I think I'm finally ready to talk about it. It was the most excruciating 36 hours all year, and I've spent time in the Middle East. What could be so horrible you wonder? I'll tell you. Having your almost brand new car break down in Italy. This is an entirely different thing from having your piece of crap car break down in Italy or having your new car break down almost anywhere else in the world. And maybe it's just Northern Italy, or really just a few unsympathetic people, but the blanket of anguish has been cast and I am not ready to make any concessions just yet.
Last Saturday morning we were awoken at 0630 by the cleaning crew on the ship. Time to wake up and get off the boat so it can be cleaned for the next folks! Considering we'd gone to bed around 0230, I was a little groggy. But we knew it was coming, so we went to the "Windjammer" and wanly ate a breakfast I was much too tired for. Then we shlepped our bags a half mile from the ship to our 2006 Mini Cooper S. I was thrilled to see her, just sitting there all cute and ready to take me home. But then I tried to open the lock with the remote control. Nothing. Then I tried to open the trunk with the key which didn't work because there is no key hole. There is one on the driver's side door, so we opened that and quickly realized that the battery was dead due to leaving the lights on one week prior.
Not the end of the world. I left Beau with the car and luggage and went out in search of help. Time = 0800. I find a man sitting out side of the lot who calls someone to help. About 10 minutes later, a guy shows up in a truck, comes right to the car, and jump starts it. Woopedeeedoooo! It worked great and we hit the road. Around 11am we decide it's time to get gas. We've got less than a quarter of a tank and we want to be on the safe-side. We are conscientious people! We pull into the first empty pump we see and stop the car. A lady comes running over to help us and we realize that we are at full-service and we want to move to a normal pump. But we can't because the car won't start. We let the lady fill the tank and then push the car out of the way.
I go and ask some Germans (I can tell by their license plate) for a jump. I ask this partly in German and partly in mime. It takes a while, but they get the idea and are very enthusiastic to help. If only they could've. The car is refusing to start! They offer to push-jump start the car and we tell them it's an automatic to which they respond, "Sheisse…" They leave and we sit and wonder what to do. After a while we decide to try it again. Maybe we hooked up the cables incorrectly! Yes! We just didn't do it right! We ask another German who is even friendlier than the first one and has a Volvo SUV. Again, nothing happens. A bystander comes up and asks if he can help push-start it. We tell him it's an automatic and he says, "Sheisse…"
Time is now 1145. We find a number in the car for MINI/BMW roadside service and call for assistance. They say someone will come to help us in an hour. I find a shady place to sit and read. Soon I hear Beau yelling for me and run over to find a man putting our car on a tow. It is noisy and I want answers. I ask if he speaks English, German, anything? He says "klein Deutsch," which is a terse way of saying he knows a little German. I ask what he is doing and if he can just look at the car before he takes it. He says no. I ask where he's taking it and he tells me 20 kilometers away. I ask if we can come and he says yes or we can take a taxi. Keep in mind that I am chasing him around as he is putting the car on the tow as fast as humanly possible. He walks over to the door of the Mini and tells us to get in. We look at him blankly, not understanding. GET IN!!! He yells. We get in.
The tow starts to lift and I just cannot process what is happening. Am I sitting in my own car on top of a tow truck, facing backwards? Check. Are we moving? Check. Are we getting on the expressway? Check. Is it terrifying? Check. Hilarious? Also check. Beau and I are squeezing each other's palms and I don't know whether to laugh or cry. All the cars going past us are pointing, laughing, waving. I laugh and wave back, chalking this up to another hilarious episode in the Anderson series. But now we are exiting and going on a windy road. I am hyperventilating with fear. Then we stop. Why are we stopping? Toll booth. The driver pays the toll and then stops so that I am in front of the window, although much higher than the window, and I realize he wants us to pay the toll as well.
Since my window is stuck in an up position, I have to open the door and the man has to come out of the booth to take my ticket. I pay and he takes almost a full 2 minutes to make change. The people in the cars behind us glare. I grin maniacally back at them! This is not so fun anymore…
Five minutes later we stop at a building in the middle of the Italian countryside. The man gets out and says to me (I'm still in the car, on the tow) that he has to make a phonecall and goes inside the building. I decide to climb out of the car and Beau and I both get out and wait. 15 minutes pass, then 30. I contemplate all the doorbells on the outside of the building. Another 15 minutes go by and I ring all the doorbells. The man comes back out and says to me, "what?" I ask him what's going on and he is clearly frustrated with me not understanding the situation. Keep in mind that neither one of us can really speak German and that is the language this is all transpiring in. I beg him to please look at the car. He calls his coworker out and they both start speaking in Italian. Then he tells us to get back in the car. This time I refuse and ask to ride up front with him. He grunts and we just climb in.
