Getting out of Rome and getting to the beach

When you realize that your favorite moment in Rome took place in a cemetery (ok, and all the time you spent eating gelato), it’s time to get out of the city.

As someone who understands that Rome gets hot and it’s handy to have a favorite beach, I spent my college days at Ostia (and more often, the beachfront one train stop earlier). Neither beach had much in the way of food, refreshments (unless they came from a cooler), or bathrooms, but they were close. And while Ostia is pretty crowded on a Saturday, the beach one stop prior is nearly empty…or at least is was in 2010/2013.

Another factor in their favor: the ease with which we could get to them. Take the metro to Piramide and hop on a train to Roma-Lido. Plus, I love stopping in Ostia Antica. I couldn’t tell you why, but I find those ruins much more captivating than the ones in Pompeii.

That said, the beach is…so-so. Ok, it’s not winning any awards, but there is sand and there is water.

This time around, our Airbnb host recommended Sperlonga. The catch: It’s a whole-day affair.

We woke up early and made our way from Pigneto to Roma Termini and caught the hourly train to Fondi-Sperlonga. From there, we had to wait for the local bus (also hourly – but luckily coordinated) to take us into the town itself. Two-and-a-half hours from the time we left Pigneto, we were greeted by the white-washed town of Sperlonga.

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A beautiful town in its own right, we enjoyed the stroll through the “town square” as we made our way to the beach.

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Pigneto: Discovering New Neighborhoods in Rome

My last post was filled with all our Roman woes, but I’m happy to say they didn’t take up the majority of our trip. Knowing Rome wasn’t going to be Chandler’s favorite city this summer, we were determined to spend some time off the tourist track exploring places we hadn’t heard of before.

We started in Pigneto. We were on Airbnb, searching for somewhere to stay and I came across this Vanity Fair article, describing Pigneto as Rome’s Brooklyn. A place with great nightlife, a cool cafe culture, and more Italian than English spoken seemed right up our alley. We found a nice one-bedroom apartment for rent right on Via del Pigneto.

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While there may not have been a lot to do in Pigneto during the day, it was an amazing place to escape to at night. Most evenings you could find us sampling some new wines at any of the various bars along Via del Pigneto and then roaming the neighborhood for a new restaurant to try.

During the day, we did more roaming – which actually happens to be my favorite pastime in Rome.

Before arriving, we had researched little known places in the city and Piramide Cestia kept coming up. Having been to Rome twice, I was surprised to find the city had its own pyramid. I was even more surprised to find out that it was located next to the Piramide Metro stop. A name I had never even stopped to consider before and a stop that I had taken on my way to the beach many times.

Piramide Cestia was one of our longer walks in Rome. There didn’t seem to be a convenient way to get to it from Pigneto. We took the bus into the city, got off at the Colosseum, and waited over 30 minutes for a bus that just decided not to come. At one point, we thought about just skipping the sight all-together, but in the end, we decided it was worth the effort to walk to something new.

So we hiked past the tour buses and tourists walking around with their selfie sticks and found ourselves in residential Rome. We walked past uncrowded cafes, secluded parks, and men breaking for lunch under the shade of oversized statues:

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We made it to the pyramid, no pomp & circumstance required, and walked around the entire structure to find a small gate opening into a cemetery. What we had failed to notice in our research is that the pyramid isn’t a stand-alone structure. The pyramid, a tomb for Caius Cestius, a Roman magistrate and member of a college of priests, was built between 18 and 12 BCE. The area around it houses other graves and mausoleums.

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Not usually one to be found around the morbid or macabre, I was struck, not only by the calmness of the cemetery, but also by its beauty and light.

We were soon to find that the cemetery housed people more famous to us than Caius Cestius.

First on the list was Percy Bysshe Shelley, an English Romantic poet, and husband to Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein:

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We also happened upon what might be one of my new favorite statues. A weeping angel, built for a woman whose name I’ve already forgotten:

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Around the bend and in view of the pyramid stands the cemetery’s most famous inhabitant, listed only as a “Young English Poet” on his gravestone. His friend, painter Joseph Severn, listed his name on his own gravestone: John Keats.

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The Rome I love is almost gone

You know that feeling you get, when you know you’re about to do the wrong thing, but you do it anyway…that’s my relationship with Rome. I know I shouldn’t go, but I just can’t seem to keep myself away.

The first time I went to Rome I was 20 and I lived there for the summer. It was my first time away from North America and I felt so independent and free. I went with a group from my university, so while I didn’t know anyone per se, I had network of people with me.

