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Italy 2010 Archives

August 17, 2010

My Apartment - Venice

So I've always wanted to rent an apartment in Venice. Ideally, I wanted to do this with Chris along but because of a previously scheduled trip to Orlando (one last Disney/Universal vacation with the girls), he can't accompany me in October. So, on my own, I zeroed in on several non-luxurious studios about Venice (I excluded ones towards Arsenale; they felt too removed for me). Anyway, after finding one that was pretty darn basic for about €400 for 5 nights, I mentioned to Chris how there were nicer ones for a bit more money but because I didn't want to spend a lot, I'd probably go with an eh-eh one. Being a mench, he told me to spend a little more and get something I liked. Who am I to argue?

Still not luxurious (in that I'm not sure about the futon/sofa bed thing), but the rest of the apartment still looks pretty good - and I love the little patio on which I envision me having morning coffee, or if the wireless reaches, getting some work done before venturing out. Plus, added bonus, this apartment is probably within a three-minute walk of Shannon's place. I've never stayed in Cannaregio, so I'm looking forward to that too.

Without further ado, my Venice Apartment.

Cannaregio Apartment

September 5, 2010

Last Night Before Flight Home from Malpensa

A little more trip planning occurred this past week. After going through some discussions on the SlowTrav Forums, I decided to contact I Castagni a small B&B spoken highly of in several discussions, for my last night before my 10:20am departure from Malpensa back home. They provide shuttle service to/from Malpensa at no extra cost, and it's a small family-run operation. They also have free WiFi for their guests. Sounded good for a last night.

I wrote them via the form on their website and with a few hours they responded. I've booked a single for €60 a night, including breakfast and as I mentioned the shuttle. Carlos has been most helpful via email, directing me where to catch the bus to the airport from the train station and telling me which terminal to be dropped at to facilitate the shuttle.

I'm looking forward to staying there.

October 9, 2010

She Said, She Said, She Said and He Said - My She Said

Okay - the train story.

It all started when Shannon and I missed the 9:17 train from Como to Milan - that should have been a warning as to our transportation Karma for the day but oh well...

Needless to say we made the next train, arriving at Milan Cadorna at about 10:30. From there it was an easy change to the Green line into Milano Centrale, where we emerged in the "basement." Let's all just agree that basement is a subjective term here.

At the "basement" bar of Centrale is where we were supposed to meet Jen and Chris. They were landing at Malpensa about 9:20am, and taking the Malpensa shuttle into Centrale - in my mind, I figured they'd arrive between 11 and 11:30.

So we left the metro, walked through the "basement" until we came upon a cafe. I said to Shannon, is that where we're supposed to meet? And she replied, "No at the bar." Hmmm....

With no "sign" of a bar, we went upstairs, honestly, I don't remember why - oh, I remember, we went upstairs to purchase my train ticket for my return trip from Venice to Milan on October 15th.

Now, once we arrived upstairs via the slanted escalators, it seemed to me that we hadn't so much been so much in the "basement" of Centrale, as we had been in the Metro, which alights sort of next to Centrale, though under a roof that extends from Centrale, but kind of over an open corridor, hard to describe. Once in Centrale though and seeing the trains on levels above us, and after buying tickets, getting into an elevator and trying to go down, realizing the elevator didn't go lower (to said "basement") than the level we were on, I said to Shannon, "Do you think they'll think that this level is the basement?" To which she replied, "It's not the basement, it's obviously street level (which it was)," but to my squirrelly look she continued, "They'll figure it out."

They did.

Eventually.

So Shannon and I returned to the basement, past the "cafe" and into the Market (yes, there's a full market in the "basement" of Centrale) where there were signs for the elusive bar. We wound our way to the back of the store where we found said bar, and as Shannon ordered a cappuccino, I walked through the market purchasing some prosciutto, mortadello, rolls and chips for a little picnic we envisioned having on our two hour train ride from Milan to Sondrio. Then while I enjoyed a cappuccino (by the way this "basement" bar makes a good cappuccino), Shannon strolled through the market buying some wine and water for us also to enjoy on our picnic.

At about 11:30, we decided that perhaps our little "basement" bar was a little tucked away for them to find us in what we assumed would be their jet-lagged state, so we moved out to the aforementioned cafe. Then from there, I preceded to leave Shannon behind with our bags, as I made a circuit through the station, ending at the street where the Malpensa shuttles drop their passengers. By now it was almost noon, and not only was I a bit concerned about our missing travelers, I was beginning to realize we would not make the 12:20 train to Sondrio and would have to kill two hours in Milan waiting for the next train.

Shannon went to to check the tickets to see if they had to be bought for a specific train and time or if we could purchase them ahead of Chris and Jen's arrival, and just stamp them for whichever train we caught. When she returned at 12:10 we'd pretty much given up hope of catching that 12:20 train then just a couple of minutes later we spied Chris in the distance getting off the slanted escalator. We yelled to him, hugs all around and then Shannon said, "We have 7 minutes to catch the train, let's go!"

Have you all seen the Amazing Race? Yeah, this was a lot like that.

Shannon had her bags and made a dash for the ticket counter/machines. I had my bags and tried desperately to catch up to Chris who darted ahead in order to find Jen and grab their bags. Luckily as the three of us split up, Shannon yelled, "Bin 4, meet at bin 4!"

I'm running up the stairs with my bags, Chris is out of site, I have no idea where Shannon is ... ah Italy.

Within a moment, I see Chris and Jen ahead of me dashing for Binario 4. I catch up to them just past the stamping machine - more hugs and we wait, eying the crowd for Shannon as the PA makes the final boarding call for our train.

People dash past us - jumping on.

Jen says, "What is she wearing?" And I reply, "I don't remember!"

Then we see her and run towards her, urging her to run towards us.

She does, stopping at the conductor to get a squiggly put on our ticket (I guess the equivalent of a stamp, since she blew past the machine).

We run along side the train as the Conductor told us to go forward for seats. Eventually though, about half way up the train we decide not to risk the doors closing on us, and hop on, dripping sweat.

At this point, I'll tell you, that while Shannon and I have smaller pieces (like 21 inch bags) plus carry-on sizes and our purses, Jen and Chris are trailing some seriously large suitcases (red, hard to miss), plus an assortment of other baggage. I should also remind you that poor Jen and Chris, have been awake for close to 24 hours at this point, traveling for probably 21 hours of that time.

So there we were, standing in a crowded vestibule, between cars, looking ahead, and not seeing any seats, let alone four seats together or near each other.

Unencumbered Chris decides to go through the cars, looking for seats and I trail behind him with my bags, unfortunately wacking people as I go. Chris is moving though and doors are closing in front of me, the train is jerking, and I'm panting to keep up.

