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11:12pm on Monday, 19th July, 2010:

This is Italy


Our flight from Gatwick took off 15 minutes late but arrived on time two hours and five minutes later. That's Britain for you.

This is Italy, though. We breezed through passport control, but there was only one shuttle train running to the main terminal and we missed it. No matter: five minutes later it came back and we were off to be reunited with our luggage.

Some fifty minutes later, our luggage tumbled serenely from the conveyor belt. We were lucky — it took over an hour passengers on the previous flight from London to get theirs. This was at FCO, the main airport for Rome, the capital city of Italy: the baggage handling is tortuously slow.

We'd booked a minibus to take us to the hotel, and were worried the delay might mean we'd miss it. HA! When we finally climbed aboard, we'd been at Rome Airport for two hours and twenty minutes — fifteen minutes longer than we were in the air to get there. I know you're supposed to arrive two hours before an international flight, but this is the first time I've had to wait two hours after arriving before I could get out.

The minibus driver had some other passengers, which meant a journey that should have taken an hour took two. One passenger was staying in some kind of flop house near the start of an underground line, i.e. in the Roman equivalent of Uxbridge except populated by the kind of people who live in King's Cross. Two passengers were staying in a very nice hotel miles from anywhere, in the Roman equivalent of, say, the M25. One passenger was staying in the central near the Railway station but in a nice hotel in a nice street. We're here, in a nice hotel in a street barely wide enough to get a car down, let alone a minibus.

The minibus journey was ... different. As there were eight passengers, two of us had to sit in the front. I sat there with my younger daughter — sixteen, blue-eyed and fair-haired as she is. She was between me and the driver, because she fitted in that seat and I didn't. The driver, who was maybe 30 or so, started playing a Lucio Battista CD, loudly, which he joined in singing with, also loudly. He turned to my daughter as he was driving, looking at her and singing the words. Yes, well it's all well and good being serenaded, but not by someone who is supposed to be driving. He only ever used one hand on the wheel, except for the times when he used none. The worst was when he made a mobile phojne call to his girlfriend: he needed one hand for the wheel, one for the phone, and, being Italian, one for gesticulating. That made for a thrilling ride.

He switched the CD for another one of Queen singing Elvis Presley hits, that we had the misfortune to listen to twice. He had to use a pen to get out the Lucio Battista CD out of his player, so long had it been in there — were were stopped at a traffic light when he started, but turning a corner when he finished.

He peppered his singing with good-natured sexist remarks about women drivers and racist ones about Chinese people (him: "Chinese are all stupid people"; me: "All one thousand million of them?"). So many times did he almost hit the vehicle in front that I was hitting the brakes myself as if the vehicle was dual control, an action I feel I can excuse by noting that from my point of view I would have been sitting in the driving seat if that had been my car.

Oh. he had a satnav, too; I could just about hear it over the music. Now I don't know much Italian, but I do know the difference between the words for left and right, and on a number of occasions the voice instructed him to bear right only fro him to stay resolutely in the left lane until the last possible moment, whereupon he would cut across two lanes of traffic to get into the correct position to make the turn. It was almost a point of honour for him. He missed several turns, too, resulting in U-turns on dual carriageways that are probably six different kinds of illegal.

Still, we got here in one piece. Despite his amazing ability to drive through narrow, one-way streets at speed, I'm not sure whether we'll be going back to the airport this same way. Then again, I'm not sure any other local driver would be any different.

This is Italy.

Referenced by This is Austria.

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Copyright © 2010 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).