Taranto Trip

My company made a huge acquisition last year, of a steel mill in Taranto in the south of Italy. It’s the biggest steel mill in Europe but it didn’t come without its issues, so my first trip was only organised this week. Even the model of it was huge and required the guy explaining it to use a big stick and lights to illustrate which bits he was talking about!

I seem destined to work with mills which are, without putting too fine a point on it, a pain in the bum to get to, so my Monday consisted of flying from Birmingham to Dublin and then Dublin to Bari. This was with Ryanair. For those of you who know me, or are regular readers, you’ll know my opinion of Ryanair – money-grabbing and seemingly hellbent on making travel as irritating and difficult as possible. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ll still go out of my way not to fly with them if at all possible, and it continues to irritate me beyond belief that they have no seatback pockets in which to stash your stuff, leaving you doing a juggling act with your hand luggage (40 x 20 x 25cm and not a millimetre over!) your passport (which you had to show to board), your phone (which you needed to keep in your hand to use your mobile boarding pass and then show as you boarded to prove that the combination of you and the ground staff weren’t stupid enough to get you to the wrong plane) and your bag of essential sustenance (because you can guarantee Ryanair will have sold out (or not bothered to load) what you want to eat/drink, however Monday’s experience was actually reasonably pain-free and seamless, helped by the fact that I had check in luggage due to the length of my trip and the fact that work were picking up the bill, so I didn’t have to rush to board in order to do battle for a space in the overhead lockers.

Yes I had to book my connections as two separate flights (Birmingham to Dublin and Dublin to Bari) because Ryanair don’t want to be held responsible if you miss your connection, which meant I had to collect my check in luggage in Dublin and recheck in for my onward flight and deposit my bag again, but for once, Ryanair’s insistence on making you doing their job and making everything as speedy as possible worked really well! In Birmingham I had to go to the self serve machines and print my luggage tag and attach it, and then check the bag in myself on the conveyor. In Dublin my bag was one of the first out, then I had to go through the same process again and then I was on my way. No standing in queues or even speaking to people! I do find the fewer people I’m forced to speak to, the more advantageous it is for my state of mind!

Both flights were pretty much on time (which breaks my recent trend of being delayed everywhere I go!) but thankfully they didn’t blow their stupid bugle upon bouncing down, and pretty uneventful, with the exception of the luggage, passport, phone, drink juggling situation!

Being a seasoned traveller, I thought I’d got that sussed. Hoodie! I thought. Wear a hoodie – easy access to a pouch to stash the aforementioned belongings, and, although I was officially working, I was in transit so no jacket required (eat your heart out Phil Collins). This worked perfectly in Brum, but by the time I got to Dublin it was too hot for a hoodie, so then not only was I juggling my luggage, passport, phone and drink but I also had a hoodie tied round my waist that kept threatening to fall off. Sigh!

Anyway, I arrived at Bari airport without incident with it now cool enough (south of Italy versus Ireland – go figure!) to make use of the hoodie pouch and I headed out to meet my shuttle driver. Bari is the nearest airport to Taranto, but it’s still over an hour’s drive to the town so transport of some sort is needed. The shuttle driver informed me through some combination of semaphore and sign language due to the language barrier that we had to wait for another flight to arrive because he was collecting more people. Hands shoved in hoodie pouch (did I mention it’s a Gryffindor hoodie?) and another sigh, ‘ok,’ says I (somewhat redundantly since I had no choice in the matter) ‘wait we will’.

Sometime later the doors from arrivals open and I spy a familiar face heading in our direction. Imagine I’m hovering around the clouds (hopefully not with my head in them!) in terms of business hierarchy; this person is somewhere orbiting the moon. And there’s me in my Gryffindor hoodie! Sigh. Again. This is someone with whom I would only ever want to make the best possible impression and here I am demonstrating my allegiance to Godric the brave! I mean, I guess it could’ve been worse …. it could’ve been a Slytherin hoodie!

