Touring Europe with Shelly (2006)

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April 23rd 2006
Published: November 18th 2008
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Arriving Dead Tired in Paris

March 21, Tuesday

Arrived safe and sound at 6 am in Paris. Hardly slept. And after our late nights in Singapore prior to this flight, we arrived dead tired. Having decided to spend 3 nights in Paris and a night in Lourdes before heading back for Paris to join our Cosmos tour group, we checked out the Air France counter in the Charles de Gaulle Airport for our plane bookings for Lourdes as well as for Zurich on April 1st when the Cosmos tour ends.

Lacking sleep, it wasn’t easy to make all these bookings. Tired that we were, we had to decide whether to fly or to take the train. Whether to use our miles or to simply get new tickets is another concern. It would have been a lot cheaper to go by train, but that means finding our way to the TGV station within the airport, hoping we can buy our tickets there. Or going all the way to the train station in city center. I had enough miles, to get me through Lourdes and back to Paris, as well as from Paris to Zurich. So, Shellane decided to fly and get herself plane tickets for both destinations. Thus , we were all set for our flight bookings on March 24 for Lourdes, then back the following day for Paris. We were also set for our April 1 flight from Paris to Zurich. Then, off we went to look for the shuttle to the city center. This is a lot cheaper than hailing a cab. At only 12 euros each, Shellane and I were nicely and comfortably seated on the Air France shuttle for the 45 minute bus ride to Etoile, by the Arc de Triomphe. The Arc looks impressive as ever, but we were just too eager to hail a cab from Etoile to get us to our Hotel Au Palais de Chaillot on #35 Raymond Poincare. I forgot the hotel’s business card and had to function completely on my memory to find the hotel. I wasn’t that much off. Told the taxi driver it’s #29, but my visuals helped along to spot the tiny hotel along the busy street near the Trocadero area, just right behind the colossal Palais de Chaillot across the Eiffel Tower.

Coming in with our big suitcases, Cyrille (the owner, then manning the desk) welcomed us with “Mabuhay” that early morning , and promptly made us feel at home. Cyrille made sure we were informed that we were getting a room with a view of Tour Eiffel! We found out soon enough that it takes some real stretching to get a glimpse of the tower! Mindful not to hurt feelings when asked if we saw it from our room’s window, we politely said it was too cloudy (it was raining then) to appreciate the view.

Without missing a beat, we set aside our suitcases and made our way to the Trocadero corner, crossed the street to Palais de Chaillot and from there took pictures of Eiffel Tower in all its grandeur! Our digital cams had their first taste of Kodak moments (or canon moments)for Paris’ most famous landmark. That must have easily been some 20 shots. Well, digicams that they are, who is counting? We crossed the park fronting Palais and the street to get a closer view of the Eiffel Tower, and had more shots taken. It was so cold though, and our plastered smiles got frozen along the way. Not able to “ease up” our facial muscles after that photo session, we trooped to the nearest Metro to get our first carnet of 10 subway tickets. We were then ready for Rue du Bac, to visit the chapel of the Miraculous Medal. We shopped, then headed home for an early night.

The Mandatory Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur Stops

March 22 , Wednesday

This morning, we started early. Shellane’s adrenaline must be at high levels after a “taste” of Paris yesterday and after a good night’s sleep. Again, we took more shots of that famous Tour Eiffel. From all angles, mind you. From across the street , from the River Seine ( say Sen, as most Parisians do) , from the side, the back, etc. We can’t seem to have enough of it. It’s almost addictive to snap away as soon as you see the tower. Then off to Arc de Triomphe which we “snubbed” yesterday, and from there the wide Champ Elysees. It was too early to order our Moulles Fritte at Leon de Bruxelles along the Champ, so we settled for breakfast at McDonald’s. Excuse moi. It’s our best ticket to the nearest toilet as our bladders won’t hold up anymore!

Next on the agenda was the metro ride to Sacre Coeur at the Montmartre area. Tried my little crooked , off-accent French with a nun to check the Saturday mass schedule (since our tour group leaves Sunday morning for Northern France) . Well, no sweat. The nun politely said “I’m English”. Voila.

Will that nun forgive me for bringing my niece to Sacre Couer, then proceeding to the Red Light Disctrict of Pigalle? Some 15 minutes of walking past the girlie bars, African art galleries and Middle Eastern food stalls, , a few turns, and the Moulin Rouge was waiting for us. We particularly liked the signage at the nearby Metro subway station which looked very “French” to us (Metropolitain, it says) , unlike the regular metro stops. Hmm, just a couple of pictures this time. Then, we used two more subway tickets to get us to Hotel des Invalides (say ‘invalid’ as against this American who kept asking for directions for ‘Invaldes’) . We took the wrong exit from the metro station and had to walk all around Invalides to get us to the front gate. Or so I thought. It was raining, very cloudy, oh what wretched weather we had this morning! All for a visit to Napoleon’s tomb! Well, for an ex-military hospital, these French did very well converting this place to a mausoleum, complete with a gilded dome. May Napoleon rest in peace.

We were trying too hard going from Hotel des Invalides to Place de Concorde (say Plas, not plays). As soon as we got out of the metro station and got rained on , with a very very cloudy view of the square, we decided to get back in. What to do when the weather is not cooperating? And your fingers are so frozen they can hardly press the button to take pictures? Louvre is our best bet. And we got lucky. The biggest Museum in the world is open Wednesdays till 9 in the evening. Ha! And that’s how we ended our tour for the day. With dear Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo (crowded by so many Japanese with tweed hats on, digicams raised to snap pictures ), paintings and sculptures by Italian, French and Dutch masters, Egyptian antiquities complete with a “former moat” , etc. We didn’t bother with the rest. Nor did we bother with the Da Vinci Code Tour. Gosh, this Dan Brown really made it and got real lucky with this book. (His other books are forgettable.) There is always, always a next visit to the Louvre, after all.

Off to Versailles

March 23, Thursday

Thought we’d do Versailles on our own , rather than pay the equivalent of US $ 55 per person offered by the tour group. From the Bir Hakeim Metro Station (right next to Tour Eiffel) , we found the RER line for Versailles - Rive Gauche.

Getting off after about half an hour, the Chateau de Versailles is just a 10 minute walk away from the train station. But that’s to the gate of the Palace. The walk doesn’t end there. The gardens and the entire park behind the palace required a lot of walking. We sized up our options, went around the first-level garden, had pictures taken by the fountains, then promptly went inside to check the royal apartments and the Hall of Mirrors . Audio guides in hand, we listened to how the royal monarchs had a grand and luxurious time in this palace…too much to warrant a mass revolt that led to Louis XVI and Marie Antoniette being guillotined at the Place de Concorde. How the masses were stirred by Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables novel is simply a natural consequence. (Btw, say Ugo, not Hugo. These French are the counterparts of our local Kapampangans)

The Versailles tour should have covered the whole day. But there was always time to do Rue du Bac again for some more shopping for medals and the like. While Shellane was there, I went to Le Bon Marche . Not the department store, but their food mart. Found the truffle oil, truffle sauce, tried the cheese, biscuits and pain (say pan). Even bought our dinner there.

