It was a full house at the Yocum home. W we had a total blast playing a BUNCH of games. Those guys are a hoot to be around. Our two families get laughing pretty good and the jokes just keep going. I love chatting with Olivia and laughing with Bree. The boys are always fun to play games with. Naomi makes us feel so loved and included. When we shared what we were thankful for around the table, it got nice and sentimental–it was nice. Luckily, Tyler accidentally forgot that the GoPro was on and we got the whole thing on camera. Ha ha! Good times.
Rome Jan 1
We didn’t do tons of research beforehand and decided to let the day unfold how it would. We started at the Colosseum and moved along the Roman Forum. There is so much to see! Ancient columns tell of an ancient city that was impressively prosperous and powerful. The craftmanship of these structures was clear. The forum wasn’t open to walk into so the green lawns were clear of the clutter of people making a beautiful scene to soak in. I loved watching the green parrots swoop between columns and through the soaring archways. Who knew green parrots live in Rome?! After the Forum we were swept into one of the many inviting alleyways alive with festive Christmas decoration and a market spirit. Tyler ended up in a clowns street performance act and performed marvelously. I couldn’t believe it when we turned another corner and an entire carnival opened up to our view. A carousel spun in the center of the square and brightly colored booths stood tucked between the roman fountains so common throughout the city. We had to stop and buy a long piece of stuffed licorice from the invitingly colorful candy stand to munch on as we perused the shops and stands. I basically had to drag Tyelr away from the nativity building booths where you can buy miniature anything to build your own nativity village. It was tempting indeed, but the price would have racked up fast and our bags don’t leave much room for souvenirs. We passed the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain, both of which earn their fame. By the end of the day, we were exhausted from walking all over the streets and tucked into some delicious Turkish kebab before snuggling in for the night.
Rome Jan 2
I LOVED the Sistine chapel! I thought it would be more of an obligatory visit to complete our time in Rome, but that image of God, who was surrounded by people close by, reaching, straining out towards Adam, who was alone and casually lifting a finger towards God. Man, just reach a little harder dude and imagine the resources and support you’d have! It really hit home for me. I’m glad that image comes to mind often now as I go throughout my day. Do I decide to pray before climbing into a warm bed? Do I read a few passages of scripture before the facebook scroll? How can I strain and reach back towards God? I loved standing there, looking up at the painting a hundred feet above me and feeling the impact of the message potrayed.
St Peter’s basilica was impressive in a very different way. I didn’t feel the spirit the same way there though. But it was grand to walk through and admire the sheer magnitude of the world’s biggest church. Tyler got positively lost in the grandeur of the place. I liked it when the priests came out for mass and sang as they walked, filling the huge room with the echoing sound of their praying voices. It really added to the experience. I also loved the use of real candles all lit up along the sides to bring more light and warmth to the room.
We also got to go inside the Colosseum, which was way awesome! It was way easy to visualize big competitions and performances of sorts with thousands of people filling the stands to watch. That place is so amazingly massive—way bigger than modern sports stadiums. We explored as many levels as we could reach and made sure to soak in the view from each angle. It’s truly astounding what ancient engineers knew how to do. I’m fully convinced that they had some technologies that have since been lost and now we just go about things in a different way. The Incan structures at Sacsaywaman in Peru come to mind. After the colosseum, we climbed to the top of a hill and watched the light turn pink in the late evening all over the old columns and archways of the Forum. It was a perfect Roman day.
After 3 days of traveling, our train crossed over open water and pulled into the station. We stepped off the train and into a watercolor painting. Venice is an enchanting city. No cars and only canals that connect the city together. Boats of all shapes and sizes nudge along the river edge and jostle for position in the main canal. Somehow in the side canals, they slide past each other easily, with seemingly no rules on direction or approach, but somehow all the drivers understand. After gawking at the unbelievably picturesque dome across the canal that greets travelers just off the train, we crossed over the large bridge and were immediately plunged into a maze of narrow cobbled streets lined with shuttered windows complete with hanging flower beds. The walls were an authentic jumble of color flaking away to show charming brick beneath. Weaving through the maze of narrow alleyways, we often came to canals with just the right arched bridge to cross to the other side. We also came to canals without any bridge and had to turn around. It’s a wonderful place to get lost in.
