24(ish) hours in Rome

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

forking river on the way to forking food

The Mirror Pizzeria

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

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.

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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!

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Wine Bar

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?!

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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

Saint Peter’s Basilica

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Looking up inside Saint Peter’s Basilica

One of numerous dead Popes in 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.

Sala Rotonda ceiling

Vatican Museum – Sala Rotonda ceiling

Vatican Museum - Gallery of Maps

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

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!

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dolci to the right

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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)

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
This recipe is by Paula Jones and can also be found by clicking this link!

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:

  1. Into a saucepan over LOW heat add chocolate and a smidge of milk. Stir with a wooden spoon until melted.
  2. SLOWLY add remaining milk until it’s well combined. Add sugar. Mix to combine. Whisk in corn starch.
  3. Continue cooking over LOW heat until it becomes thick, creamy and coats the back of the wooden spoon.
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Turquoise Taxi Talk

I love meeting people from all over the world, and hearing about their unique life stories. With foreign expats making up over 80% of Qatar’s population, there are infinite opportunities for such exchanges to take place.

Unfortunately, small talk is not my forte. Chit chat, the skimming of the surface that occurs after every Sunday church service, is just not my thing. It’s like testing the water with just one toe; something a clumsy, Accidental Asshole like myself does not do well. I tend to stumble on my words before completely falling in headfirst. Luckily, that flaw has resulted in some of the most interesting conversations I never thought I’d have.

While J flew to Moscow and back, I met up with my favorite Swede. We shopped around yet another mall in hopes of finding winter wear for our December trips home, and stopped for coffee at Krispy Kreme. After going our separate ways, I jumped in one of the turquoise taxis waiting outside the mall.

“How long have you lived here?” I asked the driver. That question, coupled with, “Where are you from?” are my icebreakers of choice.

In no time at all, I had the taxi driver, *Aadarsh, telling me about life in Qatar from his perspective. Although many of the taxi drivers here have incredibly poor English, Aadarsh’s English was pretty good. I reveled in the opportunity for a comprehensible conversation with someone experiencing a whole other side of expat life.

A native Sri Lankan, Aadarsh learned English as a child in his school near Colombo. He’s lived in Qatar for about 4 months, but this isn’t his first gig in the Middle East. Before coming here, he spent 3 years living and working in Saudi Arabia. He said the traffic fines are not as bad in Saudi as they are here, but the people there are much worse. His wife and 4-year old son are back in Sri Lanka. He signed a 2-year contract with the taxi company here, and expects to return to Sri Lanka as soon as his contract is over to be with his wife and son, as their son will begin school at that time.

My own personal beliefs aside, I find religious devotion fascinating. In Sri Lanka, Aadarsh explained, people are “Buddhist (70%), Hindu, Muslim, then Christian.” He said he is Hindu, because his father is Hindu. We talked about eating meat, and agreed Buddhism would be good for me, because I’m vegetarian! He thought it was pretty funny that I don’t cook meat for J. I told him J gets all the meat he ever wanted outside our home!

I asked how it was to work for the taxi company. He described 16-hour work days, beginning at 6:00am and ending at 10:00pm. He has 2 days off each month. I asked if he knew before he started the job that he would only have 2 days off each month. He said no, adding that another company in town gives its drivers 1 day off each week, but, unfortunately, his company does not. Continually referring to his company’s “scheme,” he explained how he pays the equivalent of $82 each day to “rent” the taxi he drives, in addition to paying about $95 each week in gas. At the end of a 16-hour shift, after paying for gas and renting the taxi, he takes home about $27.

Curious about all of the claims I’ve read about worker treatment here, I asked him where his Passport is. He said the company has it. I asked about his living accommodations, which are provided by the company. He reiterated what one of my building staff members had previously told me: 8 men share one room. I asked about their kitchen. He said they don’t have a kitchen, but they are provided food at the “canteen” (cafeteria).

Finally, we reached my building. I thanked him, tipped him nicely, greeted my building’s nighttime concierge as I headed upstairs, and opened my apartment door to an enthusiastically meowing Cheese Louise McFlufferstein.

We have it so damn good.