When exiled on Elba, turn to fellow travellers - Metro US

When exiled on Elba, turn to fellow travellers

Book hotels ahead when visiting on a summer weekend

A stamp illustrates the kind of rugged natural beauty to be found on Elba and the other islands of the Tuscan Archipel­ago.

A tourist broch­ure for Elba depicts some of the things the island is famous for, such as nature and interesting stones. But Metro’s intrepid columnist Julia Dimon had to miss out on Elba’s charms while she tried to pay off a hotel bill.

Standing in the shade of a yellow money exchange sign, I scanned the crowd for English-speaking tourists who looked approachable, well-off and most of all generous. “Excuse me, Sir,” I said courteously, “can you spare a few euros?”

Sticky from the salty heat of the Italian island, burnt, mosquito bitten and broke, I had no other choice — I became a panhandler.

Elba, a vacation spot off the coast of Tuscany, offered charming villages, sparkling turquoise seas and historic residences built by a condemned Napoleon. Sadly, I was too preoccupied with my own financial ruin to enjoy any of Elba’s well-known highlights.

The trouble started when I arrived on the island without booking accommodations. During summer weekends, the island is a popular Italian retreat and hotels fill up fast. I learned the hard way that reservations are necessary.

With all the cheap places booked, I was forced to splurge. At $120 a night at the Hotel Le Picchiaie, my wallet was drained.

I found a bank machine for an emergency withdrawal. I inserted my ATM card. The bank machine spouted three words guaranteed to scare any traveller: “Sorry Insufficient Funds.”

I laughed nervously and tried another card — nothing. My Visa? Niente.

I blamed a demagnetized credit card and an overdrawn bank account. I looked in my wallet to find three wrinkled 20s. These euros would barely cover a hotel room, let alone food and transportation.

To make matters worse, a woman at the tourist information center explained that train workers had gone on strike, there was no way to get back to mainland Italy until the following day.

So there I was. I had little money, no hotel room, no food, a demagnetized Visa, and 27 hours to kill before I could escape the island. Like Napoleon, I felt exiled in Elba. I was in trouble.

Looking for a place to crash, I stumbled upon the Hotel Lido, a small inn with clean rooms for 60 euros. I explained my predicament to the owner. She calmed me down and assured me that, though the Visa card was demagnetized, it should go-through without a problem. I believed her.

Next morning, her tune had changed. Payment by credit card was no longer possible; she wanted the one thing I didn’t have much of — cash.

Since I’d spent money on food, I was 20 euros short of my outstanding hotel bill.

Desperate times called for desperate measures, so I sucked up my pride and hit the streets: “Excuse me Sir, could you spare a few euros?”

Locals ignored me (probably a language thing) but fellow travellers sympathized with my bad luck.

Twenty minutes of begging and I was rescued by a young British couple on their honeymoon. They were very kind and, with a donation of euros, they bailed me out of this tricky situation.

Grateful and incredibly relieved, I promised to pay it forward and help other travellers in need. Travellers must stick together in foreign countries, because sometimes shit happens.

With the Brits’ help, I was able to pay off my outstanding hotel debt, hop on the ferry and escape Elba. I left the charming villages, the sparkling turquoise seas and my panhandling past behind me.

Julia Dimon is editor of The Travel Junkie, an online magazine for independent travellers. She can be reached atwww.thetraveljunkie.ca.

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