our roman holiday (and a proposal)

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europe / italy / on the road / the Big Day

Rome is a delicious assault on the senses. Turn a corner and you’re awestruck by a ginormous 280-year old fountain grafted on to the back of a palazzo. The thickest, creamiest gelato melts on the tongue; walk too long on her cobbled streets and you end up with hurting feet after a while.

We stayed at Hotel Smeraldo, a reasonably-priced hotel close to the Pantheon. Walking around Rome is the best way, in my opinion, to discover hidden gems. Like finding the Fontana delle Tartarughe, a small fountain designed in the 1580s with tiny turtles crafted by no other than Bernini himself…

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…discovering Bartolucci, a toy shop selling whimsical wooden toys and real-life Pinocchios…

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…or spotting an angel making off with the stop sign.

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The night we arrived, I was surprised to see monuments as amazing as the Il Vittoriano (below) on Piazza Venezia weren’t even marked out on our guidebook’s map. I remember thinking well, the city’s so over-full with structures as old as AD 608 it probably wasn’t worth noting a young ‘un completed in the 1920s.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn our way to the Vatican City we walked over the Tiber–wait, let me just repeat that–we walked over the Tiber. A river I had only read about in books, a river so old, so steeped in history it’s just…wow. Right, take two.

On our way to the Vatican City we walked over the Tiber and stopped at Castel Sant’Angelo, the ex-papal castle designed in AD 123-39.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe dome of St. Peter’s Basilica is visible from the top of the Castel. You also get a good broad view of the Tiber and the Sant’Angelo bridge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI think the sight of the Vatican City is massively impressive to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Even devoid of all religious associations, one still appreciates that it’s a beautiful testament to humanity’s creativity and vision. So much to see feel do think, in such a small space.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter gawping at Michelangelo’s Pieta and Bernini’s masterpieces inside St. Peter’s Basilica, we made our way up the dome and up the stairs for a rewarding bird’s eye view of the city.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI remember Hubby (then Boyfriend) and I lingering a little too long at the top of the dome. I thought he wanted to take specific angles for his photos–little did I know he was working up the courage to propose.

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Our Proposal Story: Saying yes behind the saints 

We eventually made our way down to a spot behind these marble statues. I had the camera and was snapping away when suddenly I felt a back hug (insert k-drama reference here) from the Hubby and saw the small brown box open in front of me. Then I knew.

I had imagined this moment perfectly a dozen times in my head and promised myself I wouldn’t cry. Why bawl on such a happy, happy occasion? But when the reality of what was happening started sinking in fast the tears started and wouldn’t stop. So the actual proposal went something like this:

Hubby: (Box open in front of me, revealing the ring.) “Will you…”

Me: (Mumbling to self, realizing I was crying.) “No, no, no…”

Hubby:Ha? No??”

Me:Ay, hindi! (‘Oh, no!’) Yes, yes, yes!”

So much for rehearsing it in my head. Still, it turned out better in real life I think.

IMG_2102I remember how cold and clammy his hands were. He said it was because he was nervous.

It was a Sunday so there was a blessing by Pope Benedict XVI at noon. We stayed and waited an hour or so in the crowd until he arrived. We couldn’t tell what was going on since the announcements over the speakers were in Italian. We didn’t even know where to look; we thought the pope would appear on the front balcony overlooking the crowd.

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the famous Pontifical Swiss Guard uniform

the famous Pontifical Swiss Guard uniform

I spotted this open window with the red cloth hanging out and remembered thinking to myself someone was drying out the pope’s towels. Apparently, this window was where he would eventually show up.