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Anyhow, I did my best to make intelligent conversation during the journey to the hotel (did I mention it’s over an hour?) and I don’t think I let the side down. I pondered the situation that I’d found myself in as I was settling down to go to sleep (in Mickey Mouse pyjamas) and I concluded that wearing a Gryffindor hoodie (or a Pooh Bear T-shirt or carrying a floral Cath Kidston laptop bag rather than a boring, black, corporate uniform laptop bag – you get my gist) is an integral part of who I am, and I’m not prepared to change who I am in order to fit into a corporate box. I am absolutely prepared to work hard in order to prove myself and forge a worthy career, but I’ll be doing it with colour and interest and quirkiness on my side.

During our visits to the mill we had to leave our passports with reception when we arrived, and collect them again at the end of the day. One of my colleagues (who I didn’t think knew me particularly well) was handing back the passports one day and he got to mine and without even opening it said, ‘oh, well, that’s Sarah’s’. How did he know?

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It’s in this case. This made me happy. 

The hotel I stayed in was called Albergo Del Sole and inside it was pretty nice. I felt like I was sleeping in a cathedral!

Even the bathroom had the same feature.

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The breakfast room was on the third floor with a lovely view of the sea.

They even had Coco Pops which pleased me greatly.

Outside there was a cute little church with a bell that pealed out each hour.

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Unfortunately, outside there were also several homeless people who, whilst not aggressive, were very persistent and made me feel uncomfortable being outside. For once I was glad of the male domination of my industry because I was always with a group of male colleagues who I suspect were more of a deterrent to the hassle than I would’ve been alone or in a group of women. Several of our group had hire cars, and the homeless guys would try to guide them into parking spaces and then request money in return. Worryingly, one of them was the spitting image of our window cleaner (this actually says more about our window cleaner than the homeless guy!)

The area we were staying in was, I think, the old town, and I still can’t decide if it was Mediterranean shabby chic, or if it’s just run down and in need of a cash injection. We ventured further out in the evenings and as I was being chauffeured around on the second night I saw some of the traditional houses that the area is known for. They have round roofs and reminded me somewhat of a Hobbit house, but they were lovely. I bought a fridge magnet representation at the airport.

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On the last evening we walked for twenty minutes or so to a restaurant called Desco. At first I felt wary because we were strolling through back streets with graffiti and guys sat around on mopeds but then we came out onto a nice sea side promenade and we crossed a bridge into what I guess is the new town. It was much more lively and vibrant and, bonus points for Taranto, I found a cat to ease my pining for these two.

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It was a plump ginger tom and it wound its way round my legs happily.

I was determined to have some decent pasta before I left Italy, and I managed it at Desco.

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Tagliatelle con Porcini – yum!

Coming home I came a completely different route with an airline that is the antithesis of Ryanair – Lufthansa. German efficiency and service at its best. The first leg was Bari to Frankfurt. I like Frankfurt airport – it has a McDonalds which, even if I don’t go to it, reassures me that there’s some home comfort available should I feel in need of it. Its seating area has a great view of the airfield too so you can watch the planes taking off.

It also has Steiff bears!

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How I resisted I don’t know! They even had a Blue-footed Booby for goodness sake!

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When we were in Orlando I tried to find a neck pillow for the plane, but they only had boring plain ones so I used my new Eeyore as a pillow instead. I wanted an interesting one, I was really angling for a Disney one of some sort, but it wasn’t to be. Today though, I found this one.

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This one’s not boring and it does kind of look like Melman, the giraffe from Madagascar.

The homebound leg was Frankfurt to Birmingham and this time I didn’t have to collect my bag, it was all one booking so I checked in my bag at Bari all the way though to Birmingham. I’m typing this on the flight so hopefully my bag is somewhere underneath me waiting for us to be reunited shortly! (Edit: it was).

