Monday, November 3, 2008

Engaged in the Italian Riviera...

Both of us were excited for our first major vacation together after dating for almost 5 1/2 years. The time off was very much welcomed and needed. Not only was I excited, I was anxious as well. You see, I had purchased an engagement ring 5 months prior, meticulously planned and patiently waited for this trip in order to pop the question in a romantic way. My goal was to try to make it memorable. Let me start off by saying that it's pretty tough being patient for that long and waiting for just the right moment. I'm happy to say that I think I found that right moment.
Our time spent in Italy spanned from October 22 - 31, 2008. Two of those days were essentially travel time so that left us with a solid 8 days to take in the sites. We rolled the dice a bit in terms of the time of the year for our trip. October is usually the start of the rainy season so there was a risk of bleak weather. However, luck was in our favor and the rain only impacted us one day. The rest of the time averaged out in the 70s. Mostly sunshine but partly cloudy at times.

So the trip began in Rome where we spent the first 3 nights. The first night in a Marriott in the outskirts of the city center and the following two nights in the gorgeous Westin Excelsior directly in the city center. We took a cheesy video of the room, seen below, because we loved it so much. Then we moved on to the amazing Cinque Terra and into a private cottage owned by a local for two nights. From there, we went back to the Rome Marriott for the remainder of the trip. On our second to last day we took a day trip to Napoli to visit the ruins of Pompei. OK, so that's an overview of where we went. Now onto some more specifics...

Here are some of our favorite highlights, then I'll get to how and where exactly I proposed:
1. Proposing to my lady of course :)
2. Hiking in Cinque Terra (Fast on its way to becoming a jet setter location, Cinque Terra is a rugged portion of the coast of the Riviera to the west of the city of La Spezia, in the province of La Spezia in the Liguria region of Italy comprising five villages, "The Five Lands": Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. We stayed in Vernazza. Must have hiked a solid 4 hours through the trails to get to each of the villages.)

3. Bike Ride in the Pincio or Villa Borghese gardens (The plan was to go to the Borghese Museum but after a pleasant picnic in the park, we were drawn to these silly looking bikes designed for dual pedaling. We laughed alot and had a blast tooling around the park in our road burner.)
4. St. Peter's Basilica or Basilica Sancti Petri (I'm a bit of a nut when it comes to checking out the architectural design of churches. I've seen quite a few of them in a travels across Europe this year. However, I have to admit that I had relatively low expectations for St. Peters as there were some many other things I wanted to see in Rome. Maybe that's why I was blown away when I saw it. The scale and attention to detail was astounding.)
5. Colosseum or Colosseo (You have not been to Rome if you have not been to this sacred ground. I seriously got the chills wandering around this former gladiator playground.)
6. Vatican Museum (I'm not really a big museum person but instantly fell in love with the Vatican. We probably spent four hours there. We spent a solid 30 minutes alone in the Sistine Chapel which was simply incredible and my favorite part.)
7. The Palatine Hill and Roman Forum (With Kathy as my personal tour guide, I really soaked up the magical history of these ruins. I actually think spending as much time as we did there desensitized me to the beauty of Pompei.)
8. Area Sacra or Largo di Torre Argentina (This place holds a special place in our hearts as it not only boasts some impressive Roman temple ruins, it shelters over 250 homeless cats at Torre Argentina. This no kill shelter runs on donations only and is not subsidized by the government in any way. What an amazing place...These cats are well fed, happy and look like kings as they lounge around all over the ruins of this great cat sanctuary.)
9. Pantheon and Piazza della rotonda (It's just a cool place to hang out in. The oculus doesn't look that big from the ground but it has a staggering diameter of 27'. The piazza outside is also a great place. Lots of energy in the evenings.)
10. Pompei (I think if we did this visit earlier in the trip, it would have definitely been in the top 5 favorite list. But like I mentioned above, I think I was a bit desensitized once we got there after seeing all the ruins in Rome. Don't get me wrong, I don't regret going there for a minute. The amphitheater there was my favorite! I learned that it actually inspired the design of the colleseum many decades later which I thought was pretty neat.)
11. Trevi Fountain or Fontana di Trevi (I really loved this spectacular fountain. I feel like I've seen it a thousand times but seeing it person is a very different experience. We took a video below as we had a good time there.)
12. Piazza Novona (We spent some time here. Just a nice place to spend walking around in the evening)
13. Spanish Steps or Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti (I was told I had to go there to check it off the list. Well, check! To be honest, it was fun and all but at the end of the day they were just steps. Didn't see the big deal.)
14. Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II (I thought it was pretty neat, especially at night, but Kathy begrudgingly referred to it as a "big wedding cake". That was the most credit she was able to muster up for this monument. Not her favorite as it's a bit too gaudy for her liking. I thought it was cool, especially at night.
15. Eating alot...Gelato just about everyday which was great but I really loved the fresh focaccia and pesto in Vernazza.

I asked Kathy to give me her top 10 list and it was pretty similar to mine with a few small placement changes, but the big difference for her was moving the cat sanctuary into the top spot and adding another Basilica we visited called Santa Maria Maggiore.

