Another throwback, this time written when I was pregnant with our kid. He just attended his first “by-himself” play date today and I’m feeling a little nostalgic.
I must say I never really knew about “babymoons” until a work colleague asked me about it. She’s Singaporean but had spent most of her life in Melbourne and therefore knows all about funky drinks I’ve never heard of like Lemon, Lime & Bitters, calls sunglasses “sunnies” and has friends who go on babymoons.
At that time, our kid also liked to make his presence felt — often in the mornings or in the evenings when I’m about to sleep — by rolling around, kicking (or punching?) me in the bladder region, or in a few instances, hiccupping (at least that’s what I think is happening; those times he moves in a small, steady dum-dum dum rhythm).
There were times during my pregnancy that I couldn’t believe I was carrying a little person around inside me (belly size notwithstanding). Funny enough, the Hub didn’t feel like a dad yet either, though he had felt our kid kick a few times. I guess we both need to see, smell, and hold him for reality to truly sink in.
But for now, there’s the babymoon.
We stayed in two different hotels: the first near to the Hub’s dive spots, then the remainder of our stay in Nusa Dua. The beach atmosphere called for the frequent consumption of lots of smoothies with summery, tropical names like Bali Sunrise and Cucumber Cooler, fresh young coconut juice and grilled meat/seafood. Needless to say, the recommended “300 extra calories a day” rule was not followed that week.
A highlight of our babymoon was a Legong Dance show at the Ayodya’s Balinese Theatre. It included an Indonesian dinner buffet. We were treated to four Balinese dances: the Panyembrana, a welcome dance; the Tarunajaya, a dance meant to show an adolescent and “his emotional turbulence”; the LegongKraton dance, which told the story of the King of Lasem going to war for a maiden, but unfortunately dying in the end (as foretold by a bird of evil omens); and the Oleg Tambulilingan dance, a love story between bumblebees.
The dancers were young girls, even those playing male roles. They wore vividly coloured costumes and heavily lined eyes, which highlighted their eye movements and exaggerated facial expressions. It was lovely to watch them on stage. At the end of their performance each of the dancers tried to get an audience member to come up and dance with them. A little boy volunteered to go. As soon as he stepped onstage, he shimmied and shook for all he was worth; he twirled his hands and looked sharply left and right trying to copy the dancers’ eyes. And he was dead serious about it. The audience laughed and a few Chinese tourists snapped photos.
I wondered about the little boy forming in my belly and whether he would be an enthusiastic dancer too.
I inadvertently skipped a Sunday. Forgive me. It’s December and we’re almost at the end of the tunnel that is 2020. How are you holding up?
Our hotel in Montreux looked like it popped straight out of a Wes Anderson set.
I loved the hotel’s mango ice cream-colored carpets, its rooms equipped with inner and outer doors, and the thick wooden side table which looked like it used to house a retro radio with knobs and dials (since removed, leaving the table with unexplained holes). My suspicions were confirmed when I leafed through the hotel flyer and discovered it was built in the 1870s.
On the plus side, the hotel was conveniently located next to Lake Geneva, a short walk from the train station and a longer (but still easy) walk to Chillon Castle. The castle is actually a medieval château made famous by Lord Byron in his poem ‘The Prisoner of Chillon,’ which he wrote after a visit to the castle back when it was still used as an actual prison.
According to the castle guide, Byron single-handedly kick-started tourism to the castle, which is now one of the most visited historical monuments in Switzerland. A true turista, Lord Byron also graffiti-ed his name on one of the columns in the castle dungeons. Unlike normal-person graffiti though, his is carefully preserved.
The walk back to the hotel from Chillon Castle is dotted with these wire figures performing random sports activities. Here’s one pole dancing.
Our hotel was also located next to the town promenade where a statue of Freddie Mercury stood. From the plaque at the base, I found out that 1) Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on the East African island of Zanzibar (!), 2) he had strong links to the town and acquired a lakeside studio here in 1978, and 3) Montreux was where he did his final work. I savoured these new pieces of trivia and envied Freddie his daily view.
