Rome in a Day

Cruising Europe was a dream come true, and it all started with 5 days in Italy. Me and my family intended to spend 2 days in Rome, taking in the city with all its decaying grandeur, and then spend the remaining time visiting the gilded halls of Florence’s top family–the Medici–and the time capsule that is Pompeii, a city sealed in all its volcanic ash and forgotten by time and men for thousands of years. From there, we would make our way to Venice to catch our cruise ship to the Adriatic Sea and Jerusalem. The trains tickets were purchased, the journey carefully mapped. It was going to be riveting. At least that was the plan until a tornado ripped through Atlanta.

The tornado delayed every flight in and out of Atlanta International Airport, including ours (we had a stopover in ATL). The logistics were a mess, and we ended up airport hopping for 3 days in our attempt to get there. We finally made it to Rome in the evening of what would have been Day 3. Our chances to see Pompeii and Florence were shot. So we decided to make the best of what we had. Believe it, Belles. We saw Rome in a day.

Fresh off the plane and exhausted, I somehow convinced my parents to grab some halal gyro pizza from a street vendor (there’s TONS of Bangladeshis in Italy! Who knew?) and come out for a quick walk. Little did they know I had a surprise in store. I led them through the cobblestone streets full of music and laughter, turned a corner, and bellisimo! We were at the Fountain of Trevi. It was magical; the perfect way to lift our spirits. We made our wishes and tossed our coins. Did I take the moment to sing the first few lines of “Call Me, Maybe”? You bet. On blast. 😀

In the morning, our first stop was the Vatican. This city/museum is so vast, you need to get a tour guide. Ours was wonderfully interactive and could answer all the questions I had planned to save for our trip to Florence about the Medici and their influence on art, politics, and religion. Two birds, meet my one stone. 😀 I had never been in a museum where the artwork was close enough to touch–not encased in glass. We walked through centuries of sculptures and art as we moved towards the Sistine Chapel with its most famous of ceilings–The Creation of Adam. No photos were allowed inside the chapel but Michelangelo’s fresco was awesome. The details, the history, the underpants (yes, I said underpants). All the controversy between artistic vision and religious propriety was right before our eyes. And it was MASSIVE.

After a quick lunch and a refreshing gelato to give us a boost, we left the Vatican and began our race to see Rome. It felt like the tornado had followed us all the way from Atlanta–we found ourselves running from place to place, trying to see as many of our must-see sights as we could. Here were our top picks:

The Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verita): First made famous in Roman Holiday, we had to try our hand (get it? pun very much intended) at surviving its jaws. On our way out, we happened upon a lovely operatic performance taking place in the adjacent church, Santa Maria in Cosmedin.

Daring to tell a lie at the Mouth of Truth

The Colosseum (Le Colosseo): To the movie-classic question, “Are you not entertained?!”, we gleefully reply, “Yes!” We were literally running to the gates of the Colosseum before the guards could call ‘last entry’ and couldn’t have been happier with what we saw. I still get goosebumps when I see the cells where the beasts prowled, impatient for that cocktail of clean air and blood. We soaked it all in–the scale, the sensation. Thanks to my handy Fodor travel guidebook, we all took turns giving the structure our own melancholy salutation like the hundreds of gladiators who had come before us. Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant. Hail, Emperor, those who are about to die salute you.

The Spanish Steps and Piazza Di Spagna: Believe it or not, this was one of my favorite places. We got here right around sunset, after a long day of walking. We’d seen the Pantheon, the Palatine Hill, Circus Maximus, the Roman Forum, and the wonderfully busy Piazza Venezia. We’d seen street performers seemingly floating in thin air and busts of old emperors by the Arch of Titus, with its towering trees of peculiar, almost Truffula-like form. We were ready for a rest. As we walked down the Piazza di Spagna, lined with designer stores, we met the most charming Italian violinist who, noticing our interest, serenaded us with his beautiful rendition of Por una Cabeza, which happens to come from my mother’s favorite movie, Scent of a Woman.

We grabbed some gelato from nearby and plopped down on the steps in true Audrey Hepburn-style. We were soon being shooed off (apparently food is no longer allowed on the steps–too many tourists making a mess!) but we had a grand old time with it. About ready to call it a night, we started making our way off the plaza when a barrage of heart-shaped balloons came bobbing down our way. A surprise proposal! We were thrilled. We joined in the festivities, observing and even singing along to the couples’ friends’ rendition of the Bruno Mars song, Marry You. Yes, my Belles, Rome was magical.

Proposal on the Spanish Steps <3

So, Gelato? Check. Pizza? Check. The perfect Roman Holiday reenactment on the Spanish Steps? Check!

Sure, we didn’t see the Borghese Gardens, the Duomo in Florence, the Barberini Palace with its exquisite interiors seen in Roman Holiday, or the many museums in the area but that’s what a second round is for. After all, this is what dreams are made of, right? 😉

Pope Francis Graffiti


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Cleveland: Full of History, Full of Hope

I’ve visited Cleveland several times over the years, but I never really saw Cleveland until my last visit. Cleveland has often been viewed as a pock-marked with “bad spots”, especially after the recession of 2008. But the city seems to be coming out of a metaphoric chrysalis as of late. You can really feel the city coming alive around you. To truly capture the essence of Cleveland, you’ve got to visit these places.

1. Algebra Tea House

This is a place where people come to interact and discuss religion and politics and art and poetry and love. Bookshelves line the wall amidst pops of color and hand crafted mugs. This little tea shop was the first non-italian owned shop in Cleveland’s Little Italy district and it has given and received warmth to the community with its tea and friendship.

