Not long into our relationship, we discovered our mutual love of travel and agreed that we should embark on our first trip together as soon as we could. Nigel has friends who own a stone cottage in the Tuscan hills and on checking that it would be available at the end of September 2015, we booked flights to Pisa – the nearest international airport. But how would it go? Just how compatible would we be as travelling companions ?
Question 1 – Is it ever a good idea to share a suitcase?
Nigel: Is it a cliché to say that every man worries that his new partner may bring the entire inventory of Boot’s with her? And so many clothing options that we would be ok if we were to receive an unexpected royal invitation? Maybe. Or maybe not. We had a limitation that could easily have found us out. Flying on a budget airline, we had the choice of no hold luggage, 1 bag or 2 bags. On booking, we had agreed on the middle option, given reasonable September temperatures in Tuscany, the addition of two cabin bags and the cost of checking in an additional suitcase. In the end we actually managed fine – although I did find a few extra items stuffed into my carry-on when we were unpacking!
Jane: Yes I’d travelled light before; but sharing a suitcase, when all your choices are visible to your travelling companion: this was new. The solution for me was a scattergun approach. I spread T-shirts around my side of the case a bit so it wasn`t clear how many were really there. I mixed them up a bit with the ‘undies’ section. And the dresses. And the pretty sandals. And had a personal carry-on large enough to take a couple of secret, rolled up skirts that would have looked excessive in a shared case. He’s still none the wiser…oh…
Question 2 – Turbulence in the air equals turbulence in a relationship. Discuss.
Nigel: I’ve done over 300 flights and have always felt much more at ease on an aircraft than on a ferry. Jane had mentioned to me that she does overthink the ‘metal tube in the sky’ thing and so I was wondering what to expect. I decided to exude calmness (easy) and make sure that Jane’s hand was always firmly planted in mine (also easy). She had her eyes closed and listened to music for much of the flight and only afterwards did she admit to mentally writing the disaster headline for tomorrow’s redtops – ever the journalist! With 13 flights in our coming adventure, I think we’re going to be ok with this one now – as long as I don’t indulge my inclination to only leave just enough time to catch the plane. For the sake of our relationship, all travel timings have officially been handed over to Jane.
Jane: I’ve flown a fair bit; mainly around Europe, but on several trans-Atlantic trips too. And I still, irritatingly, get a bit nervous sometimes when there’s a clunk or a bit of turbulence. So would Nigel, who’s clocked up many more air-miles, understand—or tease me every time I looked alarmed? Luckily, he got it, and was patient and reassuring. On the other hand….he was a bit blasé about turning up at the airport on time…I think that bit’s ‘work in progress….! ‘
Question 3 – Which is tougher – driving abroad or navigating?
Jane: ‘Do you fancy sharing the driving? Or should one of us stick behind the wheel..and one of us navigate? ‘ There was no easy answer. I’m more than happy ploughing up and down the UK motorway network and inching my way through familiar cities. But driving on ‘the other side of the road’…and in Italy? The problem was…map-reading’s hardly my forte, either. Anguished; I threw money at it. I invested in a brand new European satnav; and waited for the nice lady to tell us (well…Nigel…. ) where to go.
Nigel: I don’t mind driving abroad. And equally I’m pretty handy with a map. I guess my ideal outcome would have been to share the driving in an auto car (I’ve driven automatics at home for about 20 years). Sometimes it’s nice to gaze out of the window at the stunning scenery or have more than one glass of wine with dinner. But on describing the hairpins up to our accommodation, Jane was pretty adamant. And it worked out ok, barring a 20-mile detour shortly after leaving the hire car office at Pisa airport. Lip-bitten, we had near-faultless navigation for the rest of the holiday.
Question 4 – Complete the equation: pasta + vino = ?
Jane: Two things worried me: the owner of the house we were borrowing had told me she put on 5 kg every time she visited. And Nigel tends to get restless without three pretty regular meals a day. I worry about my weight….and have trained myself to eat less…and less often. Solution? There was only one course of action. When in Tuscany……eat, drink and be merry. Pasta? Whenever. Gelato? Try all the flavours. Vino? We were on holiday. Did I get on the scales back home? Don`t be daft.
Nigel: I love all types of food and eating out in Italy is always a delight. I contend that it’s impossible to get a bad meal there. ‘Just like mama used to make’ might seem like some dull advertising platitude, but it’s really what Italian food is all about. And I love it! And I was pretty sure Jane would love it too. And she did. But, whilst we would avoid supermarket trips together back at home, even admiring the produce in the huge Esselunga supermarket ended up being a real treat. So much so that Jane got carried away and bought a punnet of about 40 plums – all of which were still unripe by the end of the holiday!
Question 5 – Discuss the merits of Renaissance churches over a book in the sun.
Nigel: I guess this was probably my biggest concern. I had been to this area twice before and love pretty much everything about it. Glorious scenery, culture, history, architecture … it all pushes my buttons. Would Jane like it? My impression was that she would, but,
there again, she had talked about losing interest in things quite quickly and always being more interested in people than ‘things’. So maybe I should shelve my planned tour of Renaissance churches? Actually, we did churches and museums. We had a long lunch by the sea and sat in sunny squares quietly eating just-the-best gelato. And one night we even stayed in the house, laughing our heads off at an Italian chat show, not understanding a word.
Jane: There IS a lot of ‘art’ in Italy. And history. And breathtakingly beautiful architecture. And shoe shops. But this was a holiday. We both needed to relax, too. Solution? Agreeing to carpe diem, every day. And build in some lovely country walks. We both wanted to see the same sights in Florence, luckily. Except, in my case, the one which involved a claustrophobically narrow, spiral staircase. Not wanting to spoil the day for Nigel, I magnanimously volunteered to go and eat more gelato while he climbed. And shopping? A couple of souvenirs for our daughters; and we were done.
So what of the big trip? I reckon we’ll be just fine.