Thursday, September 03, 2009

Blowout Leaving Tuscany

When I wrote the previous blog a couple of days ago, my fav Tuscan photos were still in the camera.

So here they are now..............

Yesterday we changed our plans and instead of going to Florence, we headed west to the coast and started on the drive up to Lake Como. We stopped for a nostalgic walk along the beach at Viareggio as Daffy had been there as a child with her mum and dad and she was delighted it hadn't changed much in the 73 years since her last visit.

The sand was hot, the water was warm but the resort was beginning to shut up for the season and many of the larger hotels were closed already. It was 35C for goodness sake. Get open !

We got a hotel called Hotel Joseph just a short distance up the coast but although it had wi-fi and we got a username and password from reception, there was no signal so I guess it was kaputski.

We went to a nearby restaurant and it was a bit like Fawlty Towers on a bad day. We were just given menus in German even before we'd spoken a word and after we'd said we weren't German or even close, our Manuel brought us Italian ones. We were perfectly happy with these but he saw his error and berated himself (probably as he wasn't from Barcelona you know) and brought us English ones.....well forgeign English ones, you know the type - lots of amusing spelling mistakes.

So we ordered classic Italian nosh, pork chops and french fries 3 times ! My chop was quite thick and when I cut into it, it snorted ! I pointed this out to Manuel who agreed it was a bit 'fresh' and some time later it came back in a much different form, several bits of very thin pork from multitudinous chops. It was acceptable if not quite pleasing on the eye.

Stephen and I decided to have a dessert and I picked one of my favs, creme caramel, and Stephen had a pannacotta which came with a choice of sauces and he chose chocolate. From the moment they arrived, the episode became the stuff of a classic British farce.

I was presented with the pannacotta and Stephen with the creme caramel which was an obvious mistake as MY creme caramel was still wobbling on his plate as these things tend to do. So we swapped dishes and then noticed all was STILL not right. My creme caramel was covered in chocolate sauce and...well you can guess the rest. We called Manuel over again and he initially tried to tell us in Italian that we had caused this mess by switching our plates and that's all that was wrong.

We explained about the sauce fiasco and he wasn't having it. All was well in his idea of a perfect dessert world but after we raised our voices and cut into the desserts to try and show what we meant (chocolate sauce dripping down over a lovely creme caramel and a similar cockup on t'other desertwas not what God had intended at all), he took both away muttering something about fighting at Monte Cassino in '39 and Benito Mussolini.

He came back with new desserts and they were new desserts with the exact same problem but Manuel had legged it before we could repeat our complaint and kept well away from us for some time. When we got his attention and he came over, we tried again to tell him that in normal world, chocolate sauce does not go with creme caramel and creme carmel sauce is a bit odd with pannacotta. Nope, he wasn't having any of it and when we raised our voices in frustration, he simply took the desserts away muttering that if we didn't like them we could jolly well do without any dessert at all. Well that was our interpretation of what he said.

For a good 25 minutes he avoided eye contact with us and we had to get Daphne up on Stephen's shoulders with a couple of Italian navy flags to signal that we'd quite like to leave now and could we please have the bill. By now thoroughly upset with us, Manuel brought the bill and we decided to pay it in cash in case a few euros were added to the credit card after we'd gone. It felt like that sort of place.

Anyway all that culinary excitement has paled into something very pale indeed when compared with today's tale of woe.

We left the coast and headed up into the mountains and the temp display in the car showed it was 17C when we hit the top and were almost above the cloud line. It was a stunning route on SS62 north east from La Spezia but after a few hours we decided to get onto the autorstrada and so we joined A1/E35 at Parma and headed for Piacenza and then Milan.

On this road you can go at 130 kph (80mph) and after the slow, twisty SS62, Stephen was making up time by going at the max speed. Then we got a blowout and thankfully it was on a rear tyre or else I'd probably have been typing this from a hospital bed with bits of me in nearby beds. Stephen got the car slowed down and over to the hard shoulder which just happened to have parallel lines of concrete sections about 4ft high like we get in the UK when motorway road works are going on as there were 2 more slip lanes to our right.

