Standing inside the main dining room in Windsor Castle, we stared in awe at a dining room table that must have been 30 feet long at least.
We imagined dinner parties requiring shuffleboard paddles to pass the potatoes and walkie-talkies for meaningless conversation. Suddenly, an elderly man broke the silence by muttering to his wife.
“You know, dear, it’s really not that impressive.”
She nodded solemnly and the couple continued on their way. As I stood there, still admiring the polished silver candlesticks, the lace tablecloth, the gold-plated dishware, and the behemoth table, I couldn’t help but wonder what the old man’s dining room looked like.
From Windsor Castle we traveled to Stonehenge. We were forced to stand behind guard rails placed 20 feet from the monumental stones. It didn’t matter. These ancient stones, weighing as much as several cars, were manually dragged for miles before being arranged in their current position. It was an incredible feat for ancient man and the proof of this marvel was standing directly before us. It was more than impressive, it was mind-boggling and beautiful.
Our small entourage left England and traveled to Rome by train. We spent two days visiting the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, and various cathedrals. The beauty of the ancient Roman architecture was enhanced by the warm Italian sun and the smell of home-cooked Italian breads and pastas. It was as close to heaven as one could get here on Earth.
The piÃ¨ce de rÃ©sistance of our time in Rome was an afternoon at the Coliseum. Standing one hundred fifty-seven feet tall, built entirely out of concrete and stone in the year 70 A.D., it was almost otherworldly. We walked along the floor of the Coliseum. It was incredible to think about the number of men who died on that very ground we on which we now walked. As I looked around the six acre expanse, I could not even imagine the pain, fear, excitement, and celebration that occurred in this spot more than one thousand years ago.
Before we knew it our group of expats ended up in Pompeii. Despite being ravaged by Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., the city was still beautiful. The frescos in the buildings were still very much intact. The colors nearly as vibrant as the day they were painted. The elaborate homes stood two, sometimes even three, stories in the air. We were even given a tour of one of the local brothels in the Red Light district in Pompeii. Our guide explained that, in the event a patron was unable to read, the services offered and the price was painted on the walls. Should a tourist in ancient Pompeii be in need of a brothel, phallic symbols led the way down the streets. However, the humor and beauty of Pompeii was still overshadowed by the dark mass of Mount Vesuvius looming in the distance.
Our troupe ended our tour of Europe in the City of Lights: Paris, France. We spent the next four days sampling the famous pastries, visiting the cathedrals, and viewing the monuments. We devoted an entire day to the Eiffel Tower. While we waited in anticipation to travel the expansive heights of the tower we stood on the grassy knolls taking the usual “gag” photos of the famous monument. When our turn finally arrived and we were able to ascend to the top and the view was spectacular. We were greeted with visions of The Cathedral of Notre Dame on the river, painters sitting on the banks of the Seine, farmers’ markets, and the general hustle and bustle of the city. It was a sight to behold.
Our final destination was the famous Louvre Museum. It was the final day of our journey and we were short on time. We were given guide books and were told to choose what we wanted to visit carefully as we could only stay for three hours. Being in the Louvre, we could not miss out on the chance to see the Mona Lisa. The original version of that famed painting that Michelangelo gave the world during the Renaissance was in this place. We could not pass up this opportunity. Our group marched through the museum, passing up many other famous works of art on our way to the Mona Lisa. We were on a mission.
As we approached the hall holding world-renowned masterpiece, we were met with a formidable queue. Still, we were on a mission so we decided to wait. And wait. And wait. We waited for an hour and a half. Finally, we reached the viewing platform and before us hung the Mona Lisa.
I stood there. Squished between a sweaty Italian man and a group of Asian tourists, I was taken aback by what I saw. I observed the diminutive stature, examined the public hype, and thought about the amount of time I had spent waiting for this moment. As I turned to leave the Mona Lisa mosh pit I thought to myself, you know, it’s really not that impressive.