Our flight to Rome was problem free.
I spent the flight being spoken to by a little 2 and a half year old girl, who really was a doll child. Her parents were from Belarus, while she was born in Ireland. Her name was Arina, she was the most fascinating child I’ve met. A bright thing but she knew she was cute and blonde and pretty with her little stripy tights. All the passengers around her smiled at her immediately. She spoke at me for half an hour, in Russian mostly with glimpses of English, using her hands to demonstrate points of her story. From what I could make out, she was raving about friends, holidays, Mummy and favourite colour. Which was green.
We waved goodbye at Ciampino airport, Rome and were greeted by our new Italian family. I always wanted this reception. When you arrive at an airport and a person is waiting for you with a big sign ” Lewis”. At last, I got this! Federico is the eldest daughter, she was the only one out of the family that spoke English. We were welcomed to Italy and shown to our new car.
A left hand drive. A Mercedes Benz. Impressed but scared.
Simon wanted to do the whole car thing so he had to drive.
He did really well. We headed off following the whims of the sat nav, bound for the town of Tagliacozzo. This town is built into the mountain. The name itself means “cut into the rock” it’s about 70 km from the airport. No bother to us.
Simon seemed to handle it brilliantly, very calm and collected. I, too handled it well. It helped that he drove at a slow speed all the way. The scenery was amazing but we couldn’t really enjoy it as we were dreading the last bit of the journey.
The road from Ciampino to Tagliacozzo is straight down the motorway. Excellent.
However, when you take the exit for Tagliacozzo, off the motorway, the fun begins.
We had been told about the 5 hairpin turns. In fact, Federico had sent us a diagram if them. They looked mental. Imagine a hairpin, slightly pulled out. Now, imagine 5 joined Together.
When we arrived into the outskirts of Tagliacozzo, we had a feeling that we should take a left. It looked right However, b%#^* face( or our beloved Sat Nav) told us to go right. She meant bear right, we found out after. Which is entirely different from Take right.
On top of this, we were greeted with a learner driver’s worse nightmare. A hill start. On a very, very steep hill with 10 irate and pissed off Italian drivers behind us, telling us to hurry the frick on.
Simin revved the car to the max and we took that right, as suggested by b face.
5 km up the most mental of roads and steep hills and inclines we had ever seen, we realised that B Face was wrong. Very wrong. Her map showed us that had to keep driving to the end of the 5 km and turn somehow.
We carried on driving. Sorry, Simon carried on driving. I looked out the mirror and told him there was only one car behind us when in fact there were now about 15 more irate Italian drivers, mad to beep and overtake at any chance.
Poor Simon, but he did good.
We eventually reached the village of Trimente, which was of course, very Italian and very fab. We couldn’t really enjoy it as the next thing happened.
The next thing to happen was a big lorry tried to get through a small space. He got stuck. He told us to reverse or turn around onto the irate drivers behind us. Simon had proven he could make the car go forward but reversing off the edge of a cliff was a big ask.
A group of friendly Italians from the village had formed around the scene. I fluttered my eyelashes at one of the men and hoped for the best. Within seconds,he had jumped out of the car, reversed it and drive it back to us with a smile and saying something in Italian. All I understood was “sat nav”
The crowd of young people outside chatted away, one young teenager was eager to show off his English. He had been to Limerick last year to learn English. Well done, Limerick teachers. He was good. He loved Ireland but scoffed at our weather.
So, we were back in the car. Down the treacherous road to Tagliacozzo. Next the hairpin bends.
Simon did it with no major hassle, the ease he took them was probably because of two things.
1- he had hyped up these hairpin bends so much that the reality was always going to be better.
2- the 10 km drive up and down to Trimente had prepared him for anything.
Who cares what the reason is? We did it. Federico had taken photos of where we should park. Apparently, we had to park the car and go a pied. By foot to our little house. As luck might have it, there was one space on a big line of cars at the side of the road. We parked the car and stopped the car and breathed.
Now the next bit of the adventure was to find this apartment. The place where we are staying is right on the hill. The houses are all typically what you’d imagine to be Italian, small and snug. The houses are all built into the hill with windy, tight roads weaving their way in and out down the hill. It took us a good half an hour to find the house. I sat and petted cats and read while Super Simon jogged nonchalantly to reach our final destination. I think he was so happy to get out of the car in one piece that he didn’t really care what happened after that. After about half an hour through the Labyrinth, we found the house.
The house is just gorgeous. Two storey. Two rooms downstairs. Bathroom and open plan kitchen and sitting room.
In the sitting room, there was a table. On the table, there was a note saying ” ha, ha, suckers! We have got your house now, we are take over it as squatters!”
No, really the note said:
” Welcome, enjoy! From the Nobili Family”
A bottle of prosecco lay on the note.
After investigating the house, two bedrooms upstairs and open balcony from both bedrooms, we had a glass of prosecco and a light lunch, that the family had left for us in the fridge.
Proper Parmesan( I.e not a rip off)
Some kind of garlic ham.
We indulged and had a nap.
When we awoke, we were raring to go!
However, the electricity had failed. We rang Fedrico and she rang to get help. Help came in the form of a very, nice(again smiley) Italian family. The 5 of them traipsed into the kitchen, pushed the fuse switch up and down and opened the fridge door a few times. This worked perfectly and we all clapped at the fun of it all.
After a shower and oiling up of sun protection, we walked down to Tagliacozzo. A 15 minute walk down through the maze of houses left us breathless but amazed.
Real Italy, we had wanted. Real Italy, we got.
First, we just sat in the main square-Piazza Del Obelisk, a pretty square surrounded by bars, restaurants and shops. A fountain domineers it with a massive obelisk item coming right up through the fountain. The photos do it no justice. Just visit! I had a nice glass of cold white wine and Simin went for beer. As we soon found out, if you order any alcohol in a bar, you are presented with free snacks. Not any snacks. Enough crisps, bread, veg and biscuits for dinner for us! We sat there for a a couple of hours, chatting about our great luck with our house swap.
Later in the evening, the town really lit up with people and families out eating and drinking. We spotted a very charming looking restaurant called Alla Fontana. This is a pizzeria but also does a normal restaurant food
We filled up on a pizza and suppli( rice, parmesan coated in breadcrumbs and fried). Simon opted for breasolo, rocket, Parmesan, sausage, cheese on a tomato base. Mine was a white potato pizza. Both were excellent. However, Simon’s was the winner. I scavved many slices off him and I know what I’m getting later tonight! The restaurant “Alla Fontana” was packed with Italians, the real ones not those fake ones you might find occasionally. Actually, we seem to be the only non-Italians in the whole town! With a bottle of water and 2 beers, the whole bill came to €20!
Let me summarise, in Ireland, we are ripped off.