"" Writer's Wanderings: 18 Days Through Europe in an Audi

Monday, October 11, 2010

18 Days Through Europe in an Audi

[The next few days I'll be posting about a trip we took the summer of 2004.]

It wasn’t supposed to be an Audi. We had reserved an Opel. It was a matter of conjecture between the guys for the next 18 days whether the Opel would have supplied more trunk space. Happy just to have a car after being told our reservation with Avis was not on record, we left the Malpensa airport north of Milan and pointed the Audi in the direction of Stresa, our first stop.

The four of us, Bob and I and Bob’s twin, Dick, and wife, Polly, had spent a year planning these next eighteen days. Dick carried a stack of printouts from Mapquest and I had three AAA maps along with information from the internet about each place we planned to stop, Polly held tight to the Rick Steves books she’d borrowed from the library and Bob, well he came along for the ride, I guess. Oh, yes, he carried the credit cards.

Bob drove first, having had more recent experience with a manual shift than Dick. We were enjoying the countryside of northern Italy until we suddenly discovered Lake Maggiore was on our left rather than our right. Stopping at a gas station, we, who spoke no Italian, gestured and nodded and pointed to the map and they, who spoke no English, gestured and nodded and pointed in the air. Finally we said “Grazie” and just headed back in the direction we had come. Eventually it all straightened out. Maggiore was on our right again and the Best Western Villa Carlotta in Belgirate eventually popped into view around a bend just south of Stresa.

Weary and travel worn, we dragged our luggage into the lobby and were greeted by the manager behind the desk. His keen eye immediately told him he had four groggy Americans who would do anything for a bed and some rest. “I have to keepa your passaports,” he announced with a broad smile when Bob and Dick finished filling out the registration.

“What do you mean?” we all asked in unison.

“You want the key, I have to have the passaports. It’s the rule.” His smile broadened.

Now we all knew the first rule of foreign travel is never surrender your passport. By his smile, it was difficult to tell if he was kidding or if he truly meant what he was saying.

“When do we get them back?” Dick asked a bit frayed around the edges.

The man shrugged. “I give them back to you when you leave.”

We learned later that the Italian government requires a copy of the passport to be on file for each guest registering at a hotel. All he needed was a copy but he must have enjoyed playing with the Americans. I think we slept out of sheer exhaustion because none of us felt comfortable knowing our passports were in his possession.

The next day on our way out, we pursued the issue and he produced the passports, playing a “pick the right one” game with us. The humor was lost on us.

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