Then, at breakfast, Tracy and I saw that Kim and Mary were not feeling well. Mary had been under the weather since we arrived (thank heavens and Rite-Aid for that Airborne Cold Remedy I had been taking religiously for the past week), but Kim was now looking a little ill. He hadn’t gotten much sleep due an upset stomach.
Fortunately, I thought, he could get some sleep in the car, because we were headed for Gubbio, and then a 2 ½ – 3 hour drive to San Quirico d’Orcia (or so we thought), where we would spend the next four nights.
We bade farewell to the Palazzo Bocci. As mentioned, it was a great hotel, and Spello was a wonderful base to explore Umbria. The phrase, “All roads lead to Spello” became our mantra because of its central locale in the region.
The drive to Gubbio, which has been called the most beautiful medieval town in Umbria, took about an hour and was very scenic. It was a hilly road with many twists and turns, but luckily it didn’t affect Kim’s stomach in a negative way. We knew we needed gas (although Kim seemed to have enough for all of us), but decided to get it on the way out of town (foreshadowing of the worst kind).
Parking lots for Gubbio were located relatively near the entrance to the town center. In addition to seeing what this town looked like, the main attraction we were looking for was a rickety funicular that would take us to the top of Monte Ingino. We had dubbed it the Bucket of Bolts from a report that said, “It holds two people, and gives one ample time to admire the view and to study your cage’s welding and bolts, which are all that lie between you and oblivion.”
As we walked through town, Tracy showed me a poster on a wall that had a picture of The Bucket of Bolts. Looking at the photo, I was happy that our life insurance policy was in proper order.
Kim, bad stomach and all, and Tracy were very much looking forward to this death-defying contraption, not only because they enjoyed these kind of things, but they also realize I am a tad frightened by them. Having a fear of heights (and greater fear of death), at least I was comforted by the fact that Tracy and Kim were having great fun at my expense. Mary, who has a much greater fear of heights (she once passed on going up the Eiffel Tower), was a doubtful starter from the onset. We strolled through town, took an elevator up to the Piazza Grande, which afforded beautiful countryside views …
To her credit, Mary sucked it up, and she and Kim were the first to go, followed in the next death car by Tom and Tracy. Once we were off and rolling, I loved it and the fantastic views, although mortality was never far from my mind, so…as you can see…I was quite relieved to get off.
We hiked another five minutes up to the Rocca and the Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo. If you need some useless trivia for your next cocktail party, Ubaldo is the saint against demonic possession and migraine headaches. The Basilica holds the remains of Ubaldo. I wanted to see his body, because one hand is missing three fingers due to an overzealous manservant who chopped them off as souvenirs (and perhaps to put on Medieval E-Bay).
Our next job was to figure out how to pay. After five minutes, we had everything in control, paid the 70 Euros to fill up, and it was on to San Quirico d’Orcia. But you know better than that, don’t you?After about one minute, the car sounded like my old bicycle with baseball cards in the spokes, only this sounded even worse. I don’t know if they could see the panic in my eyes, but my passengers were beginning to feel as uneasy as Kim’s stomach.
The car began to sputter more and more, and I was increasingly unable to accelerate.
We all agreed we should stop at the closed IP station up ahead to see what was wrong. A little flustered (ok…a lot), I believed I was hitting the brake as I entered the station, but in reality I was hitting the clutch. Instead of stopping near a pump, we glided gently into a nearby field. For the second time on the trip, the four of us were forced to push our car backwards, this time until we found cement.
Being the most (only) mechanical person in our vehicle, Kim attempted to determine what went wrong. That didn’t take long. Kim then uttered the words that have us all waking up in a cold sweat to this very day, “Oh my God, we put Super Gas in a Diesel car!”
The good news was Kim had brought an international cell phone for some business he had to do during the trip. I immediately called my father-in-law in the states and said, “Is putting Super Gas in a Diesel car very bad?” After 30 seconds of laughter, he replied, “Oh yeah, it’s really bad!”
That was accompanied by more bad news, there was only a busy signal at the Europcar number we had on file. We tried for half an hour. No luck.