The Italians are gracious though, holding the door for me so I can get my luggage through, clearing their feet out of the aisle as I pass and helping me lift my carry-on over arm rests so it doesn't get snagged.

Eventually, we get to a car and I see four seats across, from window to window, facing the wrong way. Enough, I call to Chris to stop. I plop down in one of the seats spreading my stuff out on the other three. In front of one of them though is a piece of luggage, presumably belonging to the young girl sitting catty-corner to me. I figure when the time comes, and my friends return, we can ask her to put it in the overhead section then.

Chris returns through the crowded cars (we must have gone through four or five), to find Shannon and Jen and return with them and all the luggage. I sit, and wait, mopping sweat from my head, and as the train slows down (but luckily does not stop), I wonder, how will I keep someone from sitting in these seats we've snagged? I hate saving seats.

Hmm... "Per mia amiche" or "Mia Amiche e li; sediamo qui"

As I said though, the train only slows, it doesn't stop, so no worries for the moment.

Eventually though we do pull into a station. And I think, I wonder if they'll know to jump off the train and run alongside it to move forward rather than make their way up in the car? about a second before I see Chris and then Shannon sprinting down the station platform. I wave to them and start out of my seat to help as Chris jumps back on the train, the people around me chuckle, and the door shuts, leaving Shannon still standing on the station platform. I have no idea where Jen is at this point.

In the moment it seemed to last forever but it couldn't have been but a few seconds before Chris, with the help of an Italian teen standing in the vestibule literally pried open the doors to get Shannon on the train before it pulled out of the station. I didn't see this but they told me as they came into the car panting.

We loaded my stuff (that had been holding the seats) and Chris's stuff (those big red bags) that they dragged down the platform with them and threw back onto the train, into the overhead bins and Chris collapsed into the seat across the aisle from me as Shannon weaved her way back through the train cars, and to Jen who had waited there with the rest of the stuff.

Chris and I didn't know what they were doing. We waited and waited, looking down through the car doors for a glimpse of them making their way forward to us but no sign. Eventually my phone rang. It was Shannon, they were staying put, not risking another jump off the train unless we were going to pull into a station for like five minutes. She said they may try at Lecco (I think that was the stop) because it looked like a major transfer point. Oh and by the way, they conductor came by and checked our tickets I told him I had two for you near the front of the train and he seemed okay with that. I hung up, told Chris and he said, "They're probably into the wine now."

Yes, all the food, wine and water was with them - five cars away.

And the tickets. I started to practice, "Mi amica ha sui biglietti" I hoped.

At Lecco (about 40 minutes into our ride), Chris went to the train door and literally hung out the train, keeping the doors from closing with his body, to see if he could see them on the platform. He returned just before the doors closed and said, "They must have decided not to risk it. They're probably half-way through the wine now."

A few moments later, he commented, "and I'm getting hungry." That's when I remembered I still had a wedge of Parmegiano Reggiano in my bag that I had bought in Como. We broke that out, ripping off huge chunks just as we saw Shannon and Jen wending there way through the car behind us. They made it!

So for the second hour of the ride, we were finally all together, drinking some fizzy warm wine that tasted like carbonated Manishevitz Grape Concord (Shannon and I hadn't had much luck with wine so far), eating some cheese. We didn't bother breaking into the sandwich stuff we'd procured.

At about 2:15, we woke Chris, who had dozed a bit, started to get all our bags down, and were good to go when we pulled into Sondrio at 2:20 - except for the last second, Jen realizing her brown bag was still on the train. One last dash back on and Chris snagged it and got off before it pulled away.

Sondrio Train Station
Chris, Jen and Shannon with our wine at the Sondrio train station

Hotel Gembro - Sondrio

I have to say right off the start I was a bit concerned about booking this hotel, a one star. I was concerned because the rooms do not have en suite bathrooms, one per floor (about four rooms to a floor it seems). I was concerned because though I wrote several times, via email, inquiring about a booking, I never got a reply. I was concerned because when I finally broke down to call, the gentleman to whom I spoke did not understand my piss poor Italian and spoke no English, so I did not know if he understood my attempts to reserve a single (which they didn't have), so then change Shannon's reservation for a single to a double (which I think they did).

So when we arrived on October 8th, after getting off the train to Sondrio, and making my jet-lagged, baggage laden companions walk the four plus blocks from the station to the hotel (thank you Google maps), rather than getting into a taxi, and the only person working, a young girl mopping the floors, told us in Italian they had no rooms and we should come back at 6:00pm after the owners returned from a funeral, I honestly wasn't too surprised and surprisingly unconcerned.

But this is Italy and everything seems to work out.

After struggling with our Italian, the young girl agreed we could leave our bags, and we began to pile them up near the "reception area." Then a thought seemed to occur to her, and she checked the notes in the little boxes next to the room keys, and showed them to us, and sure enough, there were our reservations. So we did have rooms! To which we brought our bags.

Now if you read our train fiasco, you know we really hadn't eaten too much that day and we were hungry and it was closing in on three so no restaurants would be serving lunch. So we decided to have a picnic with our supplies. Only by this point in time, our young friend had locked up the downstairs tight!

Oh, I should mention here, the Gembro is really a restaurant with rooms above, more than hotel with a restaurant. So when I tell you she was downstairs mopping and cleaning, it was the restaurant to which she tended. And when I say we wanted to have a picnic, it was on a small patio outside the restaurant at which we had hoped to sit. But no luck, as it was all locked tight and she was gone.

So we commandeered Jen and Chris's matrimonial room, spread the food out on the window sill, used the shelf above the sink as a bar, sat and drank wine and ate sandwiches and chips and talked of completely random topics until it looked like Chris might nod off, so we decided it was time to head out for a passegiatta and explore the town.

Hotel Gembro
Chris at our smorgasbord

Hotel Gembro
Shannon reflected in our "bar"


When we went downstairs, Roberto the owner was there, and he speaks some English (I believe his wife/girlfriend, Lisa, who have yet to meet, is English or Australian), and we got the room straightened out too - getting another single for Shannon, and leaving me with my own room (a double which I'm using as a single).

The double goes for €45 and the single €30, and for the extra 15, I'm not complaining.

I'm still leaving my mind open as to the hotel facilities (we also dined in the restaurant last night but I'll make that a separate entry). The people are nice, and the price is cheap enough but the single bed is quite narrow, the hotel a bit loud (with restaurant downstairs) until about midnight, and some early morning noises which made me wonder what was afoot (and miss Chris ;D, ;D).

