A Weekend Getaway in Rome

Through a partnership between Pink Pangea and Homestay, I was able to travel to Rome for a long weekend. Homestay offered Pink Pangea writers a free stay with one of their hosts anywhere in the world. Although I could have chosen a destination as exotic as Japan or New Zealand, I decided on Rome so I didn’t have to pay too hefty a price in airfare: roundtrip from Tel Aviv was only $250. Plus, I had never been to Italy, and I figured the capital was the best place to start. During my three full days in Rome, I hit all the major sites and ate at some amazing restaurants.

Day 1: Friday, May 22

I was a little nervous before starting my trip. I am used to traveling alone, but not staying with a stranger. Homestay is a company that provides accommodations in cities all over the world with locals, rather than spending a fortune on a hotel room. All of the hosts go through a verification process, so I knew that nothing horrible would happen, but I couldn’t help thinking the whole thing would be a little awkward, at least at the beginning. It did make me feel better that I had a friend tagging along with me. I was excited for a real Roman experience.

After searching through hosts on Homestay, taking location and room quality into account, Diana and I finally decided on Rochelle, who lived in an apartment in the center of Rome. To be honest, we couldn’t really tell what the apartment looked like from the pictures, but the location was too perfect.

Rochelle contacted me about a week before our trip to tell me which shuttle to take to get from the airport to her apartment: SitBus, the only shuttle that stops near the Vatican as opposed to going all the way to Termini Station. Once we landed we easily found the correct bus to take. As promised Rochelle met us at the bus stop in order to walk us to her home.

The apartment was a one minute walk away from Piazza Navona, on a narrow cobble stone street. The area was gorgeous and very typically Roman. The three floor walk up was a bit tedious with our suitcases, but we managed.

I was pleasantly surprised when I walked into the apartment. The pictures definitely did not do it justice. It was small, but so old and pretty. The ceilings were latched and the view from our bedroom was an amazing lookout onto the narrow streets below. Rochelle was so welcoming and told us immediately to help ourselves to whatever we needed.

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our view!

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She offered to cook us dinner, but Diana and I wanted to explore our new neighborhood. Between Piazza Navona and Campo de Fiori, we found a small hole in the wall restaurant, called Ditirambo. The food was amazing. We started off with a caprese salad and each had pasta for dinner. Diana had a rabbit ragu and I had the popular cacio e pepe, cheese and pepper. It was definitely a great introduction to real Italian food and made me excited for the carbs ahead.

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Day 2: Saturday, May 23

We set our alarm for 7:30am so that we could get an early start on the day and try to beat some of the lines at the popular sites. Rochelle had provided us towels, so we each showered. Although we had brought our own, she also had shampoo, conditioner, and soap that we could have borrowed if necessary. After showering, we ate the amazing breakfast Rochelle had prepared: Italian coffee, yogurt, and various different pastries.

After breakfast, we set off for St. Peter’s Basilica. Along the way we passed the Castel Sant’Angelo and took some pictures, opting not to go inside. We arrived at St. Peter’s Basilica around 9am and already the line was circled around the square. But it moved quickly, and we were at the security check in about 25 minutes. It was amazing to see just how many people tried to cut the line. In fact, when a couple cut right in front of Diana and me I informed them that “the line starts all the way back there.” They looked defeated and moved towards the back.

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Once inside, we went to the cupola first. It wasn’t that crowded yet and we wanted to go to the top before the line got too long. It was 5 euros to walk up, and 7 to ride the elevator. We opted to splurge on the extra two euros and it was definitely worth it. The views were incredible, I definitely recommend going to the top if you ever go.

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After walking around the cupola and inside the basilica itself, it was 11am and we were hungry. We stopped at Mama Frites, and got some French Fries with “snack sauce” on top. It was basically like a spicy, smoky ketchup flavor. We walked along a cute street called Borgo Pio in Vatican City, browsing at leather stores.

