Day 1: To Rome with Love…

Colosseo, romeYesterday was the last day of Paris Fashion Week, and with that the menswear fashion month madness officially came to a close. As soon as the Saint Laurent show concluded, the Atelier Versace couture show begun. Could you believe that? Fashion seems like a never-ending parade in Paris. I’m seriously pondering a move to Paris in my next life just because of the whole fashion scene alone. If you have your mind on menswear only, then see you in January for fall/winter collections. But if you’re a fashion junkie like me who digests just about anything fashion, we don’t have to wait long since September can’t come soon enough. I do have a few more posts about the menswear shows in Milan and Paris in store, so stay tuned.

Now is the perfect time to start sharing with y’all my recent expedition to The Old Continent. This time last month, my sister and me embarked upon our 3-week trip to Italy and France. My European dream finally materialized at such an opportune time after so many missed opportunities. I felt like I was able to appreciate everything that the two countries have to offer much better this time than, say, four years ago when I was still this clueless kid from the third world in college.

Also, before I left for the trip, I left my office job which I had been toiling away at since late last year but didn’t even remotely align to my personal goals or interests. I became a free agent and had virtually no care in the world, which afforded me the opportunity to enjoy Europe to the fullest. You’d have no idea how petrified I was at the merest thoughts of having to check work emails, field phone calls, or respond to this or that request bla bla yadda yadda when I was away. How the hell in the world would that be possible when I wasn’t even happy doing all of that in the office? Just between you and me, I was actually pretty worried about my future, since I decided then that I had reached my tipping point and wouldn’t put myself in the same rut again. However, it’s infinitely easier for me to be employed in the financial services sector given my economic background and previous work experience than in fashion or arts. Fashion-related jobs are also few and far between in this “lovely” third-world country to boot. That being said, my all-time high level of excitement wasn’t affected much by that expected turn of event. Meh.

After a very uneventful flight with a brief layover in Bangkok, we touched down at Rome Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport at 6.30-ish in the morning. The aerial view of Rome from the airplane was beautiful and different from the usual views I saw flying in and out of the States. You know, in New York, it’s all about a gazillion well-lit skyscrapers jostling for your attention. Or the sprawling suburbs extending off towards the horizon in L.A. From afar, Rome is made of ancient sites and ruins flanked by either greenish or yellowish fields, which, God forbids, bear a striking, albeit more beautiful and organized resemblance to those in my third-world country.

I was extremely excited upon arriving because I didn’t get to travel anywhere far except for a few neighboring countries in South East Asia during the past year. The trip for me was as much about sightseeing, cuisine and shopping as it was about being sandwiched by white, sculpted cheekbones and sexy Europeans practically 24/7. LOL. No, I actually saw a lot of Asians, but my constant interaction was with Italians, Americans or Australians to name just a few. Fact: Americans were everywhere in Italy. Indeed, I was able to smell them miles and miles away, not just because of their accent but also because of their looks and manners. I guess stereotypes exist for a reason. They were all nice and polite, though. A family from Colorado I spoke with briefly said Italy is the perfect safe choice for Americans due to shared cultural background and such. Comfort zone much?

Architecturally speaking, Rome airport is underwhelming. But the quick and simple customs clearance procedures even during the wee hours of the morning made up for it. Soon enough I was on the way to my B&B apartment.

Many of you who have traveled to Europe before or will travel to Europe soon know this, but for anyone who doesn’t: in Europe, one type of accommodation is Bed & Breakfast (B&B), which is essentially an apartment with a few rooms for rent. Guests are provided breakfast. It operates like a hotel, but I personally find B&B way more comfortable and better value for the money. Ours is Maison De Julie.

It’s economical, clean and walkable to all important attractions and bus/subway stations. Another perk is that the hotel is located in a not-too-touristy area, so it was super fun watching the locals go about their businesses and Italian men sipping espresso in their suits and ties in the morning. Trust me, it’s not a far cry from what’s depicted on street style blogs. Here’s a shot of our block. Don’t you think it has an uncanny resemblance to SoHo New York? I certainly did. Sorry Rome, but I’m not completely over New York yet.

