Wednesday, August 4, 2010

France, Switzerland & Italy in a day - Or how I learnt to stop worrying and love the pasta

Trapped in translation?
Whatever else I had imagined myself doing in my life, it wasn’t this: having breakfast in one country, lunch in another, and dinner in third. But that is precisely what Sid and I did this Saturday, thanks to the excellent road connectivity of Europe and the marvellous ease of travel afforded by Schengen.

So we started our day with croissants in a village cafe on the French side of the Franco-Swiss border, then drove along the gorgeous winery-lined Geneva Lake in Switzerland and then through (and often under) the snow-capped Alps into Italy to finish the day with dinner in the lively town square of Turin.

I had already been to France and Switzerland (for my views on Indians in Switzerland read here) – but it was my first time in Italy. And less-than-24 hours in the country was enough for me to realise that every stereotype I had ever heard of Italians – was totally and completely true. Yes, they are indeed loud, friendly and colourful. Yes, they drive like maniacs. Yes, they are easy with their honks. Yes, they have the most divine food. And yes, they are not shy about roadside displays of affection – I mean those Italian men were really going for it with their girlfriends in public.

Considering that all other stereotypes had been confirmed, I was completely ready to encounter the ultimate Italian experience: the tourist trap. And when we sat down for dinner at a little taverna in the Latin Quarter of Turin – and the Italian lady started serving us all sorts of yummy things without us having actually ordered any – I thought this is it. I mean, when she asked in her very limited English “Apertifs?” and we nodded, I thought we would get menu cards. Instead, we got a wine for me, a beer for Sid, a plate of cold-cuts and cheese, and a basket of bread.

It didn’t help when Sid recounted a story he had read of a Japanese couple landing up consuming fish worth €2000 in a restaurant in Rome without quite realising it until the bill arrived – the Italian waiter had been just a little too helpful, you see.

The only saving grace was that the two girls sitting next to us had been offered exactly the same food. Taking courage from that, Sid & I decided to just relax and play along. So we took our time with the wine and cheese, and tarried over the pasta and the icecream-in-chocolate sauce that followed. (No, we hadn’t ordered that either.)

Finally, when the meal was over – and the girls next to us had left – we decided to go up to the till, and check out the damage. I was fully expecting to fall back by a good 40-50 euros.

So we could hardly believe our ears when the lady pointed at the till showing €16. “No, no – we had some wine and beer too” – Sid actually protested. The lady just looked quizzical and said “ci! ci!” 

Part elated and part guilt-ridden at having so awfully presumed on her behalf, we paid our paltry bill and left.
You know those stereotypes about Italians – never believe them…

- If you do land-up in Turin and are looking for smashing meal for €16, try Rhumeria Vodkeria on Franco Bonelli Street.
- The comedian Eddie Izzard on Italians


jaimit said...

lady, you are leading a charmed life!

globalbabble said...

So Sid keeps telling me - especially since he is bankrolling it at the moment...