A trip to the kingdom
Friday, August 12th, 2016
Without a visa it’s possible to stay, at least legally, in Italy (or any combination of Schengen countries) for just 90 days. Since we arrived in Italy on the 23rd of February last spring we were faced with a choice. The house was rented until the first of June. So we would be over the 90 days. We could return to the U.S. and cool our heels somewhere there or leave Italy for enough days and go to a non-Schengen country for a few days and return from Italy on June 1 without overstaying our time. Well, since we were already thousands of miles away that was an easy choice. Since Karen had friends in England who could host us for a few days and the UK is NOT a Schengen country, we opted to explore a bit there.
The notorious Ryanair cheapo airline is indeed inexpensive and definitely cheap. As you probably know, they charge extra for everything except using the bathroom on the plane (and it’s said that they considered charging for that as well). They no longer charge for carry-on luggage but there is a twist. They seem to be very insistent that the carry-on not exceed certain dimension and those dimensions are smaller than the standard carry-on sizes for other airlines. They have spawned a whole sub-industry of slightly smaller suitcases. Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of our landlords (and friends) Antonella and Victor, we were able to borrow a pair of Ryanair sized suitcases for the trip. Not only that but Antonella stored our other suitcases (4 in total) for the 10 day duration of the trip. Everyone should have such friends.
So on the appointed day we flew to London Stansted airport which is in the middle of nowhere north of London. As a welcome, we were greeted by a hostile immigration official who seemed convinced that we were trying to overstay our Schengen 90 day stay by a short trip to the “kingdom”. So we had an unpleasant conversation for about 20 minutes before finally being allowed into the country. Not a good start. Then we took a combination of trains and subway to Sutton, south of London for a stay with Gill and Simon. One stop along the way was at the Blackfriar’s tube station where we had our first pub experience. Simon is VERY knowledgeable on the subject of pubs and advised us well throughout the trip. We had a fine stay with them and went into London 2 times via train and subway as well as some more local trips with our hosts. To tell you the truth I wasn’t really taken with London. It’s an interesting enough place with lots of buildings going up everywhere, some fine architecture, the incredible Victoria and Albert museum and impressive amounts of beer being drunk by Englishmen.
The me the two real highlights of the trip were the V and A museum and dinner with Davide and his partner. He was the best Italian teacher that I ever had in Bologna and now works for Google of all things on some kind of cultural partnerships that they have with museums in Italy.
So then we were off to Edinburgh Scotland. It too is an interesting city. Lots of history and Scottish pride (and interesting accents). It seems that every building is build of stone rather than brick. An impressive castle, terrific whiskey, scary sounding food (haggis anyone?) and a climate which is, well, bracing. The Scots are a tough breed. They have to be to brave the weather. I did finally screw up my courage and tried some haggis and was pleasantly surprised that it was actually pretty good. I rewarded my courage with a fine whiskey to end the meal.
After the 3 or 4 days in Edinburgh we made a two night stop in York. It was much smaller than the other cities that we’d visited with an almost intact wall around the old city that is quite walk-able. It also has an incredible railroad museum. The steam powered and coal fed engines are really something to behold and there were a bunch of them as well as something as modern as a Japanese bullet train.
To wrap up the trip we had another incredibly unpleasant experience at the Stansted airport where they threw out almost anything vaguely liquid or could have been liquid at some time in the past. Be forewarned, going through security when leaving England on Ryanair is not for the faint of heart. I was SO glad to get back to Bologna in the land of beauty, good food and a relaxed lifestyle. We stayed for 2 nights and then returned home – 89 days in a Schengen country.