Friday, 18 July 2014

The Italian Job: The Start

So this was it… suddenly the time had come for us to depart.  And for once in a long time I felt very unprepared.  It has been a bit of a thing, our holidays.  Most of our friends go all inclusive.  Or they try the cottages in Cornwall.  Every one of them proclaim that it is simply the best way to vacation- there’s so much to do, to see, to eat.  We’ve done Cornwall at Easter for years – it’s practically a tradition, sitting there on the beach at Perranporth in fleeces whilst kids and husbands, seemingly impervious to the weather, reenact Baywatch in various episodes with not one Hasselhof between them.  And our one experience of all inclusive certainly worked in terms of food –my hungry family ate whatever was offered whenever, but after about 5 days lounging by the pool, joining in the watersports and meeting lots of people, even the boys got a bit bored… whereas G and I had cabin fever. Our happiest days were spent hiring a car and enjoying the land around us – G loved the landscapes and we loved the shopping.

So, back to our kind of holidays.  Before Little Man had become a reality, but was an actuality in my swelling belly, we had taken a tour sans schedules or charters off the beaten track to a massive villa in Tuscany, where we invited the grandparents and had a lovely idyllic time. This spurred us on, two years later, to travel, with 3 children under 8, in a car to Spain, where we went to Paris (and Disneyland), Le Mans (where we mistakenly got on one of the perimeter race tracks in our Nissan Pathfinder and roofbox) Andorra, Grenada, Rosario (to visit friends who had just moved there) Al Hambra and Majorca (again to stay with friends but we seemed to cause a lot of attention with our GB plates). We saw fiestas, carnivals and lots of sights were well documented in our photo albums.  Two years ago we did a marathon tour of Australia.  So this year we decided on Italy.

 Why?  It kept G quiet, part of the joy for him is in planning out the route, which is then changed by me when I remind him of the realities of travelling with three boys – a 9 year old, a 12 year old and a 6ft 1 14 year old. So he sorted out our vehicle, his car, a golf estate with the racing roof box from Le Mans. In a break from tradition, and a nod to the kids desire to look inside rather than outside the car whilst travelling, he set up a complicated system of adapters and chargers for all of the electronic devices, including a brand new sat nav, which he has since said came with no instructions (more on that later).  I was then presented with a map of Italy, several bits of sticky paper with nights and locations, and proceeded to book up hotels in those areas.

Those of you with a strange family size that doesn’t fit the 2 adults/2 kids hoteliers dream, will realise that this is no mean feat when you are on a budget.  Luckily, over the years, the world has been getting smaller, families bigger and hotels have had to adapt.  And the internet is extremely useful.  So in one happy but slightly stressful afternoon I booked up all the hotels/apartments.  The plan was to travel down through France and Italy stopping en route, and then have a relaxing break in a pre booked villa in Sorrento before making our way back again. With 3 kids and a car, it became quite clear in some areas that it was going to be expensive, and so I looked out of town at more flexible options. We have yet to see how it all pans out, but so far, so good.

Garmin, sitting pride of place...
The alarm went off at 4.30am, and G shot out of bed as if he had been electrocuted. The boys had packed their bags, with all the essentials like gismos and hair styling products. We were all out of the house by 5.15, Tesco bags crammed full of BLT’s as a nod to breakfast.  Getting to the tunnel early, we were put on an earlier slot than booked and as the boys began to wake up, we reached France.  Garmin, our sat nav, woke up too, ready for our first stop, Dijon.  She (we haven’t learned yet how to change her slightly nagging voice, but I quite like her as she sighs and throws her hands up gallic style as we yet again go off in the wrong direction) directed us to Lyon.  G disagreed with this, and so we had to resort to (this is where friends of mine will grin, as they know how I love itineraries) my printed out directions from hotel to hotel, or in this case, tunnel to hotel. Garmin was right of course, and so G and her settled down to become better acquainted, just as the first ‘I’m hungry’ started from the back.

Swapping seats to the back to unfurl cramped legs
One service station later we were all traumatized. Eldest Son had been stopped by an over officious assistant who told him to put back his drinks and step away. At least, that is what he thought she had said, what she meant was, was that there was a certain place to pay for cold drinks, whilst we were queueing for baguettes. Once we got to the front of the queue, the server looked at me quizzically when I ordered three double hot dogs. ‘Trois?!!!’ she bellowed in incredulity as she looked at me.  I pointed out the children.  She muttered under her breath and slammed the baguettes into submission.  G and I had ready made ones, in a bid to pacify.  She refused to let G pay for the cold drinks in her queue, directing G to another queue.  Little Man wailed that he hated France.  This was not going well…

Hotel Armony, wasn’t really ‘armonious.  Situated on an industrial estate (lots of clothes shops and shoe shops) it stood like a slightly shabby teenager at a glamorous function. But it was cheap, it had parking, interconnecting rooms and a restaurant.  We were knackered.  The staff took to Little Man and didn’t even mind when he broke into an impromptu song and dance routine, Happy Feet style, as he waited for his food.

Little Man, our official tour photographer

We toddled off to bed, full and weary, the boys giggling through the interconnecting doors, Eldest Son trying to stop Little Man from jumping on top of him in their shared double bed.  Suddenly the boys broke into hysterics as Middle Son shot into our room, his face green, his toothbrush in his mouth.

Ahhhh Dijon, famous for its mustard, and somewhere that my boys will always remember as the place that Middle Son mistook Eldest Son’s hair gel for toothpaste…