Archive for air travel
The return. A friend said to me ‘how was your holiday” and then,like almost everyone, turned a deaf ear, a blind eye, to me. They don’t really want to hear your breathless retelling of 12 weeks of otherworldiness..
Well, i am going to tell you.
At first, it was hard to believe we had gone and now returned. Fortunately the homecoming was, for the most part, positive. A well cared for house, a flourishing garden, caged birds still alive, weather amenable and slightly warmer than Rome. Then, the routines started kicking in again. The mail, the bills, the obligations. Within a week Alison had travelled three times, me a couple. Memories faded. What was the name of that place? Where did we see that? Then the Kaikoura and Wellington earthquakes and, instead of central Italy devastation, we were seeing our own country reeling from a massive disaster and another wakeup call.
I rowed out to check on Faith 11. Angry seagulls circled the dinghy and I should have guessed what would happen next. They had built a nest on the foredeck and laid three beautiful green speckled eggs which they now aggressively were protecting. I felt a bang on the top of my head quickly followed by three more, amid screeching and birds angrily descended on me as I neared the boat. Blood clouded vision and I felt scared. They continued their assault for over an hour and I felt afraid to row back the 100 metres to shore.
Then the weather turned and we endured two weeks of winter like conditions. Seemed like Italy was a world away. My Italian had improved but something happens when I unlatch the gate to my teachers house . Basic words disappear. Conjugations get muddled. We had a piece on Italian University life to translate and I could not do more than three sentences. Fortunately my fellow classmate had the same experience but I wanted to give it all up. And curiously, return 5o Italy.
We are in of all places, Palmerston North for Alisons work for a couple of days. My faith in NZcuisine has been restored and I must note that my own cooking has benefitted from our travels. Simpler meals. Less meat. The meal at Nova in Palmy was a fusion of NZ ingredients married to Asian flavours. And limencello to finish.
So to answer the question. A fantastic holiday which has widened our view of the world. But, like going back to work after a break, a stressful adjustment. Blown away by a different culture but more appreciative of the rich culture of NZ.
Everything seems dull, lifeless, like those husks of wasps trapped in the space between the double glazing and wooden frame as summers heat draws to a close.
Was a quiet Sunday morning, blue sea rolling in from downtown Italy as we cruised up the east coast from Catania to Messina. Past St Maria de Teresa, past the horrible Taomaina and finally in Messina Centrale. Beaut snack mozzarella and cruudo in a beautiful warm bread and an americano. We are off to Cefalu on the Messina to Palermo Intercity. Italy certainly does train travel well. Grotty train but 150 kph at times and efficient ticketing etc. Why ever did NZ downgrade rail. I was reading ‘ The Rough Guide to NZ’ which made a point of NZ not having much of a rail system.
Our plans have changed. Rather than rent another car,and drive from Catania to Syracuse in the middle pf the night we booked an overnight stay at the Excelsior hotel in Catania and are training the rest of the journey.
Alison has woken up very grumpy. Apparently the room next door had very loud TV until 2.45 am and she has had little sleep. Me, I had a great sleep and am rearing to go.
Just a short little rave about Air B&Bs. On the whole we have found them to be great. Aside from Bari where the apartment was a cellar, the hot water arrangement meant a two minute shower, then a twenty minute wait while the water heated for another shower or to rinse off those bits you missed earlier. And the smell. But its the little things that annoy. Take this morning. Beautiful apartment close to shops, restaurants, transport but no plug for the sink so no washing of last nights meal so ee can have coffee and a fry up for breakfast, No utensils to cook with, no washing up powder, no d3tetgent for the washer so Alison mistakenly adds bleach because she cant read Italian and is to stubborn to ask me to read the label. So a load of washing that is now ruined. The shower looks great with jets up the wazzoo but only the miserly hand held gizmo will work. No soap, no shampoo, no teatowel, no dishcloth. And a hostess who now doesn’t speak or understand any English although yesterday she was fine. Then the Internet which was working fine last night wont go. Her response – phone YOUR internet provider. Pardon me Ms canta speeka da inglese – but its your bloody provider. Plugs for sinks have been a constant problem I think Italian housewives ( i cant imagine an Italian male going anywhere near a sink) just rinse them off under the tap. Toasters are a hit and miss affair and jugs have only appeared in those places that have many foreigners staying. Soap and shampoo are seldom present and most places have no basics like salt and pepper. On the positive side some have left enough ingredients to whip up a quick pasta dish when you arrive.
