Having landed in Sicily on Saturday evening our family party is now resident in its villa on the southeast side of the island. I intend to provide snapshot reports in case they are of interest to National Rust readers.
DAY ONE (TRAVEL)
Our travel day was, as expected, long and not without incident. We had been warned that Catania, our arrival airport, was small and somewhat chaotic and this was certainly borne out by the evidence. The hire car operation is hopelessly inefficient. We had to wait one and threequarter hours for our turn at the desk before undertaking our two hour drive to the villa and my brother, hiring a minibus, had further complications. He was told his vehicle was ‘not quite ready’ – apparently it needed a wash – and, after 45 minutes with no sign of it, his party began complaining vociferously. In the end, it took them over four and a half hours from coming out of the terminal to reach the villa.
Earlier, coming into land, we had a moment worthy of a sit-com. I was seated next to a ‘nervous flyer’ who, having plied herself with knock-out pills and white wine, spent the entire three hour flight staring at the back of the seat in front of her.
I should perhaps explain that it is not the prospect of crashing that frightens her, it is the feeling of being locked inside a cylinder with no means of getting out. At the check-in desk an airport official had attempted to pacify her anxiety by saying “It’s just like riding in a coach”.
“No it isn’t …” she retorted, “… on a coach you can tell the driver to stop, open the door and get off!”
With that she took a deep breath and slowly turned to look beyond me and another passenger to the window and the scene outside (something she had never done on her most recent five flights).
“Its not so bad …” she said, looking at the parched landscape and occasional farm slowly going by.
“Yes ..” I responded, giving a little commentary, “… look, there’s a dual carriageway … and there, a reservoir … we should be on the ground in two to three minutes … “
It was at this exact moment that the aircraft suddenly lurched, the engines went to full power, and we were pressed back in our seats as we soared back up into the stratosphere for about three minutes, after which the pilot came on the PA system and said “Sorry about that, the wind changed as we were approaching the runway, I decided to abort the landing and go around again … we should now land in about another eight or nine minutes …”
Let’s just say that this eight or nine minutes was stressful in the extreme for the lady beside me.
Her first diagnosis was that the undercarriage must have failed to go down and we would now be attempting a belly landing, skewing across the tarmac onto the grass whilst pursed by a series of fire engines and rescue vehicles.
I have to admit that my intended soothing comment “Well it could just be that the pilot is inexperienced, wasn’t quite sure, and did as he was trained …” was somewhat less than enthusiastically received.
As it happened, my daughter was joining us on Sunday evening so – 24 hours after my arrival – I was back at the airport to pick her up.
Forewarned is forearmed, so I dropped my car in the short stay car park nearest the terminal and, upon her arrival, we dumped her bags there before walking the 250 yards necessary to reach the car hire reception office. There I took ‘ticket B186’ for the queue, noticing as I did that the current ‘latest’ number for the queues to the 3 people on the desk was ‘B171’. One hour and 45 minutes later, the latest traveller as the desk was number ‘B180’, at which point one of the ladies came out from behind and started asking ticket holders in turn what their business was. When I said mine was just ‘additional driver’ we were directed to the car park attendant and advised “Tell her I sent you”.
Fortunately, when we had done this, our paperwork took less than five minutes to complete and we were able to return to the short stay car park and get away …
One of the benefits of being a Brit is that, every time I go abroad, it has the positive effect of reinforcing my long-held belief that the world would run much better (if not properly) were Britain allow to rule it.