Sunday-Tuesday, July 13th-15th
I sat in the first class train car on the regional train to Milan after sadly waving goodbye to Katia, . The air conditioning did not seem to be working, but the wind provided some relief. First class tickets on regional trains are usually only 3 or 4 euros more and usually worth it as the cars are usually less full which is good when traveling with luggage.
The train guy came through the car checking tickets soon after the train departed from Rovato. When he saw that I had a first class ticket, he told me that I should move to the first class car. I was puzzled by his remark as I thought I was already sitting in a first class car. There was a number 1 on the outside of the train car when I boarded the train. He said that the AC was working in the next car and told me that he would help me move my bags. I was happy where I was, but went along with his suggestion as I was surprised by his offer to help move my bags.
After getting settled into the next car, I saw a white sign saying first class (can't remember the exact Italian wording) on the window of the door that separates the train cars. My guess was because the AC was not working in the other first class car, it was treated as a second class car on this trip.
When arriving in Milan, I knew the drill after being there already a couple of times this trip. As I approached the big stairway (my last set of stairs with luggage on this trip) a shady looking man offered to help me with my bags. I declined and headed down the stairs. At the bottom, I saw two places selling tickets for the airport bus. I went to the newsstand where the line was short. The airport bus costs 7 euros (although there seem to be some buses charging 7.50).
I bought my ticket, headed to the bus, showed my ticket, gave my luggage to the bus guy and watched as he put the luggage in the compartment under the bus, and then boarded the bus. I HATE bus rides, especially when they are packed and there are no seats up at the front. I feel so claustrophobic on a bus. I found a seat midway back and took out my sukoku puzzle. I was feeling a little queasy on the ride and realized once again that my ginger was in my suitcase instead of in my carry on. I tried to ignore the feeling in my stomach. When we arrived at the Malpensa airport, the bus first dropped off those going to Terminal 2. Fortunately when I boarded the bus, the bus driver asked where I was going and told me I needed Terminal 1 for the First Hotel.
When we arrived at Terminal 1, I grabbed my luggage and got out my phone. The hotel told me that the shuttle would be there in 15 or 20 minutes and to go and wait at the number six doorway in the arrival area. The hotel was only 5 minutes away. I wasn't sure why it was going to take 15-20 minutes but went to the number six area and waited. After a few minutes, I noticed two woman waiting on the island in the middle. I walked out there and asked if they were waiting for a hotel shuttle. One of the women told me that they were waiting for the First Hotel shuttle and had been waiting quite a while. They were not too happy to hear that I was told that it would arrive in 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile the skies were turning pitch black and a few minutes later huge raindrops started falling from the sky. I called the hotel again and told the woman that we were moving under the doorway since it was now raining with huge raindrops. She told us to move to area doorway number seven. We walked down to the next area and saw that the island in the middle was covered by a metal type covering. Great! The thunder and lightening was starting and I was now standing under a metal covering. I let out a few tiny screams with each sound of thunder. The shuttle arrived 25 minutes after my initial call. The two women waited one hour for the shuttle. Needless to say, they were pretty upset. I was just thankful that I no longer had to stand outside in a thunder and lightening storm.
It was about 6:30 when we arrived at the hotel which was very close to the airport. There were two women at the desk. One was very friendly and the other was not. I was given a credit card type key to the room and was told that I would need to let them know in advance what time I wanted the shuttle ride the following morning. While riding in the elevator with the shuttle guy (he was helping me with my bags), I asked him how the food was. He told me that the pasta was the best food.
I ordered trofie with pesto for dinner (13 euros) and water (3 euros). The pesto pasta was pretty good. Although it was more expensive than many restaurants it was not as expensive as some of the other hotel airport restaurants. The First Hotel provided 30 minutes of free internet which I thought was pretty cool. After that, it was a flat rate of 10 euros per day. There was a very friendly cat who lived at the hotel and hung out with me while I used the computer.
My room was a double for single use and was nice and roomy. It was clean and my bed was very comfy. The bathroom was also nice. The breakfast the next morning was only so so, although I have been spoiled with some great breakfasts on this trip. The coffee however was horrible. Luke warm espresso. The shuttle ride to the airport was on time and quick. I would stay there again.
The skies were dark with another storm approaching and the weather was cold the morning of my departure. I was very lucky to have sunny warm weather during my entire stay.
All passengers on the shuttle ride were going to Continental Airlines. I sat next to a nice older couple from San Francisco. They followed me when we got inside the terminal since I have flown out of Malpensa a couple of times before. I usually am NOT the one to follow, but for once I actually knew where I was going. I saw the line for the first passport check at the far end of the lobby and headed that way. Although the guy did not have much faith in me, his wife persuaded him to follow me. He seemed to think that we had to find the Continental counter. I knew we had to go through the passport check first and told him this information. When we arrived at the passport check area, I was very surprised to find only two other people in front of us. The guy checking the passports was very friendly.
