Regular readers will know our last visit to Italy was quite traumatic. In fact just about every visit we make there has its dramatic moments. But C and I are clearly Italo-mishap junkies and so decided that we needed to test the Gods of Fun once more by making a flying visit to check on the house etc before our move to New York. Would there be any possibility we could just go there and return without some drama befalling us as this shot of daughter R awaiting our flight home with a beautiful Italian sunset in the background implies?
Well it was an inauspicious start; I need to confess we broke our solemn promise never to fly with Ryanair out of stalag Stansted again. We only had from Thursday-Sunday to make the trip and return so this was the only option in reality. Oh lord. But on the upside, as you’ll have gathered, our eldest daughter R was coming with us. This was her first trip to our home, where of course she lived with us, in almost 5 years so something of an emotional return for her. She was very excited and we had a heck of a job trying to get her to understand that baggage restrictions had changed a lot in those years and she couldn’t take 95% of her worldly possessions with her. After much help from C we left 3 cwt of her things here whilst she took a single holdall of things with her. We too were just taking hand luggage on the trip.
We got to Stansted at around 9am – well over 2 hours before departure time (they weren’t going to catch us out again on this one). We used the Meet and Greet service for parking the car which is a bit of a misnomer as you turn up at some entry barrier and a disembodied voice tells you which lane you should park in. You then walk some distance to drop your key in to a reception area. There is no-one to meet you and still less anyone to greet your arrival. We also arrived seconds after storm Doris hit the Stansted area so it was absolutely sheeting it down. One soaking later we traipsed up to the security area and I can’t believe I’m saying this but the area was relatively quiet, the staff were friendly and even helpful. We breezed through without any hiccup or delay. Amazing. We found a Pret a Manger near the Gates and settled in for some leisurely coffees and breakfast snacks and a dry-off. When the flight was called we headed off to a very distant Gate 49 (which is virtually in Hertfordshire) but even this, and the second light soaking we got queuing up to board the plane, couldn’t dampen our spirits.
The flight was on time and smoothly uneventful. We collected our hire car without a hitch and the weather was pleasant. A couple of hours later, via a trip to the supermarket, we landed at our home. We now have a local gardener retained to get the garden under control and he’d clearly been recently to get the grassed area immediately around the house trimmed etc thus saving me a huge strimming job. Woo hoo. There was however a major branch which had fallen from the huge fir tree which is ever so close to the house. It had come down as a result of the heavy recent snows. The bloody big bugger had literally fallen right in front of the house and apart from cluttering up the space hadn’t caused any damage. Phew very lucky. We checked over the property. Since last being there in August there’s been another earthquake in C Italy and we found a number of new cracks etc but again no significant damage. Blimey. The Gods of Fun must be on holiday or at least playing elsewhere for a change (see later).
Within minutes of our arriving Mario our great gardener and his son Patrick turned up with some new gas canisters for us – wey hey. It was dark by this stage but he manfully got them hooked up and we had power. Or so we thought. Unfortunately I was unable to get our boiler to ignite so for a while we had no central heating nor hot water. But we could use the cooker and lit the fire and got in touch with our super builder friend Nikolay who said he’d be over the next day but would get a plumber to visit first thing to sort the boiler. He turned up much later the next day but hey, it’s Italy, and with a few biffs with a sturdy spanner on a stubborn filter got the boiler to fire into life. Heat and hot water hurrah. I do like it when problems are dealt with simply and successfully. It’s usually the opposite in Italy. But at least we have better contacts there these days.
We showed our builder the cracks and other little jobs which he’s going to sort out whilst we’re in NY. It’s more ongoing work which you’ve got to expect with an old farmhouse in this region. We were actually a lot more fortunate than some of our neighbours – this is the current state of an old rustico just up the hill from us which has been disintegrating for years but the job’s well and truly done now…
and here’s a local farmer’s old property just over the fields from us. Luckily he just uses it as a work place rather than a home these days. I hope that was his insurance assessor visiting….
It’s when you see this that you count your blessings and are grateful to have avoided any major issues (for a change). As for the fallen branch well I now have a super chain saw and I was able to get it all sawn up and stacked away in just a few hours. Here’s a shot of the remaining branches and thousands of fir cones which C and R cleared up behind me…
If you look closely you can see another heavy branch dangling down behind the tree but not yet broken off. It’s shearing off about 40 ft off the ground so not easy to reach. I hope Nikolay can have a crack at lopping it off whilst we’re away. Those fir cones are brilliant on the open fire and kept us nice and toasty for hours.