I love flying! I don’t understand being scared of it (but that’s because I’m not). I love settling into my seat with all my comforts and letting someone else be in charge for two or four or nine hours. I have my kindle so I can read, my iPad so I can watch downloaded shows or films on Netflix, my phone so I can Candycrush (is that an acceptable verb?) and the aforementioned drink to keep me hydrated. After that I just settle back and enjoy the ride.

I love the feeling when the plane starts to accelerate down the runway – I find this is best in a smaller plane like an A320 or a Boeing 737. The bigger planes take too long to get up to speed so you don’t get that pushed back in your seat feel. I especially like it when they accelerate round the corner onto the runway and then continue into the ascent without stopping. It makes me smile the way a rollercoaster does.

I love airports too. Even when it’s for work, they’re still exciting because other people are going on holiday and there’s a buzz. I love the moving walkways that get you round the long distances. I don’t understand why people avoid them or just stand on them. You need to walk on them, it makes you feel like your legs are sixteen feet long because you’re going so fast without any extra effort. It reminds me of a recurring dream I used to have where I was running super fast, taking massive lolloping steps.

Anyway, I’ve landed – I’m home, whoop – and this has turned into a mammoth post, so I’ll finish here and post when I get home.

Friday tomorrow already! Happy weekend all when it arrives.

Ugh – Holiday Blues!

Holidays, best thing in the world, right? Holiday blues, not so great! I’m doing my very best not to mope around with my lower lip on the floor, but I admit I have already looked up prices for a return trip and investigated timeshares in Orlando whilst wearing my Minnie Mouse ears (which will forever be known as my extra ears because Crush the turtle in Turtle Talk with Crush at Epcot called them so). However, I have also learnt not to make holiday blues fuelled decisions so I’m trying my hardest to focus on the positive.

First positive aspect of being home? Well it’s two actually.

We really missed these two little furry things, and from the reaction we’ve had from them, I think the feeling was mutual! They haven’t left our sides since we got home.

Secondly, it was great to see the changes in the garden. Luckily (for the garden, not for people who weren’t on holiday) the weather at home wasn’t great while we were away so the greenhouse didn’t get hot enough to fatally dry out my seedlings and the rest of the garden got a bit of rain to keep it going.

When we pulled up on the drive we practically had to fight our way through the front garden because the grass has grown so long. That’s not so much of a positive, but it illustrates the difference a week makes! We have one more day off work so hubby’s planning to get the mower out tomorrow (hopefully it’ll make it through the meadow!)

The first thing I did after fussing our little furry girls was head out the back to check everything was ok.

This is the progress in the greenhouse.

Top left are my Sunflowers and Calendula and next to that are my Sweet Peas and Cosmos. They’re all getting quite big so I’ve started to harden them off ready to be planted out.

Bottom left are my Chillis and Spices. Woohoo – progress! The Habaneros and Cayenne Peppers aren’t showing any signs of life yet, but the Jalapeños, Cumin and Coriander have all germinated.

Bottom right is my Funky Veg. There were signs of life in the red Brussel Sprouts and the Rainbow Swiss Chard before we went away but now the purple Carrots, yellow Courgette and stripy Tomatoes have sprung up too.

I really need to think about where I’m going to plant all these now they’ve germinated. I don’t think I was confident enough that they’d actually grow to plan further ahead than sowing them!

Outside the greenhouse there’s now life in the raised beds.

On the left are my peas and on the right, carrots. No sign of the red onions or leeks yet, but I’m happy that it looks like we’re going to get peas and carrots. We ate in Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in Orlando. It’s a Forrest Gump themed restaurant, and for those not familiar with the film, Forrest says of his best friend, ‘me and Jenny went together like peas and carrots’ so it seems appropriate that these have chosen to germinate while we were away.

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Next to the peas and carrots, the potato bags have grown hair!

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In the rest of the garden colour has appeared all over the place.

Top left is my Dicentra Bleeding Heart. This was from the sale table last year and was past flowering, so this is the first time I’ve seen its beautiful bloom. Next to that is a shrub that we inherited with the house. I don’t know what it is, but is has lovely yellow flowers which the bees seem keen on. On the end is one of many buds on one of my many roses. This is on one of my standard roses, but most of my other roses are in bud too.

