One day it just dawned on me that Isaac will be going away to university, how far away, we do not know, but we know for certain that he’s going away soon. This boy who was mama’s only little love for 7 years, who would bawl every time mama goes to the office, who would delight mama with new songs and dance moves every time I come home, who would go wherever mama goes and eat whatever mama eats, this boy has grown and is leaving the nest soon. He is closer to his daddy now, it’s as though one day he woke up and realized he has a father with whom he can relate better, who is infinitely more fun than mama’s nagging ways. They are always doing things together- playing basketball or tennis on Sundays, biking on Saturdays, watching Netflix shows episode per episode, sharing tacos and seaweeds and burgers, goofing around. When Paolo comes home, he asks the girls: where’s kuya? When Isaac comes out of his room, he asks me: si daddy?
I am thankful that they have bonded so well over the years. I don’t feel left out, honestly, especially since I’ve decided early on that parenthood is not a competition, and if it is, I would have zero chance anyway. But I do feel wistful. And these all came to a head one night when Isaac and I attended a university information evening at the OFS. They talked about tuition fees and living expenses but that’s not why I had the urge to cry. It suddenly hit me: too little time, so much bonding to do. So the next day, I booked a ticket for two to Paris and London. Kabog ang mag-amang bonding (and the competition is on! LOL!).
24-27 March 2018, Paris.
We left Singapore at 2:30am on March 24, on the heels of news about a terrorist attack in a supermarket just south of France. We were jittery of course, but we have a plane to catch, life goes on.
We arrived at 9:30 am, and waited for 2 hours for our suitcases to come out because of a rare technical glitch (or did the airport personnel say ‘switch’?). Some stations in Metro Line 4 from Gare du Nord were closed for renovations, so we had to switch lines and finally arrived at our Ibis Hotel past lunch. We freshened up and then made our way down to the hotel lobby to reunite with Jong, the bestfriend from MA Econ who is studying again at Sciences Po. Many moons ago, when I was in Paris, I sent Jong a postcard from Paris. I had a hard time communicating with the guy at the post office (pardon my French monsieur), until we resorted to sign language- him instructing me to lick the stamp and paste it in the postcard, and then drop it in the box outside, oui oui, that yellow box that says “international” s’il vous plait. My postcard did arrive, carrying my expressed hope to one day dance in the streets of Paris with Jong. Well, we did more than that when we finally met up in Grands Boulevards, Paris. We skipped and we laughed ourselves silly and we sample one French food and another, creating new memories together with my son Isaac. We went to Chateau Versailles, Marie Antoinette’s and King Louis XVI’s humble abode of mirror halls, golden rooms, and grand balconies overlooking vast manicured lawns and beautiful gardens decorated with fountains and sculptures and golden chariots.
Directions to Chateau de Versailles: Since RER C was closed due to the floods earlier in the year, we took Bus 171, the bus stop located at the terminal of metro line 9 (Pont de Sevres). It takes about 30 minutes to get to Versailles via bus.
The first time Isaac visited Paris was during the summer of 2016. We did not get to see Paris at night because much as we tried to be awake, our eyes cannot stay open for the 11pm sunset. So this time around, we vowed to go out at night, discover for ourselves why Paris is called the City of Lights. So we went to the Louvre, watched the Eiffel Tower twinkle from the Pont des Arts, walked along the River Seine, and had a nice dinner at a brassiere near the Notre Dame. Paris at night is glorious beyond words.
Our second day in Paris was devoted to museums. We started the day with a Palm Sunday Mass in St. Madeleine. The Mass, along with the recitation of the Passion of Christ, was conducted in French but was nonetheless moving.
Directions: Metro line 8, get off at Madeleine, cross the road to get to the church.
We walked from St. Madeleine to Musee D’Orsay to devour masterpieces from Gauguin to Van Gogh to Monet, Manet, Renoir, Pissarro, plus sculptures of Jean-Baptiste and Rodin. And then we crossed Jardin Des Tuileries to Musee de l’Orangerie to view Monet’s 8 murals of water lilies. We saw Philippine Senator Risa Hontiveros inside the museum. Jong asked me hesitantly: is that Senator Risa? My response was to walk over to the good Senator and say: Hello Senator Risa! Pilipino din po kami. Binoto po kita, at iboboto kita forever. Oh yes, I groveled and I am not ashamed about it. I am face to face with the woman who champions gender equality, maternity health, women’s rights, mental health, and who is a fierce critic of Martial Law and tokhang, I cannot help but grovel. Nagbibigay-pugay lang.
