Travel lessons

By Bruno Sandkühler, September 2021

The War was over, four years of lockdown! No, no, in 1945, when people still spoke German and corona was only known from Latin lessons. But we were locked up for four years and I was fourteen and wanted to get out. For five years I had appeased my thirst for travel with bicycle tours but after graduating from school I ran out of patience.

The bicycle training was a good basis and Uncle Luigi in Milan was an attainable goal. Father had even found me a job in Switzerland, because it was forbidden to take money abroad from occupied Germany. In Hans Spalinger’s special needs education home I would get seven francs a day as a holiday helper. So I left Stuttgart, crossed the Black Forest heights and came to the Swiss border.

The first shock: I had to deposit 50 marks of customs duty for the import of the bike (which was called a velo here)! After some back and forth, a customs officer phoned Bussigny and Mr Spalinger telegraphed the money. The bicycle was adorned with a seal and I was allowed to enter.

It had become late and started to rain as well. When I reached Egerkingen, it was dark. A brightly lit villa in a large garden. I rang the bell and an elderly lady enquired how she could help. Could I pitch my tent on her lawn? “That’s not a good idea,” she said, but she had a room free, I was welcome. There was even dinner. Mrs von Arx told me that her son was a captain in the Swiss Guard in the Vatican, and when she heard that I hoped to get as far as Rome, she gave me a letter for him. That later opened the gates of the Vatican for me.

The next day I reached Bussigny, was warmly welcomed, spent the holidays with the residents and received my wages.

Leon, a boy with Down’s syndrome, came to say goodbye and ceremoniously handed me a five-franc coin from his money box. I got back on my bike, pedalled along Lake Geneva and up the Rhone Valley, saved myself the Simplon Pass by taking the train from Brig through the tunnel to Domodossola, and, after another 130 kilometres, by evening rang my uncle’s doorbell in Via del Lauro.

The next day, a stroll through the city, first to the cathedral of course. A gentleman addressed me in American: did I know where he could find a tailor; he had bought some fabric but he hadn’t thought about the fact that he still had to buy a train ticket to Genoa, where his ship was leaving tonight. He would therefore have to sell the fabric again. With my beginner’s Italian, I asked a passer-by for the nearest tailor; the man offered to buy the fabric himself, but he would have to get the money at home first. “But then I’ll miss my train,” the American said in exasperation. Long story short, I gave him the money, took the fabric as collateral and gave the buyer my address.   

Uncle Luigi burst out laughing when I arrived with the fabric. “This is the ‘truffa napolitana’,” he explained to me, “the trick that is always used to scam tourists in the cathedral square. You’ll wait a long time for your money.” So I was richer by one experience and my travel budget was correspondingly smaller.

About the author: Dr Bruno Sandkühler is an Egyptologist and studied Romance and Middle Eastern studies in Florence, Perugia, Paris und Freiburg. He set up Marco Polo Travel with C-E Fischer and teaches at various Waldorf schools.

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