Excitement rippled through us as my husband and I packed for our first trip to Italy! Celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary, we had tickets for Alitalia to Rome, then on to Monopoli, a small town on a cliff overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Although we loved the people and the food, this is a cautionary tale of what not to do when going out of the country.
Advised that we could exchange our cash to Euros when we got to the airport, we found all the cash exchange outlets closed! No one informed us they close on Saturdays. This was a game-changer for sure! We headed to the car rental place for our 2nd big shock. Our credit card was rejected! I failed to inform my credit union we were traveling out of the country. Suspecting we were victims of credit card theft, they shut it down.
We decided to call our resort to arrange for a shuttle to pick us up. My cell phone was dead from heavy use on the plane. Onto the information desk to ask if we could call our resort so a shuttle could pick us up.
Outside calls are not allowed!
she told us firmly. She referred us to the airport police for assistance. I gave him our sad tale, but he sent us right back to Information Services.
Sensing we were not going to get our problem resolved without histrionics, I marched back to the info desk to tell her that with no means of travel, getting meals or even a cup of coffee, we were stranded in a foreign country with no resources. Desperate, I said we'd just sleep on our bags in a busy area of the airport and beg for food and coffee to sustain us through the weekend. She called her Supervisor and got approval to make one call to our resort.
The shuttle was to meet us at the Departure Gate. Waiting for over an hour, we felt abandoned. We grudgingly got approval from Information Services for a 2nd phone call...you'd think we asked for a fully equipped Ferrari! The shuttle was at the Arrival Gate picking up passengers and failed to notify us. We got to our resort hours later than planned.
The resort gave us $100 in Euros and put it on our tab as an emergency situation. They told us where to get a bus on Monday to exchange our money. The driver tried to direct us to the bank when we got into town, but we couldn't follow his Italian. So he locked up his bus and walked us to the Banco. Whatta guy!
The Banco was strictly out of a James Bond movie. You step into a blue-tinted round glass, one-person stall, like they now have in US airports. The door doesn't open into the bank until your fingerprint is digitally taken and your photo snapped. We were able to exchange only a portion of our American money, paying a 10% fee. We took a shuttle to the airport the next day to rent a car. I got through to my credit union after numerous international calls and online messages. The hold on my card was released. Phew!
The shuttle driver kept looking back at us nervously and talking rapidly on his cell phone. After a few minutes, he handed us the phone. His dispatcher explained in English that the driver was nervous because we were headed to the airport without any luggage. Guess he thought we were going to rob him! We drove to a large mall to shop for gifts and souvenirs.
We had an Italian feast for lunch with freshly baked bread and the best hot foods that Italy has to offer. No fast food here like in the USA! We loved the ramp like escalators that accommodate shopping carts. Not like the scary steps on our escalators. The mall stores have a novel way to deter shoplifters. When you leave a store, they staple your shopping bags so you can't slip anything in them. The next store will not allow you entry if your bag has been ripped open.
In the morning, we stripped our bed and placed the soiled linens and towels outside our room according to printed instructions in our welcome package. We returned in the evening only to find our linen still sitting all rumpled up on the patio chairs. We called the desk and learned that all the English-speaking guests were sent a written notice that linen day was changed to Wednesday. We weren't sent one because they thought we were native Italians due to our last name. They made an announcement we'd missed....in Italian, of course! We had already remade the bed, so we took only some fresh towels. We were on vacation!
We visited the Trulli of Alberobello, a grouping of houses hand built in dome shapes and bearing an outside symbol of ownership on the roof in the form of an astrological sign or religious icon. They're very striking! Cool in summer and warm in winter, but very small quarters. The parking meter wouldn't take our Euro coins, so we cut the tour short to avoid a parking ticket. The Polizia didn't disappoint! We were ticketed and had a 35 Euro fine. We were flying out at 8 AM the next day, no time to get the required mail order in town.
Returning home, I sent a 50 Euro note via registered mail explaining we were paying the fine as quickly as possible. Wrong move! Never send cash! Someone pocketed the 50 Euros and tore up my note. I got steeper fines in warning letters over the next two years. The Italian Embassy in Washington DC said they couldn't help. It's a
He said, she said situation.
I paid when the fine reached $127...Dio mio!! We're returning to Italy next year...better prepared. After all, we did everything wrong the first time!