We had all but 24 hours on the credit card of Alitalia to explore one of the most historically significant capital cities in the world. But first; sleep. Once the surprise had subsided it quickly became apparent we needed speak to someone, somewhere, about the fact we were now stuck in an airport. At this point it is about 10.30pm. The shops are closed, the lights are dimmed, and any remaining staff have a solid attitude of ‘not on the clock, not my problem’. The graveyard shift were tied up important game of table football. Fighting off jet-induced delirium, we eventually found ourselves at the necessary ticket desk (in departures-of course). Replacement tickets for the following day in hand, an address for a hotel scribbled on a boots receipt and finally a big slice of hope; excitement had now ignited. I was in finally in Italy after all!
On the bus we overheard one of our delayed comrades bound for Rio De Janeiro on the phone ‘It could be worse we could be in Afghanistan… or locked in a cage with gorillas on acid.’ We immediately initiated conversation. His name was Thomas and his story is worth sharing. Thomas, a tall guy, with short dark hair, a proper baby face and after a quick game of guess my age discovered he was a 35 year old nomad from London. Thomas nattered away, joining our high school style buffet dinner in the back conference room of flight delay shame at the Hilton. He informed us he had Asperger Syndrome and that despite the fact his mum was a frantic worrier, at the age of 23 he had given up his job as KP at Buckingham Palace and had started travelling the world. He told us stories of the manic streets of Phuket, the hideous sun of Australia and the surprising smells of India. He told us his entire itinerary, his budget, why he wants to go to each place and lots about his mum ‘the worrier’. He said how lucky we were to travel together and how he wants to have a girlfriend and travel with her. He described how his Aspergers makes it hard to get a girlfriend, but until he finds ‘her’ he will carry on his adventure. If anything just to give his mum something to worry about. Thomas is my first hero.
Following dinner, it’s almost midnight, the reception took our passports in exchange for no keys and at this point tiredness is beinging make me a bit pathetic. Thomas and Ste bounce off to reception and I ponder Thomas’s stories for a bit, still not quite getting my head around Buckingham Palace. Eventually I notice the guy I was sat next to on the plane walk in. His connection was to Athens and he was almost arrogant about the fact he would make it. Apparently not. Wanting to save him from any awkward acceptance of his misfortune I skirt out the room back to reception.
Reception has by now descended into anarchy. A hundred people are swarming the desk, buzzing with exhausted rage. So naturally, I find a chair and settle down to watch the show – sorry Ste – he will never read this anyway. I can just about see Ste’s head in the crowd, courtesy of Thomas’s more identifiable stature. It would appear the reception have devised a moronic system where by your passport gets called and you get a room. I can hear Thomas beautifully stating loud and clear to a timid looking Italian man that his system is “An absolute load of bullshit”. Ste by some miracle comes back 5 minutes later with a room key. Relieved, exhausted and sadly without a proper goodbye to Thomas, we escape.
Now what people don’t tell you about having a missed connection flight is that you baggage gets to have its own little vaycay in no-mans land. That’s right people as the brownies say always be prepared! Luckily as a graduate of the brown and yellow sash, my hand luggage contained spares of the essentials and a toothbrush (Steve on the other hand…). What I hadn’t thought through however, was my attire. Thinking I was to be confined to an airplane for the next 17 hours I had chosen maximum comfort over even the mildest suggestion of coordination or style. Vouge doesn’t count at 30,000 feet, so I had gone for a look that was not what one would describe as mile high-chique. More like a rainbow kaleidoscope explosion. And with no coat in the balmy 7 degrees of Rome, I had to wrap my psychedelic scarf around my head to keep the teeth still. Against the back drop of muted Parker coats, leather gloves and woolly hats, it was unsurprising that I could see pick-pocketers targeting from all angles. No no guys, I am not as stupid as I dress – I hope?! Didn’t a mental high-five when I saw a guy by the Coliseum in shorts and flipflops. He looked me in the eye. We knew.