A road trip to Italy to crown it all

Well this is my first posting in a little while and it’s about a very recent visit C and I made to our place in Italy. We decided to drive there to make a bit of an adventure of the trip especially as we intended to spend a bit of time there for a change and maybe oversee some work done on the place as well as having a nice relaxing break. The weather when we left was terrific – at least 35º and the forecast for our little village of MdF was even better. Hot stuff. Sadly we found out before leaving that our great friends and neighbours J&C wouldn’t be there but hopefully we’d catch up with neighbour and pal Freddy who’s a permanent resident. So the weather was balmy, our car felt in tip top condition and we had a nice 3 day drive to look forward to. What could possibly go wrong?

We got off to an early start with a morning ferry crossing and in the afternoon headed off along the Belgian motorways which, to be fair, have been upgraded in some places but still feel like you’re driving through rural Botswana in many sections. Northern Belgium must be the pot hole capital of the world and I swear I saw a number of big hippos lurking in some of the deeper holes. We’d made Namur by around 4pm where the motorway takes a sharp turn as we at last head straight south. I always like to get past this point and as the weather was still glorious and we were making good progress, the intention was to reach somewhere between Luxembourg and Metz before finding a hotel for the night. As we motored on C passed me a Bounty bar and, having bitten all the chocolate off it first (C never realised I’ve always eaten them like this – we’d be hopeless on Mr & Mrs), I chewed into the remaining coconut slab and, claggy as ever, it pulled my bloody crown came away. Bollocks. Now I say crown but it was actually a double crown which I’d become quite attached to, or quite the reverse now apparently. Now I can hear you thinking, how do you develop a closeness to dental accessories? Well this double crown cost me around 4 dental months work with my old friend and great dentist Pete with some gruelling root canal treatment, an extraction and around £500 in charges. Not enough for you?  Well there’s more to our close relationship which I’m sure you’ll be intrigued to hear about. Fasten your seat belts.

You see a week or so before this C and I were out having lunch at a local pub along the Union canal (disappointingly a bit overly-expensive too) when I first felt my double crown crack though remain attached. Damn. Later that night we were having dinner at home – some belly pork which is notorious for getting stuck in your teeth – when after chewing a piece I swallowed it only to realise immediately that I’d also swallowed the double crown at the same time. Argh. I went up to the bathroom immediately with a glass of salt water and made myself sick several times in the hope of bringing it back up. Sorry folks, this does get a bit graphic hereon.  Lots of chewed up belly pork, potatoes and veg reappeared but no double crown. Bugger. I had no option really but to sit and wait for the crown to reappear through the exhaust system. Grim. First thing the next morning I made a dental appointment with Pete for 3 days ahead figuring that’d be plenty of time for a re-emergence.

But the reality of the situation dawned on me next morning too. Firstly as you can see from the following image it’s a pretty substantial piece of dental engineering…

and whilst the top surface is gently rounded the reverse side is quite jagged. Umm. This isn’t really what I wanted slithering down my already sensitive intestinal/bowel tract, possibly tearing through the thin walls. Nightmare. Plus of course that bloody thing has to make an exit from a relatively tiny opening. Now female readers will be no doubt thinking bloody wuss; it cannot compare to childbirth but even so ladies…it was highly likely to bring tears to my eyes. And then of course there was the need to (I’m not sure of the most appropriate word here) sift/trawl through the daily motions to try and find the missing crown. Lovely prospect. Fortunately I had a bag of some decorators’ rubber gloves which kept things a bit medical. But it wasn’t the most pleasant experience I can tell you. That said it’s amazing how your poo is made up – some bits less digested than others, some surprising grittiness and a lot of skanky gloop of course. Probably too much info there.

Anyway after 3 days and at least 6 sifts there was no sign of the crown. Sigh. I had to call the dentist’s and explain why I was having to re-schedule the appointment. The receptionist, Lisa, told me she hadn’t laughed so much in the whole of her career. I’m always pleased to keep the team amused, which brings me to my next point. Getting slightly concerned that the damn thing might be stuck somewhere I headed up to the local medical centre to seek some doctor’s advice. I checked in with the receptionist and filled in the form explaining the reason for attending – I said I’d swallowed a crown. The doctor came to call me in and having sat me down rather seriously said he’d never come across someone with a fetish for coin swallowing. Eh? The dipstick thought I’d taken down two half-crowns. Idiot. Well we had another laugh as I made a joke about ‘and still no change’ and explained that I’d inadvertently swallowed one of my dental crowns and a rather large one at that. And after 3 days it had still to make a re-appearance and I was wondering if I should take some laxatives or something to ‘aid the flow’. Oh I see he said. Look don’t worry it’ll find its way out eventually, unless you get horrible stomach pains (in which case I would have to head straight to A&E!!). Apart from that I had nothing to fear. Just relax Mr Leonard and forget about the laxatives, let nature takes its course.

