So I’m back in Italy! The last 3 weeks has been a bit full on with family and friend visits so I’ve had no time to write. Here’s a rundown of the last couple of weeks:
Return to the UK: Did it feel like coming “home”? Well it felt like coming back to somewhere I know and there’s a definite comfort in that. It was odd being able to eavesdrop on people’s conversations and understand them for a change! London doesn’t feel like home at all to me now – it moves at such a fast pace that unless you live and breathe it, you just get left behind. Back at the parents always feels like home so no change there. It was really good to see friends and family again – it’s just a shame I didn’t get to see as many people as I’d hoped or spend much time with anyone.
Job: I have two! Possibly three. A couple of people that I met at the Rosso Conero Wine Festival last month have said they’d like me to teach with them. The first one seems to be a language school at Ancona – I will be teaching kids aged 6 – 12 years (26 of them at a time) at 3 local state schools for a wage so small that I’ve decided to consider it voluntary work to maintain my self-respect. I might have to pay tax. In which case, I think it will be the opposite of having a salary. I don’t have any experience with children – it’s going to be interesting. That job starts in November. The second job is doing some private English lessons but through someone else that seems to be contracting me out – my first lesson will be with a 4 year old possibly tomorrow. Do they even speak at that age? The third job will hopefully be doing some teaching with the school here. That still needs to be finalised.
I’m dedicating today to brainstorming lesson plans – hopefully with a few lesson plans up my sleeve, I’ll feel marginally less terrified. So far it takes me about a day to prepare a 1 hour lesson and I’ll be doing 10 hours + a week so I’m slightly concerned. If I was a full time teacher, I’d most certainly have a nervous breakdown.
Car acquisition: I do like my little car. It makes me feel like a grown up. However, I feel like I could have brought a brand new Mercedes and it still work out cheaper 😉 For people doing the same thing as me – I would not advocate buying a UK car and driving it back – it’s a terrible faff with the insurance, and with breakdown cover etc and it’s reasonably expensive in petrol and hotels (though if you consider it a mini holiday, then it’s not so bad). I’ll be doing that every year to get MOT and tax sorted for it. Having said that, there is still no alternative in terms of being able to buy one here so despite Everything (see below), I would still have done it. As background to Everything – the trip was planned with…let’s call him Sergio (he is very anti-blog!) who’s my Italian friend who lives in London and who kindly agreed to help me get the car back. The trip was due to take 4 days in total and take us through France, Switzerland and Italy. So that’s the background.
“Everything” can be summarised as follows:
– The Granmobile smelt musty so in an effort to freshen it up before the Big Italy Trip, I drove around with the windows wide open. On closing the window after the first Freshen Up Mission, the window fell back into the door. It turns out Fiat Panda’s, my model at least, are known for windows that fall back into the car. I managed to get it back up but it stopped working from then on. Road tolls are rife in Europe and you pay them/collect tickets from the left hand side of the car. This is annoying if you’re driving on the right. With a working window there’s at least hope that you could reach through and get it. There was a day to spare before heading up to London so I got it booked into the local garage and they managed to do a quick fix on it. I’ve no doubt it will fall down again soon – it has an unnerving click.
– Midway through Switzerland the car came to a spluttering halt half way up a hill on a motorway. We stopped on the hard shoulder and we were overwhelmed with smoke. Poor Granmobile. I hoped that it might go away so we had lunch up on a nearby grassy bit and waited for the smoke to disperse. It did not go away and a few minutes later a very nice breakdown man stopped and confirmed the clutch (la frizione – my knowledge of Italian bits of cars that can go wrong has substantially increased) was gone. I phoned my breakdown insurance people who were going to send someone out to us but meanwhile, the Nice Breakdown Man towed us to a safer spot.
He left us by a cafe and garage to await my breakdown insurance lot and then reappeared 1 minute later to say that it turns out that he’s the guy that is supposed to be helping us anyway. He towed us to the local Fiat garage (shut because it was Sunday) and took us to a local hotel (Sergio was stuffed in the boot with the tools because there wasn’t space. That was amusing).
