Our last two weeks were divided into two episodes; the first one is a bitter-sweet story about how we got our asses kicked by Miss Fortune in Milan and the second one calmly revolves around our reconvalescence.  Will we try Italy again? Sure thing, we’ve gained some experience and next time we’ll be ready. Enjoy learning from our mistakes!

The ride started nice and smooth. We drove through Swiss highways, a bit of mountain roads and a whopping seventeen-kilometer-long tunnel that led us through the heart of Alps. The views were spectacular and, as always, impossible to catch with our not-so-proffessional camera. That’s all Niki could get:

Since our friends and the Internet scared us a bit about burglars and thieves lurking from dark corners on our beloved van, we decided to book a super safe, extra insured parking lot. All in all it cost us just 25€ for 5 days and nights so not that expensive. Also, it turned out that it was under a big supermarket so during the day there were quite some people walking around and at night it was guarded by surveillance cameras as well as security guards.

Trial run in Milan

Our plan was to use the first day in the capital of shopping for sightseeing and sniffing around. See the city. Explore the places. Learn what we should see and where we could possibly perform. At the Tourist Information Centre we got a map and learned where people sit in the evening, as well as that Milan is the city where you can see the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Since we didn’t plan to perform this day, we’ve decided to go and see this famous piece of art that miraculously survived bombing in 1943. What we actually saw was a perplexed smile of a lady from the front desk, telling us that we have to book a visit and the soonest free date is… in September. Three to four weeks from now.

Prior to this day we also registered on a special Street Artists Portal and after being approved (screening system including videos and photos!) we were free to book places all over the city to work there. There was a catch, though  – the system works flawlessly and is very, very efficient, but only for people… who know Milan well enough. For us all the names we saw were just points on the map so Nick, to be on a safe side, booked the first place which was close to the strict city centre. After that, we took out our wheels – a scooter and a longboard we described in the previous post and off we went to the subway in the direction of the Duomo.

The Cathedral presented itself really spectacularly. Located in the middle of a large square it stood over heaps of people indifferent to these masses as well as to us. However, it was not as giant and overwhelming as the Cathedral in Cologne. There is an interesting legend about it, though. It is said that in the past the ruler of Milan had a dream in which the Devil told him that his life would be spared if he built a cathedral with depictions of devil himself. In result, Duomo is “decorated” with over ninety scary stone gargoyles. Moreover, the monument was being built for over five centuries so Milan locals have a saying “to do something as long as building Duomo”. :)

Back to the main subject – when we arrived at the place that Nick booked, we already knew it was a wrong move to do it before checking it. It was completely empty… We tried to change the reservation, however it was impossible. We tried to book another place – it was also not allowed. That’s how we found out you can only book one place at a time and the next reservation can be made when the first one expires. Doh. What could we do? We went for a pizza. The real, Italian pizza. Oh yes!

When the day came, we tried to perform anyway. We gathered a few people, but seriously, it wasn’t worth it.

For Friday we managed to book a place we knew would be full of people. It was a nice promenade by a canal, quiet, a bit away from the city centre, but bustling with relaxed nightlife after 9PM. All in all – a very promising place. With this thought in our heads we spent the day looking for a swimming pool (shower time!) After riding around Milan and making over 10km that day we found an open one. Can you imagine that many, many places – service stations, swimming pools, restaurants are closed in August due to holiday season. Interestingly, all Italians’ explanation is “Agosto”. And a shrug. It’s so obvious to them everything is closed in Italy in August. Wow.

Anyway, we found the swimming pool. It was a really old building, but not like late 1950’s but more like 1750’s old. Indoors everything was carved in stone – especially the pool! It reminded us of those old swimming pools in Poland but they become more and more rare. We were more than happy to jump into the water, but before… We were told we must wear swimming caps! They happily lent us a pair. Oh dear…

Water was great, we had some fun, we swam there and back again for 45 minutes, our joy was indescribable.

Clean and tired we went back to our Wolfie to get ready for Fire. Unfortunately, right when we were ready to go… it started raining.

Unsure and with bad feelings, we made it to our spot. And guess what? Yeah, empty. Rain stopped around 9pm, but there was no chance that anyone was going for a walk. It was cold, wet and that’s when we got really depressed.

We said to ourselves “ok, let’s try one more time, Saturday must be good here”. However, one look at the website confirmed our fears – the place was already booked. Just like all other places that could be good, which of course made sense, as it was for Saturday. It was the time for The Decision: are we going further to Piza and Lucca or are we going back to Switzerland? After a long debate we decided to leave NOW. We simply couldn’t risk any more days with no income. Sad and disappointed we drove to Lugano to spend the night there and maybe perform during the day.

