Friday, December 27, 2013

Europe 103: Throwback Christmas

Merry Christmas to all! 
Merry Christmas Tree! 

Maybe it's a bit technically late to greet but as our elders would say, make every day a Christmas day. :) And... nope. This is not just an excuse to write a super late blog. :D I was meaning to write something about my Europe Christmas. But with so much going on and before Christmas, I can only write text messages of greetings. Since today is throwback Thursday, I think it's just a perfect time to reminisce last year's Christmas.

Although I look forward to spending Christmas in Europe with all those snows and Christmas trees, also dread the time that I have to spend away from my family. You see, this would just be the second time that I'll be spending it away from my family. The first time was because of work. For us, and I guess for people in general, this time has always been about bonding and sharing time with the family. The first time was difficult but I have also people around who also have to spend away time from their families. I guess, that's what made it less difficult. But for this instance, I have to spend it with a different family and the culture that I'm not so familiar with.

Curry Wurst meet-up at a Christmas Market

Thanks for these! :)
It was about a 6-hour drive from Switzerland to Walldorf where my friend, Thomas' family lives. Before we had on, we had a stop over at Basel. It is a very charming town that belongs to the German-speaking region of Switzerland and already borders to Germany. During this time of the year, Christmas markets are very popular around the different towns in Europe. It's quite interesting to see the little Christmas houses they built to sell all different stuffs for Christmas. In the Philippines, we also have small markets at malls but this Christmas market they have, particularly in Basel, looks like a very lively small village. I'm already enjoying just walking around and looking on their goodies. I'm not sure if I bought some or if the some that I bought were chocolates. But if there's one thing that I won't forget, it would be the super tasty curry wurst. If I fell in love with Ribollita and Rissoto in Italy, I'm head over heels with curry wurst in Basel. :) It's like my welcome-to-almost-Germany treat!

After our little detour at Basel, we head on to our destination. During this road trip, it's confirmed that Germans love their cars and they love speed. I know that 230kph is beyond normal for me. Anyways, the more important thing is that we arrived home safely.

Meeting the Parents

It was already dark when we arrived at Walldorf. It was only when we were just 7 minutes to destination (based on the car's GPS) that I had a little panic. I just remembered what my friend said about “meeting the parents” in Europe. Unlike for us, Filipinos, guys are required to meet the girl's parents first before any relationship starts. And in Europe, it's vice-versa... it means the relationship is serious. For some reason this had never came to my mind before. My mind had a little bit of panic mode. Eventually, I settled myself to my purpose of coming... that is, to experience Europe... and this can also entail meeting people. It just so happened that it's his parents.

I had a warm welcome. And I'm glad that they understand English... that means I can easily express myself. One of the traits that's so Filipino is our hospitality. And this is something that we usually expect from others and get disappointed if it was otherwise. And I think my initial panic was if I would feel welcome. And I did. And more importantly, it felt like home. And since then, I'm already curious how it will feel like spending Christmas with them.

A Real Christmas Tree

Ahmm.. yeah, REAL tree.
One thing that I'm looking forward to was the Christmas tree. We all know what a Christmas tree looked like based on movies and Christmas cards. But it's near impossible to get one coming from a tropical country. So, the Christmas trees that I grew up with were more like man-made trees. Not that it has less meaning, but it's always different when you see the real one. And since it's a “real” tree, I didn't anticipate the effort it takes to make it stand. My imagination was limited already to the standing tree and all I had to do is to decorate and light it up. Well, I realized that it wasn't that easy. After a series of chopping and balancing, our Christmas tree finally stand. I was excited. It was the biggest tree that I had to decorate on. I had great fun. We had fun. They have all these different kinds of ornaments some of which my friend did himself when he was a little kid. I can imagine a kid getting excited with the idea of decorating a tree. I felt like a little kid myself. With the ornaments on, it did look like the ones on your Christmas cards. It was a great feeling having to experience that but at the same time a melancholy one. I just wished that our kids back home will be able to see it themselves. They would love it.

Silent Night

In the Philippines, and coming from a big family, Christmases and just about any occasion felt like a big gathering. Kids and kids at heart alike getting excited for their gifts, games kids play, and of course the caroling. In short, its always a festive event... whether there's a crisis or not.

