It was 1981 and we were going to be married. I was 26 and my beloved, Bridget, was 24. My contribution to the proceedings was to turn up, say yes and arrange the honeymoon.
The first two on the list were daunting enough so it wasn't until about 2 weeks before the intended day that I thought that the honeymoon needed some consideration. Under the airline rules in those days the only way to get cheap flights was as part of a package tour. Clearly I didn't want a package honeymoon but neither did I wish to pay the scheduled fare.
The solution was a bucket shop, somewhere you went to buy discounted tickets on the lie that it was part of a package. I found one in deepest Smethwick which was (and is) not the best place in Birmingham. I parked the car and walked up some rickety stairs to an office where I asked where I could get to in Italy on the 30th of August. Answer nowhere.
Try again for the next day, same answer. The following day however there was a flight to Rimini. The theoretical package company as Pilgrim Air. I handed over about £300 and we had our seats booked. I must have been naive handing over money to a set of sharp operators like these guys, but it felt OK and I was pretty much out of alternatives.
There then remained the matter of how to spend the Saturday ,Sunday and Monday nights. I had heard somewhere of a place called Betws y Coed and this sounded OK. I phoned one hotel and it was booked fully. A couple more phone calls to other hotels and they were booked. Then I phoned the Waterloo Lodge Motel and yes they had a room. So I booked it. Deal done.
The wedding happened as planned and we drove to Betws as planned in a bright red sports car covered in foam and just married signs. We got there and had a meal. The tension was over, I was exhausted.
The next day we got up, went for some walks and slept. On the Monday we did pretty much the same but in the evening we drove into Llandudno and saw the new James Bond movie, "For your Eyes Only" So there we were. We drove back into Walsall so that we could get some new luggage and then go to Birmingham airport. We drove to the local Tesco and looked around for some food. I chose some lamb chops and then we looked for some suitable vegetables. We didn't seem to be able to find any so I suggested that we had some coleslaw. Months later Bridget said that she was devastated by this choice and assumed that I would only eat weird combinations, whereas the opposite is true I'll eat almost anything that doesn't bleed too much (and isn't beetroot).
My idea of a holiday was not to do any research or consider it in any way. It was a go with the flow experience. It was about taking the experience where it went. It meant knowing nothing but experiencing everything. This was not a usual way to undertake a honeymoon.
The plan was to go to Rimini, hire a car and drive as far south as the mood and energy would take us. With naive confidence I assumed that everything would work out. I had, of course, never driven on the right hand side of the road, or abroad.
We got to the airport and picked up our tickets and got onto the plane. It landed in Rimini around 1.00am and we got into a taxi and asked the driver to take us to a hotel. He drove us to a hotel and we went in. I asked the receptionist how much it was. He said 45,000 lire or some such figure which was OK. I asked if this was for both of us or each. The receptionist replied both, but the taxi driver was wildly signing that he should say each. The receptionist did and we went up to a grotty, stuffy room. We caught a few hours sleep and then had a breakfast.
I was anxious to pay the price for one and not two and so we paid the single price and then rapidly headed for the nearest car hire place, which was Hertz. We hired a Fiat Panda and off I set driving down the main Rimini drag. Tension was in the air as I attempted to change gear with the wrong hand, steer down the wrong side of the street and get the hang of how islands work backwards, oh and try not to kill too many people or hit anything.
We headed out of town south and things seemed to settle down. We stopped for our 1st pizza and it was a cardboard affair. We drove on through the afternoon and eventually I saw a hill town in the distance. There were some signs for a hotel and we drove in. The hotel was large and grand and had magnificent views.
Strangley, it seemed to have no other guests. We signed in went to our room and then came down for an evening meal. The dining room was large and airy and deserted apart from a few waiters. One came over and asked in Italian what we would like. I said a menu. They indicated that they didn't have one and we should tell them our requirements. There was a language barrier and an understanding barrier but we ordered some soup followed by chicken. The soup came and appeared to consist of dish water topped with axle grease. The problem was that since we were the only concern of the entire catering staff they were intent in understanding how we were enjoying the meal. We finished the soup and then came the chicken. And that was what it was. Half a chicken each. No vegetables, no bread, no potatoes. But a piece of chicken.
We ate surrounded by the staff, who were very attentive. Eventually the meal was over and we went for a walk into the main square of the village. The bars were thronged with old men, no women in site. They all stared at Bridget. I ordered a couple of beers at the bar and then we fled to the hotel. We left the next morning in a cloud of dust, still with no other hotel guests in sight.
We drove on until I saw another hotel that looked fantastic in the distance. All marble and shimmering white walls. There was a fantastic looking pool as well. We couldn't help noticing the bad eggs aroma around. It turned out that this was a thermal spa. The swimming pool was filled with warm sulpher bearing water that smelt bad.
We decided to go across the road and eat at the cafe. We both ordered spaghetti Bolognese, oh and some wine. The wine came, a litre of white wine, that tasted like water. We drank and talk and drank some more. My jokes got better and better. It got round to about 2.00pm and we decided in a rather tipsy way to go to the beach, a few yards. It was hot and sunny and we were by now very sleepy. We woke up. Amazingly we hadn't been robbed. However we could scarcely have felt much worse. Deep dehydration, a thumping head and a mouth like sand paper were the result. Compared to death which passing out on a beach in full sun could have produced, however, it was probably a success.
On we drove south until we eventually hit Naples. We parked, got out of the car and I decided it didn't feel a safe place to be. So we got back into the car and drove onward. We found a hotel and checked in. I decided to go for a walk as dusk approached and we went up a fairly large hill. The bats were starting to wheel in the sky. I felt that there might be something interesting on the summit and so made a quick dash for the top leaving Bridget alone for a few minutes on the lower slopes.
I came down and it was now quite dark. We lost our way somewhere along the way and we came to a retaining wall some 10ft high. I looked around for a way to get around it. I turned round and Bridget had lowered herself over the edge and was now hanging on by her fingers. If she dropped she would scrape her nose and face all along the wall. Ever the brave gallant I jumped over and grabbed her before her grip gave way. We had a nice pizza afterwards at an authentic pizzeria.
We wandered round the area for a couple of days. We took in Paestum and ordered fish at lunch time. They left the eyes in the fish. I can still remember eating a fish, who was watching me eat it. We ascended Vesuvius. Then it was time to make the trek back north to catch the plane home.
I wanted to go to Florence, to take in the Ufizi. So we drove there. We got in about lunch time, did the gallery found the Leonardo pictures and then went to look for a hotel. After trying a few, we decided that we would start on the way back to Rimini. It was the drive from hell. I drove up and up and up. Hairpin bend after hairpin bend. It was dark and the roads twisted and the drops were vertical and long. Eventually about 9.30 I gave up and we stopped at an Inn and asked for a room. Yes, they had one.
I had some food and Bridget decided to starve. We went up to the room and tried to sleep. It was really very grotty. However the next morning arrived and off we went again and drove into San Marino. We had a good wander and eventually drove back to Rimini. We found another grotty hotel, spent the night, went for a swim in the sea and caught the plane home to start our married life. A unique honeymoon, was over.