Italy Journal – “And Away We Go”
We were shopping in Exton when she brought it up again. The group vacation.
“So, my church choir is looking to take another tour to Europe and…,”
This is usually where I start to tune out. (Sorry, Kristy.) My best friend is far better traveled than I am, at least where traveling abroad is concerned, and I admit to being more than a bit jealous. Teacher salaries being what they are, I don’t see me catching up to her any time soon, so I try to turn down the mental volume a bit when she starts chatting about her Danube cruise, the tours in St. Petersburg, and how lovely the Black Forest is this time of year. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like she talks about these trips incessantly. I am admittedly a crappy friend for not being a better listener and I am happy she’s gotten to see and experience all she has. I’m just terrible at living vicariously.
I thought she was winding up to pitch another trip to Germany and/or Austria. Now, I have nothing against seeing Central Europe. Quite the contrary, I’d love to. I have some German heritage and know enough of the language to tell what the Nazis are saying in Indiana Jones movies without checking out the subtitles. I enjoy Wagner and adore pork and cabbage products. Jeremy, alas, does not. It would be a tough sell. And I couldn’t afford to go anywhere without him.
“…I’m pushing for Italy,” she finished.
Say what? I was back to full attention. Italy! I have a last name that ends with a vowel! Italy has cool ancient ruins that a certain Zahi Hawass fan might enjoy! AND Italy is the birthplace of haute cuisine (French-smench… they would still be cooking like the Brits if the Medici girls hadn’t married into the French royal family!). Also, one could avoid pork products there if one chose to, but I really don’t see why one would want to. (Hello, proscuitto!) I could sell this!
A little over a year later I found myself wrestling our large wheelie suitcases out of the back of Kristy’s mom’s Matrix at the Philadelphia Airport. I had sold the trip successfully some months back, but there were a number of changes to the original plan along the way. First, we were going to be traveling with Kristy’s church choir through Northern Italy. Not singing, just traveling. On the itinerary were Venice, Florence, Milan, Turin, and Cinque Terre. After arriving in Italy, we would be traveling from place to place via charter bus. Accommodations were to include four star resorts and some meals. We were going to see an opera and several museums.
None of this panned out. As the cost of air travel skyrocketed and the value of the dollar began to plummet, many choir members got cold feet. This was exacerbated by the fact that the company that charters the choir trips, American Music Abroad, couldn’t nail down a solid price quote due to the rapidly fluctuating financial situation. The trip was cancelled and we decided to go it alone, sort of.
After doing a bit of research, we discovered that for the time of year we’d be traveling (just before peak season), the southern part of the country would provide a better value. This was the second change to the plan. We needed to make some decisions about where we’d like to go. Rome was a must for its rich history. Jeremy’s family is believed to be from the Naples area and he was eager to explore his roots. Kristy is the consummate beach girl, so Capri and the Amalfi Coast were most appealing. I was the first to “discover” Sardinia. The island where Italians go to vacation had a rich history and an interesting cultural profile. I pushed to have it included. So we knew where we wanted to go, we just needed some guidance when it came to logistics and accommodations.
We decided to enlist the help of Hidden Treasures of Italy. We did a lot of homework here, checking references and consumer sites like the Better Business Bureau. We were determined to have the trip run as smoothly as possible. Even when we were satisfied we had chosen wisely and decided to commit, there were some bumps. Like Naples.
Naples, the largest city in the Campania region, has a… reputation. Guide books, travel writers, and booking agents all advise against staying there due to the high crime rate, horrendous traffic, and it’s ragtag appearance. Our agent didn’t even work with any of the hotels in the city. So our time in Naples would be kept to a minimum, much to Jeremy’s chagrin. We would need to use it as a travel hub, so we hoped to take in some of the sights there before heading to the airport, boarding our ferry or picking up our rental car (the final change… no tour bus). For a not insignificant fee, Mariella, our agent, set up our basic itinerary, accommodations, and flights to and from Sardinia. The rest was up to us.
