It’s been a long time. I shouldn’t have left you without a strong rhyme to step to. Hahaha. Throwback! I’m sorry for my absence but I really needed a vacation from vacation. I mean the trip was amazing, Sardinia is stunning, the beaches are pristine, and overall I had a great time. Here’s a few snapshots of the family living it up!
BUT, wow, who knew traveling outside of the country with my family would be such a nightmare. Well I guess I knew… But although I predicted some debacles, some just blindsided me. I found myself wondering often if we were being followed by hidden cameras. That’s how bad it was. Where do I begin? I’ll run down the top 10 disasters from hair-raising to shoot me now.
On the edge of darkness.
I don’t particularly like babies. Or children. But I’ve never wanted to strangle someone’s kid (except for once when a friend brought her very wild toddler to my house and set him loose with absolutely no regard for anyone or anything). Well, that was until I took this 9-hour, red-eye flight with a child that would not stop crying. Just when I was flirting with sleep the toddler would pipe up again at the top of her lungs and her parents had no control over her whatsoever.
So of course when we arrived in Rome everyone’s eyes were red-rimmed and our pace was stuck in slow motion. Although I wanted to soldier through and stick with the plan, which was to hop on a tour bus and get a quick glimpse of all the major sites in the city (this was also the best option for my 85-year-old grandma who was with us), no one else was game. We eventually made it to the Colosseo (Colosseum) where half our 6-member crew camped out. The rest of us checked out the Foro Romano (Roman Forum), the Campidoglio (Capitoline Hill), and got a glimpse of Piazza Venezia before we had to head back to the airport.
When it doesn’t pay to be thrifty.
The baby was not the only reason we were all moving in slow motion. It was someone’s great idea (not mine) to catch a bus from the airport to the Central Train Station for €6 per person instead of catching a cab for €12 per person straight to our destination (Via Marsala). Sounds economical and savvy, right? The problem was that the bus also doubled the length of the ride and it took us 20 minutes of wandering the airport before we found the bus, which idled for about 20 minutes before it finally left.
With only about 6 hours available for sightseeing, to me it seemed like each precious moment we idled was a lost opportunity. I was frustrated! Not for myself (because I had already been to Rome and explored it thoroughly) but for my family, who I wanted to explore it too. But after a while I just through my hands up in the air and let them wander, let them continue to choose the slowest form of transportation (the city bus) to get to places, let them walk in circles, let them chart their own course.
It appears that New Yorkers can be swindled too.
And guess what happens to tourists crammed on a jammed city bus–someone gets jacked! That’s right. The scene happened so fast it was all a blur, but what I recall is hearing my mom scream at the top of her lungs and push some pregnant woman’s hand away from her. The woman was through the crowded bus and out on the street in seconds. She had apparently timed the heist just before a bus stop. My mom felt the woman rummaging through her bag which was zipped and on her shoulder. Somehow the woman got into it.
No one else seemed surprised by these events and later we were told this is common and that the cops don’t even arrest the women because they are pregnant. Someone else recounted a story about finding their bag sliced on the side and everything in it gone. My mom breathed a sigh of relief that nothing in her bag was missing. But everyone in my ragtag team wasn’t so lucky. My grandmother didn’t notice until later that she had been jacked for all her money—some €300.
Of course, all our luggage got lost.
I’ve been very vocal about my aversion to checking my luggage. This trip was no different. I packed eleven days worth of stuff into one small carry-on bag. BUT my itinerary called for me to break with tradition. We scheduled our arriving set of flights so that we had a nine hour layover in Rome before we headed to Sardinia. The idea was to spend that time on a tour bus as I said before. It was a tough decision but I decided i didn’t want to lug my bag around with me–so I checked it–and I advised everyone with me to check their bags too.
I mean, what were the odds that the ONE TIME I check my bag that it would get lost?!? Ha! We didn’t see our bags on the carousel well after everyone had cleared the small airport. They eventually found our bags the next day, but we didn’t get them until the late afternoon–so our first day in Sardinia was mostly a bust since we didn’t have our bathing suits and couldn’t go to the beach.
Who thought giving us a 9-passenger, stick shift bus was a good idea?
