From Portofino Emile rushed me to Rapallo where I caught a train. I would like to express my thanks to the very public conscious Trenitalia who failed me once more and then I had to pay the penalty for their ineptitude. I arrived behind three people at the biglietteria but no matter. What should have taken a matter of three minutes –uno biglietto di solo andata a Milano – took thirty minutes as the single ticket master dealt with two older people who were attempting to exchange their tickets. People would come, express exasperation and go but I stayed at my post thinking it couldn’t be more than another few minutes. In so doing, I missed my train and had to finally take the next. I managed to buy a ticket, board the train and then was penalized eight Euro for being on a non local train. Anyhow, I finally got into Milano at about eight found my two-star hotel, got something to eat up on Strada Buenos Aires, went to bed, awoke early and grabbed the shuttle to Linate and a flight to London Gatwick arriving at eleven in the morning.
Now the scary part…
All along, for about three weeks, I had been dreading the moment when I would finally get behind the wheel of an English automobile. I had promised Jeanne that regardless of the terror involved, I would give her the convenience of driving right to the doors of our friends and hotels. Trains would’t take us where we need to go so this was the most economical and frankly, the most sensible way for two people to travel when having to cover the full length and width of England in twelve days.
I had been to England several times before so I knew something of what to expect. With this in mind, I was clear in reserving a small Peugeot . My son once did a similar thing only to be given the only car available, a Jaguar XF. Well, guess what? My worst nightmare came true. I went to the counter as nervous as a rabbit to have the girl fumble through her bulging envelopes to finally pull out one with my name on it at the same time apologizing, “Mister Hedrick, I’m sorry but we are in short supply of the car you requested but we do have something available, quite nice and at the same price. Would you be willing to drive a Volkswagen Sharan Van?” What could I do? I finally had myself braced for this. I made a face of displeasure and discouragement . I put up a weak complaint telling the young lady that I didn’t really want to drive some BIG car all over England. At this point, a young man interrupted suggesting that he would find someone to track me down and change cars with me when one became available. I thought, “What a nuisance this would turn out to be” so against my better judgement, I gritted my teeth, took the key, signed the papers, got the instructions and went to the car like a man approaching the galley. I located it, got in, turned the key and roared out of the lot repeating to myself, “Remember, keep yourself on the center line and you’ll be alright.”
I drove like a madman toward the M-23 in the direction of Crawley. Praying all of the time, I managed to land (completely surprised!) on the right round about spitting me out toward Crawley. After some instructions from several people, none of whom I could understand, I followed the pointing of their fingers and eventually, four frightening round-abouts later, wound up in the parking lot of my hotel, “The George.” I parked and secured the Leviathan, checked in, went to my room and with a sigh of relief fell on the bed. Fortunately, the story improves – at least for a while.
I had a splendid, well thought out strategy. I would just park the car and leave it until after I had picked up Jeanne at the airport only two train stops and two pounds eighty pence away. I would collect her and her things then train her back to the hotel. I would give her a day getting rid of jet lag and then we would venture out on the roads together. So this is what we did.