Unexpected brake

On Saturday morning we walked around the city and we realised that it’s very compressed. It basically contained of a city centre and that’s it. A lot of people, not enough space to perform with anything bigger than a guitar, plus you need a permission that can be obtained only at the police station, which was closed during the weekend. With bitter smiles we agreed that we have to go back to Zurich or Konstanz, especially since we don’t want to miss the end of this week. Leaving at 1pm we thought we would be there around 3 – 4pm. Ah, how naive!

We drove through the motorway for about 30 km with no problems and then it started. A traffic jam. But not an ordinary one – it was 20 km long and the intervals between driving and waiting were so big people actually were sunbathing, others were taking out beers and partying. No shadows in vicinity, just sun and mountains. We killed some time by reading to each other. It lasted for three hours.

When we were closing to the direct reason of the traffic jam (traffic lights, regulating flow in the 17km long tunnel) we realised something was wrong with our car. It started braking by itself. Nick got out and checked the wheels. Three of them were fine but the forth one… Oh gods. The rim was so hot one could fry eggs on it! Quick diagnosis – the piston in the brake caliper (here is a link for any Curious George around what it is) jammed and caused brake pads to clutch the wheel. Technical gibberish. In short – Nick tried to loosen them up on the emergency lane but to no avail. Fortunately right after the cursed traffic lights there was a gas station. He thought he could get some tools (we had some basic ones) but apparently Swiss service stations have only fuel, some oil and souvenirs.

We were told that a few kilometres from the service station there is a workshop and possibly it was open. May we remind you – it was Saturday afternoon. We got ourselves together, drove to the place and, of course, it was closed like everything else on Saturday afternoon. Somebody told us that since we have a van we could sleep at a parking lot nearby and come back on Monday. Yeah, sure…

So, we decided to drive slowly and hope for the best, especially that after the traffic lights there was no more lines to be stuck in. And so just when we were on the way to join the highway, it turned out that this bit of road is under construction. Next exit – 8km away… which means we would have to be stuck in this traffic AGAIN. We knew our car wouldn’t make it, so we stopped at the petrol station that was on the other side. We got some tools from friendly truck drivers from Lithuania and Nick, ignoring their warnings in a very broken English, took apart the entire brake.

Actually, it’s easy to say, but it lasted for 3 hours or so, everything was so jammed and corroded. With tears in our eyes we started considering calling the roadside assistance, but then we realised that in Switzerland everything costs a lot – starting from a phone call. And the Internet? Nope, you don’t have the free Internet at the station. After a short discussion with guys from Lithuania and Serbia we pulled ourselves together and determined to get to Konstanz the same night, we decided to drive with only three working brakes. We clogged the hose leaking brake fluid as much as we could, bought three bottles of it just in case (8.90CHF each! Rip-off!) and off we went. To be honest, we were scared out of our wits, driving through the Alps, with our brakes just working so-so but eventually we made it to Konstanz. At 1 AM. 250 km took us 12 hours. Exhausted, we parked at our favourite spot and fell asleep. Oof.

Recuperation

After these five days outside of Germany we spent Sunday bubbling in the city. It raised our spirits immediately – people were nice, the income decent and everything seemed just fine.

The other day one guy paid us with a pizza!

We felt so comfortable being “home” that even rain didn’t break our spirits – actually, we were quite fond of it as we could finally have an evening off without the feeling of guilt. ^^

We also had to take care of changing this lovely brake of ours. Buying it in Germany was not an option (over 300 euro), so Niki got an idea to call our mechanic from Poland and send it here. It turned out to be perfect – the part cost 80 euro and delivery only 10. All in all, we made a great deal with help of Niki’s Dad, who sent us the piece.

What is more interesting, Niki tried sushi again, this time without nori or raw fish, made by our new friend Melchior. He’s a wizard, seriously, she liked it!

Art around us

We made some new friends and laughed hard during their shows on the street. If you don’t know the Super Banana, you should, as she’ll be the one to save the world!

And if you feel mellow and a bit feminist, enjoy the most errrrrotic Fire Show on Earth! (before she started the show she was going around telling people that her boyfriend broke up with her, so we gave her a big hug; then it turned out it was a part of her act, so we got fooled! XD)

In Zurich we could witness fundraising for a hospital organized by a school of roller-skaters. We watched their dance for almost an hour; we were amazed by the skills of older participants and we “awwwww-ed” the youngest.

 

So… how was you week? XD