This morning I also realised how little some people know of the world. Most, when asking where you come from, seem bewildered as to where NZ is. Part of America? Part of Australia? When i tell them in Italian how long to takes to fly here (trenta ore) they mime swimming or driving. When I flap my wings they are incredulous. I shouldn’t be surprised. Our current hostess, a seemingly educated woman of the world, doesn’t even know where Malta is. She could probably hit it with a stonethrow on a good day. But then there is an arrogance about some people as well. She has just fronted up and seems bewildered why our Internet is not working. Now I am a little borderline on some IT things but I have a pretty good grasp on why Inherent is not working, She shows me her tinny little smartphone and the wireless signal. “ is good, is good , internet work fine , your machino is problem “. Hmmmm! Thank god when I ask her to go to her browser and look up something she gets the little dinosaur and YOU ARE OFFLINE sign. So then its “yoyse been pkayng with switch?…?.. you broke?…”. I had actually rebooted the router as this is sometimes the problem with these dreadful cheap D-Link routers but all the lights looked right. The problem was elsewhere. Same with the shower which she swore was alright when she last used it . Yeah right! The apartment is so unused that the freezer has mould growing in it. She then showed me the deep gash on her hand she had inflicted on herself whilst trying to turn on said shower, and, before she got a man to unfreeze the jammed valve. She then starts to forget her English and gets very bossy. Time to remind her who is paying the bills. At least they all front up to fix the problems. Eventually. Unless its between 1300 and 1600 hrs. Or a Sunday.
It’s a weird feeling. Flying out of Catalina to Malta. As I mix with Italians and Sicilians and Maltese I feel like a native going overseas. It is a very early morning flight and I have arisen at 0500 for a quick walk down to the airport bus, which at yhis time of the morning negotiates deathly quiet streets. I am stopped at border security over a weapon of mass destruction i.e a corkscrew with much mia dispaice from the official and he seems to mean it.
Sicily from the air looks beautiful as the sun comes up and the west coast and interior look to be under intense cultivation. We fly through soft cloud, double rainbows and excited Italians taking pictures as if this wasn’t a country only 80 km away. I am suddenly aware that all announcements are in three languages. The first I take to be German though its not as guttural and hard. The second is Italian, and the third English. Oh yeah! Official language of Malta, English and Maltese. (More later).
From the air Malta looks small but I am surprised by the number of super container ships and suchlike lying at anchor, waiting to enter the rather large port.
Our host Mario is awaiting at the airport to take us to our apartment in his battered Peugeot, which typical of an electrical engineer (now retired), computer technician, academic, has electrical wiring running amok and switches dangling from doors , instrument panel gutted. He seems hesitant, wary perhaps, slightly distracted. Last weeks guests have left but the apartment hasn’t been cleaned and he seems at a nit of a loss as to what to do with us. We get a tour of Valetta and then up the hill to the apartment in the middle of Birju . (Trig Il Taramuntana As we wind up impossibly steep streets and increasingly narrow streets we meet cars and trucks coming the other way which necessitates much backing, wing mirror scraping, wheel skidding and I suddenly realise that Mario is speaking in that first airline voice but this a peculiar lilt. Its Malteze, an ancient language partly arabic, partly dialectic Sicilian partly Italian, partly English. I will try and write more about it later but all the streets are in the language and everyone is talk8 g it.
