The minivan came to a screeching halt. Lilly leapt out the side door and ran toward a patch of grass. Carsick, again. Unable to produce the boiling contents of her weak stomach, she stumbled back into the van.
“Mom, how much longer?” she whined. “I hope not long, I just don’t know why the GPS can’t find our hotel.”
We had been lost on winding country roads in the foothills of the Italian Alps for more than an hour, searching for a small hotel where we were to spend the first night of our Spring Break journey to Venice, Italy to take a cruise.
This was our last family trip before we move back to the United States. As always, I anticipated happy family moments absorbing breathtaking scenery, with lots of laughter and frolicking. But for my three kids, the thrill is over, and they are often heard saying, “No! Not another castle/cathedral/snow-capped mountain!? Can’t we just stay home and watch re-runs of King of Queens?!”
As the minivan squealed around another hairpin turn, we spotted a sign to our tiny hotel. “There it is!” I yelped with relief.
The owner showed us to two rooms at the opposite end of a hall in the old Tyrolean guest house. Before settling in for the night, we gathered in one of the rooms to eat the dinner that I’d packed for us.
An hour later, we were snug in our beds. The girls were excited to sleep in their huge bed, which looked like a giant coconut crème pie mounded with feather pillows and crisp white linens.
I drifted off to sleep thinking of the fun we would have on the days to come.
“Mom, Lilly threw up in our bed!” Anna gasped, standing over me in the darkness. “What?” I mumbled, and stumbled down the hall to their room.
Opening their door and stepping over the threshold, I saw what can only be described as complete carnage. The marshmallow white bed had turned into a veritable crime scene, akin to the horsehead scene in The Godfather. The half-digested concoction of turkey sub and sour cream and onion Sun Chips was tinged brown with the chocolate of too many M&Ms, and was pooled in the center of the king-sized bed.
Trying to mitigate the damages, Lilly dabbed the mess with a bath towel, managing to slop it on herself, the carpet, the bathroom floor, and two light switches.
I stood for a moment, unable to contemplate any solution to the problem. Obviously, Lilly was more than just carsick. She had some kind of stomach virus. Why didn’t I buy that travel insurance!
Somehow, my mothering instinct, which had been somewhat dormant lately, kicked in. For two hours I scrubbed, scraped, rinsed, dipped, and squeezed until I had cleaned up the horrific mess. (Aside: a bidet makes a very nice wash basin for soiled linens.) I found more sheets in a hallway closet and put my poor sick child back to bed.
After a long night of more retching, I told the hotel owner about the situation, and despite his graciousness, I left an apology note and some extra cash over the stain on the mattress.
I set the GPS to take us the “fast route” straight to our next hotel, apparently only 3.5 hours away in Venice.
For some unknown reason, our GPS instructed us to drive past the onramp to the highway and onto a two-lane road that paralleled the freeway for more than 45 minutes. I thought our GPS knew something I didn’t, so I warily followed her instructions.
At some point, our GPS demanded that we head east. The road ascended into the mountains, higher and higher, winding toward snowy peaks. I thought perhaps she was taking us on a diversion to a nice straight highway to Venice. So I did exactly as she instructed.
An hour later, there was snow on either side of the road, and we passed a sign indicating that we were more than 2,000 meters above sea level. Without a map, I felt trapped. Peeking in the rear view mirror, I could see that Lilly had fallen into a fitful sleep, her head wobbling left and right with every hairpin turn.
Another hour later, the road was blocked with police tape, and an arrow directed me to drive my minivan onto a dirt path. As we bumped our way over the rocks, I saw the reason for the detour: an avalanche had covered the road!
I began to giggle at our predicament and wondered whether our GPS was playing some sick joke.
The Alpine road lead directly into the Dolomites, and our minivan continued to wind its way past snowy ski slopes and tiny mountain chalets. The scenery was spectacular, but impossible to enjoy with a sick kid in the backseat, a virus threatening to infect us all, and a rocking boat awaiting our arrival!
Finally, after four hours of zigzagging at 2000 meters, our GPS relented and released us onto a straight toll road toward Venice. Having driven no more than 30 miles per hour all day, I snatched the ticket from the toll booth and gunned the engine.
Out of pure vengeance, I raced our dirty white minivan at illegal speeds. Every time our smug GPS warned, “Beware!” and flashed the speed limit, I gritted my teeth and pressed the gas pedal down harder.
I arrived at our hotel, frazzled, but somewhat satisfied that I’d taken two full minutes off of her estimated time of arrival. Take that!
Lilly seemed to be feeling better, and I hoped that our fiasco was over. We unloaded our bags, and I slid my travel agent’s confirmation e-mail across the desk to the hotel clerk. As I waited for him to find our reservation, I made a mental note to buy a map for the trip home.
“I’m-a sorry-a ma’am-a, but-a we-a have-a no-a rooms-a,” he said, with a shrug. I wondered if he knew my GPS.
[To be continued in “Spring Break Odyssey: Relay for Relief.”]