We had lunch with old friends whom we hadn’t caught up properly with during the wedding – walnut pesto, sticky four-cheese pizza, and clams which were surprisingly good (and way better than what the Hub and I had in Nice). Afterward, we had gelato outdoors along the lake. I can’t remember why but the conversation turned to babies. E said she was sure she didn’t want any, she couldn’t stand the fussiness. A said she was undecided. Both had urgent questions for me, the sole mother in the group at that time.
Did I eat fish during pregnancy? Yes, but I had to cut out sushi (which A found acceptable) and alcohol (this, she protested). Could you feed babies water? I replied no.
I shared with A that I didn’t really like being pregnant (“You’re not helping!” said E, who wished for A to get started on the baby-making ASAP). I felt I had to explain so I started, “Don’t get me wrong…” “Hay naku, when someone starts with ‘don’t get me wrong’ that’s where I get concerned,” E said. I had to laugh.
I love the end result, of course. But admitting that one dislikes the process of getting there, the bloat and the bulge and the heaviness, the way your body stretches to accommodate a tiny human (but does not stretch politely back when the human is out, how rude) – that’s an unpopular opinion, it seems. What with the ‘glow’ all pregnant women are supposed to experience (which I call BS on). Anyway, every time I talk about this I always tend to over-explain.
After our lunch the Hub and I hopped on the GoldenPass Panoramicto Zweisimmen, which after two more train changes would eventually see us in the Swiss Alps, where we planned to spend a few days. The panoramic express was truly worth it – rolling hills, chalets perched alongside said hills, snow-capped mountains, flowing canals, and cows standing on the slopes (how do they do that?!). The scenery was so achingly beautiful that at one point the Hub turned to me and said, “Ganito ba buong Switzerland?” in disbelief. I completely agree – the Swiss lucked out.
The train ride was around five hours long. We passed the time reading, soaking in the Sound-of-Music like fields zipping past, and having intelligent conversations like this (which I faithfully jotted down in my journal):
Hub: “Gaano kaya kataas yung clearing na yun?”
H: “Eh yung isang mountain na yun papunta sa isa?”
M: “Mas mataas.”
H: “Eh yung paakyat dun sa may ice?”
M: “Super taas.”
I also people-watched a bit. Next to us sat a trio of women, one a platinum blonde woman in her 30s, one with black hair streaked with grey, and the third an older, smaller woman with thick, all-white curls (I will call her Little Old Lola a.k.a. LOL). LOL told the most stories — her voice full of energy and loud enough for me to hear (and listen to, had I understood French). All three ladies nursed a plastic glass of wine. LOL finished hers well before they got off at their stop.
I could get used to this. Travelling on trains subsisting on nothing but Vittel water and small croissants for weeks. When I’m as old as LOL, hopefully.
Travel time from Singapore to Panama City takes nearly 1.5 days, one-way, or 3 days in total. This includes flights and various airport layovers. It was, and still is, the farthest I’ve ever flown.
But there I was, sipping a piña colada at the CasaCasco rooftop terrace in the middle of Casco Viejo, Panama City’s old quarter. I was chatting with our site engineer from Barbados and our site veteran electrician from the Netherlands about Jollibee. It felt a little surreal. Why was I here?
The why was easy to answer. I was in Panama for work. I visited a site along the famous Panama Canal and wrapped up what I had to do in a few days. On the way to and from the site I was surprised to see vehicles in Panama had no front licence plates. Our site engineer confirmed it wasn’t required, which he said could be annoying if you were waiting for an Uber and had to let every car pass by first before you could check out its plate.
Considering I had come such a long way, I decided to book a guided day tour on TripAdvisor to see the canal’s water locks and a few other sights. When the tour van arrived, it ended up being just me and an African American family of three from New York – parents and a surly teenager – which suited me just fine as I could chill with my music at the back, by myself.
The parents asked me where I was from and I told them I traveled from Singapore but am from the Philippines, which surprised them. The mother in particular seemed keen to hear about where else I’d been and kept trying to make small talk. Maybe she was just being polite.
