Well we’re back from a short trip to our place in Italy and as ever it was eventful. First off bloody Stansted. What’s the matter with the people who work there? We rose early (3am!) and got there in good time, had checked-in in advance and only had hand luggage with us. All we had to do was go through the security check and catch a plane. Huh. Everything was going just fine until C handed them, as per security instructions, a clear plastic bag with her small cosmetics in. They had an issue with the bag because it was zippered; apparently it needed to be a plastic bag with a press strip closing. When C asked why, she was informed ‘because of cabin pressures’. Eh?
Surely the only purpose of the bag is just to show the small containers inside. Despite our protests they wouldn’t let her through until she went and purchased a new plastic bag for £1 from inside the terminus. But I’d already gone through the security check as had C’s handbag with purse. So she had no cash. I was called back to the scanner point but was refused to go back through land-side to help C. Instead I was directed to go and get some change for C by buying something from the airside shops, which could be handed over and passed to her. It took 10 minutes an the change was handed over to C who disappeared back into the land-side terminal area. But the killer bit of helpfulness was that C was not allowed to go straight back to the security scanner personnel but had to take her place right at the back of the long queue again. After at least half an hour she was allowed through with her cosmetics and toothpaste in an appropriate plastic bag. Oh how relieved must flight control have been at the news that aircraft and passenger safety hadn’t been compromised by C’s plastic bag with a zip, which after all that nonsense was put back in her hand baggage by the security nazis. Just what was the point?
I don’t spew bile over many people (well, maybe wheel clampers, estate agents, Virgin Media customer care teams and Italian utility company employees – see later) but these little airport security gruppenfuhrers with their stupid procedures stretch my tolerance and patience to the absolute limit. I was once ordered to surrender a toe-nail clipper found in the dark recesses of my wash bag by one of these nitwits on the grounds that it could be used as a lethal weapon in flight – honestly. But once on-board I was presented with stainless steel knives and forks and real glasses for the wine with my business class meal. Now call me old-fashioned but I reckon I’d be better tooled up and more likely to be taken seriously as a terrorist armed with sharp steak knives and a broken glass rather than my crusty old toe-nail clipper. ‘Take me to Havana or I’ll give you a pedicure’ doesn’t have a very convincing ring of threat does it?
Anyway we got to Italy and it was fine but bloody cold. Perhaps it just seemed freezing because we arrived at home to find that our electricity had been disconnected by our ever helpful power company, Enel or F**k Enel as we Brits tend to refer to it because dealing with them makes you spit out expletives. Our good neighbour Pauline had been trying to get the supply re-connected before we arrived – all bills had been paid and confirming faxes sent off to Enel HQ but it hadn’t been possible to get them to move quickly. They offer to restore supply (subject to a re-connection charge of a further 82€) within a target period of 2 hours (excellent) to 5 days (not so good). Because we aren’t officially resident in Italy we get shunted towards the 5 days bit of the target – even though our electricity charges are more than twice as high as the locals get billed. Logical? No. Italian? Very.
We were able to busy ourselves getting the place pretty straight and could cook on the gas hob as well as keep one room heated with our stand-by calor gas heater. So it could have been worse. Our good friends and neighbours J and C were also over at the same time (and were as accommodating as ever with our predicament) so it was nice for us all to catch up especially as neighbour Pauline has just sold her property and was literally moving out whilst we were there. But after two nights we had to admit defeat and retire to a local hotel just to get warmed up in a very deep hot bath. Our good friend Paola whose husband Matt has been doing all the work on our house managed to come over and lay into Enel in rich Italiano over the phone. It did the trick and the next morning our power was restored and we were able to get the central heating on and the house warmed up after a couple of days. Hoorah!
We invited Pauline and J&C and another ex-pat near-neighbour over to lunch on the Sunday so that we could say goodbye to Pauline properly. We’d all gone out to a local restaurant the night before but it was cabaret/karaoke night (I thought I’d left this all behind in Blackpool some 40 years ago) and it proved impossible to say much above the volume 11 singing. They do like a dramatic ballad being belted out in Servigliano. But because the weather was generally so grim and we couldn’t do much in the garden etc, C and I decided to head up to Urbino for a day or so before heading home. It’s a lovely mediaeval town which under the patronage of the Duke of Montelfeltro became a focal point for the Renaissance movement as important as Florence. The town is situated atop a hill and it’s not permitted to park within the old town’s limits (unless you’re resident of course, or work for Enel or are an airport security officer no doubt). And our hotel was right in the old part of the town. Ah well, maybe the rain would ease off.
I have to tell you that the weather if anything got worse – it was cold and very wet but we had a lovely time wandering around the steeply cobbled streets, visiting the Ducal palace which is stunningly preserved and the Duomo etc. We – well actually C – found an eaterie which I thought was some crummy cafe but which turned out to be the probably the best little Italian restaurant I’ve ever experienced (Il Cortegiano) and another which I discovered (Leone) which I thought would be intimate and chic and turned out to be pretty crap. Hey ho. We missed out on visiting Raffaello’s home because we happened to be there on the very last day of the winter season and it was early closing but nothing could spoil our enjoyment. Urbino’s a delightful place. Below are some shots from our hotel window showing the higgledy-piggledy terracotta rooves, the Duomo (with the Ducal Palazzo in the background) and C sheltering under an umbrella in the main piazza.
Don’t be put off by the outlook it’s a lovely place for a 1-2 day stay. Honestly. But take your crampons.
Nothing too eventful happened on the way home, thankfully. That said the principal air hostess on the Ryanair flight home was just about the flirtiest I’ve ever seen; not with me I hasten to add but with a young chap on the first row in front of us. I think the whole plane overheard her declaring that she wasn’t a ‘shy girl’ and I think he got the message when she pressed her scribbled phone number into his hand as we were landing. Italian girls eh, as dramatic as their weather.