Well, after losing our luggage, getting jacked, and having not slept for nearly 24 hours, it was comical to arrive at the car rental spot in Sardinia and be handed the keys to what can only be described as a bus. It was the ONLY vehicle they had that could accommodate six passengers.
In a previous post I explained that my stepfather was the only one of us that knows how to drive a stick shift–but not skillfully by any definition. Well this ride put him to the test. It took him about 10 minutes to figure out how to get the break off and drive us off the lot. Panic ensued as the sun went down and (as I predicted) there were no streetlights or signage on very narrow, very dark, and very curvacious roads. A ride that should have taken about 45 minutes took nearly two hours, because we made many wrong turns–and we were delirious. The last straw–the bus got stuck on a tiny side street and my stepfather had no clue how to reverse.
Plan A was to put the bus in neutral and everyone, including my granny got out to push. That didn’t work… Plan B was to wave our hands frantically at any passing car to get someone to stop and hopefully reverse our car out of the shallow ditch. Surprisingly, a guy on a moped stopped. He didn’t know any English, so it took a bit of gesturing and looking desperate for him to understand what we needed him to do. Luckily he had us in reverse and back on the road in seconds. After a quick lesson on how he did it, we were back on our way and, thankfully, our villa was just down the block.
When we finally arrived at the villa it was truly a vision for (literally) sore eyes. The place looked as beautiful as it did in the photos on Homeaway.com, and at the moment I didn’t mind that we were paying triple what we could have if we got a more economical place. But we quickly realized that the place had a few issues. In the middle of the night, gushing water poured down (maybe from the pool?) for about 20 minutes. The sound wrenched me from my sleep and sent me sitting straight up in bed. This happened every other night for our entire stay. The internet was spotty at best and one of the rooms in the back, lower-level of the house smelled of mildew because it was directly under the pool.
But the biggest issue, by far, occurred one evening when we were cooking dinner–trying to grill burgers on the indoor grill. Midway the power went out and didn’t come back on. We had to pack up and go out to dinner and pray that the food didn’t spoil in the quickly warming fridge. Apparently the air conditioner, TV, cooktop, toaster, whatever required electricity, was too much for the system to handle–so we blew the fuse. For the remainder of the trip it was a balancing act of turning something off before turning another thing on so that we didn’t go zero dark 30 again.
Let’s not take the scenic route.
Most days we hung out on the beach in Chia (pronounces “key-a” –we got laughed at for pronouncing it “chee-a”). But a few days we ventured out to Cagliari and one day we took a 3-hour roadtrip to Alghero to visit Grotta di Nettuno. The trip was ambitious given my stepfather’s lack of skills with the bus, me giving directions with a really awful road map, and the peanut gallery chiming in with criticism aimed at both of us.
Nevertheless, we made it to Grotta di Nettuno just in time to catch the ferry over ( you can walk but that requires risking a vertiginous 656-step staircase that descends 110 meters of sheer cliff). The grotta was magnificent and then we piled back into the car to head to Bosa, a town of pastel-painted houses on a scenic mountain side. The guide book doesn’t warn you about the beauty and sheer terror of the road to Bosa, which is all hairpin turns on the edge of a cliff about 150 meters above the crashing waves. It alternated between steep descents and then steep climbs. There were no guard rails! The road was narrow and should not allow two-way traffic although it did. The road was perfect for sports cars NOT our stick shift, top-heavy bus.
It was probably the most beautiful strip of road I’ve EVER been on. The view was incredible. The coastline was all rock formations that looked like sculptures being lapped by azure waves. The setting sun caste orange, pink and purple hues over everything. The problem was that everyone was too scared to enjoy it. We were all holding our breath and holding on to something–a door handle, a seat cushion–for dear life. If I tried to move closer to the other side of the bus to get a better view or take a picture, my brother would warn that I might throw the balance off and we’d teeter off the edge. My mom was hyperventilating. My sister was about to throw up. My stepfather was sweating profusely and wracked with fear that he might drive his entire family off the cliff. And I didn’t get ONE picture…
You can take the person out the country, but you can’t take the country out the person.