Overnight @ Lourdes

March 24, Friday

Checked out early. Made arrangements to leave our big suitcases in the hotel for next day pick-up. Used the metro to reach Orly airport to catch our Air France flight for Lourdes-Tarbes. An uneventful one-hour and 20 minute flight. From the airport , we took a 30-minute taxi ride to the Basilique. There was a mass in the Crypt. We did confession before doing the baths. No lines!!! It’s off season (no procession too) so we simply walked in for our bath. We prayed for our families and friends. This counts as my 4th trip to Lourdes, and I know I will keep coming back.

As planned, we had a very late lunch. Most restaurants are closed , so I missed myconfit de canard. No Magret de canard as well. The Italian café which I remember having tried in my previous trips there was open. I opted for a steak as all the walking and late hours drained me of all my stored protein!

The Hotel St. Sauveur near the Basilique is clean, ideally located and has just enough amenities. I would have wanted to try the hotel I stayed in last time, but it was closed for renovation, as most other hotels are. I guess they are all renovating in time for the peak season starting in April. While my niece went around the shops right next to the hotel, I went back to do the Stations of the Cross.

Flying Back to Paris

March 25, Saturday

There was enough time in the morning to hear mass once more, shop at the bookstore, fill up our plastic jugs with holy water from the grotto , and just walk around and along the River Gave. The Basilique is always a grand sight ………… and I enjoyed this morning’s solitude.

We took our flight back to Paris in time to pick up our baggage at the hotel, and hail a cab to take us to another hotel where we were to meet our Cosmos tour group. The Ibis Hotel is far out of the city center, near the Porte de Clichy. Not exactly the type of hotel I’d personally choose to stay in. We met Vidko , our tour director from Slovenia who has since lived in Paris for the last 15 years. We were about 28 in the entire group, a good size to fill out our Cosmos motorcoach comfortably. After the meeting, Shellane and I walked to the nearest metro to take the subway for Anvers to hear the Saturday 10 pm mass at the Basilique de Sacre Ceour. Coming home after the mass past 11 pm, we had the creeps just taking the subway and walking from the nearly deserted metro to our hotel. This area is not exactly ideal. A bit seedy, if you ask me. We’re glad we only had to stay 1 night in our small room in this hotel .

Rouen and Joan of Arc, Charming Honfleur and A Night @Deauville

March 26, Sunday

An early start. The drill. Wake up call at 6. Baggage out at 6:30 am. Breakfast at 6:30 am. Departure at 8 am.

Our first frustration was not visiting Giverny, home of painter Claude Monet. We were looking forward to seeing the water gardens there, but it was closed and won’t open till April. Instead, we went to Rouen where we found an impressive Gothic cathedral(why are French churches always called Notre Dame?) and the place where Joan of Arc, aged 21, was burned to death on which now sits the Eglise St. Joan of Arc. Even found Tudor style half-timbered buildings and some really interesting alleys. Our next stop was yet more interesting. Honfleur is a quaint lovely town with a nice basin, a wooden church and harbor. Honfleur reminded me so much of Bateman’s Bay in Australia’s South Coast. Told that this lovely town is mighty proud of its fruits de mer or seafood, as well as its apples, we wasted no time ordering our moulles fritte, scallops, apple cider and of course, their famous apple pie. Very very good. French portions that they are, you do understand why we ordered so much and still walked away feeling a wee bit hungry. But not too hungry not to check out the quaint little shops that they have. Oh, I must not forget to say that the French bistros here surely appreciate the meaning of leisurely lunch. We got in, was given way too much time to review the menu, and it also took a while before the waiter came back to ask if we want to have apple pies for dessert. C’est la vie…………

We stayed the night in Deauville, a seaside resort with a grand looking casino. Dinner was served in the hotel at 7 pm. We walked around town after dinner. Our group tried getting inside the casino if only to check who are dressed well enough to be accepted in. Shellane and I managed to get in, but gamblers we are not. So we went out again to join the group for the walk back to the hotel.

From Deauville to the D-Day Beaches in Arromanches

March 27, Monday

The morning drive took us around Deauville to appreciate the reason why it is a famous seaside resort. Yachts parked at tiny basins make perfect photos. The weather failed to paint a picture of sea and sand, but we were convinced enough why the French take off on weekends here during summer. And yes, that was the Atlantic Ocean out there!!!!

From Deauville, we went to Arromanches to take in the legendary D-Day beaches (Juno, Omaha, Gold, Utah, Sword) of Normandy. Whatever I remember from textbooks about Allied troops making a surprise landing here to launch the largest military operation in history ( Desert Storm is nothing!!!) and subsequently defeating the Germans was made more real with a visit to this military museum. The guide was very very good to a point you can actually visualize Churchill making that decision to order the troops to push through with the grand plan to actually bring, install and use their own pre-fabricated harbor/pier (aptly called Port Winston) so some 50,000 vehicles can disembark from some 5,000 ships. Many lives were lost though. We visited the American cemetery where nearly 10,000 young American soldiers remain buried under marble crosses and Stars of David on a cliff above Omaha Beach.

Bayeux Was A Pleasant Surprise, but Mont Saint Michel's Made Our Day

From Normandy’s landing beaches, we proceeded to Bayeux where we visited a museum with a round about path to view its single most important item of antiquity. The famous Bayeux tapestry depicting how William the Bastard conquered Normandy and eased out Harold as heir to King Edward of UK. I thought that tapestry should be called “Don’t Cross William”. Bayeux is another pretty town, with small cafes and quaint shops. We had cheese gallette for lunch. We even found an old water mill in Bayeux!!!

By afternoon, our long drive passed Avranches, a biscuit store (famous for Mont’s delicious biscuits and other pastries) and finally ended in Mont St. Michel. Here we found Hotel Vert very nicely appointed . We wasted no time to visit Mont St. Michel which Vidko said is just a 7 minute walk from the hotel. Well, we were walking for a good half hour and we were still along the causeway towards the Mont. Initially, we tried walking along the sand (while it is still low tide) until one of us slipped. We climbed back up to the causeway for a safer route to the Mont. We weren’t disappointed. Inside is a whole community ----- they even have hotels and fine dining restaurants inside! La Mere Poulard is famous for her 40 euro omelette. But who wants to pay 40 euros for an omelette? Who cares if Madame Poulard uses 8 eggs and a special chrome pan ? The verdict of the group - consisting of a family of Indians (Vish, Vasu and Versha, whom we call Triple V) now based in Chicago, a charming Jewish lady- interior designer from New York by the name of Malva , a young, smart, goodlooking lady lawyer (Michelle, who can sound like an Indian when she wants to) from Melbourne rooming up with her short, pot-bellied David, a Napoleon look-alike Australian banker-friend (just buddies, these 2), a couple of retired grade school teachers (Jerry and Peggy) who love to tell us about their grandchildren, a single traveler (Kathy Costa) whom I swear is a Filipina who speaks with an American twang and would not admit her country of birth, the Estevez couple from Mexico, an odd couple of Vietnamese (Du Soc?) and Japanese, a young Chinese lady (Chen) studying in US of A, Diana with her 2 teenage kids (Natalie and Dan Price) , Mom Linda and daughter Catherine who has a big crush on Dan Price, loner Roger from Miami -- was to simply walk past La Mere Poulard and try the shops instead.

