Flight VY6124 to Athens – delayed to EOD 1230.
I sat on the hard, metal chairs at Gate 21 at Fiumicino Airport in Rome, munching on possibly the hundredth pizza slice I’d eaten in the past three days. My flight to Athens was delayed so I plugged in my headphones, pulled down my hoodie and stretched out my legs on my worn out suitcase. After trying to access the ‘free’ airport Wi-Fi and getting frustrated when the connection fizzled out and asked for payment, I attempted to take a nap. I was tired from the past few sleepless nights at our AirBnB where the funky-smelling bedding gave me allergies that I didn’t even know I had, but my body still resisted the urge to take a nap.
Flight VY6124 to Athens – delayed to EOD 1330.
I sighed as I looked at my friends, Nora and Tino, who slouched back into the hard, metal waiting chairs, painfully watching the continuously buffering Best Vines of 2015 video. That morning, we enjoyed the last few scents and smells of Rome, gazing sadly at our favorite gelato shop. We knew that every gelato or ice cream after would never taste the same as that delicious goodness we relished in every evening of our visit. And now we were here, waiting to leave the Italian city. Checking the screens every couple of minutes made me antsy and restless.
Flight VY6124 to Athens – cancelled.
We grabbed our things and sprinted to the closest Vueling counter we could find. The lady behind the counter urged us to go back to Departures – Check In and harass the Vueling counter there. Tino, Nora and I looked at each other, confused and helpless. Frustrated passengers stormed off and we decided to follow them. We ran, pushed passed people, leapt down the escalator, and raced back through security, trying to keep up with the people in front of us. We saw the yellow Vueling ticket counter and the women behind it wearing the classic black and yellow uniform and stopped at the end of the queue that had already formed.
The anxious looks on Tino and Nora’s faces escalated my own uneasiness. Worst-case scenarios popped into my head. We were stranded in this airport. How would we get to Athens if everything else was sold out? All the other two hundred passengers also had to get to Athens, what if they took all the remaining seats and I was stuck here in Rome, the land of the pizzas and the gelatos, which didn’t sound so appetizing at this very moment. Would we have to stay the night? If so, where? Would I have to sleep in Wifi-less Fiumicino for the night?!
We stood still, as too many minutes passed and the queue remained unmoved. The staff behind the counters was completely frazzled.
When the back half of the line was brought up front to another counter, everyone started yelling, shouting profanities at the Vueling officers and complaining at the top of their voices. Everyone clumped together, pushing and prodding their way to the front. Tino, Nora, and I, lost in the sea of people, were being elbowed, getting backpacks shoved in our faces, and growing angrier by the second. So we also pushed. And prodded. And elbowed. And shoved. After an arduous process of getting physically whacked around, we made it to the front. Our only option was to take the same Vueling flight the next day.
We got on the bus that was taking us to the Airport hotel we were staying in for the night. An hour passed before our bus pulled into a hotel compound. We got off, grabbed our bags and walked up to the lobby. The hotel looked relatively decent, with a height reaching around fifteen stories. I passed a small pool surrounded by deck chairs on my way to the reception.
The bus driver announced that we should be read to leave to the airport the next day at 9am and quickly walked out of the hotel lobby.
“Are you traveling alone?” I heard the receptionist ask a passenger. I looked at Tino and Nora as the same brilliant idea struck the three of us. I approached the desk and handed over my passport. “Miss, are you traveling alone?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied, fixing a sad smile on my face.
She smiled back sorrowfully. “Here are your keys. You can use the elevator over there. And lunch and dinner will be on the first floor.”
I took the room keys and my passport and edged away from the desk, smiling to myself when I heard Tino and Nora tell the poor receptionist that they were also alone and therefore, needed individual room keys. They joined me a few seconds later and we beamed at each other. In Rome, we lived in a tiny, cramped apartment that could only fit half a person—we were always uncomfortably in each other’s faces and spaces, bumping and stumbling as we went to the bathroom, or got dressed, or tried to make a cup of coffee in the morning. Needless to say, we were desperate for some space where we could stretch our arms without knocking the other person out.
I swiped my card and opened the door. Happiness engulfed me as I saw the queen-sized bed, the vast bedroom space and the large glass windows. I rarely squeal, but I definitely squealed when I saw the gloriously large bathroom. I dumped my suitcase and handbag on the floor and collapsed on the bed, starfish-like, and closed my eyes. A few minutes later, Nora, Tino and I made our way to the free lunch that Vueling had paid for. We greeted the other now-familiar passengers: the American backpacker who made it his goal to be friends with everyone on the flight, the quiet girl from Cape Verde who had the most fascinating life story of living in Lisbon, Athens, and Barcelona, the PDA-infused Italian couple and their poor third-wheeling friend, and the big, strapping South African who had demanded better service from Vueling at the airport. After lunch at 4pm, we decided to go for a walk outside and see exactly where the hell we were.
