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TRAVEL: Off the Beaten Path

Celebrating a 30th anniversary is always special. But, celebrating a 30th anniversary under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France with fireworks booming around you is unlike any other. For Jerry and Mary Ida Williams, international travel like this is not uncommon in their marriage. Having been to beautiful destinations including France, Greece, Switzerland, and Australia, the pair is always looking forward to their next adventure. Despite their extensive travels, Italy has remained glaringly vacant from the stamps on their passports.   

But, that changed when Jerry was awoken early in the morning by a phone call from his brother. Extensive travelers themselves, Jerry’s brother and sister-in-law proposed the trip of a lifetime – one week in Rome, Italy with a travel organization out of Dallas. Jerry and Mary Ida did not have to think about the proposition very long before agreeing to the travel.

With over 26 hours of travel time from their start in Dallas to their destination in Rome, Jerry and Mary Ida arrived in Rome with hope for a change of pace and scenery. “Going from Troy, a town of 19,000, to Rome, a city of 3 million, there is certainly an adjustment,” Jerry explains. “But with over 9 million tourists a year, we were not in the minority.” They even found their own sense of home while over 5,000 miles away, purchasing a pair of Trojan figurines while in Rome, a connection between their home town and the ancient city.

The couple could have never prepared for the beauty of the ancient city. “Even after studying Rome and doing the research before we arrived, I never could have imagined the beauty of the city until I saw it for myself,” Jerry said while he and Mary Ida remembered some of their favorite spots.

“I enjoyed the Colosseum the most,” explains Mary Ida. She was particularly amazed by the versatility of the massive structure. Having been host to boat races and gladiator fights alike, it is a marvel in the modern day. Jerry, on the other hand, was inclined to the largest church in the world, “I’ll never get over St. Peter’s Basilica.” The sculptures and architecture are among the many things that he remembers as breathtakingly beautiful.

But, it was the outskirts of Rome that truly gave the couple an immersive experience. “We found ourselves wondering off from the group at times,” Mary explains. “My brother and his wife are world travelers and while we didn’t try to keep up with them, we did follow in their footsteps to see things aside from the group tour activities,” Jerry adds.

Sometimes among the beautiful sites and overflowing to-do lists, the simplest of sites escape Roman tourists. “A lot of times when traveling, you try to do everything. But we did not try to do that. We planned pockets of time to go and do what we wanted,” says Jerry. Those pockets included a trip to the only shopping mall in Rome, something Mary Ida admits to orchestrating. There, Jerry found a grocery store that he found to be an experience in itself: “This gave me an opportunity to see the Italian people in their natural setting, performing simple, everyday tasks like I would back home. It was an opportunity to see real Italian people, not just the tour guides we were accustomed to.”

This particular grocery store also held a treasure unlike any other on their trip, Mary Ida’s favorite soda- Pepsi! Their search far and wide for the beverage was resolved as the couple laughed about their need for such small luxuries in travel.

Their free time lead Jerry and Mary Ida on a number of adventures. One in particular may not have been the most successful, but the couple did not let their blunder deter from the opportunity to learn from the Italians within their surroundings. “We truly got a real taste of Italian culture one day when we were deeply lost in the neighborhoods of Rome,” Jerry tells a story of being unable to communicate with local taxi companies due to the language barrier. “No one spoke English. But, we were lucky enough to find a drug store with a pharmacist who did and was able to get us a taxi back to our hotel.” This gave them the opportunity to see the real-life interactions of common Italian people, not simply the tourist attractions that most see.

Jerry and Mary Ida found a great deal of pleasure in the Italian cuisine. “The first night we were in Rome, we went to a pizzeria and made our own pizza. We picked our own toppings then they baked it and brought it out to us,” Mary explains. She and Jerry even brought the recipe home with them to try their hand at making Italian pizza on their own. Jerry praised the freshness of his Italian meals. From the meats to the herbs to the spices, Jerry says that everything was delicious.

After not traveling for many years, Jerry and Mary Ida made adjustments to some of the travel regulations that have changed recently. “Mary Ida seemed to get a complimentary massage from TSA in every airport,” laughs Jerry. “I was not a fan!” Mary Ida replies. While airports seem to be a commonality in travelers’ anxieties, Jerry and Mary Ida learned a few more things on their trip to add to their travel checklist. These included small preparations like packing bath cloths as many European hotels do not provide them and bringing an ATM card instead of cash as counterfeit cash has ruined the credibility of the American dollar among European cities.

“Traffic is unreal … and I thought Atlanta was bad,” Jerry notes, “We finally figured out that whatever car has the loudest horn is the one with right of way.” The couple’s tour group found themselves walking for many of the excursions as the bus elected to avoid the narrow, pedestrian-filled Roman streets. According to Mary Ida and Jerry’s Fitbit, they each walked a total of 33 miles in their one-week trip. But, they were not bothered as their feet led them to many sites virtually unseen by most tour buses.

Rome checks off another city on the bucket list of Jerry and Mary Ida, but the trip is host to memories that they will cherish for years to come. As the couple plans to celebrate their 50-year anniversary later this year, they can only hope for more excitement of travel for many years into the future.

Story by Anna Shay Wasden

For more stories from the March/April edition of TroyLife, call and make an appointment to pick up a copy at The Messenger office.