Acqui Terme, Italy, was one of our stranger stays on this trip. It’s one of the few places so far that we have been excited to leave.
In which we get our room
We booked a place with a grad student in our usual way and were told that we would “meet” his mom. We were given the address of a bookshop, where we assumed we were meeting her to pick up the keys. When we arrived, we had to wait a few minutes for her to close the shop for her 7-9 PM break. She walked us back to the apartment and let us in, but after showing us around (speaking French with N because she didn’t know much English), she didn’t give any indication of leaving. This is about when we realized that she lived there, too.
Fortunately, she was a pretty friendly woman, but she seemed overly interested in our plans for the night. When she headed back to the store, she asked me to come with her so that she could copy our passports—this was a first for us in an AirBnB room. Afterward, I returned home and buzzed for N to let me in.
In case nothing sounds strange yet, I’ll be more clear. We never received keys. We stayed at a place for three days and three nights, and we didn’t have keys to it. If we wanted to leave, we had to coordinate our return with our host’s breaks from running her bookshop—one in mid-afternoon, and one in the evening.
We are working along the way; an ordinary work day might involve a couple hours of work followed by a break for lunch. We couldn’t do that here. But we didn’t need to worry about work—when I asked for the WiFi password, our host informed us that there was no WiFi. N always checks for WiFi when booking a place, so this was a big surprise. Fortunately, we could use our phones and do some offline blog writing.
In general, our host seemed uncomfortable with us being in the house without her, or at least surprised that we weren’t spending more time out and about in Acqui Terme. This, of course, made us uncomfortable being there or asking her to let us in. We felt like untrusted children for much of our stay, and it only made things worse when N accidentally left one of the burners turned on a bit. (It was tricky to turn off all the way, the fire was out, and it wasn’t leaking gas, but our host left a stern note for us.)
But that wasn’t even the most awkward part of the stay.
In which we get massages
Acqui Terme is known for its thermal baths. On the last day of our stay, we trekked out to one of them, only to find out upon arrival that everyone wore bathing suits, and we didn’t bring ours. That may sound foolish, but spas and bathhouses that we visited in California and Turkey definitely did not involve clothes of any kind, and we assumed that Italians would not be modest. We postponed our appointment for the next day, settling for a cheap Thai massage on the way home instead.
Upon arrival, we met two Chinese (we think) women in their late 20s or 30s. We confirmed in our broken Italian-English that they had immediate availability for one hour massages, and we went to our two separate rooms. Strangely, the massage tables had no sheets, only a thin paper to lay on top of. N asked if she was supposed to take off tutto (everything), and her masseuse said yes. (I could hear all of this since the separating walls did not go to the ceiling.) Before N could even finish taking off her pants and shirt, her masseuse was back. She watched as N removed her shirt, indicating that she also needed to remove her bra. N quickly got on the table before her masseuse could tell her to remove her underwear, too.
Meanwhile, in my room, I managed to get down to my underwear and lie down before my masseuse returned. She did some half-hearted massaging, but then indicated that I would need to remove my underwear as well—after all, this was an oil massage, and she couldn’t give me a proper one with underwear on. She did not turn around. I quickly yanked them down, tossed them with my clothes, and lay back on my stomach.
The massage was pretty relaxing, I suppose, but there wasn’t much in the way of professional technique. The goal seemed to be to rub everywhere a little bit, with no discernible knowledge of muscle groups or standard massage practice. This was not a get-the-kinks-out-of-your-back massage; it was a get-oil-on-every-inch-of-your-body massage.
And when I say every inch, I mean every inch. After finishing with my back, she was not shy about massaging my butt very thoroughly. She “accidentally” nudged my scrotal unit a few times, but I dismissed this as an accident.
After my butt, she moved to my legs, pulling them to be about 30° apart. After that, I learned that a proper transition from the butt to the legs involves about 10-20 seconds of tickling both the lower rabbus and the family jewels. Some of you may be thinking this would be a good time to stop the massage, while others might think that it feels pretty good and that maybe N picked this massage parlor on purpose. At least, those were my considerations at the time. The massage continued.
While massaging my legs, she got up beside me on the table. We had a Thai massage in Sopot, Poland, so this part didn’t really seem out of the ordinary. It was clearly strange, though, that she was sitting with her bare leg pressed against my hand. I elected to skip the apparent offer for a grope. I hope I didn’t offend her.
After finishing with my left leg, I got another round of the tickle treatment before she moved onto my right leg. By this point, I had resolved to simply go with it and enjoy it; apparently, I was paying for this, and it actually felt quite nice. After massaging my right leg (again, getting on the table for a few minutes), she told me it was time to roll over. Yeah. So I did.
The massage of my chest proceeded pretty normally; it wasn’t until she reached my legs that it got strange. For the first time in the massage, while massaging my thighs, she rubbed vigorously. This had the expected effect of making it spin and flop around, hitting her hand in the process of massaging me. She giggled a bit; I just kept my eyes closed. Eventually, she used the classic technique of grabbing it with one hand while continuing the massaging with the other.
And then it was over. The massage was done, and she asked if I wanted to pay for a bath. 30€ seemed like a reasonable price for both of us to get a bath, but in retrospect, my judgment may have been a bit clouded. While she did wash everything, there were no additional advances, welcome or unwelcome.
After I dried off and got dressed, we were waiting in the reception area for N to finish up. My masseuse sat very close to me and told me that I was strong, then she grabbed my right hand with both of hers and started arm wrestling me in mid-air with her entire body. If that sounds random, well, it was. I held out for a bit before losing. She smiled. I smiled. N finished. We paid and left.
Outside, I asked N if her massage was at all out of the ordinary. She mentioned the undressing, the lack of a sheet, and the seemingly-untrained technique. I asked her if anything else had been out of the ordinary, to which she laughed and asked if I got a happy ending. “Happy beginnings,” I replied, “but no, no happy ending.”
In which we get a happy ending
Needless to say, I only had one thing on my mind after that, but of course we didn’t have any keys to our place! We walked back to the bookshop to see when our host could let us in, and to our luck, she offered us an extra set of keys to let ourselves in. What?! There was an extra set of keys the whole time?! We raced home and put the empty apartment to good use.