We were definitely not in Rome. The hotel seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. We wandered along the road until we came to a parking lot that was next to a large clothing store. Inside was filled with rows of funky looking clothes and shoes. The clothes didn’t particularly speak to the Italian sense of style. Their bright colors hurt my eyes and their peculiar print and fabric combinations confused me. Nora took one of the dresses off the hanger and laid it on her body. “I could wear this,” she said.
Tino and I looked at each other, not sure whether she was serious but we burst out laughing anyway. Nora grinned. “What? You guys not feeling the velvet and linen?” she said. The three of us laughed harder as we strolled along the aisles, bashing on each ridiculous outfit we came across. There were a lot of them. The giggles had gotten to us and we couldn’t stop.
Tino, out of breath, picked out one pair of heels. “Who would wear this?”
“I know, right,” Nora giggled as she showed us a pair of absurd looking ballet flats.
I think our tiredness and bad moods from the earlier part of the day had made us susceptible to anything remotely comical. We were those obnoxious girls making loud, rude comments, completely convulsed in fits of laughter. The store workers glared at us, obviously, because our cackling could be heard around the store. We gave them apologetic looks and pranced out of the store, still shaking with chuckles and laughter.
We walked back to the hotel, our moods significantly lighter and brighter and collapsed onto the deck chairs that surrounded the pool. We had our own large rooms upstairs and even after the past few days of being in each other’s faces, we still wanted to be together. A comfortable silence rose as each of us lounged in our chairs, the lengthiness of the day getting the better of us. Tiredness consumed my body. I laid there, on the deck chair, in some random hotel, in some random town in Italy and let my thoughts wander.
As the sky turned darker, we headed back inside for dinner. I tucked into my piece of grilled chicken and rice, munched on my bread roll, and attempted to eat the salad but gave up on that endeavor easily. I heard the waiter come up behind me.
“Wine, Madame?” he asked, showing me two bottles of red and white wine.
“Yes. White, please,” I beamed as he filled up my glass. He filled Tino and Nora’s glasses as well. He left the bottle on the table and left us. We smiled and clinked our glasses together, cheering to the memories being made right at this amount when plans and schedules and itineraries go completely off track. We sat around the table, eating, chatting, drinking, our glasses getting filled up every few minutes.As our bottle of wine quickly emptied, our waiter kept another full bottle on our table. I should take more Vueling flights and hope that they get cancelled in some unknown European city.
I turned to Tino and Nora. “Let’s take this upstairs? We’re finished eating, right?”
“What if they don’t allow that?” Tino said.
“I mean we’re not paying for any of this. Let’s just do it,” Nora suggested. “What are they gonna do to us?”
“Yeah. Okay. I’m going to grab it and we’re going to run to the stairs,” I said. “Tell me when the waiters are not looking.”
Tino eyed the waiters who were darting to and from the kitchen. “Okay, now. Go. Go. Go.”
I stood up and reached for the bottle and hid it under my sweater. I walked quickly out of the restaurant, as Tino and Nora followed, holding the bottom of the bottle. We laughed as we entered the stairway. It was a Snapchat worthy moment. I posed with the wine bottle, feeling like an ultimate boss, even though the whole James Bond mission probably didn’t need to take place and we could have easily taken the bottle to our rooms.
The good vibes continued into the night as the three of us hung out in Nora’s room, drinking wine, playing card games that ultimately ended with us throwing the cards at each other, and listening to the throwbacks of Britney, Backstreet Boys, and Missy Elliot. And yes, the dance moves were very much on point. No, we weren’t in Athens and no, we weren’t exploring a new city or visiting a cool landmark. We had a dance party, we had good music, and we had great company.
These extra 24 hours in Italy reminded me that positive energy and good vibes can be found when plans and agendas fall out of balance, schedules and itineraries break down, and flights get cancelled. More often than not, blessings are disguised. Relaxing on our king sized beds, laughing till we were out of breath, dancing and drinking till the early hours are memories that still make me smile. The cancelled flight to Athens turned out to be a wonderful break from our tiring Eurotrip, one that we all needed. It’s funny how life works out.