Panama City uses US dollars so it’s a popular place to holiday for Americans. Miguel, our tour guide / driver told us if you drive straight on the Pan-American Highway, we’d reach Costa Rica, then Mexico, then the US. We could even drive all the way to Canada and it would only take us two weeks. It was the first time I ever heard of this road.
Our first stop was the Panama Canal’s Miraflores Locks. It sounds cliché but seeing the canal up close really emphasised how it truly was a marvel of human creativity and engineering. It opened in 1914 and continues to operate in the present-day virtually unchanged.
Miguel said, think of it as the Pacific on your right shoulder, the Atlantic on your left. The locks elevate up to 1,200-ft length ships to head-level. (Probably not to scale.) No pumps are used, and ships save up to twenty days of travel around Cape Horn. The two magic ingredients? Gravity and more importantly, water.
We made a pit stop near the Bridge of the Americas where there was a small park dedicated to the Chinese community in Panama. They had a long history here on the other side of the world and were key to building Panama’s railroads and bridges over 150 years ago. (Even here, I was reminded of my language classes. 惊喜连连!) Miguel seemed very amused by the phonebooth in the park and made each of us take a photo inside it.
Miguel drove us to Amador Causeway which was an artificial road built by the American military to protect the canal entrances and exits at both ends. At the end of the causeway was an outlet store where I bought dark chocolates with chili and sea salt and briefly considered purchase of a Panama hat as pasalubong for the Hub.
We then made our way back at Casco Viejo, where I had been the evening before, to look for a place to eat. There were many teenagers on the square – it was graduation day that day – and there were also a number of churches which reminded me of Intramuros.
We ended up at Central Hotel (Miguel’s recommendation) ordering what I thought was a pretty standard carbonara pasta. Apparently, it wasn’t basic enough – the teenager was only picking at his plate and I overheard his mother saying “How are we going to travel if you don’t start eating different” which for some reason struck me as funny.
Traveling alone didn’t bother me as much as having to transit through a US airport. It was my first time to do so. This was a great source of anxiety for me, mainly because of horror stories from family and friends. Their overarching message seemed to be: travel through the US is tough when you’re brown-skinned.
Thankfully, my trip was mostly uneventful except for my transit through Houston to Panama City. The guy at immigration was all right, he asked me if I travelled a lot, I said yes and he stamped my passport and waved me on. Customs was slightly scarier – they stopped me for a bag check which left me waiting nearly 40 minutes near a special luggage belt.
There was very little time on the layover and I felt stressed because it was ten minutes to boarding and my bag had not appeared on the belt. (I needed to check out and in again, because I had to pass through immigration.) My luggage had been tagged and was supposed to be one of the first to appear. I mentioned this to the airport staff who quipped “Oh, they don’t care about that downstairs.” Amazing service, US airports. (In contrast to Singapore, where you can find your bag on the belt as soon as you clear immigration, or Tokyo, which even positions your bag a certain way on the belt so it’s easier for you to grab and go.)
Anyway after all that, I was eventually told they’d just let me go because the airline had already forwarded my bag on to my next flight.
Still, the presence of so many Filipinos in the SFO Airport shops was comforting.
While at the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy with the Hub, I thought two thoughts:
Random Thought #1.
Where did I put away my 4th year high school Physics book? Paul Hewitt was the reason why Physics was my favourite science subject then. I remember reading up to Einstein’s theory of relativity, past the required reading list, just because I was so caught up with Mr. Hewitt’s writing + his Hewitt Drew-It cartoons. (Ah, the nerdy days of yore.) I hoped my mom hadn’t given the book away. Random connection to Pisa: I vaguely recalled one of his cartoons showing Galileo throwing balls from the tower to demonstrate Newton’s Laws of Motion.
Random Thought #2.
Why is the Leaning Tower of Pisa so squeaky-clean white? Considering its age, I expected it to be a little dirtier. Was there perhaps some mould-repelling characteristic of Italian marble which I didn’t know about?
A Google search that night revealed that the tower’s fresh-as-nearly-nine-centuries-old look was the result of eight years of careful restoration, finished in 2010.
