Desk people; the good, the bad and the ugly (plus a trip to Italy)


Well we had another couple of weeks over in Italy recently to get some more work done on the place. I mean on our house there, of course, not us fixing up the parlous state of the sunny peninsular in the Med. Though I must confess it sometimes feels like you’re having to do the two things, particularly when it comes to resolving issues with the Italian utility companies. But this time we were fortunate to not have any such problems. Our only difficulties arose when confronting desk and reception staff at various stops along the journey…

It’s about 120 miles to the Channel Tunnel and then almost exactly a 1000 mile drive down to our Italian home from the French coastline. These days, we tend to get over the Channel mid afternoonish, which given the two hour ferry crossing and the hour’s loss because they are one hour ahead on the Continent, means we land in France around 5pm.We then do a 2.5 -3 hour blast heading for an overnight stay somewhere in southern Belgium/Luxembourg. The next day we head down through Germany, France and Switzerland getting to somewhere around Lake Como to stay overnight, leaving us a 6 hour drive the following day down to our home in MdF. We find this the least tiring and still enjoyable way to pass the journey. On the way back we make no concessions to enjoyment and make just one overnight stop around Strasbourg; two long day drives are just do-able for us if we catch an early ferry and get the benefit of the hour back.

This time we were looking after our young grandsons on the morning before we left and realising we wouldn’t be able to make the 2pm ferry, opted to book the 3pm Chunnel train. It’s a more expensive option but that way we’d catch up an hour and be in France a little before 5pm local time. We were bombing along the M26 heading towards the Channel tunnel centre when we got a text message to say they’d had an incident in the tunnel and trains were being unavoidably delayed. Oh bugger. We were still advised to get there by the booked crossing time. So we figured it would be crazy and unnecessary to drive like the clappers in order to get there the full 40 minutes before the departure time for check-in, if we were going to have to wait some considerable time, and duly got there a comfortable  20 minutes ahead of departure time. I was somewhat pissed to go through the automated ticket entry machine to be told that we’d missed our crossing and would now be travelling on the 5.20pm train. What?!?

We headed into the packed refreshment area to find the information desk and in my best furious but controlled temper asked the woman behind the counter how I could have missed my train if they were all delayed? Oh I hadn’t missed the train she explained just my slot. I’d turned up too late and should have been there the 40 minutes beforehand. But, I explained with barely concealed anger now, I had received a text from Eurotunnel en route advising that there had been an incident and trains were delayed and all I was asked to do was arrive by the booked departure time – in fact I was 20 minutes early. Without any sense of embarrassment  she blandly told me, oh that was a wrong message – it should have said be there 40 minutes early. But it didn’t, I said through clenched teeth. But it should have she replied. But it didn’t!! The temptation to stick an expletive between the ‘it’ and the ‘didn’t’ was only just resisted. Sensing the moment was mine to ask for something in return I pointed out that as they’d made an error of communication by her own admission, could she get me on an earlier train than the 5.20pm? No she replied it wasn’t possible but she would make a point of telling the comms team that they should make text messages clearer in the future. But that doesn’t help me right NOW I replied seethingly. We’d only booked Eurotunnel, at extra cost, to allow me to catch up time. Now I was condemned to arrive in France far later than I wanted, for no fault of my own. Sorry, she said with a slightly cute smile, hands are can help. For a split second I sensed she was going to add boo boopy doop. Sensibly she resisted too.

It’s at times like this that I wish I could overcome my ingrained manners and natural charmingness and told the bitch that her ugly attitude was matched only by her unlovely pug-nosed features and acne-riddled complexion. But I didn’t, of course. I simply said she’d been the torch bearer in unhelpfulness and spun on my heels and stormed off to tell C that I’d failed to get any joy from the blondengruppenfuhrerbitchenmitzitzenface. That’s unlike you! C said. Sigh. I must be losing my outraged-but-reasonable mojo.

We decided to eat and avoided all of the long queues by opting for some grub from the Leon outlet, which was alright to be honest but I was in a bad mood by now so didn’t enjoy it.  We eventually got on an earlier train by cheekily anticipating the queue for the 4.20pm which got me a ticking off from C but cheered me up quite a bit. Our car was the 3rd from the front so at least we’d get off pretty quickly once in Calais. Wrong. The bloody car owner 2 in front of us was unable to start his engine and it needed to be shunted out which took at least half an hour to sort out. Served me right I suppose but it didn’t stop the little black cloud from settling over my head again. It was around 6.45pm local time before we cleared the Chunnel area and it was raining heavily. Sigh. It may be slower but I quite like the ferry and will take some convincing before using bloody Eurotunnel again.

We headed towards Lille and onwards via the rubbish Belgian motorways. You really take chances travelling at any decent speed because the roads are pocked with potholes some as deep as the postules on the unhelpful bitch’s face. The roads in places really are a national disgrace especially after using the simply superb French motorways. Anyway it had already been a fairly long day so we decided to see where we were at 8pm and find a place to stay. We came off the moonscaped motorway and stopped in the town of Mons which had grubby outskirts but a lovely old centre. We only found one hotel in the whole place and there was a young women on the desk. Having misplaced my mojo I thought I’d leave this one to C. The girl turned out to be charming and helpful and gave us a spacious and comfortable suite for the price of a double. Result C! It also had a huge bath so we could have a long soak and relax. The black cloud lifted.

