Eat. Play. Run.

My quest to live in Rome, a bite and a step at a time.


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Calcio

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I love the World Cup. It gives people a reason to come together and unite around their love of a team, a beloved sport, and their country. As a rather globally minded person who has traveled extensively, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a multi-country supporter. First, of course, is the USA. Then Italy (no explanation needed). Then Costa Rica, where I spent a college semester studying sustainable development. And lastly, Ivory Coast, a place I’ve visited and a neighbor to Guinea, where I lived for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer.

What better place to be for the World Cup than Italy, home of the Forza Azzurri. One of my objectives this summer is to hang out with Italians to watch their games, and with Americans for ours. At the start of the tournament, I checked out the schedule, dismayed to find that both Italy and USA play their first matches at 12am. Could I really go out, stay up that late and sit until 2am to watch soccer?

You better believe it. Here’s a quick synopsis so far.

June 14: Italy vs. England
Heading home from a day of sightseeing, I took some side streets to explore a bit, and discovered a pub just two blocks from my apartment. A true pub, with artisan beer on tap. This was too good to be true! I stopped in and had a few pints, talking in broken Italian with two employees, Davide and Fabio (C’mon, did you really think I was going to come to Italy and not meet a Fabio?!). The 6pm match was on, yet I was the only one in the place.

“Dove sono la gente?” I asked. “And will people come for the match at midnight?”

“I hope so,” replied Davide.

I finished two beers, and feeling pretty confident, told them I’d see them at midnight. When I showed up right before the match, the place was full of Italian boys in their 20s, with a few women in tow. Not only did I get to see an exciting match, but I got to watch Italian youth take shots, flirt, curse at the flat screen and hug each other in a congratulatory manner when Italy scored, particularly upon Balotelli’s winner five minutes into the second half. They were loud, but I guess I was expecting an even rowdier crowd. I pretty much kept to myself and just soaked in the scene, and upon Italy’s 2-1 win, I was very happy to have such a short walk home. Although too young of a crowd for me to go to watch another soccer match, the beer is good and the staff are really friendly.

June 16th: USA vs. Ghana
Apparently there’s a Steeler bar near Piazza Navona, and a World Cup match seemed like a good time to go find it and check it out. I waited until the latest thunderstorm moved through and left my apartment at around 9:30 to walk to the subway. Hardly anyone was out in my neighborhood due to the recent rain, yet it felt safe to be walking around. I took the metro to Piazza di Spagna and headed down Via dei    Condotti, past the Prada and Gucci stores, before taking a number of narrow streets that led me to Piazza Navona. It’s an incredibly beautiful place, especially at night, and as it’s in the heart of the historical district, very busy with tourists. The Steeler bar, called La Botticella, is on Via di Tor Mellina, and the owner, Giovanni, speaks perfect English (he was raised in Canada). Flags from Pennsylvania universities and sport teams decorate the wall behind the bar, and a massive “You’re in Steeler Country” banner hangs just below the projector screen, used to stream live Steeler games on Sundays. Here’s my Allegheny College banner, sitting just to the right of an Anchor Steam Beer sticker. Pennsylvania and San Francisco. My two worlds coming together in the heart of Rome.

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The bar is dark but the ambiance is warm, therefore attracting tourists from all over the world. I talked to Pennsylvanians, a rather inebriated Frenchman vacationing with his daughters, who spilled his beer and tried to engage me in a discussion on mineral water (it didn’t work). Fortunately, he left right at the start of the game, in just enough time for me to catch Clint Dempsey’s goal just seconds into the game. Only half of the crowd was there to watch the game, which made it difficult at first to see the screen from my bar stool as other patrons milled around with their drinks. But I was soon entertained by a group from Holland, who made fun of each other and had me laughing so much that I forgot about the game. One of them is vacationing in California this August, so I gave him a list of restaurants, bars and attractions in San Francisco.

By halftime (close to 1am), the crowd had started to thin, and I settled into my seat with a Campari and soda for the second half, when the mood got tense. Ghana had multiple shots at goal and finally succeeded at the 82nd minute, but the USA answered back with just minutes to go, clinching a 2-1 victory. I stuck around to talk with some other American tourists, and since no one seemed to be in a hurry, Giovanni kept the bar open and I met a few of his Italian friends, who kept me entertained by teaching me curse words while I waited for a taxi to arrive.

