After a few days we did realise that we had to focus on getting to Italy during the first small window of opportunity. The only other option would have been to sit the whole thing out in the UK. But learning that the UK prime minister Boris Johnson had his very own angle on how to survive a pandemic as a nation, it was clear that he would soon find himself quite isolated, literally. The UK’s infection rates were about to skyrocket and at that point it would be impossible to leave. It was now or never. We had to get on a plane fast, as the airline industry was about to collapse. We were on a permanent stand by.
While Simona could have easily moved to Italy with just a large size suitcase, my apartment was full of things gathered over the last eight years. First of all I needed to get confirmation that UK based moving companies were still operating and shipping to Italy, despite lock downs all over Europe. I received an surprising amount of quotes, many companies were eager to get the job. At least for that sector it was business as usual. We learned fast that it would be a lot more expensive to leave all the furniture in the UK and buy new in Italy, than to ship the entire household to Italy. And with the way the world economy was going, who knew if there would still be furniture available to buy after the lock down. The world economy had come to a halt and nobody knew what would come after.
We went with the very reasonable quote of a well established UK based company with a professional online booking system, set the date of the removal to the 18th of May and changed the date of our flight for the last time, to the morning after. Everything had to be well timed. Once we entered Italy, we would have to go directly to our new house in Umbria and self isolate there for the following 14 days. Our evenings were spent with filling out a variety of liability forms and waivers, one for leaving the UK, for entering Italy, for travelling between Lazio and Umbria, et cetera, et cetera. We found and hired a couple workers that would help to unload the van as soon as it arrives in Perugia. The workers would then unload everything from the van and deliver into our house, while we would self isolate in a room. Sounded like a plan.
I made sure to notify my UK landlord of our move out date, also to ensure that the elevator will be working. The last boxes were taped and the last furniture disassembled, plastic wrapped, taped and ready, when in the morning of the 18th of May, the elevator broke and we faced to carry over 1400 kg of furniture and household items from the third floor down to the moving van on the street. The driver wasn’t willing to help either, but after some negotiation and the promise of an additional payment, he assisted with the furniture and some of the heavier boxes.
A few hours and a couple ruined knees later, the ordeal was finally over. I just wanted to die, didn’t matter how. Completely destroyed, but relieved that the flat was finally emptied out, we got our last fish and chips dinner from the takeaway around the corner, and prepared our inflatable bed that would travel with us on the plane the next day. I fell asleep fast, not knowing that our difficulties had only just started.
We woke up early, removed final items and some trash from the flat and said goodbye to sea view and dear seagull friends. In ten years of living in the UK, it is probably the seagulls that I will miss the most. And the pubs. Bidding farewell to my old life, we entered the estate taxi that we had booked to transport us with lots of luggage directly from the coast to Heathrow airport, in order to avoid lockdown London.
Coming from East Sussex that was one of the least affected by the pandemic, at least in terms of infection rates, we were surprised to for the first time see everyone wearing masks and following the strict distancing regulations enforced at Heathrow airport. Over many weeks we wore our medical grade HEPAC filter masks on the coast, curiously eyed by many of the locals that would not yet understand what they were in for. Apparently Heathrow knew more about the international situation than Westminster, and acted accordingly.
We entered our terminal, queued in line for the check in and were immediately handed a couple of entry forms to fill out by an airport employee. I showed our own prefilled forms but nobody wanted to see them, as only the official airport paperwork was valid, as it featured some stamp of approval. Little did I know that we would soon have to fill out more forms than we ever had in our entire life.
The queue at the check in moved fast when all of a sudden we faced another issue. In order for me to board the plane, it was necessary to show an Italian issued residence document, which I did not yet have, still being technically a UK resident and tax payer. We explained our situation, that the rental agreement was signed days before the lock down was announced and that we had given up our old apartment in the UK and had nowhere else to go other than to our new house in Italy, as per one of the reasons allowed to move during a pandemic. It was all supported by valid documents, enough to make the friendly and patient employee at the check-in of Alitalia smile and walk away to a separate corner of the area, in order to call immigration in Rome to request green light for us to let me board the flight to Fiumicino. What initially seemed resolvable within a few minutes, turned into a 2 hour long wait on the side of the queue.