We found a skinny hose and Kim, whose stomach wasn’t feeling bad enough to begin with, tried to siphon the gas out. Although thinking I should offer him a Gas-X to lighten the mood, I decided against it.
Siphoning did not work, but as despair set in as the four of us sat alone at a closed IP station, the guy who works at the station stopped by. As fate would have it, there was going to be a little concert at the station that evening. It was our first stroke of luck.
The IP employee told us about a tow truck driver in Gubbio who might help us. He called him, and he could pick us up. The downside to that plan was it would cost a few thousand Euro. Next, he called a Europcar international number and finally got through to someone. They said they would have someone call right back.
I paced while Tracy, Kim and Mary read. An hour later, I was pacing faster and still there was no return call from Europcar. The guy at the station tried again and this time got through to Europcar in Perugia, where we had spent 47 of the nicest minutes of the trip just a day earlier.
For a moment, I closed my eyes and tried to wish ourselves into the Palazzo del Capitano courtyard. I don’t think I clicked my heels, however.
At 5:30 p.m. (about 3 ½ hours into the ordeal) a tow truck came and lifted our car onto the back of the truck. Mary and Tracy were offered the front seat in the tow truck with the driver, but what about Kim and Tom? Well, we hopped onto the back of the truck, climbed in our newly deceased rental mobile and strapped ourselves in backward for the trip down the hill. It was Bucket of Bolts, Part II, The Tourists Held Hostage.
Had we known what was going on up front during our journey, Kim and I probably would not have been so happy, obliviously waving to all the Italian woman who were about to pass us on the winding road. According to Tracy, when the driver reached the first turn on the mountainous road, he looked back nervously to see if the car was still on the truck or careening down a nearby cliff. She also said he drove much of the way with one hand (cell phone) and no hands and one knee when adjusting the visor to keep the glaring sun from coming in and blinding him.
But drive he did, and our wives said he was great to talk to when he wasn’t on the phone. They knew much of his life story by the time we reached our final destination, which was, thankfully, Perugia. There was tons of traffic, and Kim and I had no clue to where we were headed. We saw a Europcar office and I thought, “Man, if only we could stop here,” but it looked closed.
Suddenly, we saw the driver, and Tracy head toward us while Mary made a mad dash to the office. As it turned out, the driver was on the cell phone to the guy at Europcar, who stayed 45 minutes late to wait for those gas pumping impaired Americans.
The Europcar guy was nice and even a bit funny. After telling us we were not the first Americans to ever commit such a foolish error, he said in his best English, “I probably don’t have to tell you this, but this car is diesel.”
We thanked him and tipped both he and the driver (we also tipped the guy at the IP station). As I walked away, he added, “To put the car in reverse, pull up on the ring.” I wondered if he had seen a video from our Spello parking lot experience.
The four of us were feeling very lucky that our day had turned out like this, because just two hours before things looked bleak, although Kim had said at the time, “In 24 hours, this won’t be a big deal.”
We had called the Palazzo del Capitano and told them we would be late. We pulled in at 8:30 p.m., saw our beautiful rooms and went in search of food.
After sipping gasoline for lunch, a dinner of real food sounded good to Kim. We stopped at Il Tinaio on San Quirico’s main walking street, where we had a terrific dinner. The highlight dish was a ribollita (bread soup) that Mary and Tracy ordered. Kim and Mary headed off to a well-deserved sleep, while Tracy and I stayed to have a nightcap, go over our incredible day and toast our very good fortune.
Outside of “don’t put the wrong gas in your rental car,” I think the moral of the day was that if you treat people nicely and with respect, they usually will treat you nicely, no matter where you are (or how stupid you are). Had it not been for three very caring people (the guy at the IP station, the tow-truck driver who stayed on the phone for a good part of an hour with Europcar and the Europcar guy himself who stayed late), the outcome could have been much different.
“Wow, that was one wild day,” I said, sipping my Campari nightcap.
Without missing a beat, Tracy replied, “Well, at least you have a good story for the (travel) board now.”
Next: Day Seven – Breakfast Feast, Healing Bath, Pecorino Is My Life, Lunch With A Tuscan View And A Trek To A Beckoning Hill Town