Once our passports were checked, we headed to the Continental check in area. There were American, Delta, and Continental check in areas in this area. There were long lines for American and Delta and only 3 or 4 people in line for Continental. When it was my turn, I put my bag on the belt to be weighed and panicked. It weighed 35 kilograms! I knew that meant more than 50 pounds. I then realized that the woman did not clear the weight from the previous passenger's bag. My bag weighed 15 or 16 kilograms (not sure on the exact weight as she left 1 or 2 kilograms on the scale).
The next stop was to get our passports checked (again) and stamped. This was the official passport check area. The couple abandoned me at this point and I was on my own. After getting my passport stamped, I could not seem to find the area for the gates and the security check. I asked a policeman and then another airport person before finally finding the escalator in the middle of the room that went down to the lower level. It was not well marked at all and if you did not know what to look for, you would have probably walked right by it.
I passed through the security area quickly. No taking off shoes necessary. Next stop for me was the bathroom. While in the bathroom stall, the guy cleaning the bathroom came in and opened my door! I couldn't believe it. Luckily I was getting dressed. I let out a little scream, which did not seem to phase him at all. He put a red fabric type barrier across the doorway so that no one could get in. I asked him if he could move it so I could get out. He ignored me. I finally crawled under to get out. Then, I wandered through the duty free shopping area (no choice here as you had to walk through this shop to get to the gates) and bought a few things. I remembered that I wanted to buy some water. I backtracked a little and stopped in this little store thinking they might sell water. No water there, but since I still had a little time to kill, I looked at some little notebooks they were selling and then found a cute Pinocchio magnet to buy for my sister.
While I was in line, I realized that I was holding my ticket but no passport!! I panicked! I had one hour before the plane was taking off and no passport. I realized that I could probably fly out but not get into the US. I could end up like Tom Hanks in the movie, The Terminal! Hey, he was also stuck in Newark if I remember correctly. I traced back my steps in my head. If I lost my passport in the bathroom, I was toast. That guy was not very helpful and probably would have just thrown my passport away. I started to think about all the things I picked up and looked at in the duty free shop. If I lost it there, it would take me a long time to find it. I wondered if someone found it, where would they turn it in, IF they would turn it in.
I tried to stay calm and waited in line to pay for the Pinocchio magnet. Ignoring the problem for the moment seemed to be the best remedy. After making my purchase, I looked in the spot where the little notebooks were located. My passport!! There it was, right under the two notebooks I picked up earlier but decided not to purchase. Oh thank you, thank you!!! I was so relieved. I always use my money belt. I even had it on, but because I am asked to show my passport so often in airports, I usually carry it in my hand during the airport phase of my travel.
I was so thankful that I had my passport back in my hands once again. I clutched it tightly and went to have a decent espresso at the bar. I also bought some water while in the airport bar and then headed to the boarding area. Soon after I arrived, the boarding mayhem began. First the little children, and then a free for all!! No seat numbers called, just mass chaos. I happened to be standing in a good spot before the boarding process began. Boarding took forever since those in the front of the plane were storing their carry on items while those in the back of the plane had to wait to get by.
I had an aisle seat in the middle and sat next to a quiet girl from New Jersey. The plane ride was long but other than that, no problems arose, except that they messed up on my special meal again. Every year, somehow, they never have my special meal when flying back from Italy. Luckily I brought some bread and cheese with me. I watched The Other Boleyn Girl twice since there was nothing else good to watch. I was surprised that on this flight there were no movies dubbed in Italian. I felt bad for all of the Italians flying who did not understand English. I think they had the wrong movies for this flight. At least the announcements were in both English and Italian.
When we landed in Newark, we all headed to the passport check area. A very nice couple from Sicily asked me for help. I showed them the line they had to go to. They kept insisting that since they were visiting the US they needed to be in the US line. I knew they needed to be in the other line and tried to explain this to them, but there was this little doubt in my mind since I always remembered going to the area on the right which was now the foreigner passport check area. I had to read the sign again for the US line and make sure that everyone in the line I was in was holding blue passports.
The guy checking my passport was very nice. Because I brought only candy and coffee back, I made sure to show him my duty free bag so that I would not have to go to the agriculture/customs inspection area like I did last year when I brought sun-dried tomatoes back. Next stop, the luggage area. My bag came about midway through the unloading process. A cute little beagle dog was making the rounds sniffing everyone's bags. At first I thought bomb or drugs but then realized the dog was sniffing for meat and cheese being smuggled in. The dog caught quite a few people. The woman with the dog wrote something special on the forms we had to fill out and these people were flagged and sent through the agriculture/customs inspection area. They may or may not have already declared their food items beforehand but there was no sneaking by with this cute dog checking the baggage. It was the first time I saw a dog checking out the luggage.
The only long line I encountered during my two day travel extravaganza was the next line where there were only two people checking each person's form to see if you had to go through the agriculture/customs inspection area or were free to leave the airport and there were many flights full of people being checked by these two people. I was in no big hurry and patiently waited in line. I was concerned for the people having to catch a connecting flight. A one hour connection time was not going to be long enough.
