Tuesday 16 January 2018

Wait till I tell you about my wild night with the president of Italy

Catherine Fulvio
Catherine Fulvio

Catherine Fulvio

Before we start, let's just make it clear that this does not involve, Silvio Berlusconi - this story is a lot more innocent.

When our children were younger, my husband Claudio and I spent long periods in Sicily. One winter when we were staying with family, we set off to do some touring around. I had my heart set on going to Syracuse. It's a beautiful city known for its rich Greek history, ruins and amphitheatres, and the food is great there too.

I love old hotels with tons of character and I had found one called the Grand Hotel Villa Politi. As it happened, Winston Churchill had once stayed there. I thought it would be so interesting to stay in a hotel that was good enough for Churchill.

It was the middle of winter, so when we arrived at the hotel, it was very quiet. We checked in and handed in all four passports. They gave my husband his Italian passport back but they held on to three Irish ones. I was a bit uncomfortable with that but said nothing.

We went to see the ruins where there were about 60 people working, chipping out all the weeds and putting in new toilet facilities. I was thinking this was obviously the tourist site to visit. We went to bed really happy with ourselves and woke up the next morning for breakfast.

It was just the four of us in the dining room and staff everywhere - I felt sorry for them all. A waiter went past and started talking into his wrist. I thought that was very weird. Then another guy passed and he was doing the same thing. I said to my husband there was something very odd here and we should consider checking out. The next thing, a third "waiter" turned around and he had a gun behind him. This was obviously some sort of a hijack situation.

Knees shaking, I was practically grabbing the kids to get them out. I was thinking of all the possible escape routes like in the action movies. All our phones appeared to have been disabled, which caused another wave of panic. My Italian husband, seeming inexplicably laid back, was just looking at me.

I jumped up from the table just as a helicopter landed on the hotels' lawn. I felt sick to the pit of my stomach as armoured cars pulled up outside. We were clearly under siege - I couldn't believe this was all unfolding in front of us.

I was looking at the soldiers when Claudio blurts out: "Look at the Maserati." I was ready to kill him - this wasn't the time for admiring cars!

The car's door opened and out stepped Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, the president of Italy at that time. I could see the hotel managers almost bowing. It suddenly clicked, that was why they were doing all this work on the historic site.

The president was staying in the room above our bedroom, so I asked whether it was still OK to stay in the Lady Churchill room. I said I would do my best to keep the children quiet, and the poor receptionist just looked at me pleadingly saying "that would be very nice, thank you." I will never know why to this day if the hotel had accidentally taken our reservation and then felt obliged to follow through and not book us somewhere else. It still baffles me why we ended up being the only people in a hotel with the President of Italy.

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