The next day we headed off early and drove for 10 hours in miserable weather with pee/petrol stops the only breaks before arriving in Como around 6.30pm. We’d done really well especially as we’d hit 3 tiresome traffic jams in Shitzerland. But as usual the weather on the Italian side was improving (or so we thought) and with spirits lifted we headed to the charming little old hotel we are fond of and normally use. Instead of the regular young lady who is brilliantly helpful, we were met with a sullen young Italian fellah who was busy talking to his mate. He offered us a room at an extortionate rate and said he couldn’t help with a parking space (the first time that’s happened). I had my indignant head on again after such a long and tiring day and politely asked him if he could maybe have another look for us. He just sniffed and with a take-it-or-leave-it air said it’s high season you know. What the first week of June? C could see I had a fuck it look on my face and she was in agreement that we should try somewhere else. No thanks I said, we used to think this was a welcoming hotel,  and with as much indignation as I could muster, we turned heels and left. I really didn’t fancy traipsing around Como to be honest and, luck of luck, I’d only gone a little way down the back road on which the hotel was located and we came across another little old place we’d never noticed before. I stopped. It looked just as nice – possibly nicer and said it’d be worth checking out. So I went in, found a nice young lady on the desk and asked about a room. She quoted a price and I said it was more than I wanted to pay. Ok she said and offered me a lovely room with a big discount inclusive of breakfast.  I could have kissed her. Wey hey, welcome back mojo. We checked in and C loved the room. If anything it was a far nicer hotel than the one we regularly use. Move over albergo vecchio. That’s how to do desk service – smile, be welcoming and responsive and delight the customer with your offer. It was a super stay.

Next day we set off early again after a super breakfast and a real soaking as I went to collect the car without my umbrella. Grr. We got to MdF after a decent drive and stop at the supermarket for a shop. Now the house looked fine (thank god) but the garden which we had spent so much time on in the last visit had grown back with a vengeance. The weather in recent weeks had been a daily mixture of sunny spells and torrential downpours  (which continued virtually every day we were there – in fact it’s continued since we got back to the UK too) causing a perfect storm of growing conditions. It was dispiriting especially because the continuing wet conditions meant we couldn’t do much to cut the greenery back. We did get one full clear day when we got a load cut down immediately around the house but we left the olive grove etc till our next visit.

Still all this meant we could focus on getting lots of jobs done in and on the house this time. And our great builder friend Nikolay had been around before our visit to do a host of jobs too. Basically he’d re-hung the kitchen cupboards, tiled the back splash, fitted the Juliet balcony to our bedroom doors and removed the huge trunk of the tree we cut down last time. We managed to get the place cleaned from top to bottom again and did a load of washing of linen/towels/tablecloths etc which needed doing. When the weather was wet we stayed in and grouted around the edges of the loggia and several of the kitchen walls, sanded and re-sealed the re-cycled doors from the kitchen to the loggia, re-hung the kitchen lights, re-decorated the loggia edges and all the kitchen,  re-decorated the lounge completely, re-plastered the cracks in the edges of the bedroom walls and sealed some cracks in the timber of the floor, re-decorated the bulk of the bedroom, And when the weather wasn’t too bad we re-hung and shaved the doors to the bedroom leading onto the balcony, rubbed down and re-sealed the old front door restoring it to life, triple-bleached the terracotta patio to the rear of the house to remove the heavy algae stains and brought it back to something like its freshly-laid look, and, before the weather closed in again, removed, sanded down and re-sealed about half of the windows and shutters thoughout the house. On the second day we….ha! Here’s a shot of the house (during a brief sunny moment) from the new loggia end with the new re-cycled juliet balcony in place off our bedroom…


All in all we worked pretty hard as ever but at last we feel we are making major progress to get the place straight again. We also laid some plans to have the place cleaned and aired whilst we are away and before we next visit, which should save us and any guests a fair bit of housework. Crucially we’ve asked our lovely local contact, Mary, who helps resolve any issues with the utility companies for us, if her gardener husband Mario can keep the garden trimmed whilst we are away and possibly help me with some larger landscaping and rotivating activity when I’m next there. If we can sort that we’ll be well pleased.

But it wasn’t all hard work. We had some lovely visits and coffee breaks down in the local town of Servigliano. Plus of course we caught up with our great friends and neighbours J&C and F&B for some lovely meals out and over at their places. But maybe the emotional highlight for us was to host a dinner one lovely evening in our loggia just like the old days. Here’s a couple of shots looking out from the kitchen through to the loggia and the lovely views beyond as we were setting up…



We had a super night – wine flowed, conversation was fun and the mashed potatoes weren’t bad. I’m sure our good friends won’t mind too much if I post a couple of shots of them during the meal. Here are lovely J&C who, like us, aren’t resident but we try and synchronise our visits now…


And here our are pals F&B who do live in MdF most of the time and their lovely home is just across the road from us…


Well you may not be surprised to learn that that after a balmy evening and nice sunset, the clouds rolled in again and it started showering. This didn’t cause us to be downcast in the least – it was rather nice to be able to sit out under cover and listen to and watch the weather as we sipped our last few glasses of wine. And to crown the evening we were treated to F&B heading off home across our olive grove, umbrellas held high as we serenaded them with a refrain from Singing in the Rain. You kind of had to be there…


Well two weeks flew by and the journey home was largely uneventful. We stayed just north of Strasbourg in Hagenau (famous from the tv series Band of Brothers) and on the second day blasted up to Dunkirk literally just in time to catch the early 2pm ferry. We were genuinely the last car to board. That’s where the good luck ran out. We arrived in Dover at 3pm on Friday evening and it took us a gruelling 4 hours to drive the 120 miles home after a two hour ferry and 6 hour drive up from Strasbourg. Belgian autoroutes may be crap but increasingly our motorways here are just a nightmare during busy periods ie between the hours of 3am and 1am the next morning.

At least we had no desk personnel issues on the way home thank goodness.



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