Mads is camping on the Italian island of Sicily, having just arrived from Denmark. Their bus was full of families and lots of kids, so he's having a great time on the beach, things are great.|
But after a week his Mor and Far (Mom and Dad) spoil all that by saying "Let's go traveling around a bit." Mads is against it, this is where he wants to be. He is almost rescued by another camper who has just come back from Siracusa and tells them it took him two days with public transportation-- it's often hard to get around in Italy during the summer, since busses and trains also go on vacation.
Mads figures he was safe, but Mor and Far decide to hitchhike. "It'll be fun," they say, "we'll use our Thumbs"... Mads assumes that they are crazy.
They go out on the road, Mads just wants them to understand that it won't work, so that he can say he was right and go back to the beach. But being a cute little family they get a ride to Messina right away.
Mads finds himself impressed that it works after all. "Now you try it," folks say. He holds his thumb up for a coming car to see...and it SCREECHES to a halt beside them, the door is opened, and they are offered a lift to the next town. "Hey Mads, seems you've got a Magic Thumb."
The driver is friendly, insists they stop for soda pop and ice cream before he takes them to his destination. This repeats itself again and again. Once Mads has to choose between a beat-up old Fiat and a shiny new BMW, so he chooses the Beamer. When it drops them off the older Fiat shows up again, and takes them further down the road to Taormina.
They get a hotel in Taormina, a pretty little city on a mountainside, where they eat a nice ravioli dinner that evening. Except for eating well, Mads doesn't care very much for cities, although it does look nice in all the lamplight at night.
Next day they continue on, now it's Mads who stands in front, wielding the power of his Magic Thumb. It works and works and works, those cars driving by don't have a chance--they simply HAVE to stop and pick up that blond kid. His parents get to come along too.
On the way they drive past Mount Etna, seeing smoke rising from the nearby volcano, which is presently quite active. The weather is also hot. Mads' folks promise that they can go to the beach when they come to Siracusa.
By afternoon they are in Siracusa, delivered to a nice little hotel recommended by the driver. They had traveled 150 kilometers (93 miles) in 3 hours instead of two days. So Mads insists that they go to the beach. They discover that the nearest good beach is about 20 km away.
"No problem," says Mads, "I'll get us there with my thumb." They go out to the road, and yes, are on the beach in half an hour. There are no tourists there; this is Regular Italian Family Land. They also hitch back easily.
They get a ride with 2 young men in a little Fiat. Being Italians, they have to show how fast they can drive, which Mads likes, but the folks get nervous. Far says, "Mi scusi, ma mi marita ha poura," to the driver, who immediately slows down and is a good boy. "What did you say?" Mads asks. "That Mor was afraid." They were actually 2 okay guys, out to have fun, but not to make their passengers uncomfortable.
Dropped off at their hotel's front door, they change clothes, go out to eat in a restaurant. Tired, they go to bed early.
The next day is spent in Siracusa. As usual, Mads would rather just go back out to the beach, but his folks insist upon being tourists for a day. That means walking around boring streets, maybe wasting time in some awful museum, Mads isn't sure he can take a whole day of that. But there is a terrific marketplace, where they see a giant tuna fish cut in half, and a meat market full of slimy brains and white stomachs and gooey eyeballs, all wonderfully disgusting. Mads likes that.
Later they come to a bunch of rocks that were once an "amphitheater" or something like that, where Mads' folks are saying "ancient Greeks," and "interesting architecture reminiscent of Etruscan...", but Mads can't care less. "Beach!" he insists. So okay, fair is fair, they visit the beach again.
Next morning they start back home to their campground. They take a short bus ride out of town to the road, and Mads assumes his position in front. Holds up his mighty Magic Thumb...
As usual, it's easy. They get a short ride right away, then another, and another.
But then something changes: cars are driving past without stopping. They stand in the same place for half an hour, then decide to walk along the road as they hitch. By noon it is becoming a rather hot day. There is less traffic now, and sometimes the drivers give them funny hand-signals as an excuse for not stopping.
"These cars are all going home for siesta," Far says, "so they're not picking us up." Siesta is when Italians eat lunch and rest for a few hours before going back to work. Back at camp, Mads liked siesta because that left the beach to all the Danes, but here it was becoming a problem.
Finally they get a ride to Taormina, not up the hillside into town, but right beside the beach. Now it's REALLY hot, so they decide to take a break from traveling and spend siesta time in the water. That is nice. Far says they should probably get going again when siesta ends, because there would be lots of traffic just then. But it's so nice being there that they don't leave until later.
When they finally go back to the road, it is now a very VERY HOT afternoon. Not a nice time to stand out there in the sunshine, but they all want to come home now. It should take them about 2-3 hours of lucky hitchhiking. They had bought 3 liters of ice-cold Aqua Minerale, which is what Italians call Dansk Vand, so they were ready for the trip.