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A papal blessing seemed to be a fitting start to a lifetime together. :)

Hubby later revealed the other could-have-been proposal sites:

(1) Fontana di Trevi – We went the night before we visited the Vatican. Hubby had the ring with him, but decided against proposing as he thought it was too crowded. He even saw another guy proposing too in one of the dark nooks next to the fountain.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(2) Sunset on Pincio – That afternoon there was a giant, yellow radioactive can set up by members of Greenpeace on Pincian Hill. I forgot what they were protesting about. Radioactive can aside, the sunset view was romantic and it was peaceful to people-watch from the top overlooking the Piazza del Popolo. Again, Hubby had the ring with him but saw yet another couple getting engaged right next to us, so he decided to pass.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe walked down to the piazza. The big, open space was filled with the sound of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’ We sat on a bench to the side and watched the MJ-lookalike dance to a medley of his songs in the middle of the square. The crowd slowly grew, and I could see people singing along.

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We stepped inside one of the twin churches–was it Santa Maria in Montesanto or Santa Maria dei Miracoli?–and listened to an all-boy choir practice for a concert that night in the memory of Mons. Ennio Francia.

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On a side note, we visited a lot of churches when we were in Rome. So. Many. Churches. I’m not overly religious, but I must admit that European churches fascinate me. The grand cavernous interiors, the abundance of blank-eyed marble saints, the way people automatically whisper when they step inside. Most of those we visited were painted with detailed frescoes or ancient mosaics formerly flecked with gold.

Behold, the Pantheon. A formerly pagan temple saved from destruction only because it was converted into a Christian church by Pope Boniface IV. A well-preserved, 1000+ year old wonder.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were on our way to the Spanish Steps when we bumped into friends who were on a trek across Europe for their honeymoon. It was the first time that had happened on one of our trips, ever. We kept saying, ‘What are the odds?’ ‘What a small world!’

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All that walking around the city is bound to make anyone thirsty. It’s a good thing the flowing water found in most of Rome’s fountains (and trust me, you’ll find plenty of these) is safe to drink. All you need is an empty plastic bottle to reuse.

IMG_1867Don’t worry about the gunk at the bottom of the basin; the flowing water tasted fresh and clean.

We naturally paid a visit to the relics of ancient Rome, starting off at the Piazza del Campidoglio. Don’t forget to stop by the small 6th century church next door, Santa Maria in Aracoeli. It’s at the top of a steep flight of stairs. Legend has it that if you climb the 122 steps on your knees you can win the lottery. (The fine print reads you can win, not that you will win. Heh.)

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I paused often and long while we walked around the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum grounds.

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I remembered thinking, in a thousand years the ruins are all that would remain. And the best you could hope for was that someone, somewhere would remember what the fuss was all about.

Maybe constant tweeting, an active Instagram feed, or even blogs like this one are the modern way of leaving our detritus behind?

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe ate our way through Rome too. Hubby and I indulged our sweet tooth at Tre Scalini with a creamy triple-chocolate tartufo ice cream ball with a fudgy cherry center, topped with cream and what looked like a chocolate Stick-o…

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IMG_1938…at Giolitti, for hazelnut gelato

IMG_2120…and, just to make sure we had all our gelaterias covered, a double dose at Il Gelato di San Crispino.

IMG_2237We had a shot of espresso at La Tazza d’Oro, dubbed the purveyor of “Rome’s best coffee”…

IMG_1954…moved on to the mains and had delicious, firm pasta at Spaghetteria L’Archetto (they have over a 100 pasta sauces!)…

IMG_2232…and ate the crispest, freshest salads at Insalata Ricca, a popular Italian chain.

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Overall, while I completely enjoyed Rome I’m not quite sure if I could live in the city for a length of time. It’s a bit like eating too much gelato nonstop…I think I can only take in its immense, grand old beauty in small doses. Our trip to Rome was memorable in so many ways, not the least of which is I gained a Fiancé!

La dolce vita, indeed.

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The Author

I am 100% Filipina. I've lived in Manila, Jakarta, and London. Right now, I'm firmly planted in the tiny island of Singapore! I caught the travel bug early on. I also love reading, dark chocolate, spur-of-the-moment food trips, Fridays, dachshunds, and lazy weekends with my family or the Hubby.

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