Do not be deceived into thinking the Leaning Tower is an easy climb because it appears short. The lean itself threw me off. I felt like I was falling when rounding those corners, as if navigating a marble fun-house.
However of all the buildings at the square, my favorite was the cemetery, or the Camposanto.
It wasn’t as popular as the Duomo or the other buildings so there was hardly anyone about. There’s something peaceful about the early morning light, the scuffed marble on the floor, the stone faces that had long lost their noses, the empty sarcophagi.
Of course I also did my touristy duty and had a token “Look Ma, I’m holding up the Leaning Tower” shot that kind of looked like this:
I also tried to imagine what Mr. Chinese Factory Worker was thinking (because really, all the souvenirs I’ve bought here in Europe have a ‘Made in China’ sticker) when he was making these leaning shot glasses.
I dug in my archives for this one. I wrote it back when we lived in London. Homesickness hit hard back then.
I’ve been in London for around two years now, but I remember my arrival here clear as day. While I’m in the process of catching up with my backlog of travel posts, I thought it would be good to write about my current home and the very first European city I ever visited.
The Hub (then the Fiancé) picked me up at Heathrow after an hour or so of nervous waiting, because my scheduled ride from the relocation company never showed up. We took a black cab to Citadines Barbican, the serviced apartment where I would stay for my first month. I remember passing by the Big Ben, all lit up in the evening, and thinking to myself it was shorter than I expected.
Since I arrived quite late, most of the nearby stores were already closed. (Another thing to get used to, coming from Makati where the malls close 10pm on weekends!) There was a Tesco Express near the apartment so we went there to stock my tiny fridge for the next few days. My very first purchases were a carton of Tesco chocolate milk, a jug of Cravendale whole milk, Yakult (only because it reminded me of home), a Lindt orange dark chocolate bar, a bottle of Evian, and a box of Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Clusters. I also bought a tray of juicy Sweetheart cherries — it was my first time to see fresh cherries that didn’t come in a jar.
The apartment was 10 minutes from the office. I arrived a few days before starting work to allow myself time to settle down and recover from the jetlag.
The Hub walked me to the office so I would know where to go. Afterward, we went for a stroll around the immediate neighbourhood.
It was the perfect introduction to London weather: a grey “summer” day, complete with rain.
I found it fascinating that there were plaques commemorating most anything all over the city. It was like a mini-history lesson wherever I went.
Maybe it’s because I grew up with reading so many British authors–Charles Dickens, Roald Dahl, Jane Austen, etc – I felt like the city was foreign yet familiar.
Since then, whenever I feel stressed from work, I always remind myself how absolutely lucky I am to be working in London, surrounded by so much beauty and history.
I’ve taken thousands of photos, been to many more places since then. There are still some days though, when I remember that first week when the City and I were both new to each other. And I just can’t shake off a strange melancholy.
It’s a historic, joyful day for our friends over in the USA. Deep breath, savour the moment!
In the midst of today’s excitement and the absolutely hilarious, yet fitting end to that man’s presidency in a random landscaping company’s parking lot, I thought I’d keep today’s #SundaySofaSojourns short and sweet (literally).
We did a lot of stuff in Belgium – including a token visit to the popular tourist spot Mannekin-Pis, a statue of a little boy peeing a jet of water into a fountain (why is this famous?) – but I particularly enjoyed the little taste test the Hub and I conducted on one of the things Belgium is best known for. Introducing:
The Great Belgian Chocolate Challenge!
The Contenders: Neuhaus vs. Wittamer vs. Marcolini (It’s like the name of a dorky three-way boxing match.)
The Mechanics: Buy a box of chocolates from each store, eat them, and judge which was the best. Simple enough.
We started “judging” these on the train from Brussels to Bruges. The sweets barely made it.
(1) Neuhaus’ Claim to Fame: Established 1857. Creator of the praline and the ballotin. Mr. Neuhaus created the first filled chocolates ever in 1912 (bless him) and also created a gift-wrap box to protect them from being crushed, i.e. the ballotin.
