You Can Take The Girl Out Of The City...

We must travel in the direction of our Fear~~John Berryman (Poet)

I’m good at two or three things: making a list, keeping my word, and saving. Oh, and I’m extremely loyal, but saving & delayed gratification are my superpowers.

I’m bad at a host of things: lying, sweating, relaxing, and measuring distances---oh, and I have a terrible sense of direction. Although, once I’ve been somewhere, I can usually find it again fairly easily (No, this does not include the time I lost St. Mark’s Place in New York’s East Village for a year!).

We all know when booking a hotel, the battle is between accessibility to the things we want to do, price, and ambiance. When I was booking for Florence, I thought I had split the difference with ambiance having a bit of an edge. I chose a gorgeous hotel set in the bucolic hills surrounding the city. It had loads of charm and was a decent price, but an epic fail on accessibility. Poor math skills and faulty map reading skills lead me to a hotel miles from the center of the city. The same math and map skills had led me astray weeks before in Avignon.

My 18th-century boutique hotel was fantastic, but I had to rely on a bus that stopped running at 6:30 and overpriced taxis. I managed. It was fine…but I wasn’t so lucky in Italy. As the taxi that carried me toward my Florence abode continued to go up and up, my heart sank. Not only had I selected a jewel of a hotel miles from the center of the action, it was smack dab in the middle of a vast forest straight out of Maleficent!

But I was so captivated by the place I shrugged it off, checked in, changed, and then set out again for dinner. Off I went down the mountain in my maxi dress and espadrilles---my travel uniform. The manager had directed me to the bus stop and it was deceptively easy-peasy to get down to the center of town. I had a sumptuous meal and sampled liberally of the wine menu. Glowing with satisfaction, mellowed by the long day and vino, I decided to head back to make a fresh start in the morning.

KC Washington-Deliziosa!

Night had fallen heavily by the time I left the restaurant. But I self-assuredly retraced my steps and boarded the bus back up the mountain. Despite it barely having struck 10 pm, the darkness was so complete it was as if WWII blackout curtains had been drawn shut around the bus. I fought off panic as I struggled to separate landmarks from the night, from the mountains.

Florence after dark

My internal clock ticked furiously, warning me that my stop should have been close, but nothing outside the windows agreed with me. Terrified to get off too soon or too late, I finally pulled the stop signal and got off in the middle of the road on the side of a mountain in the middle of Florence, Italy. Tipsy, in heels, directionally challenged, firmly disabused of the idea that Spanish could stand in for Italian, I began to repeatedly mutter a heartfelt, “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” With no other choice, I began to search for the huge carved wooden gate that hid the winding road leading to the hotel. I went about ¾ of a mile back down the mountain before deciding I had gotten off too early. Retracing my steps, going ¾ of a mile past where I had exited the bus, I found a stone wall but no gate or door. I kept walking, wobbly but determined. Fear rose with sobriety and just as I was on the verge of madly shouting for help, my luck turned and I found a door. It wasn’t the one I had used earlier, but it was open, and I took it.

I would like to say my saga was at an end, but ha! Have you met me?! My ragged sigh of relief had barely escaped my lips when I realized that I had not known real darkness until that moment. Massive trees and thick vegetation enclosed me on three sides. A pitted, wet, gravel road, which I could barely discern through the gloom, stretched before me. It had rained while I was eating, and the summer squall had stirred up the creatures hidden in the vegetation. I had no idea what sort of creatures they were---friend or foe---all I knew was even as an adult, I was (am) slightly, slightly still afraid of the dark.

Standing in the middle of Maleficent’s Forest (enchanted by day, cursed by night) all I could think was I had to get the fuck out of there. Logically, I knew my best bet was to walk straight ahead on the rutted path, presuming, hoping it would lead to the hotel. But there was no guarantee. After all, I had gone through a gate different from the one I had used when I left. Maybe the new gate lead deeper into the forest. Maybe it led to another hotel or private residence. Maybe it led to a cliff from which one could watch a gorgeous sunrise or sunset but that if not seen in time could lead to my death as I plunged over the edge.

My espadrilles sinking into the muck, the calls of birds and night animals growing louder and louder in my ears, I had to make a decision. Taking a deep breath, I hiked my maxi-dress up around my knees and started timidly down the path. I started timidly, carefully, but wet branches slapped at my arms and face, pulled at my hair. Bushes rustled near me, and I imagined yellow glowing eyes watching me as I passed. A sliver of moon slipped between the clouds playing havoc with the little light I had. As I said, I started timidly, carefully, but suddenly panic burst in my chest and before I knew it I was running full-tilt as best I could in my dress and ungainly footwear down the midnight road. I thundered through the forest, my eyes wide in search of any source of light. I stumbled and pushed against trees. I muttered, “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” as I slipped and slip, unseen bugs nipping at me. After what seemed like hours, I burst through a half-obscured opening in the vegetation. Damp and panting, I bent forward trying to catch my breath and get my bearings. My hotel loomed several feet a head of me, shrouded in fog, dark except for a muffled light coming from a first floor window. Taking myself in hand, trying to pretend that I hadn’t just run hands overhead, pell-mell through the forest terrified that a bear or a snake was going to take me down. All dignity, practically whistling a jaunty tune, I entered the hotel.

The night clerk greeted me with solicitude, explaining in heavily accented English that the storm had knocked out their power. He was terribly sorry that I had had to walk through the woods in the dark. He handed me a flashlight, promising that the lights would be back on by the morning. My hands trembling with adrenaline, I waved him off nonchalantly, assuring him that it was fine. A relaxing walk through their lovely woods was just what I needed after a rich meal.

In my room, silhouetted in the glow of my flashlight, I kicked off my muddy shoes. I collapsed in laughter. You can take the girl out of the city but apparently, you can’t take the chicken out of me!

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to come back in November for my last jaunt around Italy.

In the meantime, be kind to one another, keep on traveling with a feminist eye, and keep on being Feminist AF!


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