Let’s Just Stay Here (Italy #2)

The man in the leather jacket sitting across from me in the Montreal airport boarding lounge bends over as if to lessen the pain in his stomach. His wife remains ramrod upright, stoically holding a phone in front of her face. Almost every seat in the waiting room sags with passengers' weight and frustration. People pace. Clumps of people lean against walls and pillars. As if their existence will speed up the process, lines form before the check-in desk. Eyes constantly scan the notice board for an update on the departure of AC 892.

The plane from Montreal to Rome is late. Not minutes late but hours. 

Our arrangements with the booking.com host will require updating. Not the end of the world, but greater tiredness will accompany us heading east. The wedding plans, family reunions, and business meetings of others face more significant complications.

I do not possess the attitude of a true pilgrim. If patience forms the lesson, could I learn it later?

Eight hours and six minutes after lift-off, we arrive. Backpacks secure on weary backs, pulling our carry-ons, we follow the signs to the Leonardo Express train that will transport us to Roma Termini, the massive train station in central Rome. We are last on board but find room.

Termini buzzes. Since this is our first time in the station, our pace measures slightly slower than the veteran travellers who stream around us.

Zippers secure on the backpacks, and the location and security of passports tripled checked we clutch anything of financial value. Almost every guidebook and YouTube video warn of the need for constant vigilance. Pickpockets flourish among bewildered tourists.

Having missed the cellphone provider TIM's booth at the airport, we locate a store in the station. Minutes later, our cellphones are loaded with new SIM cards, and our credit cards register the purchase of two 30-day tourist plans. I can activate Google Maps and text my wife at will, "Where R U?"

We make our way out of Termini onto Via Marsala, following the excellent directions of the host. Seven minutes later, we stand before a massive wooden door. The number matches our printout.

An older gentleman standing beside the door registers our confusion and asks something about "hotel." His question includes the word "Roma.” We nod yes and follow. He takes us through a courtyard to a back room that could be called a monastic cell, only with the risk of offending a monastic. He hands us a ring of keys and points to a door.

My wife puts on her brave face, refraining from saying what runs through her mind (and mine), "How could you book us in this?" 

A visit to a shared toilette reveals that the toilet does not function. 

A thought runs through my mind like a bandit down a dark alley. 

"Is this how it is going to be the entire trip? I wonder how much it would cost to get back to the airport and find a way home.

After a few minutes of deep breathing, I text the phone number on the booking sheet, uttering a small prayer of gratitude for my new SIM card.

Minutes later, my cell phone rings. 

"Where are you? We have been waiting for you to check in when you indicated."

Long story short. We missed the mark.

We correct. A text from one of our daughters underlines that much of travelling involves problem-solving. 

Those who write about retirement, ageing and other transitional times inevitably cite a rough adjustment period. In retirement, there can be an immediate rush of freedom that feels like an extended holiday. Plans develop, play out and then questions emerge.

We have left. We are not now where we once were. The illusion of safety provided by familiarity has dissipated. Is this where we are supposed to be? If not suitable, what are the next steps? Do I need rest, reassurance or a prompt to action?

When we find the true Gemme di Roma, it is beautiful, has a lift, is fastidiously clean and well appointed. The included breakfast is customizable and delivered at our convenience. 

A part of me wonders, "Can't we just stay here?" Who cares if this is the first step of the journey? I like it here.”

My wife says, "It's going to get better, but now, I'm starving! Let’s find a place to eat.”

One thing after another.

Speakers like Riley Moynes maintain a period of doubt, even depression, follows the initial sense of excitement and discovery after retirement. Does this apply to every liminal transition or just retirement?


  1. I’m so glad you’ve resumed your writing, Keith. Your reflections seem very familiar.
    I don’t know if it’s post-pandemic, aging, empty nest or just low serotonin, but I certainly feel a reticence to leap back into the travelling that I think I used to do pretty easily. I think the “rough adjustment period” can also be applied to coming out of the pandemic. The future or the past seems easier than the present. Undoubtedly some rose-coloured glasses at work. Memory is notoriously unreliable.
    Many thanks for your insights which reach out and connect me to your humanity.

    1. Great to hear from you Anne. It is true that I am finding the gift of reflecting on various episodes of the Italian journey resonates in more contexts than I imagined. Glad to know I am not alone. 🤔

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