October 10, 2010

Restaurant (Ristorante) Gembro

As I mentioned when writing about the Hotel Gembro, it's more a restaurant with rooms than a hotel with a restaurant. So our first night in Sondrio, we opted to dine at the restaurant (and honestly as I sit and type this the next morning, we'll probably dine there our second night too).

We made the reservation for 7:30, on the early side, in deference to our jet-lagged companions who we were trying to keep awake until 9:30 (Chris made it until about 8:50, Jen until about 9:20 - not bad). We arrived right on time, after our passegiatta where we visited a couple of bars along the way (perhaps another entry). Seated promptly we perused the menu while Roberto, the owner, took Shannon to examine the wines.

When she returned, she explained to us that they grow the Nebbiolo grape in the area, the same grape used in the king of Italian wines Barolo, and his cousin, Barbaresco, only because it's grown in this region instead of in a specific area of Piemonte, it's called something else (as well as tastes differently and feels differently - can you say terroir?). Not realizing or even imagining that this mountain climate produced anything but white wines (I honestly expected to be drinking a lot of pinot grigio) the Grumello Valtellino Superior was a pleasant surprise and broke the bad streak of wine drinking we'd been experienced since my arrival (okay, really a wine Shannon served during our "picnic" was really good too but I don't recall what it was - a Barbera from Piemonte perhaps?). Anyway, the Grumello was flavorful but light in body and not overpowering like the alcohol bombs that seem to be coming out of California lately (13.5% versus the 15+% I've been seeing lately). Yet, it held up well to the food we enjoyed.

We started with an Antipasti Valtellinesi, a combination of salumi (three types), a fried cheese, and a relish tray of pickled eggplant, tiny onions (cippolini), and large green olives. In deference to Jen's vegetarian leanings, there was also some eggplant parmegiana and her plate contained only fried cheese. Now here was another miscommunication, we should have specified due per quattro (two to share for the four of us), instead we each got an individual plate (that probably would have been dinner for my mother). I still am not sure if we received four portions, or if they divided the two portions into four in the kitchen for us because we have yet to receive a bill (we'll pay all at once when we check out).

After our antipasti, was each ordered pasta. I think Shannon was the winner last night with a plate of fresh tagliolini and the richest, meatiest porcini mushrooms I've ever tasted. I had a local specialty (name escapes me at he moment) which is a whole wheat pasta with cabbage, potatoes, sage and lots of cheese - very good - ah pizzocheri valtellinesi. Chris had penne with prawns, tomatoes and arugula and Jen had potato gnocchi with spicy tomato sauce and sausage that she picked out. Everything was very good and very filling.

Ristorante Gembro
My Pasta Dish

At some point during the meal, we also opened another bottle of wine, same type Valtellino Superiore, but I do not remember the maker. We didn't finish it, so Shannon took the bottle back to her room. Perhaps I'll get the name from her before this entry publishes. No dessert or cafe for us as Shannon and I were the last to leave the table about 9:40pm.

Passeggiata Sondrio Style

So after our picnic in our room, we decided to get Jen and Chris some fresh air and explore the town a bit.

Roberto directed us to the centro (center of town), and it didn't take long to get there, five minutes. A new church sits in the square next to a very old tower. We figure that this town must have been hit hard during World War II because there are lots of new buildings next to much older ones (like the church and the tower). In the same square, we also saw some excavations separated from the pedestrian area by a chain link fence. Roman, newer, we have no idea but pretty cool to see.

So we wound our way through the streets, and alleyways, eying store windows, entering some shops, and basically getting a feel for the town. We stopped at two bars along the way to enjoy some prosecco, and things along the way. It seems a nice, if not too big a town. We'll explore more on Saturday, but I thought I'd share some pictures.

Sondrio
Blurry shot of a knitting store - for Amy

Poricini Mushrooms
Porcini!

Sondrio
Pedestrian Bridge

Sondrio Cheese
Cheese Store

Now you may be wondering how or why we chose to come to Sondrio. Chris's great grandfather is from this area and he wanted to see it. Towards the end of our walk we found a memorial to the soldiers (or something like that). On a wall, there was a plaque in remembrance of the partisans in the area who fought during WWII against the Nazis and there on the list of names was Donato Spini (how we believe Chris's name should be spelled). It was pretty cool.

October 11, 2010

Live from Venice

I'm going to do another catch up post here because, again, a lot has happened and I want to keep track of everything. Plus, I need to make a little list for when I write these posts and say thinks like, that's a separate story or that's another post, I have a record somewhere so I know where I have to go in and fill in the blanks.

Where last we left off, it was Friday and we had done our passegiatta through Sondrio and I've also written about dinner at Ristorante Gembro, so I'm going to pick up with Saturday. The only problem is almost all of Saturday needs a separate post (The Hunt for Spini).

But for now, I'm going to get some of the basic facts of Saturday out of the way.

I woke early to a noise (well several noises) that I don't think I've heard since spending a night, many years ago, at the Marriot Marquis in NYC (thin walls). Let's just say they left me longing for Chris and leave it at that.

Oh, but I should note, I did wonder if it were Chris and Jen enjoying their "matrimonia" bed a little too much but they swear they were too jet-lagged for those types of antics.

Shannon and I both roused ourselves from bed about eight (though I'd been up since six), and by nine we went downstairs to get breakfast. The night before, Roberto told us breakfast would be between nine and 10 or so. Ristorante Gembro (and the rooms they let) is pretty much a one man operation, so you can't blame the guy for not wanting to get a little sleep.

Problem was, at nine, he had yet to arrive and we were in need of caffeine, so we went to the bar down the street for some cappuccino. Afterward, I went back to the hotel, where Roberto was beginning to get things going for breakfast, and Shannon walked to the train station to purchase our tickets back to Milan for Sunday's departure.

When she returned we both had some fresh rolls, bread, meet, cheese, preserves and butter that Roberto laid out for us as well as another cappuccino each. About 10:30 we decided it was time to rouse our Spini, so Shannon did that while I continued to blog.

After they finished their breakfast, we headed out into Sondrio.

Now, as I mentioned before, the reason we were in Sondrio was because Chris's great-grandfather came from this area. All we pretty much know about him though is when he came over (late 1800s) and that he was from Sondrio (which is not only the town were in but the area). So we started our Spini hunt (but again, I'm going to try to keep that separate).

So after our first Spini sighting, we strolled through Sondrio's Saturday market. Your typical Italian market things, clothing, shoes, housewares, some fruit and meat vendors. Shannon had already purchased some apples and plums early (when she went to the train station) but I picked up some clementines as we walked too.