Tonight, we feasted on Agneau, grilled to perfection, canard, downed by vin rouge and a sip of calvados (40%!a(MISSING)lcohol proof). The story goes that the lamb is considered “pre-salted” because they are grazed in this salty marshland around Mont St. Michel. Ho hum. Whatever……we tried it , and liked it. Either the story is true, or we were simply famished after that “7 minute walk back and forth”.

Passing Chateubriant, Not the Steak but a Sleepy Town

March 28, Tuesday

We took time climbing up the Mont only to be told that the monastery is closed! National strike, they say. Or shall we say, “Manifestation”? Such is the French word for strike or rally. What a big let-down!!!! But as Vidko said, what can we do? I like this man…… very nice, very pragmatic, very cool.

So off we drove towards Chateubriant (not the steak, but a sleepy town) where we saw a St. John Bosco Church and had lunch of sausage and lasagne. Not exactly what we were dreaming of, but the Mont letdown took our appetite away. In Angers (say an-jay), there were more “manifestations” so we instead proceeded to Saumur where we found a castle and a monastery! By 7 pm, we were in Tours, in a hotel right beside the TGV train station where train rides to the city center go for free. We tried the Champion Supermarche (a chain of supermarkets in France) and bought some pate’s and baguette to go with it. The Pate Campagne was good.

Getting Castle-Fatigue In Tours

March 29, Wednesday

Today, we visited 5, yes 5, chateaux. First off was the Chateaux of Chenonceaux. This one is on the River Cher, not on the River Loire as with most other chateaus. This was originally the territory of Diane de Poitiers, the favorite mistress of King Henry II. But poor Henry II died in a freak accident in Place des Voges (that’s another story), and his widow Catherine de Medici (yes, of Florence) forced Diane out of the chateau. Catherine, a true to form Medici, became Regent of the kingdom and ruled France from this castle. The castle spanning the river (it reminds me of a royal lady lifting her skirt while crossing the river, if you ask me) with its lovely halls, tapestries, paintings, gardens, and black and white tiled floor, is made even more charming with fresh flowers in every room and hall.

Chateaux d’ Amboise has an interesting story to tell. Perhaps a couple. Leonardo da Vinci, then already 64, was invited to join the French court, lived (in Clos Luce’), died, and was interred here. We found his tomb here and a bust of the great Renaissance painter and inventor. Charles VII died here while on a hunting stopover. How? He bumped his head on the door frame and died a few hours later, aged only 28. What a way for a king to die. I won’t say it, no , I won’t. (Stupid monarch?)
By the side of Chateaux d’ Amboise is a place serving hearty salads and crepes. You bet we didn’t just walk past it. Lunch was al fresco, and it was chilly then. Good thing there was a nearby restroom………no McDonald’s in sight here.

Chateaux d’ Cheverny now ranks among my favorites. The chateau is still pretty much lived in, and you’d know it. It is magnificently furnished while retaining that old world charm, brought back to the present with recent family photographs , and made familiar by the French children’s book (or was it a cartoon?) “Moulinsart” . In particular, we liked the little girls’ room as well as the dressing room where one can still view the wedding dress worn by the royal lady of the house (sorry, can’t remember if she’s a duchess or baroness).

The Castle of Chambordlooks formidable from outside by its sheer size and mass. The fact that Leonardo da Vinci designed its spiral staircase (where one going up won’t meet up with anyone doing down) is enough to floor you. But it’s an empty castle. And after visiting Cheverny, one is almost frustrated by the lack of warmth in Chambord.

Chateaux d’ Blois (say blu wa rapidly) is an unplanned stop. After all the castles we have visited, this one’s a baby. Since there was time before going back to the hotel, Vidko our tour director brought us here with 2 choices: visit the castle, or try the shops around the castle. Guess what? We did both.

The evening ended after trying Jambon as aperitif and salmon for dinner. We didn’t need wine to knock us off tonight. We were dead tired and slept early.

You Can't Blame Napoleon For Lingering in Fontainebleu

March 30, Thursday

From Tours, we passed Orleans (say OR LAN) , a lively town, bursting with life. More manifestations too!

Before reaching Paris, we visited yet another castle. Fontainebleu looks so amazing that one member of the tour group commented that “Napoleon should never have left this castle at all”. Just the same, you can say that this Emperor lived like royalty here. And how he must enjoyed feeling like a monarch! We went around the castle, but it rained by the time we got to the garden. We ventured out and tried their oldest bistro in the area (1901) where service was excellent and food average. Well, it wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t outstanding either. Umbrella in hand, we went back to join up with the group after our lunch. Oh yes, we also had a group picture taken at the Chateaux . Vidko, ever so pragmatic, said only 1 camera will be used to take 2 pictures, and the camera owner will simply email the photo to everyone. No one protested.

In the afternoon, we reached Paris. Our hotel is outside the city center but I am not complaining. The room is big enough, nicely appointed, and food is ok. Tonight, Shellane went for her cabaret in Paris. Who said you can do Paris without watching a cabaret? Sounds like doing London without watching a play at the West End. Or New York minus the Broadway.

Back Again in Gay Paris

March 31, Friday

We were ready to meet for the last time on a city tour of Paris. First off was Notre Dame where our local tour guide explained how gargoyles came to be called gargoyles. Or rather, how gurgling had its roots from gargoyles! Y’know…… gargoyles, gurgling. Is this true or what? Ha, one has to take these stories with a grain of salt, indeed. Or a spoonful of mouthwash.

We ate lunch in a cafeteria style place near the Tuileries. Malva wanted to
Back in ParisBack in ParisBack in Paris

That's the Louvre in the background.......
go to Place des Voges so Shellane and I went with her. So there. Place des Voges. The place where Henry II had a freak accident and died. A jousting tournament that turned fatal …… where the spear broke and pierced the good King’s head or neck. Catherine de Medici was so devastated she had the entire chateaux demolished such that all you find here is a big square. The story goes that after some time, posh residences sprang up around the square and that Victor Hugo even lived in one of the posh addresses.

