‘La Dolce Fiat’ is our favorite reader story about a vacation gone wrong
Read Kate Langenberg's winning essay about a honeymoon in Italy.
Readers of the Boston.com Book Club had their minds on vacation this month as we read Elin Hilderbrand’s “Hotel Nantucket” and asked the writers among you to share your own vacation stories.
In the latest novel by the “queen of beach reads,” protagonist Lizbet takes on the general manager of a Nantucket Hotel burdened with construction problems and a possible supernatural presence. Hilderbrand joins Boston.com to discuss her book with bookseller Tim Ehrenberg on March 28, at 6 p.m.
Before that discussion, we gave our readers a chance to try their hand at telling their own vacation stories. Read ahead to find our favorite piece, a personal essay from Kate Langenberg about the rental car that turned her honeymoon in Italy into an unplanned adventure.
“La Dolce Fiat”
It was Italy. The year was 2008. My husband and I have a lot of memories from our honeymoon, but one that stands out clearly is the rental car. It was a front-wheel drive Fiat with a manual transmission that my husband suddenly needed to remember how to operate. As we tried to drive out of the piazza in Venice where we picked up the car, stalling and sputtering and stalling again, a curious but polite onlooker in a gathering crowd motioned to us and offered advice.
With one hand held out, palm facing the ground, he gradually bent his wrist upward and made a sound like a door opening slowly. Ease off the clutch, he was trying to convey. It clicked, and we were off. I waved out the window like a grateful royal as we sped away to Greve in Chianti.
By the time we arrived in Greve, my husband had improved at working the clutch — mostly. He jammed the transmission when we arrived at the hotel, but every attempt to unjam it resulted in the car rolling backward towards a steep drop-off at the edge of the property’s driveway. With the help of a burly man, whom we later discovered was a cellarman at the vineyard, we managed to prevent the car (and my husband) from tipping over the side of the embankment.
Undeterred, the next day we braved Greve’s steep, winding roads. We had loose plans to visit wineries and do tastings and came upon a sign pointing us toward that possibility, but it directed us up a dirt road that seemed better suited for an ATV. We decided to chance it, dodging boulders and craters the size of the tires. With a sudden jolt and a solid thunk, the bottom of the car hit the ground. We looked at each other and decided to go back down the hill.
Within moments of returning to the paved road, it became obvious that we had a flat. As my husband stopped on a wide shoulder to change the tire, I admired the hillsides dotted with estates nestled among golden grasses. Rows of cypress trees rolled across the horizon and the sun washed out an otherwise blue sky.
With a donut on the car, all of the exploring we had planned — particularly the day trip to Siena — now seemed like a bad idea. My husband thought we might be able to get the tire fixed, and that’s how we found ourselves speaking broken Italian and gesticulating wildly at the damaged hunk of rubber in the garage of Nunzio, a local mechanic. But it was no use; the tire was beyond repair.
We were scheduled to drive to Florence in two days, where we’d catch a train to Naples. Instead of venturing out again, we opted to save the spare’s limited life for that journey and hunkered down in Greve. We may not have made it to Siena or any other wineries, but we took the trade-off: lounging and swimming in the hotel’s infinity pool that overlooked the Italian countryside, drinking and eating in the little town center, and exploring the estate that was part of the hotel.
The car got us to Florence in one piece — almost. Along the way, I accidentally ripped the flimsy sun visor out of the ceiling. Figuring all that mattered to the rental agency was the mileage and condition of the vehicle’s body, I shoved the visor under the back seat and suggested to my husband that we never speak of it again.
But, of course, we still talk about it. The Fiat didn’t take us on the trip we had planned, but it’s one we’ll never forget.
Kate Langenberg is a writer with a background in book publishing and marketing communications. She recently relocated to Powder Valley, Penn. after living in Boston and its suburbs for 17 years.
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