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Everything has a touch of the owner’s hand– chairs, tables, and even the front door is crafted by him and his paintings hang on the walls in bright bursts of color.

2. Superman wasn’t born in Kansas or Iowa… He’s from Cleveland

That’s right! The original superhero, Superman, was conceptualized in a house near Case Western University by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Like any iconic superhero, Superman is like a beacon of hope for mankind, shining bright and believing the best in us. It is fitting that a Man of Steel was born from the Cleveland community as Cleveland is finding its way again.

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The first volume of the Superman series is displayed in comic strip form on the fence surrounding Jerry Siegel’s house

3. Lucky’s Cafe

Craving a little Farm-to-Table action? Lucky’s is the place to be. Tradition and diversity lead the way in their most interesting of flavors. You can have fun with some of their more experimental dishes like the Canoewreck, or you can go with their Forever-Delicious Baked Mac-N-Cheese. Whatever you choose, I guarantee you’ll love it.

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Enjoy their outdoor seating in the warmer months!

4. Any one of the many Polish Catholic churches in the area

Poles came to Cleveland long ago and they brought their unique art form and food with them. Besides their delicious pierogis, some of the most stunning art is depicted in their churches–if you can find someone who works there to tell you the stories behind the different stained glass panels and gold leafed statues, it can be better than a trip to the museum. I personally went to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Parma, OH where the minister walked me through his favorite panels and displays.

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A polish catholic church

5. Rockefeller Park aka Cleveland Cultural Gardens

Last but certainly not least, there’s Cleveland’s little slice of paradise. Cozied up against Lake Erie, I found this little gem on my way to the airport, right at the end of the trip. A string of 26 nationality gardens, the site is unique to Cleveland, with each garden sharing the flavor of its nation in the architecture and landscaping. It holds busts and full statues of notable individuals like Gandhi, Tesla, Curie, Schiller, and Shakespeare.

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Gandhi Statue at Cleveland Cultural Gardens

The theme of the Gardens “Peace through mutual understanding”, and the cultural diversity seen in the gardens stands at the very foundation of Cleveland and is a real joy to explore.


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Istanbul: Hidden Turkish delights

I went to Istanbul in the first week of April, at the start of Istanbul’s annual Tulip Festival. The mornings and evenings still clung to the remains of winter’s chill but the days were warm and full of sunshine. To prepare for my maiden voyage to Europe, I scoured the internet for the best travel recommendations for Istanbul and the best, by far, was Audrey Bergner’s 50 Ways to experience Istanbul.
Here are a few hidden gems I stumbled upon alongside sights that really shouldn’t be missing from your to-see list.

1. Privato Cafe by The Galata Tower

Order the continental breakfast– Europeans have perfect portions and use the best ingredients. Turkish yogurt and honey are downright sinful. Many thanks to my friends @thesamaras for the recommendation

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Privato Cafe– a little hole in the wall restaurant in the Italian-influenced streets of Beyoglu

2. Smell the flowers at the Topkapi Palace

The smell is absolutely heavenly. Fit for a king or queen. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been so fully immersed in the smell of flowers before–Bath Body Works so doesn’t do the trick anymore.

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A sea of beautiful, colorful tulips color the lawns of this amazing palace

3. Discover Glowing quartz pottery at Firca Quarts and Ceramic by the Aya Sophia.

Ask them to take you to the basement and prepare to see something remarkable.

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The entire Blue Mosque is designed in the same quartz that makes this vase glow in the dark

4. Feed your dreams at Alemdar Restaurant & Cafe

Ask for the Saç Kavurma. I kid you not, I am still dreaming about it! Bonus: get a free Whirling Dervish show.

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The best dervish show is in Sirkeci train station!

5. Turkish Ice cream

Such a unique texture, unlike traditional ice cream we get in America. I loved the Blackberry flavor the most!

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They love to have a bit of fun with you for your ice cream

6. Stop in Hafiz Mustafa 1864 in Taksim Square for the most unique and delicious baklava and Turkish delights.

They have some delicious combinations and flavors that I couldn’t find anywhere else in all of Istanbul. I finished a whole box, y’all… I hit the gym real hard when I came back. lol.

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The men are as lovely to look at as the desserts are to taste 😉

But overall, have FUN and talk to strangers. The lives of those we meet, their stories are what make travelling to far off places both foreign and familiar. Have a good trip! Or as the Turks say, İyi yolculuklar! Gßle, gßle!


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Around the world, around the world…

Hey readers,

You may have noticed I flew around a lot this past year. That’s because I’ve been diagnosed with chronic travel bug. Since our trip to Pakistan last year, the FamJam has been itching for more and this year the symptoms are showing.

Since January, I’ve been to Chicago twice, Cleveland once, and to the great country of Turkey for the first time ever! The fun hasn’t stopped there either. My cousin got married this year too so we jetted off to Karachi again this summer (the heat. Oh God.) for 2 weeks (!!) to take part in the festivities. And this winter, I did a fun little road trip from Chicago to Toronto with the broski cuz bonding 💯. There was lots of color and to-die-for food that are just absolute must-have experiences. So, I’ve decided to add a few travel posts to the site. Expect one for Karachi, Chicago, and Istanbul in the next few months. I’ve got a hunch that I’m going to be adding a few cities to the list this year. 😉

Stay tunes, Belles!