Monday, May 28, 2012


Varenna to Milan – Day 55 – Wednesday

I had contemplated spending part of the day in Varenna if the weather had been fine, but the day dawned overcast and gloomy.  I lingered until checkout time at 10:30 and then trundled off to the train station.  My suitcase was on its last legs and I lost part of the undercarriage on the cobblestones along the way.  I arrived shortly after the 10:37 train left, so had nearly two hours to wait for the next one.

The Varenna train station is small and unmanned.  There is nowhere to buy tickets or even a coffee.  I sat there with my Eurail pass and watched everyone else worry about how to buy a ticket.  The pass turned out to be a waste of money, since I had based my calculations on first class tickets, which were seldom available and cost additional amounts to reserve when they were.  Trenitalia was running a promotion that made it possible to go almost anywhere for 9 Euros in second class.  It was, however, occasionally convenient not to have to buy a ticket.

When the train finally did arrive, it was a small regional train and I couldn’t even get my bag through the door into the seating area, much less find a place to stow it.  I sat on a jump seat by the door for an hour until we arrived in Milan.  There wasn’t much to look at and a large part of the trip was through tunnels where I couldn’t see anything at all.  The countryside was still lush and green.  The area surrounding Milan consists of suburban apartment blocks, factories and industrial parks.

When we arrived at Milano Centrale, I expected to find a familiar layout.  Unfortunately, they had opened a third subway line since I had been there in March and the subway station, which had been a maze of barricades earlier, had completely changed.  It took me some time to sort out how to find the necessary line.  I had to change trains to get to my hotel, but I got to the right subway station without incident.  It took me somewhat longer to determine which of the seven streets emptying into the Piazza Piedmonte was Via Giorgio Washington, since Italians put their street signs on the sides of buildings where you can’t see them unless you are already in the street.  I had to drag my bag around two thirds of the plaza before I found the right street and then another long block down to my hotel.  Fortunately, the hotel was near the corner and I recognized it from the picture on the Internet.  I arrived a bout 3:00.

Room at Piedmonte
Usual 25" Square Shower

The Hotel Piedmonte was a nice place.  My single room was small, but it was newly decorated and had all the modern conveniences.  It was a deal for 45 Euros a night.  I did have to pay an extra 5 Euros for Internet, but at least it wasn’t 6 Euros an hour like many places.  It was very hot outside and I was not inspired to go back outside for any reason.  I needed to organize my luggage for the trip home and I had hundreds of photos to email from my phone to my computer.  I went through my luggage and disposed of anything I no longer needed and moved anything I had bought to my carry on bag so that I could be secure that my bag would not be overweight.  Then I hung out in the hotel and worked my way through the photos from Bolzano.

By 7:00, I was hungry and went in search of food.  The desk clerk had recommended a nearby restaurant, but the menu didn’t appeal to me, so I walked a few more blocks back to a cluster of restaurants near the subway station.  I chose a pizza and pasta place that looked welcoming.  For some reason, I was ravenous.  I ordered a calzone with two kinds of cheese and salami.  For the first time since I arrived in Italy, I saw Moretti Red on the menu, so I ordered one of those.  Moretti is located in Milan, so that makes sense.  The beer definitely gets better as you travel north, but the wine declines in quality.

I enjoyed my meal.  I struck up a conversation with the waiter once I convinced him not to speak English to me.  He had a brother in New York.  I told him that it was my last night in Italy and ordered a limoncello to mark the occasion.  When the bill came, they comped the limoncello and wished me a safe journey.  Speaking Italian, being polite, patient and going with the Italian flow has served me well with restaurant people in Italy.  Even I cringe when I hear Americans whining (usually loudly) that things aren’t the same as at home.  I want to shake them and say, “You’re in Italy!  Realize you are blessed, shut up, and enjoy yourself for goodness sake.”

For two months, I have had the sense that I am living in a state of grace.  Everything is beautiful, the air smells of orange blossoms, flowers bloom everywhere and the food and wine are heavenly.  I look at all of this and I know that it is not so very different from my own home in California.  Italians shrug and say, “piano, piano,”  which means, “take your time,” or, “little by little.”  I hope that I can bring this attitude home with me, along with my sense of wonder at the beauty of art and nature.  Life is beautiful.  I’m ready to go home, but I don’t want to lose this peace that Italy has given me.