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On our way to the Vatican Museum, we stopped at Old Bridge, one of the most famous gelato places in Rome. I had the pistachio ricotta flavor based on the worker’s recommendation, and it was delicious. The best gelato I’ve ever had. Definitely go here if you are planning on visiting the Vatican.

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Our next stop was the Vatican Museum. We bought our tickets online. If you only take one piece of advice from this article: buy your tickets for the Vatican online. The line was around the block, but we got to skip the whole thing and immediately enter because of our pre-purchased tickets. The only catch with the pre-purchased tickets is that you have to choose a specific time to enter the museum. We had planned on going at 2pm. But we arrived at 1:30pm and there was no problem. So you have to plan your day accordingly.

The museum was beautiful, filled with old statues, maps, and paintings. We sort of breezed through some of the sections of the museum, making a beeline to the Sistine Chapel. It was breathtaking to see the Creation of Man in person. After seeing so many copies and parodies of it on TV and the internet, it was a surreal experience to see the real thing in person.

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After the Vatican Museum our feet were so sore we sat on the steps at the exit for about twenty minutes before we started the walk home. Luckily for us, it was only a 15 minute walk back to the apartment. We napped for about two hours. Rochelle prepared us coffee and some pastries after we got home to help wake us up.

We walked to the Trastevere area for dinner, an old medieval part of the city. Again it was only a 15 minute walk from the apartment. We walked along the main street until we found a restaurant that had fresh pasta and vegetables in the window, called Il Duca. We split buffalo mozzarella and prosciutto to start. For dinner Diana had truffle ravioli and I had bucatini all’Amatricina, a typical Roman dish consisting of pasta with tomato sauce and pancetta. Everything was delicious.

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After dinner we decided to experience Roman nightlife. We went to a bar in Trastevere called Mr. Brown where they make their own special type of vodka that is infused with peppers. We stayed out until 2am, which Rochelle told us was very early for Rome!

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Day 3: Sunday, May 24

Because of the previous nights activities, we got a late start on Sunday. Rochelle had prepared another amazing breakfast: eggs, prosciutto, toast, and coffee. Our plan for this day was the Colosseum and Roman Forum.

The walk to the Colosseum was the longest one we would have to do from the apartment, and it was only 20 minutes. I loved the walk, because no matter where I walked in Rome I passed some beautiful building or an ancient artifact. Along the way to the Colosseum we walked by these old columns and remains of a building just in the middle of a busy street.

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The Colosseum was incredible and quickly became my favorite part of the trip. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that people had made it nearly 2,000 years ago and it was still standing. The architecture was incredible and so was the history behind the building.

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After the Colosseum we saw the Roman Forum. The line to get into the actual grounds was even longer than the line to get into the Colosseum so we decided to skip it, but not completely. We found a viewpoint overlooking the Roman Forum so we were able to see all the ruins from above, getting an even better picture of what used to be there in my opinion that walking around on the grounds.

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We found a trattoria down a little side street after leaving the Colosseum called La Paca del Cervello. The restaurant had phones on the wall behind the tables, allowing you to call other tables using a list of numbers. Although we didn’t make any phone calls, the little girls at the table next to us were definitely enjoying themselves. had pizza all’Amatricina, the pizza version of the famous Roman pasta. We were full and exhausted after lunch, so we decided to go home and rest before dinner.

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We made reservations for dinner at a restaurant right by the Trevi Fountain. We left a few minutes early to see the fountain before our meal. Sadly the Trevi Fountain was under construction so there wasn’t even water. Rochelle had warned us the fountain was under maintenance, but we didn’t expect it to this extent. We couldn’t get close to the fountain; we had to walk along a makeshift bridge to see it. The statues were still really beautiful, but I was a little disappointed I didn’t get to throw a coin in the magical water.

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Dinner was at Arancia, a restaurant hidden down a little side street. To start I had an artichoke “Jewish style,” which is a deep fried artichoke. For dinner I had pasta with truffles. Diana had artichoke cream lasagna, and our friend Danielle had lamb ragu. We all agreed it was the best meal we had so far.

