Monday, 21 December 2015

Home - after one week back...

December 12th, 2015

I found myself postong the following on Facebook this morning after someone enquired if we were still on the Italian mainland:

Family commitments mean we have to fly home for Christmas. Not only has it tipped it down since we returned a week ago but the delays to our flight from Catania due to the Etna eruption meant we were coralled in a crowded airport/coach/flight - it took 14 hours - after all that sardine-like human contact after weeks of semi-isolation the result - loony-tune style cartoon colds that we can't shake-off! Life is much simpler in a 7m metal box by the Med! 

The site you mention - is that near Nicorata? - I think we stayed one night in it just before we took the boat to Sicily. Our impressions of it were probably affected by the fact it was the day we discovered all four rear tyres needed replacing at a cost of 520 euros - so it affected our delight capacity! Back on the road on Feb 3rd, I am sure I will have returned to my usual perky self by then - Gill is walkiing about unaided now - which is good progress. The medics are watching progress, one physio muttered about cartledge damage and key-hole surgery - but fingers crossed it won't come to that. Sorry about the diatribe, I think I probably have committed on-line, the social gaffe of responding to the question 'how are you?' with an honest response, rather than politely saying, 'I'm fine, how are you?'

The last three weeks have not been brilliant. Gill's knee injury meant we were stuck in one place for a week - though Punta Braccetto is a good place to be marooned in. Nice site, lovely beach, sunny weather. I even managed a final December swim. It was refreshing, but not heart-stoppingly freezing - certainly not cold enough to don the tadpole suit.

Our flight from Catania was scheduled for 11.10am, on Friday.  We arranged for the campsite to take us to Ragusa on Thursday by mini-bus, then caught the service bus to Catania and stayed overnight at Hotel Etnea so we would be in plenty of time to get to the airport the next day. Given Gill's difficulties walking she did brilliantly to cope with getting on and off buses and even negotiating the death-trap pedestian crossings next to the Catania bus station. Luckily the hotel was across the street from a bus stop, so even with Gill in reduced mobility mode we managed the whole journey without once resorting to an over-priced Italian taxi.

Catania proved much nicer than the guidebook said, and even with limited mobility Gill mananaged to make it to the restaurant around the corner who specialised in meatballs. Forget Ikea cafeteria, these were seriously yummy gourmet meatballs.

So far so good. We got to the airport from the bus stop outside the hotel, at only 4 euros each, really good value. It was packed when we got to departures. Ir soon became clear that the recent volcanic activity on Etna had closed the airport. Events unfolded according to a well worn, precsribed script. Total bafflement at the Easyjet desk as to what was going on, massive queues, misleading info. on the departure board. All frustrating enough, but with Gill able to only hobble a few steps at a time and unable to stand for more than a couple of minutes, for us the situation was really tricky. We fought our way to a desk which said 'Special Assistance' as instructed by an Easyjet email. It was not manned. All the staff were busy handwriting free meal vouchers for the hundreds of stranded passengers. Eventually we were told to join the queue with everyone else. Instead, with the board showing the Manchester departure delayed until mid-afternoon we found some vacant seats at the far end of the airport next to the lost property office. Even though we kept an eye on the unchanging departure board every ten minutes or so, somehow we got caught out. Around 1:00pm a flustered Easyjet supervisor found us, Are you the wheelchair?" she barked at Gill. Now I realise that she had survived a tricky morning and English was not her first language, but her manner was still unacceptable. We were herded towards a waiting bus, Gill being forced to speed-hobble about 200 yards or more. Eventually we learned we were being taken by coach to Palermo airport, 160 kilometres away. It took forever, we seemed to have found the only careful coach driver in Italy!

The up-side is we got a free coach tour across inland Sicily, past Enna and through a moutainous hinterland of spectacular gorges and old farms. We were next to two Sicilian families with a clutch of under-fives in tow. What a nightmare the delay must have been, especially as they were headed for their Grandmother's house in Birmingham, a two hour drive at least from Manchester airport. The children were brilliant, which is really a credit to how the parents ensured their off-spring were happy and relaxed throughout the trip - lots of big hugs and silly games. At Palermo we finally got some help for Gill to assist us through security. Astonishingly she was wheeled straight past security wearing a hefty looking knee brace that quite easily could have contained a couple of kgs of semtex.

Finally, 14 hours late we arrived in Manchester in horrendous crosswinds. The pilot was brilliant, even though the plane was buffeted by serious side winds, and we seemed to waltz our way over Wilmslow, he touched-down gently, prompting a spontaneous outburst of applause from grateful passengers.

Carol, our neighbour was on hand to whisk us homewards. We opened the mail, no nasty surprises, mostly junk that went straight into recycling. There was no food in the house so I hopped-off to a Sainsbury Local. Thankful this time the car battery held up and apart from a slight grinding from the rear brakes, everything worked fine. After ten weeks of using an automatic I even remembered to use the clutch! The previous evening we had feasted on fantastic Sicilian food and lovely local wine. Tonight it was overpriced supermarket plonk and cardboard pizzas. Ah, the joys of homecomung! Since then,  it has alternated foggy days with rainy days. It's not particularly cold, just damp and miserable. The important things are sort stuff out for Christmas, and get Gill to a physiotherapist so her knee is well on the way to recovery before we head back to Catania on February 3rd.


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