Rome, Italy

"Hope springs eternal" - and thankfully, it didn't take an eternity to locate our missing bags. The staff at Hotel Rimini, where we are staying, informed us about their late delivery last night when we were already asleep. Ah, I could have been roused from sleep and still thank them profusely for it!

After a hearty breakfast at the hotel and a change of fresh clothes, we took the subway for our scheduled guided tour of the Vatican Museum at 10:00 this morning. Wise idea to have pre-booked it as we didn't have to join the kilometric queue to the main entrance - we were allowed entrance through the exit doors of the museum. Talk about some VIP treatment!

There are many museums worth visiting and the Vatican Museum is certainly a must. It is an exemplary museum housing a collection of priceless objects worthy of a lifetime visits. Visiting the museum in a half day only couldn't possibly enable anyone to comprehend the complexity of its richness. The Sistine Chapel for one, perhaps the museum's piece de resistance, needs several visits to fully appreciate the wonders of Michaelangelo's genius. After restoration work was done on the chapel's frescoes, the colors are now more vibrant and more mesmerizing as many heads gaze up in unison. Standing there in the middle, I was awed by another fact: this is the exact spot where Popes are elected.

Feeling giddy after such a visit to the museum, we all walked along the Vatican's massive walls until we reached one of the world's most beautiful squares - the St. Peter's Square surrounded by the motherly embrace of Bernini's colonnades. It's been one of my dreams to visit this great bastion of Roman Catholicism. My jaw dropped at the sight of St. Peter's Basilica.

Nothing outside of the basilica could prepare you for what's inside, not even the numerous TV footages I've seen all these years. To see it in person is like seeing a celebrity in flesh.

Right after entering one of its huge bronze doors, you encounter Michaelangelo's "Pieta", another masterpiece worth several visits. The sculpture is now glass-enclosed after a vandal attempted to destroy it but it has not diminished the divine aura of a grieving Mother Mary with Jesus Christ on her lap. The basilica's main altar is magnificent, capped by Michaelangelo's massive dome. You really have to crane your neck up high to fully understand its immensity.

We went to the crypt beneath the basilica's main floor and joined others in silence as we paid our respects at the tomb of Pope John Paul II who passed away only last April. Nearby is the tomb purportedly containing St. Peter's bones. Other popes are also buried here. Despite the constant flow of people parading through here, there's still an air of solemnity.

We exited the basilica and out into the square again. Castel Sant'Angelo, a fortress beside the Tiber river, is at the opposite end of the road leading to St. Peter's Square. Though tired from all that walking in the museum and the basilica, we trudged upon Ponte Sant'Angelo, one of Rome's many bridges spanning the Tiber.

We walked some more while trying to make sense of the map I was holding and hoping I could navigate and steer ourselves towards the Spanish Steps. We got hungry and luckily, we met one Filipina nanny while waiting for a bus who gave us directions on where to find the best Pinoy food in town.

There's certainly a good Filipino community in Rome - and many of them gravitate towards this church (I just couldn't remember the name!). In one of the buildings adjoining the church, the Filipinos have been provided access to a communal hall where gatherings are held - in this case tonight, an impromptu restaurant.Gleefully, Ate Emma, Leah, Sonny and I feasted on adobo, dinuguan and tortang talong. I was so hungry I ate so much! That was an unforgettable Pinoy dinner in a foreign land indeed. The cost: only 5 euros each.

I wanted to cap the night with a visit to the Spanish Steps. Our map pointed us towards the Via Condotti, a pedestrian street full of designer shops - Prada, Bulgari, you name it - this is Rome's ritziest shopping area. At the end of this glamorous strip is the Spanish Steps, immortalized in many movies - even a Pinoy flick ("Milan"). Like what everyone else does there, we just sat on the steps, stretched our weary legs and watched the world go by...for a few minutes. This is one way of living la dolce vita!

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