At two yesterday morning we arrived back from our 4-week family Odyssey to the Continent. We had flown into Milan Orio al Serio airport on Blue Air (a Romanian budget airline that is now Cyprus based – our tickets were 6.50Euro, plus tax, each), rented a Mercedes mini-van, and stayed in self-catering accommodation in the Italian Lake District, Beaujolais, Flanders, and Piemont.
We had a good time: ate lots of pasta, drank lots of wine – or at least Best Beloved and I did, swam a lot, read a lot, played many games of cards. The weather was hot, and we had our fair share of moans – a trip that manages to address the needs and desires of adults, teens, and younger children is neither easy nor cheap, but we covered a lot of ground and everyone came home wiser.
Italy was surreal: as Sophia and I decided after our one day trip into Milan – we could not send a letter from the post office, we could not buy an International train ticket from the train station, we could not cash Travellers’ Cheques at a bank or Bureau de Change. Seeking information we were shuttled from pillar to post in a charming but frustrating manner, and what was supposed to have been a ‘girls’ bonding trip’ involving cafes and boutiques turned into scavenger hunt for stamps, cash, a bathing suit, and a ticket for me to travel from Milan to Macon the following week.
In France, Best Beloved sought the ultimate Beaujolais in the vineyards surrounding Fleurie with the Littles in tow, while I took the Big Ones up to Ypres to visit the battlefields of Flanders. We stayed at Talbot House, an everyman hostel that catered to all ranks during the Great War and now houses a poignant museum, and completed a 45 kilometre-cycle tour of trenches, cemeteries, and landmarks – leading Sophia to swear that she will never ride a bike again.
Back in Italy we stayed in two lovely houses in the Piemont region sipping Barolo, nibbling cheese from Roccaverano, and waiting for the Alps to reveal themselves from behind or beneath a haze of humidity. Finally, on one day, they did – a majestic and still-snow-covered arc that spanned the horizon. We agreed that May or October would proabably be a better time to visit. But would cooling off in the giant municipal pool down the road in Acqui Thermi been as welcome a respite in the cooler months? Would pistachio gelato been as delightful?
Leo managed to end the holiday on an appropriately surreal note by locking himself in a toilet stall in the airport as we prepared to fly out. Poor bambini! The service personnel had to break down the door to retrieve him, and he spent the rest of the trip warning us each time we visited the bathroom.
Then, after landing at Larnaca, our Scots captain David Blaney, who had flown us to Milan four weeks earlier, invited Zenon and Leo into the cockpit and explained the workings of the radar, the auto pilot, and a host of other buttons, screens, and levers. Zenon emerged with a grin as wide as the Po Valley and a new-found ambition to become a pilot.
Over the next few weeks I will post separate stories of our adventures as well as some pictures, as one post is not nearly enough to do justice to our adventures.