When NOT in Rome

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut, Kitchen Table Talk

Rome doesn’t want me in the Eternal City.

I am wrapping my head around this, and it may sound farfetched, but I’ve come to the only logical conclusion.

Logic works a little differently in a creative mind, but hang with me here. For a West Tennessee-raised small-town girl who hated and refused to fly until she was 50, it’s almost unbelievable that I am in Rome for a second visit.

Yet I still haven’t seen any Roman sites.

My first visit was at the end of my first cruise with my husband. We docked in Rome and had two more days to see the Eternal City. Still being novice international travelers, we didn’t yet know that the extra money it costs to stay in a hotel that is in a good location is worth it. We were booked on the outer rim of the city.

First day off the cruise ship, we had an ambitious schedule of sightseeing planned. We taxied to a promenade that promised a leisurely walk to Vatican City, our first planned stop. About the time we hit the masses of people pouring into the square, my knee popped. The torn ligament I had been nursing along for years just gave up.

We barely made it back to the hotel, where we spent the rest of the day and the next sightseeing the hotel. We did have a lovely dinner at a family-owned Italian restaurant, but that was it for my first visit to Rome.

Now I am again cruising – my favorite way to travel – and our third stop is Rome. I planned my excursion months ago, taking into consideration that, while the knee is better, I still have some health problems that prevent me from walking long distances. But I found the perfect tour that would allow me to see this magnificent – so I hear – city and still take care of myself.

Rome, however, decided to keep me on the sidelines again. Yesterday, word began circulating that the ship’s Excursion Desk was leaving messages and notes on cabin doors for everyone with tours booked in Rome. It seems June 2 is a national holiday. A parade to celebrate that holiday was causing streets to be closed and bus routes to be upended. Tours that promised a reasonable walk – for me – were now advising that the walks would double, or worse, depending on the traffic.

I didn’t have much of a decision to make when they offered full-refund cancellation, especially since the holiday also meant some of the sights would be closed to the public. My husband looked at the distances and said, “About like walking 18 at Green Meadow Golf Course,” and wisely kept his tour intact.

But here I am in Rome again, on the outside, looking in. And I’m not actually even in Rome, which has no ship ports, of course, but an hour away in Civitavecchia.

I am spending my time relaxing on the ship, eating free desserts and coming up with creative reasons why Rome is keeping me out. I ruled out my preference for Greek gods over Roman ones. It can’t be the food because I am the biggest cheerleader of all for Italian cuisine.

Must be religion. I was born a Catholic, the religion embraced by more than 80 percent of the population of Rome and 100 percent of the 800 inhabitants of Vatican City. When my Catholic father died, however, the town we moved to had zero Catholics, and the nearest church was 35 miles away. My mother decided to take us to the Baptist church, and we grew up there. I am now Methodist. I guess Rome sees me as a deserter and is leaving me to my desserts.

I will plead my case to Rome that I probably wouldn’t have been a very good Catholic anyway. I will work on my appreciation of the stories of Roman mythology. I will gladly keep eating Italian food.

And I’ll be back. Third time’s charm, as they say …

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