Friday, June 30, 2017

Our Pope-loving Roman Holiday

Rome is one of my favorite cities in the world and a visit to this Eternal city evokes sweet memories of holidays spent there during my younger years.  I visited Italy with family, friends and sweethearts throughout the years on different occasions.  Truth to tell, I never had a visit there that I did not enjoy to the hilt.  Rome is a city where the ancient and the modern overlap seamlessly and this is exactly the elements that I love about this city! 

This year, I was blessed and fortunate to be invited by Chef Jessie to join her and some close friends to an informal audience with Pope Francis at St. Peter's Square. During my long flight to Rome aboard Turkish Airlines, I could not help but reminisce about some romantic interludes I had during my youth in this historical city.  I guess youth gives one a license to be in love with life and love, most especially in a city as aesthetically beautiful as Rome, where every piazza has a fountain, a magnificent monument, a work of art, and gilded churches.

Fontana di Trevi where tourists throw coins and make a wish

The Pantheon, a former temple is now a church
which exhibits precious works inside

 The Pieta - inside the St. Peter's Basilica

Music in the street, serenaded by these 2

But that is veering away from my recent Roman holiday where I spent 9 glorious days with close friends. We all arrived in Rome on different flights on May 8 except for Vicky Schmid who arrived from Germany on May 9.  My room mate, Lily O' Boyle and I met at our charming hotel, the Albergo Sta. Chiarra on May 8.   Marc and Hera Geriene and Chef Jessie Sincioco were coming in from Lake Como.  Prior to our trip, we all agreed that we would meet at St. Peter's Square on May 9 at 11 AM. 

It was a happy reunion right there near the entrance of the Basilica at St. Peter's Square. Chef Jessie, accompanied by Sister Anna, (a Sister living at the Vatican), walked us to our meeting place on May 10, which is the most important day of our trip, our "raison d'être" of being in Rome!  It was our "rendezvous -with -Pope-Francis day!"  The Pope was arriving at 9:30 and it was best that we took our seats before he arrived so Sister Anna instructed us to be at our meeting place at 8AM.   Sister Anna toured us around the private areas of the Vatican grounds and pointed to us the Vatican's bank, the private chapel of the Swiss guards, and the Pope's quarters. I was in awe of the whole experience and felt like I was walking on holy grounds during biblical time.  

We had lunch at a local restaurant in a nearby street, Borgo Pio, which was hosted by Marc and Hera Geriene to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.  The celebration continued in the evening at Vecchia Roma, this time hosted by Vicky Schmid.   

While waiting for the Gerienes and Chef Jessie
at St. Peter's Square, Lily O Boyle, Vicky Schmid and I strike a pose

Finally we are complete

Gelato break

This Security member of the Pope's entourage
to Manila recognized Chef Jessie!  She is a celebrity!

Another friend of Chef Jessie

Cheers to Hera and Marc! Wishing you another 25 and more years

Anniversary lunch with the group

At Vecchia Roma, a toast to our abundant blessings

The celebration continues in the evening
at Vecchia Roma, hosted by Vicky Schmid

Each to her own pose! Marc, our photographer
was amused. # Vecchia Roma dinner

The informal audience with Pope Francis was surreal.  How can a human being have such a forceful effect on thousands of people present in the square with everyone chanting "Papa Francesco!"   I felt my tears rolling down my cheeks the minute I saw him- he had such a Godly presence!!! I felt so blessed and privileged to be given this chance to be in the presence of Pope Francis and listen to his homily of the day's Gospel reading. 

I have so much love and admiration for Pope Francis and I think he is a living Saint! This was indeed the highlight of our trip, and I am sure everyone felt the same.  

While waiting for Pope Francis. 
I forgot my hat and it was a sunny day!

The Papal chair is waiting

I felt so blessed listening to Pope Francis' homily in Latin

Pope Francis stayed on and blessed the crowd

The main altar inside the Basilica

Hera and Marc taking their selfie

After the Pope left, we stayed longer in
 St. Peter's Square to wait for the Basilica to open

5 days in Rome seemed really short- there were still too many iconic sites and restaurants to revisit, but for lack of time, we reserved it for next time.  But we made sure to go to the Spanish Steps and have drinks at the prestigious Hassler Hotel with no less than the owner himself, Roberto Wirth and his heir apparent, Robertino. We also visited the many boutiques around that area.  An exhibit of the famous painter Caravaggio at the Scuderie del Quirinale was ongoing and Lily and I made sure not to miss that one.

When in Rome, drink Proseco!

At the Spanish Steps, a flower vendor
offered me flowers for FREE!
Vicky said- don't accept, nothing is free in touristic
places!  She was right!

At Dal Bolognese, Vicky and I met a lovely English couple

At the Hassler's Palm Garden, Vicky, Lily and I had high tea

Lily and I met with Hassler owner dynamic Roberto Wirth
and heir apparent Robertino Wirth

We all parted ways in Rome, except for Lily and myself.  We proceeded to Milan, another favorite Italian city, located in the northern Lombardi region.  It is a global capital of fashion and design.   Home to the national stock exchange, it is a financial hub also known for its high-end restaurants and shops.  Milan is the industrial city of Italy and is not as antiquated as Rome.  Our hotel, the Buscolo Milano was very modern.   Unlike Rome, the streets are paved and  not made of cobbled  stones. The main attraction for me is the Duomo, the Gothic Cathedral church of Milan, dedicated to St. Mary of the Nativity ( Santa Maria Nascente).  It took 6 centuries to build the Duomo and is the 5th largest church in the world .  The Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel, an arcade that carries famous brands boutiques,  the Castello Sforzesco which is a grand medieval castle, and the UNESCO's World Heritage Site, Sta Maria alle Grazie Basilica, containing one of the world's most famous paintings-Leonardo da Vinci's the Last Supper, are among the places that draw tourists to Milan.  

The sitting area of Buscolo Milano's cocktail lounge

Mia and Liam call her Nona

Alvi and kids joined us in Milano

In our ultra modern hotel, even the pillars are psychedlic

The bike that matched my outfit was not for rent

When we arrived at our hotel, Lily's son Alvi and his two precautious kids, Mia and Liam were there to meet us.  They arrived earlier in the day from Zurich to celebrate Mother's Day week-end with Mommy Lily.  It was delightful to see Alvi who I met as a teenager in NYC in the mid-90s.  Tall and handsome, Alvi has become a responsible family man, a loving husband to wife Larisa and a doting father to his two adorable kids.  We re-discovered Milan together with them, whatever we could cover during that short span of time.   

Shopping is a big temptation in Rome and Milan.  We love Italian brands and needless to say, we spent a lot of time in their boutiques particularly Gucci, D& G, Alberta Ferretti, to name a few.   We would have wanted to experience La Scala, but during our short stay, they did not have a show that was interesting for us to watch. 

                                   The impressive Duomo

The Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle is a feast to the eyes

The D&G models were having a street pictorial

This shoes at Gucci are not made for walking but Lily loved them

Our last meal in Milano
at the Arengario restaurant had a view of the Duomo

Parting is always such sweet sorrow!  Speaking for myself, I felt a tinge of sadness when Lily dropped me off at my terminal at Milano's Malpensa airport to board my Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul, my last stop, en route to Manila.  She was flying off to her home, New York City, my favorite city in the USA.  All good things must come to an end, but with Lily and me and the other members of our travel entourage, it is never good bye! Au Revoir,  mes cheres Amis, till we see each other again!