My flowery Christmas sweets... traditional Filipino biko.
Being with my friend's family is different. Different in numbers and different in ways. I think their Christmas is more relaxing in a way. There's no shopping rush, no zillion gifts to wrap, and no kids party to organize. Since I didn't brought any gifts myself, I just tried to cooked from my mother's biko recipe. I was not totally successful because it lacks sweetness but I hoped that effort counts as a gift. :)

We spend Christmas eve with a nice and fun dinner. And after that, just spend some quiet time to enjoy the company and enjoy the night. It's heartwarming to be in a company of people where a few weeks before were total strangers. It's refreshing to see them exchange and opened some gifts... and trying to discern what the thing is for. I even got some presents from them. :) If there's a gift that I would have given them that night, it would have been a carol. Music has been one of the things that I've missed about home. But singing a song would have made me cried at that moment. I'll be more prepared to do it next time. :D

If there's something that I was thankful for this Christmas, it was that when I was away, a family welcomed me and made me a home. I appreciate more the meaning of the family. That it's doesn't mean to be of the same blood or culture. It just mean that you have found a home in people. On the external, it was definitely a different Christmas from what I'm used to. But at its core, it was exactly the same Christmas as back home. A day of bonding and sharing with family. :)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas List 2013

What's your wish?
It's a little more than a day to go before Christmas. And if we believe the story of Santa, he's probably already gathering his reindeers as he ready to sail through the skies with all his gifts from little kids' wishes. However as we grow up, our santas transform to our ninangs and ninongs. And as you grow older, our wishes are not anymore confined to toys or clothings.

As I look back in the past year, I was able to get one of my wishes, that is, to be out of the country and experience that part of the world. It wasn't as easy as showering a fairy dust to get there. I realized that somehow I've been like an elf, working with santa to wrap that gift. For this year, instead of wishful thinking, I just feel more grateful and blessed for what I have whether all my past wishes have come true or not.

So instead of thinking of what to wish for, I created a little project for my students. I've asked them to list their wishes. And if within a week, a month, a year, or years to come their wishes will come true, we will update this list and highlight it as done. This is also a way that santas of the world can have a look and maybe by chance or fate their wishes will be granted by them.

Tangible & Techie Treats

I wish to have a DLSR camera because I want to take pictures of events or happenings that I can see. And I can take pictures in our coming graduation on March.
- Killua

I wish to have a house & lot here in Zamboanga, so I could feel more comfortable. Staying in a boarding house is so difficult.
- Emomi<3

I am a Computer Science student and I'm really struggling to use my old model desktop, I wish someone would give me a new PC. Thank you! God bless!
- Stuck-With-PC

I am a simple man with full of hope. My wish is to have a better job and have the latest android mobile phone.
- Simple Man

I want to pass all of my last four(4) subjects especially “Thesis & Elective 2”.
- Love MMLS

My wish is to be able to buy and assemble my own gaming PC.
- The Giant Slayer

I wish I could have a brand new mobile phone (Android phone)
- MomondsterEatsyou

Career Stardom

My greatest dream is to land a job that suits my profession in the IT world and be a better programmer.
- The-girl-who-never-told-a-story

I wish to have a permanent job in the near future that is related to my course. And meet some of the greatest programmers that have the greatest contribution to IT.
- The Great Programmer

I wish for a job that earns enough for my parents' wants and needs. A job that can cater the knowledge I learn in my college years as a Computer Science student.
- Software Engineer in the Making

I wish if I graduate, if ever, I can work on a company and to be proud of what I achieve.
- Angel's Love

I wish I'll have a permanent job one day so that I can save and can visit EUROPE!!!
- Euro

I really want to develop more and I wish that I could work in a company as a programmer.
- cxcx1122

A job after I graduate!! (a job releated to my course)

Forever Fan

I'm an Asian fan of country singer, Taylor Swift. I always wanted to see her in person. I wish I could have an album of her, signed by her, and a guitar by Taylor Swift.
- Asian Taylor

I wish I could meet the Vampire Diaries cast and spend a day or week with them, especially Damon Salvatore a.ka. Ian Somerhalder. If not go to Disneyland with Ian.
- Stick-Oh

I was really and I am always an avid fan of a boyband group Westlife. I always wish that somehow I would be able to meet them in person and watch them in concert . Even though the group was defunct. I wish I could meet just one of them.
- Smashit

I wish to meet personally with One Direction and the cast of Vampire Diaries. And to travel around the world especially on my dream place New Zealand.
- Another Direction