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Day 4: Monday, May 25

Diana and I woke up early on Monday because we had such a lazy day the day before. There were still some key spots we wanted to see before we left. We had another amazing breakfast thanks to Rochelle: more prosciutto, toast, and pastries. And of course Italian coffee.

After breakfast, Rochelle kindly walked us to the Pantheon as she was on her way to work. We got there at 8:30am, and it was empty. We went inside, no lines, no admission fee. It was beautiful. The dome on the ceiling was breathtaking. Like the Colosseum I couldn’t fathom how that dome was built so many years ago. I also learned that because of the open spot in the dome, there are tiny holes on the floor to drain water.

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From the Pantheon we walked around the corner to Sant Eustacio, a famous espresso place in Rome. Heads up if you go, even though you order at the counter, you have to pay an extra 5 euros to sit outside at the tables. After coffee, we made our way to the Jewish Ghetto. We just walked around and explored the area. We tried to enter the Synagogue, but we couldn’t because it was the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.

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We ate lunch near Piazza Navona at Osraria da Fortunata, known for the old Italian woman who sits in the window and actually makes the pasta right there from scratch. I had carbonara, which I had been waiting to specifically try at this place after reading the Trip Advisors reviews. It was the best pasta I’ve ever tasted. The pasta was al dente, but that’s what the place is known for.

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From there we walked to the Spanish Steps, which I found pretty underwhelming. But the fountain at the bottom, Barcaccia Fountain, was beautiful. The area around the Spanish Steps is the place to shop in Rome. The street was lined with high end boutiques, like Prada and Gucci, so we did a lot of window shopping. We hung out and rested in Piazza del Popolo before we went back to the apartment to rest and shower before dinner.

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We had made reservations at Sera Margerita based off of a friend’s recommendation. It’s a Roman Jewish restaurant in the Jewish quarter that’s been around since the 1930s. All the food is homemade and the menu changes daily based on what is fresh. There are two seatings, either at 8 or 9:30pm, so we made a reservation for 8pm. Again I had an artichoke Jewish style to start, and for dinner I had the cacio e pepe, but this time is also had a giant glob of ricotta cheese on top. It was totally cheesy and decadent, but also fresh and delicious.

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From dinner we walked to Piazza Navona and sat by the fountain there. It was a beautiful night so we people watched for an hour or so, just chilling out in a great atmosphere. There were artists and street performs all around us. It was the perfect ending to the trip.

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Day 5: Tuesday, May 26I

We woke up really early, at 5am, in order to catch the SitBus back to the airport. Rochelle woke up also and again made us breakfast, which was extremely nice considering how early it was. We said our goodbyes and thanked Rochelle for everything.

Overall the trip was so much better than I had imagined. Even though I was a little nervous to be staying with a stranger, Rochelle was so welcoming and amazing. From the first minute we met her, she treated us like family. From providing us with a delicious breakfast every morning and snacks in the afternoon, to giving us directions and tips for the city, she provided us with everything we needed and more. The apartment was clean and beautiful, in an amazing location. Words cannot explain just how happy I was with my homestay experience. I don’t think my trip to Rome would have been as memorable as it was without this experience.

A week of food, and some other things.

It’s been a while since my last post, mostly because I’ve been busy reading. I finished 3 books in the past week and a half, setting a new record for myself. I can now add In Cold Blood, The Bell Jar, and Night to my book shelf. All I do is read in this country. Not that that’s a bad thing at all. But I do need some recommendations if anyone has any.

So many of you probably know I am not the best cook. Meaning that cutting an avocado is a hard task for me. It’s so hard to get the skin off sometimes, am I right? Well this past week I finally made something, like an actual dish. Wait for it….I made mac and cheese! And it didn’t come from a box. I ventured to the supermarket determined the other day. I left with all my ingredients: parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese, milk, pasta, and butter. Mona already had breadcrumbs and flour I could borrow at home. I had nothing to do all of last Sunday so I had all day to make my creation. I couldn’t get the cheddar shredded so while the pasta was boiling my first task was to manually shred the cheese with a grater. The cheese was kind of warm after the walk home from the market (and I neglected to put it in the fridge since I started cooking right away), so it kept on breaking apart. I eventually shredded most of the block along with some skin off my knuckles.