Now there was a slight irony here I said to the doctor.  A week earlier I’d had to have my 5 year post cancer surgery colonoscopy (which seemed to go ok, review with my oncologist next month). Now this involved taking down industrial amounts of laxatives to completely clear me out before the procedure. If I’d swallowed the crown earlier that would almost certainly have flushed it out. And even if it hadn’t I could have said to the endoscopist who did the procedure, look if you find my missing crown up there, I’d be really grateful if you could use your probe’s pincers to get it out. And you can then submit a paper to The Lancet medical journal explaining how you’d performed the world’s first dental extraction via the anus. Boom boom.

Laugh? I think the doctor must have wet his pants, he guffawed so much. He just about managed to wish me good luck between the chuckles as I left the surgery.  So my last two visits to the doctors have been to discuss the tick in my dick (see earlier posting) and the pleasures of poo sifting. And in both cases there were lots of laughs, at my expense of course. It’s so satisfying knowing how much I must brighten up the lives of all these people in the NHS.

Anyway wouldn’t you know it but a day later after yet another retching trawl through the gloop I came across the missing crown. Wey hey. I’d passed it without any sensation at all – just as the doc predicted. I was very pleased as you can imagine and you’ll be pleased to know that I didn’t just pop it back in to test its fit. Ha! No I got some sterilising tablets and gave the thing a proper sterilisation (in fact I handled so many tablets I’m probably barren now too) before returning to the dentist. Some more laughs with the staff who by now all knew that my crown had been on an incredible journey and was now ready for re-inserting. Pete had a look at it and told me he was reluctant to re-fit it as it had slightly broken against the tooth and was fearful it wouldn’t re-attach well and that I may swallow it again. He said I’d have to come back for a new crown to be made and fitted. Sigh. Anyway I said we were heading to Italy and couldn’t come back until after we’d returned so I asked if he could just bung it in with a load of cement and I’d take great care not to chew on anything likely to cause any damage.

Bounty bars eh. Well as Pete predicted the crown did pop off again, bugger bugger, but fortunately I didn’t swallow it this time. I wrapped it in a tissue and stuck it in the little pocket in the centre armrest of the car. Now this made me more than a little frustrated – all that bloody anxiousness, shit sifting, sterilising and smirking. And now my expensive double crown had popped again. Fucking coconut, I murmured as we continued chewing up the miles through the lovely area of Wallonia. However my mood crashed again when C turned to me about 5 minutes later and rather sheepishly asked me if I’d remembered to pack the keys for the house in Italy. Now ordinarily we keep the keys in the armrest of our previous car to ensure we didn’t ever forget them. But we’d removed them when we recently changed cars and I couldn’t remember putting them in the new car. We checked all the pockets and little cubby holes but the keys were not there. There was only one hope – that I’d put them in my man bag along with all the phone chargers, tablets and things. I pulled over at the next exit and we searched all the bags but alas no keys. Fuckety fuck fuck.

We pondered the options for a while. To be honest I was all for heading home – a) it was the nearer option b) we already know the main door key to our old farm house door is virtually non-matchable and c) thinking that I might as well get on with my dental porcelain replacement programme. I’m not one of your classical pretty guys to say the least and having a two-molar gap in my smile wasn’t exactly enhancing my rugged looks. But C argued that this was supposed to be our main holiday and we should continue on down in the hope that we could get a locksmith to help us. In MdF? We’d have more chance of finding a gunsmith. However C did point out that our nighbours may be able to help with a spare. Yep I said. We need to make some calls and send some emails.  Now the slip road we were on quite by chance just happened to be the one leading to one of our favourite hidden hotels, Le Saint Hadelin, in the tiny and very pretty village of Celles. It was about 5pm and ordinarily we’d motor on till 6-6.30pm but I’d had enough so we treated ourselves to an overnight stay there, fortunately they had one room available.