So a few problems but nothing we couldn’t sort out these days thankfully. We caught up with our great neighbour Freddy which was good and had a really nice time with R popping out for coffees and up to the local restaurant which we all love. Sunday morning was absolutely gorgeous and we spent the day in the garden just tidying up and soaking up the welcome rays. It felt like Spring had sprung. We were just getting into the swing of things which is always the way. The country throws all sorts of problems and hard nature at you but just seduces you with its charm. We can’t help it; we just love the place.
However it was time to pack up and head home. We said tarrah to Freddy. The journey back to the airport was easy though it took a little while to hand over the car and keys as the computer system crashed just after I arrived. In the meantime a school party of kids had jumped in front of us at the security check-in. The wait to get through got worse when one of them was sick at the metal detector gate causing everyone a maddening half hour wait in the security queue whilst the staff cleaned the place up. 3 minutes earlier checking the car in and we’d have been through security and sipping on a cool glass of verdicchio. Uh oh…the Gods hadn’t returned their focus onto us had they? We got through eventually and had a quick coffee and catch up online before boarding the flight. It seemed to take ages for everyone to embark and then the plane’s take off was delayed by half an hour – no word why and it’s not like Ancona is a busy airport. Sigh. It was 7.30pm by the time we left.
We took off eventually and the flight back was OK, the pilot making up a good 15 minutes. We left the UK just 3 days before with storm Doris battering Essex. We arrived back just in time for storm Ewan to hit Stansted giving us a lumpy landing and a further delay of 30 minutes on the pan whilst a gate became available. Sigh. Eventually the pilot was allocated gate 49 which as I mentioned earlier is about as far from the passport check point as you can get.
None of the travellators were working nor were there any of those guys around on their courtesy golf carts. C was really struggling with the walk with her gammy knees. But we got to the passport control at last and it’s now an automated service where you have to step up to a camera-activated gate and hold your passport down whilst some remote scanning device checks your handsome features against your passport photo. Nudge the passort and the process asks you re-present. I got through after about 5 minutes of scanning. C was asked to remove her glasses (despite the fact her passport photo was taken with her glasses on) but she eventually was allowed through. By now R was on her own on the other side of the glass gates and was having difficulty following the instructions and getting concerned about us being the other side of the gates now. One of the security staff, a big fat lummox with no grace and an officious air who looked for all the world like an nasty ex-copper, stepped up to bark some instructions through the glass screen to R who by this stage was becoming increasingly upset. I turned on him and asked him to open the gate so I could help calm her and help her through the process. He pointed his finger at me and said ‘stand back, you cannot go back that side once through’. Why not for heavens sake? Blood rising I shouted at him that my daughter was Down’s syndrome and getting increasingly upset and his attitude was exasperating the situation. He again asked me to back off whilst he handled the situation. You aren’t helping though I shouted even louder as I could see R getting even more upset as well as C of course by now. Just then another guy from behind the screening desk bounded over to say ‘just let her through’ as the doors opened allowing R to come and join us. I think he at least appreciated that of all the terrorist and people-trafficking organisations challenging UK border security, the PLDMF or People with Learning Difficulties Militant Front, isn’t likely to be the No 1 threat. The idiot lummox said ‘I’m actually trained in these things and was there helping you know’. C sensibly shepherded me away before I could respond angrily with just a few words like ‘quicker’, ‘train’, ‘ape’, ‘twat’, ‘ignorant’ and ‘you’ though not necessarily in that order.
Hackles still raised we trudged another half mile to the Meet and Greet reception where I assumed the words would actually come to mean something. It was 9.3opm by this stage and we were getting tired and fed up. But we were nearly through the process. I handed over my return card with the registration number on and like a fool simply assumed they’d get a driver to bring my car over for us. No, the receptionist went to a box got my key, handed it over and said your car’s parked in lane 11 which proved to be another long walk away in the pouring rain of storm Ewan. Meet and Greet? I’m thinking of taking legal action for misrepresentation of their trade.
It took another hour and a half’s drive to take Rebecca home (her carer had had to leave) before reaching home ourselves at 11pm. We set off at 2.30pm local time in Italy, 9 and a half hours earlier. Never again I promise, promise. What had been a problematic but ultimately truly enjoyable short trip had had the edge taken off the experience by yet another travel fiasco. I just don’t believe it’s possible to have a trouble-free journey using these operators and Mickey Mouse airports.
Anyway we’re home again, pleased that the house in Italy is OK and planning the next journey in the summer by car again!