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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Paris: Uninhibited, but not romantic

I’ve been to Paris twice now and I just have to ask, why does everyone find this city so damn romantic? I have to say, I don’t get it. Now don’t get me wrong, both times I definitely enjoyed myself (July 2010 and June 2017); Paris is an incredibly fun city. It just doesn’t make me swoon.

And I can even say that I’ve experienced it in very different ways: the first time I went, I was studying abroad in Rome and I went to spend an extended weekend with a friend who happened to be studying abroad in Paris at the time.

I was in college, I was single, and I was poor. We ate crepes and spent hours at Notre Dame. I ate the one vegetarian option at each restaurant we went to, because in 2010, Paris wasn’t exactly vegetarian friendly. We walked through the red-light district for the required Moulin Rouge pic. I went to the Opera House and the Louvre while she was in class and I was skipping my own. I slept in her dorm room because I couldn’t afford my own place. We went dancing at clubs until hours I can no longer stay up for. I made the trek up to Sacre Coeur and got to behold the most romantic city in the world a metropolitan city.

Skip ahead seven years. My husband and I have well-paying international jobs with a seven-week summer vacation to fill. We wanted to visit friends in London and then take the train to Leysin where we’d spend the bulk of our summer. Who wouldn’t want to stop in Paris on the way for a few days of baguettes, wine, cheese, and, of course, shopping? Especially now that I could afford to see Paris with a different bank account!

Ever the Millenials, we ignored the high prices of hotels and opted for an Airbnb. Late to the game, this was the first Airbnb we’d stayed in just the two of us – our actual first Airbnb was in São Tomé this spring when we rented a place with two coworkers and some family.

There was some pretty hilarious confusion (or at least we thought so) during check-in. Our host had left the building fob for us to find and as I was in the lobby looking for it, a couple asked us if we were staying at the Airbnb on the fourth floor. Well guess what? We were. So they handed us the key fob for the building and a key. We got to our room and found our separate key hidden where expected and assumed the one on the fob was also for the front of the building.

We went out for lunch (Chipotle, Chandler’s last chance at it), a wine shop, and I experienced my first Parisian shopping moment (having been way too poor to buy clothes the first time I was there!).

We got back to our Airbnb, showered off (because Paris was experiencing an excruciating heat wave) and while Chandler was still in his towel, we got a knock on our door. It was our neighbor, frantically asking if we by chance happened to know where his key was.

Turns out, there was an Airbnb next door to ours and since the apartments don’t have numbers on them, all the renters could ask us was floor number. They had given us the wrong keys! We handed them over to a furious apartment owner – sorry, dude. Not our fault! I then went back down to the lobby and within about 30 seconds more of searching, found our fob still waiting for us. Whoops.

But our cranky neighbor aside, we were seriously enjoying our apartment and the view it provided. We were about three blocks from the Louvre.

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If you want to be a tourist, it was a wonderful part of town to be staying in. If you want a few quiet, relaxing days, I don’t especially recommend it. We loved it. We spent our first afternoon wandering around the neighborhood, eating our London cheese, and drinking our Parisian wine. FYI, if you’re nearby, I heartily recommend stopping by La Derniere Goutte for a nice conversation and a couple great bottles of wine.

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The next day found us up bright and early, grabbing breakfast on the go at the boulangerie around the corner – one of the only things open.

Our plans for the day started with the Sainte-Chapelle cathedral. It’s not too far from Notre Dame, but I hadn’t made my way over on my last visit. At 10 euros it’s a pretty steep price (for only 7 more you have access to all of the Louvre), but the stained glass windows are more than worth it.

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There are 1,113 scenes from the New and Old Testaments depicted across the cathedral’s 15 windows, each of which are 15 meters high.

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International Festival Day aka The Vegetarian’s Thanksgiving

I’ve been a vegetarian for 8 years now, and by far, the most disappointing holiday is Thanksgiving. It’s become a, “sure…I’ll have a plate full of mashed potatoes, raw carrots, and a roll” kind of day. I have to admit, living abroad, I don’t really miss it.

But every year, our school celebrates its cultural diversity by hosting an International Festival Day. The day kicks off with a parade filled with the flags from each country represented at our school (60 in total).

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The rest of the afternoon is filled with enough eating to put Thanksgiving to shame. Many countries put up tents and serve (free!) cultural food in an effort to share their diversity and culture with each other.

This year, I counted 20 tables in all and two of them were continent tables: Europe, comprised of countries like Germany, Italy, Ireland, and more, and Central/South America featuring foods from Guatemala, Mexico, Bolivia, and Venezuela. The Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland) also banded together to offer a lot of deserts and pickled fish!

