For the first 20 years of my life, I vacationed with my parents. We always stayed at first-class hotels.
The next 35 or so years I traveled with my husband, a jazz musician who had very different ideas as to what was acceptable in the travel department. Can I make it clearer than to say that I’m a Jewish girl from New York, and he’s a preacher’s kid from Kentucky? As a kid, his family camped in the Appalachians, while I considered it roughing it if the hotel-room curtains didn’t match the bedspread.
A few years ago, my husband dave (he will never get a capital letter from me again) unexpectedly left me for another woman and another life. Unexpected for me, probably not for him.
The author at the Piazza de Spagna. (Courtesy: Mattie Matthews.)
I was 67 at the time. Though my fear of flying had stopped me from going many places that involved a plane for quite a few years, I decided that I was going to live a braver life—and if that meant drinking a vodka and taking half a mental-patient pill to keep me from running down the aisle screaming at take-off, so be it.
While married to dave, almost all the traveling we did was either for his work or on our 31-foot sailboat down the Intracoastal and to the Bahamas. Believe me, that wasn’t my idea of a vacation. It was doing everything I did at home, only harder (good luck to his new babe).
A few years ago, I accompanied dave and his band on a tour of Italy. Though we hadn’t been there since early in our marriage I was reminded of how much I loved it, especially the people and the food.
One of the things that came with my new life was the realization that whatever I did and wherever I went would be only by my choice. That took some getting used to.
In 1997, my father had died and left me and my sisters with some money. Not a fortune—but something. I was the only sister without children, so when my marriage broke up I was also the only sister who still had our father’s money. It wasn’t easy, but I talked my sister Marcia into letting me use this money so that we could both see a bit of the world. Our father would have loved that.
Last year, we took a cruise to Italy and Spain. It was great, but this time around, Marcia didn’t want to stay away from her husband for so long, so we decided to plan a trip to Italy. We both loved Italy.
Marcia was really looking forward to Rome. I think she loved it more because she lives in the country. Well, maybe upstate New York isn’t really the country, but I once saw a snake there so it’s country enough for me.
For this trip, my niece Stephanie recommended that I use her travel agent, Eva, at E.V.A. Travel. This woman helps plan her trips all over the world—from mountain climbing to luxury resorts. She pointed us to some wonderful affordable hotels like the Residenza Antica Roma, where the rates start at around $125 a night—and she also helped roll out the red carpet. There’s nothing better than having someone waiting to pick you up at the airport, sign in hand.
Rooftops of Rome. (Photo: Gianpaolo Macorig)
We arrived in Rome before our room at the Residenza Antica Roma was ready, so we dropped off our luggage and decided to tour the city. We were feeling old and tired, but it is a tribute to the love my sister and I have for each other that, as we carefully followed the map the hotel had given us into one blind alley after another, not one cross word was spoken.
Trevi Fountain. (Photo: Dennis Jarvis)
We got to Trevi Fountain, which—though lovely—we adored because it had a wall where we could sit down while admiring it. Then we limped on to the Piazza Navona, which was our original destination. Some guy with two parakeets kept offering to take a picture with us for a fee.
It turned out that we should have taken him up on it, because the next guy who wanted to pose with us appeared to have his feet on backward. Why that merits a photo op, well, your guess is as good as mine.
We had a wonderful dinner at Antica Trattoria Tritone, a little gem of a restaurant near our hotel. It was hidden behind a wall of flowers. To get into the mood of Italy, I had pasta pomadoro and Marcia had the lasagna, and we shared the delicious house Chianti. The waitress couldn’t have been kinder. We went back the next day and this time we were served by male waiters, who barely looked at us because at the next table sat two beautiful young women who spent the whole meal smoking cigars and taking selfies. When they left, the waiters thanked them profusely for prettying up the place and gave them souvenir ashtrays.
I remember the days when I would have gotten an ashtray. Such is life.
The next day started off great with the free breakfast at our hotel, where everyone was friendly and helpful. (Our room was lovely if small.) The hotel was also just down the block from one of my favorite sights in Rome: the Capuchin Church of the Immaculate Conception. It’s a six-room crypt from the 1500’s that has a macabre collection of the bones of monks, adapted into little scenes of monk skeletons casually leaning against a wall of monk scapulas and knees.
Skeletons in the crypt beneath the Capuchin Church of the Immaculate Conception in Rome. (Photo: Cat Burton)
This was followed by a visit to the Borghese Gardens, a large public park right in the middle of Rome. The gardens themselves were beautiful—even in April, when they were well on their way to being in full bloom. We (by “we” I mean Marcia) particularly wanted to go to the Galleria Borgese, which holds sculptures by Bernini from the Borghese collection, including his David and his Daphne, and paintings by Titian, Raphael, and Caravaggio.
Titian’s Venus of Urbino.
Unfortunately, it was sold out, so we went to the gift shop and bought a guidebook that we studied so we could pretend that we saw the stuff. Note to self: make a reservation at museums before you leave home.
I’m seriously considering visiting the Pope on my next trip. I left a message on his phone explaining that, since we were only in town for a day, we’d catch him the next time around.
Mattie Matthews writes a blog called 67 & Dumped.