Wrong Turn At Rome

Sandra Atkins

© Copyright 2020 by Sandra Atkins

Photo of Mr. Lovcen.

Where are we?” I asked, surprisingly calm considering the news I had just received from my son, Kyle. Before he could respond, another question popped into my head. How does one land in the wrong country? We had flown out of Rome in route to the country of Montenegro. But we had just discovered that we had missed the mark.

At the moment, all I could do was sit on the bench in the airport while Kyle went to find out about our whereabouts. A nasty fall and subsequent surgery, which had occurred a couple of months prior to our trip, had left me even now on the mend. Since my ankle still caused occasional pain and a great deal of swelling, Kyle had ‘parked’ me on this bench while he went to find a money- changing kiosk. That’s when he made the surprising discovery. Instead of euros, the machine only dispensed kunas. We knew from the little bit of Google research we had done that something was ‘rotten in Denmark’. We had never even heard of that particular currency much less imagined what strange people carried that change in pocket. But, being giddy throughout the entire trip, (and I promise that I was not on any sort of medication), I had no worries. Even though this setback might prevent me from fulfilling the number one item on my bucket list, which was to visit Kotor, Montenegro, and to climb a mountain there.

A person must be careful of content that they peruse on the internet. And this bit of info is pertinent at any age. I can attest to that fact because I was fifty-something when I came across the tidbit about a mountain in Montenegro. I had never before heard of this new country that had been carved out of the old Yugoslavia. The writer made it sound very appealing indeed. An old- world town located there that had been frozen in time. The back-drop of which included a mountain with an ancient castle atop just waiting for me to climb and see. I immediately penned this as the number one item on my bucket list and set my sights high, high atop this peak in this fledging country.

My son and I, both of us novices to the world of travel, had opted to book the trip ourselves instead of going through an agency or acquiring professional guides. It would save us money we agreed. We never anticipated this particular problem. Turning down the wrong street maybe and getting lost perhaps, but not landing in the wrong country. We fancied ourselves able-bodied adventurers, even though I limped badly even with my cane. And when a pain would suddenly shoot through my foot like an electric shock, I would throw my hands in the air and holler out. All of this as I was struggling to keep myself from going into a stumble and roll.

But a grand adventure it was from the beginning: navigating through narrow cobblestone streets, seeing views worthy of post cards, accepting wine with our meals instead of sweet tea after getting some odd looks. We had proudly located departure gates and luggage to have gotten where we were now, wherever that was. We had finally figured out that you needed to actually step onto the motion walkways in the airport floors in order for them to actually move. We shared many a good laugh about our mistakes, and we decided that we would weather this one as well. That’s why I sat on this bench in front of this small airport on a perfect day, sunnily mending a rip in my luggage with a sewing kit gifted me by our hotel in Rome. My son had ‘parked’ me again and ventured out to see about renting a car.

For finally, we had discovered where we were and, more importantly, we knew the way to Montenegro. I had not hopped like a crazed bunny, in order to make last boarding calls, to not see the land of my dreams. How I figured that I would be able to limp up said mountain, I don’t remember. I only knew that the first hurdle was to get to the base of that mountain. My crippled state had actually proved advantageous at times, namely in avoiding long lines. The airport personnel allowed us to board via separate paths roped off for the pilots and staff. But I doubted if anyone would be waiting to carry me up the side of the mountain. But as they say, one step at a time.

First step, Croatia. That’s where we had landed. A country located right next door to our intended destination. After obtaining our green cards to go across the border, we headed out in our diesel rental. We veered around cows loitering in the road to get to the border crossing, where we patiently waited some more to enter into Montenegro. A beautiful place, another country carved out of what was once Yugoslavia, one of six in fact.

After arriving at out hotel, another surprise awaited us. We had made the mistake of booking a room at a couple’s boutique hotel. Giggles danced through the dark as we crawled into bed that evening. For hanging on the wall over the king-size bed was the black-and-white framed photograph of the erotic and close-up curves of a female’s buttocks.

The next day, we ventured into the Old Town of Kotor. Enclosed inside a wall, it was a magical place where time seemed to have stopped hundreds of years before. We gawked at Venetian architecture, outdoor cafes, thousands of cats, and the entrance to the mountain leading up to the castle. I had arrived at long last, at the place of a dream. The steps were steep in areas, crumbling in others. We climbed and climbed to ever greater heights. And my foot swelled and swelled larger and larger as we ascended. An American nurse chided me for the lofty hike. She especially scolded my son for humoring me in my foolishness.

Finally, I hobbled onto the plateau at the top and looked around. The castle was not the enormous structure that I had expected, but consisted of one or two tiny rooms half intact, a smattering of rock floors and walls. But to think that the fortifications had been started in the ninth century filled me with an awe of its history. And no matter if nothing had been there to await me at the top, I was there. I was on top of the world, and it was a grand old place to be. But now, I worried about getting back down. And contrary to my belief, the trek downhill proved to be equally as difficult, or more so.

Very early the following morning we drove back across the border to Croatia, victoriously snacking in the rental car from a bag of goodies that the hotel had packed for us. We wanted time to explore a little of that country as well. We were not disappointed. The scenery took our breathes away, as did driving along the roadway which was cut into the side of a mountain. I dared not look down at the ocean looming dangerously far below, and dared my son to take his eyes off the narrow road. Upon arriving in Dubrovnik, we both gasped when we took in the first view of the curtain wall of a huge medieval castle. It was the perfect example of what we imagined a castle to be, complete with drawbridge and turrets.

All in all, we had the adventure of a lifetime. My son, Kyle, and I returned home to South Carolina somehow better for having stepped outside of our comfort zones. Happier for having met wonderful people who spoke strange languages, but smiled to express universal joy. I guess travelling from point A to point B in some ways parallels a person’s journey through life. You’ll make mistakes for sure. At times you’ll wonder where you are. At some juncture I’ll bet you’ll even wonder how you got there. But don’t fret too long on these quandaries. Don’t waste a lot of precious time calculating the price of your errors. Just take it in stride! Enjoy the journey! Smile! And climb that mountain!

Sandra's first experience in writing was at the age of ten when she wrote a mock newspaper that contained the escapades of her cat, Tiger.  Sandra grew up on a farm in a small town in South Carolina. The animals and characters that surrounded her sparked her imagination and gave her the urge in latter years to write about them. She is a member of a local writing critique group.

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