Having “deposited” Malva here, we took the metro back for the Opera, which was conveniently located near the Galleries La Fayette. I remember this posh department store …… many years back, I tried this store and was in awe of the stained glass windows , gilded balconies and atrium inside. Tired feet and all, we had a sandwich and coffee inside the Galleries La Fayette’s McDonald’s . Ha ha ha. We managed to buy a few items too, and left in time to meet up with our group for our farewell dinner.

Since we were late, I didn’t have the courage to suggest where best to eat. Somehow, the group has decided on Chinese dinner someplace near our meeting place. Gosh, Chinese dinner in Paris? Also, we were a big group and I wasn’t sure we won’t be missing anyone if we were to take a metro for St. German des Pres or somewhere in the St. Michel area. I still remember the good lamb dinner I had in this place along Rue de Huchette. Ho Hum. Tweedle dee, tweedle dum. Chinese dinner it was.

Flying Into Zurich

April 1, Saturday

We were a half hour late arriving in Zurich this morning. Lylah was nowhere in sight. She sent her husband, Fredy, instead! For a while, Fredy was frantic he missed us, or he got the wrong flight details from dear Lylah. Anyway, all’s well that ends well. Fredy got our bags (my, is he strong!) , deposited them in his car trunk, and drove us to their home in Fraunfeld, some half hour away from the city center.

Lylah gave us just enough time to eat brunch and off we went to this cloister where they make flourless cakes. From there, she toured
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with our dear lylah rutschmann.........
Shellane to all those places we visited back in 2004: Chateau de Rhin (not a castle, but the Rhine Waterfalls, the biggest in Europe), Schaffhausen town and Stein am Rhein (Stone on the Rhine) a medieval village where half timbered houses have frescoed walls and facades depicting the family’s source of livelihood.

Shellane’s first taste of Switzerland couldn’t be better. Stein Am Rhein will always be one of my favorite places in Switzerland. It’s a relief it is not as crowded as most touristy places. The ambience, aided by the cool weather, helps create such a wonderful memory of this medieval village. I remember earlier photos taken here with Lylah. Naturally, we gave in to the temptation to have another photo taken in exactly the same place. Perhaps we can compare and check if the years have been good to us. And that is being brave!

That night, dinner was superb. Who can complain when Lylah serves raclette? Weserie , Lylah’s Thai friend, her Swiss husband Oliver, and their daughter Rose came for dinner. Once more, Lylah didn’t fail us. One cannot serve dinner more Swiss than the raclette dinner we had. Sure, cheese fondue is another very Swiss dinner, but I am a great fan of raclettes. Converations weaving through the entire evening while deciding which cheese to put on those tiny pans to go with the potatoes and pickles …… now, that’s my idea of a perfect evening!

Schwagalps Today!

April 2, Sunday

It’s a good 15 to 20 minute walk from Abendweg to the nearest Catholic Church. Lylah and Fredy never planned to join us , but Lylah was quick to give us directions to the Church where her sons were baptized. We were nearly an hour early for the Mass. Met 2 elderly ladies, both of whom are immigrants, who are just so eager to strike up a conversation with the little English they know. The ladies were from Kosovo, and I can tell that they are very devout Catholics.

Shellane and I walked back home the same way. This morning, it wasn’t just cool. It was terribly cold. So that made us walk more briskly to get home as quickly as we could. Lylah was busy in the kitchen. Over brunch, we planned to have Fredy (poor guy, we plan…… and he drives) drive us to Schwagalps to view Santis……… which I’ve visited 2 years earlier. It feels kind of weird to view the mountains here after seeing them in table placemats whenever we ate at our local Santis delicatessen back home. Since the first time I have been here, I have always adoringly looked at those placemats with many happy memories of this place. The cable cars are not in operation, as it began to snow. I had coffee blended with this strong Swiss liqueur while Shellane ordered hot chocolate, only to be so disappointed to get a sachet of instant hot chocolate! Oh well……We had to remind ourselves we came here for the view, not for the coffee nor the hot cocoa.

The drive to and from Schwagalps renders justice to our decision to make this trip to Switzerland. We had a lively chat on our way to this place, glad to find an almost empty car park as most tourists probably stayed out of the way because of the weather. Along winding roads, swiss chalets frosted with snow, passing a few lakes, viewing the many snowcapped mountains, we slept on our way back……… much to Fredy’s misfortune. We did wake up though as we made a stopover in Appenzell to show Shellane more Swiss villages……… this one made famous for its Appenzell cheese and naïve paintings. Before boarding the car again, Lylah made sure we tried this pastry that reminded us of hopia. So, we called it Swiss Hopia…… the filling is neither pork or mongo though. Rather, we tasted some nuts ground to a paste. Pistaccio? Walnuts? Hazelnuts? Delicious. But we left room for our dinner of saucisson and dried beans with potatoes and carrots. Fredy, the vegetarian, must be wondering why we are drooling over his vegetarian dinner.

A Day in Lucerne

April 3, Monday

While Lylah and Fredy got off to work, and while Sonny sleeps in, Shellane and I rummaged through the kitchen to feed ourselves a hearty breakfast before rolling out of the house . We walked to the train station and boarded our train for Lucerne. Going south, we passed many beautiful vistas. Switzerland is truly lovely. And very clean too. Lylah couldn’t be more right in saying that this country is simply postcard pretty. Like one can’t go wrong with their snapshots. Cattle grazing by the alpine pastures, blue skies and blue lakes, snow frosted chalet roofs, alpine views. Sure enough, winter extended over to April . Having been here only 2 years before in the heat of summer, I am just glad to see the same scenery made unfamiliar by the season.

Lucerne’s train terminal, just like the one in Zurich, is a monument by itself. One cannot get enough of these train stations. This one sits right beside a museum, which unfortunately we didn’t have time to check out. By its side, is a lovely harbor view with boats and yachts waiting for tourists interested in lake cruising. Shellane and I didn’t waste time walking over to the 14th century Chapel Bridge, the main attraction in Lucerne. Isn’t it a shame that this bridge got almost entirely burned down because of one smoker’s moment of irresponsibility? We crossed the bridge, but not before visiting theJesuit’s Church in all its white marble grandeur and baroque architecture. Even more beautiful is its pink and white interior. Lucerne is the center of Swiss Catholicism , and it shows.

Having crossed the bridge, we walked towards the Lion Monument, a block of carved stone dedicated to the memory of almost a thousand Swiss mercenaries who perished in the French Revolution. Such a fitting reminder, remembering that only a few days before we were at the very site where these young Swiss soldiers died--- the Tuileries in Paris --- while defending King Louis XVI and his Mary Antoniette. Talk about royalty being guillotined!

For lunch, I shopped at this supermarket to buy roast chicken , a ham and cheese croissant, and a soda for Shellane . We walked back to the waterfront, bought steaming espresso for myself , and claimed a bench . It was cold alright…… but it’s not everyday you get to sit for lunch with Lake Lucerne for a view. That bench was prime seat! (And the roast chicken , with its rosemary aroma, tasted really good)

Shopping was in the agenda. Not much to say about that. Shopping is shopping anywhere you go. Only that we tired ourselves just enough to be able to sleep through our train ride back to Zurich.

