Preparing for life as an empty nester can be a mix of sadness and excitement.You’ve nurtured and raised your fledglings. You’ve warned them they’ll have to flap those wings like crazy to stay airborne. And then—before you embark on the travels you’ve been planning for so long– you watch them fly.
In my case, it was a hug and a wave to our 16 year old daughter at Manchester airport on that first flight alone. It seemed simple enough. Plane to Chicago, plane to Minneapolis, for a couple of weeks volunteering at Camp America, where her big sister was working her third summer.
She was excited, and anxious to check in, so I left her, and, feeling just a bit misty eyed, sought solace in a fat almond croissant and a big mug of coffee in terminal 3 before heading home.
At lunchtime; a text . One of those that starts with the words: ‘Hi Mum. Don’t worry, but….’
A fire alarm had gone off on her plane, high above the Atlantic. They were still close enough to the nest—in this case, the Irish coast, to head back for an emergency landing. There was no need for chutes –just fire engines and sirens on the tarmac. She’d been terrified. Hours later, they were still holed up at Shannon Airport, hoping to get airborne again, but eventually bussed to a hotel for the night instead. Complicated pick up plans had to be rebooked…but finally, they landed in Chicago. Without the high kicks. Or their luggage. That was still in Shannon.
A courier got it to her camp; and she had a great time, despite that scary first solo flight.
Just days later, I was back at Terminal 3, also flying solo, and travelling light by choice. Luckily (even if you have to endure the Ryanair punctuality fanfare) both my flights were spot on and drama-free .Travelling by myself has never bothered me, even as a young reporter, jumping on planes and trains to cover stories for my paper. I get a buzz out of it, actually. I’m fine driving to and from France; and confident shopping solo in New York. But this was Rome, alone, and Robert de Niro wouldn’t be waiting. Or talking Italian. And neither would I, if I didn’t knuckle down and learn some phrases on my flight.
With a Lonely Planet Guide, and a pocket full of change, I landed at Ciampino, found the right bus, then a metro to the city centre, and legged it to my B and B, stopping for a two euro slice of pizza and an icy coke on the corner. Round one.Sorted. Cheap and easy.
Next: the schedule. As much as I loathe coach trips and organised, escorted tours of any description…I booked some. They’re not that cheap (between 30 and 70 euros for the ones I chose). But there’s so much to see, and I only had three days. No point queuing endlessly in the hot sun or trying to muddle through and miss stuff, I reasoned. And there’d be company if I needed it.
So, within hours of arriving, I was on a night time tour of the city, round all the main, floodlit sights. There was time to jump off and take pictures, with tour buddies happy to snap pics while I posed. I realised I wasn’t going to drown in a sea of loved up couples on romantic mini-breaks. I chucked a few euros in the Trevi fountain and scoffed my first gelato. To round off the night: they’d fixed a five course meal for the group. So far, so good. And, thank the Lord, no pensioners with pacamacs. I sat with a family from Australia, a couple from New Zealand, and a beautiful Brazilian girl ‘doing Europe’. Great night. But a late one, so I scribbled down my address, and handed it to the driver of my midnight taxi home.
He might just have been the maddest cabbie in town. Or maybe they’re all that Italian-job bonkers. Singing along, badly, to early Beatles …(…..Hi’ll write Ome…hevery dayeeeee....), he sped me through the city, zigzagging across lanes as if the steering was shot; leaning, Vespa-like round bends; emergency stopping for dramatic effect with whiplash-ferocity, until, thanking God above, I recognised, on the final roundabout, my street.
Sadly, he didn’t. So, in the middle of Rome…in four lanes of traffic, with a cartoon like screech of tyres and a touch of ‘darlin`, hi’ll be truuuuee’… he slammed into reverse ….AND DROVE BACKWARDS TO THE CORRECT ROUNDABOUT EXIT. There were no words. Even if I’d known any. And no tip.
I stuck to the tube after that. It was just one euro fifty to get into the centre and find my Gourmetaly tour groups. One involved strolling round Rome sampling tiramasu, espresso and gelato. Delicious. Louis and Beatrice from Sao Paulo were on that one. His family produce coffee, for goodness’ sake, but he came anyway. Along with Chantal and her friend from Texas. And Jess and Mark from Kansas. Tiny tastes of fabulous food at the best coffee shops. More people to meet; more stories to share. I was loving it.
And then the history bit. Three hours being marched up and down the Palatine Hill, marvelling at monuments…culminating in a tour of the Colosseum. Just mindblowing. And an airconditioned chariot to speed us home. Sedately.
Somewhere in the mix, I stole an hour or two on the Spanish Steps to watch the world go by, and ambled around the side streets for some gentle souvenir shopping. I also got invited on a little private tour with a fabulous Italian called Daniela, starting on foot and finishing in her little Fiat 500 – just because she had a couple of hours to spare and a city she wanted to shout about. But that’s another story.
So. Lonely? Not once. Fascinated? All the time. The ‘fledglings’, and I, have clocked up many more airmiles since then, planning itineraries alone and with friends and family.
But this next one for me is a biggie. Not only in terms of miles and timezones, but because there’ll be two of us sharing the planning, the writing, the legwork….and some rucksack pockets. Watch this space….
Jane visited Rome in July 2013