About Stand Where I Stood

My serious travels started in Italy during university, then I moved on to Ethiopia with Peace Corps and have been to over 10 countries since. My newest adventure is Ghana.

78 Hours in Minnesota: The Cons

340 days ago, the American people did something I would have never thought possible: They elected Donald Trump as president. And I can “not my president” all I want, but honestly, it has been easier to ignore what’s happening back home while living abroad.

Every time a new embarrassing/depressing headline was announced…

Trump to Authorize Wall and Curtail Immigration
Trump Targets Muslim Areas in Refugee Ban
Trump Fires Justice Chief Who Defied Him
Facing Scrutiny Over Russia Call, Flynn Steps Down
Trump Rescinds Obama Directive on Bathroom Use
Health Groups Unite to Oppose Republican Bill
Trump Signs Rule to Block Efforts on Aiding Climate Change

And these were just some of the New York Times’ articles during the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency. They don’t even include Trump’s war against my health rights as a woman, NRA (Nonsensical Rifle Addiction), our pull-out from UNESCO, etc. Honestly…it’s hard not to keep adding to this list.

But before, I could hide behind my overseas-ness. I could declare – I don’t know those kinds of Americans. But going home, I knew I’d have to face it.

And I can honestly say I wasn’t prepared for some of the conversations.

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78 Hours in Minnesota: The Pros

My whirlwind of a weekend home is over and I already miss it. I mean, I don’t miss the utter exhaustion, my inability to tell which day of the week it was, or the distance from my husband (not the largest ocean, but a pretty big one none-the-less)…but on a whole, it was a pretty magical trip.

I’ve never traveled so far (24 hours there, 21 hours back) to be somewhere for such a short amount of time. So I guess I should explain why…

The real why goes back to July 3, 2016. My wedding day. And there, standing next to me (on the opposite side of my soon-to-be husband) was Nora. A woman who wrote out my invitations, shared a room with my sister and other bridesmaid, Erica (both strangers to her), and has been a source of comfort and conversation since we met in the early days of university.

She was my witness on our marriage license.

And on October 1, 2017, it was her turn to get married. Now, living halfway around the world, I couldn’t write out her invitations (and let’s be honest – she has better handwriting anyway), I couldn’t dye or tie her lovely keychains to mark the seating chart, and I couldn’t be with her to try on various wedding dresses (which she had done with me).

All I could do was be there. So I did.

And despite the travel hours logged, I am so happy that I did. Fun fact: I did not cry at my own wedding – I was not going to waste that professionally applied make-up! But I sobbed like a baby at Nora’s, my heart bursting with joy.

I finally got to meet Sumit, her now husband – the ocean between us preventing that from previously happening. And I got to steal small moments with her when she wasn’t taking a million photographs, greeting everyone that came to her wedding, and spending time with the man she will now be spending the rest of her life with.

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If that was all I got from my weekend home, it would have been enough.

But I got more.

After a three-hour delay in Amsterdam, turning my nine-hour flight into twelve hours, I finally got to see my parents and sister. Excepting my sister, they don’t get out much and so I hadn’t seen them in over a year. We immediately got into the swing of things: My father shouting at traffic, my sister getting exasperated by my mother, and me trying to Skype a medical appointment from the backseat. So little time.

I got to have dinner with the three of them, plus my grandparents and my first meal back in the states was a burrito (Chandler has trained me well). It was delicious, even if it was from the freezer section of Trader Joes.

The next day I got to visit with even more family as my grandparents opened up their home to anyone who could claim relation to me : ) A feast was laid before us and we spent the next six hours eating and catching up. Our time together was way too short, but I got all the most important updates: deaths, divorces, and new dogs. My family is a country song.

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The real reason to go to Rome: The pasta!

After all my lukewarm posts about Rome, I’m sure you’re starting to wonder how I can possibly claim to love it so much. The answer is simple. Italian food is the best in the world.

I know this is a strong statement. I really do. And I’m not saying this because I don’t love other cuisines. Lebanese, Pakistani, and Thai food all come to mind, not to mention Indian, Greek, Korean, French cheeses…I could go on. But I’d get too hungry.

But at the end of the day, I can always eat pasta. Because, honestly, you can do anything you want with it. And Rome has some of the best of it.

Armando al Pantheon had incredible bruschetta with buffalo mozzarella and spaghetti with pecorino romano cheese and black pepper.

Colline Emiliane had absurdly good homemade ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach in tomato sauce. They are also famous for their homemade ravioli stuffed with pumpkin in a butter sauce.

I’m not a big fan of regular spaghetti – I find it quite boring – but Eataly added buffalo mozzarella to theirs and it had us swooning.

All of our other photos are of food we ate in Pigneto. We had white pizza sandwiches at Opulentia (they don’t joke about their dough – which is left to rise for up to 72 hours to sheer perfection). Kalapa Roma had vegan & veggie pita’s literally oozing goodness (ok, not Italian, but still worth mentioning!). Vitaminas 24 had delicious fruit shakes – it took me 10 minutes just to read through their selection! Infernotto gave us unique combinations like gnocchi with guava and some delicious homemade tagliatelle noodles. And Necci dal 1924 had some of the best deconstructed tiramisu I’ve ever tasted.

There was more, of course. Random restaurants along Via del Pigneto and our pizzeria in Sperlonga. I can honestly say we didn’t have a bad meal our week in Italy.

And all that would be enough, it would make me fall in love with Rome again and again. But Rome also has the best dessert in the world: Gelato.

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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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