Hope I can meet the Younghusband brothers and be able to get the Askals jerseys as a souvenir =) and also can watch a live game.
- zanebazan

See the World

To travel to Korea is my ambition. I wish I can travel to Korea with my family. =)

When I was young. I really dream of experiencing winter in Christmas. I wish to go anywhere as long as there is SNOW. P.S. Please grant my wish.. please...
- nath0919

All I ever wanted is to visit South Korea... (that's my ultimate wish)
- Cycy

For the love of Family

For now, I am just working student and I have an 8-year old younger brother. He never had a birthday party. I wish that I can give him a birthday party like other kids and/or bring him to Disneyland with my parents of course. Thanks a lot.
- Sisterlove

I don't know what I will wish but I will give my wish to those children who need it more. =) like, dress, shoes, or toys.
- Generous Girl

My wish is for every second I will live in this world, to be happy, as a proud father, a son, and family.
- Rapeedo

I wish I can grant the wish of my parents to have their own comfortable house and give them a comfortable life. So that they don't need to work hard just to buy our needs.
- Cherry.Blossom

I am still a student and a son age 1 year and 11 months. I wish to have an educational plan for him from Elementary to College. Or any as long as it is for the education of my son. Thanks.
- The Father Student

I wish for a kitchen set for my mother because she really loves cooking and baking. Due to our financial problems, my Mother can't afford it. But I can see that she really dreams for it.
- My Mother's Son

If you wish to participate and grant any of the above wish, feel free to message and comment. May your wish come true as well. Merry Christmas! :)

Europe 102: A glimpse of an Ancient City

When in Rome... you roam. :) My friend says that you can see more of the city by walking. I have never really understand this not until I get to Europe where almost everyone just walks. And Rome is not something special. Getting around the city of Rome, you would definitely see that it's modern. Well, modern than my small city but somehow sets you in a movie like you were 2000 years ago where gladiators and chariots rule the streets. Since I haven't really done research that much, I mostly rely on the our travel book. Here are five (5) highlights which I think you must not miss when you are in Rome (in no particular order except mine).

St. Peter's Basilica and Square

From the outside, the dome of St. Peter's Basilica
Well, it's technically, not part of Rome but there's no missing this biggest basilica in the world. When, we first got into the square. I knew it was big but I never KNEW it was THAT big. From afar, you might just consider it just like any other churches. But since I have been to the basilica in Florence (the third largest), I'm got more curious of what “largest” mean... and man, IT IS large. You can imagine its vastness when you see how people looked tinny bit tiny compared to the church. And once inside, you would feel dwarfed beside the sculptures. Not even close to a hobbit with the elves. They looked more like Titan sculptures. Aside from its vastness, the treasure of this place also lies in the works of Michaelangelo from the sculptures to the dome ceiling. I'm not a fan of the Renaissance art but for some reasons which I can't remember, I do recognize Pieta. But since I'm not a fan, I didn't know that it was by Michaelangelo (and he did it when he's 25!). It is also best to really take some time and appreciate his artistic work at the cupola. Just be ready with a stiff neck.

A view of St. Peter's Square from the dome
And since you are already there, you can also get up to the dome to see the view of the square from the top of St. Peter's church. Tip: Go there in the afternoon so that you can take a picture of the view with the day and night mode. There are a lot of beautiful and historic churches in Rome. A 10-minute walk from St. Peters, you can already visit Castel Angelo (very famous from Dan Brown's book), St. Ignatius Church, Pantheon, and some others... just continue walking.

Sistine Chapel

The tour to the Sistine Chapel is part of the tours that Vatican Museum offers. Before you get to the chapel, you will be able to see their vast collection of Roman and Greek artifacts which dates back some ancient years ago. From sculptures, to paintings, to tapestry. We love taking funny pictures and the sculptures at the museum did not escape our crazy eyes. They also showcase some modern arts and paintings from different artists. One of my favorite stops at the museum is the gallery of Popes' vehicles from carriages to actual modern cars, a replica (or original?) of the car used when he visited Manila was also showcased there. Another favorite are the huge wall room paintings by Michaelangelo and Rafael. I'm no artist, I can't barely draw something decent but looking at these paintings, I wish I had that talent.

