In 1971, the year I turned that dreaded age after 29, I decided to treat myself to a grandiose birthday gift. I picked up the phone and called TWA (remember that airline?) and booked myself a ticket from Los Angeles to Rome and then, after a few days, to Dubrovnik. It would be my first time back in Croatia since I was a young child.
I had a good friend, Ray Heindorf, who was the musical director at the Warner Brothers Studio. He highly recommended the Gran Hotel Flora on Via Vittorio Veneto located adjacent to the Borghese Gardens as his favorite in Rome. As I talked about my pending trip, one of my neighbors told me her nephew was studying at a seminary in Rome and contacted him to make sure I had a guide on my first solo trip to Italy. So, well taken care of, I was ready to be off!
The next morning, I hitched a ride down to the LAX airport, got my boarding pass and found myself sitting in a mostly empty flight, winging my way across the Atlantic to Rome and Dubrovnik. After a surprisingly edible dinner and enjoying the movie on that very large screen in the front of the cabin, I popped up the arms and had a lovely snooze on three comfy leather seats. (Hey, this was the good old days of wide comfortable seats and plenty of leg room, so much nicer than the 18-inch cramped seat of today’s flights.) As I opened my eyes, a young lady popped her head over the row in front and asked me if I was going to Rome? (hmmmm, not a full deck there, I thought..this is the flight going to Rome) After I told her I planned to spend a few days there she asked if I would like to sight-see together, and then the two handsome guys across the aisle jumped in and asked if they could join us. A solo traveler had just become a fun foursome and we were off to discover the wonders of Rome, all first time visitors!
The others had booked into hostels, so we opted to meet at my lobby the next day to begin our Roman adventure. (Can you imagine staying in Rome on the Via Veneto for $21 per night, as I did in 1971? Things sure have changed in the past 40 years, and hotel room rates are one of them.) The four of us spent the entire day walking all over; we hit the Borghese Gardens, sat on the Spanish Steps, found the Coliseum and had fabulous gelato at the Piazza Navona. Although I can’t remember their names, I do know that we all spent a wonderful day exploring Rome and tossing coins in the Trevi after which we got into the fountain to have our picture taken. After a fun supper in one of Rome’s lovely restaurants, we scribbled our names on the ceiling as so many others had done and parted ways.
My second day was very special. Vatican City, Saint Peter’s Church and the Sistine Chapel were so much more interesting with my youthful seminarian as my private guide. His knowledge gave me an insight which I could not have gotten from any official tour; his love and knowledge of the sights was inspiring. I often wonder when I see the Vatican on television if he is still there or perhaps did make it to teach in one of Africa’s poor countries.
On my last full day in Italy, I decided to join a small tour of twenty people for an overnight trip to Naples, Pompeii, Capri and Sorrento. In those days, women were not allowed to view some of the ruins in Pompei and regrettably, I missed the good stuff they felt my sensitivities could not handle. (ha!) I remember clearly it was stifling hot and humid and I was thrilled to finally get to the small boat to the isle of Capri. It went into the blue grotto and got the required pinch as we exited the cave. Looking up at the villages which were built hanging off the ledges, I wondered how they would survive with one of our major California style earthquakes. It had been a very long day and I couldn’t wait to hit the clean white sheets of my bed in the hotel after supper. As I dropped off into a much-needed deep sleep, I knew that group travel was not for me. It was neither the pace I enjoyed nor the attention to detail I hoped for.
Anticipation to see Croatia again after a 17 year hiatus kept me from a decent night’s sleep. I awoke the next morning to the sounds of a rooster crowing at the early hour of 6am. Oh well, it was time to pack and my long bus trip back to Rome for my last night in Italy. It was during one of the several rest stops on the highway that I saw my very first infamous “hole” in the floor type in the ladies powder room. (Ok folks, I use the term loosely when describing the toilets at those rest stops. Let me digress to a few days before I left for my trip and worked at the Mason home in Beverly Hills. I will never forget when Mrs. Mason asked me why I had not, answered my phone when she buzzed my desk. When I responded with I had been in the toilet, she told me quite emphatically that a lady never, ever used that word! It was a powder room and to this day, those are the exact words I still use after 40 years.)
As my short flight from Rome finally began to cruise the Dalmatian coast, the tears began to flow as we descended into the Dubrovnik airport in Clipi. Little did I realize this was the beginning of my residency in Croatia? It only took 37 years to make a dream come true!
Update: Did not post any of the photos from this trip as they are someplace in California, sitting in a box of old 35mm slides. Maybe someday when I get back there again.