Back at the Hotel Piedmonte, I dashed off a blog post and finished off my last night in Italy by watching *Hangover* in Italian.  The movie is over the top comedy.  I have never seen it in English, but I bet it is better in Italian.  The language lends itself to hysterical humor.

Milan to San Francisco – Day 56 – Thursday

Six o’ clock came too soon since, as usual, I had stayed up too late the night before.  I hurried to wash and dress and attend to the last of my packing.  I checked out at 7:00 am and set off to drag my bag to the station.  At this point, I was counting down the number of staircases I would have to negotiate with my luggage before I finally arrived home.  Two flights down to the station, through the turnstile, another flight down to the train.  Bump, bump, bump.  They don’t really believe in escalators or elevators in Italy.  I had hoped the subway would be empty at that hour, but it was packed.  I guess the Italians go to work earlier than the English.  I could barely wedge myself onto the train.  Fortunately, I only had to travel three stops.

For some reason, I had elected to leave from the Cadorna Station, rather than Milano Centrale.  This might have been because trains from Como arrive there and I mistakenly thought that meant all trains from Lake Como.  The train from Varenna arrived at Milano Centrale, which had necessitated yesterday’s hot trek across Milan.  Cadorna was, however, easier to negotiate than Milano Centrale.  There was even a lift from the subway up to the train platform.  They accepted my rather battered and water stained ticket that I had printed back in March and dragged all over Italy and I hauled my bag through the gate and onto the platform.  A train arrived shortly thereafter and I got a seat next to the luggage rack.

The train ride to Malpensa Airport took about 45 minutes and then I had to find the appropriate check in area.  European airports don’t have designated counters lined up in a row like American airports.  They have huge halls full of stalls that are assigned to flights as needed.  The lines move more quickly, since more windows are available and everyone in the line is going the same place, but I had to haul my possessions to the far end of the airport to check in.  It was, however, nice to rid myself of my suitcase, although I had packed all the heavy items into my carry on bag and it weighed at least 25 pounds.  Despite having left at 7:00 to catch a 10:30 flight, it was nearly time to board by the time I got to my gate.  I didn’t have time to get coffee or breakfast, although I did have time to stop at the duty free store and buy some limoncello to bring home.  I couldn’t think of a better way to get rid of my Euros.  If you believe the news in Italy, they could become obsolete very soon.

For some reason, American Airlines decided to give me priority access on this trip.  I used to get this treatment when I flew a lot, but it has been a decade since my platinum status expired.  I really lucked out on the flight from Milan to New York.  They put the priority folks in a small section between business class and coach.  I had a center aisle seat on a 767 and got the entire center section to myself.  There was even more legroom than usual.  I was actually quite comfortable.  Fortunately, they served lunch almost right away.  Airplane food catered from Italy is definitely an improvement over that from America.  I had tasty cheese pasta with spinach and fried onions and watched Robert Downey, Jr. play Sherlock Holmes.

I started to suspect that things were not as they should be at JFK when there were no free luggage carts in the international baggage area.  I waited and waited for my bag, only to find out that some airport employee had removed the bags from the carousel and stacked them on the opposite side where no one could see them.  When I finally did collect my bag, the line to clear customs was long.  I got through customs OK, only to be told that I would have to put my limoncello in my suitcase before rechecking it to San Francisco because I had to leave the secure area and go through security again to get to my gate.

The disorganization of the luggage handling was only the beginning of the mess at JFK, however.  When I checked the monitor for my gate, I discovered that the flight was delayed an hour.  It was later delayed another half an hour and then the gate was changed.  Once we boarded the aircraft, there were 45 planes ahead of us in line for takeoff and we crept slowly across the tarmac for another hour.  We were two and a half hours late taking off.  The flight to San Francisco was much more crowded than the flight from Milan and there was a lot less legroom.

I was seated behind Annoying Man.  I have long femurs, which means that my knees touch the seat in front of me when sitting in coach.  One of my knees was bruised.  The guy in front of me not only insisted on reclining as far as he could, which made it impossible for me to use even my little netbook, but constantly squirmed in his seat and pushed back against it, ramming it into my knee.  I was therefore required to push back to keep him from hurting me, which made it hard to relax.  It was a long flight. I was very glad to see Scott arrive in my Mini.  I had been up for 27 hours by the time I got home, but all was well.  My cat was still speaking to me and spent the night snuggled up to me on my pillow.

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