We found our Airbnb right in the heart of the city and after several unusual doors that paired with even more unusual skeleton keys, we settled into our room on the top floor. It had two shuttered windows that opened up right over a bustling alleyway. I quickly realized that I could lay in bed and just listen to the sounds of Venice right outside the window: clinking dishes at the café’s, boots ringing on the cobblestone, pigeons flapping to dodge those passing by. I loved to just lay there and listen in the early hours of the morning when Tyler was still asleep but the jet lag robbed sleep from me. I didn’t really mind though as I could listen to the shop owners getting ready for another busy day.
We had no plan for Venice. And really, that’s the way it should be experienced. We left our place without a destination or an agenda and simply allowed the flow of the canals sweep us along. We found magical little corners that I’m sure no visitor has ever seen before. It felt like walking through an MC Escher painting with all the archways, bridges, and canals winding every which way. We sat on a bench at the park square and quietly observed how the city moves. We scoped out the best cafes and discovered Italian pizza, pasta, and panini’s. Tyler loved trying all the gelato flavors while I snapped pictures, failing to capture the emotion of the city. We took it slow and soaked in as much of the flavor of Venice as we could.
We debated for three days on if we should go on a gondola ride or not. It was 90 euros for half an hour and with the conversion rate and exchange taxes it would have been well over 100 to do it. We finally decided against it and enjoyed the city in our own way, which I honestly think was more romantic. I loved to watch them float through the canals like a living painting. I only heard a few singing, but Tyler and I were humming the only Italian song we knew from Lady and the Tramp often as we strolled along. One gondola had a guitar player which accompanied the viaual beautifully. One square we stumbled across had an accordian player which added to the ambience immensely. I couldn’t believe how enchanting the whole experience was. Sure, there were many tourists in the apparently famous areas, but my favorite was discovering the quite parts. We found the cutest little café with plants growing in a canopy over the small tables that sat right by a canal with gondolas sliding past. We ordered pasta dishes and asked for water that came out in a glass bottle that the smartly dressed waiter popped open to fill our wine glasses. It all felt very European.
The best part of visiting Manila was watching Tyler just light up. He was SO excited to show me the little places he went to and the streets he walked. He know the good foods to get and the prime places to stop. I especially loved it when he would knock on a door and it would open up to screams of joy and surprise. These people were thrilled to have their missionary back in their home. I was truly honored to be taken along for the ride. Tyler jokes easily with them and clearly they shared a special relationship. One family made us dinner in their incredibly humble circumstances. Even on the dirt floors he looked totally at home. He took me down narrow alleyways with tiny homes piled on top of each other on each side. I could tell he really loved the people.
Traveling around Manila is like visiting carnival rides. I especially loved hitching a ride on the metallic jeep busses called jeepneys. They looked like giant toy cars clattering down the road. The first one we caught we were so excited to get in, we both barked our shins on the step up through the back. I rubbed my aching shin as all the passengers passed up their cash and we passed back change. To get off, you flick the roof with your finger and you can hop off anywhere. Sometimes the jeepney doesn’t even stop moving all the way.
Another carnival ride are the little side cars you can hop on for a lift. They’re TINY—not much higher than my elbow. It looks more like a motorcycle tumor than a real side car. But somehow Tyler and I origami’d ourselves inside to get to where we needed to be. Once inside—it’s hard to see our very well, so it’s a lot like a haunted house ride with unexpected jumps and lurching turns. Your view options are to look to the left at the motorcycle driver’s butt right at eye level, or to look to the right, with exhaust pipes right in your face. I preferred the jeepneys, but they couldn’t get down all the tiny streets we needed to navigate. As long as you have an adventurous spirit beforehand, the sidecar rides are a good time. 😉