I jumped into one of the white taxis waiting outside Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, laughing a little when I heard “Thriller” come on the cab radio. On the short ride to the hotel, with the taxi driver’s very bad English and my very bad Spanish, I practiced some very basic Italian:
Me: “How much.. como se dice?”
Taxi driver: “How much.. quanto costa.”
Me: “Okay, quanto costa … and, hello is ciao?”
Taxi driver: “Ciao, hello!”
Me: “Goodbye means…”
Taxi driver: “Goodbye, arrivederci”
Me: “arrivedkfjasli … Thank you?”
Taxi Driver: “Grazie”
Me: “Grazie … “
I met J at the hotel, and we immediately took the bus downtown in search of food. With sleepy eyes and growling bellies, we then walked for what felt like forever, before finding The Mirror pizzeria.
forking river on the way to forking food
The Mirror Pizzeria
We squeezed in to a table in the back of the restaurant which was stuffed to the brim with loud, chatty customers, and hungrily devoured tomato bruschetta and two pizzas: diavola (spicy sauce) for me, and pepperoni for J. One bottle of smooth, Italian Chianti later, the waitress easily convinced us to split the tiramisu. The desert was extra yummy due to the fact it wasn’t lacking the coffee liqueur that’s almost always missing in the Doha version! Come prepared with small cash for a tip, as they conveniently did not have any change.
tiramisu for 2
After dinner, we found the iconic Trevi Fountain. We had visited the fountain once before, on J’s/my/our first overnight trip to Rome. However, that first time, we neglected to throw coins into the fountain. Legend has it, throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain ensures you will return to Rome. We had already returned to Rome, even without donating to the fountain, but still made a point to (very quickly, when the cops weren’t looking) chuck in a coin. This happened after stopping for a scoop of gelato first, of course.
Fontana di Trevi
Since leaving Rome this second time, I discovered the coin is supposed to be thrown from your right hand, backwards over your left shoulder (no peeking!). Also, there are supposed to be 3 coins thrown: 1 to guarantee returning to Rome, 1 for a new romance, and one for marriage. I’m not sure where we stand on the Trevi Fountain coin tossing scale, but at this point it’s fair to say that myth is BUSTED!
The next morning, we woke up in time to catch the (free) hotel bus to the City Center, then took a taxi from there to Vatican City. For a variety of personal reasons, I swore up and down I would never visit the Vatican. As with every other time I’ve said “I’ll never…”, I did.
Down the street from the Vatican, we crammed in to yet another tiny, filled-to-max-capacity Italian restaurant, Wine Bar. Because J had to fly an airplane in a few hours, we didn’t get to indulge in any grape-y delight. The place was off the beaten path, and the numerous priests dining there made us feel like we had hit a local jackpot. Sharing a small table with 2 other restaurant patrons, we savored a simple caprese salad, followed by a sausage pizza for J, and spinach-ricotta cannelloni for me. Olive Garden will never be the same!
After lunch, on our way to the Vatican, we walked by a BeDazzled Smart car. What could be more worthy of five seconds of internet fame than a BeDazzled Smart car?!
BeDazzled Smart car
Happy Travel ticket scalpers were all over Saint Peter’s Square, trying their hardest to sell tickets for tours of Saint Peter’s Basilica and some other nearby sights. I think they were charging 35 Euro per person, and maybe that’s worth it if you really want a 4-hour-long explanation of everything you’re looking at, by someone whose first language is not English. We neither had that kind of time, nor wanted to spend that kind of money. Also, admission to Saint Peter’s Basilica is FREE! The line in front is not to buy a ticket – it’s a security line that moves fairly quickly, and you have to stand in that line even if you’ve already been ripped off by Happy Travel salespeople.
Saint Peter’s Basilica
Looking up inside Saint Peter’s Basilica
One of numerous dead Popes in Saint Peter’s Basilica
Next up was a short walk to visit the Vatican Museums, home of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.
Vatican Museum – Sala Rotonda ceiling
Vatican Museum – Gallery of Maps
FYI: NO CAMERAS ARE ALLOWED IN THE SISTINE CHAPEL, NOT EVEN WITH THE FLASH OFF! We had walked all throughout the Vatican Museums, snapping flashless photos here and there, so I was totally shocked and very embarrassed when a guard angrily informed me that no pictures are allowed in the Sistine Chapel. I’m sure there was a sign somewhere, but I somehow missed it and, as a result, felt about 2″ tall for the next hour! Accidental Asshole in the
house Sistine Chapel! Learn from my mistake!
By the time we finished exploring the Vatican Museums, it was dinnertime! I know it sounds like all we do is eat. We definitely don’t miss any meals. I don’t think I need to justify enjoying a meal (in Rome of all places – or anywhere else, for that matter), but this expat lifestyle is temporary, and the days really are numbered. We try to make the most of every opportunity, and eating pasta in Rome is the opportunity of a lifetime, so that is what we did.
The rustic looking, cozy feeling, dimly lit restaurant we ducked into was empty except for one other couple. It’s always interesting how much cheese is in American Italian restaurant food. Cheese, cheese, cheese – say when! Because really, who doesn’t love cheese!? Here, it was just a light dusting on top – the perfect balance, and something I will try to remember to do at home. Less cheese meant being able to taste the delicious tomato basil sauce.
tomato & basil spaghetti
We don’t usually have desert after every meal, but when in Rome…
There was cream filled cannoli with our names on it!
dolci to the right
dolci to the left
How we made it out of there with only one piece will remain a mystery.
We took a cab to the area near the bus stop, and were dropped off at Piazza Venezia, across from the Altare della Patria.
Complesso del Vittoriano (I think)
We popped in to the Gran Caffe Roma to get out of the “cold” (40or 50F – cold for having come from the desert!) while waiting for the bus. J got his caffeine fix with a frothy cappuccino, and I sipped on an incredibly sweet Italian hot chocolate. It was so rich, I could only drink about half of it, but it hit the spot and warmed my fingers.
I’m excited to try this easy Italian hot chocolate recipe on my parents when I go home… TOMORROW!
How to Make Italian Hot Chocolate
What You Will Need:
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate 70% or higher
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons corn starch
What To Do:
- Into a saucepan over LOW heat add chocolate and a smidge of milk. Stir with a wooden spoon until melted.
- SLOWLY add remaining milk until it’s well combined. Add sugar. Mix to combine. Whisk in corn starch.
- Continue cooking over LOW heat until it becomes thick, creamy and coats the back of the wooden spoon.