On the bottom row are my orange Geum and my beautiful Erysimum. Both of these were from the sale table last year too. The Erysimum kept a couple of flowers all through Winter but now it’s exploded with flowers. They’re such a lovely bright pink.

Hopefully I’ll be over the jet lag enough tomorrow to get out there and do some maintenance. There’s a fair bit of deadheading and general tidying that needs doing. It feels quite overwhelming at the moment, but I know that’s the holiday blues and tiredness bringing out the pessimist in me.

Other positives about being home? I got to catch up on Gardeners’ World from the last two Fridays, although I did take my fix with me.

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I don’t have to put suntan lotion on every day because, well, it’s flipping freezing here! For anyone that’s interested, Boots Soltan Once doesn’t work as well as P20. With P20 I can put it on once before I go in the sun and, even if I’m in and out of water, I still don’t burn. I thought I’d give Soltan Once a go because it’s a lot cheaper, but it turns out that in this case you do get what you pay for. I didn’t burn horrendously, but I did have pink shoulders. It’ll be good enough to use here in the garden though if we get some warmer days, as long as I’m not out there all day.

My hair is back to its normal volume. I saw this meme on Facebook and had to post it because it describes exactly what happens when I go somewhere with high humidity.

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More positives. Of course, I get to see my family and friends, that’s a given. I can drink water from the tap (which I’m sure would be fine in Orlando, but apparently it tastes bad so I prefer not to).

Last, but most certainly not least, I can start researching, planning and dreaming about our next holiday (after the next two that are already booked, of course!) In the meantime, I’ll avoid thinking about the negatives until they become normal again, and I’ll content myself with living vicariously through my photos.

 

Doesn’t time fly ….

…. when you’re having fun?

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How is it our last full day in Orlando tomorrow? Clearly we’re having far too much fun because it has flown by! Soon we’ll be back to work, struggling with jet lag and the rest and relaxation will be all but forgotten, but, and it’s a big but, we’ll have the memories and our batteries will be recharged.

Orlando isn’t generally a relaxing holiday in the way that a beach holiday is. We’ve averaged over twelve thousand steps per day (including Saturday when we spent nine hours of the day sitting on our derrieres on a plane) and we’ve been awake, if not up and out, before seven thirty every day (admittedly this is helped by us being five hours behind our body clocks, but still ….). On a typical beach holiday I reckon we average about twelve steps a day and sleep about as many hours! However, I think (jet lag aside) I come back more refreshed and recharged after a holiday in Orlando because my brain is almost completely removed from reality. Everything is exciting, exhilarating and extraordinary. I may sleep less in terms of quantity, but the quality is better because the days are physically tiring and my brain is switched off from anything of concern in the real world.

So, what have we been up to?

Day one we were up and out early because we’d booked a day at Discovery Cove. We grabbed an Uber and we were there around nine am. Discovery Cove is an expensive day, but the price you pay is all inclusive. It includes breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks …

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… towels, fish-safe suntan lotion, use of a life jacket or wetsuit, snorkel equipment and access to the Grand Reef full of rays, tropical fish and (safely behind glass) sharks.

There’s also a lazy river …

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… a serenity beach …

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… a walk through aviary …

… and a marmoset island.

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You can pay a bit extra and do various activities such as swim with dolphins, feed the rays or seaventure which involves putting on a weird space helmet and walking under water, but we just had the basic package because we didn’t want to be tied to particular timings.

With your ticket you also get free entry into, and parking at, SeaWorld and Aquatica, and for a bit extra, Busch Gardens, so you could make your money go even further if you wanted to do all that too.

We had a great day. Really relaxing. I love the lazy river and the serenity beach. We went there for my fortieth birthday eighteen months ago and it was supposed to be a one time only, day of a lifetime thing, but it was so good that we had to do it again!

