The Travel Test: Would Our First Trip Be A Disaster Or A Delight?

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bikes in europe
A first vacation to Italy tests the tenacity of the author's relationship.

"Let’s check that out," said the boyfriend. A sucker for adventure, I agreed, and we pulled off the road. What looked like a scenic ruin was in fact La Badia di Orvieto, a 12th-century abbey converted into a luxury hotel and restaurant, now more or less deserted in the off-season. We both wanted to stay, but doing so would have sacrificed reservations in Rome. "We should come back sometime, in the summer," the boyfriend mused. As the sun set over Umbria's rolling vineyards, it occurred to me that perhaps we should.

Sunday: When In Rome

That was before I realized he'd left our plane tickets, our itinerary, and my carefully researched "places to go" folder in the dresser drawer in Florence.

We circled around and around the center of Rome trying to find either an Internet café or our hotel.

"It's around here somewhere, let's just keep looking," he said, as I silently seethed.

Dumb luck led us to the Via di San Basilio and the Aleph. Lavish and slightly cheesy in that endearing Italian way, the Aleph's décor is based on Dante's Inferno, and everything—bar, restaurant, library, lobby—is a brilliant shade of red. The hell theme seemed very appropriate when we checked in and found a message from the fun folks at Alitalia questioning the change in our departure date. After another hour on the phone, we were told that neither it nor our missing tickets would be a problem. I suggested that we have the documents FedExed from Florence, but the airline assured the boyfriend this wouldn't be necessary.

And so we set off to sightsee. Rome is a blend of the old and the new, with flashy, perma-tanned couples in Dolce & Gabbana inspecting the treasures of the Vatican. The streets smell like sautéed garlic and wine, and the pace of the city sweeps you from ancient monument to trendy restaurant.

Because a friend of mine spent six months in Rome working on Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic, I knew about a few off-thebeaten- path places of which the cast and crew had grown fond.

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