Mediterranean Enchantment – 2009
A Taste of Rome Before 10-day Cruise
April 26 May 10, 2009
Updated July 4, 2009
By LEWIS NOLAN
To view photo album of 128 pictures mainly taken by Betty Nolan, go to www.ritzpix.com and sign in under Lewis’ email name of firstname.lastname@example.org (password ln9876 with lower case initials). Under “My Albums,” activate “Rome and Mediterranean Enchantment” album and play as a Slideshow with longest offered delay in seconds.
Sunday, April 26, 2009 – Flights from Memphis to Amsterdam and Rome, Italy
We are about as intelligently packed and well organized as Betty and I can be as we await pickup by our longtime friend Nancy Russell – my former Secretary and Administrative Assistant at Schering-Plough – for the 20-minute ride from our home in central Memphis to Memphis International Airport. We’ve been to Europe a dozen times in recent years so we have a pretty good feel of what to take and more importantly, what to leave at home.
We both attended our morning Sunday School classes at Evergreen Presbyterian Church. It was ironic that among the messages my group pondered was James 2, which addresses the importance of true piety to Christians as opposed to the showy and ostentatious piety professed by some of the overtly religious. And here we were about to leave for one of the seats of early Christianity – Rome and its Vatican headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.
After many years of participating as leaders of our separate Sunday School classes and countless hours of Bible study, Betty and I were excited by our prospects of seeing some of the surviving monuments to early Christianity and the world center of what many believe is the absolute and total commitment to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
We would also visit what remains of the historic Coliseum in Rome, where hundreds and maybe thousands of early Christians suffered so terribly in the name of their faith and worship. Happily, we were both moved at seeing the fairly well preserved historic structures of the Eternal City dating to the days that Jesus and the Apostles walked the earth as well as the many hundreds of statues and paintings that celebrate Christianity that are on such beautiful and important display at the Vatican – a much larger complex of wonderful architecture than I had ever imagined.
We would also see some of what remains of the monumental work done by Michelangelo and other legendary artists.
of course, we first had to get from Memphis to Rome, frequently referred to as
the “Eternal City” for its unparalleled history as the source of so much
culture and thought that is important in Western Civilization. Thanks to
the nearly flawless reservations made by our trusted travel agent, Erin Bobbitt
de Padilla of Gulliver’s Travel in
With Northwest close to completing its merger into Delta Airlines, my unease about unsettled conditions at Memphis International Airport proved to be groundless. Everything went very smoothly. Our seats were near an exit door and restroom facilities so we had a little extra room to stretch our legs occasionally, a blessing that is medically recommended for people over 60 (I was on the eve of my 66th birthday and Betty holding strong at 63) to reduce the chance of blood clotting from sitting too long.
The good news is that we are both in fairly good health, although Betty has annoying problems with back and leg pain from a spinal shift. I’ve been dry coughing for about a week but have plenty of antibiotics and other medicines packed “just in case.” (In actuality, my cough worsened as the trip progressed and evidently was related to a virus impervious to antibiotics. But my slow-arriving illness didn’t get much in the way of our activities and Betty’s inability to walk very long distances never posed a problem.)
Familiar with several “horror” stories of pals who had been rudely introduced to Rome’s crime problem on trips in recent years, Betty and I had left most of our credit cards at home. We had a few hundred dollars changed into Euros (at an OK rate of about $1.35 per Euro at First Tennessee Bank in Memphis, an increase of about 15 percent in value of the dollar over the last year), some extra cash in dollars and Amex travelers’ checks and our wallets placed in front pants pockets. Per advice from earlier trips, I had emailed myself a copy of important credit card and U.S. Passport information for “just in case” retrieval if needed. Betty locked up her nice jewelry and only wore her wedding ring (a daily habit of 41 years) and a few simple pieces of jewelry like a watch.
A retired Air Force General we met on an earlier trip saw his wife’s purse snatched on a busy street in Rome and within two hours a crook in the international ring of thieves had charged a motorcycle in a Louisiana shop to one of his credit cards. A very smart woman I once worked with at a security firm had her wallet stolen upon her arrival in Rome. The husband of one of my co-workers caught a pickpocket “in the act” in Rome who ran away after claiming it was all a mistake. Our private tour guide in Rome advised us to store our bags at the hotel rather than take a chance on having his car trunk broken into while we were out seeing the sights. And we sure didn’t dress to look like rich tourists even though I sought salutations from fellow golfers by wearing a green, souvenir cap from the Masters Tournament.
I’m pleased to report that due to a combination of good luck and hopefully some sensible precautions, we had no problems with crime in Rome. But during our later excursion to Italy’s Pisa (home of the Leaning Tower), a mature lady on our bus had an unfortunate set-to with a gypsy pickpocket. I think it’s a good idea to be careful and not to carry any more cash than what is necessary, especially in the international bazaar (or is it bizarre) city of Rome.