I found myself checking for spots to set-up the inflateable bed in the terminal, saw myself spending the rest of the pandemic in an airport terminal like Tom Hanks. Simona was more optimistic. But 10 minutes before the flight was about to take off, I lost all hope and approached the lady from the check-in, saying that we literally have no other option than to go to Italy. She nodded, smiled and walked away again, when a feeling of complete resignation came over me. I was about to walk away, give up, let go. And so was the plane. In that moment, the lady came back and told us and three other Italians that had similar problems of demonstrating residence in Italy that we are okay to go. But we only had 5 minutes to run through security and to the gate, which under normal circumstances would have taken 30 to 40 minutes.
It was too late, the automatic gates to the security control would not open with our boarding passes. We were past boarding time. Gates closing. Luckily, the security lady opened them manually, though only after a little argument and exchange of opinions that everyone in the UK is entitled to. A frantic employee of Alitalia rushed us through security and lead us to the gate, after some initial confusion about what gate to rush to. We still had 15 minutes to go. She called the gate and begged them to wait for us, while at the same time instructing us that there was no more time to put back on the belt or tie the shoes, as this can be done on the plane if we intend to still catch it. The following moments included running with loose pants through long corridors, tripping over shoe laces, all the while I was carrying that heavy guitar in a flight case that I was hesitant to check in. Mix in the FP2 mask that I wore which made breathing all a bit more difficult, and you can imagine that onlookers must have thought of me as someone in the last stages of Covid. Breathing heavily and sweating, I arrived at the gate. My temperature was taken, and although I felt like a 100 degrees, I had not a bit over 36 celsius. We boarded the plane last, one minute before the doors closed.
The flight was uneventful and quick. Every second seat was kept free, masks were mandatory and neither food nor drinks were served. The flight attendant’s only task was to handed us another entry form on the plane, of the same kind that we’ve already had filled out a hundred times by now. A big weight dropped off my shoulder when the plane landed in Fiumicino. Ciao bella.
The immigration section was crowded with people filling out another form, this one we have not seen yet, and so we asked and were told that none of the other forms that we already filled out were needed, only the one we were handed to now. At the end of the day, all these forms were never looked at or taken by anyone. It was all just a big kafkaesque procedere. But whatever it takes to get to our house. More forms were filled out and we proceeded to the border police. But as soon as we approached them, we were once again taken to the side and had to explain our situation one more time. In detail the circumstances were laid out, supported by the suitable documentation and the forms, that neither they didn’t want to keep. The The officer made a sorry face and walked into his office to talk to his superior, to find out how to go about letting the non resident enter. We could hear that the person on the other side of the call was of the opinion that the Austrian should not have been let on the plane at all. The borders were still closed to foreigners, and all the information that we requested from the Italian embassy, border police and so on, seemed not to matter anymore. Will the Italian police deport me to Austria after all? Anything was possible.
Luckily, the police officers were as confused as anyone about the legal situation, even more so, since Italy would come out of the lock down in just 10 days. Our police officer, who did not want to create more work than necessary for himself, handed us back our documents, and advised us to go to our new house, but we would have to self isolate for 14 days, obviously. We happily accepted the proposal, wished everyone well and moved quickly through the airport to pick up our luggage and ultimately the rental car which would take us to Perugia.
Once again we had our entry forms ready in case we were stopped at the regional border between Lazio and Umbria. But to our surprise, and probably because the end of the lock down was near, nobody stopped us. It was the first day of the new phase and everyone in Italy was filled with hope and optimism. We arrived at Simona’s parents house, picked up the key for our house from at the veranda, waved at them through the closed windows, and continued to the railway station in Perugia. It poured like forecasted, and should continue to do so for the next month and a half. But we were in a new place that we would call home, nothing else mattered. There we returned the rental car and loaded all luggage in a taxi.
Exhausted and happy, we arrived moments later at the new house, which I had only seen in a video sent to me by Simona, when she viewed it in February. We entered through the main door, and immediately held the door handle in our hand, literally. A bit of a TLC case admittedly, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed over the next few days with two hands. And we would have plenty of time during our two weeks of self isolation. The house was fantastic. And life could go on.