Monday, January 9, 2017

The day we got trapped in Italy...

Not long ago, someone in one of the local Facebook groups asked for a travel itinerary that would involve having three meals in three different countries.  Since Germany is surrounded by other European countries and those of us living near Stuttgart are within a couple of hours of France and Switzerland, it's actually not that hard to have three meals in three countries.  You don't even have to spend the night in a hotel to accomplish this.

Anyway, when I was reading all of the suggestions, I was reminded of a crazy experience Bill and I had the last time we lived in Germany.  It was June 2009 and Bill's awesome mother, Parker, had flown here from San Antonio to visit us.  Bill's mom had last visited Europe during Bill's first Germany tour in the late 1980s.  That was way before I was in the picture; I was still in high school at the time. Bill was a young lieutenant with limited funds living in Ansbach.  So they didn't get to go to any countries outside of Germany (still known as West Germany in those days).

I came up with the bright idea for the three of us to rent a timeshare condo in Oberstaufen, Germany, which is right on the border with Austria.  I figured we'd have the chance to show Parker some of Austria and maybe even Switzerland.  At the time I came up with this plan, I had no idea that I would get a wild hair up my ass that would get us trapped in Italy.

We checked into the MONDI-Holiday hotel in Oberstaufen, had a nice dinner, and spent the night in the little condo, which slept four people.  The next morning, we got up and enjoyed a nice breakfast in Germany, then set off for Austria, which was literally just a couple of miles away.  As we were gassing up the car, I said, "Hey!  We aren't far from Liechtenstein.  Why don't we go there?"

Bill and Parker were game, so we drove to Liechtenstein and walked around.  Parker got her passport stamped and we smelled lots of stinky cheeses in a local shop.  We went into a gift shop so I could buy a coffee mug and a magnet.  There, we got stuck behind an annoying group of Americans who were holding the shop proprietor's attention hostage.  The head of the family, wearing a t-shirt from Brigham Young University, was telling the shop keeper a very detailed story about his experiences as a Mormon missionary in Switzerland.  While the proprietor was being very polite and listening intently, they seriously went on for several minutes, oblivious that there were people wanting to check out.  Finally, we put the stuff back and went to a different store.


A beautiful cathedral in Vaduz, Liechtenstein.

After we were finished with our shopping and looking around, I said, "Well, this was cool.  Let's go have lunch in Switzerland!"


A stop at a Swiss rastplatz...  Little did I know what was ahead of us. 

Once again, Bill and Parker were game to visit another country.  We headed into Switzerland and finally stopped in the city of Chur.  Chur was pretty charming.  We enjoyed walking around and I took a few pictures.  I soon heard people speaking Italian, reminding me that we could show Parker Italy, too.  After a lovely lunch in a Swiss/Italian restaurant called Obelisco, I made an ill-advised suggestion when I said, "Why don't we go to Italy?"


A beautiful Swiss/Italian meal... (An interesting aside-- I just looked up this building where the restaurant is and it shares its building with an integrative medical practice.)

So off we went to Italy, which wasn't quite as close as I thought it would be.  I think we reached the border at about 3:00pm or so.  But we had sunny skies and perfect weather.  I felt pretty sure we could joyride a bit and drive back to Germany, no problem.

As we headed south on the autostrada, Bill asked "Milan or Lake Como"?  We had been to both areas and I thought Lake Como would be prettier and less crazy.  So that's where we went.  By the way, driving in Italy is almost always crazy, especially when you're driving on a narrow road around a lake.  In retrospect, had we gone to Milan, we probably wouldn't have gotten trapped.

Bill's mom marveled at how beautiful Lake Como is and we spent the afternoon laughing and telling stories.  Finally, it got to be dinner time.  Bill continued driving until we got to Bergamo, where we found a parking spot and went looking for something to eat, ultimately landing in a restaurant that was open somewhat early for dinner.  I remember Bill eating his very first oyster in that restaurant.  They had served the oysters as amuses.  I had been telling him for years that eating oysters is like eating a little bit of the ocean.  I grew up near the ocean, so I'm a fan.  Bill did not grow up near the ocean and needed a little breaking in.  I am pleased to report that he enjoyed the oyster and would eat it again.  I remember I had some kind of seafood meal that sat rather heavily in my stomach.  While we were in the restaurant, there was a whole lot of rain.  We were oblivious to just how much.

It was about nine o'clock when we headed back to our car, ready to make the journey back to Germany.  The GPS had us getting in at about 1:00am or so.  That was way past our bedtimes, but what the hell?

We started the drive back, but every time Bill tried to get on the autostrada, he was turned away by the Italian police or a barrier.  The GPS kept recalculating, but with each recalculation, we found a closed road.  It was incredibly frustrating, especially as we noticed the GPS adding more and more time to our journey.  It turned out we couldn't get on the autostrada because the roads leading to them were flooded from the rainstorm that had occurred while we were eating dinner in Bergamo.  In a matter of a couple of hours, the rain had made most of the ancient Italian roads out of the area impassable.

At one point, we ended up on a winding road up the Alps.  Bill stopped to get gas and that dinner that was sitting in my stomach suddenly decided it needed to be ejected.  I remember leaning over a railing and throwing up all over someone's flowers as I heard a bunch of rowdy Italians partying nearby.  We were all dangerously drowsy.  I never sleep in cars, but I fell asleep a couple of times to the point of snoring.  I give Bill credit for not passing out on us.

We continued up the steep Alpine road until we finally reached an unguarded border with Switzerland.  Yea!  We were finally getting out of Italy!  Alas!  It, too, was closed!  There was a low barrier that we could have easily gone around had we wanted to risk it.  I could tell that Bill was seriously contemplating violating the barrier.  He was frustrated and exhausted.  It was about 1:00 in the morning and even though it was June, there was snow on the ground.  I knew Bill just wanted to go to bed and he momentarily wondered if the border was closed for no good reason.  We probably should have just found a hotel, but we were in rural Italy in the middle of the night and there weren't a whole lot of them to be found.

After a few minutes of profuse swearing like a sailor at the Swiss border, Bill wisely got back into the driver's seat and we headed back down the mountain.  Finally, we ended up on a road that, after a couple of hours, took us to Italy's border with St. Moritz.  I think we may have been the only people on the road and the border guard was none too pleased to have to come out to us in the middle of the night.  Spotting the German plates on our Toyota RAV 4, he angrily demanded our passports.  He snatched them from Bill, grumpily checked them over, and snarled, "Arrivederci!" in a decidedly sarcastic tone of voice.

Sighing with relief that we were finally on our way, Bill quickly got us on a Swiss highway heading north and we eventually rolled into the parking lot at our German hotel at about 7:00am.  We were incredibly tired, but we had breakfast.  Then we all went to bed and slept until 3:00pm, which was when housekeeping demanded that we let them clean the unit.  On the way back to Stuttgart the next day, we stopped in France for lunch.


I insisted on having a French lunch in Marckolsheim on the way to Stuttgart.  Fortunately, we didn't get trapped in France.

Bill's mom is planning another visit for next month.  She has already told us not to worry about showing her any European countries other than Germany.  But we still talk about how she got to see Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, and France in a matter of a couple of days.  And I won't be surprised if we sneak across the border once or twice, just for the fun of it.


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