I guess this posting really needs to be read immediately after the last one, Farewell to Buckingham. We were heading back to our home in Italy after accepting the inevitable loss of our home in the UK. No looking back; onwards and upwards. In the car (which we had only just had repaired at a cost of over £1000) were C,R and I plus as much stuff as we could cram into the cavernous back; books, files, computer equipment, printer, clothes, food not easily sourced in Italy etc etc. Although we’d shipped all our furniture out two years ago and cleared the house for a second time we’d still accumulated over a year’s worth of stuff and the car’s springs were groaning.
The journey through France, Switzerland and Italy down to le Marche usually takes around 16-17 hours hard drive and we tend to break the journey and stop overnight somewhere in E France near the Swiss border. Colmar and Mulhouse are our usual targets. This journey we had been re-scheduled onto a Norfolk Line ferry to Dunkirk because SeaFrance ferries were stuck in an industrial dispute. So given the re-direction we thought we’d try aiming for a route via Ostend, down past Belgium and Liege, then Luxembourg and down through Germany/France towards Strasbourg and the Rhine valley. It also meant we saved a load on French motorway tolls.
The journey was fine but because we’d only landed off the ferry at close to 3pm French time, we struggled to get past Saarbruck by 8pm. This is a very industrial part of Germany, lacking in pretty little B&B’s and the like. We couldn’t find a hotel until some place called Forbach where we checked into a Mercure, a decent hotel adjoining the motorway, with restaurant. We crashed that night pretty early. Next day we got away not as early as I would have preferred. Immediately we took a wrong direction from the hotel and missed the motorway slip road. Bad start. We got back on the motorway soon enough and headed off down to Strasbourg and Switzerland. At the border at Basel we got bawled out by the police or whatever they are for not having a 40 SFr road tax disc. Be warned folks whatever you give them in Euros you’ll get change in useless S Fr. Always insist on going into the office and paying with your card! Frigging Swiss don’t give two f’s what you might be carrying through, they just want your 40 Fr tax contribution to use their useless, contra-flow ridden roads.
We got though Switzerland without further incident and headed into Italy. The weather was fine and all looked OK but we were behind schedule a bit. We’d left ourselves a 10 hour stint on the second day which was daunting. We got through the Alps alright and were heading down through N Italy when the car started to skip a beat or two. Oh frig. We got to Milan and the problem got steadily worse. We’d lost a cylinder again. For f’s sake. Anyway with 6 hours drive ahead (in a decent car!) we hobbled back down to Le Marche. We got back to our home at nearly 11pm, tired and a little dispirited. We took an hour to unload and C had to spend that time cleaning out the fridge which had gone mouldy. We crashed, exhausted but happy to be home, gone midnight.
Next day things seemed alright. The weather was fine, the house was tidy (we had really scrubbed it within an inch of its life before leaving after the olive picking) but Scotty’s damage assessment wasn’t good. We had a major leak on our water supply when we turned the water back on. The gas supply was at a minimum and because of a late payment on a previous bill the company weren’t eager to re-supply us. The phone connection and broadband line were disconnected. We later established this was because our bank hadn’t paid a disputed standing order. Next day the weather turned foul and we lost our electricity supply. Our lovely neighbour P checked with the power company who told us that that snow falls had caused localised outages and could be expected to be rectified shortly. Well we were two days without power and it was clearly a problem in the house and not with the general supply. Our mobile phones, our only means of communications were running out of charge and the weather continued to be crap. Our stock of fire-wood was sodden.
So there we were with no transport, communications, heat, light, electricity and the water spewing into our already-sodden garden (and for which we were paying on our meter!). It doesn’t get a lot a more fun than that. Benvenuto a l’Italia eh. Well we started making contact with everybody we could. P our closest neighbour was great, allowing us to use her BB and her phone and making calls for us (P speaks fluent Italian). We also got to meet our next nearest neighbours J and C who also happen to hail from Lancashire. C we’d met on an earlier visit with her son and his family; this was the first time we’d met J. They were great too; taking us shopping and inviting us to dinner the second evening back. As well as enjoying a great meal we also re-charged our mobiles at their place thankfully. We got a bill paid to Telecom Italia allowing us to get the phone re-installed after a couple of days (followed by broadband a week or so later).