He takes us to an auto body shop in an industrial area about 15 minutes away. He takes the car off the tow and leaves again. I shout for him and ask him to help. He says he can't because BMW are the only people who can. I tell him it's probably just the battery and beg him to check it. He says he will if I sign a waiver. I think about this, but figure I should call someone first. I ask him to wait just a minute. I call BMW and my insurance. They give me the green light. I find the man, but now his coworker is talking to me, who speaks fluent German. He tells me that they will not work on the car, no way, period. I tell him I will sign and there is no problem, I'll sign! It's probably nothing and then we can drive away. At this point the man freaked out and told me they would never work on my car and the conversation was over. He was SCREAMING. I don't think I've ever been so mad in my life. I couldn't really express myself, so I just yelled "DU BIST NICHT NETT – TSCHUSS!!!" Basically I said, "You are not nice, BYE!" I walked out of the garage shaking with anger and very near tears.
Then I realized we were in the middle of nowhere and needed help, so I went back and asked him to call a taxi. Time = 1645. Clearly still angry, he asked where we wanted to go. I said "a hotel? I have no idea what's around here." He said he would call, so I went outside to wait. Fully one hour later, a taxi arrived. I asked the Italian only speaking taxi driver to help us try to jump the car and he did. It still didn't start. He was friendly, or at least talkative, and I learned that he was taking us to a "German" hotel. Fine. After 15 minutes of driving I started to worry. What had the man told him on the phone? Take them to the middle of nowhere and leave them for dead???
Soon we entered the ghetto and my level of panic was rising. He stopped the car on a scary street surrounded by construction. Beau went inside to discover the crappy looking hotel was 95 Euro/night. At this point the tears were not far and I tried to ask the cab driver about other hotels in the area with little success. Then Beau told me the hotel had internet and the man inside spoke English. That was worth 95 Euro to me at the moment and we went in.
Our room was decent, but I immediately broke into tears once inside. The time was around 1800 and I hadn't eaten since our breakfast on the boat, but in Italy, restaurants don't open until 1930. Plus, we were both operating on about 4 hours of sleep (our faults, we know). After a couple of minutes we decided to try to make the most of things and see if we could enjoy the town we were in. And we succeeded in eating a GIANT and lovely dinner. After that we went straight to sleep, but that didn't last long for me.
A strange beeping sounds started coming from the watch I was wearing. There was no rhyme or reason to it, the thing just would not stop beeping. I got up and tried to fix it in the bathroom, and I thought it worked. I went back to sleep and it started beeping all over again. I finally got up again and wrapped it in a towel, left it in the bathroom, and shut the door. Walking back to bed, I realized the AC has stopped and the room was stifling. I finally fell back asleep and dreamed most of the night about going to different hotels and asking for a soft pillow. Around 0830, the cleaning crew decided to stand outside of our door and chatter loudly in Italian. To me it sounded like the were IN our room and there was NO way I could sleep through it. Eventually they left, but they returned in full force an hour later.
I crept to my bag and found my ipod which I listened to for 30 seconds before the battery died. Then I found Beau's ipod and started to listen to it, but then realized my stomach was upset and I ended up in the bathroom. At this point, I just lost it. I woke Beau up and told him that I had to leave Italy immediately and that he should come with me. He said he wanted to wait for the car so he wouldn't have to come back. I felt guilty, but I couldn't take it anymore.
Beau walked me to the train station and we realized the train was leaving in 5 minutes. I got a ticket in a rush with no information about changing trains, etc. and ran out to the platform. I jumped on the train and lugged my 3 bags up with me. The train was cramped and full, but I eventually found a seat in one of the small rooms. There are no signs to indicate whether seats are reserved or not, so you basically just have to ask people. Of course they have no way of knowing whether someone will get on at the next stop with a reservation. Which is exactly what happened. An old lady with a suitcase and another old lady behind her on crutches came up and yelled (!) that I was in their seat. I got up to move, but couldn't get out since she was in my way, as was her bag, and disabled friend. I finally got out, but I very nearly killed a couple of people trying to maneuver. Boy was it fun! So fun, in fact, that I did the whole thing again! Almost the exact same thing happened after I found another seat.
As this whole Italian experience is really testing my sanity, I decide to just stand in the hallway. No seat for me, grazie! I stood there for the next two hours before leaving my bag in the hall and taking a seat. Now seated, I review the train information in the car and then examine my ticket, only to realize that i DO have a seat reservation, some 10 cars away. I remain seated and arrive at Munich at 1426, having eaten nothing all day. I have about 10 minutes to make my next train, so I buy a wrap from the first vendor I see and then jump on the train.
Finding a seat is easy since there are signs that show which are reserved and which are free. However, it's hot on this train, like Africa hot. People are wiping their dripping faces and look miserable. I take the wrap out and realize it's mostly old lettuce and goo. I take two bites and toss it. A sweaty man across the way is staring at me. A cell phone rings. The ringtone is "we wish you a merry christmas," no kidding.
I called some friends in Heidelberg and they picked me up at the train station. Hooray for my excellent friends in my fantastic town! Beau stayed in Italy until the car was fixed on Tuesday morning. The battery was the only problem and it took them FOUR DAYS to replace it. But he is home, we are safe and healthy, and everything is ok again. I don't think we are going to be visiting Italy again anytime soon.