Saturday, June 14, 2014

A bad day in Italy is still better than a good day in New Jersey.

I had this day circled on the vacation calendar. It was a travel day and today we had to travel west (Ost!) across the center of Italy to Fiumicino - Aeroporti di Roma. Youngest son was headed home to JFK airport and The Chancellor, Oldest Son and I were continuing to Sicily. We started early in the rain and were on the road by 5:30 AM but needed gas before hitting the Autostrada.

Unfortunately, the only thing open was an Italian Self-Serve station. Self-serve is not quite as popular over there as it is in the US and we had only used the full serve kind. "Fill it" and handing over a credit card is kind of a universal language.

Let me be just a bit honest - Self-Serve in Italy is just bizarre.

This station had three distinct devices on the pump island: One with a screen that allowed you to select the gas, cash or credit etc etc, one that accepted the cash or credit and one to actually pump the gas. Of course it was my job to pump the fuel and I headed out of the car and directly into blaring an Italian pop music. It was all like "Cinque, Cinque Cinque!" when the DJ came on and now I am having a hard time concentrating. I'm tired. I had no coffee. The music is blaring. I attempt to ask for 20 Euro worth of fuel in machine number 1 because I can't quite find a "fill it" button and attempt to use my credit card in machine number 2. No workee. It spits the credit card and I go back to machine 1 to figure out what went wrong.

Later the Chancellor told me that every time I walked away from machine 1, it would play a video explaining how the complex self-serve worked, but by time I walked back it was done. It was like Michigan Frog.

Go to the Credit Card, Video. Come back. No Video. I never saw a video of any kind.

Now I'm running between stations like a chicken without a head. Back to machine 1. Same thing. Credit card spits out.

New plan: Cash. I put a 20 Euro bill in the machine and pumped enough fuel to get us to Roma, and we were off.

It was a fairly easy and scenic drive on A24 passing many full-serve fuel stations through the mountains in the early morning. It was at about half way at the 10 KM tunnel under the above mountain that I had a sinking feeling about my credit card.

Sure enough it was missing. I must have left in the crazy second machine.

Fortunately I keep ma feathers numbered for such occasions
- Fog Horn Leghorn

Two weeks before we left we received a notice from our bank that The Chancellors credit card, which had the same number as the one I just lost, would be replaced with a new credit card, with a new number tied to the same account. When I asked why, I was told "because if you lose one card, we have to replace both if they have the same number". Well that doesn't sound easy in Italy.

Aha. I called the US and cancelled one hard working credit card after a confusing episode where I couldn't figure out how to make a US call on US cell phone in Italy without Googling It. (do you dial 1 first? 011? +39?)

Next up - the Rent-a-car challenge to return the car full.

You know the scam. Rental Car agencies want you to return the car full of fuel, a nearly impossible job under the stress of being in foreign country, under a deadline and worried about missing your flight.

We were 70 KM away from the airport still on the A24 when The Chancellor wanted to fill the car at a convenient Autostrada fuel station. The boys and I talked her out of it. I guess it's a man thing, not fueling until you absolutely have to. The boys and I thought for sure that there would be plenty of stations between here the Aeroporti and that if we fueled up now we would only have to do it again near the Airport.

The Chancellor's motto? "Anything can happen"

But first we had to get to the Airport.

The spot where the A24 intersects the beltway around Roma has a split where one side goes to Central Rome and the other exits and guess which side of the split we got on - NOT the one with the Aeroporti signs.
Right about here, we should have been in the center lane but I missed it and we were headed straight into Roma-Rush hour traffic. The Chancellor wanted to pull off - into another fuel station. (That's two if you are counting) but I talked her out of it because I was focused on turning around and instead of taking deep breath, figuring out where we were while we fueled the car, we headed straight toward Roma Centro.

I finally got the Google Maps fired up. (Gee that would have been a good thing to have BEFORE hitting Rome) and and the app found a turnaround. It was ahead on the right and so we fought bumper to bumper traffic and exited. Next simpleton Google Maps wanted us to cross three lanes of Rome traffic for a turnaround on the road we had just turned onto. This seemed easy to Google Maps,just "make the next left".  But in our sleep deprived state we she had to jump into traffic, cross three lanes and all in the aforementioned sluggish French Hybrid.

Stress Level 4 of 5.

Somehow she did it and and we were headed back under the highway we had come in on. Next it was another turnaround, across three lanes of traffic and back headed East away from Roma.

Google Maps was happy. I was happy. The Chancellor - not so much.

Somehow we made it onto the beltway southbound towards the airport with Google explaining in Amerdigan-ised Italian and then we hit bumper to bumper traffic again. It was early but the specter of missing out flight was clear in everyone's mind. I was thinking that Youngest Son's ticket was screwed up in the US and that getting him on board today's flight was going to be a challenge that needed time to fix.

And I was looking for fuel stations.

For future reference; There are no fuel stations on Circonvallazione Orientale between A24 and the Aeroporti.

The Chancellor was not happy about it.

Next stop - Rental Car return at Fiumicino.

I find Italian logic baffling. As an Engineer and former programmer, I believe you should not be able to get in state that is a dead end in any process.

Apparently the Italian Engineers that came up with the parking ticketing system at the Rent a car return did not share my love of logic. We pulled up to the gate and while The Chancellor was unbuckling her belt and straining to reach the  "gimme a ticket" button, the entrance gate lifted.

Logic says you should not be able to gain entrance to the parking lot without a ticket. Italian Logic says different. Again, at my insisting we entered with out a ticket. Honestly, I was thinking "How smart in must know we have a rental car" because it never occurred to me that it would let you in without a ticket. That couldn't have been further from the truth.

Then we found the parking level (Cinque!) to return Senora's Automatica. You needed a ticket to enter and now we didn't have one.

What the Italians lack in logic, they make up for in thinking on their feet. The rentacar clerk asked where our ticket was and Oldest son explained in perfect Italian that his father was stupid and we did not have one.

Rentacar clerk sprang into action. He went to the car behind us, asked for their ticket, entered it into the machine and then let two cars in one ticket.

This was not his first Rodeo.

In the end, God was gracious to us or Flavio behind the counter saw how much trouble I was in for not getting fuel and had mercy on me. Either way, we ended up with nearly the same bill as we would have had with nearly no penalty. Well, as far as anyone can tell because by time you get your credit card statement with the conversion from Euros to Dollars, add in fees etc etc I have no idea how much we actually paid for anything.  It was a lot.

Happy Memorial Day. Youngest Son headed home and The Chancellor, Oldest Son and I headed to Sicily.

Next up Senora Manuale hits Sicily.

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