Directions to Musee D’Orsay: Metro line 12, get off at Solferino, it’s a nice, short walk along quaint shops to D’Orsay.
We went back to our hotel to take a nap as jetlag started to creep in. On the way to our hotel, we stopped by the Amorino to sample some gelato (aha! it rhymes!). The guy at the ice cream counter was so nice, he added a layer of raspberry sorbet to Isaac’s combined flavours of caramel and blueberry cheesecake.
We woke with a start as the alarm went off at exactly 8:15pm, we were determined to watch the Eiffel Tower light up and twinkle, which is after sunset, “every hour, on the hour”. We got to the Trocadero station at 5 minutes before 9pm, just enough time to grab a nice spot way down to the park and see the Eiffel Tower twinkle away. It felt awesome to see it dance again, how much more for Isaac who saw it for the first time ever! After the twinkle time, we queued up for some crepes and paninis, and then sat at one of the walls overlooking the Eiffel Tower, waiting for the next twinkling at 10pm. We slept happy that night- both the tummy and especially the heart.
We visited four churches/chapels on our third day in Paris. We first prayed in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, then made our way to Sacre Coeur to view all of Paris from the Basilica’s dome (300 steps-narrow and steep- were all worth it!), marveled at the stained glass windows of Sainte-Chappelle, and walked for around 10 minutes to nearby Notre Dame.
Directions: 1) Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal: Metro line 10, get off at Sevres Babylon, the chapel is just across/to the right of Le Bon Marche, Paris’ first mall; 2) Sacre Coeur, Metro line 12, get off at Abbessess, walk for around 10-15 minutes to get to the Basilica; 3) Sainte-Chappelle and Notre Dame: Metro line 4, Cite.
Our last night in Paris was spent savouring Le Hide’s creations. Le Hide is my and Paolo’s favorite restaurant in Paris. It is a small, cozy restaurant, a stone’s throw from Arc de Triomphe, run by Chef Hide. So many yummy choices on the menu, and since we wanted it to be a light dinner, we ordered three starters and three desserts but only one main course…did I say ‘light’?
For starters, we had cured salmon, escargot, and gnocchi. For main, Isaac ordered beef stew. And for desserts, we had apple tarte, poached pear with meringue in chocolate sauce, and chestnut cream cake topped with meringue. All paired with a glass of rose for Jong, and a carafe of sweet white wine for moi, merci beaucoup! We must have ate heartily and ohsohappily because the family next to ours called the server, asked what we ordered, gave us a thumbs-up sign, and copied some of our orders. Chef Hide outdid himself that night, or maybe he outdoes himself every night, every dish was beautiful in appearance, delicious in taste. It was so great to share the Le Hide experience with Isaac and Jong, the awe in my heart mirrored in their faces.
We took pictures of the Arc de Triomphe bathed in Paris night lights, and walked along Champs Elysees. There is no more beautiful city out there, from dawn to day to night, than Paris. And that is the truth that my heart speaks as we were walking in the streets of Paris, taking it all in, savoring everything as we were leaving the next day for London.
27 March-1 April, London.
We traveled to London from Paris via a 2 and ½ hours Eurostar train at Gare du Nord. Just a tip, allot around 45 minutes to one hour for security checks to London, they have two over at Gare du Nord, one for the passports and tickets, the next line is a short interview with an immigration officer and bag x-ray.
We arrived at St. Pancras International, and then crossed over to King’s Cross station to ride the tube to our hotel in Southwark. As soon as we dropped our bags, we walked to Shakespeare’s Globe, Isaac’s must-go destination. We arrived just in time for the fascinating sword play exhibition, and then went on a tour around the Globe. Another tip: shell a bit more to join a tour, it ensures that you wouldn’t miss an important spot or an amusing trivia.
