To travel is to invite the unexpected. But sometimes travel twists can really take the joy out of a trip. While sharing the bizarre tale of one such experience, I will pass on some travel-related tips that I hope you will never need to use…
A year ago today Jay and I arrived in Italy for a dream vacation: a month in Umbria, Venice, Lake Garda and Tuscany. We had travelled a lot in our thirty years together, to Europe many times, the Caribbean, even Africa, but never in the summer. Jay works for the Stratford Festival as a stagehand; in the summer the show must always go on. But we’d set the wheels in motion for this vacation a year earlier, booked his time off, apartments, car, even restaurants. What could possibly go wrong?
We stumbled through the Rome airport bleary with jetlag. I’d slept for what felt like mere moments, Jay not a wink. Fortunately Jay rarely sleeps much, so I wasn’t nervous about him driving the three hours to my friend Scarlett’s house in Umbria. My first task: to obtain a SIM card for my unlocked iPhone. I am not an iPerson, but I’d done my research, had phone in hand, could master this challenge. What a relief when a booth appeared in our very path offering us “an excellent deal” on a SIM card for international calls. It wasn’t until after I’d signed the contract that I saw the bill: €130.00. I’m not much of a SIM card user either, but as we wandered onward, I knew I’d been had.
The blast of hot Mediterranean air as we exited the airport blew away my irritation. We were in Italy, what matter how much I’d blown on a silly SIM card? Jay negotiated the car rental and we hit the road. I refused to even consider driving with all those crazy Italians on the road. We got lost twice and stopped for an exceptionally good espresso at a layby, then pushed on, driving through hilly countryside dotted with stone villages, terra-cotta roofed farmhouses, silvery green olive groves. To my astonishment, Jay remembered the route through the town of Umbertide and a succession of ever tinier villages to our destination: the blink-and-you’d-miss-it village of Spedalicchio. We turned up the winding mountain road to Scarlett’s villa, the car screeched on the hairpin turns.
I’ve known Scarlett since we attended the United World College of the Atlantic (A.C.) in South Wales for our last two years of secondary school. Several of our classmates would be joining us for the weekend, some of whom I had not seen in forty years. Michael would be there already; three other couples were to arrive the next day.
One last push up an incredibly steep dirt driveway and we arrived. Casa Lauro is an old stone house that the oppressive heat never totally penetrates. A vine-covered terrace on one side overlooks a pool, tennis court and then sun-splashed vineyards and medieval hilltop towns. We knew the house but in autumn and spring it had been downright chilly; now it felt perfect.
Scarlett and Michael came out to greet us, all smiles and hugs. We sat on the terrace sipping wine. I retired upstairs for a brief nap; Jay swam and chatted with Michael. We eased into the evening, laughing and eating fresh tomatoes with basil, mushroom pasta, crisp green beans. Michael, Scarlett and I reminisced about our time at A.C., regressing to our teenage selves, sharing stories and giggling, absorbing the warmth of the night air. Around 11:00, Jay and I wobbled up to bed, cross-eyed with fatigue.
Scarlett had given us the master suite: a huge room with wooden floors and windows facing the view. We fell into bed. I briefly luxuriated in the soft heat and prospect of weeks in Italy and then plunged into deep dead sleep.
Not very much later something penetrated my slumber: Jay moving about the room, likely seeking the bathroom. The windows were all open; I heard him fumble at the latch. Groggily I wondered why. It was still very hot.
I drifted back towards the blessed depths. Nothing stirred in the room. No wind, no fan … nothing. The profound silence dragged me back to wakefulness. It was TOO quiet. I opened my eyes. The room was empty. No sign of Jay. My heart lurched, pounded. Where was he? There had been no sound at all: no door opening or floorboards creaking, no stumble, no cry, no thud. What had happened? I catapulted clumsily out of bed. In the time it took me to reach the window I thought: he has fallen, four meters onto the tiles. He is dead.
I peered out into the darkness and saw Jay lying on the grass. Moving. Alive.
to be continued
• Beware of convenient airport SIM card sellers – check price before purchasing (duh.)
• Remember that jetlag can be … disorienting.