Monday, January 28, 2013

Gatti di Roma

What's a trip to Rome without CATS?! No, not the the play - I mean, actual cats.

Cat shelter + ruins = AWESOME
While wandering the streets of Rome one lovely afternoon, Scott and I noticed an adorable little cat playing by some picturesque ruins near the "Argentina" tram station downtown. This, of course, piqued our interest, as we are both supreme cat lovers.  Unfortunately, all the moving to various countries for work makes it difficult to keep a pet so as much as we both adore cats, we won't be starting our own cat collection anytime soon. Therefore, I have to take any opportunity I can find to get my cat fix - e.g. by stopping to watch the above-mentioned adorable little cat playing in the Roman ruins!
A well-fed Gatti.

 Anyway, to our surprise and delight we quickly noticed that there were many cats frolicking amongst the ruins! We had stumbled upon a veritable treasure trove of cats, all of whom appeared to be well-fed and were considerably more friendly than one would expect of a bunch of stray cats.

Cats showing us the way down to the shelter.
Well, that's because they weren't a random bunch of stray cats - they were Gatti di Roma - tenants of the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary! These lucky kitties have just about the coolest and definitely the most historical cat condo ever: the former site of four temples built between 400-100 BC and the spot where legend has it Caesar was assassinated! There are about 250 cats living in the ruins, all well taken care of (food, vaccinations, medical care) by volunteers who man a CatShop and solicit donations and/or cat adoptions from visitors.

Cats and history all rolled into one: what a fun and unexpected way to spend an afternoon! Are there any other dorky cat lovers out there planning travel to Rome? You can check out the shelter's websites at or

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Viva Roma!

Beautiful wedding!
Ahh... Italia! We just got back to Gaborone this afternoon from an absolutely wonderful week in Rome. As mentioned in my last post, the reason for the trip was to attend the lovely wedding of my twin brother's wife's sister. Well, as expected, the wedding was gorgeous and took place in the fabulous, ornate Church of Santa Susanna. The church is home to an American Catholic parish in Rome and thanks to a family connection, the bridal couple had the unique privilege of being married by a Vatican cardinal! The reception at the St. Regis hotel across the street from Santa Susanna was equally fabulous, and consisted of a beautiful hors d'oeuvres hour with a giant feast of a lunch that was easily the best meal we had in Rome (that's saying a lot - the food was amazing all week).
Rome waiting outside our hotel room window.

The wedding festivities aside, getting to spend a whole week in Rome with Scott, my parents, brother, and sister-in-law was pretty amazing. It was quite an interesting feeling to board a plane in Gaborone one day, and hop off in Rome the next... and arrive at the hotel, climb a flight of stairs, and voila, there's my family all the way from Orlando! We stayed just a ten-minute walk from the Vatican at a lovely little family-run place called Hotel La Rovere right next to the Tiber River. The staff were extremely friendly, the rooms spacious and clean, and the view from our window was spectacular. I would highly recommend it for anyone traveling to Rome!
Enjoying the day in Florence.

No caption needed!
We spent the glorious week visiting all the popular tourist sites in Rome - St. Peter's, the Vatican museum, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Trastevere, and more! Just wandering around was a pleasure in itself, with so much to see and do around every corner there was never a dull moment. The six of us also took a high speed train up to Florence for the day and had a fabulous time wondering at the majestic churches of Florence, wandering the streets, and day's highlight: eating an absolutely delicious lunch at L'Osteria di Giovanni. I was blown away by the out of this world service at this restaurant - when my sister-in-law mentioned that this was one of her dad's favorite restaurants, Giovanni himself came out and gave us three appetizers, wine, and dessert all on the house! You have to love that Italian hospitality.

Vegetable pizza!
I keep bringing up the food... but since I'm on that subject yet again, let's talk about the food in Rome (and Florence) for just a minute. Rather than bumbling around trying to choose good restaurants on our own, we had the great fortune to have the father of bride, who lived in Rome several years and has been back many times since, as our culinary guide. Consequently, we got to eat at some of the city's best restaurants without even having to consult a guidebook. I ate so much pizza, bread, pasta, cheese, tiramisu, gelato, etc. that it looks like I'll be dieting for months to make up for my gluttony! Most of our meals were at least three courses (primi piatti, secondi piatti, dessert) and I shouldn't even mention how much food there was at the rehearsal dinner... let's just say I lost count around the seventh course! However, it was worth every bite and the memory of all that delicious food will sustain me for some time here in the very non-culinary Gaborone.

VIVA ROMA! became the catch phrase for our group during the wedding festivities and very fittingly so - Rome is a magical city and I am so blessed to have been able to spend a week there with my family.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Rome Bound

I just wanted to do a quick post to say, we're off to Rome! At just about this time tomorrow, I'll be rolling into our hotel in Rome and saying hi in person to my parents, brother, and sister-in-law for the first time in almost five months! Absolutely cannot wait! Pasta, wine, shopping, sightseeing, and winter weather.... here we come!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Restaurant Review: Bai Sheng Chinese Restaurant, Gaborone

When we heard that the most upscale hotel in town, the Grand Palm, had just opened a new Chinese restaurant, we had to check it out!