After, much time was spend looking for a tourist information office, which was never found. By now though, the town was shutting down completely for siesta/lunch, so we went in search of someplace to get some pizza. We found this place in the center of town that was a bar downstairs with seating upstairs for pizza (and some pasta). The first time we had passed it, we wrote it off because we figured a bar would only serve frozen pizzas but when we realized it was pretty much our only option (as even the lunch hours were quickly coming to a close), we ventured in.

Good pizza. We knew it wouldn't be frozen when we opened the menu and there were about 20 - 30 different pizza choices. Chris and I had the Deliziosa (something like that), typical thin, brick-oven crust, topped with grape tomatoes, arugula, capers, olives and anchovies (yumm - could go for one right now), Jen had the margarita and Shannon opted for the pasta special which was with tuna, tomato sauce and peas - also good, along with a side salad that was so big (with mozzarella cheese, tuna, and corn) that we ended up sharing it. That and a litre of white wine as well as some soda for Chris (he's the king of diet coke), and I don't recall exactly the bill but I want to say in the €40 range. It was Pizzeria La Scala, Via Piazzi 38.

Pizzeria La Scala
My pizza

After lunch, we decided to try to head up to this castle/fort that sits atop the town and along the way found a music store. Chris is a musician (must get his band's facebook page and link to it), so he went inside and they set up an electric guitar and let him play for a bit. I have some video, hmm... maybe I should upload it. We also made a Spini connection here.

After that, it was back up the hill but eventually, we hit a dead end (aka closed gate) and could go no further. At this point we headed back down and made two more Spini connections (alimentari and wine store), then we headed back to the hotel for a bit of rest before we went out and actually captured some live Spini in their natural habitat. But as I said, all of that will be another post. Oh, and it was about this time, my camera broke! So no more pictures from me - very upset.

After our hunt, three of us returned to the hotel and enjoyed a bottle of wine in their bar area while doing some Spini hunting online, the fourth was captured by some Sondrio Spini but returned to us in time for us all to sit down to dinner together at Ristorante Gembro (second post).

After dinner (and much limoncello and some grappa), we crawled into bed by 12:30am as we had to rise early Sunday to catch a 9:38 train.

Sunday

Sunday morning brought no strange "nocturnal" noises, and all of us were up, ready to go and out the door by 9:00. Roberto was sleeping in (I fear we kept him rather late the night before), so we left the keys to our rooms in our mailboxes and trekked back to the Sondrio train station.

Once there it was a round of cappuccini for everyone before we lugged our bags over to track 2 (down and up some stairs), to get ready for the arrival of our train.

It was on time, and other than me totally missing the "Out of Service" sign on the door I was trying to open and Shannon yelling, "Go to the next door, the next door!" we had no issues with this train. It was pretty empty until we got to the stop at Varenna (sp), when we heard some decidedly American voices (nee New York voices), and a group of four late 20-somethings got on the train with us lugging huge cases of luggage (one that proceeded to stay in the aisle, blocking it for the remainder of our journey), that made Chris and Jen look as if they packed light.

We made some small talk with some of our new companions and by eavesdropping actually learned quite a bit about their travels but I'll use some decorum and not post all of that here. Anyway, it was an uneventful two hour total ride into Milan.

And lucky us, when we got off the train from Sondrio, our train to Venezia was right across the platform!

We piled on this new, fancy train (in our second class car, four - seats two-and-two - facing each other, with a table in between. After a pit stop in the train bathroom (with some serious mouth only breathing) we were shortly on our way.

I forgot to mention this but Saturday, in Sondrio, we purchased some picnic supplies for this ride, so we broke out our fig and date bread, some cheese-stuff foccaccia, taralucci, clementines, chips and two bottles of wine and the trip felt rapido!

At 2:40, just after hanging up with Mindy, who had arrived safely at the Venice Airport, we rolled into Venice Santa Lucia, got our imob.venezia cards we'd purchased ahead of time through VeniceConnected using the automated machine (just punch in your number), directed Chris and Jen to their vaporetto (a #1 heading for Accademia - Jen was nervous about navigating on their own but Chris felt they could do it, and they did) and marched on to Shannon's apartment.

Man was it crowded.

I mean really crowded.

Really, really crowded.

Okay - enough of that (for the moment), we met Shannon's landlady at the San Marcuola stopped and walked the very short distance to Shannon's place (very large actually for a one bedroom), got the run down on how everything works, and then had to deal with my situation.

You see, a couple of days before departure, my agency rep emailed me to tell me do to personal matters, she wouldn't be able to meet me on Sunday. She wanted to mail the key to me somewhere in Italy but there was no way I was going to deal with that, so I asked if she could leave it somewhere with a store or shop owner. She replied that she would leave it at Trattoria San Toma.

Now I'd imagined that she would leave it with a nearby trattoria or shop owner but nooooo. So all week we were discussing the best way to get my key when we decided I would leave all my gear with Shannon, make my way to the trattoria and back again, get my gear from Shannon (who in the interim was going to go food shopping), and then get settled into my place. And like everything when you travel, what you think will take 20 - 30 - 40 minutes, never does.

So first I called Trattoria San Toma, at Shannon's suggestion, to make sure they were still there and would be there when I arrived. The young woman thought they might close for a couple of hours and suggested coming at six (which totally wouldn't work - we were supposed to be at Kris's place at five, or so I thought, and it was already approaching 3:45), I asked if I could come now and told her I'd be there in 20 minutes. She said okay.

So out to the vaporetto I went (guessing at how to "validate my imob.venezia card - you swipe it in front of the machine until the green OK light comes on), and of course just missed a vaporetto. After waiting for 10 minutes, another arrived and then it was a long, slow, crowded journey down the Grand Canal with me checking my watch every two minutes - as 20 minutes became 30 minutes and I had visions of arriving at the restaurant and them being closed.

But at 4:12 I hopped off the vaporetto, ran straight back into Campo San Toma, found the trattoria, got the key (and map to the apartment), and darted back to the vaporetto ... to wait 20 minutes for another 1 to arrive going in my direction.

And it was crowded.

It was very crowded.

For my Lehigh friends (if any of you actually read this), think Sigs late night. I could lift up my feet and not fall over.

At a little after five, I got back to Shannon's place, got my things, and snagged a roll of toilette paper (sometimes it's a crap shoot as to whether or not your rental will be stocked with this most vital essential), and we did the two minute walk to my apartment. So yes, you know, that was me, walking on the Strada Nuova in Venice yesterday, dragging my suitcase and carrying a single roll of tp.

We get into my apartment and I have to say it's nice. Very cute some minor issues but nothing major. It's not a five star property but definitely comfortable. I'll do a separate post.