Poor ancient Roman... Fun shot alert! 
The highlight of course of the Vatican Museum tour is the Sistine Chapel. This chapel is very famous because this is where the papal conclave is held. That means aside from the bishops themselves, through generations, the walls and paintings of this chapel are the only ones who knows what really happens when a new Pope is elected. We just look out for the white smoke. Aside from it's historical importance to the Roman Catholic church, the ceiling and altar also contains the most famous work of Michaelangelo. Looking at the ceiling, our guide was right, the only way he would do such work is to work on his back... and he did it for more than 4 years(!) You can identify some of these paintings as scenes from the bible. One of the famous part is The Creation of Adam, the two images of men (depicting Adam & God) reaching out to each other with their fingertips touching. According to our guide, the chapel has been in the stage of restoration of years and has just opened a few months ago. Unfortunately, you can't take any pictures inside, so you just have to stare above. You wish you could just lay down somewhere and appreciate it that way.

Piazza di Spagna

A view from the top of the Spanish steps
This place is basically a home to the Spanish Embassy. There's really nothing special there. But the place with its famous Spanish steps allows tourists and local alike to just chill (not literally) and enjoy the busy streets where galleries and shops reins. After a long walk, this would definitely be like heaven to your feet. At the top of the steps is the Trinita dei Monti church. This is also a great spot to take a top view picture of the steps down to the lighted busy commercial street.

Piazza di Spagna

Will I be back at Rome? :)
Around the city of Rome, you can find piazzas and usually at the centerpiece, a fountain. The largest of all the fountains in Rome is the Trevi Fountain. You can't miss it since it's also a magnet for tourists. And just like every other fountain, coin throwing is also allowed. It is believed that when you throw a coin on this fountain, you will be back in Rome. But no timeline, it could also mean that it applies to your descendants. If not you, your future kids will be able to visit Rome. Aside from coin throwing, you can't also miss the detailed Roman sculptures around the fountain. It is also a great place to sit down and enjoy the beauty of the water and the surrounding architecture. Just look for a spot where your reverie will be interrupted with a couple doing selfies.


The halls of the Colosseum
And last but definitely not the least is the huge remnants of a great ancient city, the Colosseum. This is like the center for entertainment of the Romans. A stadium whose form of entertainment is not football, not baseball...actually, has anything to do with balls. If you watched the Gladiator movie or any other movies with gladiators in it, this is where they held the fights... man versus beasts... man versus man... a fight to death. Thinking about it, maybe these fights are more bloody and the mortality is higher, but I wonder how much difference is it to the UFCs or boxings of today. Although, you can still see men wearing gladiator costume, they are not there to fight but as a spot to take pictures. This place makes you understand a bit about the ancient culture and life. Given the resources that they have then, it's quite amazing to imagine how they were able to build such structure which still stands... after about 2000 years.

There's still more to Rome that I've mentioned above. And if I'm asked to get back to this city again, I would do it in a whim. Well, not exactly.. I have to settled my work and have proper documents. :D But I wouldn't hesitate to be back and discover some other parts that my feet and eyes have missed.

Ciao, Romans! Ciao, Italy! :)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Europe 102: A celebrity Pope, a talented Brother, and an Italian Lady surprise

It's truly Christmas time in the air! It's not just because of the wreaths, lights, made-up Christmas trees, and belens but for Filipinos it's also the consecutive Misa de Gallo (dawn masses) or Simbang Gabi (evening masses). The time to wake up at the crack of dawn to prepare for the mass. It may sound like a torture especially for all those sleepyheads (including me in a no-class day :)). However, I look forward to it everyday because it not only prepare you spiritually for the coming of Christ but it's also a fun bonding for me and my siblings with a super early breakfast. Going to the Vatican City is something that we (me, my family, and maybe majority of the Catholics) would consider a big fulfillment... more so if you can actually see the Pope.

An audience with the Pope

Just one of the excited audience.
After quite an adventure looking for the bronze door, we set off the next day for the Papal audience. Frankly, I don't know what to expect. When I told my sister that I would be able to see the Pope, I was still in disbelieve. I couldn't imagine how easy it was for us to do this considering the 2-weeks notice at the website. We also realized that it was also the Papal audience before Christmas and the last one for the year. Spell lucky. :) I was starting to imagine that it would be like a big mass-like gathering... well, it turns out not exactly.