The apartment, like the Peugeot, is a work in progress but tidy, clean and quirky. Its in the suburb of Birgu and all the houses are in a soft cream stone, (they have white and yellow limestone which are the traditional building materials ) and after the black larval rock of Catania is quite a juxtaposition. Mario has to fix up bedding etc so we debunk to the central piazza Misrah ir- Republica and my god, freshly squeezed orange juice and horror of horrors a proper sausage roll. While I am sliding around the table chasing flaky pastry I enquire about the local Maltese wines which I have heard about but never tasted. I have developed a taste for Sicilian reds which I had never sampled before but they are readily available in the south of Italy and they are seriously good. Eyes watering price aside the glass I have at our local Café duBrazilia is beautiful. Warm, tasting of oranges and lemons and very easy on the palate (thought I would never live to here myself talking about wine like that). We discover that this place is where the knights templar resided and it has a history which I will try to find more about. Time for sustenance. Now I know nothing pf Maltese cuisine aside from rabbit, and pork.(pork cooked long and slow on a bed of potato and fennel with white wine) They are famous for seafood but I am not a big fan. We head for one of the five cafes in the piazza and settle on D-something which has a sumptuous interior but also a steep alleyway with outside tables that probably features in numerous tourist magazines judging by the number of photos taken as we dine. The waiter is a funny guy who is like that fox in the George Clooney film and he has a knack for taking your order then reappearing three times to make sure he has it right, Alison goes for the full Swordfish steak fillet and I opt for rabbit. They do either stew or fried and after three attempts Reynaud manages to bring me a plate of traditional Maltese fried rabbit, WITH CHIPS. God !
Who knows why someone would wreck a beau5uful dish of rabbit cooked in red wine, onions and balsamic with troppo garlic with, CHIPS. Its supposed to be served with bread to soak up the pea and reduction gravy or even with a mash. But CHIPS. Alison informs me it’s a thriw back to the English and it seems as though most dishes come with chips. I even had a ham and cheese sandwich for breakfast the next day with potato chips. Still the rabbit was AWESOME. This one had probably curry powder added but it could have been turmeric and cumin. I am later told by Mario that one of the restaurants on the square actually serves cat as a substitute for rabbit but I am pretty sure I identified all the bones as bunny.
I wake up feeling totally relaxed. Maybe it’s the good nights sleep, maybe it’s the clean white of everything, maybe its just being on a hilltop village removed from modem life, maybe it’s the life restoring properties of cat, WHEN the morning is rudely interrupted by first a motorbike then a car then a human being passing by my head about a metre away, then a furious argument in Maltese, then a horse and cart. The streets are seriously narrow and I could almost reach out the front door and shake hands with my neighbor across the alley.
Awake and out and at them. Today is ‘getting to know your environment so its two or three ferry rides a 4 hour bus trek around Malta so that we know what we want to see in 5he next three days. For me, after the day its, 1/ a small fishing village with a daily market -heaps of cool stalls and cafes (WITH CHIPS), 2/ the falconry centre with daily flights of birds, and all things falcon like (H IS FOR HAWK – HELEN MACDONALD) which I have been fascinated about after reading this excellent book and 3/ a harbour cruise to get a better look at Malta from the sea (still has a dry dock, still has shipbuilding , still has decent fishing fleet, still has a naval prescience). I am much impressed by the accomplishments of this small island with its distinctive language, distinctive culture despite CHIPS WITH EVERYTHING.
A Mixed Bag
What people imagine Italuan roads are like
Isabella, our new host has had a horrid day. First of all, her guests scheduled to turn up at 4pm arrive two hours early and the “maid” let them in, gave them the wrong set of keys (there are two entranceways of the front ingress); turned off the hot water, and generally made a balls up which would necessitate two callouts at 6pm and 8pm.
