My phone buzzed and a message appeared: “How difficult is it for you to get to Rome?”
When you get a chance to see a friend in the Navy who’s been deployed and out to sea, you take that chance. And when that chance means a rendezvous in Rome—just a two hour flight away—you take that chance.
The girls and I were out to dinner in the heart of Paris when Mark’s message came in. (I know, I know, you’re not supposed to text during dinner, but I make exceptions for far-flung friends sending unexpected messages that they happen to be on the same continent.) He was going to be in Rome in a week, but just for a day. A quick web search turned up some flight possibilities. The one wrinkle: he wasn’t sure of his schedule—in particular which day he would be free. Hmm. It seems that making sure old seminary friends get their chance to meet up in an ancient European capital isn’t exactly the U.S. Navy’s top priority. So over the next few days we kept the com channels open as best we could—internet access isn’t always possible for those underway on a Navy vessel—to see what his schedule would actually be and what flight would make the most sense for me.
At last, on Wednesday I pulled the trigger for a flight on Sunday morning with a Monday night return; so regardless of whether he ended up in Rome on Sunday or Monday, we’d be able to connect. I had a Rome guidebook from our visit last fall, so finding a reasonably priced hotel in a convenient location turned out to be no problem—even in June with less than a week’s notice. As it turned out, he was able to get two days of liberty and even managed to book a room at the same hotel. It was more than either of us could’ve hoped for!
We made the most of our time together. Pizza, pasta, bruschetta, wine, coffee, and gelato. Plenty of good conversations. I learned all kinds of things about life aboard ship and we caught up about each other’s families. Oh, and Rome has a few sights to see. We joined the mob at the Trevi Fountain and marveled at the Pantheon. We caught the Colosseum at the end of the day and walked right in (apparently the high season hordes had already been through). We dropped in on St. Peter in Chains (and my friend’s first chance to see a Michelangelo) and the Gesù Church with its optical illusion ceiling. In the morning we wandered through the Forum and then caught a taxi to the Vatican—for under eight euros! St. Peter’s was as busy as I’d ever seen it, but the lines to get in moved along just fine. With our limited time, we decided not to join the crowds slogging through the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel; there’s always next time.
And as if having a spontaneous trip wasn’t enough, it also turned out a friend from high school days was also visiting Rome at the same time. Through the miracle of Facebook we managed to rendezvous for the first time since the late 80s. Pretty cool!
I admit, I’m not always the most spontaneous kind of guy. But sometimes it’s worth it to take the plunge. And sometimes it pays off better than you could’ve ever imagined.