Sometimes the travel gods look down upon us favorably.
Some years ago, we were travelling in Italy with family. An extended group of us, bordering on a horde, had decided to spend our last two days on the peninsula visiting Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli and Pompeii before returning to Rome where we would split up and make our returns to the States. It was an ambitious plan timewise, with little margin for error if we got lost or encountered any unexpected surprises.
Our ragtag caravan set sail to the south, relying on a newfangled piece of technology called GPS to help guide us to our destination. I was our Columbus, navigating for our convoy from the front in our Santa Maria, a minivan designed by an engineer in Detroit who obviously had never seen nor driven on narrow Italian streets, the Nina and Pinta loyally following their commander’s every turn.
Our first destination was the ristorante Sibilla in Tivoli and our GPS, housed in an early smartphone the size of a tackle box located the restaurant in its database and charted a course. Blindly, we followed.
We navigated our way successfully to the highway exit for Tivoli when the GPS instructed us to turn left, eschewing the highway sign indicating that the village was straight ahead. Undaunted we followed our modern technological marvel, or rather I followed it, the remaining ships in our armada obediently following. The chatter amongst the crew began.
A few miles later, we again followed the disembodied electronic voice, making a tight turn onto an even tighter one lane road. From the narrow tract we could see the town on the hill above, but the road was taking us away from it. I could begin to hear and sense a degree of doubt among our fellow travellers.
But hark, the road made a wide, sweeping arc, heading back toward Tivoli, but in doing so the narrow embankment to our right gave way to first a rolling slope, then a steep hill and, eventually a sheer cliff. The road continued inexorably upwards, toward the hill where Tivoli stood, but with each foot of rise, the road became narrower and the shoulder steeper until the entire thing looked like an impossible cliff road from the mind of Wile E. Coyote. Our armada, unable to back up or turn around, was bordering on mutiny.
At last our road connected to the main thoroughfare to Tivoli, a sign announcing that the highway, from which we had exited a half hour earlier, was a mere handful of kilometers the other direction. GPS technology, which kept its promise of never allowing one to be lost had nonetheless successfully driven a wedge into the bonds of our friendships that would take a decade to repair.
We started that healing process when we exited our vehicles, enjoying one of the best and most memorable meals in our lives. To this day my brother-in-law will, out of the blue, wistfully ask, “do you remember that cheese course in Tivoli?”, to which any of that afternoon’s participants will simply nod and smile.
After that memorable lunch and a visit wandering the grounds of Hadrian’s villa, it was back to the cars for the drive south to Pompeii. Our tight itinerary called for us to drive to our hotel, located not far from the entrance of the archaeological park, rise early the next day, visit the unlucky town and race back to Rome for an overnight of packing and enjoying a final dinner before returning home. As we turned south, the skies began to darken, as night was beginning to fall and storm clouds began to gather.
For the next what seemed like hours, we were pelted with a deluge of rain, visibility reduced to feet, reduced to relying on our much maligned (and rightly so) GPS to guide us to our destination like a pilot on instrument rating. The dark and tempest like weather did not seem to affect the Italian drivers with which we were sharing the road, however, who insisted on speeding and flashing their lights as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
Miraculously we arrived at the hotel, in one piece, undented but daunted, drained and not particularly in the best spirits, drivers and passengers alike. We dismounted our vehicles and grabbed our suitcases, everyone completely drenched by the time we reached the lobby of our warm but slightly shabby hotel. We were greeted with a nice smile, kindness and a good recommendation about where to get a bite to eat at the late hour.
The next morning we rose early, according to plan. Not according to plan, however, was the weather, which continued to rain gatti e cani. We ate our breakfast, agreeing to attempt to wait out the storm, setting 11:00 as our cutoff time after which we would have to abandon our plan to see Pompeii and head back to Rome.
At 10:59 the rain continued without signs of stopping, the skies a dark gray. A minute later it was as though the gods had turned the celestial faucet to close. The skies began to lighten and the downpour turned to drizzle. We decided to buy disposable ponchos from the nearby tourist cart and try to fit in our tour.
Just outside the entrance to the park, under a light but manageable drizzle, we encountered an English speaking guide who offered us his services for a guided tour. The price was reasonable and his personality typical Italian. Va bene.
And as our group, with its newfound capitano entered the gates of the archeological site, the rain stopped and the skies cleared. No celestial trumpets, but there was music in our hearts. This was a message from above. About what, I’m not quite sure, but it was not possible that this was simply kismet.
For the next two hours our group drank in the sights of this amazing preserve, hanging on the every word of our most excellent guide. When 1:00 arrived our guide offered us some bonus time for our tour, which we declined, sticking to our original plan of returning to Rome for our last evening. We said our arriverdercis and grazies and headed back to our cars. And as we exited the gates of Pompeii, a magical, mystical place if there ever was one, it began to rain once more.
Sometimes the travel gods look down upon us favorably.
Check out photos from our visits to Tivoli and Pompeii below: