Fever dream

I plug in the address of our airbnb rental 4,000 miles away and fall into a fever dream. Google street view shifts seamlessly between a summer scene of a man in dark slacks and dress shoes appearing to peer in the window of our rental flat and then in the next frame, just as in a dream, it is suddenly snowing and also six years later. Everything looks the same except the funky art gallery next door is now a trendy hair salon and the graffiti is different and all the house numbers have changed, so it wasn’t our rental flat after all.

In a way street view spoils everything. Will I still be dazzled by narrow cobblestone walkways that on closer inspection turn out to be two-way streets and 500-year-old bell towers framed between sun baked red tile rooftops? In another way, street view is a much needed reality check. Stick to main routes and beware alleys. (Though the most startling image I saw in one was a swarm of uniformed school children marching towards the google camera with blurred out faces.) Yes, there is a coffee shop three doors down and it is close to all the touristy spots, but people peer in windows in the middle of the day. Keep the blinds closed and be wary of even well dressed men.

88% of our accommodations are booked for this trip. The only thing I love more than meaningless math is obsessive travel planning. Sometimes I think planning a trip is better than the actual trip. It is like a dollhouse. You can arrange things however you like and it is tiny and perfect even if the pieces don’t match and you have, for example, an antique dollhouse grandmother with a tidy white bun and a 70s plastic girl with lemon wedge hair and one scratched off eye.

As a Planner, it was hard to sit on my hands for months and see what gaps were left to fill. There weren’t many. There have been increasingly vague but still enticing offers of places to stay with distant relatives that I can not verify because of a language barrier. I pictured that scene in National Lampoon’s European vacation where the Griswolds show up on a foreign relative’s doorstep and are welcomed and fed, but then when they leave the couple turns to each other and asks “who the hell were they?”

I am going to learn a few Lithuanian words so I can say things like Hello and Please and Nice to finally meet you and also practical phrases like Where are the toilets and Stop looking in my window. Thank You is pronounced AH-choo, like the sneeze, so I already have that memorized. My fluent grandmother is still sore my parents didn’t agree to language school on weekends when I was a kid, but the only thing I retained from four years of high school Spanish is Where is the shoe store? so I think they made the right call. There is always google translate and, of course, my grandmother.

She is 91 years old. Sometimes she forgets and speaks to me in Lithuanian on a good day. Some people think my dad and I are crazy for taking her overseas even though 1) it was her idea and 2) I don’t want to hear it if you agree with them. While shopping for travel insurance policies, an agent told me he just sold one to a 101-year-old woman and her 80-year-old daughter. I wanted to hug him through the phone. People do impossible things every day.

Do you know how hard it is to find a stairless apartment in old town East Europe with a five star average review and moderate cancellation policy (and also free parking space plus washer and dryer)? It is very hard but not impossible. Sadly, I’ll have to save the rambling medieval cottage for when I return one day with my husband and children. They are not going on this trip and I can’t tell if they’re mildly jealous or just morbidly curious how it will all play out.

Extra medical insurance has been purchased. Google maps are downloaded and ready to provide turn by turn directions even if my international data plan doesn’t work, just like it didn’t in Canada. I’m resigned to the fact that I probably shouldn’t drink the tap water just to be safe but probably will anyhow. I’ve mentally packed the smallest suitcase we have because the compact rental car could not possibly fit as much luggage as they claim.

I am mostly free to be the voice of semi-calm reassurance to my grandmother, who glides between tearful gratitude that we are really going and blind fear that this trip will kill her, and I think she means before we even get on the first plane. She got mad at me when I told her I couldn’t come down last weekend to wash her curtains. When I suggested this was misplaced anxiety at our upcoming trip and that perhaps she should stop looking for more things to worry about, she told me try being 91. There are still a few weeks before the trip. The curtains might get washed next weekend if she doesn’t have a bigger project for me. She has good walking shoes but thinks she might want a new suitcase. Anything can still happen or not happen.

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