Of course I accepted when I was offered the chance to spend a week in Florence. The very first thing I did was to buy an 'Easy-Peasy Learn Italian' cd and book; then I got to studying it. I was determined to learn at least a few basic phrases as I would have to spend the days on my own while George was at work.
Amazingly, for the first time in my life I found myself really enjoying a new language. School days had been grim, years of learning French and German had left me able to speak only English! Italian just seems to be a beautiful language and my brain accepted it readily - unfortunately, it left just as quickly.
I used the internet to pre-book myself in on lots of sightseeing tours. During working hours I would be on my own so I was completely self-indulgent and booked guided tours around the wonderful Uffizi Gallery, Bargello Museum, The Duomo and tours during which we wandered around Florence from monuments to palaces, via churches and piazzas. It was bliss. A feast, and totally fascinating.
I had a brilliant time. George had a good time, but his days were spent in business meetings.
At the end of the week we were dropped off at Florence Airport. It's only small, people were friendly, we were relaxed and happy.
There was a delay announced as we waited in the departure lounge. There were groans and grumblings, but what can you do about it? Finally our flight was announced and the bus took the first load of people out to the plane which was waiting on the tarmac. The rest of us queued patiently waiting for the bus to return for us. Suddenly all hell broke loose. Screams and shouts reverberated, and people came running in shouting angrily, placing themselves between us and the departure gate.
We didn't have a clue about what was happening, everything was happening too quickly, plus we had the language barrier. The airport police, with guns, arrived and a very heated shouting match ensued. The invaders held their ground. Their ranks were swelled by some people who came along pushing a young man in a wheelchair. They proceeded to lay him in front of the exit onto the tarmac, to prevent us going to join the rest of the passengers on the plane.
Men (and some very feisty women) posted themselves all around us, no one could come in or go out, toilets were out of bounds, we were not allowed to get a drink. We were held captive and the armed police just stood around, watching. It was bewildering.
Finally, a female television presenter turned up, complete with camera crew. Negotiations went on for about two hours. They wouldn't let us leave, they wanted the passengers to get off the plane and let them get on.
It transpired that there had been two flights due to take off, our flight to London, and a flight to Palermo. However, there had been a problem with the aeroplane due to fly to London. These people had been on the Palermo flight and had been taken off their plane and were told that there was a problem with it, so they would be put up in a hotel for the night. Then they saw that we had been called forward and were being taken out to their plane.... fiery Sicilian temperaments were not going to stand for that (quite rightly), especially as the airport was going to close for the night!
Eventually the agreement was reached, on camera, that if they let us join the plane they would have another plane come for them and they would be in Palermo that evening. It was agreed that Florence airport would remain open until the flight arrived and also that Palermo airport would stay open for their arrival. Reluctantly, they let us leave.
We joined the rest of the passengers on the plane - to find that they hadn't been told what was happening back in the departure lounge! Some interesting conversations ensued, take-off was scarcely noticed which was the one positive of the experience as far as I was concerned.
I have done a lot of travelling, but I really don't like flying. I pretend to be calm and collected, but inside I am terrified. I belong to the school of thought that believes that if we were meant to fly we would have been given wings... add to that all the noise, the anger, the shouting, the guns and I confess I was not a happy bunny. Only George was aware of that, of course!
I have rambled on far too long, so I'll leave it here. Part II will follow in a day or two. Our late arrival had some very interesting repercussions!