Today I’m going to digress from my usual topic of travel insurance. I want to talk about travel in general…about downgrading your expectations and opening your mind. I generally leave home with an overall plan or itinerary but don’t have every second scheduled. Gaps in time can always be filled with the many things that your destination has to offer. But it’s those unplanned moments that leave room for the extraordinary to happen.
Recently I went with my husband to Morocco on a photographic tour. It was a bit tedious to get there from California, so we decided to make a transit stop both going and returning. On the way there, we stopped in Paris for the night. We stayed near the airport and went to a restaurant that I had researched online. It was an adorable, cave-like place owned by an older French couple. It was seemingly in the middle of nowhere in a small town where our Uber was the only car we saw. I figured that as long as we were spending the night, I wanted to reap the benefits of being in France. We had a very French meal starting with escargot soup and ending with a wonderful cheese selection.
The next day we flew to Marrakesh to begin our tour. We had a leisurely 10 days, staying in exotic riads, enjoying the local cuisine and photographing all that Morocco put before us. We made a typical trek via camel to one of the tent-camps in the desert. It was spectacular. My take-away, aside from the beauty of the desert and the sand dunes, was how unique each camel was to ride. It is not unlike riding horses. Camels are all different sizes and shapes and have varying gaits. One camel may be comfortable and the next one not. It was simply something that I had never thought about. The second evening before sunset, we rode out into the dunes to do a photo shoot with one of the camel herders. He was quite handsome and seemingly enjoyed the attention of being our professional model. The photographic opportunities were amazing. The day after we had left this incredible desert setting, the announcement came that the government had unexpectedly dismantled all of the tourist camps in that area. The motive was unclear but the rumor was that there was political pressure from the outlying hotels whose businesses were suffering due to the influx of luxury camps. We were fortunate to have been one of the last groups to enjoy that unusual adventure. Things change around the world daily, so to have specific expectations could possibly be the cause of major travel disappointment.
After Morocco, we had decided to fly home via Rome. I love Rome and wanted to spend a few days there. I didn’t want to do the usual Coliseum/Vatican sights since I had been there several times before. I searched the internet for something different. I stumbled on an article in the NY Times about a tour of a private villa dating back to the 16th century. Among the many treasures to be found there, it housed the only Caravaggio outside of a museum…and that was because it was painted on the ceiling of what had originally been built as a hunting lodge. We basked in the pleasure of a private tour led by the owner of the home, Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi. She is actually American-born and after an interesting young adult life, her Cinderella story began. She met the Prince in 2003 while working on a real estate deal. They fell in love, married and spent many years pridefully working on the restoration of their historically relevant villa. Unfortunately, the Prince died in 2018, a year before our visit. We had originally booked our tour for a Saturday. Then we received an email asking if we could change it to Friday because the one-year memorial of the Prince’s death would be held on that Saturday. That worked for us since I had scheduled in my usual flex time. On Friday we went to the villa at our designated hour. After a few minutes, Princess Rita joined us. She was absolutely delightful with the elegance of true royalty combined with the hospitality of her Texas roots. She was warm, friendly and funny—qualities befitting a hostess extraordinaire. I very much admired her and on some level, we connected. During the course of the tour, Rita invited us to attend the Prince’s memorial and the luncheon which would follow at the villa. I was astounded and touched. The following day, we found our way to the fabulous cathedral. There were representatives from many different countries and walks of life. The vocalist was incredible with the acoustics creating a sound that felt like angels were truly surrounding us. Most of the ceremony was in Italian but there was one eulogy in English. It was written by the Duke of Somerset but delivered by a representative of the Church of England since the Duke was unable to attend due to his commitments in the House of Lords at that time. It was moving and emotional and gave us a bit of insight into the Prince on a personal level.
After the service, the limos lined up for the royal attendees and their friends. We decided to walk back to the villa. We had plenty of time and certainly didn’t want to be the first to arrive. It was about a half hour walk through one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It doesn’t get much better than that! Such ambiance; such history; such memories in the making! When we arrived, everything was formally casual or casually formal. Such is the way I saw the Princess. We were greeted in the foyer with cocktails and appetizers. Aperitif in hand, we stepped outside to savor the deep-rooted immortality emanating from both the property itself and the art. We walked past such treasures as a Michelangelo statue and a marble trough from Hadrian’s time. A short time later, a buffet of Italian favorites was set up in the dining room where I became transfixed by the portraits of the royal ancestors that lined the walls. Though I didn’t know who they were, I felt that I was immersed in an incredible historical flashback. Pinch me, please!
So when I say, “Leave time for the unexpected”, I say it with commitment!