We wanted the vacation to be perfect. After all, it was the first time Niti, our younger daughter, and I were taking a trip together. It was very easy to decide the destination. Since we did not have a lot of days to spare and both of us lived in two separate continents eight thousand miles apart, the place had to be somewhere midway. Rome. Niti, the student of Latin, took seconds to decide. I agreed happily. Though I had been to Rome earlier with my husband Subroto, it had been a short four-day trip. This time it was going to be for eight days. And it was an added advantage to be with someone who spoke manageable Italian.
Once the destination was decided and air tickets booked, we looked for a place to stay. Both of us agreed on one thing – no hotel for us. It had to be an apartment in the centre of the city and close to some of the major attractions. This apartment should also have a small kitchenette, where we could rustle up something if we did not feel like eating restaurant food.
Finally with the help of a popular trustworthy website, we found a two room furnished place between the Piazza Navona and the Trevi Fountain. We were excited that many other attractions and the popular shopping street were only minutes away. The posted pictures of the third floor apartment were very appealing and we liked the email personality of the landlady, who was a successful architect posted in London. I paid for the apartment and we were all set.
Soon it was March and time for us to fly. Niti came from New York; I started my journey from Bangalore. We met at Frankfurt airport and flew to Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport together. By the time our taxi reached the apartment, it was two in the afternoon. We were so tired and sleep deprived that we decided to have a quick bite at the next-door trattoria and crash for a few hours. Once we were suitably rested, we would start our real vacation from the evening onwards.
The bed was comfortable and the heating system worked perfectly. In a matter of minutes, we were fast asleep. We would have slept for quite some time more, but we were rudely awakened by a cacophony of sounds. Groggily, I looked at the watch. It was only four. ‘What on earth is that?’ a jet-lagged Niti complained. I moved the curtains of the bedroom window and looked out. At first I could not figure out the source of the noise, but soon realized that it came from the apartment on the opposite side of the road. The windows were shut, curtains drawn and I could not see the interior, but there was no doubt about the origin of the racket. It was a strange concoction of flute, keyboard, drums and some unidentifiable musical instruments.
We could not take the assault any more and quickly changed and stepped out of the apartment. As we crossed the apartment from where the offensive sounds came, Niti looked up and tried to decipher the small board hanging from one of the windows. She started laughing. ‘It is a music school of sorts for kindergarten students.’ Thankfully, the music classes were from four to seven in the evening, when we would be definitely out of our apartment. We shrugged and walked away.
Our Rome vacation was absolutely delightful. Along with the usual touristy rounds, we did a lot of off-beat things. The mother-daughter arguments were almost non-existent and we started talking about the possibility of doing this more often.
The problem started on the sixth day, on our way back from the Vatican. We had planned to take a public bus from the Vatican to go and see a small museum. ‘Can we take a taxi instead? I am feeling a little tired,’ Niti said.
That was the beginning. When we reached our apartment after a pasta dinner at a highly recommended restaurant (which Niti barely touched), Niti started coughing. I made some saline water for her to gargle and she promptly went off to sleep after that. She woke up in the morning with some body ache and the cough persisted, but she refused to stay put in the apartment. After all it was the day she had set aside for shopping. Again, instead of public transport, we took a taxi and Niti bravely tried out clothes in small stand-alone Italian dress stores. After lunch, it was clear that she had no energy and she really needed to lie down.
Once we reached the apartment, I realized that she had started burning up. Her face was flushed and eyes were watery. I got worried. Usually I pack some first aid stuff while travelling, but this time I had forgotten. Niti definitely needed some paracetamols right away, as her fever always shot up unless controlled in the beginning. Moreover, she had to take a long flight home in a couple of days.
I put on my coat, grabbed my purse and rushed out. Unfortunately, there was no medical store in the residential area where we had rented the apartment. But I remembered having seen one when we had walked towards the Trevi Fountain. The question was whether I would be able to find it or not. Anyway, I followed the road signs to the Trevi Fountain and continued to walk. After a while, I did find a pharmacy at the corner of two lanes. It wasn’t the same one though. As I picked up the essential medicines and stepped out after paying for them, I gathered that I was on an unfamiliar road. No issues. I opened my purse to take out the city map. That was when I realized that in my anxiety to get to a pharmacy, I had forgotten the map on the coffee table in our apartment’s living room.
I am usually very good with directions. But this time I was quite confused. I knew that our apartment was in the opposite direction of the Trevi Fountain, but should I take the road that veered towards the left or should I continue on the one that bent towards the right? After taking several blind turns in the labyrinth of lanes, I had no idea where I was. There was no point in asking anybody about the road where our apartment was, because it was siesta time and very few people were there on the roads of that residential area. The few whom I saw did not speak a word of English and I spoke no Italian.
With a slightly sinking heart, I realized that I was lost. Refusing to be upset, I stopped and looked around. It was true that nothing seemed familiar, but all was not lost. I could see a direction towards a horde of shops and hopefully there I would be able to hail a taxi. It would be an unnecessary expense, but at least I would reach my destination. The only nagging fear was what if there were no taxis there. I refused to be pessimistic and tried to walk confidently.
Suddenly there was a shrill sound of a violin coming from somewhere behind me. I stopped short. The off-key sound was familiar. Soon the violin blast was accompanied by out-of-tune vocals, clumsy thudding of drums and inelegant shrieking of flutes. It was the same cocktail of unmelodious, jarring noise that had rudely assaulted us on our first day in Rome, but at that moment, to me, it sounded sweeter than a performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
I turned and followed the cacophony. Very soon, I was on our familiar lane. As I unlocked the door and walked into the apartment, Niti said, ‘That was quick. I was so worried that you would get lost. You forgot the map here. You really are good with directions.’
I smiled and said nothing.