Adventures on a family holiday in Italy
There's something about Ryanair that brings out the romantic in all of us. As we board the plane, I solemnly inform the children: You would not exist if it werenít for Michael O'Leary. And no, before you ask, I was not suggesting that my wife had an affair with him.
Back in our courting days, my wife and I had what was known as a 'Ryanair romance', which involved flying back and forth between Ireland and England every weekend in order to swoon over one another. If it hadn't been for the advent of cheap air travel, there's no way our relationship could have got off the ground, as it were, and so we would not have married and had kids. Ergo, the man who introduced cheap airfares to Ireland is in no small part responsible for the happy fact of our children. It's only a wonder he hasn't charged us for them.
As myself and my son Sean went to board the Ryanair flight to Pisa, however, there was no sign of herself. She had been walking behind me just a few minutes ago as we wandered through the terminal. I presumed she had stopped to buy sensible and necessary things in the airport shops, until I received a frantic phone call to say that she had gotten lost and had somehow wandered out of the airport, just as it was announced that our gate was closing. I never said that I married her for her sense of direction. Now, in a panic, she was being hurried back in through security for a second time with our daughter Rose in tow.
With minutes to spare, she made it, running, gasping down the corridor with a giggling Rose on her shoulders, merrily oblivious to the fuss. We soon took off through the sunny Dublin skies to touch down in rain-sodden Tuscany, which was in the grip of epic thunderstorms. On arrival in Montalcino, the kids had just gone to sleep when the most incredible lightning show got underway. Forked lightning illuminated the whole valley for three or four seconds at a time before rending peals of thunder shook the house like a train crash. I turned off the lights, opened the doors and enjoyed the show with a glass of wine. But before long, I heard a small, trembling voice behind me on the stairs: "I am brave but a bit scared."
The week of thundershowers showers proved an important fact: it is far more than its good weather that makes Italy so special. Days spent swimming in hot springs and exploring beautiful villages were capped off by an overnight trip to Rome whose treasures gleam in any weather.
After setting up camp in the Irish College, the kids happily clambered over ancient carved stones in the forum, stopping to pick olives, before wandering onward, only reaching St Peterís, ìthe biggest church in the whole wide world," after dark. The next day, we discovered the kids' unlikely favourite thing in all Italy – "the cave". It was actually the catacomb of St Sebastian, which they found strangely magical – as did I. In fact I have never been in a sacred place with a sweeter atmosphere. They still plead, "Can we go back to the cave?"
It was, in the end, a perfectly typical family holiday: lose half the family in the airport, nearly miss the flight, arrive to torrential rain, spend lazy afternoons doing DIY panel beating on the rental car, evenings with the children screaming in restaurants, get said rental car stuck on a beach on the last night, get six Italian guys to manually pull the car out of sand and pay them in beer before flying back home, quite happy to return to the relative tranquillity of work.