The smell of burning rubber filled the air and not in a good way. I got out to look at the damage as the 'flat' was on my side and was horrified to see this.........

We'd shred the tyre like a motorway lorry and had managed to push out part of the rear mudguard even though it's not visible here. A large part of the inner lining was a few feet back down the autostrada and there it still remains as I wasn't going to go and get it.

We put on the hazard lights, grabbed a few items likely to be useful to us (cell phone, sat/nav, fluorescent jackets and water bottles) and hopped over the barriers to be out of harms way. After that it all went a bit pear shaped and we felt alone in a foreign land for the first time on this trip and it's made me very angry.

We rang the Budget number and were told a tow truck would be sent. We gave them more specific directions on how to find us than Aldrin was given to land on the moon and yet we kept getting calls asking for more info. Hello ? We gave you an exact GPS fix, a long positional description from the GPS when "where am I" was chosen from the help options and even autostrada signs which narrowed down our position to the nearest 20 metres. I'm sure Pavel up on the space station could've found us faster.

Anyway tow truck man finally came and pulled in front of us and never even looked at the wheel but loaded us up onto a low loader. I say us because we were told to get into the car for the trip along the autostrada to the Ford garage, something I'm sure would not be allowed in the UK. We got to the garage but were told they did not have a replacement wheel available and it could be tomorrow (Friday), it could be Monday !

Phone calls were made by our driver and we made a few ourselves ! Budget were totally unhelpful in Italian and their subcontracted service people were equally unhelpful in Englitalian.
In the end we had to.....well listen to this for a lark. We had to ring the service people again who said they would ring around rental places in Piacenza for a replacement car for us. Then they would ring us with the address and we'd have to organise a taxi to take us to this place and hope it was a big enough taxi to take us AND out luggage as the garage we were at was closing for the day !

Daphne was the star of the day and her knowledge of Italian swear words increased exponentially as the incident developed. We got the address, got the taxi and got us and our luggage to an Avis rental place in the city. You can imagine what followed and we've no idea if we're still on the Budget contact we signed up for or if we're going to be charged by Avis as if we are a new customer. They weren't happy we were taking a car from them but dropping it off at Rome airport on 11th but by then we were at boiling point mentally and physically and Daffy was taking no prisoners.

Why we had to do everything was, and still is, my main complaint. Budget pretty much left us to organise everything ourselves and were as helpful as a fart in a spacesuit most of the time.

So we got our new car and headed out of Piacenza and stopped at the first hotel we could find as it was 8pm and almost dark and we were tired, hungry, hot and bothered.

Now it's midnight and amid all my grumblings about today, the important thing is we are safe and sound if very, very poor.

The room has a jacuzzi so I think I'll jump in and add a few more bubbles.

It's been that sort of day.


Milo said...

Nightmare, what a story! I guess we can see why they're called 'Budget' now... awful when that kind of thing happens abroad.

As you say, you may be out of pocket but you had what was basically a car accident and came out unscathed which is the main thing. Could have been a lot worse.

Hope the rest of the holiday is less eventful (and that the food improves! Try and avoid anywhere with German menus would be my tip - though to be fair that's easier said than done).

Debby said...

Hmmmmm haven't you and I been stranded before? Ah yes, the Mojave wasn't it? Probably close to the same temperature too!

Glad you're OK.

Budget sucks Ray...

Jennyta said...

Oh dear, what an unpleasant experience but a very lucky escape for you all. Daphne's pre-holiday Italian brush-up course came in handy!

rhymeswithplague said...

Fascinating! You must submit an article to a magazine when you return!

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Your cultural journey clearly continued... but what's this about bubbles in the jacuzzi? Quite disgusting! You should leave them in your spacesuit!

I'd hate to have a blowout like that on the M1 - in the fast lane - it's one of my worst nightmares.

jay said...

I love the Manuel story! Well, I mean, I don't love that you had to put up with it, but the way you told it was very funny. LOL!

But that wheel! Good grief ... you were very lucky indeed not to be injured. And thanks for the tip. We will not be renting Budget when we eventually get over to Europe!

lachatnoir said...

Horror story of tyre not withstanding, those are some stunning photos of Tuscany. Such a beautiful place in the world.

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