It was early September. The air carried with it a signature of change. Cooler weather was settling in as the fragrance of leaves bearing distinct hues of red and orange passed by the open door of the Boeing 777.
"Benvenuti in Italia! Enjoy your stay!" addressed the flight attendant as the passengers stepped off the plane and onto the deck stairs.
Victoria loved the fall. It was magical. It was mysterious. This trip held what she hoped would be an adventure from her regular routine.
But it wasn’t a thought to indulge in, for today was the first day of her late summer vacation and she had much to do. She needed to check in at her hotel and then promptly assess the nearby attractions and guest services.
But most of all, she came to Pisa to acquaint herself with the rich history and architecture that Italy had to offer. Victoria took a deep breath of the autumn Italian air and exhaled. She was eager to stretch her legs after a cramped eight hour flight.
Victoria was tall and gorgeous, witty and adaptable. But most of all, she was a master of professionalism. Over the years she had worked with large companies, coaching her client base on how to grasp fundamental concepts in efficiency, productivity, and goal achievement. She had worked with both small organizations and million dollar companies. Her finely honed intellect led her to find attainable solutions for clients big and small by using techniques in analysis and calculative methodology.
But it was time for Victoria to take a break from her work and explore the one thing she has never been able to master…the path leading to her destiny.
The short ride into Pisa was filled with lots to see. Victoria noticed the distinct charm of Italy's carved stonework and cobbled roads, lined with locals sitting in outdoor cafes. Life appeared more relaxed in Italy compared to the maladroit bustle of her home in the west. Upon her arrival at the hotel, she tipped the cabby and attendant for bringing her cases to the lobby and checked in.
"Welcome, Ms. Lafelle," greeted the desk clerk.
"Your room is ready. Should you have any questions, please let us know. Enjoy your stay."
The clerk handed Victoria the key card to her fifth floor suite and tapped the service bell for a porter to gather her luggage. Upon exiting the elevator, the porter led her to her room at the end of the hall.
"Buona giornata," bid the porter as he pocketed his gratuity and disappeared down the hall.
Room 508 was modest yet cozy. Victoria loved the intricately trimmed white walls and sloped ceiling leading to a small balcony draped in soft linens.
She tossed her cell phone and key card on the twin sized bed and walked over to the balcony. Opening the door, she was met with the lively rumble of Vespas and chatter of cafe patrons not far away.
Victoria had arrived in Italy. For the next seven days she was going to seek refuge in its old world charm. But not tonight. She readied the pillows, changed into her pajamas and cuddled in bed for a much needed night’s sleep.
Victoria woke well rested for her first morning in Italy. After gathering her comfortable hiking shoes and putting her hair in a ponytail, she donned her favorite jeans and a light sweater. She then headed to the lobby to ask the desk clerk for breakfast ideas.
He mentioned a fabulous bakery a block south of the hotel where she could enjoy an authentic morning meal. She thanked him and strode down the walkway to Forno del Sole where the smell of fresh baked bread greeted her at the door.
She placed her order at the counter and a cheery Italian employee pointed to the outdoor deck where she could take her coffee and wait for her order to arrive.
Taking a seat on the fenced deck, Victoria noticed the rich activity of citizens with places to go. Her eyes roamed over the masses of young and old customers seated in other cafes, discussing life's trials and pleasures.
A short time later, the lady at the counter brought over her breakfast: a cheese stuffed ciabatta bun alongside two poached eggs and a fresh orange slice. On a separate plate beside her coffee was a cannoli for dessert. The waitress smiled and headed back inside.
After many relaxing sips of coffee and a full tummy, Victoria headed into downtown Pisa with a few Euros in her pocket and a camera in hand. She marvelled at the stonework adorning various buildings as well as the intricacies of the road's construction under her feet. She sat by a water fountain and tossed in a coin from her home country. She made a wish and moved on to the next attraction.
Victoria boarded a tour bus and sat on the upper deck alongside an elderly lady and a younger woman. As the bus wound through its familiar route through the streets of Pisa, the tour guide pointed out the splendor of the city's most intriguing architectural structure: the famous leaning tower. Snapping picture after picture, she soon noticed the Piazza del Duomo, the Cathedral of Pisa with its herculean columns and impressive bronze doors. Other than the historic Catholic cathedral in her home city, nothing compared to the statuesque and inspiring design of such a monument.
In the excitement of the tour, Victoria had skipped lunch and felt hungry by early evening. After heading back to the hotel, she inquired the clerk about recommended establishments in the vicinity for dinner.
"Tell you what," suggested the clerk, "if you take a cab or hop on a Vespa and head down along the river to Via Tullio, you will arrive at the water's edge. There you will find restaurants with delicious foods and the most spectacular sunset ever seen," exclaimed the jovial man with a twinkle in his eye, as he flourished his hands about in the air.
"That sounds like a plan." Victoria thanked the helpful clerk, signed some forms, and hopped on one of the hotel's many Vespa scooters out back. She chose the bright yellow machine.
Yellow was her favorite color, not that anyone would know. She didn't divulge too much of her personal life to just anyone. If people really knew her, they would be surprised by what truly moved her. Their usually stoic friend and colleague thirsted for something more than the mundane routine that was her life. She dreamed of adventure. However Victoria wasn’t really the adventurous sort-yet she thought, as she narrowed her eyes down at the bike before her very determined that that was about to change.
After a brief lesson in bike operation, the attendant sparked up the scooter and within minutes Victoria rode off carefully down the road. After a few stops to refer to her map, she made her way along the scenic winding river and out to the promenade.
Emerging in the clearing, she cast her eyes on a beautiful ocean which touched the boardwalk and a beach dotted with cafes and restaurants facing the west. She pulled over and shut off the tiny engine, removed her helmet, and strolled leisurely along the cement walkway in search of dinner.
After a brief walk, the discerning tourist came upon a small stucco faced building named the Ristorante Cliffe. The small establishment had a striped overhang, which sheltered a dozen or so tables and chairs on a patio for patrons who indulged in the beautiful ocean view across the street.
Victoria went in and ordered a heaping plate of spaghetti and sautéed shrimp in pomodoro sauce. She took in not only the sumptuous meal, but the views of ocean waves bumping leisurely against the rocky breakwater. As her eyes drank in the scene before her, she noticed someone sitting on a nearby bench also taking in the very same view. Her lips tilted up in a slight smile, no longer feeling quite so alone at the table.
She was in love with this land. It was so rich and beautiful in many ways. It’s scenery so breathtaking. The people who lived here established and upheld a culture so extraordinary. A philosophy of the old and new mixed together at a snail’s pace. The country indeed ran on its own terms, and not under the harassment of speed or technology like the hasty societies of the western world.
As she scooped up the last shrimp from her plate, Victoria noticed the sun's slow decent into the sky, marking the end of another day. She thanked the owner personally for the tasty meal and headed over to the scooter.
With helmet on, she leaned over and stepped on the kick starter. Nothing. Over and over she spun the engine and the stubborn Vespa refused to start.
"The first sign of trouble on my vacation," muttered Victoria impatiently.
A few more kicks of the starter and again nothing. She looked at the rapidly setting sun and people sauntering in the other direction down the boardwalk. It was getting chilly and the beach getting more desolate. She tried the kick starter one more time. The bike sputtered once and fell silent. Victoria felt a chill run up her spine.She was stranded.