Have you ever opted out of a peak travel experience because it was just too much money? I certainly have, especially during my 20s when I was backpacking around the world on a very-tight shoestring. Entering the Topkapi Palace museum in Istanbul? That’s $12, too much! Enjoying high tea at Harrod’s in London? $75/person. Not on my budget? Taking the Lord of the Rings Tour in New Zealand? $100! Are you kidding? What am I, made out of money? You get the idea, and I’ll bet you’ve done it yourself. However, just once in my life, I willingly untied the purse strings and said, “I’m doing this and I don’t care about the cost.”
I’m on my honeymoon (with my first wife, Jen). Our vacation plan includes a few days in Rome, then a week in Sicily. Rome is fun, of course, with its amazing ruins, the Vatican, St. Peters Cathedral, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, etc. But the highlight of our stay in the Italian capital arrives on our first night, when we decide to dine at the amazing “La Pergola” atop the Waldorf Astoria Hotel — Rome’s only 3-Star Michelin restaurant. As oblivious Americans, we make our reservation for 6pm, way earlier than most “Romans,” but strangely enough, this works in our favor. An empty restaurant means that we get ALL the attention from the waiters, who circle around us like hummingbirds at a feeder. “Bread sir? We have 20 varieties? Water, we have 50 varieties.” (I’m not kidding!). I can honestly say that I try all of the bread that night, which is delicious, and it just keeps coming – which is kind of the theme of La Pergola. I can’t even recall how many courses there were, but I do remember eating yummy scallop appetizers, some kind of fish that was condensed and freeze dried into a delicate paste, and most certainly a delicious pasta – all the while having the waiters attend to my every need and desire. I can almost hear John Cleese, from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, asking, “Would you like a mint, Monsieur? It’s wafer thin.”
The coup de grace, however, is the Grand Dessert. No, it wasn’t a 5-layer cake, which most certainly would’ve been grand, indeed. No, it was just one amazing dessert after another. Tiramisu, check. Panna cotta, double check. Cannoli, you betcha. Until finally, our bellies stuffed beyond capacity, a waiter arrives with box of stacked drawers, each one filled with delicate, powdery sugar cookies. It is the most extravagant meal I’ve ever had or ever will have. When the tab comes, it’s either $750 or $1,000, depending on how you calculate the exchange rate. And this is 2007 mind you. But for once, I don’t care. It’ my Las Vegas moment – one of those times when you say, “My usual frugal ways do not apply here, so let it rip.” Wow.
(Have you ever talked yourself out of bucket-list experience because it wasn’t practical at the moment? The fact is, our lives are long and we almost always have time to make more money. But there are some places that you will visit only once. I say, just once, let yourself go for it! You won’t regret it.)