This breakdown cost: £240 in hotel bills, £650 in clutch replacement bills, £120 in getting-ripped-off-at-the-local-restaurant bills, £60 in not-being-able-to-get-to-the-next-hotel-that-we’d-booked-and-paid-for bills, £150 to buy-another-plane-ticket-for-Sergio-who-was-due-to-return-back-the-following-day-and-now-couldn’t-get-to-the-airport bills and then another £100 to buy-ANOTHER-plane-ticket-because-we-were-in-a-mad-panic-to-get-out-of-the-hotel-room-and-actually-rebooked-it-for-a-weeks-time-rather-than-the-following-day-by-mistake bills and £20 taxi-to-drive-2-minutes-up-the-road-bills. I’ve decided Switzerland is the worst place to breakdown in the world in terms of expense. I’ll be able to recover a bit of the hotel bill I think from the insurance folk hopefully. On the other hand, look at how incredibly pretty Switzerland is…
– Driving on the other side of the road with a steering wheel on the other side is a doddle. Nobody should worry about that. Toll booths will be annoying – I’ll have to get out of the car – I don’t think I’m going to be able to reach through without inelegantly getting stuck on the hand brake. Having said that, I’m going to avoid them now that I’m here. Sometimes it’s difficult to overtake because you can’t see easily what’s coming in the other direction but to be honest, there’s no need to ever overtake anyone it Italy because they all drive like drunk, psychotic formula one drivers. If you’re a rational human being with a healthy respect for life and death, the opportunity to overtake here simply doesn’t arise. I shouldn’t make such blanket statements of course. I know there’s one or two of them that are safe. It’s actually been fascinating to see – in France, Germany and Switzerland the driving was very good – people keep at a reasonable distance from the cars in front and it’s all very ordered. Then about 1 mile from the Italian border, the roads are overtaken by maniacs (this doubles up as my “What’s a bit odd” bit for this week). It’s a mystery to me how as a nation, they’ve managed to avoid becoming extinct. They drive up within a centimetre of your bumper at speed, they flash their lights, they yell (I should add, I’ve only had so far experienced the light flashing and yelling at a distance looking at some other poor person), they overtake when they’re not allowed, they drive like the speed of light regardless of whether it’s night, raining, foggy etc., they swerve in and out of cars and lanes apart from when there’s nobody else on the road and then they stay only in the middle and fast lane (poor slow lane). The roads are badly marked – in fact, sometimes there’s no marks at all. They’re pot-holed. Signage is poor. In summary, I really dislike driving in this country!
So that was the car trouble but in general it was a good trip back! Our route took us to:
– Calais (France): The IBIS Budget Hotel is nigh impossible to get into at night. It’s like an Anneka Rice challenge. We went into Calais for a quick look around the next day – it’s got a nice park, a pretty cathedral, and some freaky public toilets that automatically wash down everything, including the walls and ceilings after you’ve gone to the loo. French people aren’t THAT bad eh?
– Saint Dizier (France): We stayed at a lovely hotel called Balledins which was alas, in the middle of an industrial estate. There was a good Italian restaurant opposite the hotel. We didn’t have time to look around unfortunately and left early the next day.
– Prattelm (Switzerland): We stayed in an IBIS Budget Hotel again – they look the same! It’s like a prison cell but with a double bed and a TV. Having said that – it’s perfectly fine and did the job. We got there in the afternoon and headed to a spa we’d heard good things about called Aquabasilia. My tips for Aquabasilia are:
- Don’t spend an hour being disappointed that you have no swimming costume and can’t go into the water park with all the water flumes – if you go into the spa section there’s a large section of the complex that is both inside and outside and everyone’s naked and there’s LOADS to do in there. Lots of saunas and steam rooms, weird rooms with hot stone seats, jacuzzis, swimming pools with various jets of water and a lot of it is outside with a lovely cedar wood fire making everything smell nice and alpine-y.
- Don’t bother with the Hammam (Turkish steam room experience) – it was nice but they already have steam rooms in the spa bit of the complex.
- Get the 4 hour ticket at least – 2 hours isn’t enough.
– San Antonio / Breakdown Place (Switzerland): We stayed in Hotel La Perla. I have very mixed feelings about San Antonio! It’s expensive but nice. We went for dinner in a local restaurant – extortionate. In fact, we made 3 visits to the cashpoint just to be able to cover the cost of the dinner. They have the same set up that Italy have with a lot of their restaurants – no menu so you just ask what there is and they make it up and give it to you. In Italy it’s quite an endearingly flexible way of eating what you want and excellent value usually. In Switzerland, it’s a way of extorting money from innocent breakdown victims. When we walked in, the entire restaurant stopped their conversations and gave us a “you don’t come from ‘round here” stare. But by the end of the night, we were having “free” rounds with the owners and the local mayor and on mobile number exchanging terms with a couple of them so that was nice.
So we made it back eventually! The car is now parked outside the flat. I had never realised before but I think Camerano is the world’s centre for Fiat Pandas. There are hundreds of them. When I got in the car this morning and glanced back in the rear view mirror my heart stopped because I saw my car still in the parking space. It turns out that someone else has exactly the same model and had parked next to me. I had to reassure myself I hadn’t stolen someone else’s car.
Back to Italy – I do love Camerano so it’s really nice to be back here but it doesn’t feel like home yet. I still feel like I’m squatting. In fact, the Comune have come back to say something is wrong with my residency so I probably still am! Given the obscene amount of time I’ve spent in the Comune, that will probably feel more homely than “home” 😉 I remain obsessed with my view from my kitchen and have taken already dozens of balcony sunset shots.
I saw the neighbours today – they seemed to be happy to see me too and have invited me over for dinner at some point. And I’ve popped into the school to say hello. I’ve got a few things lined up with people as well in the next week. November is the month for visits – my parents are out and some friends from home are too. I’ve brought a bit more of my stuff back now so it feels a bit more like “me” than before. I’ve swapped rooms back into the one I started with and my other room will be turned into a living room and I’ll have a decent TV (EXCITING!).
I’m absolutely mortified to report that the wifi I’ve been er, borrowing appears to have disappeared so I’m left with 2gb mobile data on my phone which I could use up in a day given my usual internet usage levels. I imagine I’ll have hoops to jump through to get my own wifi and I imagine the contracts are all a year long which I don’t want. I am distraught. I’ll have to ask the neighbour if he’ll give me the password for his if I give him some money.
So, that’s been the last three weeks or so. I feel like I could do with a holiday now!
Back to regular blogging levels now I think!