I drop my bags, get the WiFi working, Shannon throws in a load of laundry (her place doesn't have a washing machine and mine does), and head back to Shannon's place, to get her and make our way down to Kris's apartment in Dorsoduro.

Now Shannon suggests we stop for a quick spritz along the way (I've never had one), but I'm feeling guilty as it's close to 6:30 and I had that cocktails started at 5. I had visions of everyone being there, enjoying good food, good wine, good company and us walking in, perhaps almost as the party was breaking up. Yeah, well, long story short, we were the second to arrive and I owe Shannon a grappa as she bet me we wouldn't be the last.

Kris put out quite the spread and it was great seeing everyone again and meeting Kris, Anne and Jim finally (though Anne says we met in Savannah but that weekend is such a blur). In addition to all the neat, delicious antipasti that Kris served, Anne cooked us up some pasta with sauteed vegetables and made a tiramisu for dessert!

About 10, the party broke up (I'm impressed Mindy made it as long as she did as she'd just flown in that afternoon). And while Michele, Kendall and Anne decided to take the vaporetto back to their destinations (not far from us in Cannaregio), Shannon and I decided to hoof it with Colleen and Jim who weren't far from the Frari. But of course, along the way, someone decided we should have another drink, so we stopped for some wine and limoncello at a bar Shannon knows near the Rialto (Ruga Rialto maybe?). I think I finally got home and crawled into bed about midnight.

But of course, I was so wound up, I decided to watch the Pilot of Glee (I rented three episodes on my iPhone for the trip), before finally dozing off.

Monday - so far

Yet again, I couldn't sleep in. It's a ground floor apartment and there are people above, so when they stirred, I stirred plus, I can hear people walking/talking as they go by on the calle (though it's a very, very quiet calle, so this happened maybe twice), and I eventually got out of bed about 7:15, showered, finally unpacked, had some oatmeal and plotted a course to the agencies office in Castello (I had to pay for the apartment still).

Yeah, well, plotting a course in Venice is kind of like that saying, Life is what happens when you're busy making plans, needless to say I made many wrong turns, threw the plan away, finally pulled out the map, realized I wasn't that far off course after all, and found the office on via Grimaldi to make my payment. That took all of five minutes then I headed back over to Arsenale to grab the #1 back to Ca d'Oro.

It didn't start out crowded but once you hit those San Marco stops, mio dio! What I did realize though, is that inside there were seats. So though the view was not as good, I went back there to sit down. And strangely enough, though the waters were pretty rough this morning (the boat bobbed dramatically as I went to get on), I have yet to feel even a twinge of motion sickness (is it possible chemo cured that? hmm...).

Got off at Ca d'Oro, walked over to the billa, bought some cafe, milk, diet peach juice (really good), eggs, onions, mushrooms, lunch meat, bread, crackers and red wine (€24), came "home", made a cafe latte, and then a sandwich, and I've been typing here ever since.

Actually, I'm very impressed with all I've covered here, so other than the Spini hunt, I think we're all up to date.

October 14, 2010

It's Thursday, It Must Still be Venice

When last we left our intrepid traveler, it was Monday and she had just made a sandwich for herself and was writing in her blog...

Well, of course, Shannon called shortly thereafter and said, "Hey, what are you doing?"

Which with Shannon, means we're off to start on some new adventure. And we did. Basically doing a mini-cicchetti tour, stopping at three bars for cicchetti and wine - one in some ally somewhere (which really could describe most of Venice), one along the Fondamente Nova (or is it Nuova, I can never remember), and one across the small canal from the church of San Giovanni e Paolo (that last one just for a glass of wine).

By then it was time time to head to La Cantina and our wine tasting with Nan from the Living Venice Blog. If I can find my notes, I'll make this a separate entry. But something like 13 of us enjoyed six different (i.e., wines we don't find in the States) Italian wines (3 white, 3 red and some snacks), some interesting facts and good conversation before splitting up for a short while before our dinner reservation at ... oh shoot, can't remember the restaurant name. Anyway, that will be a separate post too.

In the break between wine tasting and dinner, a few of us popped over to my place so others could partake of the WiFi but Mindy struggled with my little netbook keyboard and screen though I think Chris managed to hook his iPhone into the network.

Then onto a dinner (we were there for about three hours and as I said, I'll write about that in a separate post), and then home after midnight to catch up on emails and such and watch an episode of Glee on my iPhone before turning in.

Tuesday

Originally I thought I'd have Tuesday free to wander around Venice. I didn't realize that Shannon had scheduled a brewery tour with an acquaintance of from when she lived in Venice. I'll probably do this as a separate post too, but we took a train (Shannon, Nan, Ian and I) out to Treviso to visit Andrea's brewery (Morgana) and have lunch.

We got back to Venice (and my apartment) about 4:20 or so, and within fifteen minutes of my "rest time" the phone rang again, "Hey, what are you doing?"

Jen and Chris were at their apartment, drinking, and Shannon wanted to know if I wanted to head down there to join them (they are staying in Dorsoduro and we are in Cannareggio).

Sure give me 10 minutes.

We met at the vaporetto at San Marcuola, and road down the Grand Canal (I love saying that) to their place. By the way, it can take about 25 - 30 minutes on the vaporetto to get there. Along the way, Jim, Colleen, and Mindy got on board with their new friend and tour guide, Antonio (you'll have to ask them about that; it's their story). Antonio, Jim and Colleen departed at San Toma though and Mindy returned with us to her pad (she's staying with Chris and Jen) and the drinking ensued.

Unbelievably, about 7:30 or so I looked at Shannon and said, "I can't believe I'm getting hungry." We had an awful big lunch. By now Colleen and Jim had joined us and all agreed we would go out somewhere for a bit to eat. Shannon tracked down Ian and we agreed to meet at Taverna San Trovaso for dinner (think I'll make that a separate post too). It was about a five minute walk from where we were, and on the way back to the Accademia vaporetto stop for our ride home (Chris, if you're reading this, it's just down the calle from that cicchetti place we liked near Pensione Accademia).

After dinner, Ian Shannon and I returned to Cannareggio and to our respective apartments for the night (again, close to midnight).

Wednesday

Yesterday, I intentionally awoke early because I wanted to wander around Piazza San Marco before the hoards of tourists and because we were meeting for a Secret Itinerary Tour of the Doges Palace at 8:50. You see a little bit of a different side of Venice if you ride the vaporetti before eight, I think. Lots of children with their parents, and teens, heading off to school and Italians heading to work.

I wandered around St. Marks, admiring the architecture and listening to my Perfect Traveller audio guide for a while before meeting the rest of the crew in front of the Doges palace (again, I think another entry - lots of teasing going on here, no?) Let's just say, it was a really good tour.

