I should’ve suspected something when the cab driver didn’t answer my question.
“Do you know this place?” I asked as I held out a piece of paper with the address to our hotel written on it.
He barely glanced at the paper, nodded, grabbed our luggage and got behind the wheel. My mom, sister, and I were weary from travel and eager to settle down at our hotel, so we hopped into the car without further questioning.
The driver took off speeding down the freeway without a word. I appreciated that he wasn’t a talker; I could finally take a nap. I relaxed in my seat and took comfort in the fact that when I awoke, I would be in beautiful Roma. What could possibly go wrong?
When we get to the heart of Rome, I snap awake. I’m finally here. I’m mesmerized by the beautiful architecture of the centuries-old buildings, captivated by the foreign-ness of the people and the signs.
We pass a little gelato place with brightly colored decorations. Then we pass it again. By the third time we pass it, I know something is wrong.
“Where are we?” I ask the driver. No response. He looks flustered and keeps looking at the address on the paper and then back up at the buildings.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
He starts muttering in Italian. Finally, he says in broken English, “The address…it does not exist!”
My heart starts pounding. “What do you mean it doesn’t exist? Didn’t you say you knew where it was?”
Commence loud Italian yelling that I cannot understand. At this point, I realize he doesn’t speak English. I need a way to communicate with him, so I whip out my handy-dandy English to Italian dictionary and try to piece together, word by word, this sentence: “WHAT THE HECK DO YOU MEAN THE ADDRESS DOESN’T EXIST?”
As I’m frantically flipping through the pages, the driver just keeps speeding up and down the same stretch of road, over and over.
I start picturing every worst-case scenario that could happen. We don’t have a phone. No one knows us here. None of us can speak Italian. Getting lost in the streets of Rome probably entails a fate of, at best, getting mugged, and at worst, being forced into the local mafia where we play poker and eat pasta all day and then mug lost tourists at night. I’m starting to sweat. I look to my trusty traveling partners (mom and sister), but they can provide me with no help. They seem to be waiting for me to suddenly figure out how to speak fluent Italian and sort this whole mess out.
Ugh, I think. I KNEW I shouldn’t have gone on my dream vacation to Italy.
By the tenth time we’ve driven down the same road, I start wondering if this whole “I’m lost” thing is just a hoax to drive up the meter and get us to pay a ridiculous amount of money for the hour-and-a-half taxi ride. The driver is yelling incessantly in Italian, and I’m yelling back at him in English. I’m surprised he hasn’t thrown us out of the car yet.
By the 15th time we’ve passed the gelato place, I have an idea. I search for the Italian word for “stop” in my dictionary.”Basta!” I yell (which actually means “Enough!” I later discovered). But no matter; he gets it, and the car comes to a grinding halt.
I’m not sure this will work. But desperate times call for desperate measures. I jump out of the car and walk to the driver’s door. “Come on,” I tell him as I gesture at him to follow me.
He obliges and follows me into the gelateria. I see a man standing behind the counter. I point at him and say, “YOU speak Italian.” I then point at the driver, “And YOU speak Italian.” I then motion back and forth between them. “SPEAK ITALIAN TO EACH OTHER!”
They start yelling at each other. They wave their hands around angrily. This probably isn’t helping us find my hotel, but I think maybe it’s good for my driver to vent his frustrations to someone who can understand what he’s saying.
Ten minutes later, deflated and still lost, the driver and I walk back to the car. At this point, I decide that it may be better to go it alone, than to continue riding around in a car with an angry Italian.
As my sister and mom get out of the cab, I hold out 40 Euro to my driver. I’m afraid he’s going to demand much more for all the trouble. But he takes it, seemingly relieved to be rid of us, and drives off.
I stand in the crowded streets of Rome, beaten-up duffle bag in hand, feeling the weight of my decision bearing down on me. We’re probably going to die, I think. But I have to be brave for my mom and sister. We start dragging our luggage along the cobble-stoned sidewalks, in search of a hotel that doesn’t exist.
It appears the driver was right. The address I wrote down says “Viale Giulio Cesare 207,” but there IS no 207. It skips from 204 to 209. We’re all baffled, perplexed. And then finally, my wise, wise mother realizes something very important.
“These are courtyards,” she says, pointing to the large doors with the labeled buttons next to them. “There are more businesses inside. You have to ring the buzzer for the one you want, and then they’ll let you in.”
I look carefully at the labels. And I finally see it: Viale Giulio Cesare 207.
Yes, reader, I am an idiot. But really, it’s not my fault so much as my previously provincial life’s fault. Where I grew up, we had houses, each labeled with their own, individual address. Who knew there existed places with courtyards, buzzers…and gelato?
And this, my friend, is why travel is important.