“All Inclusive?” Well, Not Quite

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

I must start out by saying that the six days/five nights I spent in Italy were a great introduction to a country I thought I was never going to see. I’ve worked in 27 countries in my lifetime, but all of the eastern European countries except for Cyprus have somehow evaded my itinerary.  If I’d had some kind of imaginary bucket list, Italy would have likely been on it, though probably Venice and Rome would have been higher up than where I wound up going.

Through some trolling on the web, we found a holiday package that claimed hotel, airfare, food and wine for a set fee that seemed very reasonable. Even after a series of “whoops, it’s gonna be a little extra” moments, the final quoted price still looked pretty good. I was just happy to see I had the money to do it at all.

Perugia and the surrounding area are lovely, and the hotel my girlfriend and I stayed at was a converted 1000-year-old fort in a village called Canalicchio, but in that area, ancient buildings are not that unusual. I must remind myself too, of what a beautiful area it was and how privileged we were to have the chance to get away and spend the week in 30 degree (Celsius) temperature every day while it pissed down on London almost the entire time we were gone.

That reminder keeps me from whinging too much about how nearly every time I turned around, some faction seemed to be demanding extra money above what we were told we’d have to pay.  At least one of those instances was my own fault. I must caution anyone flying in Europe: If it is possible to avoid flying Ryan Air, you owe it to your sanity to do so. But first the part where it was truly my bad. Ryan Air insists, and have been doing so a couple of years, that passengers check in and print out their boarding passes within 24 hours of departure. I screwed up, not on my own pass, but because I forgot that between the two of us, I had the only functional printer, I didn’t print hers. I didn’t realise this until that very morning, and thus had to pay a penalty of £45 to get one at Stansted Airport. OK, not great news, but still not a holiday spoiler. I just wonder how the remaining people in the world who have no computer or even any knowledge of how they work, would function in these circumstances. Perhaps they just don’t go anywhere.

Ryan Air can charge lower fees because they make it up by charging for checked baggage. We avoided that, packing six days worth of clothes and toiletries in two small suitcases. Still, they were pretty adamant about the “one plastic bag for liquid toiletries” rule, which meant actually leaving a couple of items behind. That would have been OK, except we didn’t know about the rule until we were at the fifth of about 12 security checkpoints. Had we known, we’d have travelled that much lighter. I also got some hassle from one of the customs people about my American passport, which I didn’t understand then, but would fully understand on the return journey.

Meanwhile, the flight arrived in Perugia airport (Perugia, by the way, put its name on the world map for the notorious “Perugia Murder” case in 2010(?)  involving the slaying of British student Meredith Karcher and the trial of her accused killer, the American Amanda Knox, who was first found guilty, then not, then not again in a retrial) on time, with customs relatively hassle-free, and a driver meeting us there to take us to the hotel. The next day involved an excursion to a vineyard with free wine tasting (the only free wine we’d get the whole week, despite what the website claimed). The third day we went to Assisi, a lovely walled city with the Basilica de San Francesco still looking as radiant as it did in the 12th Century. Here we got lost, and wound up at a different vantage point from where we were supposed to meet our driver. Miraculously, he showed up,  just after we’d had an Italian lady who spoke no English call us a cab to take us where we needed to be. She gave us a lecture, about, I don’t know, maybe being responsible human beings, or maybe Brexit, while I asked our driver to explain to her that he wasn’t kidnapping us, or whatever the heck it was she was railing about, but to no avail. We paid the cab driver, who showed up moments later, for a non-ride just to appease this wild woman.

There was a day of chilling followed by a day trip to Perugia itself, where we saw many of the same things we saw in Assisi, but what made it more interesting was our travel companions, who were this lovely South Coast couple that had been together 42 years. My girlfriend and I were only 41 years behind them in that department, and in fact Saturday, the day we left, was not only our first anniversary but also her birthday. Since we had to check out by noon, yet our flight didn’t leave until nearly 10PM, the couple graciously allowed us to use their room to keep our stuff until it was time to go to the airport.

Ah, yes, Perugia Airport, where maybe three planes leave per day. In spite of that, ours was late! It just gave me extra time to be detained by their security because I realised the problem the people at Stansted had with my US passport. My boarding pass somehow listed my passport number as a UK one, so my pass was declared invalid. I was asked to step aside while they debated how they should punish me. Well, of course, it was gonna cost me, and when the agent declared it would cost me an additional 15 Euros to print a new boarding pass, I mock rejoiced, saying in a disguised sarcasm, “That’s fine, because I have exactly 15 Euros left in my pocket that I truly had no idea what I was going to do with!”

I wish I could say my ordeal was over after we got on the plane, but no it wasn’t. I could deal with the lady seated behind me coughing, sneezing, and vehemently blowing her nose for 2 1/2 hours, but when we landed at Stansted about 30 minutes later than was expected, there was that little deal with customs. I’ve flown in and out of Stansted countless times, but this was the first time in many years that I’d flown from outside UK. This airport now thinks it’s Heathrow. While one queue of people with EU passports (who knows how long THAT will apply) can breeze right through, us ex-pats wait in a queue of maybe 200 with only two agents dealing with African and Asian travellers who speak little if any English. It took me nearly an hour to get through, while my girlfriend, who’s Irish but has a UK passport, got through a much longer line in about 20 minutes. This caused our cab driver, who patiently waited almost two hours, to have to charge us extra, but at this point, since the hotel in Canalicchio was charging us for water, again ignoring what we had been told, any further charges were just par for the course.

Yes, the trip cost us about double what we’d originally been quoted, but I gotta say the good still outweighed the bad. Italy is a beautiful country, and except for the lady in Assisi, the people are very friendly.  I hope to never deal with Ryan Air again, but their name may come up again in some equally appealing situation. I got some sun, I got away, and I saw a part of the world I’d never have seen otherwise. Oh, and while the minutes tick away here, Happy 4th of July to my friends out there!

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