Not many people believe me when I tell them that I really wasn’t that nervous thinking about and/or preparing to ask the big question. I just wasn’t. The only thing I was anxious about were the following three things: 1.) I had this irrational fear of somehow losing the ring. 2.) Not genuinely surprising her. 3.) Not making it a special moment.

Why Italy?
I’ve been asked by many friends and family members why I did not pop the question on our long weekend in Paris a few months back. The answer is simple…That’s just not Kathy. We loved Paris and all but Italy is a very special place to her. Not many people know this but she lived in Rome for 6 months when she was an undergraduate. Even when we first started dating, she always gushed about how special of a place it will always be to her and how she would love to go back again one day. Well, that settled it for me. Why not pop the question someplace she truly loves? When we booked our flight for this trip over 8 months ago, it was my plan all along to do it there. But the lingering question I had was “Where exactly should I actually do it to make it special?” At first, I did consider Rome, but there are just too many people there (everywhere you go) and Kathy is all about intimate gestures, not public displays of affection. I think such a grand moment for her would be cheapened by doing it in front of many people. So I scratched that off the list pretty quickly. When Vernazza was recommended to us, I immediately thought it had potential. Small village with lots of heart and a beautiful setting was one of the early reviews I read. It sounded perfect and my mind was made up, almost 4 months before the trip, that I would be doing it there.

The plan was to ask her the same night we arrived in Vernazza. This was almost the half way point of the trip and I thought the timing would infuse even more excitement into our journey. Not to mention I wanted to guarantee she’d be surprised and figured if she thought I was going to do it that it would be earlier in the trip and more then likely in Rome. Mind games at their best. So we arrived in Vernazza around 4ish, settled in, and then went for a jaunt through the beautiful village to get acquainted with our surroundings. All I could do during this time is ponder where a fitting location might be. I was very much focused on the plan at hand and feared that she might sense something was up. Fortunately she was so excited about the place that she didn’t seem to even glance my way as we explored. The sidewalk along side the small harbor was gorgeous and immediately decided that it would be the best spot once the evening came. After concluding our preliminary exploration, we headed back to our room to recharge and get changed for the evening’s festivities. The plan was to have dinner near the harbor somewhere then go for a nice walk.

Here's a birds eye view of the harbor. I circled and highlighted where we were when I asked. Just click to expand:

This photo was maybe 5 minutes before the big moment of truth:
The Moment of Truth:
After we got dressed, I was very conscious of the ring box conspicuously protruding from my pocket. I just kept my hands hovering in front my pockets which seemed to mask the bulge well. I wanted to do the deed before dinner so we made our way to the harbor sidewalk after wandering around for 30 minutes or so. At first I was concerned because there was a couple sitting in the area I was focused on. Fortunately as we made our way in their direction, they scampered off and we were all alone. After some playful banter and a few photographs, I sat up on the ledge of the sidewalk and had her sit in front of me. At this point, I began to carefully and surreptitiously remove the ring box from my pocket and hide it behind my back. We gazed into the stars a bit and I then patiently waited for the right moment. It didn’t take long…In fact, I couldn’t of have forced the conversation to take a better turn if I tried. You see, we had been reading up on Cinque Terra a bit earlier in the day and one of the interesting tidbits of history was how challenging it was to find suitors in such a small village that is so isolated from its neighboring villages. Back in those days, boys and girls would need to hike hours of rugged terrain in order to reach Monterrosso, Manarola, Corniglia or Riomaggiore. Or…They just made due with what was in their local village. But with a population of around 500 or so, you can imagine that the pickings were probably slim. Anyway, as we looked up into the stars with her back against my chest, she says the following words: “It’s crazy. How did anyone marry back in those days?” A moment of silence ensured then I made my move. “It makes me wonder though.” A few seconds pass, then she asks “Makes you wonder what?” Then I slowly reach around her with my right arm, open the box as a simultaneously say “Makes me wonder if you would marry me.” She then proceeded to have a mild freak out and say things like “Oh my god, what is that? A ring? You got me a ring without me knowing? I thought you would tell me if you were going to propose. Oh my god” I then got down on my knee and asked her if she would marry me. She belted out an emphatic YES! Then began to gasp for air, got teary eyed and then choked for a few minutes. It was pretty funny actually. She’s not one to ever be at a lose for words or show that much emotion. She genuinely seemed surprised…I think it was a special moment…and I didn’t loose the ring. So all in all, I think it was a success.

Here's a photo at dinner shortly afterwards. She's on the phone with her family:

Here are some photos from the rest of our trip:

Westin Excelsior Room Tour:

Villa Borghese Gardens:

Trevi Fountain:

Roman Forum:

Cat Sanctuary:

Vatican Museum:

Train to La Specia:



Quick train ride to Riomaggiore from Monterrosso:



Private terrace on top of our cottage in Vernazza. Having some dinner on our final night there:

Palatine Hill:

Circus Maximus with the Palatine as the backdrop:


Full Slide Show Part 1 of 2: Click to View

Full Slide Show Part 2 of 2: Click to View

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