I thought I would start with the end of my trip since I have not written up much of this part of my trip yet and it will probably be the first part to disappear from my memory. Warning... this is long!
I took the 16:37 train to Milano Centrale (train station). I would have taken the 15:37 train but somehow thought it left at 15:47 (mixed it up with the Verona train time from the day before). We arrived at the station at 15:36 just as the 15:37 train was about to arrive and for once the train was on time. Not enough time to go down and then up the stairs to get to binario 2. I learned my lesson once already regarding running for a train this summer.
Katia and I hung out at the train station for the next hour waiting for my train to arrive. It was nice having an hour of quiet time chatting before I left. I always hate saying goodbye when I finally get on that train after spending time with Katia and Guido (more on my time in Coccaglio later).
I find that for most trains, first class always pays off. The car was pretty empty. Lots of room for my bags. Peaceful ride. A very nice man offered to help me with my bags when getting off the train. Two more creepy guys attempting the "can I help you with your bags" scam approached me once I was off the train. Although it can be a little tricky maneuvering around with 2 roller bags hooked to each other in Milan due to the crowds and congestion, I was thankful there were no more stairs.
I love the new improvements at the Milano Centrale train station. There are moving walkways that angle downward to go down to the lower levels so you no longer need to go carry bags down the stairs to reach the street level. Because everything is new (or at least new to me since last summer), I was not sure at first where to go. I found a sign at one level for the airport shuttle but not at the next. I can't remember if you have to go down twice or three times but just head towards the metro sign until you are on the ground level and then you will see the airport signs again.
I bought ticket at the tabaccheria shop on the ground floor where there was a big sign saying Malpensa Express €7. There still is a little work going on at this train station so my directions might change, but at least for now, you head on out the door by the tabaccheria shop, walk straight ahead until you reach a main street, and then turn left or just follow everyone with luggage and you will find the Malpensa Express buses.
Warning - in my experience, the bus drivers are not always so friendly at the train station. As I approached the first bus, the bus driver in a grouchy voice told me to go to the next bus. At the next bus, the guy standing in front of the door at the bus took my ticket and stamped it. While he was stamping it, I was unable to avoid inhaling a bit of his stinky lit cigarette. He seemed oblivious as I noticed uncomfortable reactions from other bus riders as they either had their tickets stamped or bought tickets from this guy. He also said just one word - "La", which meant there, referring to the fact that you had to go around to the other side to store your bags in the storage compartment under the bus. The guy by the baggage storage area, who turned out to be our bus driver, was friendlier. He will ask you if you are going to Terminal 1 or 2. Terminal 2 is first. Terminal 1 is the terminal where most people depart.
The bus was pretty full. I was fortunate to find a seat not too far from the front of the bus. I was even more fortunate to be one of the few who ended up with an empty seat next to me for the ride. I took the following photo of three girls trying to figure out directions on a big map while two guys look on in Milan at a red light.
Because I stayed at the same airport hotel last summer, I knew just where to go once we arrived at Terminal 1. I called the hotel as instructed when I arrived and was told that the shuttle would arrive in 15-20 minutes. I was not very happy to hear this since last year I waited 25 minutes and two other women who were already waiting when I arrived waited one hour for the shuttle to arrive. The hotel is only a 5 minutes drive to the airport.
This is where I stood for 40 minutes waiting for the shuttle to arrive. The only good thing I can say about this year's wait was that it was not thundering and lightening outside this time.
And since I had plenty of time while waiting, I took photos of the new Malpensa Express buses just in case you are trying to find the buses since they used to be blue. I was on one of the buses in the first photo below.
While waiting for the shuttle ride on the little island by the arrivi gate, I noticed a woman standing nearby with some shopping bags and an older man standing in the street nearby. At one point the man approached me and asked me if I could call a number for the shuttle ride that had not arrived yet (he had been waiting one hour). He told me that he was just in Cuba and all of his belongings including his passport and all of his money was stolen. They slashed his bag and stole everything out the bottom. He went on to tell me his entire experience (I understood about 75% of what he said). I was happy to let him use my cell phone. He offered me a euro but I told him that was not necessary. He was a very nice man from Florence waiting for the shuttle ride to come pick him up to take him to a rental car so he could drive back to Florence. Somehow the conversation led to discussing Obama and US politics before his shuttle ride arrived.
