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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Chicago: Experience Things Differently

There are two things about the Windy City you need to know: the wind keeps blowing and the people keep smiling. Seriously, the people are so nice! And Chicago is all about YOU. In every facet of its being, the city reaches out to interact with you, so dive in and experience city life differently with these 5 ways to spend a week in the Windy City.

1. Dine with Death

What’s Chicago’s take on the classic “dinner-and -a-show”? They make dinner part of  the show! After all, nothing adds flavor to a delicious 4-course meal like murder. My brother and I went to The Dinner Detective Murder Mystery Show at the Knickerbocker Hotel (how fantastic is that name?!) a few months back and had a blast. The actors in this whodunnit were exceptionally interactive and had us all looking like the cry-laugh emoji by the end.

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That’s not an actor… 🙂

Shows can be a bit pricey so make sure to check Groupon for discounts!

2. Play some Volleyball on Lake Shore Drive

When the sun’s out and the temperature’s over 60, you can bet your bottom dollar there’ll be someone playing beach volleyball on Lake Shore. Swing by for a pick-up game or bring a picnic basket and enjoy the gorgeous view. With Lake Michigan on one side and the beautiful Chicago skyline on the other, who could ask for anything more?

chicago volleyball

3. Go undercover at SafeHouse Chicago

The name’s Bond. James Bond. Transform into a secret agent and dine the way they do. Brand new to the city’s restaurant scene, it opened this January, SafeHouse Chicago brings you into a world of espionage and danger so beware of double agents! From the moment you walk in (it’s the red door), to the time you make your getaway, you’ll be in the world of Bond, Agent 99, and Agent K.

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An authentic piece of history:  A piece of the Berlin wall that came crashing down on Nov 7, 1989

So put on a swanky suit, take on a secret agent name and make your way to the SafeHouse for a terrific night. And don’t forget to get your cocktails shaken, not stirred. 😉

4. Laugh your butt off at Second City or grab a seat at a local play

This is the city that brought us some of the best SNL talent and of course, the fabulous musical Chicago! Comedy and drama are kind of their thing. Seats are hard to come by as shows are bought out months in advance, so if you can’t get in, don’t fret. Chicago’s got plenty to entertain you. Every one is different but there’s lots of experimentation going on with user experience in smaller, local productions. I sat in on a one-woman play once where we, the audience, were bystanders trapped in a room with the character in one instant, and in another instant, we were accused of being part of the angry mob outside, the cause of the woman’s conflict.

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5. Pizza, Dogs, and Chocolate Cake Shake: The Trifecta

New York has Halal Guys, Chicago has Portillo’s. Portillo’s brings you the best of Chicago–hot dogs and the Masterful Chocolate Cake Shake. It’s literally a giant slice of chocolate cake blended into a gigantic chocolate shake. Bring a few friends to split the sweet. You can thank me later.

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For some delicious Chicago-style deep dish try Lou Malnati’s or Giovanni’s or venture into the side streets for something a little less touristy.

There’s always more to do in Chicago and the outer cities so go out and explore one of my favorite cities in the world.  ♄


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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!