News on the car wasn’t so good. We got it down to a local Ford dealer who examined in and told us the engine re-build would have to be re-done at a cost of, yep, around £1000. We just didn’t have that spare nor we were certain that we wanted to cover the cost again if it had already failed to correct the problem.
Just when things were really cold and miserable our local electrician Emilio arrived (he previously sorted out some lighting for us when we first moved in – see earlier posting). The thing was our trip meter kept tipping over whenever we tried to put the power on. This had happened for two days solid. When Emilio arrived I put the switch up to re-establish the power just to show him it wouldn’t work and what happens? You’ve guessed it; the power remained on. I looked like a complete tw*t at this point of course. Right then P’s plumber turned up to check out the spewing water leak. Poor bugger fixed it in the pouring rain and then proceeded to fix our constantly-draining wc’s – a problem we’d put up with for two years. Meanwhile Emilio had done a quick check and having found nothing wrong with the now-working electrics, set off back up our muddy drive-way. Just as I was watching him pull out onto the road, the power trip switched off again and wouldn’t re-establish. I kid you not. It took me 15 mins to get back in touch with Emilio by which time he had got virtually home. He turned round and headed back. I could only apologise as he arrived back with us. This time he found us really without power. I left him to sort out the problem.
I checked with the plumber, Guiseppi meantime – he was upstairs in R’s bathroom sorting out the dribbling cistern . As I entered the room he was checking out R’s Spice Girls calendar on the bathroom wall. I coughed and in faulting Italian explained that it was my daughter’s. He took another couple of peeps at months April and May and clearly thinking I’d actually said it was my daughters, he offered me his compliments. So our plumber now believes I’m father to the Spice Girls. It was turning into one of those days….the Gods of Fun were mocking me again.
Well after several hours testing throughout the house Emilio identifed the problem – our exposed electrics to the pool left by our previous owner had become water-laden and were fusing the whole of our power supply. He isolated the problem and left us with a working power supply. It had taken around 4 hours. At the same time Guiseppi had finished in the bathrooms too. I asked them both what I owed them and they both said ‘Niente’ – nothing. They recognised we were having a tough time and were happy to help a neighbour. Can you believe that? It was yet another set of random acts of kindness that we keep on encountering. After recent things in the UK, it was a delightful counterpoint.
Our gas supply got topped up within a couple of days. Then neighbour P lent us use of her car whilst she returned to the UK on business. Whilst having a coffee in a local cafe I asked the lady behind the counter if she knew of a local internet cafe (our broadband order with Tel It would take 14 days to process). She said she didn’t know. But before we’d finished she’d popped next door into the village post office and literally as were climbing into P’s car, she ran up to us clutching a piece of paper with directions and contact details to two internet cafes in the region, which proved to be really useful in allowing me to be in touch with business contacts again.
After two weeks we were almost back to normal. Our great daughter and son-in-law had offered us use of their second car and were preparing to drive it down to us when I got the call that my very close uncle had died suddenly within a week of being diagnosed with lung cancer. It was shocking news and a final grim way to mark our return to Italy. Within a day or so I had flown back to the UK for the funeral and would return some days later with E and S’s car, having done the second drive-down to Italy in just over 2 weeks.
It’s been a tough 3 weeks but despite all the problems we feel happy to be here again. Terry’s passing has reminded us that some difficulties are just short term and resolvable whilst others are profound and insurmountable. Fortunately we’ve only had to deal with the former. Terry e-mailed me days before his passing to wish us every happiness in our Italian adventure. We’re determined to make damn sure we honour his wish.