Now we knew our lovely neighbours J&C have a spare backdoor key for our place but they were back in the UK. Mary our mutual service agent (who handles liaison with utility companies/the Commune etc) and whose husband does both our and J&C’s garden, had a key to J&C’s place we think. So maybe we could arrange to meet her get J&C’s key and then get our spare from their place. Then there was Freddy who we thought might also have a spare key for our place but was he in MdF at present? Lots of calls and messages later with all concerned we eventually reached Freddy who was in MdF and had a spare key for both our place and J&C’s. Hurrah so we could continue on to Italy confidently. Somewhat relieved we went out for a lovely dinner at a fab new bistro that had opened in the village and a soothing glass or four of some very quaffable local wine. Let the holiday continue…

Next morning we rose early – we had a pre-booked hotel in Parma to reach (ordinarily we don’t do this but it seemed like a good idea when we did it) and it was a good 8-9 hour drive ahead. We had a lovely breakfast, made ourselves some rolls for lunch and went to pack the car and settle the bill etc. It started spitting as I was packing the car and within seconds was absolutely throwing it down. I mean so heavy the wipers couldn’t cope. We were also detoured for about 30 kilometres along country lanes so it was a slow start. We hadn’t seen rain for 6 weeks so this was a bit of a surprise at the least. Anyway we ploughed on through Belgium, then Luxembourg and back into France to head past Strasbourg en route to Basle and Switzerland. The weather had cheered up but as we were passing the edge of the Vosges mountains another storm blew up with massive winds leaving the autoroute strewn with tree debris. Hey ho. Stopped at the Swiss border to pay our 40F road tax as usual then through Switzerland and through the Gothard tunnel (with very little queuing surprisingly) and then on to n Italy. We passed lovely Como (where ordinarily we tend to stop),  skirted Milan and pressed on to Parma. We arrived at the town around 7pm – a bit later than I would have liked to have driven but C was looking forward to a dip in the pool (which I now recall was the reason for booking that particular hotel). The route to the hotel was through some industrial zone – it was really skanky and disappointing as was the settting for the hotel – pretty grim. But the hotel itself looked ok. I quickly popped over to the local supermarket to get a few things before checking in and whilst in there the weather suddenly turned stormy yet again – the 3rd time that day. Another soaking.

The hotel wasn’t great – like many things in Italy it looked quite stylish but things didn’t perfom well like the air conditioning, shower etc. The pool was also closed for cleaning (it was pouring down in any case) and wouldn’t be open until 10am the next day – long after we’d have left. So C didn’t get her swim though we did have a pretty average meal in the hotel restaurant. All in all a disappointing experience especially compared with the previous night. We hadn’t been to Parma before and won’t be heading back any time soon. It’s like Middlesbrough but without the charm.

Next door we headed off early after a pretty ordinary breakfast. We still had about a 4 hour drive ahead – not so bad – plus a stop at Civitannova to get some shopping from the hypermarket there. The weather was glorious again thank goodness. We hit some big queues for the first time on the journey after Bologna but had an uneventful journey until we reached Grotazzolina just a few miles from our home when another huge storm blew up. I’m not exaggerating to say that trees were falling down all over the place as you can see from some shots I took the next morning…


But amazingly the sky cleared literally as we were on the lane running up to our house. We popped in to see Freddy to say hello and collect the key and stoped for a drink as he told us of his news. He’d been in the UK recently and was having a poor run of luck with a nasty accident on his bike, his wallet and passport stolen at the airport and various other things. Poor Freddy just wanted to chat for a while. We understood. But had to leave after a while to get unpacked etc.  Now regular readers will know that we only get to our place in Italy every 5/6 months or so. It’s unfortunate but just the way it is. We know we are going to face a day or so of house cleaning as the place gets full of spiders’ webs etc. But we’ve been employing a gardener over the last year or so to keep the garden trimmed and help us recover more and more parts of it. But we faced this view as we reached our driveway…

It looked like Mario hadn’t been around since last time we came in the spring and the jungle had reasserted itself. This was a dispiriting sight as you can imagine. We had to leave the car at the top of the drive and lug all the luggage and shopping through the weeds and everything getting bitten to death by the grass mites in the process. Inside the house was full of cobwebs etc but manageable. As usual we got the food put away and cracked on with the cleaning – starting with the kitchen and working our way through the rest of the house. We’d finished it by the next morning then popped down to J&C’s (another key from Freddy) to get the strimmer J and I share. I had to put the metal blades on as the weeds were so huge and tough and started strimming down the drive then around the house. It took us 3 days in really hot weather to get it cleared. V hard work and that little strimmer which must be 7 or 8 years old now still performs like an ox…


