It's all go isn't it! This time, Florence.

Once in a while our mission organisation holds a European Conference. We've been once before, a long time ago, perhaps in 2007 or thereabouts in Tossa del Mar near Barcelona. Since then we've been prevented either by ill-health (once we set off for Barcelona in our car but had to turn back because of Pat's back problems) or by lack of school holidays or because of the cost (flying four of us in March from Bordeaux to Istanbul was hugely expensive).

So it was a great joy to be able to meet up with old colleagues and friends, this time just outside Florence. We bought our plane tickets in a hurry, and before we realsied how easy it is now to get from Bordeaux to Charles deGaulle, so we had a farily early flight from Bordeaux to Zurich, then from Zurich to Florence. Once there we had to find the correct bus for a little town called Cerbaia where we would be collected by car.

In true Alan fashion I stressed about finding the bus to Cerbaia and managed to master "l'autobus per Cerbaia?" though I was warned that if you ask in Italian they'll answer in Italian. I started listening to Michel Thomas lessons via YouTube and after 30 minutes could manage a pretty convincing Non voglio comprarle perche e troppo caro e non e possibile per me. I realised that from music I could describe speed and loudness pretty well and wondered in what context this might be useful.

Meanwhile Europe had had a weekend of severe storms, resulting in fierce high altitude winds and storms conditions in Florence.

We took off all innocent and freshfaced, having checked Pat's bag into the hold as previously sworn. The Swissair cabin staff came round with the snack of the flight, a pack of cheese sandwich crackers. I was glad that I had had my porage early on. "And to drink, sir?" "A coffee, please." The generous stewardess filled my paper cup nice and full.

Thus it was that I had plenty of coffee to make waves, spurts, gushes, spouts and splashes when the turbulence hit. You know the expression, "a storm in a teacup"? Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Hot coffee splashed onto my leg. I tried lifting the cup. Now hot coffee splashed onto my hand. I put the cup down and called the cabin crew. They gave me copious quantities of serviettes while holding on to the plane for grim death. The serviettes absorbed lots of the coffee but the cup had more to give. When an instant of calm came I took the cup and downed it in one gulp.

Hint to Swissair : LIDS

Hint to Daveys : take your own coffee mug on planes.

We landed at Zurich. Ah! Terra firma! the more firma, the less terra. During our wait for the connection we found a Starbucks and bought some drinks in their nice plastic coffee mugs.

Once we boarded the plane from Zurich to Florence we noticed that it had started snowing, so the captain announced that we would have to wait while they de-iced the plane. We eventually took off about half an hour late.

The connection to Florence was just as bumpy but with coffee in our lidded mugs we laughed at the storm, chomping on our salty roll and butter. "We cannot land at Florence because of violent tail-winds. We will be diverted to Pisa. Look for the Swissair signs at Pisa airport to find the bus that will take you to Florence."

Our omnicompetent administrator asked us "Where are you and what's happening?" and arranged for us to be collected from Florence airport. (Mrs May - here is someone who could make a success of Br**it.) So now all we had to do was find the Swissair bus.

Well we ran in all directions. Pisa airport was suddenly filled with very frazzled people hunting in vain for Swissair signs, for there were none.

Mrs Davey has excellent distance vision, and pointed out a distant stand of buses. We approached and examined them closely. None had a Swissair sign. There was nothing for it. I summoned up and adapted my one phrase of Italian.

"L'autobus Swissair per Firenze?"


Our joy knew no bounds, save that which we took onto the bus for the journey to Florence. There we met our colleague, Job and awaited the excellent Michelpresto in his little hire car.


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