Friday, October 8, 2010

If you're going to Italy, stay here

Keys turned in to the central lost and found office for the Milan subway system.
Eight days after my passport, driver's license, cash, and credit and ATM cards were stolen on the subway in Milan, I reluctantly left Venice and drove to Gallarate, a bustling commercial center near the international airport. 

I picked Gallarate for my last three nights in Italy because I didn't want to spend any more time in Milan.

Gallarate was perfect for day trips to Italy's lake country, where I had a bountiful lunch of antipasti and fish from Lake Maggiore in a town called Angera. 

I also had great dinners at the Galaxy Grill in Gallarate, where I was served a wood-roasted whole branzino, and Compagnia delle Cozze or The Mussel Company, which offered an unusual lasagna in a fish sauce, warm fish salad with potatoes and olives, and coal-oven vegetable pizza. (See earlier posts.)

My room at the Hotel Astoria was twice the size and half the price of the postage stamp I occupied at Best Western Hotel Galles on Piazza Lima in Milan. Best of all, the desk staff in Gallarate was everything the Hotel Galles staff wasn't.

I parked my Alfa Romeo 159 turbo-diesel in front of the hotel, rolled my suitcase inside and gave my name and passport to Massimiliano, who confirmed my reservation. Then, I asked him to call the lost and found in Milan to see if any of my valuables had been found. I also gave him the number of the Fiat Center in Milan, where I had to return the car. He said he would call the lost and found right away.

About an hour later, I pulled up to the Fiat Center and learned that the desk clerk from the hotel in Gallarate was on the phone with a Fiat employee, telling him that my small, black-leather bag, my passport, my credit cards and everything else had been turned in to lost and found.

But when I took the phone, Massimiliano said I had to get to the office in about 35 minutes, before it closed at 4 p.m. for the weekend, or I would have to wait until Monday to retrieve everything. (I was supposed to catch an early flight home that Monday.) He gave me the address and Fiat called me a cab.

The driver didn't speak that much English, but I gave him the address and used his cellphone to call Massimiliano, who explained the urgency of the situation to him. He plunged into rush-hour traffic and took advantage of the tram-taxi-bus lanes in Milan to gain time. 

Meanwhile, Massimiliano called lost and found employees to tell them we were trying to get there before closing time. We made it. I had to wait 15 minutes while forms were filled out for me to sign, I paid a small fee and my small, leather bag and its contents were handed to me. The thief took $300 in cash and discarded the rest.

Then the tax driver took me to a train station for the return trip to Gallarate, where I checked into the hotel, showered and changed for my fish-and-roasted-vegetable dinner and a celebratory glass of wine.

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