Some things don’t always make it to Facebook…
My Facebook feed sometimes reminds me of earlier posts. A photo of Don and I looking fabulous in Italy, in Umbria, from 2014 came up with “Your memories…” I laughed! Yes – I was immediately transported back!
Here’s how it went down
In September, 2014, Don and I trotted off for a week in Italy after spending a week in Scotland with our kids. (Yes, age and tenure do have their perks.) We took two weeks away while they had to get back home to jobs that offered less vacation time. This was to be our total relaxation week for just the two of us after our family adventure.
Of course I had a plan. I always have a plan. We love Italy and I researched opportunities to stay in a rural area close to Lake Trasimeno. That lake, of course, is where the Battle of Lake Trasimene took place in June 217 BC. Hannibal ambushed the Roman army and killed or drove 15,000 Roman soldiers into the lake where they drowned in their heavy armor. I always have the most romantic ideas for my vacation spots.
Today, Lake Trasimeno is on the west side of Umbria and is ringed with beautiful small Italian towns. I chose the town of Passignano for our laid-back week of Italian ambiance, food, and wine. The internet pointed me to a small apartment just outside of the town with good reviews. Close enough to town for groceries and far enough away to bask in the countryside sunshine.
It starts at the airport
I had rented a car. About that. In Italy, when you rent a car, it most often has a manual transmission unless you pay quite a premium for an automatic. This time I saw that we could get a Smart Car with an automatic transmission for a very reasonable rate. I grabbed it! Don was to be the driver. You have to pay extra for additional drivers so we just named him. I had been the driver in Scotland and was still a little rattled from driving on the other side of the road and The Mirror Incident. Another story for another day.
Flight from London to Rome – check.
Get to the car rental desk and pick up the keys – check.
Go to the garage and get the car – Well, yes. Check. Reality strikes. Smart Car size versus Don, Renee and our two weeks worth of luggage (including Scotch).
The height of the Smart Car, is around 1,542 mm (60.7 inches). Don is 1,880 mm tall (74 inches). Much of the Don height is expressed in long legs. It is possible to fold a human being, but they won’t like it. The conversation as we picked up the car and shoved our luggage and backpacks into the back was not all that pleasant.
“What were you thinking?” he asked.
“But it’s an automatic!” I exclaimed. “And Smart Cars are so cool!” (I should also acknowledge that Don is perfectly capable of driving a stick shift.)
There is this very special kind of sigh that escapes from way down deep when Don decides that we are just going with this and, I hope, it also means that he understands that I really thought it was a great idea…the actual execution just left something to be desired.
Did I mention that we had a two and a half hour drive from Rome to Passignano? And the speed limit on the Italian Autostrada is 130 kph (80 mph)? Protip: A fully-loaded Smart Car can reach 130 kph in approximately never.
Don folded himself in and tilted his head a little toward the left so that the stacked up suitcases didn’t smack him behind the ear.
And then it got interesting…
We drove up the road and by the time we made it to Passignano, it was quite late in the evening. Yes, we were starving and hadn’t had dinner but we were thinking it would be a great idea to get the suitcases out of the car (and Don’s ear). We called our host, Katrina*, and left a message to let her know we were about 15 minutes out.
Did I mention that we were staying outside of town? We had instructions. We had a GPS. Neither were helpful. After 45 frustrating minutes of single-lane dirt roads and creepy unlit dead ends, we called back for more instructions. She was not picking up and we were still wandering around on the hillsides of the lake. You can probably hear the conversations that were going on in the Smart Car. “Is this really a road? Are you sure this is not a goat path?” “I don’t know!!! The GPS says this is where we’re supposed to turn!” There were considerably more adjectives thrown in.
After another frustrating 30 minutes, we got a hold of Katrina and agreed to sit at an intersection near town while she rode her scooter down to meet us and escort us up the hill.
We made it! The building was on the side of the hill with what looked to hold a great view of the lake (very dark outside). As we were escorted into our cozy, clean, simple apartment for the week, we had a couple of cats stroll right on it and make themselves at home. They were obviously house cats.
Did I mention that Don is very allergic to cats?
We shooed them out and closed the door.
By this time it was quite late. Passignano is not an “up all night” kind of place. Our chances for dinner were very slim. Plus Don was pretty much done driving with his knees in his chest. No worries; we had emergency supplies so we settled in and sat on the little terrace outside next to the master bedroom enjoying the stars, the lights of the town below and stretched out our legs.
Picture our romantic first evening in Umbria on our terrace dining on FiberOne bars and Jack Link beef sticks with a splash of Ca’ol Isla single malt purchased the week prior in Scotland. Again, we shooed away a few cats that were trying to join us for dinner. We were wiped out.
Fast forward. Two o’clock a.m. – a banging at the terrace door off the master bedroom.
Bang Bang Bang Bang Bang!
It was a beautiful, big, white fluffy cat, demanding to be let in for the evening. Nope. “Go away.”
Bang Bang Bang Bang Bang!
This went on for quite a while.
I rolled over. Seriously, just rolled over. BAM! The bed frame drops out and now the mattress was lying at widdershins. Don investigated and discovered that the slats under the mattress were not holding up the mattress. He re-positioned the slats and pulled the mattress back up. We carefully slipped back into bed, hoping for some rest.
Bang Bang Bang Bang Bang!
Cat heard us; knew were were up.
Don rolled over. BAM!
I bailed out and went to the single bed in the small bedroom with the theory that the mattress would be less likely to drop with just one person.
Bang Bang Bang Bang Bang!
This went on for quite a while. Sleeping didn’t.
The next morning, after not much sleep, we were both a little grouchy and a lot hungry. We found Katrina. Don was patiently, kindly explaining that we weren’t working out with the apartment. I was not nearly so patient. “This isn’t working. Thank you. We need to leave.”
She shrugged, handed me my cash envelope back from the evening before and we packed up and headed down to town to find breakfast. No harm, no foul.
In town, we found cappuccino and a coronet at a little cafe with internet and I immediately found another small hotel with apartments up the road a little east of where we had spent the first night. At Agriturisimo San Severo, there were animals that stayed OUTSIDE! And the beds were well put together.
We had a great week with even more adventures….for another post.
So, when you look at photos from your Facebook or Instagram friends and you see the perfect piece of tiramisu in some sidewalk trattoria or the most beautiful sunset ever, remember that perhaps they also had a bed that fell apart in the middle of the night while a an obnoxious cat was incessantly pounding on the door.** Maybe not that trip, but sooner or later even the most intrepid global travelers have a significant hiccup, or a series of minor ones. In some ways, these events are the price of adventure, and are best taken in stride and make for great stories once you have had a good night’s sleep and a cappuccino.
Plan for success, cope with the tribulations, and always have some snacks and whisky on hand. We pack lighter now, too. Just in case we have to jump in another Smart Car.
* I don’t really remember her name…it was something like Katrina or Katya…
** I have no pictures on the cat house with the bad bed.
You Really Should Visit This Place!