Meet Stephanie and Romario, an adventure-seeking couple from South Africa who live and work in England. The pair departed on the Europe Highlights tour in 2017 to follow their dream of travelling the continent, and returned home a much tighter unit. We caught up with the happy couple to find out more about their travels and the spellbinding event on the Venice canal that would change the course of their lives…
Romario and I were born and raised in South Africa. When it was time for an adventure, we moved to England. This was almost two years ago, and although we miss our sunny home country, we are taking advantage of travelling the world. I am a primary school teacher and Romario is an aspiring chef. We enjoy trying new things and going to different places. He is the more adventurous one, and our different travelling styles keep us balanced.
We have always wanted to do some sort of Europe tour to see as many countries as we could. We enjoy travelling, tasting new foods and finding hidden gems in new countries. When we were still living in South Africa, we decided that the best way to travel would be to move closer to Europe. That brave decision took final effect in 2015 and in a blink of an eye we were in the UK! It was a major step for both of us and we still get homesick. We miss our family and friends, and having a ‘braai’ (barbeque) on a hot summer’s day. To keep the longing at bay, we try to spend our free time well. When Romario isn’t working, we explore locally over the weekends – we recently met up with friends in Brighton to spend the day soaking up the sun. Over school holidays when I am able to get away, we plan longer holidays. This is how we ended up booking the Europe Highlights tour with Expat Explore.
Romario’s family had gone on an Expat Explore tour a few years previously, and since they had nothing but wonderful things to say, we decided to take a look. After we had compared different tour providers, Expat Explore was still the best option in all respects. The only tough decision was choosing which tour we wanted to go on because all the tours looked so amazing. Our goal was to travel Europe and the European Highlights tour was a wonderful way to experience more than one country in the perfect amount of time. Romario was thrilled to be travelling to Switzerland since he is a huge nature lover! I was more excited to see parts of Italy, especially Venice as my parents had been there many, many years ago. The next thing you know, we’d booked a trip and were counting the days till our departure.
I knew there was not going to be a dull moment – Romario is a fun-loving person who is always up for an adventure and we seize every opportunity to have fun and explore. But little did I know that this trip would change my life forever…
It started out like any other trip. Which for us means falling face first into each new destination! On our first night, we had a delicious 3-course meal in a hidden French restaurant (I might have eaten Romario’s chocolate mousse too!). In Switzerland, we had a lovely hearty meal at the hotel and even tried the local version of bobotie (a traditional South African dish). Our first taste of Italy was at a roadside restaurant where we ate pasta. Over those two days in Italy, we ate more carbs than I thought was possible – pizza, pasta, lasagne and more pizza! In Germany, we had the ubiquitous sauerkraut and German sausage. Our favourite meal was a traditional Austrian schnitzel – it was unforgettable. Of course, we also had to try Belgian waffles and frites when we had a short stop in Belgium before going back home.
But I digress. Before we get to the Big Moment on the canal, let me tell you a little story about Romario. We have been together nearly five years and basically grew up a few streets apart from each other. When I was sixteen years old, Romario fell in love with me, which was all good and well, but he was still in primary school! Naturally I never thought anything would come of it, but he didn’t give up. He asked me twice more before we started dating and I couldn’t be happier that he kept persisting. This shows just how ingenious and resilient the man can be.
He is also a person who chases his dreams. Becoming a chef was a natural choice for him – he had always had a passion for cooking. Even when he was a child he would do the majority of the cooking at home, and give his mom’s dishes a few twists with detailing and presentation. Working as a chef in England, he is now honing his craft to an art form. Along with his friend Samuel, who has an allotment where he grows fresh produce, Romario is currently experimenting with all types of foods and sharing his findings on a YouTube channel called Herbarium. As such, I really shouldn’t have been surprised when he turned my life topsy-turvy on our trip to Venice. The man is nothing but inventive.
When we’d first started to prepare for our trip, it was a little daunting to think we’d be travelling with complete strangers. However, we ended up making many new friends and still keep in contact with each other. We got to know each other on the bus by introducing ourselves; which no one was eager to do, but in this way we were introduced to a cast of interesting and unique individuals that all had one goal in mind- travelling! We had delicious dinners together, went on walks in Switzerland to find waterfalls and even sang karaoke at the Rhine Valley. Those are the memories that will never be forgotten and made the tour extra special. These are also the people who would conspire to orchestrate the Big Moment.
I’d always had a soft spot for Venice. My parents travelled there when they were younger and it was etched in my mind as a superbly romantic destination. On the day of the Big Moment, we went on a long-awaited gondola ride. We were the last group to get on with a few of our newly-made tour buddies. I went on first and set alone, waiting for a bit. The rest of the group was scrambling around for some reason, but they finally go in and we started taking pictures and selfies as the gondolier steered us down the canal. Then came the moment that would would change my life forever. I turned around to find Romario down on one knee, holding a ring, asking me to be his wife.
The answer, of course, was YES! I mean, the person I loved the best had planned an engagement in one of the most romantic places on the face of the earth.
It turns out that Romario had planned the whole thing with the help of our tour friends, and the Expat Explore tour leader, Chris. Romario had told Chris and our new friends about his plans a few days before we reached Venice, and was still deciding when to pop the question. Then he remembered my stories about my parents and decided to stage the proposal during a gondola ride to make it extra special. He asked our friends to film the occasion and keep the ring safe (that was what all the commotion was about before we got on – they had momentarily misplaced it amongst themselves!). As soon as we reached the shore, Chris was there with a bottle of champagne to toast the occasion.
The love from everyone we got from the tour was simply amazing. After Romario popped the question we called our families to share the exciting news, but when we reached the shore our travel friends were there to celebrate with us. Chris recommended a nearby pizzeria, and we had a wonderful evening celebrating our Big Moment with the Expat Explore gang. Looking back, there is nothing I would do differently. It was the perfect proposal in the perfect setting.
Stephanie & Romario’s top travel tips
Group tours give you the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and the Expat Explore family has seen many friendships and relationships blossom on tour with us!