KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We had planned to rent a car for a week to tour around three of the lakes north of Milan, that are famous for their beauty and for the famous people who live along their shores. We thought we would use Sixt Car Rentals once again after having a good experience in Lisbon, Edinburgh and Munich. However, instead of booking a car well in advance, we waited until a couple of days before we wanted to leave, only to find that they had nothing available.
We knew Milan is a big business city, but we thought because we were in the off-season, there wouldn’t be a problem. We tried a few other agencies, but they were all fully booked as well and we ended up going to the train station and approaching the agency that was displaying a National sign. We were relieved to find they could provide us with a car, and felt comfortable renting through an agency affiliated with a well-known company.
When we came to pick up the car the following morning, the place was hopping, with cars being returned to a rather seedy-looking garage across the street from the train station. They were turning the cars around without much time spent on them, and when we pulled out with the one we’d been assigned, they didn’t take any time to go over the scrapes and dings on the exterior.
Not only was the exterior in less than satisfactory condition, the interior was filthy. I turned the car right around and drove it back, saying I wasn’t prepared to spend a week in such a wreck. The attendant just shrugged and walked away. How I wish Anil could swear at him in Italian!
After what seemed like a long wait, a car was driven in that looked more presentable, and I asked the attendant to hose down the outside so that we could see if there was any damage on the outside that needed to be recorded. After noting down a couple of scratches, we were just signing the papers when a business drove in to return his car. As he handed over the keys, he said to us in English “Beware of these crooks, they can’t be trusted!” Yikes, what had we gotten ourselves into?
We had a great week toodling around Lago di Como, Lago D’Iseo and Lago di Garda, and then inspired by the Shakespearean references to Verona and Mantua in one of my favourite movies Zeffirelli’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, we carried on eastward. It was getting dark as we approached Milan, so we eventually left the small secondary roads and joined the stream of traffic on the motorway.
We had to return the car to the rental agency located near the railway station, and as we headed into central Milan our GPS had us turn left across a set of tram tracks. All of a sudden the back passenger-side tire went ‘pop’ and the tire completely deflated. Rats!
We weren’t able to pull into a parking spot so we were blocking traffic in one lane, so we called the rental agency. When we told them we couldn’t change the tire, and that we had been planning on dropping off the car, they said they would tow the car and take us to the airport to pick up a replacement. We suggested that they just tow the car and be done with it; that would save us having to return the car to the railway station in the morning and then make our way to the airport.
We had to wait for some time for the tow truck to arrive and we were hungry, and thirsty as well. We stepped into an attractive restaurant with a view out of the window to the car, sitting on the street. We were greeted by the owner, a very friendly young man; and we ordered some food and a bottle of wine. We were done driving for the day; we would be taking a taxi to our airport hotel once we were rid of the car.
As it turned out, the owner was an immigrant from North Africa and he was really intrigued buy our ‘mixed’ marriage as well as our long-standing marriage. The restaurant wouldn’t be lively till much later in the evening so he spent a good deal of time talking with us and then helped us deal with the tow-truck driver when he finally arrived.
We filled out all the paperwork, explaining what happened and I took a series of photos of the condition of the car after it was loaded on a flat bed trailer. I didn’t want to be charged for any damage to the body of the car after it left our hands. I also took a photo of the flat tire.
As it turned out, it was a good thing that I took all these precautions, because the rental garage charged about 300 Euros to my credit card and after we left Milan for Sicily. It would have been difficult enough to deal with the issue long-distance within Italy, but next to impossible when we were unable to argue in Italian.
When I got home I started a claim with my credit-card company and things dragged on for some time. Three months later, it was all resolved after the rental agency reimbursed me for half the additional charge and the balance was paid through my card’s insurance. Phew!
I couldn’t help but remember the ominous words spoken to me by a local Milanese man just before we drove off with the car at the start of our journey. He said, “Watch out for these guys, they’re all crooks!”