God said, "Watch This" -- of rain, darkness and pleasant surprises
Written from Riva del Garda, Italy
We hop off the train and are immediately greeted by rows of images of smiling cartoon animals encouraging you to come visit Gardaland for only sixteen euro! It had been raining all day - ever since we woke up to rain drops pitter-pattering on the tops of our hammocks in Cinque Terre. Being hundreds of miles away in a completely different city apparently doesn't phase the Italian rain. I snug my rain jacket around me and secure the straps on my Osprey travel pack before we perform a routine scan of the station to find a bus ticket kiosk. After securing a few cheap bus tickets we spend the next hour and twenty minutes with our noses plastered to the window pane; breathtaking mountains rise out of the massive lake, completely flat on the sides as if God had taken a heavenly razor blade and cut a valley for the lake out of the solid rock. A foggy cloud settles over the peaks and the waves crash against the shoreline as the rain continued to imbue us with a nostalgic longing for home while simultaneously dampening our chances to camp that night.... literally.
After making a few calls using a free phone mounted near a listing of two, three, and four star hotels at the bust stop, we come to the conclusion that, given our current budget situation, the best we could do for one night would be to purchase a single room for one night at a two-star hotel and sneak the other person in. We were at a low point. However, despite our falling spirits, we remained oddly confident in ourselves that we would find a dry, safe place to sleep that night. I think that traveling does that to you - after a few "bad" experiences, you realize that "bad" isn't really all that bad, things could always be worse, and somehow, the situation tends to work out in the end, anyway. Call it false confidence based on lucky experiences if you like. I call it a marriage of grit and the kindness of strangers.
Due to the fact that splitting a single-room at a hotel would still cost us more per person than we had been spending this entire trip thus far, we decided to try our luck in a few other places first. The Church across the street seemed promising. One of the front doors was open revealing a long dark hallway; it was warm though, so we were hopeful! Several members of the congregation were meeting in a little Sunday School room off to the side and we peeked our heads in to inquire about staying the night. After being taken by a little old lady down to the tavern that the Church apparently owned and listening to her explain our dire situation to an old man on the other end of the intercom, we were told that it was "not possible". All we want is a warm, dark hallway to sleep in. Too much? Cool.
We toss around the idea of sleeping in the underground tunnel portion of the bus station but shoot it down due to safety concerns. It is around 10:00pm at this point so we decide to walk down the street and see what we find; perhaps we would see a home who's residents were still up and would kindly welcome two cold, wet backpackers. The street is long and uphill, dimly lit by a few distanced street lamps and we pass about six or seven apartment complexes but no luck. Finally, we stop and ask an old lady who is walking down the street just ahead of us for directions. She began speaking in Italian, made a 180 and began walking back towards where we came from. Every so often we would hear her mumble something else in Italian but we had no idea what she was even trying to get across. Was she even talking to us? Not sure. Finally, we exchanged a "Ciao!" and picked up our pace. We still aren't sure if she even knew what she was doing out there that late. On our way back down the hill we notice a window with a warm light radiating out of it - an old man sat at a work bench hunched over a stack of papers. We suspect it was his next novel or some highly classified research for the Italian government. His door was open so we duck in and ask him if perhaps we could stay with him that night. We even did the whole hands clasped on the side of our face and a fake snore thing. We thought that was universal for "sleep" but we were proven wrong. Another one of those misconceptions held by touristy Americans I suppose. Anyway, all he did was shrug so we bid him goodnight and turned back to the road ahead.
A few turns later and we had finally found Villa Alba - it a Mom 'n' Pop type inn and much to small to try to sneak another person in so we decided to try our hand at haggling and see what sort of deal we could strike. The lobby seemed quaint enough; a black cat sat on the rug in the middle and stared at us for a while. A quick word with the landlady and we had gotten her down to twenty-five euro per night, no breakfast. Deal. That was by far the best we had found and after she showed us the cottage-like room, it was a no-brainer. Two twin beds were squished together like a married couples bed from a 1950's sitcom, the bathroom was clean and if we sat by the door we could get a single bar of wifi! Micah left for a few minutes as I wrote a little and he came back with a tray full of deli meats, cheeses, rolls and pastries! Apparently, she had given this to us for five euro; everywhere else during our travels, five euro barely got us a vacuum-sealed package of six slices of weird looking meat. We were in paradise. After showers, and a couple of failed attempts at watching Lone Survivor, we turned off the light and went to sleep, being even so bold as to not set an alarm until 11:00am!
We had not been given a check-out time and, evidently, we had forgotten to ask due to our giddiness over finding an affordable, warm room for the night. We think that perhaps the checkout time was around 10ish though, because about 10:30am our landlady came and woke us up saying, in no uncertain terms, that we had to check-out because she needed the room for other customers - probably some folks paying full price. We hurriedly packed and went to checkout but instead of paying and leaving, we were waved upstairs by the landlady to a terrace overlooking the lake and razor-cut mountains. For a few seconds we stood there amazed that this sort of scene existed somewhere other than Narnia. Presently, a wonderfully sweet hotel worker sat us down with a tray full of food just like the one from last night along with a pot of coffee and two big pastries! We remembered that we had gotten our twenty-five euro per night room under the condition that we wouldn't get free breakfast but the landlady's husband who was sitting at a table near us kept shouting at us as Italians like to do, saying "Gratise! Gratise!" which means "free". So we ate our pastries and we drank our coffee staring out into shimmering blue waters and white-granite cliff faces. The rain had decided to give us a break this morning.
As we walked down stairs to pay, we found two croissants to-go sitting on our packs. Geeze, was this lady nice or what? As we went to pay our total of fifty-five euro, she insisted that we simply give her fifty and shooed us out the front door. Two free meals and a discounted room? I think God was trying to tell us - or show us rather - something beautiful about His provision. When we had no other choice but to sew our hearts to our sleeves, God said, "watch this."