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.

Happy National Pet Day

Evening!

Really really quick post tonight because I’m absolutely exhausted today after burning the candle at both ends. I was at a retirement do last night for a wonderful man, Robert, who was my boss for the majority of the last sixteen years. It was a lovely evening. Really lovely and, most importantly, Robert had a fantastic evening.

I mentioned in my last post that I had to rush off to desperately finish some crocheting. I was making an elephant as a gift for Robert. I got him a couple of other gifts, but I really wanted to give him something handmade so it had that personal touch. I managed to finish it at the eleventh hour – phew!

Here it is deconstructed.

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And drumroll moment ….

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Cute huh?

Talk of elephants leads me nicely on to the topic of the day – it’s National Pet Day. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to show some of my favourite photos of the various pets in my life.

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This is my hubby with our friends’ dog Pip. She’s a lovely dog with a great temperament. Hubby loves her (I think the feeling’s mutual).

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This is Charly who belongs to my brother in law and sister in law. This photo was taken after we’d done the Poppy Run a few years ago. Charly is proudly sporting her poppy medal.

Now on to our pets who are no longer with us. I don’t have many electronic photos of cats that I had pre-smart phones.

This is Sandy who was our cat from approximately 1980 until 1996.

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He was really tiny for a tom cat. He was around for the whole of my childhood and taught me how to care for and love animals.

Sherry was our next pussy cat. She lived with my parents and I, then my Mum and I, then she was just my housemate and she was still around when I met hubby.

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The first picture is my favourite pic of Sherry. It was taken on an early phone camera before you could turn the camera round to do a selfie so it was pure luck that I managed to get us both in. The second was taken in the communal gardens of our old flat.

Sherry was with me through thick and thin, through break ups, through my degree, my wedding. The day she died was (and still is) the worse day of my life. It was so emotionally traumatic, but I wouldn’t change anything because she was an amazing cat. I still think about her most days and she’s been gone almost a decade.

We had Willow next.

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Willow was completely different to Sherry. Sherry was super confident but Willow was the epitome of a scaredy cat. Bless her, she was happy to be with us  but she was scared of anyone she wasn’t familiar with. If the doorbell went she’d race into our bedroom and hide under the bed and wouldn’t emerge until she felt it was safe to do so.

Poor Willow met with an unfortunate end in a road accident so we made the decision to keep our current cats as house cats. I don’t think it would be fair to make a cat that was used to going outside into a house cat so we had them from tiny kitten so they have never known the outside.

I’m going to spam you with the gorgeousness that is Olive and Tinkerbell now!

Every cat that I’ve owned (or should that be that’s owned me?) has been from a rescue centre. One of the main purposes of National Pet Day is to promote adopting from rescue centres because there are so many animals – cats, dogs, rabbits, chinchillas and many others – that need forever homes. Take a look at their website if you’re interested.

Right, ‘boing boing’ said Zebedee ‘time for bed’. In the words of Bridget Jones ‘I’m off to Bedfordshire’.

A weekly round up

Goodness me, this week has flown by! I had a big work event which took up most of Tuesday and all of Wednesday so, again, I had no time for blogging. Be reassured though, my little forum here is never far from the forefront of my mind, so I try to document events big and small ready for when I have a few moments to write.

I am really going to try to keep it to a few moments tonight because I’m desperately trying to finish a crochet project that needs to be gifted on Tuesday at another work event, happily a more relaxed affair this time. I’m sure I’ll have lots to report on next time about that. Needless to say, I’m not going to show you what I’m working on in case the recipient should read this in advance!

The week started with a very special delivery.

 

Yep, it’s another Eeyore! This isn’t just any old Eeyore though. He’s a limited edition Steiff Eeyore. He’s number four hundred and thirty six of only two thousand made. He’s sitting on our bed at the moment, but he’s mainly going to live in his box to avoid damaging him.

So, on to Tuesday and my work event. We had an evening event and meal with an overnight stay before our conference the next day. As well as being an Account Manager, I’m also responsible for Communications which means that I organise our events. This event needed less organisation than some but I had recommended and booked the hotel we used and had booked our evening event so I was keen for it to be a success.

The hotel was the Macdonald Burlington in the centre of Birmingham and I would definitely recommend it.

I opened the door to my room and actually stopped dead in the doorway. The room was huge! Really huge! Almost intimidatingly so.

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See that coffee table at the foot of the bed? Hmmm …. I didn’t when I got up to go to the loo at 4am! Ouch!

It was a little distance to our evening event and there was some debate over whether we would walk or grab a cab, but I’m so glad we walked because I’d forgotten some of the hidden charms of Brum.

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Our event was crazy golf with a difference. It’s called Ghetto Golf and as well as the Birmingham course, there’s one in Liverpool. It’s indoor, eighteen holes with various themes such as a bus, a Blockbusters video store and a skittle alley. The tunes are playing loud and it’s a licensed premises.

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We ate at a restaurant called Buffalo and Rye, which was in keeping with the tone of Ghetto Golf. I had Buttermilk Chicken Tacos with Asian Street Fries and it was amazing! We didn’t sit down to eat until nine o’clock and I was so hungry by then I completely forgot to take a photo!

The main event on Wednesday was somewhat exhausting, but it was a success all round. I had to talk about my product and I was keen to make the best impression that I could, which I think I managed reasonably well. Lots of people, I know, find speaking in front of a group difficult, and you would think that I would be one of those people, being an introvert and not the best at self promotion, but I’m actually pretty comfortable with it. Admittedly I spend a long time making sure I’m well prepared, but as someone who is naturally quiet, and who finds it difficult to push herself to the forefront, I enjoy being in a position where people have to listen to what I’ve got to say without me having to assert myself to get to that position.

Thursday passed by in a pretty exhausted, uneventful blur until I was about to collapse into bed when an unfortunate accident resulted in this.

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Good job I instinctively closed my eye, isn’t it? It was a feline related accident involving Tinkerbell jumping off the wardrobe aiming for my shoulder as usual, but me not realising she was jumping and turning to walk away resulting in a crash! I’m not sure which part of her hit me, but it felt like I’d been punched in the face. That cut isn’t the result of a claw, my skin split with the impact! It’s on the mend though, it looks a lot better today, and it doesn’t hurt anymore.

In garden news, my Sunflower seedlings have now got big enough that I can see them from our back bedroom.

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Can you see them? In the green pots just to the left of the ladybird. The seedlings are all coming along well.

 

I need to read up on what to do next! This is the first time I’ve grown anything from seed so I need to find out when I need to pot them on, and how to go about hardening them off before they go outside and how big they need to be before I can plant them out. I wonder if we’ve had the last frost yet?

My Eupatorium shoots are starting to look decidedly leaf-like.

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I’m still nervous about something trampling them so I’m leaving the dead wood there until the new shoots are big enough to look after themselves.

My Geum has quite a few new leaves and a couple of buds which look like they’re not far off starting to bloom.

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Bizarrely, it looks like the flower is going to be yellow. Bizarre only because last year I’m sure the flowers were bright orange! Maybe I’m mistaken, or maybe the colour will change.

There’s lots of colour appearing. I’ll share more once we’re further into the season, but here are a couple of spoilers!

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The top picture is our Pieris which we inherited with the house. It’s pretty spectacular now, but give it a fortnight or so and it’ll take your breath away.

The second pic is my wild flower. I still don’t know what it is, but I’m very intrigued now it’s got two different colour flowers! I can’t wait till all those little buds have opened.

Right, must get back to crocheting, so all that is left for me to do is to wish my husband a very happy birthday …..

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….. and apologise for the Peppa Pig wrapping paper!