It hasnt been a bed of roses for us either. We had planned to visit the catacombs and the site of some of where the Godfather was filmed, both at Savora. The plan was to park the car at Saint Teresa di Riva and catch a bus up the narrow winding road to the hilltop village. (Supposedly impassable by car and no parking at the top) All well and good but we couldnt find the busstop (later revealed to be a small tin sign on a lamppost about 30 metres from where we parked) Plan B was to hail a cab (a plan that fellow tourists were pursuing and we agreed to share the costs) only no bloody taxis in said place. Plan C was to do the same at Taormina where there is an open ampitheatre and a bus runs from the railway station. However weaving through narrow streets, narrowly avoiding collisions, being overtaken on the inside by buzzy scooters, being held up for 10 minutes while a truck driver unloads parcels and blocks the street, and having to put up with the insanity of Sicilian drivers, we jointly decided to forgo sightseeing and forge onto Catania. Where it got even worse. Coming off the autostrade straight into lunchtime traffic that was jammed packed was too much for my nerves. I have decided NOT to hire a car for the last part of our journey. The stress of driving, not being able to see the sights because I am concentrating on not being killed, Alison the same as she is doing the navigating, not being able tp park, and when you do park worrying that you have wing mirrors removed by passing cars, or come back and find you have been towed. Isabella has
The Grim Reality
Kiindly found a garage where we can park the rental and strongly advised about driving in Catania. My pride says I should stick with it but then a woman pulls into the space in front of me and backs straight into my grill, gets out of car, shrugs her shoulders and walks away. Fortunately no damage. As I walk to our apartment another car smashes into the back of another car, she mounts the pavement and then a furious argument develops as the two drivers argue who is to blame. I do not need this shit.
An extract that says it all-
have just returned from a week in Sicily where a car is essential should you want to explore this wonderful island properly. Driving however is extremely nerve wracking and very, very, frustration.
Pack extra BetaBlockers if you drive in Sicily! I have driven in all parts of Italy but nothing prepares you for the crazy “death wish” drivers of this island. On nearly every journey we encountered these kamakazes who think nothing of overtaking on blind corners and consider the depth of a cigarette paper as the correct distance to place their front bumber against your rear one, regardless of speed!
If that isn’t enough to cope with, you must also be aware that signpostng is truly terrible. Usually there will be good signage on the motorways but once you come off do not rely on any of the signs (if there are any) Many point in completely the wrong direction or will take you on a 100km detour. Buy a map and trust only your own instincts as to when to make critical turns. This is particularly true when driving through towns en route Roundabouts are a particular nightmare because suddenly you will have the choice of 3 exits with not a single sign on any of them, so keeping to the right road becomes a lottery.
Good luck and don’t even think of not taking out full and comprehensive insurance for your car and your life!
So, got up early this morning, traffic reasonably light Still like rush hour in Auckland) and returned the car to Sicily by Car at Catania airport. And immediately felt a huge albatross unravel itself from my shoulders and neck.
I must admit that I tooted my horn under one minute of picking up the car. I must admit that I swore a lot, shook my fist, and aggressively took my right of way. I tried to join the drivers who think driving in Sicily is fun, but every time a horn sounded, or i checked my mirrors and they were full of scooters or Audi & Mercedes drivers screaming in beside me my testicles shrunk, my pulse rate climbed and I could feel a little bit of my life leaving me. When i looked at my face in the mirror this morning I have a new line running from my forehead to the corner of my mouth.
Catania is Sicilys secound largest city. It is very Moorish in parts and we have glimpsed through barred gates into little grottos. Havent really had an opportunity to sample the food as my first choice restaurant (simple oilcloth tableclothes, drinking mugs on the table, no menu, just a few rough looking men playing cards at different tables) we were answered for my request for a table – “come back at eight” but I felt they would rather we did not.
A Day in the Life
“woke up got out of bed
Dragged a comb across my head
Made my way downstairs”
Felt like a Beatles kind of morning. All our devices are on different time zones either because they are useless at knowing where they are (Kindle) or we are too lazy to update them (Samsung Tablet) My own personal body clock has always been extremely accurate although with advanced age it tends to be a little premature. I had set to for 5.30 but when I awoke I glanced at the Samsung and it said 3.05. Oh well back to sleep for a couple of hours as we had to catch a velopocello at 6.05 to catch the train to Mestre then the Flixbus to Pescara (our next destination, a 6 hour bus drive away in Abruzzi, Italy. I jerked awake an hour later and glanced at the clock 4.10. Alison slung her arm out nearly breaking my nose and yelled at me to go back to bloody sleep weareearlyfortgeferryanywayyouareabundlofnerves. But there was something not quite right. It was light outside and Italian dawn and dusk are roughly akin to whats happening in NZ at the moment. Then I consulted my huawei which is on trusted Italian time . 6.10. Shit the ferry left 5 minutes age. We have perfected packing and in 5 minutes we were downstairs, hair combed and ready for a day in the life.
