In July 1996, I accompanied my mom to a World Blind Union conference in Madrid. On our way back to the Philippines, we passed by and stayed in Paris and Rome for a few days.
The first thing that came to my mind when my mom told me we were going to Rome was “pasta!”
Some of the most unforgettable places we visited include the Fontana di Trevi and the Colosseum. Throwing three coins in the fountain of Fontana di Trevi was a dream come true for me. As a teenager, I always wondered what it felt like to do so. I didn’t see my fairy godmother, but I did feel good. Really good, I wanted to dance (I didn’t, of course!).
My Colosseum experience was a bit different. Mommy and I went inside with the other tourists who went there early in the morning. When I saw the pit where the Christians were supposedly kept (as prisoners), I felt the hairs on my arms and neck stand. I choked back tears. It was like some negative emotion was all over me. Good thing my mom didn’t want to stay long inside. We went out and decided to go for a walk and continue exploring.
On our second day in Rome, we went to Vatican City and visited St. Peter’s Square and Basilica. It was a very memorable and meaningful experience; one that I will never forget.
I remember leaving mommy sitting and praying the Holy Rosary in one of the pews as I explored the basilica. I walked around the place in a daze. I kept pinching and telling myself it’s not a dream; that I was really there. I went underground and saw the tombs of some of the popes.
I also remember standing in front of the Pieta (which was enclosed in a glass case) in awe. I don’t recall crying or feeling anything; I just stood there, mesmerized. It was like Jesus was right in front of me!
After almost an hour, I went back to fetch my mom. I was surprised to see her crying while praying the Rosary. She said her tears just fell. I’d like to think they were happy tears.
Mommy and I then walked around Vatican City. We found a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and I had the BEST spaghetti meal there. Even now, I can still remember how mouthwatering and juicy the tomatoes were. My plate was filled with pasta and tomatoes – nothing else. To this day, I’m still looking for spaghetti that’s as Italian as that Vatican City feast I had!
(Tip for those who want to visit the Basilica: wear appropriate clothes. Shorts, sleeveless tops, slippers, tattered jeans, and anything your parents ask you not to wear to Mass are all prohibited.)
My mom and I stayed at an inn in Rome. It was on the third floor; if I remember it right. There was no air conditioning system, but it was cool even if we were there in the summertime.
Rome was where I first experienced riding in a Mercedes Benz taxicab – and we paid using mommy’s credit card!
Our Paris adventure started with a comedic experience. My mom and I were supposed to be fetched by friends from the Philippine Embassy. After almost an hour of waiting, I was ready to give up and told my mom we’d better stay in one of the airport hotels. So, I went around Charles de Gaulle to look for an ATM, forgetting the fact that it was already around 4 am in the Philippines (remember, this was in 1996). I went to all the CDG buildings but didn’t find any ATM that was online. So, we had only over 100 French Francs.
When I got back to where I left mommy, she asked me to bring her to the nearest payphone. She called the Philippine Embassy and that was when we found out that the party that was supposed to fetch us was at the Orly Airport, not at Charles de Gaulle! The Orly, if I remember it right, was on the opposite side of Paris and quite far from where we were. My mom and I had a good laugh (she forgot to tell them we were landing at CDG) and went to the tourist help desk. Thank God there was an airport shuttle that could take us to Hotel Sofitel for free!
I had a lot of fun in Paris. I love the city and contrary to what some of my friends and relatives told me, the people there were accommodating and friendly. One even accompanied my mom and I all the way to Marks & Spencer when we asked for directions to the nearest toilet (from the subway).
We stayed with Filipino friends, so we were able to eat rice and adobo. The family we stayed with – the Beldas – owned the restaurant Aux Illes Philippine; the wife was the daughter of the late culinary genius Nora Daza.
I spent my afternoons in Paris walking along River Seine, simply enjoying the sights. It’s an experience I won’t trade for anything else!
I had fun at Parc Disneyland in Paris. And, of course, the Eiffel Tower took my breath away! I also marveled at the beauty of the Opera House. We saw many beautiful, breathtaking, and inspiring structures because we walked around a lot.