Dinner with our Swiss family in Fraunfeld consisted of baked asparagus liberally sprinkled with Gorgonzala cheese. Yum. That , plus those delicious Swiss bratwurst , cervelat and schubligs. And there was still some leftover of that flourless cake we bought 2 days earlier from the cloister. Couch potatoes that we are, we watched Mr. And Mrs. Smith tonite.

Meeting the Bears in Bern

April 4, Tuesday

This time, we take the train to Bern, the capital of Switzerland. It’s a longer trip, and by this time, Shellane and I were both longing for rest but our sense of adventure overtook us once more.

By the time we got off the train, my bladder was bothering me so we just had to look for the nearest “Mr. Clean” in the train station. When one’s got to go, you don’t look for CR here. You ask for “Mr. Clean”. After that slight delay, we looked next for the Information Desk, got our maps, and took off. Listed among UNESCO’s cultural treasures of the world, this medieval city boasts of many quaint fountains. The first one we saw was the Bagpiper Fountain, which claims to date back from the 16th century. We also saw the clock tower, the oldest monument in Bern, but missed Albert Einstein’s house in Kramgasse. It must have been interesting to check
Back in ZurichBack in ZurichBack in Zurich

A very cold, snowy day........
out the scientist’s apartment, now turned into a museum, where he developed his theory of relativity, matter and energy.

It was a good walk towards the Bear’s Pit. Last time I was here was in 1986. So that’s a good 20 years crossing the same bridge, and visiting the same pit in the same location. I wonder if they were the same bears? The Pit was a good stop to have lunch, after watching this documentary that ran all of 8 minutes. I had my goulash while Shellane had this bread encrusted with cheese that I couldn’t make out.

On our way back, we passed the oldest part of town and a church or as they say in Switzerland, “Munster”. A bit unsettling to call it that, especially for those who speak and understand English.

This time, Lylah warmed another Swiss dinner of rosti , which is simply potatoes julliened to cook and look like an omelet or hashed browns. It went well with good wine and some aperitif of olives and air-dried beef.. We stayed up late tonight to watch Troy and slept that night dreaming of Brad Pitt. I’m sure Lylah did.
A Very Swiss DinnerA Very Swiss DinnerA Very Swiss Dinner

Weseri and her Swiss husband Oliver hosted our last dinner in Switzerland.

A Full Day in Zurich

April 5, Wednesday

Our last whole day in Switzerland before taking the train to cross over to Italy. We woke up late, after all the wining the night before. And it was snowing!!!! Lylah’s entire yard was blanketed with snow. Just the same, and not one to waste our last whole day in Switzerland, we braved our way towards Zurich. It was a short train ride to the heart of the city. When we got off the train station, we took a moment before getting out in all that winter weather. We had a good excuse. Right there in the train terminal, we smelled the aroma of grilled bratwurst. You bet we didn’t pass up that chance. (The sausage dinner we had was fried sausages since Fredy couldn’t put out the grill because of the snow)

On full stomachs, we made our way along Banhofstrasse towards Fraumunster and Grossmunster (there goes the munster again). Unlike Lucerne, these churches are very very Protestant. After all, Zurich is where Reformation all began where Zwingli preached until his death in the 15th century. Runaway attractions would be the stained glass windows in both churches. Giacometti took care of Grossmunster, while the stained glass windows in Fraumunster are more modern and designed by Marc Chagall. We had pictures taken with our umbrellas (no way without it in this bloody weather) and all wrapped up for winter.

On the way back, Shellane was introduced to that most famous Sprungli chocolates. We bought some chocolates, including this decadent chocolate cake which we brought to Weserie’s apartment where we were invited to dinner. We met Lylah, as instructed, in the train station , by Platform 9. Took the train to Weserie’s apartment , met her and husband Oliver and their lovely daughter who thought Shellane was her playmate. Fredy joined us later that evening, along with another guest invited for dinner. Andy, a British who has settled in Switzerland, probably in his mid-30’s , sings for a living. He obliged us with a song and guitar number after a dinner of cheese fondue. Weserie was such a superb hostess. We loved her salad, sprinkled with pumpkin seeds, touched slightly by her dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Oliver did the cheese fondue, and I can tell there was quite a liberal dose of kirsch there. Wine was flowing …… so the conversation turned animated by the time Andy obliged us with a song. We got home, feeling sorry we forgot to try the sprungli chocolate cake!

Milan: A Train Ride Away

April 6, Thursday

Lylah was out of the house early for work. How she managed that , after a night of wining and fun, is beyond me. Fredy took us to the train station .

The trip to Milan, Italy took the whole morning. Left on the 9 am train and arrived well past noon. Good thing we managed to buy some sandwiches and water before boarding our train. We reached Milan past lunch, where we met Gerry, the HDMF rep based in that Italian city. Gerry borrowed the embassy car to drive us to our lodging place in Via Cassolnovo 1. Lugging our suitcases all the way to the 3rd floor, we found our Milan home such a welcome place . We got lucky. The Filipina (OWWA rep) who lives in the apartment was out for the weekend and we had the place all to ourselves. Gerry made sure we’d know our way around. After all, it’s not very near the heart of the city. It’s a a metro ride (# 1 direction Besceglie, get off at Primaticcio) and a bus ride (Bus #63 going to Mugiano) away from the city center. But we love the place.

With the entire afternoon and evening ahead of us, Shellane and I took the bus and the metro to the city. Gerry was with us, again making sure we had enough metro tickets and we won’t get lost on our first day in Milan. Naturally, we went for the Duomo right away. It was so disappointing to find it with all that scaffolding…… and knowing that such scaffolding has been up since about 5 years ago when Gerry first arrived in Milan. We had to go around the Duomo just to get a scaffolding-free view of the basilica. Right beside the Duomo is the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle. It looked just like it did in the movie “Milan”. Right behind it was La Scala, the opera house. And just across the piazza was a McDonald’s outlet with many Pinoys hanging out. We paid a visit to the embassy, if only to thank them for the use of the embassy car. Also to make sure that the same embassy car will fetch us and drive us back to the airport! Shellane met some Pinoys selling siopao, pancit palabok, puto, etc. She bought some for our dinner.

Love Is In the Air in Verona

April 7, Friday

Today, we decided to make a sidetrip to Verona. It was quite a trip. A good 90 minute train ride. But what a pleasant surprise. Verona is such a lively city, pulsating with historic sites and shopping outlets! First we made our way to Gullietta’s Tomb (yes, that’s Juliet in Italian) where a wedding was taking place. Lovely museum, empty tomb. We even found a lifesize sculpture of Achilles (and remembered Bradd Pitt from the movie Troy) which was actually a very good piece of art.