Fortunately, Betty had packed some tasty ham-and-cheese sandwiches into our carryon bags. So we were able to pass on all but a bit of salad served with the airline food in the economy section. Northwest provided complimentary glasses of white wine but warned that the free service ends June 1 when the merger with Delta is farther along.
Other than the nine-hour duration of the flight to Amsterdam, the only bad thing was that we were about an hour late taking off from Memphis. The pilot announced that a baggage cart had somehow rammed a cargo door and bent it out of shape, requiring repair before departure. Adding to my unwarranted sense of foreboding, even the plane’s “pusher” wouldn’t start. But Northwest proved once again why it has been a favorite airline of so many Memphians for so long when the pilot made up almost all the lost time and landed in the plane in Amsterdam pretty close to on-time.
Unlike most of the time when we fly transatlantic, I was able to snooze for a portion of the overnight flight, as was Betty. We passed on the complimentary breakfast of terrible-tasting breakfast sandwiches that seemed to be made of fake eggs.
The connecting KLM flight to Rome left on time – with us both in aisle seats - and we were served complimentary lunches of sandwiches and soft drinks. It makes me wonder how the European airlines are able to serve decent food at no extra cost when the U.S. Airlines either can’t or won’t. I admired the KLM pilot’s flying skills as he landed the plane in Rome despite rather strong and gusty crosswinds at the airport. We had a pretty good hike from the KLM gate to the airport’s baggage area, where a surrogate of our local guide, by the name of Maurice, arranged fallback transportation to our hotel by a private driver who was polite but did not speak English – Max.
local tour guide’s services were arranged at reasonable cost by Gulliver’s
Travel in Memphis, who gave him a rave review based on client and employee
reports on his service and prices. His name is Franco Lattughi; email is email@example.com; cell phone number
is 388-942845; mail address is Via Liberiano 17,
Substitute driver Max drove us and several other American tourists from the Rome airport to the central part of the city, about an hour’s drive. He tried manfully to point out several historic sights including the picture-perfect ruins of the Coliseum (named such after a long-gone statue of the onetime notorious Emperor, Nero, that supposedly stood over 100 feet tall and was called “Colossus.” Later, we learned that the structure seated 60,000 during its height two millennia ago.
Much of the white Travertine marble that faced the Coliseum (spelled Colosseum locally) was stripped for other purposes after Rome fell to savagery and the ensuing centuries of the Dark Ages and later. Over the decades and centuries of its active existence as a rallying point for Rome, free spectacles like gladiator fights put on by the rich buying political support of the commoners grew ever more bloodthirsty. Some of spectacles took a terrible toll in suffering and lives of Christians, unpopular prisoners of defeated armies and captured animals from Africa.
After reading guidebook information and hearing our own guide speak learnedly of the long-gone Glory of Rome, I came away with the feeling that at least some of the Hollywood hoorah about the excesses of the age were pretty well based on an audience-pleasing reality.
As hard as Max tried to describe the sights we passed on the drive in from the airport, we couldn’t understand much of what he was saying. We were pleased when he pulled up to our hotel, a five-star facility called the St. Regis in an upscale area close to some ancient ruins. The hotel was absolutely the most luxurious we’ve ever been in even though I’ve visited a few of the really top hotels in New York and other U.S. cities when traveling on business before I retired in 1996.
Our room rate, according to a posting on the door, was an incredible 1,350 Euros per night – nearly $2,000 dollars. For that you’d expect a lot, and the St. Regis certainly delivered it – complete with a 25-foot high ceiling in the sleeping area, intricate plasterwork in the cornice areas and large, framed paintings of Roman ruins plus a religious figure I interpreted to be David, slayer of Goliath and a favorite of God. We had a king-size bed – which we put to use for an early afternoon nap – and marble lined bathroom with separate shower and a huge tub. The hotel is in a building over a century old and had the look of a special wing of a royal palace reserved for VIP guests. The ceiling and walls were decorated with bas relief renditions of plant branches and geometric icons.
We had a 42-inch, HCD television set and a freebie assortment of shower soaps and amenities that was nearly astounding in number and quality.
I asked at check-in about the rate charged for the room under our Northwest Air weekend package arranged by Gulliver’s Travel, but the desk clerk politely declined to discuss the package rates. However, my American Express bill showed the daily charges were over $300.
Prices at the bar and lobby restaurant reflected the luxury. A single, six-ounce bottle of tonic water (which goes for about $5 a six pack back home) went for 10 Euros at the hotel bar.
Betty and I opted to eat a light meal in the lobby bar in the early evening after our nap. She had a generous bowl of excellent Minestrone soup. I enjoyed a fancy, club sandwich made of chicken salad and served with French fries plus two bottles of an Italian beer (at 11 Euros each), for a total dinner bill of 67 Euros. With tip, the dollar-cost of our simple hotel dinner was close to $100, but it was delicious and the service was exquisite.