(2) Wittamer’s Claim to Fame: Creating chocolate-y goodness since 1910. Official supplier to the Court of Belgium. Chocolates fit for the royals!
(3) Pierre Marcolini’s Claim to Fame: The youngest kid of the three, born 1995. Mr. Marcolini was named the World Champion of Pastry.
The Verdict: Neuhaus’ pralines were a winner in my book. The Hub liked the richness of the cocoa flavours in Wittamer’s chocolates. However, both of us loved the variety in Marcolini’s “origin” chocolates – it evoked delicious, exotic locations (even the Earl Grey Tea flavor was *chef’s kiss*).
I’m back! I feel bad that I haven’t been blogging as often as I’d like to lately. Believe me, if I had the time these past weeks to blog I would.
Cases are on the rise again in some part of the world. The day when all of us hit the road again seems even further away. For now, I hope you enjoy this throwback post as we travel together from the safety of home.
We made Wengen our base for our Swiss Alps trip. We stayed at Hotel Edelweiss, run by warm and friendly hosts whom we got to know a little over the next few days. It was the kind of place with an “honesty box” in the lounge for the snacks and tea.
The garden had two huge bunnies and a nice playground nearby with a wooden log house our kid would’ve loved, had we brought him along. I told the Hub that Wengen looked a little like Tagaytay Highlands, except with better views. The air was so fresh and pure.
The next morning, we had a breakfast of toast with honey, cherry jam, homemade wild berry juice, cold meats, and cheese from Ultima, the hotel cow. We were set to visit Jungfraujoch that day, a mountain that billed itself as the “Top of Europe” at 3,454m above sea level. The Hub was obsessively checking each mountain’s live webcam on the hotel TV to see whether the peaks were foggy or rainy, ready to change our itinerary depending on the weather. (The webcams are also available online.) Thankfully it was clear skies over Jungfraujoch that day.
From Wengen, we traveled to Kleine Scheidegg via Lauterbrunnen, and onward to Jungfraujoch. Rail tickets are crazy expensive in Switzerland. Instead of buying individual tickets, tourists can save by opting for a Swiss Travel Pass, a 2nd class 4-day adult ticket that costs over CHF 410 and allows you unlimited travel throughout the Swiss rail, bus and boat network.
But we found the Half-Fare Card (CHF 120) to be better value for us because #1, we weren’t staying in Switzerland that long and the Swiss Travel Pass was better value only if you spread the cost over more days and # 2, most of the rail journeys we had planned were quite short. The Half-Fare Card is valid for one month and you need to have a copy with you at all times, as most conductors ask to see it when they check your tickets.
The Jungfraubahn train looked like it came straight out of a Hercule Poirot novel, with its red velvet seats and cog wheels. The route to the top takes you through the mountain via a tunnel hacked, cut, and dug by manual labour in the 1890s. The visionary engineers who designed the Jungfrau Railway were so good at their job that the railway has been running virtually unchanged since 1912. The fascinating history of how it was built is on this link.
There are two 5-minute stops at Eigerwand and Eismeer before you reach the top, except if the train’s running late (which in our case, it was). I didn’t mind too much because Jungfraujoch was just… wow.
Jungfraujoch has come a long way since the 1900s. It’s a vast complex with an observation deck, a snow fun park, a historical exhibit called Alpine Sensation, an Ice Palace full of sculptures, restaurants, and even shops selling Swiss watches and chocolate.
The best part of the day for me was when we walked out in the snow in an attempt to make it to Mönchsjochhütte, a hut with supposedly breathtaking views of the Valais mountains. I couldn’t even see it from the trail, it was such a small speck.
But oh, how I loved the vast expanse of white. The Hub said we could actually get sunburn from the chin up because the white was reflecting everything. (We both did get a little tanned by the end of the trip.) There were very few clouds, which moved briskly by, and the sun looked so close directly overhead.
I felt a little thrill whenever I slipped on the ice. What if I fell all those many meters above sea level? The snow was as soft as our kid’s powdered milk (I thought of him often on that trip).