I got to see all the different sides of Rome – touristy, homey, foodie. I fell in love with the architecture, learned when to avoid the tourists, and ate inordinate amounts of my host mom’s cooking. I also ate gelato for lunch nearly every day.

Needless to say, I fell in love with the city. And to be honest, it’s probably impossible not to fall in love with your first international city.

And because of that, I keep going back. First, in 2013 I met my mom and sister there on holiday during my time in Ethiopia with Peace Corps. It was still the city I loved and remembered, but it was busier. Dirtier. I honestly didn’t really notice it because I was so happy to be back, showing it to my family.

I went again this summer with Chandler. He’d been once before and wasn’t a big fan…”Aren’t there too many tourists?” “Haven’t you seen all the sights?” “It’s going to be really hot.”

And like any good wife, I ignored him.

I was determined to prove him wrong. And I’m happy to say, sometimes I did. But honestly, sometimes I didn’t. This post is about the times that I didn’t, though I have plenty of wonderful things to share from our trip later on.

I came across this article a couple of weeks ago: These Hilarious Photos Show What Iconic Tourist Attractions Actually Look Like. And while the Sistine Chapel made the list, there were plenty of other places in Rome that also could have made the cut.

While living in Rome, I walked through Piazza Navona every day. Usually twice. My bus dropped me off nearby and the quickest way to my school was to cut through the piazza.  At 7:30 am, I usually had the piazza to myself. Occasionally, I shared it with a street sweeper.

I took Chandler there at 10:30 am. Knowing that yes, the place gets pretty crazy at lunch and in the evening when the artists set up shop, but mistakenly thought we’d still be fine.

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And Piazza Navona is hardly the worst offender when it comes to overcrowded places! Nonetheless, I’m never disappointed by the architecture in the square and the gelato shop around the corner.

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Other mistakes(ish) we made: Passing through the Pantheon on the way to an absolutely incredible (and Michelin rated!) restaurant. The food was tasty (OMG the appetizer!), but the piazza was, of course, nonsense.

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But, like usual, the architecture more than made up for the crowds. The worst was yet to come!

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This Provincial Life

All right, I lied. One more post about Switzerland : ) Chandler and I were talking about stress today. And Leysin came up. How, despite the fact that Chandler was in grad school for the month we were there, it was quite possibly the most relaxed we’ve been since we met.

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And I know I had quite a few more reasons to be relaxed: I wasn’t in grad school. But somehow it was more than that. It was Leysin.

To be honest, we don’t spend a lot of time in small towns. Even in Ethiopia, my city had a population of three hundred thousand. My home town (population thirteen thousand) is probably the smallest place we’ve spent any real amount of time. And that isn’t exactly a fresh start – it’s tinged with all of my memories.

I don’t know if it was the size of Leysin, the remoteness of it, and most likely the lack of responsibilities, but it was a place we could truly relax.

I also got to do something I hadn’t done on the reg since I was a child: be around horses.

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Skip the Matterhorn and go to Sierre instead

After last week’s hiatus on writing about our European summer (but seriously, have you read Lindy West’s Shrill already???), I’m back and ready for one final post about Switzerland.

For our last full weekend in Leysin, we decided to get out of town for a day. We still had one more “free” day left on our Eurail passes and we were trying to decide what to do. We had heard of a wine trail that led from Sierre to Salgesch and thought a walk through vineyards would be a lovely way to spend some time.

Pretty soon there was a whole group of us from Chandler’s grad program and our casual wine tasting turned into an action packed day – complete with a trip to Zermatt to see the famous Matterhorn.

We were told that on Saturdays, many of the wine tasting caves close by 12:00 or 2:00 pm (not even open for dinner? Disappointing) so we decided to start the day in Sierre, hike up to Salgesch, and then take the train to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn in the evening.

Now, I do have to admit, these wine caves are fickle. Because we arrived in Sierre around 8:30, had a light breakfast, and then learned that the caves in town didn’t open until 10:00. Meaning some were only open for two to four hours.

We didn’t want to wait around for an hour, so we decided to start on our hike – there had to be plenty of wine along the way, right?

The hike got off to an incredibly breathtaking start:

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You could just imagine how good that wine was going to taste! Unfortunately, a quick stop in the Sierre tourist office informed us that while there are drinking caves on both sides of the hike, most of the vineyards along the trail don’t offer tastings.

That was ok, the hike was estimated at an hour’s time and then we’d be tasting away. And once again, the stunning views were plenty distracting:

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The thing was, one hour was slowly turning into two and there was still nothing other than grapes in sight. At one point, we were fairly certain they were even taunting us. Then, amazingly, around the next bend we saw winery with a sign advertising tastings.