I arrived home at 3am, feeling triumphant yet unsatisfied. I had successfully gone out alone and talked to all kinds of really interesting people, and had a great time – quite a feat for an introvert like myself. While La Botticella is a slice of home, the drinkers are mostly just passing through. It left me wondering, where do the American expats hang out? My experience at the Prati neighborhood bar was equally unsatisfying. Where do Italians my age go to watch the game? Looks like I still have a lot more of Rome to explore in order to figure out where I belong. Fortunately, we have many more World Cup matches to go.


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Lavatrice

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My apartment has a washing machine, one of the perks of living here for the summer. When I arrived, Richard gave me an orientation on how to use the machine, and pointed out the step-by-step directions that the owner wrote down for reference. It all seemed pretty simple at the time, but then again, when you’re in a jet-lagged haze, you don’t really know what’s simple and what isn’t. You just sort of nod and smile. At least that’s what I did.

But yesterday, I decided to move further into Italian domesticity and use the washing machine.

I gathered up a pile of sweaty clothes and began following the step by step instructions. Seemed easy enough at first.

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I followed each step, and when I pushed the “ON” button, the machine started filling up with water. Woo-hoo!

And then nothing happened. For 20 minutes.

Upon closer inspection, I screwed up on something as simple as turning the dial to the appropriate setting. I moved the dial to what I thought was setting 4, but it was actually pointing in the opposite direction, at setting 16.

What’s setting 16?

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Centrifuga delicati? What in the hell is that?! I couldn’t open the door, seeing as how the machine was full of water.

Fortunately, there’s Google. An internet search provided me with an explanation of each setting. Turns out that setting 16 really doesn’t do anything but show where you are in the cycle. So I took a chance. I pressed the “ON” button again to turn the machine off, moved the dial to “4”, and pressed in the “ON’ button.

Success! My clothes began swishing around happily inside the machine. I checked on it periodically, and everything progressed as it should. Does anyone remember what we did before Google?

Most Italians don’t have dryers; you hang your laundry outside to dry. And my balcony comes equipped with a clothesline. I guess that there’s a rule that you can’t hang your laundry out if you face the street, but my balcony faces a courtyard. Within a few hours, I had clean, dry clothes. Note my green Oaklandish t-shirt, with an image of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Throughout the past week, I’ve felt a lot like that t-shirt: an American bridging her life from San Francisco to Rome, hanging upside down and trying to right herself in this strange, unfamiliar city.

 

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I normally wouldn’t care to write about something as mundane as laundry, but it is a part of everyday Italian life, and someone else moving to Italy could benefit from my successes and failures. And believe me, when you’ve moved to a foreign city on your own, washing your clothes without breaking the machine or flooding your building is a success worth celebrating.


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Passeggiata

DSC_0004I’m five days into my summer, and Rome is having a heat wave. With temperatures in the 90s, I’m using my afternoons to job search, which is when the day is hottest. But in the evenings, I head out and explore. And last night, io ho fatto una passeggiata – I took an evening stroll. A very Italian thing to do, and one of my favorite activities.

Evenings in Rome are fantastic. Kids playing, couples walking hand in hand, friends sitting closely on park benches or at outside cafes, having a drink and just spending time together. But my favorite part is the light. The entire city basks in a golden glow, and every building vies for your attention. You can’t help but stop and do a slow 360 to take it all in. This photo is of the St. Angelo bridge, right next to the Castel Sant’Angelo and adjacent to the Vatican.

A summer passeggiata is also a good reason to stop in for a gelato. I chose Gelateria dei Gracchi on Via dei Gracchi, as I had read that they make their gelato daily using only local ingredients. I opted for a small cup of pistachio, a popular gelato flavor, and cantaloupe. I found the texture a little grainier than I prefer, but not lacking in flavor. The melon in particular was surprisingly bold and bright without being overwhelmingly sweet.

Bold and bright. Sounds like an evening in Rome to me.

 

 


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Pizzarium

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You’ve been waiting for this post, haven’t you?

Well, let’s get to it. Let’s talk pizza.

On my prior trip to Italy, I had outstanding pizza in Florence (Firenze) and Naples (Napoli). In fact, one of my main reasons for selecting Rome as a place to live is that it’s close to Napoli and the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life. But I’ll write about that later.

Roman pizza differs greatly from the well-known pizza Napolitana and doesn’t get the fanfare it deserves. Some of the best Roman pizza is al taglio, or “by the slice”, with a crunchy, foccacia-like crust. On my first trip to Rome, I saw this pizza everywhere, particularly around the main tourist sites, but I never tried it. I have traveled enough to know if a restaurant is near a major tourist attraction and the signage is in English, it’s best to keep moving.