Securing our tickets with us, we went to the same gate and got in line with the rest of the audience for the security check. The line wasn't that long, I think a blockbuster hit at the cinema would be longer. And the security check are like the ones at the airport. The people were a mix group from Asians, Africans, Europeans/Americans, etc... from priests, nuns, and others with no religious affiliations (like us). The commonality is that you can sense the same feeling of anticipation and excitement. Everyone seem to wear their best smiles (knowingly or unknowingly) except maybe the ones at the security checks.
We finally got beyond the bronze door and went into a huge modern hall where the audience was held. There wasn't any statues or picture of saints which churches usually contains except for a sculpture (I think, of resurrection) at center of the stage. The place was very comfortable and modern... more like a hall where you held concerts or conference rather than religious gathering. (Later on, I found out that the hall is called Pope Paul VI.) I'm not good with assumptions but my partner says that it was about 2000 people there but it doesn't feel crowded at all. In fact, there are still a lot of vacant seats available... maybe the rest just didn't find the trick of the bronze door. ;)

Anyways, we found a seat amongst a group of single men... unfortunately, for my girlfriends, they are bound to be single forever. Well spiritually, more like “In a Relationship” with Christ. These were the fine men of the Legionaries of Christ and one of them is Brother Colin. By the way, we also met a few others and one of them just got ordained this year! So, I just want to give a shoutout greeting of congratulations to Fr. Matthew Schneider! Continue to be an inspiration and a reflection of Christ in today's world.

Well, since we still have no clue what's going to happen, it's quite such a breather to have conversations with Brother Colin. Like being with someone who went to the same concert before, he told us of what to expect.

There he is! (blurred)
When the people started to shout and cheer, we knew that Pope Benedict just came in. If you know nothing about the event, you would probably think that Tom Cruise or some celebrity is in the house (although, some other might also consider the Pope as a celebrity). The cheers was contagious. And that was one of the longest cheer that I have ever witness in a gathering. Maybe second (or same level) to a Backstreet Boys concert with 20K+ audience and 90% female. It was both fascinating and fun and I feel like I'm in a concert and it was just the beginning. After the crowd has been settled, the program started. When the opening prayer started, it still feels surreal for me. I think I was wearing a smile while praying (in Italian). I just realized at that time my item #8.

8. Pray at the Vatican City.. I also want to get a rosary from there for my mom & sis

Although, I just wished to pray at the Vatican, God made it more special by having the Pope lead it with such an excited crowd. (By the way, getting a rosary was easy, they're everywhere! :)) Another entertaining part of the program was when the bishop (as emcee) did a roll call of the organizations from different countries. Every group went to cheer on as their country was called. Germany even have their cheer song. It was really cool. I bet I'll also be cheering and standing if a group from the Philippines were also called. That's how great the mood was. It wasn't that long. About an hour and a half. It only took that long because the Pope gave a Christmas message in a LOT of different languages. And we learned from Brother Colin that it was the first time that he gave a message in Arabic. And when he started saying “blessings to you and your family at home” (not in verbatim), my heart tightened... my home is half-way across the globe... the only thought that came to my mind was that I strongly wished that they were there with me... at least for my mom. I know that they would feel as overwhelmed as I was. Maybe some day, I hope I can bring (some) of them with me.... some day. I went out of the hall feeling grateful... it was a short but meaningful encounter.

A n Italian lunch out with the Brother

With the men in black, Brother Colin and
newly ordained Fr. Matthew Schneider.
We still have conversations with Brother Colin and eventually we decided to have lunch together. He brought us to this traditional Italian restaurant which serves wine(!) for lunch(!). I think wines for Italians are like Coke for Filipinos. The lunch was great... although, I don't know the names of the breads and pizzas that we ate, I just remembered the ambiance. It has a taste of Filipino in it. I guess, the long tables and audible family conversations made it Filipino-ish... also, the owner seems to know everyone in there including Brother Colin. There's not a lot of new people that we met traveling through Europe. So, we truly welcome his company. Anyways, what's the probability of meeting a priest at the Vatican? :D

Mostly people would assume that we will talk about religion... well, part of it is but mostly we talk about us, about people and humanity in general. I was always curious about how or why priests (or nuns) chose a vocation which I think tops the list of service-oriented duties (along with social volunteers). And in all my conversations with seminarians (not a lot), their decisions are not entirely a defined choice by them, nor something of a chance, but also a divine one. His story is not so different. When I was little, I wanted to be a nun because I really like what they wear and they look serene. Soon I found out the reality beyond the uniforms. So, I switched my goal to wanting to be a doctor. Anyways, I forgot to mention that he's also an insanely talented linguistic, who speaks fluently in Italian, German, French, and of course, as an American, English... that's the linguistic part. The talented part is that he also a pianist and plays for concert. Maybe one day we also get to witness that. :)

