My Top 5 Spots in Rome

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Although two weeks is longer than a typical trip to one European city, I don’t think you can ever truly experience a destination without living there or having a local show you where the real hidden gems are. I do intense research before heading somewhere new so I can find venues beyond the standard tourist traps but I also try to get lost so I can find my own recommendations. The below are the spots I would’ve lived in were I to ever become a resident of Rome.

La Proscuitteria Trevi for Casual Charcuterie 
Danielle from Beirutista sent me to this meat haven tucked in behind the Fontana di Trevi. After waiting in line next to a La Dolce Vita poster with Sylvia wielding a T-bone in the air, we got a teeny table in the back of a butcher-turned-wine bar for a wooden slab of cold cuts, cheese, a basket of bread, and Chianti red wine. Let’s just say that this meal was not one that would’ve been approved by my dietician but let’s also say that I don’t regret being a rebel for one second. For 20Euros each, we had plenty to feast on and extras to take home for snacking on later.

Bead Shop Rome for Murano Glass Jewelry and Souvenirs
Rankoussi, shop owner and artisan, is a Syrian glass blower specializing in the Phoenician and Murano glass craft. He gives workshops and does in-store demos every Tuesday but gave my friend & I a quick show and made a mini blue eye. I’m guessing this had a lot to do with me asking where he was from and him replying, “I am from the Middle East and you are also from there.” International wasta FTW. Rankoussi gave us a brief history lesson of his work, told us the origin story of certain beads and their cultural significance, and took selfies with us in his technicolor wonderland.

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Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe for Cappuccino and Chocolate Covered Coffee Beans
Fun fact: there is no Starbucks in Rome. But who needs it when, across from the Sant Eustachio church and behind the Pantheon, this cafe from the thirties serves all the caffeine-lovers favorites. Urbanista does a good job here in Lebanon but cappuccinos will never be the same after Rome. Sant Eustachio’s grand cappuccinos set me back 2.90 Euros each visit. They’re pricier than other little vendors but, in comparison to the hotel’s watered down black American, I happily paid it. Maybe it’s because they mix it with water from an ancient aqueduct – how very Roman. The workshop faculty suggested their chocolate covered coffee beans which are delectable and come in bright yellow packages with a stag in their branding so naturally I adored them as mini gifts for my peeps back home.

Barnum Cafe for an Espresso/Prosecco-Filled Remote Office
I’ve never been smitten with a cafe. I spent a couple of days working at a communal table that had an old bourbon bottle centerpiece filled with lavender. The bartenders were friendly and warmed up to my friend & I because we were singing along to all the great tunes from the early 2000s. I had wondered if I had finally found the place where my iPod Classic disappeared to, then we get a Vanilla Ice dedication, and I’m thinking, “Ah shit, I’m never leaving. I am moving to Rome for a coffee shop.” They have a no computers after 7:30pm rule though because it morphs into a bar, which is fine because I’d get a good 3 hours of work done beforehand as my espresso would transition into Prosecco. Order the tiramisu, it comes in a coffee mug topped with glazed hazelnuts.

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Osteria da Fortunata for Fresh Pasta in Campo di Fiori
Nonnas make the pasta right there near the tables so you know you’re not getting any of that stiff packaged stuff being sold on every corner. I’m not a pasta fan but when it’s fresh, it has a completely different texture on the palate. The cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) plate was the only serving of pasta I ordered during my entire two weeks and it’s all I needed. Take that mac & cheese.

Honorable Mention: If you’re at Barnum and still need to work post 7:30pm, you can walk over to Circus which is another work-friendly cafe. There’s lots of teeny boppers hanging out and music gets loud but they don’t mind if you don’t. And the waiter has a human Gus Gus-from-Cinderella quality to him so you can’t help but smile. They’re open till 2am.

The Last Afternoon in Roma

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First published on SVA blog on June 14th, 2016 under the title “Rome Day 14: Tangible Memories.”