We said yes to everyone who asked us to take their picture. We saw not one, not two, but three different waves of women stripping off their sweaters and thick jackets for a photo facing the mountains.
They looked so brave, with their “I ❤️ SWITZERLAND” pompom hats and perky breasts and YOLO, devil-may-care shrieking. I thought for a second what it must feel like to be young and carefree like that, a chilly wind on my naked chest. “Why?” an Asian tourist beside us laughed in disbelief, taking a snap. Well, I thought, why not?
The Ice Palace had sculptures of eagles and bears and a rooster with Chinese script – a nod to the many Chinese tourists we saw on our trip. They often moved in massive groups and you had to make sure to scoot ahead of them else you get caught in the tide.
We took too many photos on the observation deck which was over-full with people. I had qualms bringing our kid to Switzerland because we would be climbing peaks like Jungfrau, and I read that the high altitudes and thin air could make very young children sick. But I saw a fair number of little people on the deck, tiny ones in baby carriers and some close to our kid’s age, toddling around way too close to the rails.
We had lunch at the cafeteria. It seemed the Indian tourist groups were fairly large too because they had their own restaurant, Bollywood, right below the Lindt chocolate shop. I had chicken nuggets with fries — I suspect I accidentally ordered a kids’ meal — while the Hub had chicken in a yellow curry sauce.
While we were eating, we suddenly heard a roaring rumble. The cafeteria walls shook. A giant mound of snow, presumably from the restaurant roof, fell down the mountainside. Apparently it’s all part of a normal day up at Jungfrau, but for a moment there I thought we were going to tumble in a wild avalanche down the mountain.
On our way down we chatted with an American couple on the train who were on holiday. It turned out the guy’s stepmom is Filipino (“Her cooking is over the top, but I miss it!”). He told us about how long it took for his dad to bring his stepmom over to the US. The train conductor gave us two small chocolate bars after he stamped our tickets.
That afternoon, the Hub and I had a silly argument about stamps (don’t ask). It lasted for the length of the walk to Trummelbach Falls (around 45 minutes), during which time:
I got momentarily blinded by an unknown insect that I had to rinse off with sweet-smelling water from a trough,
We both saw a paraglider falling gracefully down the field next to us (first of many I saw on that trip), and
We got turned away at the falls because they closed at 5PM.
I remember that strange, quiet walk with the Hub because later that evening, a bombing at an American pop star’s UK concert was all over the local news in our hotel. And I realised I needed to be more like the women in the pompom hats. They had the right idea. Life is too short, much too short, not to live in the present.
We were on the train en route to Toulon, headed to M’s wedding. To my right the sea whizzed past. I saw a few divers bobbing on the surface and wondered if there were reefs in the dazzling blue below.
Before we left the Hub warned me about the number of train rides we needed take on this just-us trip. I told him not to worry, long train journeys didn’t bother me as long as I had something to read. I came armed with plenty of books. One of the books I brought was a dud — after page 49 it was suddenly page 248 — and I made a mental note to exchange it at Kinokuniya even though I had lost the receipt. “If they won’t take it, I’ll make them go viral!” I declared. He laughed, “No one would care.”
We flew to Nice where we spent a day to experience a bit of the famed French Riviera — also known as Côte d’Azur — because who knows when we’d be back travelling in this neck of the woods? (In this post-B.C. era, that turned out to be a good call.) The water was as blue as I imagined it to be. The blue was in three shades and the sky did its best to match.
We passed cliffs dotted with what looked like villas and I remembered an old Garfield comic I read when I was really young where Garfield rattles off his wish list to Jon, ending with “…and a villa in the South of France!” I’m not sure why the phrase stuck with me after all these years. Perhaps I did not know what “villa” meant, or why a tubby cartoon cat would want one. But now I think I do — anyone would. The place is a dream.
We dropped off our bags at the hotel and had an unimpressive seafood lunch near the flower market. Afterwards we had a mojito, praline, and pistachio gelato from Fenocchio which was absolutely delicious. Then we strolled along the promenade.