The ten of us broke into cheers and made our way off the trail and over to it. Somewhere along the trail we had switched over from the French-speaking part of Switzerland into the German-speaking part. Luckily, one of our international teachers had taught in Germany a few years back.

She rang the buzzer and through the intercom was informed that yes, the owner was here, and yes, according to the hours listed the winery was open. However, as it was, he was upstairs and didn’t want to make his way downstairs. The winery would not be open today.

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Shrill: Notes from a loud woman

If you have a vagina, you should read this book. Also, if you have a penis, you should read this book. If you have something in between or have added or subtracted to it, you should also read this book.

Because this is a book that everyone should read. Shrill: Notes from a loud woman by Lindy West.

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As an American, my country embarrasses me. I left the United States 13 months ago and while I should have seen this coming, I lived in my own privileged bubble. And now, it appalls me. And I hate to admit it, but I’m glad I’m gone. I know it was the easy way out. Which makes this book and the conversations Lindy West is having all the more important.

Instead of trying to review this book and tell you what I loved and why I loved it, I’m merely going to let Lindy’s words speak for themselves. And while I think these excerpts are powerful in and of themselves, putting them in the context of the book in its entirety makes them breathtaking.

On being fat:

“So what do you do when you’re too big, in a world where bigness is cast not only as aesthetically objectionable, but also as a moral failing? You fold yourself up like origami, you make yourself smaller in other ways, you take up less space with your personality, since you can’t with your body.”

“If you really want change to happen, if you really want to ‘help’ fat people, you need to understand that shaming an already-shamed population is, well, shameful.”

“As a woman, my body is scrutinized, policed, and treated as a public commodity. As a fat woman, my body is also lampooned, openly reviled, and associated with moral and intellectual failure. My body limits my job prospects, access to medical care and fair trails, and—the one thing Hollywood movies and Internet trolls most agree on—my ability to be loved.”

On being a woman:

“Women matter. Women are half of us. When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time—that moves the rudder of the world, it steers humanity toward conservatism and walls and the narrow interests of men, and it keeps us adrift in waters where women’s safety and humanity are secondary to men’s pleasure and convenience.”

“The most significant source of my adolescent period anxiety was the fact that, in America in 2016 (and far more so in 1993), acknowledging the completely normal and mundane function of most uteruses is still taboo…The taboo is so strong that while we’ve all seen swimming pools of blood shed in horror movies and action movies and even on the news, when a woman ran the 2015 London Marathon without a tampon, photos of blood spotting her running gear made the social media rounds to near universal disgust. The blood is the same—the only difference is where it’s coming from. The disgust is at women’s natural bodies, not at blood itself.”

“My abortion was a normal medical procedure that got tangled up in my bad relationship, my internalized fatphobia, my fear of adulthood, my discomfort with talking about sex; and one that, because of our culture’s obsession with punishing female sexuality and shackling women to the nursery and the kitchen, I was socialized to approach with shame and describe only in whispers. But the procedure itself was the easiest part. Not being able to have one would have been the real trauma.”

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On How to be Swiss in Zurich

I can’t believe how far behind I’ve gotten on these summer posts! It seems like once again school starts and everything else falls to the wayside. Perhaps my next few posts should be less chatty and more photo-filled. We all know a picture’s worth…

A few weeks into our time in Leysin we popped up to Zurich for a fast weekend. We didn’t have much time…Chandler had classes until early evening on Friday and had to be back by 8:30 am Monday morning.

But we already had our Eurail passes and I had a friend from high school living there whom I hadn’t seen in four years – our last sighting being happenstance when we were both vacationing in Rome, summer of 2013.

We made it to Zurich shortly before sunset and my friend’s incredibly kind husband met us at the train station and took us up to a viewpoint:

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It was a great introduction to the surprisingly small city and then we went for drinks, walking through Old Town along the way.

Instead of an up at ’em Saturday morning, we did something we hadn’t done since we started our European adventure: we slept in. And it was glorious.

My friend offered to walk us around the city, and after a quick train ride, our tour began. We saw more viewpoints (these ones filled with ingenuitive pigeons):

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And wandered along the banks of the river:

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Past churches with amusement parks set up right outside their front doors:

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And all the way down to the lake:

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We picked up some especially good chocolate along the way and ate it while soaking up the view (and the fresh air that we still couldn’t get enough of).

The whole day we had been contemplating a swim. The day was a bit warm by Swiss standards (though not nearly as hot as it had been in Paris), but we also had a time limit. Krystle had to get back for a performance that evening and Chandler and I had dinner plans at Hitl, supposedly the oldest vegetarian restaurant, open since 1898.

But, when you’re in Switzerland…

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