Sometimes nothing goes as planned and sometimes it is for all the best reasons. On a recent short stop in Verona, Italy, over the New Year holiday, we were reminded through some amazing Italian hospitality that optimism, humility, and big smiles can go a long way.
[Note: We usually don’t write these kinds of stories. Often, we just tuck them away in our memory and cherish them for ourselves. But sometimes something happens that is just so amazingly good, we have to share it with the world. Because a lot of people are afraid to travel, and it breaks our hearts that fear could stop anyone from having these kinds of soul-quenching experiences. We hope this encourages you to step out of your comfort zone to make your own unforgettable connections.]
How We Ended Up in Verona
Buddy and I are used to being on our own for the vast majority of the year – including holidays and special occasions. Honestly, we quite like to do things by ourselves for the most part. But every once in a while, we crave meaningful human interaction. It isn’t so much homesickness as a desire to have a shared experience we can cherish and an opportunity to share our joy with others.
As we planned for how to celebrate the New Year, the idea of sitting alone in a hotel room really started to bum me out. So, I started scheming and praying. (I always rope God into my plotting, and it’s worked out so far!)
We had to be in Milano, Italy, on the second day of the new year to hang out with some cute cats, so we decided to find a place to stop on the way from Munich. The train happened to stop in Verona – a place I’ve always wanted to visit, as a lover of Shakespeare.
The New Year’s Plan
I got it in my head that if we stayed at a family-owned B&B we would have a slight chance of getting invited to a New Year’s celebration with the rest of the guests – assuming there were some. But, since we were planning this very last minute, our only option was a place 20-minutes out of town. Against his better judgment – and with a realistic warning that my grand idea may not work – Buddy booked it for us.
Fast forward to arrival and we can’t figure out which bus we need. Unlike what we got used to in Germany, the buses and trains aren’t the primary forms of transportation in this area. So, the place we needed to stop (aka the side of the road near our B&B) wasn’t a common one.
Our First Interaction with Italians
Luckily, when I asked the non-English-speaking bus driver by pointing at a map and making confused faces, another helpful passenger came to our rescue. She communicated to him where we needed to be dropped off and we were ready to pay for our ticket. The only problem was … we were supposed to buy those at the kiosk, and he was already running late after talking to us. So, we thanked him and began stepping off the bus when he said something I can imagine meant “screw it” and waved us back on.
I. Almost. Cried. Even sharing this now, my eyes tear up. We’ve learned from our travels to never expect help because it really isn’t anyone else’s problem that we are so confused the majority of the time, only speak English, and have a habit of poor planning. We would be total jerks to get irritated with someone else for our lack of understanding. So we just smile, explain we are idiots with some key hand gestures (hitting yourself in the forehead is pretty universally known) and get out of the way when needed.
Most of the time people are nice enough once they realize we are thankful for any ounce of help they can offer, but this was just above and beyond. It had become clear after only about ten minutes in the country that Italians were the nicest people in all of Europe. God bless them! (And this was only the start of experiencing their amazing kindness and hospitality).
Almost Giving Up Hope
Once at the hotel, we were greeted in broken English by a vibrantly joyful woman who happily showed us to our room. After lying on the bed in our beautiful temporary home for a few minutes, we discussed our plans. With our utter lack of any Italian language knowledge, my hopes for joining in on the festivities had all but dwindled away. It would probably just be us on the pretty terrace looking for fireworks in the distance.
Initially, we discussed taking the bus into Verona or nearby Lake Garda to see the fireworks. But the confusion earlier in the day made us nervous we’d get stuck when the bus chose not to stop at the random side-of-the-road place closest to our accommodations. We also had a short walk down the road right next to oncoming traffic – not ideal on a big party night.
We resigned ourselves to a night in and started looking up places to eat because we were both extremely hungry. Nothing. Everything was closed until around 7 p.m. – about three hours from the current time.
But, I still kept having this urge to make it a New Year’s Eve to remember. So I figured we’d go downstairs to get the WiFi password and take them up on that welcome drink they offered earlier. I thought, if I know Italians (and after 25+ years of hanging out at my best friend’s house, I’d say I do), there was a chance they’d offer us food. Otherwise, we still had some cough drops at the bottom of our bag.
All the Hospitality
Downstairs, we met the owner and his mother – who passed this gorgeous B&B on to him. With pointing, hand-written notes, and Google Translate, we were able to get the WiFi password and a dinner recommendation. He even called to make us a reservation and made sure to check they had vegetarian options. But since it was a special holiday meal, our reservation wasn’t until 8 p.m.
He must have seen the disappointment in our eyes at that time because he brought out a spread of bread, cake, artichokes, and olives we devoured. No idea what we talked about, but we both tried to share a few things which always led to smiles and laughs or confused looks then more laughs.
