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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
- 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”.
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.