It was a 2 hour drive plus checking in 2 hours before the flight plus I demanded 90 minutes extra for rush hour traffic around Rome and car hire return so it was a very early start. We emptied the bins into the recycling bins in fear of losing a hefty deposit, took in the view from the mountain side one last time and said our final farewells to the cat club.
We didn’t get more than 500 meters down the road and, as we turned the corner, my two old lady friends jumped off their barrier and came running over to the car to say hello. They stroked Titchy’s face and waved into the kids in the back of the car and smiled, waved and ‘bella’ was shouted more than a handful of times. They then pulled out a gift bag from their shopping bag and handed it to me. They had bought me a beautiful picture frame. We said our good byes and waved them off. I watched them in the mirror with my eyes filling up as they got smaller and we made our way home. I was broken. To have had such an impact in such a short frame of time with no common language, it was so moving. As I type this I am welling up just thinking about it and when I sit on the Metro coming into work on a cold morning I think about those two lovely ladies sitting, chatting and laughing on the side of that mountain and everything is fine again.
As we got to the outskirts of Rome, the traffic backed right up to a stop and I had never been so happy to have built in a buffer for travel times. In true Italian fashion, some people decided that the hard shoulder would be a great alternative to waiting patiently. Peak Italy. Eventually, as suddenly as the traffic came to a stop, it all started again and off we went. The directions from the sat nav were excellent and we got back no problem at all, the only problem being the total lack of petrol station for the 10 miles prior to the airport. It was as if the airport car rental companies had a deal with the oil companies to stop cars being returned with full tanks and so they pick up the penalties. Literally 100 meters outside the airport was a petrol station, but I missed it on the way in so had to turn and go back and fill up on the way out and then drive to the next motorway junction and come back. All the while the clock was ticking.
Once again, facing the right direction, we were back in the airport and looking for the right multi story car park for our hire company. Helpfully we had nothing from the hire company to tell us which car park we should be in and the signs that they had outside the car parks has about 40 companies listed on them all in signs the size of a box of matches. With a choice of two car parks to pick from yes, you’re right, we picked the wrong one and had to get out and do another lap. I have never been happier to have a 90 minute buffer in my plans as we walked into the check in desks exactly, to the second, at the perfect time.
We checked the bags in only be told that the flight had been delayed for 1 hour 55 minutes due to technical difficulties. Typical. I mentioned to the lady on the counter that that was a very precise delay time, very exact, and asked if we could get vouchers for food or drink for the delay. ‘Oh no’ she said, ‘that only happens after two hours’. It all made sense now. We took our time getting through customs and security and then wandered through the shops and had a drink before playing the best airport game that there is. Can you spend your loose change exactly without needing to carry any coins home? I looked in the Vatican shop, I’m not even kidding, and there was nothing in there that you could buy with loose change. It felt like the perfect mix of religion and capitalism.
Eventually we were allocated our gate and made our way to what seemed like the other side of Rome to get there. As we walked through the terminal, I heard a weird noise from the bottom of the escalator, a yelp. I looked up to see an old lady starting to overbalance backwards and, almost in slow motion, topple over. The motion of the escalator going up and gravity pushing her down meant that she was starting to roll down the metal steps like a piece of dough in a food mixer. I dropped my bag and rushed in to hold her up and stop the falling. I was now about half way up the escalator and was reassuring her that I had hold of her and wouldn’t drop her while frantically trying to work out how the heck I would get her back on her feet before she got dragged into the steps at the top as I couldn’t lift her dead weight.
Luckily my brother was sharp enough to hit the emergency stop button and give us the chance to take a moment. We got the lady up on her feet, I still have no idea what language she was speaking, but she was in tears and her shirt was covered in grease from the mechanism and blood was showing through the white fabric. Nothing serious, but she was in a right state. I helped her over to the seats and made sure that she was comfortable before leaving her in the hands of the security man that had been alerted by the emergency stop. As the doors of our train to the next terminal closed, the lady looked up and I got a thumbs up from her. It was only then that my little boy asked why she was carrying a large picture frame with her and does that mean that she was an art thief.
It was an exciting end to a perfect holiday. I couldn’t recommend Italy highly enough for a family holiday, it was everything that we had hoped it would be and a little bit more.