I think our conversation was as long as the audience with the Pope (maybe longer :D). I never realized that a conversation with a seminarian, a scientist, and an ordinary girl about life and its choices would be that interesting. He invited us to visit Rome again next year in time for his ordination. I hope that the invitation still stands... and I hope that we will have the time and opportunity to be back... and this time, maybe meet Pope Francis :)

My surprise: A Fair Lady... in Italian

I know that my Vatican experience was something for the books. From our adventure with the bronze door to the actual audience. And in between these schedules, the Man was able to pull out another surprise. Prior to this was this. It's quite an exhausting day walking around, so when he said that we have an appointment at 9pm, I was just like “ok.. I just have to rest for a while” after at the apartment. Since he didn't want to mention what the surprise is, he just says something like “Are you not going to change?” And since I'm a bit exhausted... and I also didn't feel like changing... and I don't think I look like a drab with pants and a jacket on. Therefore, with all these reasons, I didn't change my day trip's attire. Little did I know that it was a clue.

We started looking for the place... well, he started looking for the place and I just went with him. And finally we reached the stop. I was like “Are we getting in there?? Are we really watching this?? Oh-my...” On my mind: “This is on my list!” Yes, he plans to check off one of the items on my list, my #6. 

6. Watch opera or musical theater (any Mama Mias?)

English Title... Italian Content  :D
And the play was My Fair Lady. It's one of my wishes to watch an actual musical play. I generally love music and I love Lea Salonga. But the chance of getting to watch anything close to a famous musical play living in Zamboanga City was veryclose to zero. I also enjoyed our theater production back in college... it was one of my college highlights.

Outside, I was in awe just looking at the poster. And super excited. I'm not sure why he chose that play. But if I remembered it right, that's the only play available in English. Although, I have heard of the play (or the movie), I have no idea what's the story of My Fair Lady is. This is my first. And I'm going to enjoy it. And I did. :)

When we finally get it, that's when the idea of clothes set it. Everyone looks like they came out of a fashion magazine. I actually packed a dress for such occasions. If I only knew! I feel like I'm going off to watch a movie rather than a play. Although, I can see some pips looking at my direction, I was thinking what better off to enjoy a show than in your most comfortable clothes... as long as you don't freeze. :D

There is just one uncertainty about the play: if it's in English or Italian. Alas! It's in Italian! My first musical play is in Italian! :D This is one is once again for the books.

I'm not a fan of the lead actress' singing (I've seen far greater singers in the Philippines) but her acting was very laudable and entertaining. Overall, the show was awesome, fun... and dream-like. Somehow, I felt like a little girl once again... the music and the singing reminds me of a lot of Disney movies... and I felt like singing “Do... a deer, a female deer... Re... a drop of golden sun... ” or “somewhere over the rainbow...”... not that it's any of My Fair Lady's songs.

Although, in Italian, one thing is for sure, “Fair” in My Fair Lady does not pertain to color. :D My #6 was indeed awesome... and the awesomeness I owe to the Man beside me. I was wrong again. He can indeed pull a surprise. And what a surprise! These are the moments that I can't help but be grateful for. He's a doctor in making daydreams into real memories. Thank you.

Now, moving on... aside from the Vatican (and our little detour), there are more to Rome... but we'll just have to rediscover the ancient city on my next entry. :)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Europe 102: Elusive Bronze Door

It's been a looong while since I wrote something about my Europe trip. It's a year ago that I had my trip but memories of it still lingers. I don't think that I will totally forget about this however, in any case, it's best to put it in writing. From Florence, we move further to the ancient city of Rome. :)

Let me just have a little introduction... My little nieces just had their first communion last May... our little angels. I can still remember when I was a kid going through the same thing with white dresses and feeling like graduating on a different level. During the month of May, we celebrate the Flores de Mayo season (translated as Flowers of May, for the feast of the Lady of Fatima). It is usually at this time of the year that first communions are being conducted but not entirely only that. Some cities or towns have grand celebrations with all the “reyna elenas” and “reyna emperatriz” marching with gowns and crowns and flowers for this celebration. Aside from these celebrations, for us kids, we have another sort of gathering. For Catholic kids in our community, we have like a summer school without the exams.. :D Kids from all ages gather to learn basic Catholic catechism like stories from the bible, reciting prayers, and of course sing gospel hymns. I particularly like the last one... but note that I'm not a singer, just a sing-er (i.e. sing whatev-er). And since it is summer school break and almost every kid is there, we were able to play fun team games after session... not video or computer games but pure traditional Filipino games with sticks, tin cans, slippers, and a big place to run around and sweat like crazy... however, this is not my point.