Now that I’m in Rome for three months, I was determined to have a mind-blowing Roman pizza experience. And I found it in Pizzarium, a tiny stall-like pizza shop tucked away behind the Vatican on Via della Meloria.

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I arrived at around 3:30 yesterday afternoon, a good time to go as it’s between the lunch and dinner rush, and I was rewarded with a rather short line. The counter was brimming with colorful pizzas, and the chalkboard behind the counter displayed a long list of that day’s suppli – fried rice balls containing a variety of ingredients. As I approached the line, I asked which pizza was the most popular, and the friendly, multi-lingual staffer pointed out a white potato pizza. I was crestfallen. It looked so bland, sitting next to a slice decorated with what appeared to be edible flowers. But when an Italian gives you a food recommendation, you don’t question it. I selected that one, along with a pizza covered in fresh tomatoes. Flavors here can get pretty exotic (think foie gras), but for a Pizzarium virgin, I opted for basic on my first try.

Pizzas are priced by both type and weight. Each pizza is baked in a rectangular tray, and then you specify the size of slice that you want, and they cut it with scissors, weigh it, add it up, and give you a receipt, which you take to the register to pay. They then heat your slices and call you when ready. They have a pretty eclectic beer selection too. This is not a sit-down place, so the entryway is full of customers sitting on the curb or at one of two tiny counters, munching away. I lucked out and found some counter space to enjoy my tray of pizza.

The potato pizza was the star of my meal. Holy *#&%. The crust was think and crunchy, yet light and airy. The potato was a smooth puree, the top a thin crisp layer of cheese, deliciously charred in a few spots. Crunchy, smooth, crunchy. Every layer of flavor blending into the next. As with so many other Italian food experiences, it blew my mind how something so simple could be so extraordinary.

The tomatoes on the other pizza were so deliciously sweet and refreshing. I relished biting into the crust and seeing a handful of these little gems fall back onto the tray, where I could scoop them up with my fingers.

Mission accomplished. Mind blown. I just might go back today.

And if you don’t believe me, here’s what Anthony Bourdain had to say during his Rome episode of his show The Layover.

http://www.travelchannel.com/video/not-your-average-pizzeria

Hungry yet?

 


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Appartamento

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I rented an apartment for the summer, and I’m really happy with my decision. I found the apartment by doing a Google search online for long-term apartments in Rome. Even though three months isn’t really long-term, it’s longer than a lot of the vacation rentals that show up in search results, which are for daily or weekly rental. I found quite a few websites with a variety of apartments for rent, and recommend that you reach out to the company directly to provide your dates, price range, and apartment requirements. I found that companies responded very quickly and were happy to help find an apartment to fit my needs.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re looking for an apartment:

Summer is more expensive. The rates were a bit of a surprise, but made sense. Summer is of course, high tourist season, so the rates are significantly higher. Consider arriving at a different time of year to save money.

Read the Terms of Agreement in detail. Apartment rentals usually include a separate booking fee, and sometimes a refundable deposit. You’ll also want to see if utilities are included in the monthly rate or if you’ll need to pay those additionally. Terms of Agreement will also outline payment processes and whether there’s a cost for cleaning. Make sure you read this in detail so that there are no surprises.

Negotiate. Everything is negotiable, especially in Italy where it’s a part of life. When the booking agent explained that the apartment owner had other offers for shorter stays, I knew I had a bargaining chip. After all, the owner would make more if the apartment was occupied for three months as opposed to a week here or there throughout the summer. She agreed to my request to knock 100 euro off of the monthly rate.

Consider an apartment in a residential area. it’s tempting to want to be next to Piazza Navona or the Colosseum, but keep in mind that these locations have more foot traffic and therefore more noise. Besides, a residential area gives you a better feel for day-to-day life. Plus, apartment rentals in residential areas tend to be cheaper.

Richard, the booking agent, met me at the apartment that morning and gave me a great walk-through and orientation, and the owner wrote down instructions for everything. While small, the apartment is exactly what I need. The bedroom has both a closet and armoire, which fit my clothes, shoes and luggage perfectly. Off the bedroom, there’s a small balcony where the washing machine is located. The bathroom has six wall shelves and a large countertop for all of my toiletries, and several wall hooks for holding towels and clothes. The living room and kitchen are in one space, but nicely laid out with a couch, chair, a table and desk. The windows contain blinds that I can raise/lower electronically. The kitchen space is incredibly efficient; the mini fridge is hidden behind one of the wooden shelves, along with a dish drying rack, and the space is equipped with all of the kitchen items that I need. There are hardwood floors throughout and a lot of light. Utilities and wifi are included. It’s a pretty good deal.