They get a ride as soon as Mads holds up his Magic Thumb, so it's working again. He has been beginning to doubt it. But they keep getting short rides, though, and with longer waits between them, so it's not as much fun as before. In fact, this is hard work!
After a long pause there comes an old car, driving slowly, someone not in a hurry. As it approaches they can see that there are two nuns sitting in it. Mor and Far say, "Ah, forget it, they'll never stop for hitchhiking strangers."
But Mads faces their car square-on, says, "Oh yeah? Watch this," and sends them his cute little-boy smile, tousles his oh-so un-Italian blonde hair, and of course, gives those little old ladies the full brunt of his Mighty Magic Thumb. They don't have a chance against him.
In fact, inside that car, the one nun asked the other, "Isn't that a little ANGEL standing there?" "Oh, yes--let's take them with us!"
However, it's only a few kilometers before the nuns turn off towards their nunnery, and after that there is no traffic for an hour.
Finally a rusty-rickety old pick-up truck comes slowly shambling down the road and stops for them, they are not inclined to be fussy and hop in. Once inside they discover that their driver, a shaggy and unshaven farmer, is very happy and friendly-- and slightly drunk-- he wants to take them along to drink some wine with his friends. The family declines, but the man won't take no for an answer and turns off the highway onto a bumpy gravel road and just keeps driving.
Far tries to be polite, says they want out of the pickup, but the man keeps smiling and insisting that they'll really like it where he's taking them, and ignores their demands to stop. But stop he does when suddenly a huge bull stands in the road right in front of the pickup. Far takes that opportunity to reach over and turn off the key. He holds on to the key while Mads and Mor hop out, then gives it back to the man so that he can drive on.
Of course, now they are out there with the bull. It seems uninterested in them, but they keep their eyes on it just in case, backing away from the pickup to keep it between them and the big bull. It calmly watches them leave, chewing his grass, looking monstrous and dangerous but never once threatening them.
Back on the highway, they find that they are really in the middle of nowhere now, and just stand there for more than an hour, cooking in the heat. Later they learn that the temperature has been 50 degrees today: between the sun and the hot asphalt they are sweating and gasping. There is almost no traffic now, and none of it was stopping to pick them up anyway. They were stuck.
They have to drink a lot in that heat, and Mads is so hot that he wastes water by splashing it on his face before Mor and Far convince him to stop that. Soon they have almost no water left, so must ration it. They are getting tired, dizzy. "Maybe we should give up for a while and just sit in the shade," says Mor. But the only shade is too far from the road and they need a ride. "No," says Mads, "I'm NOT giving up."
Another hour passes before they can hear something coming, something big. A bus or a truck. They all hope it is not that same drunk truck driver again, but finally they can see that it is a modern bus. "Let's just buy tickets," Far says, sounding desperate, "if it will stop!"
But Mads knew that he could do it: this was now or never. He lifts his thumb and gives it FULL POWER.
The bus stops right beside them. But it is clearly not public transportation; in fact, it's a very mysterious-looking bus: all its windows like mirrors, impossible to see inside. The door opens with a hiss. A surprise awaits them inside.
It's a sports bus on tour, filled with an entire Italian soccer team in uniform. Twenty smiling young men greet the newcomers enthusiastically, chanting "Laudrup, Laudrup, Laudrup!" It seems they had seen the Danish flag on Mads' backpack and were all fans of the Laudrup Brothers, Michael and Brian, two of the most popular Danish soccer heroes.
It's just wonderful on that bus: cool air-conditioning, cold sodas to drink. The guys are friendly and hospitable, and even though none of them speaks Danish, Mads can talk with them because Mor can speak English and Far knows some Italian words. The team is traveling to play a match in Palermo.
Within an hour they are driving into the camp ground and the three travelers are suddenly back where they started. The bus drops them off, the guys wave ciao and drive off. It is first then that they can read "Juventus" on the back of the bus.
That seems so magical that Mads feels ready to keep on trucking, almost not accepting that the trip is over. He'd just gotten into the swing of using his Magic Thumb and felt ready to hitchhike on around the world, so was almost unwilling to stop now just because they'd finally arrived at their destination.
But then other Danish kids in the campground were coming to him, bringing him back to this reality. They had seen him getting off the bus and were astounded: "You're friends with JUVENTUS?" they ask. "Oh, yeah, sure," Mads says, kinda cool-like.
It's also still pretty hot and the sun is shining on the sea. He can see Anna and the others down on the beach. "See you later," he says to his folks, and runs towards the water. In a few seconds he is under the waves and cooling off.
"Hi Mads, where you been?" Anna asks when he comes up for air.
"Oh... some town, it was okay. But the trip was the best part because I've got a Magic Thumb."
Anna is curious, so he tells her all about it.