After two weeks in Greece we were starting to wear down, not physically but mentally.
Day in, day out if we weren’t sleeping we were rushing across towns, cities, archaeological sites, museums, airports, docks in a frenzy to see nearly everything Greece has to offer.
Our plane touched down in Rome we were plenty excited to create a home base and keep ourselves to one city for more than a day at a time. Laura and I had been on numerous buses, ferries, planes, shuttles every day for about 14 days and it was finally time to kick back and enjoy the ins and outs of one city, minimal travel required.
By some odd confluence of misfortune, the spring that Laura and I had decided to go world travelling was the same moment in time that people, the media especially, were starting to get quite concerned over the global threat of swine flu. In fact, the concept was so foreign and new to the world-at-large that when we arrived to our international flight destination in Greece we were both given these hastily put together pamphlets advising us to stay clear of any pig farms — lest we get sneezed on by a pig and carry those germs around the world with us.
Anyway, aside from the few irritating, alarmist news programs blaring in most airports, the coincidental timing of all the swine flu concerns never really affected our trip. Not until Rome, that is.
Our accommodations were decent, the place was advertised as a cheap bed-and-breakfast in what was actually more like renting one of the extra rooms this guy Georgio had in his own living space. Georgio was a quirky fellow; large and lumbering but older and seemingly always frustrated about something. Exasperated, maybe.
The rules of the board were simple: you don’t go into the other people’s rooms and you must share the fridge and bathroom with all the other occupants. Fair enough.
The first full day in Rome came and went without incident. And then the night came.
It was around 10 p.m. the night of our first stay, we were about to pack it in back at Georgio’s when we heard someone start retching down the hallway. It sounded like a cough fighting for attention against a violent dry-heave.
“Hmm, sounds like someone’s sick,” I say.
Then, as the hours passed by, everyone got sick. Not just one person coughing, moaning and vomiting but seemingly everyone staying at the B&B, everyone outside of our door, was sick with the flu. Not the swine flu necessarily, but Jesus it’s weird when everyone under the same roof as you all have the flu at the same time.
Both still feeling of sound mind and decent health, Laura and I decided we needed to vacate this cesspool of sickness, trying our best to avoid the sure-to-be infected communal fridge and bathroom so the flu didn’t wreak havoc on our travel time.
Of course, leaving early meant we would have to deal with Georgio who speaks no English, only deals in cash and was, like I said before, inexplicably frustrated.
Georgio didn’t take well to the fact that we were ending our stay early. We wanted badly to get out of the building but also wanted to get back the money we had paid in advance for the rest of our time in Rome. After enough foot stamping and furrowed brows we secured the cash for the unstayed days and were off, down six flights of stairs and out the doors.
About a half block from the B&B Laura turns to me and tells me Georgio is following us.
Sure enough the big landlord was lumbering his away toward us. It may be a coincidence, we thought, he might just happen to be walking in our general direction. Another couple blocks, a left turn, a right turn later and sure enough Georgio was still behind us, about 40 metres distant.
The weird part, though, (well, weirder) was that he always kept a certain distance. If we stopped, eventually he stopped as well, looking around as if to say, “Oh, you guys are going this way too?”
Eventually we made our way to the metro station; it was early in the morning at relatively unpopular stop so there were very few people around. By the time we got there, though, one train had just left and there wasn’t another scheduled to arrive for another 10 minutes. This officially commenced what is possibly the most high stakes / actually low stakes / awkward moment I have ever experienced.
Georgio had now followed us about five full blocks, through the metro terminal and down a level to our stop. Unwittingly, we had basically walked our way into a dead end — the edge of the metro terminal, no train, concrete wall.
Huffing and puffing, Georgio stood there at the terminal entrance staring at us. The only idea Laura and I could muster in this situation was to take out my phone and make it look like we were calling someone important.
“Oh, there talking to someone important. Maybe I should stop acting so creepy,” Georgio surely would have thought.
Well, that didn’t work; the awkward, silent staredown continued.
After an eternity of not knowing whether to be concerned, frightened, bewildered, or amused, the train came. At this point the chase was finally over.
“That was weird. Do you think he wanted to kill us?”
“Ehh, probably not.”