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Here's mine: 1983, Larry and I spent 5 weeks in Europe on a VERY limited budget. Our Bible was

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Joined: Dec 12, 2005


Posted to Thread #30515 at 10:24 pm on Sep 25, 2018

literally "Europe on $25 a Day" and we were poor enough that we had to stick with it. Larry was a grade school teacher ($15,000/yr) and I was a draftsman ($12,000/yr), so when I say poor, I'm not being snooty. We really had to stick to a tight budget for that trip.

At our $14/night pensione in Florence (bathroom 2 floors down), the owner told us we HAD to visit Sirmione on Lake Garda, a gorgeous lake near the top of Italy, surrounded by the Dolomites with Germany, France and Austria a mere two hours away in any direction. He was so persuasive that we adjusted our plans to go there after Venice ($13/night, bathroom 3 floors down) but before Switzerland. The Florence hotel owner called them before we left and made us reservations for 2 days. We were down to the last 12 days of the trip.

After three sweltering days in Venice, we arrived in Sirmione on a Sunday and the little old lady behind the desk at Hotel Grifone spoke to us in Italian. We shook our head, no.

Then she tried German.

Then French.

I felt very American at that point.

She called in the owner who had spent military time in Liverpool, so he spoke English with an EXTREMELY cockney Liverpool accent topped off with Italian hand gestures. First he insisted we have martinis because he had been to New York City once and assumed all Americans drank martinis. Then he sent a porter to show us to our room.

It was gorgeous. Twelve foot ceiling, balcony with billowy curtains blowing out overlooking the lake had an ensuite bathroom!!!!!!!! For $24 a night.

We literally ran downstairs and by pointing to the calendar and pleading and pointing some more, got the little old lady behind the desk to increase our room reservation to a week. After 3 weeks of walking down strange hallways to find the shared common bathrooms, an ensuite beat out Switzerland without a second thought. We had to end up in Amsterdam for our flight home, but that was our only constraint.

Then we told Mr. Cockney that our wedding anniversary was coming up and we wanted him to decide what to make for our dinner. It was totally up to him.

At 6:30 we came down and were seated at a table with a large floral centerpiece just for us. [I looked around. None of the other tables had a centerpiece that big.] We weren't handed menus as our meal had been left up to the manager.

First they brought out two huge conch shells filled with iced langostinos and a chilled white wine.

When that was cleared away they prepared pasta at our table side with another bottle of red wine.

Then they flambéed thick steaks with mushrooms and tiny potatoes. And opened ANOTHER bottle of wine. By this time, Larry and I are drunk AND panicking because we only brought down $50 for dinner. Larry went back upstairs and came back with $80.

It's now 9:30 and they're just starting on dessert for us. Another flambéed masterpiece was performed (by now the entire restaurant is watching our table) and a bottle of champagne is popped. Larry left the table again and got our emergency credit card which we had promised we'd only use for an emergency. Like, you know, an amputation or immediate brain surgery.

Then they brought out espresso and some sort of brandy. I was so drunk by this time I could barely sit up straight, but I remember it all being wonderful.

Then the bill came.

It was $40.

We both burst out laughing in relief and left the $80 cash. Then we went and made out in the hallway outside our room because we were too drunk to unlock the door.

And then we got to spend 5 more days there, buying rosemary-stuffed chickens spit-roasted over a wood fire from the deli, fresh peaches, cheap wine and eating on the beach of a crystal-clear glacier-fed lake.

I still believe it was worth missing Switzerland.

Jesus saves. Buddha recycles.

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