Afterward, Chris, Jen, Mindy and I snaked our way back toward their apartment, stopping for a quick bite of pizza along the way (Chris, if you're reading this, it was the same place we stopped when we were here with the girls in piazza San Stefano). After grabbing the shopping bags (and taking a quick break), we walked over to Zattere and caught the vapporetto to San Basilio and the Billa market.

Oh, and while we were snaking our way to the pizza place, I took a major tumble down a bridge (but not into a canal ;D). And no, I hadn't even had a drink yet! Anyway, bruised palm which already looks better, and ice on my knee seems to have fixed me up just fine.

Okay - so back to the Bila market, where we purchased items for our dinner that night. Shannon and I were cooking for the SlowTrav crew and then some (ended up being like 14 people), so we needed ingredients. Love the Italian markets and need to run over to my Bila, hopefully this morning, to get Kinder Eggs for Sammi. Back on to the vaporetto, one stop, and to the apartment, for another quick break before we headed out again.

This time we were in search of some jewelry. Colleen had bought this beautiful necklace the day before and we were in search of the store in San Polo. Unfortunately, the address we had, we just could not seem to find, as it all seemed residential and the calle was not well marked. I do not know though if it was because the address was bad, or my navigating...

Along the way though we stumbled upon Vizio Virtu for chocolates which are quite delish - like little potent explosions in your mouth. On the way back too (we decided to walk rather than get the Vapporetto again), we found a different jewelry store and made assorted purchases. We also ran into Susan (who we'd also run into at lunch), funny enough. Oh, and spoke to Gail Hecko of Gail's Great Escapes. She and her partner were in the area, so we made arrangements for them to stop by Jen, Chris and Mindy's for a drink (they already had dinner plans, so couldn't join us). Somewhere in here too, I got a text from Shannon, "Hey, what are you doing?" I couldn't reply though because I did something wrong when loading time on my phone (later figured out I'd transposed two numbers) but eventually she called, and arranged to meet us also.

So back to Party Central we went where we chilled, enjoyed a drink with Gail and Roberto and then Shannon and I cooked dinner. Shannon made this great baked pasta dish with radicchio from Treviso (though we're not sure it was the real stuff because technically it's early in the season) and I made a pasta, bean and sausage soup (can't call it pasta fagioli according to Nan because it's not traditional), we also put out some cheese and crackers to start, had a side salad with dinner and some assorted olives, mushrooms and artichokes and for dessert, Norma and Lou brought a tray of yummy cookies and Anne made her delicious tiramisu. With us being who we are, there was also plenty of wine, prosecco and beer flowing!

I hope everyone had a good time.

Got home about 11:20 and crawled into bed (oh, but watched the last episode of Glee that I brought with me. May try to download some more for the flight home now though).

October 17, 2010

Spini (Spene) Hunt

Everyone wonders why we went to Sondrio. I mean it’s not exactly on the tourist map, wedged between the Alps, close to the Swiss border, I imagine it’s more of a destination for skiers than anything else. But Jen and Chris wanted to visit, as immigration records (i.e., ship’s manifest) indicate that Carlo Spini, Chris’s great grandfather, came from Sondrio; they wanted to check it out.


View Larger Map

Now first off, I’m really telling their story and I hope I do it justice. I also hope once they get home from the rest of their travels, they’ll feel free to correct any facts or impressions I may have misrepresented or misinterpreted.

Background

It’s hard for me to know where to start with this, so I’m going to start with my understanding of the background of Carlo Spini (aka Spene).

Carlo came to America, alone, sometime in the mid to late 1800s (Chris and Jen can provide us with the year but it escapes me now – I think perhaps 1882). On the ship manifest it lists one Carlo Spini from Sondrio. There are two important facts though I need to mention here. The first is in regards to the spelling of the last name. Carlo came through, like so many others, Ellis Island. We can only assume what happened there is when asked to spell his name, he said “esse, pe, e, enne, e.” You see in Italian, the letter “I” is pronounced “E” and therefore that’s why Chris now spells his name Spene and not Spini. There are no families in Sondrio that spell Spini with an E. Chris does have a marriage announcement, from later years, from a local newspaper that does spell Carlo’s last name as Spini. I hope Chris will scan it in and let me post it; it’s actually very funny to read.

The second fact we learned upon arrival is that Sondrio is not just the town in which we stayed, it’s also used to refer to the area around the town. Kind of like we have Middlesex Borough in Middlesex County. So knowing that Carlo came from Sondrio, didn’t mean he came from the town but it could have encompassed a much larger area (and as we came to find out it did), which includes farmland and much smaller towns and villages.

Carlo somehow settled in central Missouri, not far from Columbia where he married a girl some 20 or 30 years his junior (again, Chris and Jen have the actual information and reading that wedding announcement was quite funny). Apparently, Carlo was very quiet (dare I say secretive) about his origins so more than this we do not know. We do not know his parents’ names, or why he left Italy, or if he ever communicated with anyone back in Italy once he arrived in America.

Continue reading "Spini (Spene) Hunt" »

October 18, 2010

Ristorante Gembro – Saturday Night (10/09/10)

There are certain moments that seem decidedly Italian to me. Like Friday, when I boarded the Malpensa Express from Centrale train station to return to the airport, there were two empty seats with a bag laying across them. I looked around, but no one seemed to claim it. It would not fit in the overhead (big backpack), nor was I inclined to lift it if it did, but I started to move it into only the window seat, so I could sit in the aisle, when the women across the aisle (not sure where they were from, definitely not Italian), tried to shoo me away, finally saying in English, “For our friends.” No problem. I moved a few rows back and found another seat. Within moments though several more people boarded the bus, and as those were the only two seats available and no friends were in sight, the bus driver told them to sit. What then ensued delayed our departure for some ten minutes, as these women were trying to explain they were waiting for their friends (who it had turned out went to get some gelato without ever giving the driver their tickets), and the driver wanted to leave, and then the friends arrived and chaos ensued because several of the Italian passengers got pissed and were yelling at these other foreigners, and others were trying to explain the friends could get the next bus… well you get the idea. It was definitely something I would imagine in a Roberto Benigni film.

Anyway, I digress with that example, but basically a quintessential Italy experience.

And so was the one we had Saturday night as we finished our dinner at Ristorante Gembro, where we’d also dined on Friday night.