Then we walked towards the amphitheatre, claimed to be even older than the Colloseo in Rome. From there, we crossed Piazza Bra, a very lovely and lively plaza, towards Gullietta’s House. A long line was forming, with tourists wanting to have a picture taken beside Juliet’s statue beneath that famous balcony, and a hand clasping poor Juliet’s right breast. The color
Rondanini PietaRondanini PietaRondanini Pieta

Another masterpiece by Michelangelo
of the statue’s right breast has faded after having been subjected to many tourists’ ardent show of affection for poor Juliet.

It was nice just walking around town. Shellane must have enjoyed shopping around. As for me, I found a nice trattoria , had a carafe of red wine, and waited for Shellane to join me for an authentic Veronese lunch. It was also pure instinct to walk after lunch towards this gelateria where we indulged ourselves to Italy’s famous gelato. Yum is the word. We spent a lovely day in Verona. All this time, Gerry kept sending text messages to inquire if we’re doing fine. The poor guy probably thought we got lost…………

The Duomo of Milan

April 8, Saturday

More of Milan today. Gerry took us to a place where he thought we can do some serious shopping. And we got serious indeed…… Sandals, shoes, chokers, coat, bracelets, etc. Shellane and I split and promised to just meet up for coffee at the McDonald’s in the piazza del Duomo. On separate ways, we trooped to Castello Sforzesco. This huge brick fortress happened to run an exhibit of Leonardo da Vinci’s manuscripts and sketches. Here’s another side of Da Vinci, the scientist, the inventor. We also found Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pieta, his last work of art. Historians claim Michelangelo was chiseling away at it just 6 days before his death in the 15th century. Michelangelo’s Pieta vs. Da Vinci’s Pieta in the Vatican. Who’s to say? Michelangelo’s piece seems unpolished but looks very poignant as the “characters” are treated vertically …… thus one would sense Mary’s struggle to hold Jesus up. (Reminds me of Michelangelo’s prisoners in Galleria Academia in Florence, where one senses the “struggle” to come off that block of marble…… again, unfinished or unpolished…… deliberate or not?) Da Vinci’s masterpiece, on the other hand, is very polished…… but one must remember that Da Vinci was only in his mid 20’s when he did this piece!

Leonardo spent many years in Milan, and he was so loved by this city. His genius was demonstrated once more in his famous Last Supper……… a painting made even more famous by Dan Brown’s book, the Da Vinci Code. I visited Santa Maria delle Grazie on Via Caradosso on the prospect that I would be allowed a visit to view the painting, knowing fully well that advance bookings are till the end of May. No luck. But I wouldn’t trade the time I spent walking the same streets walked on by this genius. Again, I was reminded of the many years Da Vinci spent away from his home of birth in Florence, spending many years in Milan as well as in Amboise in France where we had the chance to visit his tomb in the Chateaux Amboise near Clos Luce where he died.

Shellane and I met in McDonalds late afternoon, tired with our own individual escapades for that day.

It Gets Even More Romantic in Venice

April 9, Sunday

Gerry joined us in our train ride from Milan to Venice where a Pinoy couple, Mario and Edwina, waited to meet us. When we got off the train, we could almost taste the salt as winds slapped our faces , perhaps to welcome us in the romantic city of gondolas. We took the vaporetto towards Rialto, where Mario waited to meet us and bring us to our lodgings right in the heart of the island. The Bed and Breakfast run by Niko and Nokki (no pun intended) is a dream come true. We had a big room with a very high ceiling, a big bathroom with a window offering a view of the canal that one can hear the gondoliers singing their Santa Lucia , good espressos served by Nokki, and a location to die for! The apartment is very near the Piazza of Santa Maria Formosa , right between the Rialto and Piazza San Marco. It is only ten minutes to walk to either the Rialto or the Piazza San Marco. We invited Gerry and Mario to join us for lunch in a nearby osteria, after which we said our goodbyes and thanks to Gerry who was off to take the train back to Milan.

That same afternoon, we went to the Basilica San Marco and had pictures taken in the piazza crowded by tourists and doves. Shellane was thrilled to see so many shops all around……… selling trinkets with murano glasses, venetian masks, beadwork, etc. I may have been to Venice countless times, but this island never fails to excite me still. The place is like no other, and it evokes romance even for single travelers like us.

That night, we heard mass at the nearby Santa Maria Formosa. But not without getting lost along the way. After all, who doesn’t get lost in Venice where all bridges look the same, where all alleys have shops selling almost the same things, where each corner has some trattoria or osteria or gelateria? Palm Sunday, yet there were only 25 of us inside the church. This is sad.

Taking The Ferry to Visit Burano, Murano and Torcello

April 10, Monday

More pictures around Piazza San Marco. This time, we look refreshed , having scrubbed ourselves real clean in our big tub in that Italian apartment where we stayed. Shellane even got pictures taken while feeding the doves in the piazza……

Armed with our day pass, Shellane and I took the ferry all the way to Burano. A good one hour ferry ride. We braved the chill , seating ourselves outside, for exactly 15 minutes. We gave up and warmed ourselves in the inside cabins. In Burano, we went crazy. I can say I honestly did 70%!o(MISSING)f my shopping here. Bought a number of leather-strapped murano watches for the girls in Sydney, got some wine bottle openers with murano glassware (as

Haunted by Hemingway
if we don’t finish the wine bottles), some murano bracelets and other trinkets. We also enjoyed our lunch there………

Then off to Torcello , a place haunted by Hemingway’s ghost. The ancient church and museum there is all one would find. But that is not to say it isn’t worth a visit. Torcello has its own charm, and one can understand why Hemingway liked it here. Plus it is only 10 minutes by ferry from Burano!

From Torcello, we took another ferry to bring us to Murano . More of the same stuff as one would find in Burano. In fact, I was too tired to even spot what makes Burano different from Murano. In all honesty, the two looked very much alike. More shopping. Then we were back in the main island, in Piazza San Marco.

Edwina and Mario fetched us at the apartment to treat us to dinner in this osteria recommended by Nokki, not too many steps aways from our B & B. After dinner, we walked around the Rialto, Harry’s Bar, all the way back to the Piazza San Marco where we found the entire piazza flooded up to mid calf! We had to walk on planks , which are really tables, set up for such events as flooding. What an adventure! By the time we got back to our lodging, there was no other way but for Shellane and I to take off our shoes and actually wade through the waters to get in! Well, who gets to visit Venice and experience flooding? Aren’t we lucky?

This Time, Off to Roma

April 11, Tuesday

Mario picked us up and helped us with our suitcases to bring us to the ferry station and board our ferry to the train terminal. We couldn’t have managed that without Mario’s help, for which we are eternally grateful!