I remember eating steak and lots and lots of potatoes at a small restaurant on Champs-Elysees. I was also quite lucky as I caught the tail-end of that year’s Tour de France while waiting for the hotel shuttle near Arc de Triomphe.
My mom and I had the chance to go inside Notre Dame de Paris. Although there was some renovation work ongoing, we were still allowed to explore the cathedral. I took a lot of photos (no flash!) because I wanted to remember the experience forever.
Paris was also where mommy and I met Paul, a Frenchman who loved Filipinos and the Philippines. He was a joy to be with and was well-loved by the Filipino community there. He was the one who taught us where to go and which places to explore.
Madrid will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s everything I want in a city. I had fun walking around and visiting museums. It’s so PWD-friendly! I did not have a difficult time guiding my mom, who was already 98% blind at that time, because they had facilities for the disabled practically everywhere (i.e. their sidewalks are made of cobblestones). They also had a tourist booth on practically every corner!
I loved spending time in Madrid’s side street cafes, eating potato chips, and drinking Fanta. I spent more than an hour going around a 4-story bookstore – where I found a book about River Phoenix. Budget was quite tight, so I didn’t buy the book. That was one of my biggest regrets of that trip. Anyway, it was my first time to see so many books in one building! At that time, we had no Fully Booked and Powerbooks yet. So, it was a completely new and exhilarating experience for me.
When everyone was having their afternoon siesta, I went out to explore the streets of Madrid. I even remember going around the neighborhood of the hostel where we stayed – because my mom wanted some Fanta and bread & butter. And I was craving Madrid’s thick, creamy, frothy, and oh-so-delicious el chocolate caliente (hot chocolate). I also got addicted to hot, fresh churros.
We stayed in an apartelle that had an old fashioned lift. Our room had two single beds, a toilet & bath, a TV set, cabinets, and a small kitchen area with a mini-ref.
Before leaving for Paris, my mom and I joined a tour group and explored the walled city of Avila. It was a beautiful adventure! I love the mix of old and new structures – most of them were made of bricks. I saw the chapel of St. Therese of Avila, one of my favorite saints.
One of the tour stops was a small, quaint restaurant located somewhere on the way to Avila. We had steak for lunch, but what I’ll never forget is the conversation I had with my mom when dessert was served.
As my mom had very little vision left, I made it a point to describe all the food served to us. When the dessert bowl was placed on the table, I told my mom, “Mommy, I don’t know what it is but it looks really sweet. It looks like leche flan, but it’s not. It also has custard, I think. But it’s definitely not leche flan!” My mom laughed. We ate it, anyway. Later on, I found out that it was actually the Spanish version of crème brûlée. I wasn’t able to take a photo of it, but this is what it looks like:
We also went to Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Dead) and a palace that had small doors – a lot of small doors. I remember one of the doors leading to the chapel in the middle of the palace.
Likewise, mommy and I had the chance to dine at Restaurante Botin, which is said to be the oldest restaurant in the world. It is also known as a favorite dining spot of the great Ernest Hemingway. Anyway, we tried their roast suckling pig (lechon de leche) and had some red wine. What a satisfying feast that was! It’s one of my favorite memories of our Madrid trip.
I wasn’t able to take a photo of the restaurant’s facade (I had an Instamatic, remember?), but I found this on Wikimedia Commons:
I also had the chance to explore their art walk, where I found a 4-story museum. I enjoyed going around and exploring all the world-class artworks on display. There was a gift shop, but the only thing I could afford where postcards, so I bought several.
Madrid is a place I’d definitely love to explore over and over again!
Our European trip is something I will forever hold close to my heart, especially since it was the last time I traveled with my mom. I wish to go back there one day.
Below are some of the other photos of my Europe trip. I have yet to scan all the other photos in my collection. Hopefully, I’ll be able to add them here soon! (These photos were taken with a Kodak Instamatic camera.)
Tour de Eiffel.
Arc de Triomphe.
My mom and Charlemagne.
St. John the Baptist inside the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Me at Fontana di Trevi.
St. Peter’s Basilica.
Arco di Constantino in Rome.
A building in Madrid.
A coffee shop in Madrid. Mommy and I spent a lot of time here.
The beautiful walled city of Avila in Spain.