Thursday, December 15, 2016

An Unforgettable Coca-Cola

I was watching Coke's Christmas commercial earlier today and smiling at how well it conveyed the absolutely spot-on refreshment an ice cold Coca-Cola can provide. If I still drank sodas, I would have jumped in my car and gone to the market to pick up some bottles of Coke immediately. An ice cold Coke satisfies in so many wonderful ways.

Let me tell you about the best, most refreshing, most satisfying Coca-Cola I ever drank. I will never forget how good it was.

In the spring of 1974, my friends Jane and Kris and I were backpacking round Western Europe during our spring break from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. We took trains and stayed in youth hostels and carried our possessions on our backs. Very typical of 20-year-olds in Europe in those days. Our trip began in Paris, after an overnight ferry crossing of the English Channel. From Paris we rode the train to Geneva and a few days later to Zurich. A few days after that we hopped on an overnight train to Rome.

Rome boasted plenty of lovely sunshine and balmy temperatures. We felt like flowers opening up to the springtime after several months of rather gloomy weather in Scotland. We found the youth hostel without too much trouble, venturing forth on Rome's public bus system. Unburdening ourselves of our backpacks (which we could leave safely with the hostel staff), we set out to go to Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter's).

We thought we had figured out which bus stop would take us back the way we had come and would deliver us to St. Peter's. A bus came along and we hopped on. Wrong choice. The bus went two stops in the opposite direction and everyone got off. It was the end of the route! Oh good grief. There we stood: tired from our relatively sleepless train journey, hungry, a bit rumpled, very hot from the lovely sunshine, and, suddenly, dreadfully thirsty.

Being intrepid travellers by that time, we looked around to see what opportunities awaited us before the bus started its route toward St. Peter's again. Close by was some sort of bar, as I recall. The three of us went in.

Ahhh. First of all, the bar was air conditioned! Not really usual in those days. We had chosen well. We sat down and the bar tender came over to us. We ordered three Coca-Colas. We didn't expect them to be cold, really. (In Europe, drinks were generally tepid.) At this point we simply needed something familiar to drink. The bar tender quickly brought us three bottles of Coke with straws sticking out.

As soon as we picked up our bottles, we knew these were ice cold Coca-Colas. That first long sip from the straw nearly brought tears to my eyes. Sooo cold, sooo delicious, sooo Coke. Oh my goodness. No one said a word. We inhaled those Cokes. Suddenly, we knew our time in Rome was going to be wonderful. (And so it proved, but that's another story...)

We may have ordered another 'round' of Cokes. I can't remember. It seems likely. Fortified and refreshed, we left the bar, caught the bus to St. Peter's, and began our explorations.

Nowadays, I can't imagine drinking a Coca-Cola. The sugar would overwhelm me. I haven't had any soft drinks in many years. As I think about it, I probably will never taste a Coke again. Isn't that funny? But once upon a time, in a far country, an unexpected ice-cold Coca-Cola brightened my day unforgettably.

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