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Arrival

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“Perhaps you will hear the sound of the bells chime from St. Peter’s Basilica. Or maybe you will enjoy an espresso from a cafe overlooking Piazza Navona. Or you’ll stand on Palatine Hill, hearing the sound of children playing. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Eternal City. Welcome to Rome.”

Wow. Even the arrival announcement from the flight attendant was beautiful.

I arrived in Rome shortly before 8am, and disembarked the plane still somewhat shocked at what I had just done. But I quickly got excited over seeing Italian words and images of the city. I headed for the immigration line designated for non-EU residents with passport in hand, anticipating the usual inspection of each page, the once-over to match my face with the photo, and that loud, official sound as the official stamps in the proof of entry.

Instead, I got a slight wink and a wave-through.

What?

This is huge. Non-EU citizens are only allowed to stay in the European Union for 90 days, as evidenced by your passport stamp. Without a stamp, there’s no proof of when I entered the country. Therefore, I could stay for more than 90 days, make up an entry date if asked, and no one would know the difference. Now my only reason to leave after three months would be lack of finances. What an unexpected scenario.

I opted for a shared shuttle van instead of a taxi, which is half the price and a good deal. It was rush hour and traffic was crazy; I think I heard the driver say “traffico bestiale” into his cell phone. But the sun was shining and we received an excellent tour around many of the sights. I felt myself get a little choked up as the Colosseum came into view, the site of the 2013 Rome Marathon start and finish line. Running that race is an experience I’ll never forget.

I could go over other details, but the most important thing that happened today was dinner, or cena. Prosciutto and fresh mozzarella drizzled in olive oil, a light red wine, cacio e pepe (my favorite Roman pasta dish), followed by roasted fish and potatoes. Torta di mele and a light limoncello rounded out the meal.

Perfetto.


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Departure

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When it comes to leaving for Rome, I could probably tell you to pack only what you can carry, that it’s okay to cry at the airport, to get a temporary international phone plan until you can buy a local phone, and to eat classic American food, like a burger and fries, before you get on the plane.

Instead, I’ll tell you this:

Don’t wait 48 hours before departure before you decide to color your hair yourself.

Yes, you can tell where this is going.

My current hair didn’t look horrible, but grey hairs were starting to show. It had been about 7 weeks since my San Francisco stylist colored my hair (she is fabulous), and the thought of trying to navigate a Roman salon with a language barrier seemed too daunting. So during a trip to Walmart (blech) with my mother, I decided on a whim to buy hair color. We found a shade very close to my current color, so I figured it would work well.

Wrong.

Apparently hair colors come in two tones: warm and cool. With my hair and skin type, I need “cool” tones. I picked up a warm color.

So on Sunday night (remember: I leave Tuesday morning), I get ready to do the deed. My mother offered to apply the coloring for me, and after twenty minutes, we rinsed it out. When I removed the towel from my head to blow-dry, I immediately knew that something had gone very, very wrong.

My hair was orange. And not in an all-over-my-head-one-color orange (although that too would have been horrific), but rather this interesting brown on the top, orange at the roots kind of way. This was due to the fact that we applied the color at the roots for a longer amount of time.

I stepped out of the bathroom and said, “I don’t like it. It’s wrong.” My mother tried to reassure me that it didn’t look bad, but the bathroom light really accentuated the orangeness. When I came downstairs the next morning and stood in natural daylight, she commented,

“Oh. Now I see what you’re talking about.”

I guess something in the back of my mind knew that this was going to be an epic fail, which is why left myself a one-day window in case I needed a professional. Fortunately, a salon in nearby DuBois was able to squeeze me in later that morning.

I really didn’t know what to expect, and the salon itself was quite a change from what I’m used to experiencing in San Francisco. For one, I’ve never heard country music playing in a hair salon. But it was very clean and organized, and two of the stylists discussed very thoroughly about what process to use to fix this debacle. I felt like I was in good hands.

Another difference between city and small-town salons (besides the music) is that in a city, stylists don’t really discuss your personal business. In a small town, where everyone knows everyone else, every client is discussed in detail. When asked questions about my personal life, I was careful not to divulge specific names and to keep details general in nature. I’m all for having a network, but situations like this remind me of one of the perks of living in a big city.

In the end, I walked out with hair a natural shade of light brown, accented with blonde highlights. It looked great, and she even wrote down the colors to take with me to Italy. What a relief to board the plane looking and feeling like myself!