_DSC0007After breakfast and a quick change, we immediately headed out to explore Rome. I don’t know if it was due to the national holiday or not, but Sunday morning in Rome was empty and incredibly peaceful, something I surely didn’t expect of Rome.

Before making our way to the legendary Colosseum, we wandered around aimlessly for a while, which is what I strongly urge everyone to do because it’s the only surefire way to unearth a fair share of hidden, off-the-beaten-track gems. I figure this is where the problems lie with most people visiting Rome. Rome gets a bad rap from people I know for being overcrowded, morbidly pricey and fairly run-down. My hunch is they were too focused on all those energy-draining “must-see” or “must-do” activities, and thus failed to see Rome in more intimate ways. My experience with Rome was totally the opposite. Where else would you see a chef take a nap undisturbed in a lovely corner like this?

_DSC0037We got to the Colosseum early in the afternoon. As expected, the crowd was crazy, and the line was long. It was quite sunny but windy so it wasn’t that bad, fortunately.

My second Rome travel tip for you is to get the Roma Pass, which costs 34 euros if you’re in Rome for a few days. The card gives you free access to the first two sites, and then you pay half or a discounted price for all other places, Vatican City excluded. The smart way to use it is to use it for the most expensive sites first, such as the Colosseum (12 or maybe 13 euros) and Villa Borghese (11 euros or a bit more, I think). You won’t have to queue anywhere. Trust me, the line in Italy and Paris can be a real bitch, especially on scorching hot days. Spare yourself the trouble and be VIP for once in your life, alright?

The Colosseum is as colossal and legendary as it’s touted. I kept asking myself how they managed to build such a magnificent work so early on. It was really surreal! Then, we headed to the Roman Forum and Palentine Hill.

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_DSC0046 _DSC0045We spent 2 hours in total there, which was definitely not enough. But there’s only so much architecture and arts I can absorb before my brain gets saturated and becomes scrambled eggs. LOL. The rest of the afternoon was about walking as much as humanely possible, and oh boy we discovered so many solid gems. Colors and textures were all over the place. LOVE!_DSC0087 _DSC0091 I left my heart on these streets…_DSC0093 _DSC0095 _DSC0108_DSC0115 _DSC0116 _DSC0126Whenever I travel, the control freak in me is at its worst. I need to know everything there’s to know about the place. For instance, I was so anal that I prepared a list of restaurants in every neighborhood of all the cities I visited to pick and choose. It was only to make sure that we wouldn’t fall prey to the tourist traps.

We ended up in Piazza Navona after a walk that seemed like a millennium and dined at this restaurant. Finding this restaurant took all the brain cells we had left after a long day out and about as it’s on an off-track street. Without reservation, we almost couldn’t secure a table. From my observation, the guests were mostly locals or Italians so that was a good sign. After a little bit of waiting, the waiter was nice enough to offer us one last table in the corner, which most likely had been reserved. Maybe because we were the two exotic animals in there. HAHA. I ordered fruit salad and seabass, which were exceptional– probably the best I had in Rome. Foodgasm alert. I didn’t take pictures because the restaurant was candle-lit and thus super dark. I highly recommend everyone to give this one a try. _DSC0136Below are a few shots of Piazza Navona at night. I came back the following days during daytime, so I have a few more pictures to showcase. It was almost 11PM, so we decided to call it a day. Our first day in Rome was perfectly relaxing like that. I was already in love…_DSC0145 _DSC0143

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  • Phyllis

    Your pictures are fantastic! What camera did you use? I am looking for a new one and these pictures are a great reccomendation for the one you used. Thanks.

    • nakhoa2911

      Phylls- Mine is Nikon D5100. I use a couple of lens with it too (50 mm 1.8, 55-200 mm, and 18-55mm 3.5).