My point is that, the Philippines has always been rooted to its Catholic religion and traditions. The Christmas season is even more unique here in the Philippines that we have what we call “Misa de Gallo”, a dawn novena mass nine (9) days before Christmas. This reminds me that I have to wake up super early tomorrow to get in time with the Misa de Gallo mass at 4:30am. So as a Catholic, the idea of Europe is usually attached to visiting some of the holy places like the Vatican. You can say that every Filipino Catholic (or every Catholic for that matter) would want to have a pilgrimage to this place. As a Catholic girl myself, I couldn't help to include it in my to-do list (see #8). And when I told my mom that I will be able to visit the Rome (and Vatican), I think that seals the deal for my Europe trip... more like seals-the-deal-with-God-bless-you-kid permission.

St. Peter's Basilica and square.
Aside from Spain, Rome is the most popular European city for Filipinos. Here, people would definitely recognize even its Italian name, Roma. As much as I am excited to see the Vatican City, I'm also excited on what the rest of the Rome offers. Of course, the priority is still the Vatican (again, #8 in my to do list). As much as I was sad leaving the fashionable city of Florence, I was also excited to get into the Rome bandwagon.

Trains and Metro... and Filipinos

The trip from Florence to Rome just took almost 2 hours... (even less the time it takes to travel from Zamboanga to Ipil)... during these train trips, we spend it on reviewing the possible places to go to, playing games, and figuring out how to find our apartment. During our planning stages, I was a bit worried about arriving in Rome at night... well actually, in any places that I've never been to. But since I have someone with me, that made it less worrisome... and this is Rome, what could get wrong? (that rhymes!) :)

Anyways, we arrived at Roma Termini and look for our station on metro bus ride... we took our tickets from the ticket machines and move on... it was the first terminal that I've seen that looks more like a mall outside the train rails. On the other hand, the metro bus feels more like the MRT in Manila with less crowd... well, more like the train station in New York that you've seen from the movies. With our luggage tucked with us, we find the bus for our stop, and move with the crowd to get into the ride... and the first language that I've heard from inside the bus was... Filipino. I heard it because they are the only ones talking. Well, we love to talk in general.. comfort rooms, airport terminals, grocery stores, and buses are no different. Small world, indeed. So, it's inevitable that I looked around and there I saw a group of Filipino workers going home from work. I think two of them looked my way with a smile and a question in their eyes “Is she a Filipina?”... a smile back from me acknowledge that. That point, I felt a little home. When people started to get off the bus, I find myself sitting next to one of them. We had a small talk, what brings me there and what brings her there. She is a mother from Batangas going home to her apartment from work. She was working for years already in Rome and I can sense from her voice that she misses her family. I have only been in Europe for more than a week, and during these times I'm more engrossed in going through from one place to the other but at that moment, my heart missed my family back home. When we got off the bus, I shove that melancholy moment out and get back to the reason why I was there, i.e. to experience Europe... as a Filipina. And besides, I have to collect as much stories and experience as I can to be able to share it with my family and friends back home. They will not forgive me if I just went to Europe and cry my heart out missing them. And I don't intend to do that. Not in Rome.

Strong man...and Italian police

We walk on that night to find our apartment... good thing it wasn't that hard to find it. The hostess warmly greeted us and tour us around the place. But the interesting demonstration was the door. It was one of those big hardwood doors with big keys. Sorry, that's the only description I can give with this door. But she made it sound complicated that it's important that we know the tricks. It's so important that she even have to see us practice opening the door. My partner did it and after a successful first shot, in an admiring tone she looked at me and said “You're a lucky girl, you have a strong man.” I just looked at him... smirked.. superman successfully opened the door.. now, this adds up to our list of inside jokes. :D I tried opening the door myself but to no avail (maybe once, I was successful)... I was lucky after all... so, when you travel to Rome, make sure that you have a “strong” man with you or you are as strong as a man :D.. Rome has crazy big doors, you don't want to find yourself locked out of your apartment.

