked Jamie Oliver for 2 years. I loved it, it was delicious, but not that amazing dish I remembered. I felt a little melancholy as I ate my delicious lunch. Everything continues to change.


  1. Gelato

I have one cup of gelato every day. It’s not ice cream, but for those who don’t know Italy or Gelato, ice cream is a close enough comparison. A small cup comes with two flavours, I have been trying to try all the different flavors while I’m here although I’m not entirely sure that’s possible. I have told the waiters to surprise me and give me any two flavors they like, I have gone back and ordered the exact same combination, I have tried new things and re-did old ones. Gelato is incredible.

One of my favourite Gelateria is next to Piazza Navona, which is a 30 min walk from the Colosseum. I walked here and started chatting with a group of American exchange students. They were waiting for the pizza place next door to open. They ended up inviting me to join and I had a perfect pizza. Thin and crispy with just enough cheese and not too much basil.


  1. Piazza Navona

5 years ago, when I came to Europe for the first time in my life, our apartment was right next to Piazza Navona. On my very first morning of my very first European trip, this was the very first place I saw. I wanted to come back, not because it was a famous landmark, but because it was my memory of Rome. It felt “smaller”, it wasn’t, but my journeys have tweaked me and suddenly Piazza Navona with its 4 river gods (who are still gorgeously beautiful) seemed to have shrunk. But not in a bad way.


  1. The garden of oranges for sunset

This was “wow”. The first time I came here was during the day, it has beautiful view of the city and this time the view included the Vatican which seemed to “complete” the picture. The garden was created in 1497. I sat here, a guy on a guitar played to tourists and people took selfies. It was quiet and peaceful and calm. There was a constant foot traffic, but people seemed to relax when they came here, seeing the view stopped the haste of the tourism.

I also brought Mum here and on that day, we also saw the keyhole which has a perfect shot of the Vatican.

One evening after having a pizza dinner with mum I met an American backpacker and we came up here to watch the sunset. It was more beautiful than I could have expected. We were late, seeing that I asked, “shall we gun it?” one look later we started running towards the view. It was wonderful sitting on a 500year old wall with a friend and watching something beautiful. The view changed every few seconds. And at one moment, all the birds started flying, the temperature must have dropped, but suddenly the sky was pink and grey dotted with specks of birds. It was a good night.

I repeated this tonight and it took my breath away again.


  1. Walk over the bridge of angels

I went out for Pizza with a friend. I took him to the pizza place the exchange students had introduced me to. I found it ironic to have a Pakistani friend in Rome. I had travelled from Dubai to meet another mid-eastern person here, but it was good. After pizza, we wondered through the old cobble stone streets, googled and found a good pub for a drink. The evening ended by walking to the train station. The station was on the other side of the bridge.

I walked over it explain the angles to my friend. Each angel holds something related to Jesus on the cross, the thorn crown, the spear, the sponge with vinegar, the nails, the cross, and more. It’s all there and it’s beautiful. Horrid but gorgeous.


  1. Campo de fiori – nice square, use to have executions.

A square in which people lost their lives is now used as a location of a food market. I’m not sure why 3 different people told me to come here. It was nice, but not unique.


Then there were moments that happen if you don’t stick to a list:

Behind the apartment, me and Mum had during the first 2 weeks here, I strolled around and found a view of the Tiber river. It wasn’t the most beautiful view of it, but it was “mine”. I sat down on the wall and nearby a guy was playing on his guitar. After a while he stopped, I exclaimed in almost a whisper, not wanting to ruin the moment, “you can’t stop, you are the atmosphere”. He didn’t speak enough English to understand me, but my comment made him talk to me. He told me that he would be playing in the plaza at 9h that evening.

I went down later and spend the evening with him and his friends. I felt as as though I was living something from Eat, Pray, Love. It felt like something Elizabeth Gilbert would write. His friends turned up, they smoked and drank Peroni beer and offered me some. They laughed and spoke Italian and my friend played guitar.

At some point I was offered food, I put my hand into the white paper bag and retrieved a small ball. I tried to ask what it was using my limited Italian, it was “olive ascolane” and it was delicious. It was an olive stuffed with ground beef, wrapped in bread crumbs. I sat there, eating it, drinking my beer, listening to the music and the language, looking at the full moon and it was good.

One of the guys decided to “flirt” with me. He used Google translate to help him, the next thing I heard was the google translate electronic voice saying, “Let’s go for a ride” – I wanted to burst out laughing, but I managed to only giggle and say no. It was a good night.


One evening my roommate invited me to join her, her boyfriend and his brother. It took a little while before I understood what she was saying, at first, I thought she was saying that her boyfriend was her brother, then I thought she said her boyfriend was like a brother to her. Finally google translate came to the rescue and I figured out her boyfriend had a brother.

The four of us spent a nice time together, but they did not speak English. I enjoy speaking Italian, but it gets tiring to think about everything you say, trying to find the simplest English terms to use. I ended up coming home early.

My roommate brought me dinner that night. She couldn’t tell me what it was or where she had bought it, but I loved it. It didn’t matter that I was full or that it was 1am, all that mattered was that this folded bread (which resembled a calzone) was filled with what I gathered was “bacon and potato” but it couldn’t be that, it must have been special in a way, it was creamy and it melted in my mouth.