“An orgy of goodness” is what Steven Heller called our final presentations which were a mix of tangible memories of Rome in the form of reinvented intricately illustrated postcards, a bracelet of Italian female role models donned the Sorelle Sante (Sacred Sisters), and of course, a typeface or two. All were deemed marketable entrepreneurial endeavors which is not a small feat given the timeframe we had to cook up something fresh and exciting. 


As we dispersed for what was most people’s last afternoon in Rome, I felt the need to jam-pack as much of the city in the few hours before our farewell dinner. A couple more gifts here and there, but mostly I wanted to walk the streets and take it all in – this place that had me enamored so quickly because it reminded me so much of home. I didn’t even mind that locals would seem utterly confused as to why I couldn’t understand Italian; I was flattered that they thought I was one of them. I passed by the same streets, dropped by Roscioli, snapped some photos of the places I felt I would frequent on the regular if I was ever a Roman resident. I was creating a memory palace for my next walk down memory lane. Sorry, too much Sherlock. And I did manage to see St. Valentine’s skull at Santa Maria. It was too far away to inspect which wasn’t a great loss considering those tiled floors. Those alone are worth the trek. If you don’t have time for the Vatican, go to this little church. It’s what most beautiful places of worship are: understated and underrated.

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Our farewell dinner was all things Italian meaning food, wine, and good company. We swapped stories and plans for the weeks ahead. It didn’t feel like we were going anywhere; it felt like a regular Saturday night with friends that continued at our dorm’s common room (the hotel lobby) as we polished off the bottles of wine and Prosecco left from our working nights before.

But alas, we said our goodbyes and now we’re all on different ends of the earth. Luckily, we’re all just a text or a call away thanks to SVA.

Vatican Floors, Coffee Beans, and Penis Pasta

First published on the SVA blog on June 10th, 2016 under the title “Finding the Meanings of Rome”

It may come as a surprise to most but there is a part of visiting the Vatican that no one ever told me to pay attention to. While the crowds of multinationals were staring up at the works of Raphael and Michaelangelo, I was staring at my feet admiring the intricate tile work that runs throughout the museum halls. Strangely, after walking through room upon room, your mind stops processing the paintings. That, and I’m not very patient with slow-paced tourists who stop dead in their tracks at random. Perhaps this is why I had my head down with my eyes on the ground as I weaved to make my way to the Sistine Chapel. It seems, even when I got there, I was still fixated on the tiles rather than the gods above me. The ones in the Chapel particularly resemble Louise Fili’s Instagram posts of the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, a church I hope to see before my flight home on Sunday. Apparently, St. Valentine’s skull lies there too.

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Our time in Rome has suddenly evaporated with just hours to go before our presentation of our projects tomorrow. While working in a hip cafe of the Eternal City, it’s hard not to feel like we’ve taken up residence here; it’s the same routine I have in Beirut except I’m only here for another 48 hours. Barnum Cafe’s bartender waves goodbye as his shift ends because some of us have become regulars, sitting at the large table surrounded by pencil shavings and tracing paper. In my three consecutive days at this table, I’ve met an American food blogger, an Egyptian who inquired about my Arabic sketches, and, of course, the bartender who dedicated his early-2000 songs to us after we kept bobbing our heads to the lyrics that took us back to high school. Camping out there, the transition from espresso to Prosecco is easy as pie as the place morphs into a pub post 7:30 pm when computers are no longer allowed.

And in the midst of doing all this prep, many of us try to find souvenirs for our peeps back home – ones that aren’t tacky or typical. I’ve opted for chocolate covered coffee beans from Sant’Eustachio II Caffe, sugary fruit gummies from Moriondo e Gariglio, and some leather-bound notebooks. And yes, penis-shaped pasta for my more mature friends.

As Lita Talarico, SVA MFA co-chair, said, “in Paris, everything comes at you but, in Rome, you have to dig a little deeper” alluding to how the city is one of layers where there’s more to discover beyond the burnt orange facades, beyond centro storico. Fourteen days and I haven’t even scratched the surface. Besides the fact that I’ve been doing laundry in my hotel sink, I’m not quite ready to go just yet so that only means one thing: I need to come back.