Well past noon, we took the train for Rome where we arrived at 7 pm and welcomed by yet another HDMF rep, Mike, who brought us to our first B & B for the next 6 nights in the suburbs. It was quite a distance from the heart of the city, but Villa Tre Colli, with its lovely gardens, wishing well and long driveway is so charming. Room 111 is actually a studio unit complete with a bathroom and kitchenette. That night, I asked Mike to join us for dinner in this place run by an Italian family (Mike’s recommendation). The padre is the chef, madre is the cashier, and sons and daughters wait on the tables. We had bruschetta, pasta and pizza. Of course, I had my vin rose’.

In a nearby grocery, we bought our “supplies” of bread, water, spinach, mesclun salad, Italian dressing, and some eggs. Knowing we had a good 10 days ahead of us in Rome before heading home, we “wasted” this day and called it a night.

Life As A Tourist in Rome

April 12, Wednesday

Mike fetched us this morning and brought us to the Vatican. The passes allowed us within the fenced in square within St. Peter’s Square . Watching Pope Benedict XVI in his popemobile doing the rounds, we watched and stayed and received papal blessings. Mike was our 3rd photographer as he happily snapped photos of us around the Vatican and inside St. Peter’s Basilica. Awesome!

We couldn’t help but have more photos taken with Bernini’s columns behind us. Shellane quietly made plans to make that trip to the Vatican Museum in the coming days. Then we had a light lunch of pizza off the corner near the Vatican. (Who’s to tell if you’re within the Vatican City, or within Rome?) From the Vatican, we walked towards Castel d’ Angelo , crossed the bridge with all those Bernini sculptures, and found our way to Piazza Navona, yet laden with more Bernini art pieces. More photos this time. I reminded Shellane that she should really get her hands on Dan Brown’s prequel to the Da Vinci Code. Angels and Demons has Rome as its setting, and it would be interesting to check out the places where the 4 cardinals were supposed to have been murdered in Dan Brown’s book.

Unplanned Overnight @Florence

April 13, Thursday

Not one to waste any time, we took the train for Florence. Having bypassed it when we took the train from Venice straight for Rome, we planned this trip only to find ourselves wanting to stay another day.

We changed our tickets to head back to Rome the following night, got ourselves booked in this B & B called Old Florence Inn, very near the train station, and arranged for our day
Firenze's BaptisteryFirenze's BaptisteryFirenze's Baptistery

Florence never fails............
tour of Siena and San Gimignano the following day. Talk about being efficient!

We got lucky with our B & B once more. Old Florence Inn is so near the train station, just a few steps from our meeting place for the next day’s excursions, and has a very big, clean and charming room on the 3rd floor of a building off the main road. All that for only 80 euros. There was a bowl of apples, and we naturally helped ourselves, and even made baon! Biscuits, bread, jam, butter, coffee, etc. Not bad at all.

The rest of the day was spent touring Florence. The Duomo, theBaptistery, Giotto’s Bell Tower, Santa Croce, Mercato San Lorenzo ,Piazza Signorina and more than a good hour’s wait lining up at the Galleria Accademia to see David. Michelangelo truly outdid himself with David. There were museum guides strictly enforcing the ‘no picture taking’ rule, but I sneaked one photo! Once more, I found my other favorites - Michelangelo’s Prisoners.

On the way back to our B & B, we passed this quiet trattoria and had our dinner. Oh, how we longed for some quiet and peace. After all the walking and all the touristy things we did, having a quiet dinner and again, a glass of wine is just what we needed to end the day.

Siena and San Gimigniano: Not to be Missed!

April 14, Good Friday

We checked out of the B&B and met our tour group promptly at 8:30 am. The trip to Siena took a full hour, but we had this multi-lingual tour guide by the name of Federico who was very good and efficient. It was a big group, and as soon as we reached Siena, we were divided and handed over to local guides : English, Italian, Spanish, French.

Piazza del Campo is truly a place to be. I remember Fr. Faroni reminding me never ever to miss Siena. This piazza is so huge and quaint looking with its fan shape……… truly one of its kind. Il Palio is held here annually. A horse race around the piazza, that’s what it is. Siena’s Duomo beats the one in Florence , in my book. The interiors are not as bare as the one you’d find in Florence, but beautifully cramped with so many art pieces of Pinturiccio, said
San GimignanoSan GimignanoSan Gimignano

Medieval Manhattan!
to have been the art master who taught Raphael, and more Bernini sculptures (the one of Mary Magdalene is beautiful). Our local guide was also very very good. There’s a lot to be said as well for the museum beside or adjoining the Duomo. In terms of shopping, Shellane and I got our wallets here. Well, so much for shopping in Milan and Florence. We got our leather stuff here in Siena.

We had lunch in Siena, before taking the bus again to go to San Gimignano. This medieval town is said to be more enchanting during sunset when one sees the few remaining towers. When we arrived and walked the cobblestoned walkways, I was reminded of the interiors of Mont Sant Michel. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to check out the museums and one of the towers.

By 6 pm, we were back in Florence. Shellane and I split ways so I can make a nostalgic trip to Santa Maria Novella(to view paintings by Ghirlandaio, another art master who tutored a young Michelangelo) and Santa Croce while Shellane did some shopping. We arranged to meet at the train station for our 9:29 pm train ride back for Rome’s Termini Station. We were home in Villa Tre Colli by midnight. Poor Mike said having abstained from meat today being Good Friday, he was ready for his dose of protein after midnight. That dinner he had in another unit within the same villa, where our Pinoy driver Dondon stays.

Day Out from Roma

April 15, Saturday

Mike had it all planned out for us today. Woke up early for our trip down south to Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento and Positano. Mike arranged for a Pinoy driver (Dondon) to drive us around the whole day. Beats taking all those trains in a day!

First off, Pompeii. With Mt. Vesuvius in the background,which reminded us of that tragedy which struck in the first century burying all of Pompeii , only to be rediscovered in the 20th century……… we walked in awe wondering about this great civilization. Pompeii , before the tragedy, had a bustling city in its midst, complete with water fountains at every corner,a piazza, a pedestrian lane, humps, an amphitheater, frescoed buildings, a store, a clinic, etc. One can only imagine how these guys lived it up like the rich and famous
Easter Mass at the VaticanEaster Mass at the VaticanEaster Mass at the Vatican

Prime Seat .........look at that crowd!
at that time!

Dondon found a pizzeria for us. After all, pizza was born in Napoli so why bother with anything else? We enjoyed our pizza and pasta…… and you guessed right, more of that vin rouge or should I say vino?

Next, Sorrento. Another nostalgic trip for me. I remember being in Sorrento and staying a night here, viewing the cliffs hanging by the sea. Beautiful. That was 20 years ago. And it is still as beautiful. Too bad we don’t have enough time to take the ferry to Capri. Perhaps next time.

Then , Positano. We were all reminded to watch that Maria Tome starrer of a movie. Was it Only You? Shot entirely in Positano. We had enough time to check out the sand and the shops there, but it’s just too touristy that parking alone will cost you 10 euros. More expensive than the Viagra de Positano (simply chili oil) we bought !