Venus is particularly beautiful early morning and nighttime when you cant spot the decay, the tourists havent descended or have eloped. The soft light and splashes of the rising sun show you what a beautiful city it must have been. I am not sad to leave but wonder what will happen to her with a falling base, rising sea levels, a failed engineering project to stop the water rising and over tourism.
Managed to avoid the train inspector as we had failed to validate our tickets (subject to a €100 fine and then bloody Alison draws his attention by asking if this is the Mestre stop. I could have left her in an Italian prison)
I have been increasingly mistaken for an Italian with people asking for directions, German men wanting something and shop keepers speaking on rapid fire Italian which I cant follow whereas they slways talk English to Alison. This beautiful young Italian lady pulls up on a Harley and softly nudges my leg whilst parking. To my horror she apologies in fluent English and we then proceed to discuss the merits of American vs English iron. Go figure.
The bus ride to Pescara is long but uneventful apart from the driver who spends most of his time on his cell, gesticulating as Italians do and straying onto the next lane. Italian autobahns are great but the lanes are very narrow and the roads are dominated by trucks. Also all the trucks have little speed signs on the back 50, 80 , 100 kph and I wondered what they mean. The interweb has a host of explanations but basically the Italian government has made ot law a d it means nothing . The Flexibus company are great and my best discovery. For a reasonable price they transport you at literally the push of a finger. All bookings are online, a electronic ticket is emailed to you and you just show your smartphone, scan the barcode and you are off. They send a reminder the morning of your departure and any route info you m8ght need and then a follow up questionnaire afterwards. IT IS ILLEGAL TO USE CELLPHONES WHILE DRIVING AND INFRINGEMENTS ARE LIABLE FOR A SMALL FINE. What was even more disconcerting was the blatant disregards for red lights, roundabout rules, unless of course you are a lovely senorita where the brakes are suddenly applied , accompanied by inappropriate hand gestures and a huge smile. Ahhh ! Italy.
Pescara is seaside city famous for its beaches. It is common for an Italian family from Rome or nearby to decamp for the summer with pappa continuing to work and visit for the weekend. There is a delightful description of this culture in Tim Parks – An Italian Education (look it up on Google as he does a much better job of explaining it all than I could do justice to.) Imagine my horror when I wandered down to the beach, about 5 minutes from our apartment, to find miles and miles of beach umbrellas , 10 – 20 deep , which you rent out for up to €20-100 A day depending on the season. There are free beaches where fay pasty English and German tourists fry themselves in towels but the guides warn that the sand is dirty, beggars and thieves abound, and you are really not getting into the spirit of things. Its supposed to rain today so I might just sot in my briefs on the balcony and listen to the soccer blaring out from tv sets along the street. Cooked a pretty fair meal last night. Chicken pamiggia, a insalata miso, and proved that Italian potatoes can be nice. Washed down with some Multipeaciano.
I also found an old style barber up the street who uses a cutthroat razor so I am looking for an Italian haircut and shave on Monday. Expect a substantial new look.
She sat there in her little metal backed chair looking like the roaring in her ears was getting louder and louder. It’s all very unsettling for me. As if I could hijack a plane with a tinfoil strip carrying four Cataflam. And what did she mean by that crack that the little, perfectly formed orange pills bore a remarkable resemblance to Viagra? I can see the frustration on her face and the faces of my fellow passengers as they wait impatiently for this fool to clear security. First it’s the change in my pocket, then my inhaler within its metal container, then my car keys, and still that damn bleeper is still going off. I expect they thought that I should have known about all these little metal items. I feel hamstrung and a large amount of disbelief that I could not have anticipated the effect of terrorism on air travel. It hadn’t crossed my mind that the tinfoil was metallic, and that my inhaler, which I had always perceived as plastic was, in fact, metal. My hands are now shaking uncontrollably which has further incensed the now, team of women, who was scouring my body with a passion that only matches the frantic bleeping of their instruments. Glass case with metal hinges, metal frames on my sunglasses, a paper-clip lodged in the deep recesses of my money pocket (one of the peculiarities of men’s trousers). Finally I, as a gibbering wreck, make it to the comparative safety of my seat. I quickly scan the plane for dark skinned people with flowing robes and turbans but, Flight 450, on this beautiful sunny Sunday morning, is Taleban free.Then, not five minutes into the flight, a smiling stewardess hands me two beautiful, sharpened, metal weapons to slice pilots and passengers throats, poke eyes out, or cut vital pneumatic hoses.
