The highlight of my trip to Italy was going to be the house in the Tuscan countryside.
I was travelling with two friends and had been delegated accommodation duties for the Italy leg of our European adventure.
I campaigned, hard, to include rural Tuscany on our itinerary. I knew exactly what I was looking for: a villa in the hills a la Under The Tuscan Sun, with a great location, easy transport from Florence and incredible scenery.
The tiny, rustic Bed and Breakfast listed on AirBnB ticked all the boxes. There was a vineyard on the property! The building was old and crumbling and covered with flowers! There were farm cats wandering around!
More importantly, it was only a short walk out of town, where we could visit authentic Italian restaurants and sample local produce. And – praise the lord – the house had WiFi.
The person I contacted about staying in the house used an AirBnB profile called “Maria”.
She told me she was twenty-five years old, studying at university, and would pick us up from the town centre and give us a lift to the house when we arrived. I got the go-ahead from my travel buddies, so we booked for three nights.
Fast- forward one month to the three of us sitting on a wall in a small Tuscan town waiting for “Maria”. An elderly Italian man pulled up into the near-empty carpark and started waving at us. We kept our heads down.
“Who the hell is that?” One of my friends whispered.
Then he started calling my name from across the bitumen.
“Zoe!” He yelled, waving his arms enthusiastically. “I take you home!”
I was terrified. How did he know my name? I had no intention of going home with him. I looked nervously around the empty streets.
The man was unperturbed by our obvious terror. He jogged over, beaming.
“Zoe! I take you home! AirBnB! I am Maria! I am Maria father!”
My friends and I stared at each other, sickeningly unsure. Were we being wrongly suspicious of a lovely old man, or rightly suspicious of a serial killer?
In the end, our decision was made for us. With surprising agility, the potential-serial-killer claiming to be Maria’s father hoisted our bags into the back of his truck and opened the doors.