But the larger representatives included: Nigeria, Pakistan, the United States, India, Jamaica, Turkey, Israel, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Australia, Cameroon, South Africa, Japan, Lebanon, Brazil, the Netherlands, and, of course, Ghana.

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Walking around those tents, I kid you not, I filled my plate about three times. I’ve decided the only acceptable way to spend time in line is eating and waiting for your plate to be filled again.

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Thanksgiving: Take two

This year, there was no training to bring all of us together. So instead of having 70 volunteers swarm Addis, we were left to our own devices.

I decided to take part in a Peace Corps Ethiopia tradition – an Assela Thanksgiving. Assela is the hub town all of our training sites were based around, and I hadn’t been back since I left, last August. So I caught an early minibus and began the trek.

Only the first 30 minutes were done solo. I was soon in Shashemene where I switched buses and joined up with a fellow G7 volunteer. We made our way to the next bus station – in Assasa. Another quick transfer and we were finally in the home stretch, only another two hours to Assela.

We arrived, joined some other PCVs and enjoyed a leisurely afternoon in the lobby of the hotel that hosted all our trainings a year ago – they had gotten wifi and were seriously moving up in the world! The food off the menu was even tolerable (I don’t think I ate much more than bread and bananas on the days we were forced to lunch there).

That evening we all joined together (there were probably 15 of us) to watch the traditional awesomely bad sci-fi film. This year’s gem? Sharknado…classic. From the moment it started I knew we had struck gold, but what really solidified it was when *SPOILER* Lauren (from Make It Or Break It – don’t know her real name) was pulled out of shark after another cast member had been swallowed whole by the same shark and had used a chainsaw to free himself from the inside out. Awesome.

That night we all went to bed quite content, seriously looking forward to the spread of food we’d have before us the following day. A few of the volunteers used the morning to slave away and cook the food. That, however, included slaughtering a sheep, so my boyfriend and I decided to go for a hike instead.

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Miraculously, we managed to find our way back to this tree, a good 30 minutes uphill from Assela proper. You’re probably wondering why it was so important we find this tree specifically. Well, this tree happened to witness our first kiss, and Chandler, being the more romantic of us two, wanted to hike back up to it. It was an incredibly sweet moment.

Then began the hike back down – much easier : ) It was filled with waves of amber…something we didn’t notice on our way up, due to our preoccupation with finding that tree!

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Baby it’s cold outside…

It’s January 6th and I’m still listening to my Christmas mix. It’s strange because this is the least Christmas-y Christmas I’ve had and yet I’m constantly reminded that it’s the holiday season – tomorrow is the Ethiopian Christmas and all the hotels/shops are decked out with decorations.

This year I’m missing out on making snow angels, sipping hot cocoa by the fire, and looking for the pickle on the tree, but I replaced those things with some pretty great new traditions.

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The weekend before Christmas we treated ourselves to a resort day at the Haile to celebrate a friend’s birthday. That evening we went down to the lake for some fresh fish.

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The following day was Christmas Eve and to get in a festive mood, we decided to make paper snowflakes. Some of the ladies had been perfecting this craft over the previous weeks and I was sufficiently jealous of some of their snowflake-making skills.

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And then came time for the chicken killing…we perfected the act on the second chicken, my apologies to the first. I grew a little attached to them that afternoon, luckily I didn’t try naming them! Everyone said they were quite tasty.

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But I know what you’re thinking…you don’t eat chicken. You’re right, I don’t. But we had plenty of other delicious side items: wild rice soup, salad, glazed carrots, mashed sweet potatoes, and seasoned potatoes. Followed by dessert: chocolate pecan pie. Plenty of food to go around.

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We woke up Christmas morning, cleaned the kitchen we had annihilated the night before and then opened our Secret Santa gifts. The 5 birr limit was brilliant and I got a hand-painted pot containing freshly planted cilantro and some memorable photos.

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Then we spent the afternoon at the hot springs before getting all dolled-up for dinner at the lodge.

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I befriended some hyenas and lived to tell the tale

I had a very Lion King weekend, more along the lines of hanging with hyenas than having to deal with that whole Hamlet thing. The part that surprised me the most…how darn cute hyena cubs are.

Seriously though…these cubs were adorable. And yes, they were wild, but they were so timid around the nearby vultures that I never felt unsafe. And, for full disclosure, we didn’t just happen upon the hyenas in the wild, we went to a lodge in Yirgalem known for their nearby hyenas. We even went to their dens during the day while they slept.

It was a great weekend. In addition to our hyena sighting (which happened twice)…

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