“Best place to stay to train into Rome,” I typed into Google.
Train station; train station; where is the nearest train station?, I searched for with nearby hotels on Google Maps.
It was the week of the Italian road trip my family and I were about to set off on. More like the day before. We hadn’t booked any hotels at any of our main stops, and we weren’t sure if they’d accept us because we didn’t even know what time we were going to arrive at each city we were planning to stay overnight at.
“So you’re just going to wing it?” Chaplain C asked me.
“Yes sir, I am.” I assured him.
This whole trip my family was on to visit me was planned in a way contrary to what I’m used to, where this time, I didn’t plan a thing.
I had burnt myself out throughout my career trying to overplan things, even when it came to planning trips where everything was decided weeks out, by the hour, and we had to make every stop no matter what.
This time I told my family about how I was feeling and asked them to send me what they wanted to do. I wasn’t going to make a schedule, book hotels, no excel sheets, phone calls, no Google searches of the best places to take them where there’d be calculating of costs and figuring out if they were something they wanted to do. I offered that I would take care of transportation and that was it. And this was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.
It was a month out and my family hadn’t sent anything yet. They wanted to spend time with me and that was it. I love them and that’s what I wanted as well, but the planner in me felt this urgent need to want to show them Italy so they could see the most out of their time here. I had to restrain. And I’m thankful that I did.
It was my brother who ended up sending the list of things he wanted to do. “Get lost in Venice. Hike the Cinque Terre Trail. Eat pizza in Naples.” My father chimed in on the group chat and said, “See the Pope in Rome!”
And that’s how this amazing road trip got started.
So back to the day before, we still didn’t know where we were going to stay. My sister and I conversed and we decided that if we thought we were going to make it to a city in time for check-in, we would book a hotel the day of.
First overnight stay, Cinque Terre. We slept over at an Autogrill because we were projected to arrive at 3 a.m.
Second overnight stay, Rome. ‘Okay, I think we can make it by a reasonable time; we should book a hotel.’ I thought to myself.
We chose a place called Olive Tree Hill B&B in Zagarolo because it was one of the cities on the map on the outskirts of Rome that was near a train station. Public transportation was easy in Rome, so what better way than to train into Rome so that I didn’t have to pay expensive amounts for parking.
We also chose this B&B because of the heartfelt, personal reviews of the accommodation. “Ivano and Terhi made us feel welcomed.” “Ivano and Terhi gave us the real Italian experience.” “Best bed and breakfast near Rome and I would go back in a heartbeat.”
With these personal reviews, the B&B allowing us to have a later check-in than 3 p.m., and being close to the train station, we were sold.
Shortly after booking a room at the B&B, Ivano messaged me right away with a welcoming message offering directions to the B&B and to text him any time we needed help finding it or if our estimated time of arrival would change. We had a prompt exchange of information for the logistics, and we were set.
A sigh of relief. Cool, so we’re going to arrive by 10 p.m., sleep, and train into Rome in the morning.
Funny thing is that in life, things don’t always go to plan, but results in a way as if it was the grand plan all along.
We ended up arriving to the B&B at 1 a.m. instead of 10 p.m., conversing with Ivano the whole time as we neared the destination, and was welcomed by his wife Terhi who patiently waited for our arrival and helped us settle into our room with no complaints or strife. She let us know that they would be making free breakfast the next morning and that if it was okay with us, it would be at 8:30 a.m. because that was the time she was going to make breakfast for the other guests. With that and a hot shower, the one thing went to plan was that we slept, and we slept comfortably.
The next morning, we ended up not taking a train into Rome and decided that we were going to drive because the earliest train that was a 1 1/2 hour ride didn’t leave until 10:30 a.m. and we needed to be there by 11:30 a.m. to try to make the mass in Vatican City (which starts at 10:30 a.m. by the way; I misread the mass times).
Amidst the change of plans, what we did get to look forward to was free breakfast and getting to meet Ivano and Terhi who has been so warmly spoken of in all of the reviews.
We walked downstairs and we were greeted with warm smiles from Ivano and Terhi and the other guests. The table was all laid out with homemade food or fresh food from the town and we instantly felt a good feeling as we walked in.
We gathered together in the room and my mom, a friendly conversationalist in nature, started to talk to and get to know the other guests. Stacie and Paul, we found out, were two friends from Washington who had worked together previously at national news stations and was here in Italy to work on a video project with Ivano and Terhi. Stacie had found out about this B&B previously much like the way we did, and she wanted to come back to start a project that stemmed from Ivano and Terhi’s hospitality.
They wanted to capture the “unseen Italy” Ivano had introduced to them on personalized tours he brought them on. Walking around Rome at midnight after the city had cleared out, hikes to ancient Roman aqueducts invisible to the untrained eye, temples hundreds of people revered even before the Coliseum now standing quietly on its own in neighboring towns.
Terhi chimed in with even more amazing history that I was not aware of, beaming about the people who lived in the area of Rome even before the Romans, showed us books my family and I admired that illustrated how ancient ruins looked like in its prime, and showed us through her recollection of history that we’re all really connected if we look back far enough.
Now, this short story has been titled “Beautiful Chances in Zagarolo” for a reason. Our short meeting together was a result of a series of perfectly timed chances. The chance that without planning it, Terhi from Finland had met Ivano who grew up here in Italy, got married, and grew their home and family in this country. The chance that Stacie found this home that was made into a B&B, and her deciding to come back to start this project. The chance that my family and I stayed at this B&B on this exact date, meeting everyone at this exact time. The chance that Ivano and Terhi were looking for travel bloggers, something I had been pursuing and looking for opportunities in, to expand on their project even further. The chance that we were all here together at the right place, at the right time, knowing that this would be a catalyst or turning point for all of us in our lives.
We got up getting ready to leave as Ivano and Terhi were preparing for a family party, and we were heading to Rome. We all exchanged contact information knowing that we would be in touch soon (which I can say we have been) and said goodbye to each other as if we were old friends with a complete sense of comfort that this moment was meant to happen.
“This was my favorite part of this trip,” my brother perfectly stated, filled with a warm familial feeling, in words that were on all of our minds as we settled into the car.
“Ours too,” we all agreed and we set off for the rest of our beautiful road trip through Italy.