We were up early to ensure we were at the airport in plenty of time for our flight. We strolled up to check-in and handed over our tickets only to find that they were for the same flight, but in four days time. A quick trip to the airline ticket counter and a small fortune later we had the correct tickets and were boarding our flight to Rome.
When the aeroplane touched down in Italy, the passengers suddenly erupted into riotous applause. Nato and I looked at each other in alarm, it wasn’t a particularly smooth landing, what had we missed in the Italian announcements? Had we just survived something? Apparently not, this was just the way Italians celebrate returning safely to la madrepatria. We boarded the bus to our hotel and SUDDENLY EVERYONE WAS DRIVING ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD. The driving was marginally less insane than Malta, but if applause at the safe completion of a journey were ever warranted, it would be after a car ride on the Italian roads. I think I now understand why the Pope is always kissing the ground.
We met our tour group which was made up of people from New Zealand, Canada and the United States. We’d chosen this tour because it included a night on the Isle of Capri, but it was immediately apparent to us that it was not the first choice for people in our age group. We were the youngest in the group by at least a decade. This was the tour people did when the kids were finally off their hands.
“Our kids are about your age”, one couple told us.
“Our grandkids are about your age”, said another.
The Tour Director took the floor and welcomed us to Italy. She ran through the housekeeping items and answered questions, concluding the briefing with;
“Forget your beautiful homes, forget your comfortable beds, you are in Italy now. Not everything works perfectly, but we’re going to have a wonderful time”.
Before we had time to digest that she ushered us onto the bus to the Trevi Fountain.
It was sunset and crowds were packed around the fountain. Beggars tugged at our sleeves and flower sellers thrust roses in my face whilst hassling Nato for payment. Finally we made it to the front and it was magical, We’d been overseas for over a week but this was the first iconic location we’d visited and it took my breath away. My eyes welled up unexpectedly, but as we were in Italy, no one batted an eyelid.
“Throw a coin over your shoulder into the fountain and you’ll return to Rome” called the Tour Director.
Nato and I checked our change, but we don’t have anything smaller than €2.
“Here, have a coupla quarters”, said one of the New Yorkers handing us some change.
We flipped them into the fountain, ensuring our return to Rome (the following week at the end of the tour).
With that done it was off to dinner, all five delicious courses. We shared our table with a couple from New Zealand and a foursome from Boston. The Americans stopped complaining about their eight hour flight when they heard how long the flight from New Zealand was. They told us we must visit Boston.
“When is the best time of year to visit?” We asked.
“In the fall”, they replied. “You’ve gotta see the foliage.”
I got a bit of a shock when I visited the toilets, they were manned by bathroom attendants that expected €0.20 to €0.50 each time you used the loo. I hadn’t budgeted for this and was concerned it would send me broke.
We met the Montanaros, Mom and Dad from Florida and son and daughter-in-law from New Jersey.
“Have you seen The Thorn Birds?” asked Montanaro Senior.
“No” we replied.
“I can’t believe you haven’t seen The Thorn Birds”, replied the four Montanaros as one.
I made a mental note to hire it as soon as we got back to Australia to see what we were missing. Why couldn’t they just ask about the Crocodile Hunter like everyone else? Nato had been doing impressions on demand – Crikey! He declined to do Russell Crowe, on the basis that Crowe is a New Zealander. This was a bit too fine a distinction for the Americans, until we likened it to America and Canada, or American and Mexico – suddenly they understood.
We discovered that Montanaro Junior was a huge baseball fan when he got into a shouting match with a Bostonian from another tour group about the Yankees being better than the Red Socks. The pianist considered this his cue to starts playing ‘New York, New York’ which had all the Americans singing along. He followed it up with ‘That’s Amore’ and ‘Volare’ by which time we were all singing along. All Nato and I knew were the song titles, but we got by with that and a few well timed ‘oh-oh’s. The Manager unwisely brought out a stack of tambourines, which we took turns at playing very badly – yes you really can play a tambourine badly. As the dessert and coffee cups were cleared away, the pianist bode us farewell us with ‘Arrivederci Roma’.
“We’ll be back”, I told him. “We all threw coins in the Trevi Fountain”.