London, Paris, Rome, and…?

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

There are so many interesting places to visit in the world, and life is so short, one wonders how to choose.

There are those who believe travel should begin and end in their native land, thus depriving selves and families of the rest of it. And there are those who travel only in faraway places on the assumption that they can always travel “locally” when their health or money runs out.

I bought a peach-colored cotton pullover many, many years ago that bears the very minimum itinerary – four great cities – of a would-be world traveler. It has faded over time and is hard to read, but I thought it appropriate to wear to the Peachtree City 50th anniversary party. Whenever the slightest hint of travel was uttered, I’d reach up discreetly and straighten the wrinkles of the shirt so that my destinations could be read.

At the time I bought this shirt, we had visited only London.

I’d heard speculation about offhand remarks made by locals to tourists about England, London in particular. I sort of looked for it, but could not find any snobbery at all. And they do speak English terribly well.

What pleased us most was the enthusiasm with which tour guides presented their commentary as we sauntered their sidewalks or boarded their boats. For the tour guides, it’s a job. They could rattle on and log their hours, and be home in time for tea. Ho hum.

But instead, it was as though this was the first time our guides had ever made this particular tour, and they were downright delighted that you were sharing the experience with them. They point out landmarks from antiquity and explain what happened to London Bridge. They solicit admiration for their native city and the spectacular difference just a few decades made in cleaning away the soot.

Paris – ah, Paris. Contrary to what you may have heard that the French don’t suffer non-French-speaking tourists gladly: Au contraire. Again, we’d like to dispel that unkind assessment. If you try to say just a few words in French, the locals will usually get in there before you, with perfect English, making the conversation not just pleasant, but a relief so profound you feel absolutely redeemed.

Paris has maintained her own ambiance by accepting the architecture and culture of others to blend together a vibrant city. “The City of Lights,” she calls herself, and deservedly.

I’m very much the traditionalist about most images, but Paris without the Louvre Museum or Eiffel Tower just wouldn’t be … well, Paris. I know if I’d had any say in the matter, they would never have been constructed.

Thank goodness, I didn’t – have any say, I mean. Today the Eiffel Tower is an instantaneous icon, recognized globally as symbolic of art, good food, and music. Like London, its position on a mighty European artery, the Seine River, has provided for the transport of more than just goods, but of Western culture, into and out of central Europe.

People who love Paris and visit her often sometimes scoff at the “new” entryway to the classical buildings of the venerable Louvre Museum. Oddly, I was pleased with the 1989 Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole built to be a new entry and mezzanine. Chinese-American architect I.M.Pei designed one large and three small pyramids above the visitor promenade, creating perhaps the most eclectic of cityscapes.

Rome – Third city on my clothing-as-travel-guide shirt.

Rome is the most recent articulation of a great capital and the historic center of all that is civilized: music, art, architecture, literature, fashion, law, religion – the list is endless.

Unfortunately, a mystery bug put Dave down for most of our three days in Rome. I booked every non-walking tour we could find, but he simply could not get out of bed in the dark (relative) coolness of our centrally located hotel. I didn’t want to leave him alone for more than an hour or so at a time.
Hence, the rest of our party “did” the city by outdoor buses which give an idea of its beauty, but I skipped the Vatican and museums. For a big city, Rome has some of the greenest, most shaded streets I’ve ever seen.

You know how world-famous sights sometimes disappoint? The coliseum does not. It fulfills the promise of guide books and photography.

And Mary took us to a concert performance of Verdi’s La Traviata in a musty old church, followed by a gruesome little must-see on Piazza della Bocca della Verita.

Looking more like a drain cover than a sculpture – a god’s face with its mouth open – small monument is believed to judge whether or not a visitor is telling the truth. If he lies with his hand in the sculpture’s mouth, the hand will be cut off.

As a mother whose pianist-daughter’s hands are insured, I confess it gave me the heebie-jeebies.

Last great city? Wondrous as Europe’s cities are, none compares to the one we call home. Take her best qualities and roll them together, add the love of friends and family, throw in community spirit and volunteerism, green summers and mild winters, vast public places and urban landscapes, stir with innovation, and my shirt is stenciled:

Peachtree City, Georgia.

Recent Comments