It was a long trip but full of interest. Australians of every size and shape and cultural bias streaming off the plane in Hong Kong. In that airport an even more diverse crowd milling in all directions, flights arriving from St Petersberg, Shanghai, Rome, Oslo, New York, Chicago, you name it people were flowing to and from at a frightening rate.
We had chosen Cathay as its business class was at a 50 % discount to Qantas. (Henry would have copped the surcharge for patriotic reasons, but Mrs Thornton is the family expert on travel and took her first trip to Europe inexpensively including taking a bus through the Kyber Pass, now presumably done by Australians in Bushmasters if at all.)
Cathay has very willing cabin staff but the Focker was chokker, Okker. I had forgotten the coffin-like beds in cheaper Asian airlines and also that the ambient temperature is at least 25 degrees celsius, catering to tastes of people mainly from the tropics.
Mrs T can stand the heat but even she, with a roomy bulkhead seat at the front of economy class, said it was very hot. The only thing that was cool, cold actually, was the red wine. 'After eating fish and drinking chilled red wine I felt decidedly seedy' she reported later.
The leg from Honkong to Rome was longer but easier to take as the lights were dimmed, the cabin staff withdrew, presumably to their own (still smaller) coffins, and everyone went to sleep. Henry awoke on the stroke of 6 AM Melbourne time and watched another two movies, having seen three on the leg from Melbourne. Having only consumed two breakfasts except for grazing in the lounges I was ravenous but prepared for the heat and the dust at Fuimicino airport. But here is as hint for future travellors - take Euro coins if you wish to visit WCs at the airports, and Eurozone railway stations also. The principle of user pays taken to new depths.
We had been given elegant bits of paper that promised us fast exit through customs but there was no fast exit lane except for holders of Diplomatic and Italian Passports. None of this Eurozone rubbish for the Italians, although it must be admitted there was no form to fill in. When our turn came to be checked by a custom official (after a lengthly delay, probably because 8 AM is far too early for real men to be at work in modern Italy) we were waved through after a merely cursory glance at our passports. There was no baggage check and everyone was surging through the green zone, watched by five or six smiling middle-aged baggage inspectors.
Now came the testing part of the trip. We arrived on a Saturday, and it seemed as if every Italian, and lots of tourists were GOING SOMEWHERE on the trains. 'Where is the Eurozone crisis?' was the question de jour.
Vast queues stood patiently in front of 'Fast ticket' machines, and took far longer to progress through than people trying to get into the country.
Mrs T had the job of figuring out how the ticket machines worked, and was usually helped by some young bloke who wanted not her body but simply for her to be done with it because it was his turn next. Henry meanwhile was minding the luggage and shaking his head at the Gypsies.
The end point of our journey involved three trains. A fast train from Fuimicino airport to Rome's central station, another fast train from Rome to Florence and an old chugger from Florence to Prato.
The longest trip was Rome to Florence and, naturally, Mrs T brought second class seats. Also she never figured out how to book seats from the vending machine, so we were moved on more than once by smiling Italian boys who brandished reservations for seats we had already fought to acquire.
It was, someone told us later, the hottest day of the season so far, and we were, to put it politely, bu**ered. On attempting to board the old chugger to Prato, a burly but swarthy youth (probably an off-duty person smuggler) offered to help Mrs T get her suitcase aboard. 'Say no'. I muttered, but for the first time in our long and happy (if exhausting) time travelling the world together, she blinked. Said boy quickly decided I was not up to my one bag, and carried both of them through a carriage, showed us to 'our' seats (curiously we were not turfed off them this time) and heaved the bags onto the rack. Mrs T, having realised the foolishness of accepting help from anyone but Henry, fumbled in her purse for a couple of Euros.
The old chugger had numerous instructions 'not to open windows as carriage is airconditioned'. Thankfully, all windows were wide open and, as the old chugger picked up speed on the downhill parts of the track, cool breezes soothed our sweating brows.
To be continued.