January 1,2011 I retired from a job that I loved at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. Mary Jane then retired from Her favorite position at SIU at the end of February 2011. Having worked all of our lives, to that point, we wanted to take a holiday like we had never experienced before. Thus we decided to embark on a Mediterranean cruise in May 2011, with an extended stay in Rome after the cruise concluded. Aaron and Jonathon were both able to join us and the excitement was electric.
We landed at Leonardo da Vinci airport in Rome. After we retrieved our baggage we waited for Bob’s Limo Service, who would be our chauffeur both during the day that we were in Rome prior to the cruise and the week after. The driver for Bob was a delightful fellow. He greeted us with broken english and proceeded to drive like a bat out of hell, as my mother was fond of saying. I have driven in Manhattan… and was grateful to have finished without a major accident. As Jonathon remarked at the conclusion of our great east coast adventure, ” We had a lot of close calls.” Nevertheless I have never seen traffic or driving as I witnessed in Rome. There are thousands of small scooters interweaving in and out of cars and trucks and other scooters. Apparently there are no rules of the road as drivers cut in front of their peers with abandon. We were told by our chauffeur that the rule of driving in Roma was to not make eye contact with a person that is attempting to cut in front of you as that is body language for giving them permission to do so. After more than a little heart palpitations we arrived at our destination, the Hotel Montecarlo.
The Montecarlo was a lovely Hotel with an old world ambiance. As we checked in with Claude the desk clerk, and bartender as I later discovered, we noticed that he had only rudimentary english skills and we had no Italian language skills. Remember this was our first exposure to Europe. We were ushered to our rooms and Aaron and I collapsed on twin beds while Mary Jane and Jonathon overcame their exhaustion and sought lunch. As they departed the lights and air conditioner ceased to function. The electricity was off. Being so unbelievably tired we perspired through until their return. Later I inquired of Claude and discovered that if your key was not inserted into the socket provided for it by the inside of the door of the room your electricity immediately was turned off. We were awoken from our hot slumber by Mary Jane announcing that it was time to catch Bob’s Limo Service to the Catacomb tour. Jonathon and I protested that we would rather sleep…but the fact that I was in Rome and might never be so again won out and we left with Bob.
There are forty or more catacombs under Rome. They started in the second century AD. The empty underground burial niches in the stone and earth under Rome were extremely interesting. However they palled in comparison to the Sicilian catacombs that we visited later in the trip.
Now, no matter how tired we were we were ready to eat. Just a block from the Montecarlo was a trattoria that Jonathon and Mary Jane had visited for lunch. We decided that sounded good to our weary minds and bodies. At this point I must mention that our hotel was located more or less on embassy row. There were uniformed armed guards along the path to the trattoria and the surrounding blocks. As we entered the trattoria I noticed the liveliness of the establishment. Much talking, laughing, and movement were all around us. Our waiter was colorful as he was extremely busy with slightly crossed eyes and a balding pate. When I inquired what was best on the menu he responded that, “What was best was not on the menu…but that he would fix his off menu speciality for us if we desired”. We responded that we desired very much. When he brought the off menu special to us we began to eat what was the best pasta dish that we have ever partaken of in Europe…and we have now been there three times. It was exquisite. At the conclusion of the outstanding meal I left my customary tip of 20% and we proceeded to exit the building. Our waiter followed us into the street and exclaimed, ” Please come back again…we are closed tomorrow…but we will be open every day after that!” I responded that we were going on a weeks’ cruise but after that we would be returning to the Montecarlo for an additional week and that we would definitely be patrons again. He seemed very happy.
The next morning was embarkation day for the cruise…but first was the private tour of the Vatican. Bob sent a Mercedes to pick us up at the Montecarlo and deposit us at the Vatican. Our guide Sergio met us within five minutes of our arrival and we began. This young man, from the instant we met him, was the consummate professional. He took us in a side door and commenced to best guided tour that we have ever had.
By the time he had completed our three hour tour we were inundated with both ancient and modern knowledge of the Vatican.
At the conclusion of our tour we said goodbye to Sergio and returned by taxi, not Bob, to the Montecarlo and then by bus to Civitavecchia of our embarkation on the ship that would take us to many interesting points around the Mediterranean. We had only just begun.