Anyways, moving on... since our place is just a stone throw away from the Vatican... we decided to have a walk on St. Peter's Square. It was already late, around 10pm, so there wasn't much people around... and you can really see the HUGE basilica to yourself. I'm still out-of-reality hazily wandering my eyes around the square. Gosh, I am stepping on St. Peter's Square. The only time that I usually get to see this place if there are news from the Vatican like the interment of Pope John Paul II or the election of the new Pope. They always show this place as a backdrop in their news and now here I am. After a few walks around the square, my daze and wonder was interrupted by an Italian police car telling us that the square is closed. The square is closed?! That was a bit disappointing. Note to self, Italian police are not charming at all.

Pizza... Pizza... and... Rissoto

One of the things that I love about traveling is the food, of course. And since I'm in Italy, it's super common that you get to taste their list of standard pizza. I was trying to remember the names of these pizzas but the one that just struck me was, Fungi. Unfortunately, my stomach was not in the mood. I guess, it was fed up with all the different kinds and amount of cheeses that I consumed. There was even a pizza that just contains 4-layer of cheese on it. My stomach just needs a breather. So on our first night, we just looked for something familiar, and there I met Risotto. It was so tasty that I forgot all the pizza that I've tasted. Maybe one day I'll get my hands on doing this... and also Ribollita. Good idea for Christmas. :)

Trail of the Bronze Door

Mission: To get this ticket for the Papal audience
Back in the apartment and after walking through St. Peter's Square, I was already eager to already check my to-do list related to Rome, and I just realized that it's just #8. Since the basilica is just nearby, this one is easy. While browsing on what to do & see in Rome, I remembered that the Vatican have Papal audience every wednesday. I never really place this on my to-do-list because it might not be so easy to just get in and see the Pope. And true enough, the website states that you should make reservations at least 2 weeks before and we only have 2 days before the Papal audience. But since we are already there, we just have to take the chance if we can get any tickets. So our journey to the bronze door began.

The very next day, we just went to the Information office of the Vatican to ask where we can get a tickets for the audience. She just mentioned to get into the bronze door. We're not so sure if she means a colored bronze door or a door made of bronze. I just thought that maybe Europeans just have a more fancy name for color brown because I was sure it's not the latter. So we passed the security check, look around St. Peter's square once more and could not see any door that looks like an entrance except the door to the basilica. We then, choose to enter into the basilica.

Moving around the basilica, we did not find any bronze door. The only door that we found was a huge brown door but it's locked and doesn't looked like it's an entrance to anything. (On a side note, the basilica is super duper huge. More on this on my next entry). We asked one of the guards where's the entrance to get the ticket to the Papal Audience, and he mentioned that it's the “bronze door” outside with the Swiss guards. Again, the bronze door.

So we went out and immediately outside, on the side of the basilica was a gate guarded by the Swiss guards. The look on these guards totally says No Entry to civilians. Although, there are some quite a number of tourists nearby, they are taking pictures of the of the guards rather than there to get some tickets. And there doesn't seem anyone else whom you can imagine asking questions about a ticket, other than the guards. Well, there's no harm in trying. So I went ahead to the direction of the gate... imagine, me walking alone on a clear street to the gate with a lot of eyes looking at me like “where the heck is she going?”. True enough about the No-Entry-look, immediately one of the guards met me a distance from the door and asked what I wanted. The same statement that I've asked before, i.e. where's-this-bronze-door-where-I-can-get-the-ticket. He mentioned the gate on the other side of the column. It was only after that I realize, the gate they were guarding was the actual entrance to the Vatican compound.

Our final pitstop for the quest of the bronze door.
Anyways, we moved on looking for that elusive bronze door. There we saw another metal gate, light blue in color with a pair of swiss guards. This time, they look more “friendly”. So, I just asked the same question. One of them, asked me how many will I need and I just said 2. He said wait and went to the guard house cubicle to get something. He gets back bringing 2 tickets and just told us to be on that same gate an hour before the specified time to get better seats. And I was like, “That's it? This is the bronze door?” I was more surprised of finding how the bronze door really looked rather than having the tickets on my hand. :D Going through all that, it was both not-easy and easy to get the tickets. Well, maybe the latter, if you know where the bronze door is.

In the end, it's mission accomplished. Next is to know what's beyond the bronze door. :)