I’ve mentioned it in passing. Now it’s time for the full, unabridged version of our legendary trip to Italy.
If my in-laws are reading this, it WAS a lovely holiday, a lovely wedding and a lovely place. But somehow we didn’t really get on with it.
My family doesn’t do foreign holidays. For us, holidays aren’t all about lazing about in the sun or sightseeing, they are just about relaxing and getting away from the every day strains of life. And you can do that at Center Parcs. It takes one hour and 20 minutes to get there.
My kids don’t like foreign food and they’re not particularly keen on the sun or heat. Or suncream. They don’t want to look at historic monuments. And flights are expensive when multiplied by five. Even Easyjet flights.
But then my sister-in-law forced our hand. She was getting married to her long-term partner. In Italy. The fear struck me in a big way.
The first hurdle was flying. On a plane. In the actual sky. With three kids. I’ve always been claustrophobic and it had got worse with each pregnancy – never reverting to pre-pregnancy levels. I’d last flown when pregnant with number 2 son. In my head, being on a plane was being trapped in a small space with no air and no escape. We seriously considered driving to Italy. It was only a 1,000 miles. A doddle, surely?
In the end I hypnotised myself with a Paul McKenna download specially for claustrophobia. It was brilliant. And I had a little dose of diazepam from the doctor to take the edge off a bit further.
We were flying from Gatwick because it was the cheapest. Gatwick is not very near to where we live. I’d heard mention of a five hour journey. So we set off at 10.30am for a 5pm flight. It took us just over two hours to get there. We didn’t even stop for a wee. Then the flight was delayed by about an hour and a half.
I think this was where it all started to unravel as we were all getting tired. The flight was OK, although it was already the kids’ bedtime by the time we actually set off. Then our ears hurt really badly. Mine were so bad they carried on hurting all night and I had to take paracetamol in the middle of the night. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We were staying at a hotel at the airport. There was a shuttle bus that went to the hotel. The bus we got on was not the shuttle bus. It dropped us on a dark road with the hotel in the distance. As soon as we started walking, dragging kids and cases, my eldest said ‘Where’s the other case?’ What other case? The little black one. The one containing all our shoes.
It is now 11pm. Me and the kids checked into the hotel and my husband went to track down the bus and our case. We had two rooms in the hotel and plan A was for us to share the kids out. We went to plan B – me with all the kids. My poor husband chased that bus around from terminal to terminal, he spoke to the police and the lost property office. He was sent upstairs and downstairs. He got on and off buses. But that damn case had vanished into thin air. At 1am, he gave up and went to bed.
At 6am he got up and started the chase again. Repeating everything he’d done the previous night. While he was out, he picked up our hire car, which sped things up slightly.
I took the kids down to breakfast and discovered that my daughter wouldn’t drink ‘Italy water’ or eat ‘Italy food’. The vending machine was selling 500ml bottles of water with pink lids for 2 euros. I persuaded her it was English water. She must have drunk a good three or four sips of that water during the very long day that ensued.
As we were ‘eating’ breakfast, I took a frantic call from my husband. Forget the shoes, we had bigger problems. He’d put his passport in the boot of the hire car. Why? Who knows. The remote key was different to his own car key and he had inadvertently unlocked the boot without realising. As he was driving round the winding airport roads, the boot had popped open and his passport had flown out. You really couldn’t make it up.
So he picked up me and the starving, dehydrated kids and drove us like a mad man round the winding airport roads. We went to the police, who didn’t speak English and we certainly don’t speak Italian, to report it missing. And the shoes.
After about an hour of this, my husband got a phone call. Someone driving behind him had seen his passport fly out of the boot and had gone to pick it up. They would meet him back at the airport in an hour with it. Fair play, they were completely honest and wouldn’t even take any money for the extra petrol.
For my husband, it was literally the best thing ever. It was like a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. I was pleased too, but the loss of those shoes was stressing me out.
By this time it was lunchtime, so we bought some crap food. Twenty six hours after leaving home, we were still stuck at an Italian airport. Milan, but not really Milan, and a really long way from our destination.
Finally, we set off. Then a couple of miles from the airport we found a supermarket, so we went in. It was like a little bit of heaven. It stocked KIT KATS and COCO POPS. We bought as much ‘England food’ as we could to prevent my daughter from literally starving to death. We also bought the kids a pair of cheap imitation Crocs each, because it’s about 30 degrees and the sun is beating down and they are all wearing trainers and socks.
At 2pm, after my son had lost his first tooth as nature intended, we set off from the supermarket. By which time we could have made it from home to New Zealand.
The wedding was in less than two days and we had NO SHOES. My husband had an expensive pair of brand new Jones shoes in that case and I had a pair of funky Next wedges bought especially for the wedding. In total, we had lost 12 pairs of shoes, including four pairs of genuine Crocs and two pairs of Birkenstocks.
We knew the town we were heading for, Malcesine on Lake Garda, was beautiful. But we also knew it was small and we didn’t know how many shoes shops it was going to have. Or even if they would be open the next day, a Sunday.
So after a very long journey we stopped at a big shopping centre in the main town on Lake Garda to look for shoes. I discovered that Italian women don’t have size 8 feet. Or even size 7 feet. And I can never remember how to convert UK sizes to European ones.
We went intone Zara, where we bought some smart-ish flip flops for the boys, some gold sandals for my daughter to wear with her bridesmaid’s dress and some wedges for me. All at extortionate prices. My Next wedges were £38, these were 79 euros. And nowhere near as nice. Nor, as it turned out, did they actually even fit.
I still needed Birkenstocks or something to wear the rest of the time. My husband had had enough. So he took the kids to McDonalds for tea and I wandered round this shopping centre in a complete daze. Who would have known that the loss of shoes could hit a person so hard? But it really did. Especially combined with the long and stressful journey and the language barrier. I shed a few tears as I wandered round and round.
Eventually I came across a sort of skateboarding shop. They had some purple Crocs flip flops, not the sort of thing I would normally wear. But they FIT and they felt really, really comfortable. I’m not sure why I didn’t buy them immediately. My head was fixated on Birkenstocks. After trying on some Birkenstocks and being told that these are not ladies’ shoes, I went back and got those flip flops. If you know me, you will know that I never take those flip flops off in summer. My mum gave me some of her old Birkenstocks, but I never wore them. Those Crocs flip flops are literally the best thing since sliced bread.
So we all got back in the car and drove up the lake to our destination. It’s a lake. How big can a lake be? Surely we were nearly there? As it turns out, we weren’t. It’s a really flipping big lake. As you can imagine, the roads up the side of a lake are a bit winding. It’s at this point we discovered that my daughter suffered from travel sickness (see Travel sick in November, if you haven’t before).
At 7pm, after the world’s most stressful journey, we finally arrived at our villa.
Did things improve after that? Not a lot. You can read all about that here…