Monday, 24 September 2007

Flying Solo - A Cautionary Tale

Alexander finally came home this weekend for a brief visit. It was fantastic to see him and it felt like a life time not two weeks ago since I had dropped him at school. His dad picked him up in the UK and flew into Florence with Meridiana with him. Unfortunately the flight was delayed so by the time he came home and we had caught up it was past 2.oo a.m. in the morning! To say the weekend was exhausting would be an understatement! Saturday was spent buying all the toiletries and other stuff he needed to take back to school and Sunday was spent re-packing, reading and then travelling out to Pisa for his flight back.

His flight back... Those with sharp eyes will spot that the plane above is a BA jet, not Meridiana. This is the plane he flew back on unaccompanied, or as BA call them, as a Solo Flyer. A Solo Flyer ticket is not the easiest thing to book in this day and age of electronic tickets. Firstly, you cannot book it online, it has to be in a travel agents or over the phone. After approximately six phone calls I finally managed to get his ticket booked. A friend booked it with her UK registered card, my are all to overseas addresses. On Saturday I checked his booking online. Everything was there, including his seat number.

On Sunday we set off for Pisa at 4.15 p.m. to catch the train from S.M.N. in Florence. We arrived just as check-in opened in Pisa at 6.30 p.m. Within seconds of handing over his passport things started to happen. The check-in guy was on the phone almost immediately! What was wrong we asked. Firstly, we were told, Pisa doesn't have the staff to do Solo Flyer's!! There might be someone available to take him to the gate, but then again... As this is the service we had booked and paid for we were a little shocked to say the least. But then, oh yes, paid for... hmm. There was no ticket for him at the desk, but because he was a Solo Flyer that was right, we should have been sent a ticket - who get's a ticket through the post these days! Plus no-one had mentioned needing one at any stage. We trundled over to the ticket office where we were told we would have to buy another ticket! Apparently when the booking was made the card had been pre-authorised but BA had never taken the payment so the booking had dropped off the system and no ticket was issued! The ticket office then tried to charge us 3 times what we were originally supposed to pay. Luckily I was paying with my Bancomat so it wouldn't have gone through anyway. The price then dropped pretty quickly back to what we were originally going to pay!

We eventually got booked in and bags sent through. My husband took Alexander to security, where, surprise, surprise, no-one could take him to his gate. After we saw him go through we called him until we knew he was safely where he should be. We took the above picture from the restaurant while we waited for the plane to take off - we had also not known that we have to hang around until 30 minutes after take off in case the plane has to come back!! Once we saw its tail lights disappear we set off back to Florence. We arrived back in Florence at the same time Alexander landed at Gatwick. I was speaking to him while we waited for a taxi to take us home from the station!

At Gatwick the saga continues. My friend, who is his school Guardian in the UK, met him at the airport. She arrived early to make sure they were expecting him. Pisa on his own is one thing, Gatwick quite another! As it was someone met him and brought him out to arrivals. On making the booking I had to provide all my friend's details and was told if she didn't have the correct ID they wouldn't let him go. Because of the booking cock-up her details weren't on the list of people doing pick-ups. So did my son spend the night at Gatwick as you would expect? Of course not! "You obviously know each other, you can go." Will I be using BA again? I think not! And if BA are this bad what would an unaccompanied with one of the cut price operators be like?!!
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Tuesday, 11 September 2007

A New Blog

I've just made a post on my new blog "Antonia's Italian School Days" . I'm hoping it will be informative as well as a bit of fun! It's mainly so my friends and family back in the UK can see how she is getting on, but hopefully others will find it interesting too!
Note the new, shiny, red shoes please! They cost more than all my shoes added together!!

Saturday, 8 September 2007

England, The Return

This is where we have just returned from in the UK. It is Ashdown Forest in Sussex. Beautiful isn't it? To say I don't miss it would be a lie and while I was there I had definite pangs about leaving, not least because my son would be staying for school while my daughter and me headed back to Florence.

Two days after our return I can now look at this photo with no regrets. Florence is definitely a different experience without Alexander but it is still a good place to be. I like the house I live in, I have made friends and the local people are starting to recognise me and say hello. Which is all good.

Now Alexander is in school I also feel less like I am on holiday - the reality is that I really do live here now! Antonia starts school on Monday, which I am going to record in a separate blog and that really will be when reality kicks in! If nothing else I have to occupy myself. In Florence I don't think that should be too difficult though!

Here is Alexander just before we left to drop him off at school. He is as nervous as he looks but put a very good face on it. Returning to school wasn't too bad as we had already been to buy the smart (!) uniform you see him wearing in the picture, and yes, that is his wheelie bag and he has a full size backpack on and a day pack hidden out of sight! When we arrived nearly everyone was already there, most of his year are boarding this year and as he was there previously he knows pretty much everyone. Walking down the corridor was amusing, most of the boys obviously hadn't realised he was returning so we entered to a chorus of " Alex Long is back!". A large number of boys followed us into his tiny dorm room, which he shares with four others, to welcome him back. He was fairly unresponsive as I think it was all a bit overwhelming. Having said goodbye, his sister got a hug and a kiss not me, I went downstairs to mix with some of the other parents, many whom I already know. Most assumed we were back for good and were a little surprised that I was returning the following day. After I left I returned to the hotel where I allowed myself a lot of tears. My poor daughter really didn't know what to do, so joined in too!
I know it is very dark, but this is his school. In the daylight it looks like a rambling country estate house, which is exactly what it used to be. The school bought it when they evacuated from Croydon in the Second World War. Two schools now exist with the same name the only connection, one in Croydon, one in Sussex!

Anyway, I have heard he has settled in fine which helps me alot. He is back for the weekend in 2 weeks and then hopefully 2 weeks after that, then it is half term.

I really miss him, but I hope he is happy as that is what matters.

I know this is a bit of a ramble, but it is one I needed to do and do now, while the memories etc. were still fresh. I apologise for any stream of consciousness or grammatical errors!
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