The morning routine
So the next morning I was quite rested even though we were all up so late. Again I cleaned up and joined my coworkers for breakfast at the hotel restaurant. I just had orange juice and a croissant. We then hopped into my car and headed to the office.
Motorcycles, mopeds, and ATVs; Oh My!
One thing that stands out on the roads in Italy besides the abundance of small cars is the crazy amount of motorcycles and their cousins. It seems to be that the rules are a little bit looser for motorcycles and scooters in regards to where they can drive on the street. So on our jaunts to and from the office it was very typical that these two wheeled vehicles would pass by using the center line of a narrow two lane road as the gap in traffic. I was spooked a couple of times by bikes flying through the center of the road. They also like to cut in line at stop lights. I saw bikes and like of all different shapes and sizes and styles. I even saw a high school aged kid driving a 4-wheeled ATV on the road in traffic. I guess if it runs then it’s legal to drive on the road.
What’s that hissing?
So the work day was done. We all attempted to finish our individual assignments as early as possible because we had planned to drive to Switzerland for dinner and to say that we visited that country. Some of the sessions were running a little bit long which meant that we probably weren’t going to have much daylight but we were adamant about going to Lugano, Switzerland. The plan was to head back to the hotels, get changed, regroup and all pile into my car and go. We finally left the office and headed back to the hotel. Due to my wonderful driving I accidentally hit a curb on an acute angled right turn. I didn’t think about it much until we got back to the hotel. We all got out and collected our laptop bags and that’s when we noticed the hissing. Yep, that’s right, my wonderful stunt driving tore a gash into the sidewall of the tire and it was leaking slowly but constantly. Immediately we realized that we would not being using my car to drive to Lugano.
The original plan was that we were going to go in my car and pick up another coworker at her hotel before heading to Switzerland. But since my car was a lame horse heading to the glue factory we had to get another car. Of course the only other car available was with the coworker at the other hotel and it was a manual transmission. So we called the coworkers hotel and got no answer from her room. We hung out in the lobby of our hotel for a bit then we called again and once again she wasn’t responding. We even asked the reception desk of her hotel to look for her and they said they didn’t see her. Well the night looked like it was going to be early and disappointing. As a last ditch effort we decided to walk over to her hotel which was just about a kilometer away from our hotel. Worst case scenario was that she wasn’t there and we could just walk to downtown Varese for dinner. The walk was nice and as we arrived we noticed that our coworker was hanging out the window of her room. Apparently when we called earlier she was sitting outside waiting for us to arrive. So she got ready and we piled into her car. I was the navigator as I wasn’t comfortable driving a stick shift so I got my GPS out and dialed in Lugano, Switzerland and off we go.
Crossing the Border
A quick flashback into the work day prior to our adventure. While planning our adventure over to Switzerland one of the Italians in the office spoke up and gave us some helpful ideas of what we were going to expect as we crossed the border. He also commented “why were we going to Switzerland for dinner when we were in Italy?” Anyway, he told us that for whatever reason the Swiss charge a pretty hefty toll, something like €50 (about $63) for some sort of sticker that gets affixed to the car. Of course this is probably due to the interesting relations between the Swiss and the EU. So we came prepared to pay the sticker “toll” at the border. As we arrived at the Italian/Swiss border we had no clear indication of what we were doing. We saw what looked like a booth but no one was manning it. So we drove by slowly, in the general direction of what looked like border guards, and a blond lady on her cell phone standing on the other side of the booth waved us by. When we reached the two border guards we rolled down our window and started to get our passports out. One of the guards looked at us as if we had interrupted a really good conversation and begrudgingly waved us through. So we were thinking there was going to be another stop but then we were back on the highway.
So now we were in the land of watches and cheeses. We drove along the highway heading into Lugano admiring what would be probably have been beautiful vistas of the Alps if it weren’t completely dark. I don’t think the moon was out anymore or was too low in the sky to light up anything. The highway was pretty nice and we drove through I think four tunnels that were immaculate and well lit. I kind of had the feeling that I was in some sort of rally racing game but I wasn’t driving.
The traffic on the other side of the highway was at a dead-stop and was backed up for miles. We were hoping that it would clear up before we attempted to head back.
We arrived in the city and now we needed to find a place to park. There were “P” signs with arrows every block or so but they really didn’t help us in finding a parking lot. After a couple of u-turns we were able to find a rather large underground parking structure where we left the car and headed out on foot.
We really had no idea where to go.
I had heard from some coworkers that there was basically a plaza/street that had a bunch of cafés, bars,and restaurants. So we hoofed it towards what sounded like night life. We were all hungry by now as it was getting sort of late with the tire issue, the missing coworker, and the driving. We found a nice outdoor restaurant with somewhat reasonable prices, the previous few seemed out of our budget, and finally got someone’s attention who sat us.
I don’t remember exactly what I had to eat but I am pretty sure it was good. It better have been good because it cost 50 swiss francs (about $50) This is what I get for waiting three weeks to write this up.
After dinner we decided to walk around and see what we could of this Swiss border town.
The trip back
We eventually got tired of walking around the empty streets taking pictures of closed stores so we went back to the car. I got back into navigator mode and whipped out the GPS to find the correct path back to our hotel. I really don’t understand how a GPS determines the path to set us on but this time we took the high road. And by high road I mean we climbed up the side of some mountains using some narrow roads with many switchbacks. Again it probably would have been beautiful but it was dark. When we got to the border we again saw a small group of border guards on the Swiss side. This time they were wearing coats as we were at a higher altitude where it was a little bit brisk. We had a difficult time figuring out how to navigate around the obstructions that were placed to slow drivers down and there was no clear indication as to where you should be going. Once again the Swiss guards took barely a glance at us and waved us along. When we got to the Italian side we were stopped by a single Italian who had one hand on his firearm and a serious look on his face. He asked us to open the hatchback, like we were smuggling Swiss people across the border, but he didn’t even ask for our passports or if we had anything to declare. He waved us on and we got out of there and on our way back to the hotel.
The drive was rather pleasant. Now and then there would be some car behind us that would be tailgating a little too closely considering there was no traffic and we were still on winding twisted roads but we never had any problems. We made it back to the hotel safely.
I had decided earlier in the night that regardless of the time I wanted to get the spare tire installed so that in the morning I wouldn’t have to deal with it. One of my coworkers asked if I needed assistance and I readily agreed. I could have done it myself but having the help and the company always makes it better. It took us 15 minutes at the most to change out the tire. I was really glad that he helped because it probably would have taken me much longer. Since the bar was closed I treated him to a sparkling water and we both retired to our respective rooms for the night.