When my shuttle ride finally arrived, the woman, who apparently had no clue that I was also waiting for the same shuttle got in the van. I rolled one bag over to the shuttle driver. As he put the bag in the van, the woman told the guy that that was not her bag. She was quite rude and later on in the evening flipped out at the manager in the lobby of the hotel. I was surprised she never complained about the 40 minute wait, which turned into an hour experience. Once we both were in the van, the shuttle driver told us that we would have to wait 5 more minutes for 2 more people to arrive. That was really the last straw for me. I will NOT be staying at the First Hotel again. It is obvious that customer service is not top priority but instead the convenience of having the shuttle drive 5 minutes to the airport as few times as necessary. We not only waited 5 minutes but then ended up driving back to Terminal 2 to pick up the two men. It ended up taking 1 hour to arrive at the First Hotel after calling for my shuttle ride pick-up.
The First Hotel is clean and the room is nice but for a 4 star hotel, besides the very poor shuttle ride pick-up service, I think they could afford to provide two tiny bars of soap instead of just one as well as a nicer breakfast. This year the breakfast was pretty sad. At least the espresso was good. The only other main complaint I have is the free advertised wifi that I was given as a return customer that did not work very well. I could not stay connected for more than 5 minutes at a time and often not more than 5 seconds. I am glad I did not pay for it. I read about a good restaurant within walking distance on Slow Travel but it was closed on Tuesdays. Knowing this, I brought pecorino cheese, bread, and fruit with my for dinner. There is a restaurant at the hotel but the food is only average and the price is a big rip off. I will be writing a new review on the First Hotel which will not be as positive as my first review, especially if you are dependent on a shuttle ride to arrive at the hotel.
I slept well and reserved an 8:15 am shuttle. I do have to say that both years, the morning shuttle rides were on time and very convenient. Once at the airport, it took me a little while to figure out where to go. The two Air France women were not helpful at all. I did not understand the new (or perhaps old but new to me) monitors that announced the check in gates at first. Once I figured it out, it was quite easy and in the end, Continental was in the same place as it was last year. There is a passport checkpoint which was manned by a few police with big guns in this area since all the flights are overseas flights. I must look very innocent as the police told me to go right on through without even showing my passport. In the past, I remember them checking our passports with a long list of names. Once again, there was a very short line. Knock on wood - so far, I have yet to arrive to a long check in line at either the Rome or Milan airport. I can't remember the exact weight of my bag since it was metric weight but I think it gained 10 pounds during my trip. After getting my boarding pass, I headed to the imbarchi/gates. I thought about taking some fun photos while in the airport but my camera was at the bottom of my bag and it was too much of a hassle to fish it out. I did a big loop and ended up right back where I started looking for the imbarchi gates. One reason why I am glad I have switched to taking two roll on bags.
After going through passport control and then a stop in the duty free shop you are forced to walk through, I went to the caffé for my last espresso. This year I noticed that there were signs with the names of the items written out. I always feel badly for those that don't speak any Italian and are confused in this airport caffé as you need to pay first and in order to pay you need to know what you want to pay for at the cassa (cash register). I also ordered a brioche filled with cream and bought 2 waters.
I was prepared this year for the announcement to board the plane. In Italy (or at least on all of my flights in Italy) there is no - seats 45-40, 45-35, etc. boarding order. First/business class and then everyone else all at once. AND when it Italy, you must remember to queue the Italian way. I would make an Italian proud with how I queued this year. My plan of action has been to choose an aisle seat in the 3 middle seat configuration where only the other aisle seat is occupied. Usually, it does not work out where the middle seat stays empty but this year I lucked out. A cute soccer player (I figured this out when I saw his two carry-on items, a small backpack and a yellow soccer ball) sat in the other aisle seat. He injured his foot while playing soccer in Spain and spent the past few weeks in Bergamo with friends. Small world! I was in Bergamo on Sunday! Anyways, we said hello and waited as the other passengers boarded. When they announced the doors were closing we both flashed smiles at each other realizing that the doors were closing. Our middle seat was empty!! Yippeeee!!
The flight started off with some turbulence and continued with just turbulence behind my seat (a little girl kicking my seat throughout the flight). At least she wasn't crying. My only big complaint was the crappy entertainment system. The sound started off with a loud crackling sound which could eventually cause hearing loss. Because of the turbulence which meant the flight attendants were not able to get up yet, which we were not aware of, just about everyone pushed the call button to alert the flight attendants about the sound issue. Once they finally were able to get up, they reset the about movies. The second try resulted in only the middle seat and the cute soccer player seats systems to work. I asked the flight attendant if she could do something about my entertainment system. She reset the system in our row again. That did not work. The crackling returned and then we go the announcement that there was a problem with the entertainment system... duh?? and in order to prevent it from overheating and causing a fire, they were going to turn it off. The fire part pretty much ended any continued complaints.
Part 2: Newark to Honolulu coming up next...