I feel that we’ve come somewhere foreign. I mean to say, it IS foreign, of course because, as I don’t go back to the UK, everywhere is foreign.
We draw up in front of a 70s-style restaurant. One that’s seen better days. F says this, and he’s right. There are round windows with their surround jutting out, like some sort of binoculars. The whole is painted in some rusty red colour but so that it doesn’t look painted but really looks rusty.
It would be the sort of restaurant that, in the 70s, would have been great to go to – modern, with fantastic (and, by that I mean exotic and never-before-tried) food. But, now, these days, you would give if a miss. If you were wise and cared about eating.
But it’s now just a little decrepit, a little run down, a little bit has-been.
But we’re not coming here to eat. This is just a transit place. We may eat here on our way back. But, actually, inside there are shops and bars and places to buy tickets – for this, as the sign said as we pulled up – is Lemezia International Airport.
I turn to F, as the plane has just landed, and ask why there is no applause, for the plane is full of Italians, maybe I am the only foreigner, and so I would expect clapping for the safe landing. He looks back at me as if I am criticising, which I’m not although I always find it amusing. I am somewhat relieved when, a few seconds later, there is the spontaneous applause starting at the back of the plane and moving forward, like a kind of Mexican wave. Good, we are still in Italy.
We get into the terminal. There are two baggage reclaim carousels. It’s a small airport even if it purports to be “International”. F will wait for the baggage whilst I go and sort out the hire car we have booked.
I go through the automatic doors, and, I act like the usual first-timer to an airport, looking about me, trying to understand; trying to get my bearings. After a few seconds, I am none the wiser and so I start to walk. I see some signs to the car hire places. It takes you outside the airport.
As I step outside, I am, indeed, somewhere foreign. A foreign land. A Mediterranean land. For outside the airport there are those stubby palms. And everywhere is dusty and dry, such as we don’t get in Milan until July and August. And, anyway, it FEELS different.
And then there are the airport dogs. Not like in Milan where they are on leads, coming with people to meet people, their people, people from their pack. These are unleashed and languid and their own pack. Here for scraps. They are big dogs and they know the places to sleep, as dogs do. One is an Alsation cross but a big Alsation. The other is white and indeterminate breeding. It adds to my feeling of foreign.
I see the pillar-sign indicating the car hire offices. It lists, downwards, the names: Avis, Sixt, Hertz, etc. But no Budget. We are with Budget. I consult the “ticket” I had printed out when making the booking.
“The car hire desk is located inside the main terminal”, it says, quite clearly.
I go back inside. I look. The terminal seems too small for a car hire desk to be here amid the few small shops and bars. I walk to a shop selling chocolate and ask, in my terrible Italian, if the Budget car hire desk is here.
She tells me that, No, it isn’t. They are all outside. F joins me and we go back out and follow the signs to the car hire offices that, like most small airports now, are “conveniently located” some walk from the terminal building.
When we get there, Budget is still not on the list outside. I am doubtful about the booking now. “Typical” is already forming in my head but I check the “ticket” once again. No, I did book it from the airport and not the town.
I tell F to wait whilst I go inside to ask. For once, he suggests that he will do it as, should there be any problem, he has the language skills to cope. I let him and a few seconds later he emerges calling me in.
I have booked a Fiat 500 and that’s what we get.
I’ve brought my navigator. We switch it on and type in the address and find what I hope is the right place. It’s near the sea anyhow.
The navigator, as it is wont, takes us, not on the major highways and longer route, but on the smaller (but main, here) roads, over the hills that form the foot of Italy. Or, Calabria, as it is properly called. They have, quite obviously, had a lot less rain so far than Milan but F informs me that it is much greener than expected. Even Calabria have had a crap spring.
The roads, as usual in the more rural areas, don’t seem to be quite understood by the navigator, it telling me to turn right or left when it’s a bend in the road and, sometimes, omitting to inform me to turn right when it thinks the road goes straight on. And so, we get the inevitable, annoying, “recalculating”.
At one point, we have to make a u-turn, which is always annoying. Around 4, half an hour after we expected, we arrive at Baia Dell’Est. The hotel.
It’s like a resort hotel. As we were coming down the hill, towards the coast, I spotted it and pointed it out to F. It has promise. It’s a hotel and restaurant. It’s much like a 70s style place, in my mind. We walk down the path to the reception. Patric comes out and F takes over, as he does everywhere we go – bars, restaurants, etc. It’s one of his “things” – yet still he calls me lazy when he speaks of my Italian (or lack of it).
Patric shows us to our room. Our room is, in fact, a small flat, with a bedroom, bathroom, lounge, kitchen and large terrace. The view is of the sea.
The place could be beautiful. Maybe once, in the 70s, it was beautiful. And modern. Now it is a little jaded and tired. And, maybe a little bit scruffy.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not terrible, nor is it dirty. But it has seen better days. But, then again, it’s costing us €25 per person per night. Yes, our total stay is going to cost €150 – which is only slightly higher than the hire car!
We relax a bit and then decide to go to the supermarket to get provisions. We go back to reception. We ask about dinner tonight in the restaurant. But this is not really a tourist area and the restaurant is closed apart from July and August. They can, however, Patric offers, get us pizza or some other takeaway?
We ask about restaurants nearby. He suggests one. We ask about supermarkets and he gives directions. We were right to hire a car – you need one here.
We drive off. We buy water for F, milk for me and some chocolate for both of us. As we go to pay, K, the guy getting married (for that is why we are here), texts to ask where we are. I tell him and that we’ll be back in 10 minutes.
Patric has told us, already, that, last night, 270 beers were consumed by 30 people. He scratches his head. He doesn’t really understand the English. But, then even the English struggle with that.
The “English”, or some of them, have already started on the beers. We don’t say anything when we leave the hotel but now, as we come back from the supermarket, K is there. So is M, his bride of the next day. She had been there when we left but I wasn’t sure it was her (I met her once in Milan) as I remembered someone shorter and considerably fatter.
We say hello and they thank us for the present (which was money paid directly into their “holiday fund” account).
We go off to the side for a chat and he tells me that he is a bit pissed off as the guests didn’t hire a car and expect him to organise things for them to do – for here, there is really nothing! Poor guy. As if he doesn’t have enough to do without all that crap!
I tell F later. Apparently, English people are, generally, selfish. I bite my tongue a bit. F goes on to say that, obviously, not everyone but that S, his ex, was selfish.
I find it interesting because I would say the same of Italians! But F wouldn’t listen to me anyway. As I write this, I know that the problem isn’t that the English or Italians are selfish (though in slightly different ways) but that people are, it seems, inherently selfish.
We go to the restaurant. It’s ok. The main thing is that you can get a pizza for as little as €3! This is unheard of in Milan. But the food was quite nice.
Then back to the hotel. K, we know, has gone to pick someone up from the airport. I think we should wait for him but, although all (actually, not quite) the people are English, I don’t know anyone. We hang around at the entrance then some people speak to us, asking if we are friends of K or M. She explains that she is K’s mother and introduces us to K’s father – who talks with a strong Irish accent.
Whilst we are talking to them, an old colleague of mine comes over. It is R and G his “girlfriend” is in tow.
We chat with them and a Spanish lady and her sun and drink a beer. All around us, K’s family are getting drunk. I think the beer total will be superseded tonight!
We stay for an hour or two and then go to bed. Tomorrow (today as I write this) there will be the wedding.