Dinner was good, like the previous night, with Shannon having one of the best steaks ever, me enjoying the tagliallini with meaty, fresh porcini, Chris having the gnocchi and shoot me, but I can’t remember what Jen enjoyed. As we were finishing (Roberto had put a bottle of and a bottle of grappa on the table for us), an older gentleman approached to use the rest room (our table was next to it). Shannon greeted him (we had seen he and his wife earlier in the bar section) and he stopped to speak to us. He had limited but understandable English to match our extremely limited Italian and after he excused himself for a moment to relieve himself, he ended up sitting with us and enjoying drinks.

Eventually, his wife, Margarita, joined us too.

And there we sat, draining a bottle of limoncello, trying some blueberry flavored grappa, and chatting with our new friends well into the night. I think it was past midnight before we finally had to beg off to go to sleep (and you know it’s late and we drank a lot when Shannon excused herself earlier). I never did get his name but I’d swear that Marlon Brando based his portrayal of Vito Corleone upon this gentleman and his mannerisms and his wife, Margarita, was adorable. I still cannot believe how much we were able to communicate between ourselves (Jen and Margarita share a passion for perfume, so they were off to the races once that connection was made), and though Margarita does not do email (no computer) we did get her phone numbers (home and mobile) with instructions to call when we return to Sondrio. And we will.

October 19, 2010

San Marcuola Apartment

I first mentioned my apartment back in this post. Now that I've actually stayed in it, I thought I would update all of you (and include some video), and form the basis for my rental review for the site.

Location

The apartment is located in the Cannaregio Sestieri of Venice (there are six and you can read more about them here, Venice Sestieri - the neighborhoods and where to stay. Specifically, it's in this area on this Google map. It's just off the Rio Terra della Madelena which becomes the Strada Nova.


View Venice Apartment - San Marcuola in a larger map

The entrance was right onto the calle so there is foot traffic going by.

It's maybe 10 minute walk from the train station but be warned, the way gets very crowded with people so in the thick of the day, it's hard making good time, and you have at least two bridges to go over (though the larger one does have semi-ramps for wheeled luggage - though they're on one side for going up and the other side going down, which forces you to cross the bridge at the top - I didn't get it).

I loved the convenience of being able to walk to the train station and being close to the vaporetto. The main drag was slightly too touristy for me, but once you moved off it, not at all (probably true for most of Venice). I also liked the convenience of so many shops and things nearby.

Nearby Amenities

Really everything you need is within five minutes walk - wine bars, restaurants (though I didn't dine at any), a Billa Supermarket is on the Strada Nova, one bridge down, you're close to the San Marcuola vaporetto stop (Line 1) - maybe 3 minutes walk and if need be, a bit further to the Ca d'Oro vaporetto stop (also Line1), cafes, gelato, chotchkey shops, camera stores, bancomat. All within a few minutes.

The House

Gosh, I do not know if the building was historical, I'd imagine it was old though (i.e., not built within at least the past 100 years). Though inside, everything was updated. There were definitely other apartments in the building, as I heard people above me and next to me (typical apartment noises). I do not know how many though. The apartment is showing a little wear - in the kitchen for example, there was a gouge out of the counter top, and a piece of molding was pulling away from the closet doors. None of this bothered me however.

I did take a bit of video of the place with my Flip camera.

Patio

I had visions of sitting out on that patio, sipping coffee, writing in my blog. The reality was different in only that I was so on the move this trip, I never seemed to have time to do that. It does seem very nice and quiet. Unfortunately, I also forgot to check to see if the WiFi reaches to the patio.

Living Area

Overall, I did find the apartment clean. There was a bit of crumb (but I don't really think that's what it was - more like maybe paint flakes or stucco) on the dresser top but other than that I didn't notice anything else. I walk barefoot and totally didn't feel like there was dirt/dust on the floor and the countertops in the kitchen and bathroom were spotless so I'm inclined to believe that little bit of shmutz was an anomaly. The bed is really an open futon (it stays open) and there's no living space other than this and the small kitchen table and/or stools at the kitchen counter.

Bedroom

It's a studio apartment, so no bedroom per se. There's a separation between the kitchen area (opening) and the "bedroom" area but no doors to close. If my husband and I were both staying there, and I rose early, I'd have to sit at the kitchen table, counter or the patio to amuse myself (quietly) until he awoke. As I said, the bed is an open futon and I found it comfortable enough. You should know though, that your head rests against the wall that abuts the calle, and therefore, if people outside walk by loudly, or greet each other in the morning, you will hear it. When I wanted to sleep in, I wore my earplugs and it was fine.

On, and there's a media center on the opposite wall from the bed, large flat-screen TV and stereo system, but I never used them.

Lastly, there are drapes that cover the windows but not pull-down shades or shutters, so light does creep in around the cracks.

Bathroom

It's a good size with plenty of shelving for toiletries, a towel warmer, and decent towels (not those thin, scratchy ones) were provided. Two things to note about the bathroom though 1) there's no toilette paper holder (by the way, plenty of toilette paper was provided), so I just rested it on the bidet (this didn't bother me at all) 2) The ceiling over the shower is slanted. I'm short, so it was fine, but I wonder how Chris, with his six foot frame would manage.

Kitchen

The kitchen had a clothes washing machine, double sink, microwave, refrigerator, 5-burner stove top, oven, juicer, electric kettle and stove-top espresso maker (no American coffee machine that I saw). It had some fry pans, pots, a few wine glasses, regular glasses, plates, large mugs (good for my morning cafe latte and oatmeal). Other than scrambling some eggs, I really did not cook in the kitchen, so I can't comment as to its effectiveness. For my breakfasts, and some lunches, it worked just fine. The clothes washer seemed to work well too.

Bonus

Once I figured out the key for the WiFi, it worked great.

Agency

I found the apartment on HomeAway but I did not work with the owner. Instead, I ended up dealing with an agent at Immobiliare Rio Alto s.r.l. which was fine with me. But there were two things I had to deal with that a newbie traveler may be uncomfortable with (and were a slight inconvenience to me). 1) Paola, the agent, could not meet me when I arrived on Sunday (had she though, I would have had to pay an extra €30 for an off-hour pick up anyway), so instead I had to travel to Trattoria San Toma (in the San Polo sestieri) to get my key and map to the apartment. Luckily, I was able to drop my gear at Shannon's apartment (and called the trattoria to make sure they were open), before I headed over on the vaporetto. On a Sunday afternoon, it was very crowded and the trip took me about 20 minutes there and longer for the return because I had to wait about 15 minutes for another boat. If I had been more familiar I probably could have walked it but not in much less time. In total, it took me about an hour for this excursion. And if I didn't have Shannon there, it could have been a pain dealing with my luggage. 2) Rather than coming to the apartment to show me around, Paola asked me to drop by her office on Via Garibaldi in Castello on Monday to make the payment. Again, that's about a 30 minute vaporetto ride each way on the Number 1 (or if you're like me and walk it, and get a bit turned around, about a 45 minute walk). I did find some welcome information in the apartment that appears to be older as there were a lot of cross-outs and hand-written updates to it (it could use a retyping), so it was up to me to figure out how things worked, like the aforementioned WiFi. Again, this was fine, but it may not fly with other people.