After the pasta was boiled I started making the cheese sauce. First I melted butter, added a little bit of flour, and then the milk. The directions told me to pour out three cups of milk while simultaneously stirring the mixture in the pan. It was hard to pour milk into a measuring cup and stir at the same time but I managed. Next I added all my cheese and kept on stirring until the sauce was thick. I was nervous to pour the cheese from the pan into the pasta which now was in a baking tin. Knowing me I would miss or end up spilling the sauce all over the flour. But luckily I aimed perfectly. It came out great and I made it for Ran’s family this weekend. By the end of this week I’ll be sick of the only thing I know how to make!

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The week at school was the same as usual, except my students got their pen pal letters back from America and were so excited to open them. A lot of them have connected with their pen pals on Instagram and Facebook, but they are in the process of writing back again. One of my students asked if kids in America go to school with Jews and non Jews and seemed pretty surprised when I said yes. It’s so different here since everyone is Jewish, I guess it’s hard to imagine a different culture. Also slight mix up with one of the pen pal matches. I gave one of my favorite students Oz an American student named Chandler. I assumed Chandler was a boy because of the character on Friends, right? Wrong. Chandler is a girl. She even wrote in her letter that everyone assumes she is a boy because of her name. Luckily Oz was cool with it. Mostly because Chandler loves tennis just like him.

This weekend was relaxing. I was in Tel Aviv most of the weekend at Ran’s house. We watched an endless amount of Entourage on Thursday before I fell asleep at a pathetic hour of ten. The next day on Friday we walked around Tel Aviv and went to this amazing Mexican restaurant based off Mona’s recommendation. It’s a little place. Like really small. And they serve actual tacos and burritos and quesadillas. Did I mention they have queso. Yum. Anyway I got beef tacos. Ran said he didn’t want anything but after seeing how amazing my were he ordered a beef burrito to go. Really cool thing about Los Burning Tacos is that it is connected to a bar that’s sort of a speak easy type thing. There’s a big door in the back of the restaurant that says Deli on it. You walk through it and there’s a giant bar with a bunch of dance floors. The best part is the restaurant is open all the time so you can get some tacos when your drunk and stumbling home after a night out. Maybe I’ll have to go back one night and try it.

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We also went to this ice cream place called sub zero. They used nitrogen oxide (I think. To be honest I hated chemistry and could be totally getting this wrong. But they use some sort of chemical gas that like freezes things instantly) to make the ice cream. Since I wanted chocolate they poured some liquid chocolate into a mixing bowl and then added the gas while the machine turned it, making my ice cream right in front of my eyes. You can also add in toppings so I added Oreos. It was amazing! Embarrassing confession about the day, we actually went to the ice cream place first and then decided on tacos after. Sort of a reverse meal.

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Today I went into tel aviv with my roommates. We went to this area in tel aviv called Serona it’s like a little Italy  in the middle of Tel Aviv. I’m not really sure what it is called the little Italy of Israel because there isn’t anything that scream Italian about it, just they have a bunch of cute shops and restaurants. We went to this one restaurant there called Picnic, where  you can buy food and then they give it to you in a basket with a blanket filled with cubs, plates, utensils and of course your food. The service wasn’t too great but the food was really good. We each shared a pizza, pasta, and salad. Before lunch we had amazing frozen yogurt from my favorite place Anita, which I have written about before. After lunch we walked over to the Azraeli Mall and did some shopping. Well not too much.

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Being a tourist.

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Pepperoni pizza, cream of spinach pasta, and a salad.

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Grassy bench for that picnic vibe

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circle, square, triangle.

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selfies at Roladin

And tonight guess what…..I’m making family dinner for once. Me! I’m making my mac and cheese for the roommates. Best part I won’t have to do any dishes!

That’s all for now!