On to day two and it was Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure on the itinerary. This is our third visit, so we pretty much know what we’re doing now, and in what order. On our first visit we start off in Universal Studios …

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… and take in all that has to offer, then we take the Hogwarts Express over to Islands of Adventure.

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On our return trip, we do it the other way around because then we can ride the Hogwarts Express in the other direction. You see all sorts of magical Harry Potter goings on outside the window during the trip, for example, Hagrid flying on his bike and the Weasley’s Ford Anglia, and they’re different each way. Unfortunately it didn’t go quite according to plan this time. All was fine on trip one, but today while we were waiting in Hogsmeade Station to go back to Kings Cross, the Hogwarts Express got a technical fault so we couldn’t ride. All was not lost though. In true American great customer service style, everyone was given a single ride express pass as compensation so we ran over to the Hulk coaster which had an eighty minute wait earlier in the day and got straight on that. It’s my favourite coaster so I was disappointed that we hadn’t been on, but didn’t want to wait in a queue for that long.

I could go on and on (and Ariston) about the various aspects of the Universal Parks, but there’s so much in them that I’d be writing for days so instead I’ll just share some of my favourite photos from the two days.

They’re nearly all from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! I enjoy other parts of the parks as well, but the Wizarding World does have a special place in my heart!

Day three we went to another Universal park, this time their water park, Volcano Bay (the one we can see from our bedroom window).

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Volcano Bay is literally two minutes walk away from our hotel, and we have a dedicated entry point from the hotel as well as access an hour earlier than normal park hours.

We were up and in early because we wanted to get on a couple of the big rides before the queues built up. We managed to get on four rides, including Ko’okiri which  is a body plunge through a trapdoor at the top of the volcano which plunges you into the water below, and Krakatau which is an aqua coaster in a canoe which takes you soaring up and around the volcano.

We’d booked premium seating which was a great idea.

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We had our own little space with comfy sun beds and, most conveniently, our own locker which meant we didn’t have to keep traipsing back and forth to the lockers. We could also order food and drinks direct to our seats.

Here’s the volcano up close and personal.

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There’s a pool at the base and every twenty minutes or so the bell goes off signalling that the wave machine is about to start. Much splishy splashy fun was had!

I think my favourite feature is the winding river.

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Here you just float around without a care in the world on your ring, until you decide you’ve had enough.

Here’s a few of the slides we went on, including a view of the volcano from the back.

We’re going back to Volcano Bay again tomorrow to relax on our last day. Hopefully if we get there in the early admission hour we’ll be able to book premium seating again. It worked out as about £65, but it was well worth it for the comfort. Tomorrow is looking like there might be some rain as well so it’ll be good to have a roof, even a canvas one!

Our final destination of the holiday, which we visited yesterday, was Epcot.

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I have to get some Disney in!

First things first, we had to meet Mickey Mouse! We booked character dining at the Garden Grill.

I wasn’t quite as star struck as when we had lunch with Pooh Bear and his Hundred Acre friends a couple of years ago, but I was pretty close!

We spent quite a while in Future World exploring. Several of the rides/attractions are educational which makes a pleasant change. We learnt about the ecosystem and the work Epcot does to try to reduce its carbon footprint on Living with the Land.

It was soon time for something more frivolous though so we went and sat in a giant shell and watched Nemo and Dory and then went to Turtle Talk where we were entertained by Crush. Totally awesome dudes and dudettes (you have to say that in a California surf dude style!)

We queued for ages to get on Soarin’ but oh boy Pluto, was it worth it! Amazing! It really felt like we were flying over some of the world’s most iconic sights.

After this we headed for World Showcase and we explored all the countries. The International Flower and Garden festival is on at the moment and there were some beautiful floral displays, as well as these amazing topiary figures.

We hung around until nine pm so that we could watch IllumiNations. That was well worth the wait, and the ensuing nightmare of getting an Uber along with the rest of Epcot!

Right, it’s late so I’m off to beddy byes. I’m too tired to proofread so apologies for any errors!