Shakespeare’s Globe is an open theatre, the actors on stage have to contend with airplanes and choppers, and the people standing near the stage are exposed to rain or heat. The fee for the standing space hasn’t changed in years- 5 pounds per person, because they want the theatre to be an inclusive experience, affordable to all, giving nobody any excuse not to watch Shakespeare’s plays.
We went to the British Museum after, and I cannot help but marvel at this museum which is humongous and pretty at the same time- everything has a place and they have a place for everything. My favorite were the Ancient Egypt rooms and the Parthenon structures.
Directions to The British Museum: Northern line, get off at Tottenham Court Road, turn right and start the 7-minute walk towards the museum.
We then walked along the River Thames, taking in the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
We started our second day with another tour at another London landmark, the Westminster Abbey. This is where Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin were buried, in the nave of the Abbey, and soon, Stephen Hawking will take his place beside these brilliant scientists. It is forbidden to take pictures at the Abbey, which is fine, because it makes me want to sear in my memory the beautiful quire where our group took a seat to listen to the tour guide, Sir Isaac Newton’s monument, and the touching ode to an unknown soldier who was buried among kings in the center of the Church’s nave. I particularly love the Poets’ Corner- Robert Browning, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling to name a few.
Directions to Westminster Abbey: Circle/District Lines, get off at St. James Park, walk diagonally (around 5 minutes) towards the Abbey.
We went to London primarily to look at possible universities for Isaac, so we set aside an hour in the 6 days that we were there (hahaha!) for a campus tour. Specifically, we joined a college campus tour- the library was pretty impressive, and discussions about accommodations, classes/exams, and access to facilities were detailed. The guide, who was also a student, said that any time a student encounters any difficulty, someone is always there, ready to listen and to help. In fact, students are assigned tutors who will monitor their studies and help with issues about anything at all. I went away with the scary thought that my son will never learn about being independent, taking responsibility for his actions, being creative, or in Filipino parlance “magkaroon ng diskarte” because someone is always there for him. It’s not a bad thing I know, but I am thinking way beyond college. I mean, in the real world, sometimes, no one is out there, and you have to figure your way out from the hole to the light, and especially how to stay under that freakin’ light. But maybe that’s just me and my gung-ho approach to life and its realities.
We went back to our hotel to prepare for the most exciting part of this London leg of our trip, we purchased tickets way in advance, even before we obtained our UK visas. HAMILTON. And even days after, I say that with a mixture of awe and excitement and pride and happiness.
I was looking for musical plays in London, in particular, Miss Saigon, where it all began for our very own Lea Salonga. And then I saw that Hamilton will run from December 2017 to April 2018. I put the opening day for ticket sales in my calendar, complete with alarm/repeated reminder. On the appointed day, I put on my laptop, and prayed for something short of a miracle. On the first try, I got seats (N row), but when I came to the payment part, I got the dreaded “Error”. So I said to myself, tomorrow is my lucky day. The next day, I tried again, I didn’t get to the seats part, the site said all tickets are sold out on all the 5 nights that we will be in London. I almost cried. But Hamilton doesn’t know I am made of sterner stuff. So I tried again bright and early the next day. On my first try on the third day of trying, I made it, I freakin got the best freakin seats in Hamilton, Door 1, Row G, center seats, eye-level with the actors, near enough to see every change in facial expression and far enough from the ear-splitting orchestra and the saliva-spitting actors!
If I would be given a chance to re-live my life and I would get to choose only one play, I would choose Hamilton in a heartbeat. “Amazing” is too lame a word to describe Hamilton. It is an experience, an event, a journey. I have never watched a play wherein every song and every scene affected me- made me laugh, made me cry, made me sad, made me angry, made me emotional. I had goosebumps throughout, and it is freakin unimaginable to have goosebumps for 2 hours or so, but Hamilton made it happen and if I burst into a million goosebumps right there and then in the grand (and newly-refurbished) Victoria Palace Theatre, then I wouldn’t be surprised.