Before heading back to Rome, we passed by an Outlet shop where Shellane managed to buy a blouse and pants to wear for Easter Mass the following day.

Prime Seats During Easter Mass

at the Vatican
April 16, Sunday

Happy Easter! This is the highlight of our trip. Easter Mass at the Vatican. Our luck held out as Mike got us prime seats for this Vatican event. We were seated along with members of the diplomatic corps right above the collonade on the right side of St. Peter’s Basilica. Yes, right behind some of those sculptures which look so small from below at the square. Well, they are not that miniature after all, but more than life size. Getting there was an event by itself as we had to go through the apostolic apartments right below the Papal Apartments! What a privilege. This thing is hard to come by, so we made sure we had enough photos to brag about!

To hear the Pope greet “Happy Easter” in various languages………… finally, to hear him say it in Pilipino with the Filipino contingent waving the Philippine flag and shouting as he did so! Shellane and I are so blessed to be there at that time.

After mass, we stopped by a small store to buy some rosaries , postcards, etc. before taking our lunch in Mike’s apartment he shared with a Filipino family from San Pablo, Laguna. Who can resist kare-kare complete with bagoong, and all those pinoy dishes after being away from home for a whole month? Gosh, we stuffed ourselves real good this time……………

Pierro's Apartment in Roma

April 17, Monday

This morning, we checked out of the villa in the suburbs to transfer to this apartment beside Mike’s apartment. Owned by Signore Pierro Alimandi, the apartment has only 3 rooms , each big enough to accommodate 4 pax. Ours has a high ceiling with a king size bed and a double bunker bed. We had our own private bathroom. A kitchenette with a superb espresso machine, a ref filled with juices, water, milk, jams, butter, etc. A pantry stuffed with biscuits, cornetto, orange cake, crostinis, etc.

Apartment #3 Via Tunisi is just a few meters away from the Vatican Museum. Right across it is Hotel Alimandi, a 4 star hotel run by Signore Pierro’s family. The apartment is on the 3rd floor. Right below it is this gelateria famous for its Sicilian gelato. And just 8-10 minutes away, one can walk to the Metro Station. I never felt so comfortable and so at home in all my days of travel. This apartment is God-send. Loved it there.

Lunch was in our Pinoy neighbor’s apartment. Then off we went touring around the city. We didn’t miss all those landmarks and must-see’s. Colloseo, Forum, Vittorio Emmanuel, Fontana de Trevi, Pantheon, Spanish Steps . Good thing Mike downloaded all our photos from the digicams as there were just too many photo ops that day.

Church Fatigue in Rome?

April 18, Tuesday

We were on our own today. So we went first to Piazza del Popollo but the church was closed. Then we took the metro back to Termini to take the train for St. Paul’s Outside the Walls…………one of 4 major basilicas in Rome (St. Peter’s, Sta Maria Maggiore, St. John Lateran, and St. Paul’s). Originally a pagan temple, this basilica now houses the remains of St. Paul. The interiors are awesome………… just a little odd to find an obelisk right inside the basilica.

From there, we took the train back to Termini and rode the metro once more for our next stop. Santa Maria Maggioreis the biggest church ever built and dedicated to Mama Mary. Rightly so, as the Church keeps the Holy Crib, or the remains of it anyway. Some call it the Basilica of the Lady of the Snow, in reference to Mama Mary’s apparition where she asked that a church be built in her honor. The site is exactly where snow fell while all around it , there was none.

This time around, we tried non-Italian lunch and went for kebabs and gyros. After this light lunch, we walked to St. Peter In Chains Church. We lost our way somehow, but managed to get back on familiar roads and take the next metro for St. John Lateran. After visiting this basilica which was built even before St. Peter’s Basilica and served as the Papal Residence and seat of the Catholic Church during its time, we did some serious shopping again at the nearby COIN Department Store. That was where Shellane got some of her good stuff.

Seeking Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

April 19, Wednesday

Not content with yesterday’s visit of Santa Maria del Poppolo, Shellane and I split up and made our own itineraries today. Thought it was also a good time for her to meet up with some of her friends based in Rome.

I made the trip back to check out the church, and Raphael’s Chigi Chapel. I was not disappointed. The other paintings are just as wonderful. Content with that, I heard mass in one of the twin churches within the Piazza del Poppolo. After mass, I took the Via del Corso which runs from Piazza del Poppolo all the way down to the white edifice of Vittorio Emmanuel, crossing narrow streets towards the Spanish Steps, Pantheon and Fontana de Trevi where I forgot to throw coins the Monday we visited. While checking out the shops- and buying a pair of shoes, a wallet, etc.- I found my way to some other churches not usually listed in tour books but just as beautiful. Their only misfortune is that Rome is teeming with so many significant churches that some of them are rendered ordinary, even insignificant, because of the sheer grandeur of the more major, tourist attractions. There was the church of St. Ambrose, the church of St. Catherine of Siena and St. Ignatius which rendered me completely awe-struck with its frescoed ceiling! Not since the Sistine Chapel was I dumbfounded by such beautiful frescoes! And to think that the frescoes were done by a lesser known if not completely unknown Jesuit priest . From there, I found my way back to the Pantheon where an orchestra was playing. After listening for a good half hour, and again checking out the tomb of Raphael , I walked out of the Pantheon and made my way back to the Spanish Steps. The Babington Tea Roomwas still there, and one only needs to let his imagination run on the personalities who used to take their tea in this ancient place. Lord Byron? Hemingway? Shelley?

A Lazy Day For Me

April 20, Thursday

Our last whole day in Rome before taking our flight home . Shellane planned on doing the Vatican Museum, perhaps more shopping, visiting Piazza del Poppolo and taking the Via del Corso from there. I decided, and wisely so, to spend the whole day in the apartment. I so loved this room so much I thought I should give it justice by staying there the whole day. I reread Angels and Demons and let the story jump out at me, with all those landmarks hitting me real.

Shellane came home painfully tired and looking lost, but managed to rev up an appetite for our last dinner in Rome. Nothing fancy. We had our dinner in the neighborhood - served by the same Pinoy family who adopted us in Rome. Mike was very solicitous. God bless him.

Time to Go Home

April 21, Friday

Good thing our flight is at 12 noon. We didn’t really have to rush to check out of the apartment and check in at the Leonardo da Vinci Airport. Mike stayed with us practically till boarding time. There was time enough for cappuccino and cornetto. Our memories of this trip will serve us well through our lifetime. Most especially our last 10 days in Roma. Our hearts remember. And we are eternally grateful. Gratitude is truly the memory of the heart.


14th February 2009

Love your European blog so much, as we are also planning our first Western Europe tour come August. I learned a lot from it, although Im sure we wont be able to afford the places you've stayed at. And I can't believe being a Catholic Filipino myself, I didn't inlcude Lourdes in our itenerary. Being the good Catholic that I was once before, hehehe, its now part of our itenerary. Thank you

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