Each of our great vacations has two identical traits: We love the travel and adventures but coming back home is always every bit as wonderful. Our recent European thing was certainly no exception.
Previous chats have mentioned ports we visited and sights we saw. When we finished the seven-day cruise circuit, we spent a few days in Rome before flying home, a grand finale to a grand trip.
Our hotel was smack-dab in the middle of the city so we lived "Night at the Museum" for 72 hours. Rome is one huge open-air museum.
Everywhere we went was like strolling through pages of history books. Italy is surely a beautiful place populated by beautiful people.
Italians exude a passion for their country and for life that permeates their speech and gestures, like ones I often saw exchanged between taxi drivers and pedestrians. I liked those folks and am practicing talking with my hands.
I continued my gawking tour of Rome’s historic jewels. We "did" the Vatican and St. Peter’s. I may have done permanent damage to my neck trying to absorb Michelangelo’s masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
My best description of the Vatican museum is "dwarfing." That’s a strange word usage, but the experience was so impressive and huge it made me feel quite small, even insignificant. I now understand more about the nature of powers exerted by the church.
Pompeii remains my single favorite tour, but the Colosseum is a close second. I know cheers and jeers of ancient Roman crowds couldn’t possibly have survived 2,000 years, but I strained to hear them anyway. I even went through the motions of a secretive "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" just for the connective hoot of it.
Trevi Fountain was a "must see," but the huge crowds around it gave lie to its romantic reputation. I was afraid I’d put somebody’s eye out trying to toss coins into it. It was so very crowded, as were the Spanish Steps.
Rome is called the "city of fashion" for a reason. My wife Ann was continually entertained by styles, purses, shoes, clothes and all those things I generally ignore. The city is full of very sharp dressers and sharp stores. Cha-ching.
Because this beautiful city is perpetually invaded by tourists, visitors are targeted by hordes of trinket sellers. You quickly learn to ignore such approaches and walk on. If you answer their sales pitch, it’s like ringing a dinner-bell.
I did respond to one guy who was hawking Obama dolls for 5 Euros (about $7 US). I told him I wasn’t interested but would be more than happy to let him have the original for a nickel. He smiled but didn’t understand. I smiled because I did.
As soon as I started buying stuff I noticed they have a national sales tax of 21 percent! When I mentioned this, our driver said he’s paying nearly half of his income in taxes, and the government now wants more.
Maybe a Tea — make that "Wine Party" — is in their future.
Otis Gardner’s column appears here weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.