The Philippines’ pride, Rachelle Ann Go, played Eliza, Hamilton’s wife. I first watched her in The Little Mermaid in Meralco Theatre, and I thought she was great- clear voice, good acting. And then as Fantine in Les Miserables where she leveled up, bigger and clearer and more beautiful voice plus great acting. She upped the ante even more as Eliza. Every time the audience gave her a thunderous applause for that great combination of soulful singing and emotion-filled acting, I wanted to weep and then weep some more. I had to exert extra restraint to keep from telling my Englishman seatmate: She’s Filipino like me!!! Rachelle Ann Go was dazzling and graceful and strong, with perfect pitch and great dance moves to boot. Do I sound proud or what?
Watch out also for King George, he will knock your socks off! The largely-British audience howled in mock indignation and uncontrollable laughter every time he appeared! And Angelica is a jewel, shining bright from start to finish. Hamilton himself was outstanding. The cast was superb, every one playing his part to make the entire show truly unforgettable.
Hamilton is filled with life lessons: never give up; immigrants get the job done (ha!); good writing skills will take you far, both in everyday life and work life; sacrifice equals love; freedom is everything. What resonated with me the most is that bit about forgiveness, perhaps because it is so elusive to me. Forgiveness turns a house into a home, sadness into peace. It makes the unimaginable bearable. If only it will reveal its secrets to me- the why’s and the how’s, then I would be a better person and maybe I could make this world a better place.
On our third day, Jong came via Eurostar and we all met up with Ivy, the other bestfriend who is going for the gold (i.e. PhD in Economics) in London. These two, tour guides and official photographers bar none, taking us places via bus or train, taking beautiful pictures, imparting life lessons and school opinions to Isaac, and making us laugh all the time. Our hearts are forever grateful.
Our first stop was the Bank of England Museum, where we tried to lift a 13-kg bar of gold. We had so much fun- the BOE museum is a playground for central bankers like us.
And then we trekked towards St. Paul’s Cathedral, Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, went down to the crypt beneath and then climbed up to the Whispering Gallery and higher to the dome to see all of London. We joined a tour so we saw all the nice monuments and heard all the stories of centuries past.
We ended our first day together in London with a spectacular dinner at Shangri-La’s The Shard, the tallest building in all of Western Europe, which allows a 360-degree view of London before, during, and after sunset. We ordered food upon food and evian upon evian. Every order has a price tag, except for the bottle of water. We were scaring ourselves silly: what if that bottle of evian costs 50 pounds? The food tasted so good, from starters to dessert, and the parade of food in our table of four prompted the waiter to remark: are you celebrating something? And we wanted to reply: oh no, this is how we roll!
Directions to The Shard: Northern Line, get off at London Bridge, follow the arrows.
We were so full that we walked back towards our hotel, the almost-full moon mesmerizing against the lights from the Shard, and the cherry blossoms- fully-bloomed and ohsopink against the midnight blue sky, making as giddy.
The next day, we went to Kensington Palace, viewed an exhibit about Princess Diana and the evolution of her fashion, and actually finished a board game in the palace’s play room!
We ate at Romulo Café, a taste of home in London. We started with pan de sal and moved on to adobo rice, sinigang na salmon, sigarilyas na may tinapa, laing, guisadong pusit, and fishballs, and washed our palates with banana turon and sans rival paired with calamansi juice. Too much food? In fact, we wipe out every morsel of our orders everywhere we go. The usual conversation with the waiter/waitress goes like this:
W: How was the food?
W: It shows.*
*The end reply varies: It shows. I can see. Looks like it.
But the meaning is unambiguous.
Directions to Kensington: District/Circle Lines, get off at Kensington High Street, follow the arrows to Kensington Palace, walk for around 15 minutes from the underground station. Romulo Cafe is just a short walk from Kensington Palace.
The rain was relentless that day to go with our endless walking. So we took shelter in three museums: the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the National Gallery. All special in their own way. A slew of Rodin’s could be savored in V&A Museum, while the Treasures room was the highlight of our visit to the Natural History Museum. And I almost cried in the National Gallery when I finally came face to face with Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. I stared unblinking for a few minutes, searing every petal in my heart of hearts, basking in the light and happiness that Van Gogh’s paintings elicit.
I have to say something about the Natural History Museum: it has lots of well-lighted corners where you can take the best pictures.