Throughout the entire trip my mom continuously committed the worst travel sins–the things that make Americans universally hated in many foreign destinations. She walked up to people and immediately started speaking English as if it was the official language of the country. If they didn’t speak English, she would proceed to talking in slow, broken English and gesturing, as if that would help. In other cases, she greeted people in Spanish! A few times she asked vendors and stores if they would accept American money! At one restaurant she asked if they had spaghetti with meatballs on the menu… and she haggled over everything–the dinner check, the taxi fare, everything.
But she wasn’t alone in her offenses. My brother made it his mission to note that we were the ONLY African Americans at every turn–on the beach, the restaurants, on the street, in the airport, everywhere. He pondered aloud if the locals were saying to themselves, “Who are these n*ggas rolling up in that big ass bus!” Oh, and how can I forget the elation I heard from my entire family when they spotted a McDonald’s on the way to Alghero! They followed the signs for the fast-food chain for 15 minutes with bated breath. Lastly, and even I was guilty on this, my family seemed to be the only folks on the beach concerned about skin cancer. Everyday we were the only people on the beach applying sunblock! I was surprised that there were Italians on the beach darker than anyone in our crew.
Lost in translation.
During a day trip to Cagliari the six of us decided to split up and meet back at the car at a specific time. Some of us wanted more time to shop while I wanted time to explore the city. I set out on one of the main shopping streets, Via Giuseppe Mano, followed that until I reached Bastione San Remy, entered Il Castello to check out Cattedrale di Santa Maria, and then headed toward the Marina on Via Roma. But somewhere along the way I got lost and wasn’t sure how to find my way back to the car. I had only five minutes to get to the rendezvous point on time when I saw a street that I recognized would take me to the car.
Well, I was about a block from the car and about four minutes late when I saw my stepfather walking away from the meeting point. I jogged to cross the street to meet him. He said everyone else was to meet at the boutique on the corner, but no one had arrived yet. I went in to browse for a few minutes and then came back to the door where I had left him and he had vanished. I poked my head into some of the surrounding shops but didn’t see him. I peered up and down the street. Nothing. And then the panic set in. Where the hell did he go? Did he see everyone else and run to meet them? I felt like a toddler abandoned in a mall. So I just sat down and waited, and waited. More than five minute passed. Then I saw the whole crew round the corner. I was pissed! A foreign city is NOT the place to poorly communicate that you’re stepping away, especially when there’s no plan about what to do if we get separated. I exploded! Admittedly my nerves were a bit frayed to begin with and I may have over reacted. I nursed my nerves with some pizza while we dined at a cafe in Piazza Yenne.
Who comes to Rome to see the Vatican? Apparently, not us.
On the last day of the trip, we were back in Rome with another long layover and some time to kill. This time I thought we could go to Piazza San Pietro to visit the Vatican but it was early evening and I knew it would be closing soon. Our hotel, Beldes HR, was within walking distance of the world’s smallest country. I rallied the troops. We headed out to Viale Giulio toward San Pietro, but the various high-end and boutique shops stopped most of the crew in their tracks. Me and my brother forged ahead but it was useless. My family was drawn to the tchotchke shops like moths to the flame. No amount of cajoling and pointing at my imaginary watch could get them to move faster. So of course the Vatican was closed by the time we arrived. My frustration was palpable, but I had to remind myself that I had already been here and that if my family was more interested in worthless souvenirs then touring the Vatican… so be it. At least they got to see the piazza and splash some holy water on their faces. I guzzled it down because–at that point–I needed God to grant me serenity.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen. –Reinhold Niebuhr
A thought occurred to me after I published this concerning an eleventh disaster and then I wondered why I didn’t make this No. 1. I forgot to mention that I was SICK AS A DOG! The day before my trip I felt a tickle in my throat that developed into a full-blown cold. I had the cough, running/stuffy nose, congestion, and a lack of energy to boot. My poor sister, who was sharing a room with me, eventually left for safer quarters. The worst part was that I couldn’t share anything with anybody–drinks, snacks, meals–for fear I’d get someone else sick. Everywhere I went there was a trail of used tissues behind me like breadcrumbs. I eventually started antibiotics, which made me feel uncomfortable in the sun (an unfortunate side effect). So, yes, I was the No. 1 disaster on this trip. That is all…