That swarthy male steward is not fooling me at all! He has an Arab look about him with that pointed nose and sandy stare. The name Anil Prasad on his identity tag is not dissuading me from making him out to be a member of a tiny terrorist faction intent on capturing the plane and flying it into the Beehive. Why, just this morning, on National radio I heard a security expert say that NZ is a prime target as security tightens up in other countries. Terrorists will pick on weaker countries and repeat the lessons of 9/11. I bet, even now, that Mr. Prasad is secretly sweating inside his little green uniform as he anticipates that vital second to seize control of the plane and fly it into the American embassy in Wellington, or maybe an expensive visiting yacht, or maybe a KFC outlet.
And what about that tangata whenau in the beanie, black Levi’s and dirty dogs with the barbed wire tattoo around his neck. Has he been brainwashed by Tania Turea and is now intent on copying his Arab cousins?
Now the intercom is calling out for anyone who has left a set of keys behind in security. Suddenly its upgraded to a pair of Mazda keys. Is this some secret code that only Mr. Prasad can decipher. ‘We have control of the aircraft, Anil. Break out the metal cutlery and overpower the flight crew in the rear of the plane. Anil seems remote and distracted, as if maybe, he’s forgotten the code. Another announcement. ‘Congratulations to the Northland hockey team on their runner up placing out of 24 teams at the National Champs.’ Does this mean that the plan is aborted and will be run again in 24 hours? Or is it that target 24 is to be chosen? My palms have gone all sweaty and I can feel the world starting to spin as I come to the realization that this may be the last moment of my life. Why did I choose to fly? Knowing that I could be brutally plastered against a US made building somewhere hundreds of miles from my own home. I try some cognitive reconstruction but it all sounds like psychobabble.
The pilot’s voice comes on as we descend into thick fog. ‘We are about eighty kilometers south of Wellington and there are a number of planes waiting to land in front of us so we are going into a holding pattern.’ I look out the window and we are indeed flying in thick white soup. Motionless, it feels as though the plane is hanging suspended in a moment of time. I start to think of other scenarios. A nuclear device exploded above-ground or a new electromagnetic type bomb that can be built with bits from Dick Smith and can wipe out all machines and vehicles with electronic monitoring systems. Like large 747 aeroplanes. Maybe this has happened and we are suspended in limbo. A kind of time warp. My mind starts spinning around all the possibilities.
Gradually I forget about terrorists, bombs, Osama bin Laden, and mad dog Bush. Suddenly, another announcement as the plane jerks violently in the air. ‘Ladies and gentlemen we are now descending into Wellington airport. Conditions on the ground are not good. Strong southwest winds, heavy rain and very cold temperatures with very poor visibility. I will approach cautiously but I may have to power up and abort the landing if conditions are too bad. I’ll have a second go and if that fails we have enough fuel for thirty minutes flying so we will have a go for Christchurch airport where conditions are much better. Things could get bumpy, so hang on.’
A collective hush falls over the cabin. We are all confined in the same small tin coffin. We are to be incinerated in a sudden ball of fire or worse, drowned, as helplessly we try to find the flotation device so thoughtfully hidden beneath our seats. Suddenly all thoughts of hijacking by angry Arab terrorists fade into the background as we pitch from side to side and then descend rapidly with a thump. I look below and a cold angry ocean peers back at me, and then I see gloomy Wellington streets as we round the point at Oriental parade and descend toward the airport. The plane drift sideways and then shudders and shakes. I am aware that my knuckles are white and I have worn a groove in my armrest. My sphincter muscle is working overtime. Clench, unclench. The runway seems to scream up at me and then we are down. A perfect landing and the passenger compartment breaks into prolonged applause and I even notice a small smile of relief on the face of the obviously Indian Anil Prasad.