10 years ago we’d do this and not think too much about it but it’s soul-destroying knowing that when we last left, the place was nicely trimmed and we’d expected it to be maintained but had to resort to doing it all again ourselves. I’m not sure what happened with our gardener, obviously some breakdown in communications. But all of our previous investment in him has been for nothing it seems. All of us Brits with a home in this area know that keeping the place maintained is hard work. There is always outlay and often tears but the rewards in terms of climate, food, company, scenery etc more than make up for it.  This time however we ended up pretty exhausted especially after a long drive down. We did miss the company of our good friends J&C. Also our builder who we’d hoped to catch up with, was having a well-earned holiday so we couldn’t make any progress on the house either. On the plus side, we had Freddy over for a nice meal and proper catch up one evening. Then the two of us had a delightful lunch and afternoon stroll down at the beach just to get away from the work for one day. Then on the 4th or 5th day we had another almighty storm which soaked everything preventing us from any more work in the garden. And the forecasts were for more storms over 3 of our next 4 days at MdF. So we figured that we’d cut our losses and just head home. The Italian charm had disappeared for us. It may just be a temporary thing but if the magic has gone, we need to have a long think about what we do with the house going forward. That dolce vita thing seems a long way off at the moment.

We said tarrah to lovely Freddy the next morning which was a bit sad and headed for the autostrade again. We chased up through Italy and got to the Gothard tunnel by about 4pm. After a bit of a wait we got through ok and headed off towards Lucerne. Now C has always wanted to stay at some nice place overlooking the lake so I took a turn off the motorway at about 6.30pm and headed for the pretty lakeside town of Beckenried. The first hotel we looked at was like something out of Margate in the 1950’s and expensive too. We quickly spun on our heels and said nein danke! Then just down the road we found the Hotel Nidwaldnerhof. The owner showed us around and it was delightful. We seemed to strike up a rapport with him – I was tempted to tell him my crown story but didn’t need to. He was one of those rare things; an amusing Swiss guy. We liked him and decided to have a blast for a change. We had a super sunset dinner and fab breakfast the next morning with views to die for. It was the best part of the holiday to be honest…

The next day was a long one – about 15 hours in all but we landed back home in Brackley around 11pm, very tired after a foreshortened break which had some lovely bits but was mostly sheer hard work. And the poor car which took a right old bashing started to beep at me with a few notices about things needing doing. The fun never stops eh. The next day I treated the car to a thorough clean.  I can genuinely say it looked spotless. I sat in it the next morning only to realise that the tissue paper holding my bloody crown was no longer in the little cubby hole. It had been removed during the clean, so I either had to sift through all the gunge in the hoover bag or find and examine the contents of the rubbish bag from the stinking wheelie bin in the rubbish shelter. I chose the latter and amidst a lot of household rubbish managed to find the tissue and that elusive crown. I’m not sure I even need the thing any longer but I have an attachment to it now which is deep. We’ve been through a lot and I don’t really want it to go. A bit like our house in Italy perhaps……


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About Paul

Having decided on a change of life by moving home from the UK to Italy, this is the story and thoughts of a man on a personal journey from the Blackpool Tower to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, in search of la dolce vita. After several olive harvests he's now back in London but en route he shares his very personal perspectives on life.

10 thoughts on “A road trip to Italy to crown it all

  1. Hey Paul – you haven’t lost that skill as a raconteur – haven’t laughed so much for a long time. Nothing like a good poo story to bring out the kid in us boys!

  2. Oh Paul, I feel exhausted just reading this, thank you so much for posting as this is the funniest thing I have read for a while.

  3. Hilarious Paul, had to read it twice. Beauty of pair of Marigolds easily wiped clean! I totally sympathise with the problems of holiday homes. Every time come to Tenerife there are issues, usually water related. Sun just destroys everything, nothing lasts.

  4. You have just made our day, Chris was beside herself as I read it out to her. It just seems such a shame that your tribulations give us so much hilarity. Keep up the good work Paul. Love to C and hope to see you both before too long. J and C.

  5. Ha! hi there guys and thanks for the lovely comments. It’s always a drama with the L’s eh. Hope you’re both well and that we catch up soon. Really missed you in MdF!

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