Front lawn of the Grand Palm Hotel.
If you read A Botswana Struggle Session, you will know already that I desperately needed to find somewhere new where my reputation as a pleasant diner had not yet been tarnished to get my Chinese food fix. There are quite a few Chinese restaurants in town - necessary to serve the significant Chinese population here - but so far we haven't found the one that has all the dishes we used to most enjoy back in Shanghai.

We were pleasantly surprised by the authentic cuisine, good service, and relaxing atmosphere at this restaurant last night. The restaurant's outdoor seating area has an Oriental garden theme, with an ornate color scheme and appealing vegetation. The service was quite good as well, and the waiter responded to our requests more quickly than we've come to expect in Gaborone. An open kitchen adjacent to the garden allows you to watch the chefs at work - something which could potentially be too much information in some restaurants (I'd rather not know that you just dropped that meat on the floor and put it back in a dinner plate, thank you very much!), but in this one at least I didn't observe any major health and safety infractions. Comforting.

The menu offered a decent mixture of traditional Chinese dishes and Western favorites; we ordered Beijing duck, vegetable dumplings, cashew chicken, stir-fried vegetables, vegetable chow mein, fried rice, and (interestingly) fried octopus. For dessert, we had caramelized apples and pumpkin tarts. In my opinion, the best was the Beijing duck, which was served authentically with little bean curd pancakes, duck sauce, and green onions. The caramelized apples were also fresh, sweet and delicious, and tasted similar to a dish we used to order at one of our favorite restaurants in Shanghai.

All in all, it was a very pleasant dining experience, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new addition to their usual Gaborone restaurant rotation.  Let's mix it up and do crocodiles this time!

Restaurant Rating (On a Scale of to )

So good, it was definitely worth the swim over here.
I would have liked to see a few more traditional Chinese dishes on the menu.
So good, it was definitely worth the swim over here.
Good service, especially by Gaborone standards, but some of the dishes were a little slow coming out.
Forget hunting! I’m eating here from now on.
Very nice sitting outside.
Overall Experience
So good, it was definitely worth the swim over here.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Restaurant Review: Rodizio Brazilian Restaurant, Gaborone

Scott and I typically visit Riverwalk Mall at least once or twice each weekend we’re in Gaborone. Riverwalk is easily the most amusing conglomerate of shops, restaurants, and “entertainment” – i.e. a movie theater. Some of the restaurants we frequent most often, such as a great Indian place called Embassy and a South African chicken chain called Nando’s, as well as our staple grocery stores Pick N’ Pay and Woolworth’s, are all located there. 

Last weekend, we decided to mix up our usual Saturday at Riverwalk by sampling Rodizio Brazilian Restaurant, which we’d heard good things about from friends. According to the website, Rodizio is “an exciting and up-market Brazilian Restaurant situated at Riverwalk Shopping Center, upper level. We are the perfect food and entertainment destination.” What’s not to love about that?!

If compared to the vast majority of Gaborone’s restaurants, which with a few exceptions are mediocre at best, Rodizio would probably get a rating due to relatively decent service, ambience, and array of menu options. However, when measured against any other restaurant in the world at a similar price point (about $50 with tip for two people, not including alcoholic beverages), I give it

My reasons: 

1. Our calamari appetizer and the shrimp in my main course were obviously from a bag of frozen seafood. The menu promised me that a spicy, exotic Brazilian sauce would be oozing tantalizingly over the shrimp, but in reality the shrimp came smothered in an unusual, lukewarm tomato-butter sauce. Again, by Gaborone standards it is pretty cool that they even offer seafood at all (this is a landlocked country and the local tastes are more inclined towards beef than fish), but in the grand scheme of things the calamari/shrimp were nothing special.

2. The food was not Brazilian in any way and tasted the same as food from any other restaurant in Gaborone. Scott got a steak, which is always a safe choice in Botswana as most restaurants can do red meat very well; however, it was served with the same old sides that we see in every single Gaborone restaurant: mashed sweet potato and creamed spinach. Decent food, but not really true to the supposed Brazilian theme of the restaurant. It was more like a Botswana restaurant with a Brazilian name.

Will I go back? Probably! As I said, it wasn't bad at all by Gaborone standards. Did it fulfill its promise to be the "perfect fine dining experience?" I'm going to have to be honest, rather than kind, and say no
Restaurant Rating (ON A SCALE OF TO )

OK, but nothing to trumpet about.
Character is everything, and this food had very little of it! 
OK, but nothing to trumpet about
Again, a little character would be nice. Or at least a smile!
OK, but nothing to trumpet about. 
 Nice view of the sunset, but over a parking lot.
Overall Experience
OK, but nothing to trumpet about
Just like every other restaurant here.