We passed by a lot of runners. I wondered how they could jog without so much as a glance at that sparkling Mediterranean sea. How was it possible to live next to it every day and not at least look, stare, linger?
We also noticed people were sunbathing on the rocky beach. It couldn’t have been comfortable — it looked like it was just gravel everywhere, with small rocks piled high in mounds in some spots. But the sun was out and the weather was lovely, so I don’t think people minded. We paused to watch two men play beach tennis with a pink ball that flew with the breeze.
From Toulon we took a bus to Bormes les Mimosas, a small village with tiled roofs and houses all painted the same soothing peach hue. The church where M would be wed was here, Église Sainte Trophyme, and the wedding was that afternoon. We only had time for a quick quiche and a shower. Exploring Bormes would have to wait.
We got lost at first on our way to the church, but a kind French lady left her shop to walk us there. The interior of Église Sainte Trophyme was quaint and the same hue as the houses. Both of M’s sisters and her nanay were dressed in elegant Philippine terno dresses (“Para may representation!” said M’s ate) and of course most guests were from the groom’s side since it was his hometown.
The sermon was delivered in English with most of the service — and M’s vows — in French. A lovely, simple service, with legal formalities at the end, and torotot distributed to the guests for when the couple exited the church. M’s ate did her bridal makeup and arranged tiny rosebuds in her hair. “Sabi ko nga pwede rin pala magpakasal ng simple lang,” M’s nanay later said, when we were enjoying cocktails outdoors before the reception dinner. “Sa atin kasi…” and she trailed off, assuming I knew what she meant. (I did.)
The reception was at La Magnanerie de Saint-Isidore, a long drive from the church. We booked a cab to take us there. Two hours were allotted for guests to mingle outdoors with pre-dinner Provençal apéro: wine, fruit juices, and various finger foods which I thought were better than the main course that followed.
I especially liked the anchoïade, a Provençal dip made from olive oil, anchovies, basil leaves, and garlic. At M’s reception the fresh vegetables were artfully arranged so it looked like they were growing in the anchoïade “soil” dip. I liked the baby radishes best.
Another favourite of mine was the freshly grilled meat station. I had my fill of bite-sized tender chunks of beef, marinated chicken, and blood sausage. A waiter went around urging guests milling in the gardens to help themselves from a tin bucket of foie gras (yes please two for me).
During dinner, there were messages from families and friends (his in French and hers in English — but M’s ate also delivered hers in French — “C’est magnifique!” exclaimed M’s in-laws, understandably impressed). The Hub and I were seated next to a banker and his girlfriend who asked us questions about Singapore. (Is it true they don’t allow people with long hair in? Can you chew gum there? What’s it like living there? “It’s good for families,” I answered. “We don’t have kids,” he said.)
Unlimited dancing followed dessert but the tiredness was taking over. Honestly, there were times too that I felt like a fish out of water. Most introverts might be familiar with the feeling — by then I had used up my day’s supply of small talk and just wanted to recharge back at the hotel. Finally, the Hub and I hitched with a friend and left after taking Polaroids for the wedding guest book. I took one extra snap of us, for me.
The next morning we were up early and had our chance to walk around Bormes. The mimosas the town was known for were not yet in full bloom but I could imagine what the streets and the house gates would look like whenever the season was right. The souvenir shops, with their postcards, sweet scented perfumes, ceramic jewelry, and bags of lavender and other dried herbs, were just starting to open. There was no one around.
We had tea and a croissant at the hotel cafe with a truly Provençal view (mountains, the peach-coloured houses with tiled roofs, blooms, and the startling blue sky with a single streak of white).
I thought to myself how difficult it must be to think of the rest of the world and its many troubles if I lived in a place like this.
Seeing as all our travel plans this year (and the next…?) have been put on hold, to ease the wanderlust I’ll post throwback photos every week from our past trips. Join me as I travel from my sofa!
Rome is a delicious assault on the senses. There is the sight of an almost 230-year old fountain grafted on to the back of a palazzo when you turn a street corner, the taste of thick, creamy gelato as it melts on the tongue, the pain of sore feet when you walk too long on its cobbled streets.
