Well, it’s been quite a day. It started at 6am when Bob and Claire picked us up. Not as cold as it has been but with fog appearing at various locations during the journey to Gatwick. We had to drop the hire car off at the hire place which, it turns out, is about 500 miles from the airport and in the middle of a paddock.
Obviously as a rental sharing offensive, there are two different rental companies sharing opposite sides of the same shed viz:
As we pulled up an affable enough woman ran up to Bob’s window and said “Park it up by the Golf, darlin’“, which he duly did. Afterwards he followed her into the office behind two other customers. After they had been dealt with, the woman turned to Bob and, after looking at his papers, told him he was in the wrong car hire place. There followed a quick dash to the car and an equally quick dash round the shed to the other side – we could have walked it in about 30 seconds but had to drive right round…of course.
The ‘right’ car place looked a bit dodgy, one little office with a removable magnetic sign, sort of like the kind that vanishes the day after the police sting operation has ended.
The time was then 7:30am (our flight was due to leave at 9) and the guy (he looked like the sleazy lawyer in Tea with Mussolini but sounded like an idiot) tells us he didn’t open until 8. Suddenly seeing the error of his ways, effectively reflected in Mirinda’s eyes, he offered to drive us to the terminal. The whole way he tried to blame the organisation foul ups on the guy in Australia. Because we had a plane to catch, we remained shtum. The important thing to remember here is that this has all been organised well in advance, something which rarely works in the UK. Well, about as often as things that are not planned well in advance.
Eventually we reached the terminal – he dropped us at the arrivals hall so we had to battle our way through the demonic hordes to achieve the holy grail which goes by the decidedly unholy moniker of North Terminal Departures. Terminal meaning the end rather than a place of movement for it was here we met our first queue.
I read in the paper last week that an estimated 1.3 million people would leave Britain this weekend. Well, I have to say that 1 million of them were ahead of us in the queue.
The time is ticking away as we inch our way twisting and turning towards the check-in desks. In fact, there were so many twists and turns it took us over 2 miles to move 3 feet! Well, we FINALLY got to the desk, trying to ignore our watches. Mirinda put her wheelie bag on the conveyor belt and it obediently vanished into the black void. I put the next piece of luggage on, followed by the third and the check-in woman asked if we had just the two.
“And the one that’s just took off,” I noted
“BUT IT HAS NO LABEL!” she shrieked.
A frantic call to the ‘good looking baggage handler’ and she insisted we were NOT to worry about it, the bag would arrive. Yeah, right.
We then joined the queue to go through security and into the inner sanctum. While not as long as the previous queue it was still painfully slow. So slow, it was nearly 9 when we found out the plane had been delayed half an hour – sigh of relief. After a wander round the shops to temper certain frayed edges, the gate was announced and we walked the 37 miles to Gate 50 and joined the queue to have our boarding passes eaten. Of course my boarding pass jammed the machine and I had to wait for the kindly, elderly gentlemen at the other boarding pass eating machine to help, thus stalling BOTH lines. Then finally the queue to get onto the plane.
The plane was chockers. More than chockers. I found three children lying down in the overhead baggage lockers. Fortunately most of the passengers seemed normal, except for the lunatic from the red cross who insisted on talking very loudly in a faintly Germanic accent, and prowling the aisles whenever it was least convenient ie when the trolley’s were going up and down. Strange man.
We had soggy sarnies as a belated breakfast (having been awake for over 5 hours) and a greatly appreciated coffee and two and a half hours later we landed in Pisa.
We all filed off the plane and onto a big airport bus and were driven the length of the bus to the airport terminal where we all got off again. And I know what you’re asking, did the black wheelie bag make it. Did it hell! I joined the queue to report lost luggage. There were a lot of people in this queue. I reckon they lost a whole trolley load of luggage somewhere over the Mediterranean. A bunch of Italian fishermen are even now joking about the day it rained luggage. So I reported it to the guy who spoke four English words (“It might turn up“) and shrugged a lot. The bag might join us at Rodilosso some time in August. The guy tried to look hopeful but failed and eventually just smiled and typed very, very slowly.
And then, finally away from the airport terminal, it was time for the fun to start. Bob tried to hop into the left-hand side of the right-hand drive hire car a few times but eventually we drove off down the wrong side of the road. It was a long drive.
Italians seem to totally disregard anything that inconveniences them like stop signs, red lights, speed limits – madmen the lot of them. Mind you, they CAN drive. This is a far cry from the English who can’t seem to do either.
We managed to find Montaione with only the slightest of hitches and pulled up outside a perfect Tuscan hillside villa. Well, a few actually.
The place was completely and utterly deserted. The office – which is really just a pair of sliding doors attached to a wall – was locked, the place was empty. Check-in is 4 and, as it was only 3:30, we decided to drive into town for a coffee and some supplies.
It’s a lovely little village, perched high on a hill with a spectacular view over valleys and farms. We found a supermarket (Coop) and bought out the shop, then back to Rodilosso where we met the Italian Leprechaun, so named because…well, he was Italian but reminded everyone of a leprechaun. He was very short with no teeth and even less English. Claire’s Italian stretches to ‘bella’ so she was saying how good everything was, to which this guy would grin maniacally. He showed us round, pointing out the light switches and other parts of great note.
When I asked him about Farelli’s villa he got all excited and took me to a villa just above ours. Her place is purpose built as opposed to our converted cow shed. The rooms in both are all very rustic.
A certain lack of electrical goods means the toast takes a long time to make and there’s not a lot of light but otherwise it seems very civilised. Especially the huge wine rack chockers with the local vino.
After unpacking and ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘ahh-ing’ a lot, we went back into town for dinner. We’d passed a café earlier that opened at 6 so we thought we’d try there, ignoring the excellent looking pizzeria. As Bob & Claire didn’t want to disappoint the owner, we ended up having an ice cream for dinner as the Caffe Grande is actually an ice cream parlour. To be fair, this is not obvious!
We then wandered through the little cobbled, medieval streets. It’s all very picturesque though there is an inordinate amount of butchers for a town with no restaurants.
Going back to the villa, Bob decided to go all Italian on us and drove the wrong way round the Montaione one way system. Interestingly no other drivers (and four passed us) appeared even mildly concerned.
Back at the villa we started the long drawn out process of making cheese on toast. Unfortunately after an hour, Bob and I had to leave for Pisa airport to pick Farelli up, so we missed out. The drive to the airport was a lot easier having driven on the roads already but with the added spice of it being pitch black.
We arrived just as she got off her plane, pushed her into the car (Bob, really getting into the local traditions, had parked in a bus stop) and took off back to the villa. All in one smooth motion.
An hour-ish later we arrived back. I showed Farellli around her place, we all had a cup of something hot and I FINALLY got to bed at about midnight.