This brings me back to the suitcases. Once freed from the car, we said our goodbyes and made our way to the ticket counter. Check in was remarkably speedy and even airport security was a breeze. In no time we were waiting comfortably at our boarding gate. I should have known something unspeakably evil was about to happen.
Concerned I wouldn’t have enough reading for the flight and in possession of two hours to be killed, I wandered over to the news stand/ bookseller with Kristy. I had my trade paperback selection in my hand and was headed for the counter when it happened.
This being our first trip abroad, Jeremy and I read a great many tour books packed with suggestions for everything from packing your bags to thwarting savvy thieves. I think it was European travel-guru Rick Steves who convinced me that money belts were a good idea. I bought one for each of us before the trip. I was now frantically rummaging through mine looking for my primary credit card.
I intentionally left my purse back at Kristy’s, determined not to be a victim of a purse snatcher or pickpocket. The money belt was all I had. My passport was there. My debit card … my driver’s license, both there. My Visa was nowhere to be found. Could it have fallen out when I presented my passport at security? Or at the baggage check in? Yikes!
Kristy could see the color draining from my face.
“What’s wrong?” Her face screwed up with concern.
I blurted out my dilemma in hushed tones and we high-tailed it back to the bags where I had to tell Jeremy. We tore through our carry-ons, but I knew it would not be in either of them. Either it had fallen out somewhere in the airport or it was back in my regular wallet on Kristy’s table sandwiched between gas receipts and my voter registration card. I prayed for the latter, but I had to prepare for the worst.
Armed with the credit card info and several quarters, I made my way to the pay phones (we left our cell phones at Kristy’s since they would be useless in Italy without international plans) while Kristy spoke to security and Jeremy looked through the bags one more time. I had two calls to make. The first to Visa to put a hold on my card, and the second to Kristy’s mom to see if she could swing by Kristy’s place and check my purse.
Fortunately, I had to listen to precious little muzac while I waited for card services to help me. The news was good. Well, as good as it could be. My card had not been used and after a few moments it was officially inactive. My second call didn’t go as well. I got the machine and left a message.
“Um, hi. Yeah. This is Audra. It’s now about four o’clock and I was hoping you could do me a big favor? Yeah. I think I may have left my Visa card in my wallet in my purse on Kristy’s table and I was hoping you could swing by and check it out… please. I’m kind of freaked out. I’ll call back in half an hour.”
Nothing turned up at security and Jeremy found nothing in our bags. I waited half an hour and called Kristy’s mom back, getting the machine again. Damn.
“Um, it’s Audra again. I was just calling to see if you got my last message. I’ll try back in twenty minutes.” I rested my head in my hands and tried not to hyperventilate.
Kristy made the third call. By that point I was barely capable of speech. She finally got her mom, who had gone food shopping after she dropped us off, thus the late getting of the message. The card was there, in my wallet, in my purse, but it would do me no good. With only forty minutes to go until boarding, Kristy’s mom could never get through Philly rush hour traffic to get it there in time. At least no one else would be using it.
I returned to Jeremy and the bags to tell him the (good?) news. He was amazingly tender and understanding about the whole thing. I still had my debit card, which would be good for small stuff. I don’t have direct deposit, so what was in my account was all I had until I got home to cash the two paychecks I would have waiting for me. Jeremy had his debit card with a direct deposit coming in mid-trip, and a credit/debit card with a much higher limit than my forgotten card. He would have to “take care” of me financially throughout the trip. Grateful, I gave him a big hug and a kiss while I watched the lines begin to form at the counter near the gate… less than half an hour till takeoff.
So that was how I got my “sugardaddy, ” but only for the trip. But paybacks are a… well, you know. See, when Jeremy screws up and ends up in the doghouse, I get DVD box sets of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This screw up was major and I feared upon our return I’d need to spend a significant amount of time and money in Guitar Center.