We ended our Friday night with a nice Italian dinner just a few minutes from the Natural History Museum. We were supposed to go to this Fish & Chips restaurant which was a 20-minute bus ride from where we were, but our feet were aching and our tummies were growling (it was 9pm already!), so we entered the first restaurant we saw. It was small but the smell emanating from the Italian resto was promising so we went inside, ordered pasta and pizza, plus cakes we can’t pronounce, and everything turned out wonderful- the food, the Italian servers, and our dinnertime conversation.
Our last full day in London was spent in the University of Cambridge. We almost missed the 7:44am train at St. Pancras. The train ride from London took only an hour. When we got to Cambridge, we learned that it was the day of the funeral service (later at 2pm) for Stephen Hawking, that brilliant scientist who taught us that there is no limit to what we can achieve and who we can be. Police were already setting up barricades to control the flow of traffic.
We wanted to do the famed punting but the river currents were strong at that time. Instead, we strolled along the pretty colleges in Cambridge, taking our time, relishing the first spurts of spring with daffodils and violets and cherry blossoms here and there, praying at St. Mary’s Chapel, taking endless pictures of yellow-leafed weeping willows bending low towards ancient bridges, almost touching the river, posing besides Newton’s Apple tree, sipping Bicerin from Turin, eating slowly and talking nonstop, exactly how I imagined it to be- relaxing and laughter-filled.
We made a side trip to Buckingham Palace to say hello to the Queen, and marveled at the huge iron-wrought gates, the red guards, and Queen Victoria’s monument across the palace.
We downed a bottle of rose in our last night in London, as we munched on…finally, fish and chips plus hot chicken wings. Cheers to true friendship and wonderful trips and creating new happy memories!
I admit that I was apprehensive about this mother-and-son trip. Isaac and I are not really close: we talk, we banter, but boy, we fight and how. I didn’t have any illusion that this trip would be different. I said so to Pao: don’t expect us to be bestfriends after this trip.
I didn’t want to say it but in my heart, I knew this was a make-or-break trip, with the odds tilted to the break part. But it turned out way beyond our expectations. It wasn’t smooth throughout- on the night of our flight, Isaac tried to update his iphone to the new ios and it conked out. We had to go to an Apple store in Paris to have it fixed (and thank God it was free!). The next day, his small messenger bag gave up on him, first the strap and then the zipper. So Jong and I had to rush to a nearby store to buy him another small (and hopefully more durable) bag. I had to constantly tell him to be mindful about the time- especially as we are meeting daily with Jong and Ivy- because our time is not more important as theirs.
By miracle or mutual assent, we didn’t fight for 10 days. We had a lovely time talking about meaningful and meaningless things, sampling new food, figuring out directions via good old map (my forte) and google maps (his forte), choosing souvenirs to bring home to his dad and sisters, laughing and bawling while watching Hamilton. And we took a lot of epic-fail selfies too!
What did I learn? Patience is key. I realize that Isaac is living in an era that is vastly different from mine. He had to contend with so many distractions and so many opportunities and a cafeteria of choices and a whole new meaning of “competition” so I have to give him time to figure out what he wants and how to get what he want- it is part of the process called growing up. I realize that Isaac is not a little boy anymore, I have to listen to him and recognize that although he is my flesh and blood, his views could be different from mine. I can only correct him based on facts, but his truth is his, I have my own truths, and respect is the bridge that will make us understand each other better. I realize that much as we have differences, we have so many things in common: we love to discover new food and new places, we are always up for an adventure, we seize the day and seize the night, so that our trip was more fun than expected. I realize that although Isaac seemed to remain unbothered by grades and competition and all that jazz, he has dreams, he wants a good school with a good program in his chosen field, he wants to hone his passions, he wants to be better. I reassured him that there is no limit to what he can be, that the world is his to conquer, that there will always be obstacles- people and events that would make you second-guess yourself, but the important thing is to keep on working hard to reach your goal.
When we got home, I told my two daughters that this will be a family tradition from now on: mama taking a trip with them just before they go away to university. So it’s Yesica’s turn in 6-7 years, Aryana’s in a decade or so. I can’t wait!