At last, it is Wednesday, 3 May 2006 and Trevor and I are leaving for our first Senior Citizen’s trip abroad.
He turned 60 the next day while I still had a few years to go. I was really proud of myself for having done all the preparation for this 6 week trip, using the internet for accommodation and a travel agent for our flights and hire cars. You know that saying, “Pride comes before a fall”? Well, it is true! One thing after another did not work out as planned. Expect the Unexpected became a reality for us.
I was not really a ‘newie’ to travel but this was Trevor’s first trip abroad. I had been an Exchange Student in 1968/69 but everything was organised by The American Field Service Exchange Programme. Then in 1994, I travelled alone to England and the USA for an 8-week period. This, too, was not that complicated as some accommodation in England and all in the US was with family and friends so there was little to go wrong. I hired a lovely little car and drove all around England for 2 weeks and found this great fun. Of course, it was on the correct (left) side of the road, all the signs were in English and there were no toll roads. Also, bed and breakfasts are ‘ten a penny’ there so finding accommodation was a breeze. Then in 2002, I met up with one of my sisters in Southern Spain where we spent a week. Took the train from there to Calais, ferry to Dover and coach to Heathrow where we hired a car. We eventually ended up in Scotland, near Balmoral. It was great fun even though I had broken my leg in Spain. Both of us pretended that it was not serious and just got on with our trip.
With that history of my travelling told, we get to 3 May 2006. When I had booked our flights in January they were described as Super Economy, between Economy and Business Class, but by May that class of travel had been dropped and we had been upgraded to Business Class. Well, that was a very nice piece of unexpected. We accessed the Business Lounge in all airports which was a great experience. – first and last time regrettably.
I won’t go into every detail of the 6 week trip but will highlight particularly where things did not go as expected. After landing at Gatwick we flew to Rome to begin our travels. First thing which we learnt was that B&Bs in Europe are businesses in every sense of the word. We were really glad that we had arranged for a taxi to take us from the airport to our B&B in the centre of Rome.
Inside the Colosseum in Rome
The Trevi Fountain
Wow, was what we had seen on the internet and the reality the same?– NO! Where were the marbled floors and gorgeous railings? We entered what turned out to be an office block and had to take a tiny lift to the 3rd floor to pay for the accommodation in full. Cash only, credit card not accepted. I had not read the small print! That done it was back to the lift with the office assistant which meant that I had to use the stairs. We walked about a half km up the road to the B&B. That was the last we ever saw of the owner/manager. The room had 2 iron bedsteads and the tiniest en-suite imaginable – just the toilet and the shower. The basin was in the bedroom. We were not shown where to eat breakfast but when we found the ‘dining room’ another shock. All that was on offer was a croissant, slice of Melba toast with butter, jam or Nutella. You had to make your own coffee or tea and it turned out that we were supposed to wash our dishes too! That I refused to do as we had paid for this little luxury.
We spent a beautiful day walking around Rome, joining a group to tour the Colosseum and the ruins of the Roman Forum, visiting the Trevi Fountain and ending with a visit to the Vatican. On our return ‘home’ we discovered that we were supposed to have made our beds and done the cleaning.
I did not do my HOMEWORK. All this was so unexpected.
The next day we took the train to the airport to collect our hire car. We were quite pleased when told that, as we had booked more than 60 days in advance, we received an upgraded car but what a shock. We were given a Peugeot 604, from Grade D to Grade A. That was unexpected but it was not a joy to drive. First, we could not work out how to open the boot even with the assistance of two other couples. It was a security guard who came to show us that the button was to be found in the O of the 607! So, with our luggage stowed, off we went to Pisa and, this time I had done my homework well. I got the staff of the check-in counter to describe exactly how to get on to the road to Pisa. We found the correct off-ramp and so said goodbye to Rome where we certainly got plenty of the ‘Unexpected’ and it was when I began to realise that with any travelling one must “Expected the Unexpected”
There were a number of surprises to come before we left Italy some 8 days later but those are for the next blog.