A morning flight, 9.20. Reasonably civilised; we live about an hour and a quarter from the airport. Standard check in for an EU flight is an hour in advance, giving a departure time of 7AM. Well yes, it is; until you factor in the extra hour for disabled passengers. And the fact that we take at least a hour to get up and moving in the morning. So my alarm went off at 4.20, and fortified with coffee, the day began.
We were up and fully loaded by 6, and got to the airport for 7.20. Having booked valet parking, we drove up to the stand and were told we had instead booked cheap valet parking; instead of simply driving up and handing over our keys, we needed to keep circling the departures drop off point until someone waving a clipboard jumped out in front of us. Twenty minutes later, with 7 circuits of the airport and three rather fraught phonecalls in which we were repeatedly assured that there was no record of our booking, a man leapt out and flagged us down.
Ninety minutes later we were finally through the "fast" check in and security queues, arriving at the gate approximately 3mins 17 seconds before our flight boarded. So much for the planned airport breakfast (although the portable almond croissants were reasonably tasty).
I suppose the plane delay was inevitable; thankfully it was only a short one and soon we were flying across France and then the Swiss alps on the way to Italy. Little Fish enjoyed the airline food whilst the rest of us were rather less enthusiastic about breakfast in a bun.
Once we got to Rome, we sat as the rest of the passengers de-planed. We then sat some more, as the flight attendants attempted to find the girls' wheelchairs. And then we sat some more again. And a little more. We had an awkward interlude when a Romanian steward mistook a lighthearted request for a cocktail for an invitation to perform a striptease (only on BA folks!), and then an angrier interlude when finally the admission came that the girls' chairs had been sent through to baggage claim and would not be at the gate for us at all.
Alternative wheelchairs were located, together with the world's most reluctant pushers. Mog cannot sit in an ordinary wheelchair, and I could not possibly carry her all the way through the airport, so I sat in the airport wheelchair with her on my lap, whilst the slowest ever wheelchair pusher grunted and moaned and stopped every two minutes to take a phonecall. Meanwhile Little Fish screamed and tantrummed her own way through the airport in Grannie's arms. Nothing like telling the world we had arrived.
Our pusher was so slow that I ended up scooting the wheelchair myself with my feet whilst wrestling with a giggling Mog, who was most entertained by the sight of her sister screeching. I would push myself perhaps 2 yards, then the pusher would catch up, grab hold of my handlebars and reluctantly push for another 10 yards, before stopping to take another call or to shout at one of the other baggage handlers in a plea for assistance. Meanwhile the rest of the family had gone on through security to baggage claim where they thankfully located our cases and the baby's buggy. Little Fish's wheelchair was discovered careening merrily around the carousel, and I sat with Mog on my lap, waiting for hers which was also supposed to be waiting for us.
No staff, and no wheelchair.
Eventually someone says the wheelchair is definitely in a particular place, but it is a place where they are not allowed to go. This place is inspected, no wheelchair.
The entire Beamy clan are now assembled, all bags at the ready, one small tired screaming baby, two happily tired three year olds, one six year old writhing in my lap, two brothers, one sister, two sisters-in-law, and the matriarch and patriarch, all waiting for one small wheelchair before we can go on a car hunt.
Eventually Mum takes matters into her own hands, summons up her A level Italian, and strides forth across the airport where, in a small cupboard behind a door, she locates one slightly battered wheelchair. Cheers, cheers.
On to the car hire place, where for reasons best known to someone other than myself, two cars have been hired from different companies operating out of different parts of the airport. Still, another hour later and we are finally ready to load up and test the drivers' mettle on the Roma equivalent of the M25.
Middle Beamy the Birder together with wife and two children take the smaller vehicle, Beamies Senior, the wheeled Beamies and Minor Beamy the student and Fiancee take the minibus. We pack ourselves, our luggage and random assorted wheelchairs into the space available and set off for the two hour drive to our holiday house.
Three and a half hours later, after miles of bumpy road and many wrong turnings, we finally pour ourselves out of the car at La Serena. The sun is setting as we arrive, and we begin to breathe again whilst drinking in the view.
A quick drink on the terrace
as we discover that the Birding Beamies arrived a good 40 minutes before us, and we are refreshed and ready to begin the unpacking.
The girls are helped to a quick tea of egg on toast, and then shuffled into bed
in our luxury suite. It's bigger than it looks and the bathroom has to be the largest wetroom I've ever seen in a mainstream (i.e. not specifically and solely catering to travellers with disabilites) holiday house. Wonderful.
A welcome shower and a change, and I am ready to join the others back on the terrace for our evening meal. Derek, our host for the week, is an excellent cook and we enjoy a delicious meal of local pork followed by tiramisu as the sun finally slips over the mountains and darkness falls.
As the moon rises, it is huge, and a tree is silhouetted by it for a few moments. I attempt to get a picture, but the Birding Beales are in the way.
A good end to the day though. Whoever it was who said that "it is better to travel than to arrive" has clearly never visited La Serena, and has very definitely never travelled with small children in tow!