I took another bite, it was creamy and chewy and delicious. All that mattered was that I closed my eyes and tasted what I was eating. It melted and filled me up, but it wasn’t heavy. It was gorgeous. I asked her where she bought it and the google translate voice answered, “it is where I eat my boyfriend”. I chocked and laughed and kept eating.


The melting monks: I was in the city centre, feeling a little sleepy. I found a quiet corner and decided to close my eyes there, sitting with my back resting against a building I closed my eyes.

The footsteps made me open them again, walking by were about 6 or 7 catholic monks, they were young men, dressed in black robes, one was wearing a floppy sun hat. It was a hot day for Rome, maybe 38C. I could see them sweating, the one with the hat was red-faced, they seemed to be melting, but kept walking.

I started giggling at the sight. The man at the back noticed me and it was as though he saw what I was seeing and also grinned, a moment shared between two strangers. I closed my eyes again and rested for 20minutes.


In Dubai, many people greet with a kiss, but it doesn’t always seem natural. Here it feels normal, the first person who told me “ciao” just kissed both my cheeks in an almost unthinking way. It wasn’t hesitant or paused, it was so normal that I enjoyed it.


One of the best things I remember eating in Rome was a “crème croissant” a croissant filled with custard. I went down to the café, but they were sold out, via google translate I was told that the second batch was in the oven, but I couldn’t figure out what time they would be finished.

That evening I went back, me and the waiter both got exhausted trying to communicate without language. He ended up “reserving” me a croissant for the next day. I walked in the next morning and ordered a coffee. *Clink* a plate was placed in front of me bearing one crème croissant. It seems the waiter who had reserved my croissant had told his girlfriend about it. I walk in and ‘bam’ croissant. I am happy here. I smile more than I’m used to.


Aperitivo means Happy Hour in Italian. Going for happy hour “it is must” according to my oldest Italian friends whom I’ve known for 4 years. Spritz is an Italian drink (to my knowledge). It’s condoti, with wine and soda water, it’s red and bitter and wonderful. I’ve had this previously, but last night I went to a new place.

I ordered a spritz and the guy asked if I wanted “Aperitivo” or only spritz. “what’s the difference?” he pointed and tried to explain in English and finally I said “aaahh, it comes with snacks?” he got this glint in his eyes at the way I pronounced “snacks”. I ordered it and was not disappointed.

My one drink came with chips (UK: crisps), a tiny bowl of black rice, one filled with white rice, a tiny pizza, something that must have been a slice of calzone or something similar, and more food that I didn’t know.

At one point, I had the bearded waiter explain everything on the table to me, his earring glinting in the light as he shook his head trying to find the words. Later, I picked up my food, walked to the counter and asked the pixie-like waitress what I was eating. It turned out to be “pizza classico” (bread with tomato sauce, NO cheese). It was a good evening. As I left the café he called after me “ciao Bella”.


I live right next to the train station at the moment. The sound doesn’t bother me, but early in the mornings, the first trains always tell me that a new day has started. An almost melancholy feeling. I fall asleep again, but the sound is always there.


I had an incredible lunch yesterday, fresh pasta (it tastes different than the stuff in the packages) with a truffle sauce, mushrooms and some ground pork. I just sat there, savoring every bite and every sip of wine.

While walking home a guy started talking to me in very fast Italian. I went back to the same restaurant today, the food was just so good. I walked home, passed the homeless tent, the flower stand, and the fruit stall.

Walked in to the same guy on my way home and told him “arrivederci” (goodbye). A minute or two later I heard him call after me again, I turned to see what he wanted now. He was running after me with a red rose. He has just bought it at the flower stall, gave it to me, we greeted with a kiss on each cheek and left. I stood there, momentarily frozen and rather surprised. All I could say was “mille grazie” (thank you very much). I was pleasantly surprised and then I continued walking on my own.


“The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes ‘sight-seeing.'” – Daniel J. Boorstin
I have rarely read a quote I disagree with more. If you want to say that there are two deffinitions, one for tourist and one for travelers, I would define them in the exact opposite manner.
The tourist is strenuously walking from sight to sight, following a list, a plan and in some cases a guide. Hoping for adventure and searching for experience.
The traveler (as I like to define myself) is relaxed. It was not strenuous to start talking to the guitarist while sitting on the wall next to the river. It came naturally. It was not strenuous to ask the guy at the next table whether he wanted to climb up to the Garden of Oranges, it just flowed.
It was not strenuous, none of it was difficult or hard or bad, conversations just started, because as a traveler I was not in a rush to sight see, I had time to be distracted, time to get lost, meet people, listen to music. I did not have an agenda, a plan, a guide.
The tourists sat on their tour buses awaiting excitement, while I dashed into a cafe to brush my teeth in the bathroom downstairs.
The tourist and the traveler are defined differently in my mind. But do not judge the other, ever.
The tourist does go sightseeing, yes, but in my mind it is an active and strenuous thing to do. The traveler is the passive one, the one who has time to let adventure find him.
In Harry Potter, Dumbledore says “Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, Adventure”.
The traveler does pursue adventure, but in a relaxed manner. Be a traveler not a tourist, if you have the choice.