By Irene Flack – Reporter
Recently I went to Italy for a planned holiday in the Cinque Terre – a beautiful coastal area in the North West of the country. I had prepared as I always do; booked a room through a well-known travel site, checked in for my flights, made sure my baggage was under the weight allowance and printed off directions to the B&B, train timetables and all useful phone numbers I might need. I travel alone a lot and I am quite confident with making the arrangements needed.
When I landed in Pisa, I bought my train ticket to the village, Riomaggiore, and everything went smoothly. I arrived and headed for the guest house – by now it was around 7pm and evening was drawing in. I found the place fairly easily after asking a group of elderly ladies for directions.
There was a bell to ring by the door, and also a phone number displayed. Nobody answered the bell so I tried the number – it was unavailable. I double checked that I had dialled it correctly and tried again – still nothing. I asked a gentleman who was passing and, in what little English he had he explained I should try adding a code to the number. I thanked him in my even smaller Italian and tried again. Still nothing.
I stood in the street a bit perplexed but then the owner turned up – to inform me he had let my room go! I tried to explain I had reserved it through the website but nothing doing – there was no room available. He then saw how worried I was and said he would ask a friend of his if she had a room spare. After about 5 minutes he shouted down from the top window to say his friend would ring me. I felt a bit better, and headed back to the main street. No phone call came. I started to feel very frightened and then had a brainwave – I rang a friend in England and asked her to search online to see where there was a room in the town. I also started asking in all the cafes and bars advertising rooms to rent, but they all said they were full.
Thankfully I bumped into the hotel owner again who asked if his friend had phoned me. I said no. He then rang her again and said she would meet me by a pizza takeaway [Very Italian!] in about 45 minutes. I felt much better and decided I might as well get some pizza and a drink while I waited. Where was my purse? In another bag maybe? No. In a different pocket of my bag? No. Then it dawned on me, I had been the victim of a pickpocket.
I rang my English friend again who tried to calm me down – I was jabbering by this point. She told me to ask for the Police. Of course, silly me, why didn’t I think of that? I went into the pizza parlour and asked for Police? Polizia? Help? They spoke almost no English but explained that ‘Polizia closed now. No Polizia til tomorrow.’ Huh?
I was so frightened – in a foreign country where I spoke very few words of the language, not sure if I had anywhere to sleep for the night and no money whatsoever. At least I had my passport, how precious it suddenly became. The lady finally turned up and I explained my money had been stolen, so she insisted on taking my passport as security until I could pay her. I tried to explain my bank card had also been taken but in the end I was so grateful for somewhere to stay that I gave up and followed her to a very nice small apartment. I had no money, now no passport, and not a clue what to do but I was so happy to have a bed.
To cut a long story short, through the help of friends and the British Embassy I got my passport back, paid her for my room and got home on an earlier flight. When I had calmed down a little, though, I realised that, for the refugees currently trying to get to Europe, every single day is like that. No home, often no money, not much knowledge of the language….but they don’t have friends who can help them return to their safe home. They are going through this nightmare with no idea how it will end. As the news has shown us, the end is sometimes death. I will definitely be supporting the SU Campaign to help support the refugees, and thank God that my nightmare was only short with a happy ending. We must try to make sure they have a safe outcome to their nightmare too.