i suppose every journey has its highs and lows. so it seemed appropriate that our low point fell on the thirteenth day of our trip. it was our last day in italy and i was feeling that itch. we had been bouncing around, staying in airbnb.com apartments and though they met every expectation, it was the nth day without wifi, a large shower, and most importantly, a little alone time.
the day started off on the wrong foot. ben woke up early to run a few errands. i woke up feeling generally annoyed, and with the realization that we needed to get out of this apartment in two hours and on the road to austria. i still needed to pack and the space looked like a disaster struck. i started with last night's dishes. ben cooks, i clean. there was a cabinet above the sink with a drying rack, and as i was washing out a few cups, i looked up for a split second, just as a small, sharp knife fell from above and onto the floor. inches away from my face. i cleaned the knife, placed it back on the rack and carried on with the dishes. i didn't think much of it until a few minutes later, it fell again—point down onto my head. i got the message. it was time to leave italy.
we got on the road later than anticipated. i've always been the worst at leaving the house—is the oven off? is my lipstick okay? should i put on another layer in case it gets cold?—so imagine trying to get out of a country. ben is no better. i had to go the antique market to buy even more vintage ribbon. ben wanted to buy a hat made from alpaca wool. i wanted more packages of haribo tagada pinks like i'd never see them again. ben wanted to buy another bottle of balsamic vinegar from his favorite restaurant, even though he had already bought four bottles. we wanted paninis for the road.
the four-hour trip from florence to innsbruck took closer to eight. we were stuck in traffic around verona. our road-trip playlists were getting tiresome, and it was starting to get dark. as we drove into the alps, it was pitch black and it was starting to rain. the highway was packed with trucks. by 9:30, we reached a creepy toy-filled rest stop that was about an hour from the austrian border. stepping out of the car, my legs were baby-deer wobbly and it was far colder than my jacket could resist against. the thin air, coupled with my asthma and anxiety, made breathing a bit difficult. i wasn't sure how we were going to continue on. i just didn't have it in me anymore, and ben was doing all of the driving.
innsbruck is located in western austria, not too far from the border. it's tucked away in large valley surrounded by truly majestic mountains. when we reached our destination around 11, i wanted to kiss the ground. i was thankful for ben's ace driving abilities and really at that point, just to be alive. we were staying in another airbnb home just outside of the city and i couldn't wait to go to sleep. even as co-pilot, car rides are oddly exhausting.
we rang the bell of the house. but there was no one there to greet us as planned. we hadn't been in touch with our host since before we left florence—when we said we'd reach the city by 7:30. we went back into the car to call her. ben grew up in germany, and i was so thankful for his fluency in the language, yet he seemed to be on the phone with her for an increasingly long time without me understanding. halfway through their conversation, a wind blew in like i've never felt before. a wind so strong, that i wasn't quite sure what would result of it. lasting minutes, our car, the trees, the telephone wires shook with the wind's intensity. it ended just as ben and the host's conversation finished. we were to get a hotel that night. our host had waited nearly an hour at the time we said we'd be there, and without getting phone service crossing the mountains, she had no way to reach us. she lived 30 minutes away, and at this late hour, wasn't going to travel back to let us in.
we drove closer into the city and stopped at the first hotel we found, just outside of innsbruck. the hotel looked a bit subpar and outdated, but i wasn't in any position to be picky. i just wanted to be in bed. it was nearing 11:30. there were no vacancies, but we were pointed in the direction of a larger hotel down the road.
at first we weren't sure if it was a conference center, a hotel, or an office building, but no matter, hotel 2 was completely booked. as we passed a slightly seedy hotel 3, it appeared to be closed. we figured we'd give it a try regardless. the sign on the door confirmed that it wasn't open, but a room was available and listed a number to call for reception. we had ben's father's cell phone (he lives in germany, and he generously lent us his phone so we'd be able to make calls), and as we dialed the number, no sooner did the international minutes expire. it seemed like a cruel joke, yet we were able to ride back to hotel 1 and use their phone. but, no luck, no one answered.
hotel 4 reminded of the hotel in the shining. we were greeted in the lobby by a 7-foot sculpture of jesus on the cross, and nobody in sight. we rang reception and wandered around a little bit, but to no avail. we were told by the bartender at hotel 5 that there were no vacancies. as he talked, his hand rested atop his head, showcasing the fresh, bloody gash going down his forearm. hotel 6 was closed. as was hotel 7, which we drove our way well up the mountain to with high hopes, just beyond the local sanatorium.
at this point, there was only one obvious thing to do: get mcdonald's. we ordered half the menu, deciding to save it all until we found a place to stay for the night. it was fast approaching 12:30. we were hungry, but knew the food would taste even better once we were settled. across the road from mcdonald's was a tourist information center with (somewhat of) a scoreboard, listing all of the hotels in the area, and how many rooms were available at each. a miracle of a discovery, except the board read: 0, 0, 0, 0, 0.
we traveled further and further away from the city, finally reaching (the rather luxurious) hotel 8. as ben and the receptionist spoke in german, i tried to gauge exactly what they were saying, wishing and hoping there was a room for us. as it turns out, not only was there a room, but the reason of every hotel in the city being booked? there was a zoo conference being held in the city that week. but, of course!
minutes after we were in the room, ben fell asleep with all of his clothes still on, and at long last, i ate my mcchicken.