My Special Moments Abroad

Marjorie Thayne

© Copyright 2003 by Marjorie Thayne

The author with a Coldstream Guard in London.

My husband, Tim, and I retired and decided to take a European Dream vacation in 2003. The trip included brisk visits to Rome, Venice, Lucerne, Paris and London. Rather than emphasizing the famous tourist sites, these are a few of my experiences of being abroad: An unforgettable taxi ride, an unfamiliar toilet configuration and sleeping on the edge would become special moments.

"Hold on," I mouthed to my husband.

Tim pushed his knees against the back of the front seat. I pressed my feet on the floor. The car's seat belts seemed inadequate. So, we held onto our seats and swayed with the car's movements. Aldo, the taxi driver, took off and eagerly moved into the traffic. He nearly filled the front seat of the small car. He had curly black hair and a cigarette dangled from his lips. After several left and right turns, incomplete stops at the stop signs, the intermittent beeping of the horn, murmuring and hand gestures, we made it through the city and onto the highway. Now, he drove between the marked lanes, passing cars, cutting closely in front of some and stopping on a dime behind others. Soon, and with a refined stop, he safely deposited us at the doors of our hotel, The Villa Pamphili in Rome.

We planned to spend two and one-half days prior to the scheduled tour, which would began in Rome. Then, after the conclusion of the tour in London, we would have two additional days in London.

We checked in and decided to freshen up before going out. I went into the bathroom and after a few moments, I found myself in an unplanned situation. Here, I sat on a slightly different model than the one at home. I looked on the floor, no pedal. On the bowl, no handle. It must be within arms length on the wall. Not there. I looked further up the wall. Could that be a tissue holder? If so, shouldn't it be closer to the wash basin? I stretched my arms and pushed the square box, "whoosh." That's it. I learned one meaning of the phrase, "free at last."

Dinner at 11:00 p.m.? As we sat at a front sidewalk table, at the Piazza Navona in Rome, I felt that often forgotten electric current of romance flow between us. Energized by this charge, I permitted myself two glasses of the soft bouquet and lightly sweetened, red house wine. We were drawn into the cultural night life. One street musician strummed his guitar and another fingered his accordion, both hoped for an appreciative donation from the listeners. The oil painters and mimes were there performing their magic. For me, this warm night became an abstraction of serenity.

At the hotel, we met our "tour family" and guardians. Rita, a travel company tour director, would be with us until the changing of the tour guardians in London. Rita is very knowledgeable and appeared to have a personal concern about us and not just a distant, professional one. She had a small toy teddy bear attached to a thin rod and it would be coming along for the ride.

The travel company coach driver, Sabatino, became our second guardian. He had a quiet and friendly manner about him. His patient and excellent chauffeuring skills would be demonstrated as we traveled.

Our "tour family" hailed from Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The states of Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts and California, were represented. Everyone was friendly, but unlike real families, we all were on our best behavior.

Tim and I dubbed one man, "Mr. Movie Maker." He literally scurried from place to place at each destination with his home video camera on his shoulders. He took pictures of everything, as if he were making a documentary. I wondered if he saw anything of the trip, except through the lense of his camera. His wife often trotted behind him and carried a small 35-millimeter camera. Occasionally, he took still pictures instead of moving ones. Watching him in action kept me smiling because he reminded me of an excited child with a new toy.

When we visited Venice, we boarded a ferry for lunch and took a 45 minute ride to Burano, the island of lace and multicolored houses. Rita held the small teddy bear high in the air for us to follow so we would not get lost.

It is believed that a young Venetian seafarer brought his beloved a piece of seaweed from a distant sea and that she wanted to preserve the memento forever. So, she diligently copied the outline and patterns using her needle and thread. Thus, began the industry of the famous Venetian Lace, which reached its peak in the 16th century. Today, the few lace makers, who often work at home, still create the delicate cloth using the ancient techniques.

The houses of Burano are painted in bright colors of greens, reds, golds and blues. I saw a house painted with my favorite shade of green. The story about the colorful houses began many years ago with the fishermen's wives: At night, after a tiring day of fishing, the men often couldn't find the correct house because the houses were painted in similar colors. They entered into the nearest unlocked house and found the wrong wife. The women decided to paint the houses different colors so the husbands could find their way home to their own wives. Today, the women are still responsible for painting the exterior of the houses and if a house is purchased, the new owner can't change the color. Burano became one of my favorite places while on the tour.

Later, we would travel through the Italian Lakes Area. As we sat on the coach, waiting to depart, Rita and Sabatino stood outside and were having a difference of opinion about which route to take. Rita prevailed.

Instead of using the wider, national highway, Sabatino drove along the narrower two lane highway toward the Italian Lakes. On a curve, we met a recreational vehicle and neither vehicle could move forward. Cautiously, Sabatino, moved in reverse. The rear end of the coach neared the guard rail. I looked out of the back window from my seat on the last row. How much further could he go? Another roll of the wheels and the recreational vehicle went by. Everyone gave him a hearty applause and a few whistles. We continued until we reached our overnight facilities.

In Lucerne, Tim displayed his vocal talent. A few hardy souls in our group went to a restaurant for the local entertainment of yodeling and music. Tim and several others were selected from the audience to come onto the stage and yodel. Tim's yodeling? It's sad to say, but he sounded like a tom cat meowing in the darkness.

A couple of tables of tourists began a line dance inside the restaurant and were soon joined by one of the restaurant's employees. Music, clapping and laughter accompanied the impromptu show. We were exhausted at the day's end.

Would our trip be complete without a Cabaret Show and Dinner in Paris? Of course not. We went to the Nouvelle Eve for our night excursion. The show had excellent choreography and colorful costumes that could rival the costumes worn in Las Vegas, Nevada. Even the topless dances were performed attractively. The show included a comedian, a trapeze act and a mime. Ou, la, la.

We concluded our tour in London. Now, Rita and Sabatino would begin the reverse trip to Rome with a new group. There were hugs and a few choked tears, mine included, as we bid them farewell. I thought Rita and Sabatino were a great team.

Tim and I still had two days and nights to roam around London. The spaciousness of the English style hotel lobby went lacking beyond the elevator doors. Is this a queen size bed? At six feet, three inches, Tim easily filled the majority of the bed. I had difficulty keeping Tim, in what I thought should be, his assigned space. So, I wrapped the bed covers under me at the waist as an anchor. With my arm slightly bent at the elbow and my palm pressed against the wall, I slept on the edge.

The first day, we visited the museum of one of my favorite fictional characters, Sherlock Holmes. The museum had been tastefully created to match the televised stories. The next day, by way of the "Tube," London's underground passenger train, we went to the Globe Theater in deference to Tim's favorite playwright, William Shakespeare.

The day arrived. "Is it time to leave, already?" I asked.

Tim laughed and said, "The dream is over."

So, true, but I thoroughly appreciated and savored my limited time and special moments in Europe. I had a glimpse of history past, experienced a different technology and saw one-of-a-kind architectural wonders. And, I had the taxi ride of a lifetime.

Now, the time has come to dazzle family, friends and foes with our avalanche of vacation pictures.

I am an online award winning writer with articles published in the Accent on Living Magazine, LA Weekly Magazine  and the local news papers. As a member of the Pasadena Writers' Society, my fiction has been included in our two self-published holiday season booklets. Currently, I'm crafting my first fictional children's book.

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