You are probably asking yourself now: “How could this guy travel to Rome amidst this pandemic, with quarantine restrictions still being imposed all over the world?”
Well, I didn’t…my mind did.
Being a senior citizen who, unfortunately, the IATF thinks does not know how to protect himself or take precautions from the rage of this virus, I have been under “house arrest” for more than a year now. Being a global traveler who is suddenly “restricted to quarters” for a long period of time can be a big blow to one’s psyche.
So, to keep my sanity intact, I always remind myself that I live in an imperfect world and I can still be happy by seeing beyond these imperfections. I often allow my playful mind to hark back to my many foreign trips in the past and relive each of them, in the comforts of my bedroom. To complete such dewy-eyed moments, I even play songs that remind me of the places I visited.
Today, I fondly recall my very first trip to Europe and what led to such choice of destination.
I’ve declared many times in the past that I am a cinephile because watching movies was the most popular form of recreation during my growing up years in Cebu. One movie that struck me when I was still in grade school was the black-and-white Hollywood film, Roman Holiday, starring a very young Audrey Hepburn and the tall, dashing Gregory Peck. This awesome travelogue opened my eyes to the beautiful attractions of Rome. Then, when I was in high school, another captivating movie set in the same city, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, this time in Technicolor, further heightened my desire to experience the city’s tourist spots.
This is why I chose Rome for my first European vacation when I earned my first free ticket a year after I joined Pan Am, the airline that hired me fresh out of college. While all my other coemps used their first Trip Pass to go eastward, to visit the USA, I used mine to go the other way, to the “Eternal City,” my heart’s long-desired destination.
As I now reminisce about that trip, I’m also listening to the lilting sounds of Arrivederci Roma, Volare, O Sole Mio, Three Coins In The Fountain, etc. to further heighten my enjoyment.
On the way to my downtown hotel from Rome’s Fiumicino airport, now called Leonardo da Vinci, I was so thrilled to see immediately one of the attractions in my must-see list, the Roman Colosseum. I remember having asked the driver to stop for a while so I could take a nice photo but he said something in Italian which sounded like a “no,” so I took some Liras from my wallet and waved them at him while saying “extra, extra.” He understood my bribe and rattled off again in Italian, together with some hand gestures, which I interpreted as telling me that he would have to go to the side street because he couldn’t stop on the main road. So, for a few Liras more, I was able to capture on film myself in front of the historical icon, taken by the driver, as selfies were still unheard of those days.
Resting only for a few minutes after checking in at my hotel, I wasted no time in heading towards the next attraction on my list, the Fontana Di Trevi, the most famous fountain in the world, setting for the movie and the song, Three Coins In The Fountain. Since it was only two blocks from my hotel, I was there in five minutes. This marble fountain is the largest baroque fountain in Rome and marks the point where the three aqueducts that supplied water to ancient Rome converge.
Of course, when I got there, I immediately positioned myself to do what the other thousands of tourists do—throw coins. I made sure I did it correctly, using my right hand to throw the coin backwards over my left shoulder, so that it landed on the water, as this would mean that there would be another chance for me to visit Rome again. If it clinks and lands on any of the marble structure in the fountain, Rome will not be in any future trips. I can’t recall how many coins I tossed but, since that first visit, I’ve had the opportunity to go back to Rome five times.
Another popular attraction I had to be in was the Spanish Steps leading to the Piazza di Spagna below it, a setting for many Hollywood movies I’ve seen in my childhood. There is something romantic about the 135 steps that go up the steep slope from the Piazza below to the Spanish Embassy on top (how this attraction got its name). People just sit on the steps, usually with a cone of gelato on hand, while chatting and enjoying the mild sunshine and the cool breeze from all directions. An interesting structure next to the right side of the first few steps used to be the house of the famous English Romantic poet, John Keats. It is now a museum exhibiting his works.
There were many other tourist destinations I visited on my first trip to Rome. Although my current high-spirited mind still wants to gallivant to those interesting sites, my column’s space constraints dictate that I tackle them some other time.
Let me now turn off my CD player and get back down to Earth…to my bedroom…as I look forward to my next mental escapade to foreign shores. Tomorrow, perhaps?
YOUR WEEKEND CHUCKLE
BOB HOPE (when asked about his six brothers): That’s how I learned to dance. Waiting for the bathroom.
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