I was in Rome, known as the Eternal City, but for two days in October 2019, but it left an indelible mark on me. Since the time was very short, rushing to the airport wearing my office clothes on a Friday night after work and returning to Paris on Sunday afternoon, I made sure to value every moment.
My friend and FSO batch mate, Bem, together with her husband Christian met me at the Rome Fiumicino Airport. That was already midnight, and Bem, despite having undergone a medical procedure at a hospital that day, still was there to welcome me. To our pleasant surprise and delight, we were both wearing clothes with exactly the same fabric and print! 😉
On Day 1, we walked around Rome, but not after we had a sumptuous breakfast prepared by Bem’s lola and spent some time with Sachi. We visited the Colloseum, Pantheon, Victor Emmanuel II National Monument, Palatine Hills, Roman Forum, Piazza di Spagna and Trevis Fountain. I made my wish at the Trevis Fountain, throwing coins over my shoulder. (Hmmm…. I wonder if that will come true, soon.) We sampled gelato at a shop near Pantheon. We visited some shops; I got some nice dresses and a caramel-colored coat (the design approved by Christian’s mom 😉 ). Then, we had a great dinner of pasta, pizza and stuffed olives (this was a really tasty entrée) in a nice and quiet Italian restaurant.
We also walked to the Vatican and took photos outside the St. Peter’s Basilica. By that time, it was midday and the queue to the church entrance was too long, so we decided to just visit the church the next day.
On Day 2, we were up so early to go to the St. Peter’s Basilica to hear the holy mass. We started to walk around 7:30am and was already there at the church vicinity around 8am. We sat near the aisle so that we could clearly see Pope Francis and the entire entourage when they walked towards the altar. Minute by minute, the church became full. We made small talk with two Filipina ladies beside us—one is a nun and the other was a solo traveler. The woman who was travelling alone and I agreed to go together in exploring the paintings and sculptures inside the church, and took turns taking each other’s photos. Then at past 10am, the church entourage assembled. Soon after, the holy mass began.
It was my first time to attend a holy mass in the St. Peter’s Basilica, officiated by Pope Francis, so it was really a heartwarming experience. It was an international mass so the language used were varied. The music was heavenly. Looking around while the entourage walked along the aisle, I saw people of different countries and races, with eager faces and smiles. The energy went up when Pope Francis came into view. At that moment, I felt like crying because of the scene around me, of so many people, together inside a church, all sharing one pure, lovely moment.
After the mass, we bought some religious items in a shop outside the church area. I noticed that the entire street was full of shops selling all sorts of religious items and souvenirs. There was one insistent Filipino who was encouraging us to go to a particular shop. However, Bem told me that they already have a “suki,” so naturally, we went there and bought several items. I got rosaries, a silver table décor bearing a sweet image of Mother Mary and baby Jesus, and some fridge magnets.
We then had a late breakfast of pastries and coffee, went inside the Pantheon to see the marvelous interior, then went back home to have lunch, prepared of course by Bem’s loving Lola. Then just after an hour’s rest, I was on my way to the airport, accompanied by Bem, Christian and Sachi. I was sad to leave (as always) but I was full of gratitude for a wonderful stay in Rome and for the conversations I had with Bem and her family and Sachi, and for seeing Bem and knowing she’s okay.
Visiting Rome made me love the city. It’s a place where history is alive. I could hear the clash of the gladiators’ weapons, their grunts of pain, the victorious sound of conquest and the saddening wail of defeat. I wondered how and why people would enjoy watching others fight to their death. I marveled at the ruins of once-proud structures with its famous architecture, which saw mighty leaders walked on the concrete floors and people gathered to make important decisions. I learned, too from my friend that a train project has been stalled for years because of new discoveries of ancient “treasures” here and there that prevent transportation constructions in some parts of Rome, to avoid destroying historical areas.
This made me think, if you were a country’s leader, what would be your decision? Will you choose conserving/preserving historical heritage over building modern structures seen as ushering progress? Will you preserve the authenticity of a place to encourage more tourists to visit? Or will you do that to maintain your country’s uniqueness? Or will you build transportation structures around historical and heritage areas to make sure that they’re accessible to the locals and tourists alike? These and many more questions were on my mind, as our eyes took in the views of the Eternal City.
I’d certainly love to go back to Rome and Vatican — to see my friend and her family, play with Sachi, sample Lola’s delicious cooking, and stroll around the city once again.