The sore feet are worth it, in my opinion. Walking around Rome is the best way to discover hidden gems. Like finding the Fontana delle Tartarughe, a small fountain with tiny turtles crafted in the 1580s by Bernini himself…
… discovering Bartolucci, a toy shop selling whimsical wooden toys and a real-life Pinocchio…
… or spotting an angel making off with a stop sign.
Pounding the pavements also allowed us to chance on the unexpected. We went up to Pincian Hill one afternoon and found a giant, yellow can with a radioactive sign painted on it. It had been set up by members of Greenpeace. I forgot what they were protesting about.
The distracting can aside, the sunset view from the hill was romantic and it was peaceful to people-watch from the top overlooking the Piazza del Popolo. We made our way down to the piazza as the big, open space filled with the sound of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’ We sat on a bench to the side and watched an MJ-lookalike dance to a medley of songs in the middle of the square. The crowd slowly grew and I could see people singing along.
We stopped at Castel Sant’Angelo where we could see St. Peter’s Basilica in the distance, as well as enjoy a good broad view of the Tiber river and Sant’Angelo bridge.
On a side note, we visited a lot of churches when we were in Rome. I’m not overly religious, but I find European churches fascinating. The grand cavernous interiors, the abundance of blank-eyed marble saints, the way people automatically whisper when they step inside. The churches in Europe felt more aloof and imposing in my mind, in contrast to the generally relaxed and homely atmosphere in Philippine churches. Parang Gregorian chants lang yung bagay kantahin sa loob.
My personal favourite of the Roman churches we visited was 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.
There was also a small 6th century church named Santa Maria in Aracoeli next to the Piazza del Campidoglio. 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. (I guess the fine print reads that you can win, not that you will win.)
All the 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 we found plenty of these – is safe to drink. All we needed was an empty reusable water bottle. (Never mind the water in the basin, the flowing water from the tap tasted fresh and clean.)
We ate our way through Rome too. The Hub and I indulged our sweet tooth at Tre Scalini via a creamy triple-chocolate tartufo ice cream ball with a fudgy cherry centre, topped with cream and a chocolate wafer stick; at Giolitti for hazelnut gelato; and a double gelato dose at Il Gelato di San Crispino.
We had a shot of excellent espresso at La Tazza d’Oro, had our fill of excellent pastas and crisp salads with barely a misstep. Maybe we were just lucky, or Rome really doesn’t have bad restaurants.
I think the sight of the Vatican City is impressive to both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Even devoid of all religious associations, one can still appreciate that it’s a beautiful testament to humanity’s creativity. So much to see feel do think, in such a small space.
It was a Sunday so there was a blessing by the Pope at noon. We waited in the crowd until he arrived. Actually, 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. I then spotted an open window with red cloth hanging out and remembered thinking to myself someone was drying out the Pope’s towels. Apparently, this was the window where he eventually showed up.
We made our way up the St. Peter’s Basilica dome for a bird’s eye view of the city. I remember the Hub (then the Boyfriend) and I lingering a little too long at the top of the dome. I thought he was taking his time with his photos – little did I know he was working up the courage to propose.
Our proposal story – saying “Yes” behind the saints
We eventually started to make our way down the dome, and made a brief pit-stop behind these marble statues of the saints. I had the camera and was snapping away when suddenly I felt a back hug (insert K-drama reference here) from the Hub and saw a small brown box open in front of me. I couldn’t see his face but it dawned on me what was about to happen.
I had imagined this moment perfectly a dozen times in my end. In each imagined scene I promised myself I wouldn’t cry. Why ruin such a happy occasion with tears and what would most likely be a runny nose?
But when the reality of what was happening started to sink in fast, I felt my tears start and by then it was difficult to stop. The actual proposal went something like this:
Hub: (Box open in front of me, revealing the ring.) “Will you…”
Me: (Mumbling to self, realising I was crying.) “No, no, no…”
Hub: “Ha?! No?”
Me: “Ay, hindi! Yes, yes, yes!”
So that was my Expectation vs. Reality moment. Still, I think it turned out better in real life.