Our English-Speaking Angel
Just as we were about to leave to kill some time napping in our room, his other half returned with her daughter – this beautiful, English-speaking angel who I wanted to hug. A God-send if I ever saw one. She sat down and chatted with us while translating for everyone to allow us all to enjoy the conversation, and it was fantastic. I finally had that connection I was craving and could happily ring in the new year while watching fireworks on the tv in our room after dinner.
But, as we were leaving to walk next door for our reservation, she told us they would like us to join them after we are finished to celebrate with them. Could it actually be happening? I had asked God so many times in the days leading up to this trip – ‘If we just put ourselves out there, you’ll do the rest – right?’ And it always felt like a yes. This was what he had in store.
The Dinner with No End
But before we could join in on their festivities, we had a seven-course meal awaiting us. Apparently, part of the conversation we couldn’t understand before our angel interpreter arrived, was our host explaining our reservation was for their special set New Year’s Eve dinner that started at 8 p.m. and ended long after the new year! Of course, we didn’t put this together until we watched 11 p.m. tick by and they were still bringing out new courses for us.
All of the food was divine, and we were having a great time – trying to hold back hysterical laughter by the time course four came out. But after three hours, we were full and itching to get back to our new friends. So, we did something that was probably really frowned upon and told them we needed to leave early. I still cringe at the thought. But we were about to break our chairs we were so wiggly. We’ll never know what those last courses were, or how long it would have lasted. And we are okay with that. What happened next was amazing.
THE BEST NEW YEAR’S EVE EVER!
With only about 15 minutes to spare, we made it back over to the B&B just in time to have a drink in our hands and watch a few final performances on tv before the countdown began. As the clock hit midnight, we all clanged our glasses together for a great cheers. And then grandma splashed us all in the face with champagne as her son poured some out of the bottle over her head. All for good luck, I suppose! But the look of crazed happiness on her face is something I will never forget.
Then everyone (grandma, our hosts, the daughter, and a few friends) hugged and kissed each other on the cheeks passionately before all running outside to see the fireworks in Verona.
Afterward, we ate grapes – another good luck activity. And our hostess danced around the room as we watched the performers on tv dance to YMCA (I can’t make this up). The amount of unbridled, pure joy and friendship and love and just unbelievably good vibes in that room is something I want to hold on to for the rest of my life.
Buddy and I just kept looking at each other in awe. He knew from my giant smirk and tear-filled eyes that my prayers had been answered 100 times over. And when we fell asleep that night, after a few more drinks with our friends, I knew that this was a memory we would hold onto until our dying day. (Like that campfire in Newfoundland last year!)
Oh Yea, Let’s See Verona!
While our invite to the party was more than enough to set us up for a life-long memory, the next morning our hostess (through her helpful translator daughter) insisted on driving us into town. Lucky for us … since we failed to realize the buses wouldn’t run that day.
After taking us on an impromptu driving tour of her gorgeous city, we were dropped off in the center of town and given a number to call for pickup. Of course, no money was to be accepted.
So, thanks to our new friends, we were able to wander around stunning Verona, take a peek at the famed Juliet’s balcony (a highlight, even with the crowds!), and enjoy another great Italian meal.
While the people we had met gave us an amazing first impression of Italians, this gorgeous city gave us a fabulous first impression of the kind of beauty to expect from the architecture and landscape of Italy.
Really outdoing themselves at this point … on the way back to their place, we were invited to join this great family and their friends for dinner. Well, duh. So, we all packed in the cars to go get pizza.
Despite only having one person to speak English with, we laughed and joked (our host even snuck a slice of my pizza), and had the best time. There is something just so beautiful about being accepted in that way – so quickly and so easily. For some reason, they looked at us and saw two people worthy of their time, worth introducing to their friends and loving on for a few days.
Maybe to them, that was just good hospitality or maybe they just felt really bad for us chronically confused kids. Ha! But for us, those are the moments that make this big scary world we were warned about that much smaller and safer and beautiful. It confirms that going far out of our comfort zone brings moments and lessons that change us for the better … and friends. SO MANY AMAZING FRIENDS!
However, I sincerely believe they loved us too. Because when they dropped us off at the train station on our final morning, we exchanged big, reluctant hugs and hopes to see each other again one day! It may never work out that we cross paths again, but we’ll still think of them fondly as friends and I think they’ll do the same.
While beautiful, in our minds Verona won’t bring thoughts of narrow city streets or landscapes. It will always be a reminder of our sweet friends. There are no photos of our time with them because we were just having too much fun to think of it. But I’ll remember their smiling faces and their kindness will stay with us forever.
And when the time comes to return that hospitality and friendship to another wandering soul, we will jump on the opportunity to pay it forward. Because the world can always use more kindness, laughter, and love – always, always, always.
Here’s to making more genuine connections in 2019! Give it a try, you won’t regret it.
(P.S. – For those wondering, this is where we stayed. While this blog post was not in partnership with them at all, we obviously highly recommend it. While you probably won’t get the same family-level welcome as we did, they will most certainly show you lovely hospitality and the rooms are fantastic. But we do recommend visiting in your own car, since the bus in this area isn’t very reliable. ha!)