All I had left was the shuttle ride to the airport hotel. Last year, I was told to take a special train to a pick up area to get the shuttle ride. This year, one person told me to take the train and another person told me that I could skip the train and just go out door number 7. All I could think of was "Let's Make a Deal". I found the phone (with some help) to call my hotel for a shuttle ride. My hotel was literally walking distance from the airport, although as Marian noted, I would probably get killed crossing the street to get there. The woman on the phone told me to wait at pole number 5. Door number 7, pole number 5.
I headed to door number 7 and found a tiny escalator. I was not going down that with my luggage. Then, I found some elevators. I stood waiting. As I waited, more people arrived. The elevator on the far left with the arrow lit to go down opened. I crossed over in front of a group of people waiting for an elevator to go up and must have somehow got in front of one of the women in this group of three also waiting to get in the elevator. She flipped out! I was in shock. She started ranting and raving about how rude people are and how they will just walk right in front of you. I could not believe it.
First of all, I was waiting there way before she got there and secondly, I did not purposefully walk in front of her. The people next to me had this huge cart stacked with bags. I could barely see anyone on the other side of them. At first, I got upset, but then I realized that there was no need for me to get all worked up. It was her problem. Let her flip out and be all upset. It was not like the world was ending.
When I got off the elevator, I went outside and looked for pole number 5. I saw lots of poles with numbers across the street. Pole number 115, 117, 120, etc. It was a big parking lot. Was I supposed to look for pole number 5 there? I realized after a few minutes that the pole I was looking for could not have been in that parking lot. I went back and asked this construction guy. He pointed to an area nearby and said that the red Marriott vans drove right by there. I went over to the spot he pointed out and waited. There was a construction guy drilling above me. I asked him if it was safe to stand there. He just smiled. Another woman was also waiting for this van. She also could not find pole number 5. Soon after, I saw a red van drive up. I wove my hands up and down and he stopped. We were at the hotel a minute later.
Check in was a breeze. The Newark Liberty International Airport Marriott Hotel is a fancy and expensive hotel. It was my treat for my last night of travel. The bed is super comfy and the room is nice and big. The only problem I had was that the room was freezing!! I turned the AC off immediately. Two hours later, I went down to see if anything could be done. I was wearing my fleece in my room. She called the electrician. He told me to turn the AC off and it would warm up in 30 minutes. I told him I turned it off two hours ago. The only other thing they could do since the windows did not open was to send up more blankets. The blankets on the bed were already warm enough. Note to myself, make sure to request that the AC is turned off asap before I check in the next time I stay there.
I had dinner with Marian of Slow Travel. She picked me up at the hotel. She has a cool new GPS system in her car that was fun to watch in action. We met ellens (also from Slow Travel) at the restaurant. We sat in the bar area for a while chatting away. When ellens had to leave, Marian and I went to have dinner. I had a wonderful time getting to know Marian. We mostly talked about travel and enjoyed a delicious meal together. We shared some hummus and baba ganoush. I ordered a salad with grilled chicken and she ordered a vegetarian meatloaf (I think). I was in a jetlag daze when dinner came and so some of my memories of the evening are pretty hazy. Thank you again Marian for a wonderful evening!!! When I got back to my room, I tried to watch some TV, but fell asleep.
The next morning, I woke up very early, but was able to fall back to sleep. I woke up again at 9:30 when the maid started knocking on my door. I have no idea why she was knocking on my door. You would think she would have known that I was checking out and did not need to have my room cleaned. I got dressed and went down to the restaurant for breakfast. The restaurant offered a buffet or individual orders. I decided against the buffet and instead ordered a bagel with cream cheese and a fruit platter. Delicious!! A wonderful breakfast! I checked out at noon and took the shuttle to the airport.
No lines for check in. My check in bag weighed 35 pounds. I was able to view my seats before printing out my boarding pass. I noticed that there were 2 open seats in row 16 in the middle. I moved my seat to the aisle seat in in the middle in row 16. I have done this before hoping that the middle seat would be left open and the middle seat always ended up being filled. I figured, I could always hope. The security check took about 10-15 minutes. They had the new machines that blew bursts of air like little air puffs at this airport. Only some people were asked to go in this machine. I wanted to go in it but was afraid to ask. I could just imagine what they would do if I requested to go in this machine. I was not chosen and instead breezed through the regular metal detector. My flight started boarding early. I sat in the middle in an aisle seat. A guy sat in the other aisle seat. When the doors to the plane finally were closed, our middle seat was still EMPTY!!! HOORAY!!!
The only bad thing about this flight was that there was a mother, grandmother, little girl who was considered an infant and held on the mother's lap, and a wild child who kicked the seat and jumped up and down on the seat and screamed when he had to sit with his seatbelt buckled two rows behind us. At first the flight attendant wanted to move us back a row. Thankfully, she thought of a better idea and moved them to the front row and moved those people to other seats. Although he continued to jump up and down the entire flight, at least he did not scream. I watched the movie 21 and slept. We landed on time. My bag came out pretty quickly. Thank you Polly for my rides to and from the airport :)
Thank you everyone once again for all of you encouraging comments. I hope that some of my posts helped with travel ideas. I had a wonderful trip. Next up, photos...