I paid €470 for five nights. They did not require a deposit (only a credit card number) and I paid the total amount in cash (there was a surcharge for using credit cards).

Recommend?

So given everything I mentioned, would I stay here again? Absolutely! It's a nifty little place, very comfortable for me alone. I liked the location. I liked the WiFi. I liked that it had a washing machine and a patio. I'm not sure if I'd stay here with Chris though, only because of the shower height, though I would like to give it a try.

October 23, 2010

Live from Lancaster? Well, My Heart is in Venice

As I sit here in the lobby of the Hampton Inn, as Becky sleeps, waiting to go to her college open house in a couple of hours, I realize that I haven’t finished writing about my trip and I want to at least touch on more of the day-to-day stuff before I forget. Still hard for me to believe that a week ago I was in Italy (well, in actuality I guess I was on a flight home, but you get my drift).

Anyway, when last we left off, it was Thursday. Shannon was guiding a whole bunch of us through Venice today, showing us some of her “off the beaten path” favorites. Really, highlights, and that’s what I’m going to give you here.

We weren’t meeting until about 11:30am at a bar near the Rialto market where some of us kicked off the day with a Prosecco and others a caffe.

Let me note two things here though. Since we didn’t have to meet until 11:30, I dicked around the apartment a bit when I probably should have gone to get a SIM card. Oh well. The other, I was in a funk and everyone noticed and I felt bad.

Anyway, back to the Rialto where we gathered, enjoyed our Prosecco and then walked through the market. A few of us decided to try out the traghetto since it wasn’t crowded, and they did us proud, standing up for the crossing (in both directions). I know Anne did it, and I think Kendall did too – I can’t remember if Michelle joined them or not.

After the Rialto, we made our way over to the Frari, such an amazing church. Such beautiful artwork and such a serene setting – I can’t wait to go back and spend even more time. For a Jew, I do enjoy sitting in church. There is something calming about it, I think.

Hmm… from the Frari – where to? Shoot, I think there was a chiccheti stop in there somewhere but I don’t think I partook.

Okay – then we hopped on the vaporetto and I sat in the back while most of the others stood and admired the views – especially going past San Marco. It is beautiful.

We departed at the Giardino stop and now the order of things gets fuzzy again. I know we walked near/along the gardens. I know we walked to Isola San Pietro (very cool), and I know we stopped for another snack and break somewhere along Via Garibaldi but I do not remember in what order we did these things. I do know that it was while using the bathroom at the café on Via Garibaldi that I figured out my funk (I do some of my best thinking in the bathroom), the date – October 14th, it was two years to the day that I found that stupid lump in my breast. I don’t know about the rest of you, but once I figure out what’s causing the funk, that’s like a huge chunk of the battle to get rid of the funk.

Anyway, we wandered about Castello, glimpsed the Arsenale (you can’t enter) and then realized that we needed to book in order to meet Shannon’s friends and then meet Nan in time for our Arzana tour. I know, you think , well, it doesn’t seem like you covered a lot of time, but with 14 or so people, walking through Venice, with many “shiny things” (bit of an inside joke there) to distract them, these things take time. It reminds me of that saying, “I was on my way to conquer the world when I got distracted by something shiny.” Well, we were trying to conquer Venice but there was just so much shiny stuff to look at!

So after what some may now refer to as “the death march” – really just a fast walk from Castello back to Cannaregio, we met up with Shannon’s friends and then headed over to Arzana headquarters (I’m assuming that’s what it was – I can’t remember the Venetian word – maybe Nan will chime in but it’s a building used for building/maintaining boats), where we got to partake in an incredible tour.

I spliced together a bunch of the video from the tour (remember my camera broke so I was forced to resort to my Flip only), and posted it on YouTube.

It was an amazing tour, in that fifteen of us piled in to this old Venetian row boat which Nan and two of her friends used to guide us not only through the back canals of Cannaregio but out on to the Grand Canal where several of our party got to try their hand at rowing. It was very cool. And somewhere on the Grand Canal, tears came to my eyes. It was a beautiful day, and I was being rowed along Venice’s Grand Canal in an old Venetian boat, surrounded by friends. Two years earlier, I wasn’t sure I’d be alive let alone participating in this amazing event and I just felt … light, free, like I could breathe.

Enough of that.

After the tour, we returned to the boat place, watched the makings of a great documentary on the art of rowing in Venice and why it needs to be preserved and partook in some wine or Prosecco, cheese and salami and bread.

Then we were off again, this time over to the Ghetto for a brief look around and brief discussion about the history, then off to another bar for more wine and delicious cicchetti (finally got my baccala!) We hung out there for a while, but eventually decided it was time to move on.

A bunch of us returned to the “Party House” and finished off much of the wine from the previous evening, the pasta and the soup (soup was pretty good for the second day – luckily Jen thought to thin it a bit as she reheated). Then about 10:00, Shannon, Colleen, Jim and I made our way over to San Marco (after Ian met us to bring me my phone that I’d left behind), because I wanted to see the Piazza at night and hear the bands. Then it was more good-byes (I was departing the next day) and back home for some sleep.

Friday

I awoke pretty early and organized my gear, cleaned up the apartment (garbage needed to be out by 8:00am and they asked me to make sure I cleared out the refrigerator) then made my way to the Billa market to pick up some Kinder Eggs for Sammi (she still loves those things). While there, I popped into the attached café for a cappuccino and cornetto con crema (my farewell tour), and returned home to a dick around a bit more before Shannon arrived about 10:20 or so. I gave her some wine I had left, as well as some fruit and she brought that back to her place before accompanying me to the train station.

I’d already purchased my tickets for my 11:50 train to Milan and didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes before they posted the track. I boarded early, and stowed my stuff (I’d lightened my roller a bit which really only held a magnum of beer now surrounded by some dirty clothes), and sat and read. The train ride was uneventful other than I got mostly through our book club selection, Sarah’s Key, while riding.

Once at Centrale, I easily got my gear together, found the shuttle bus outside, stored my gear, and waited as the fiasco I mentioned here took place. Once one our way though, it was an easy ride to Malpensa where I got off at the first stop, which is Terminal 2. I called Carlo from I Castagni B&B and he was there in about 10 minutes to pick me up and bring me back to the B&B.

The B&B is really their house (I’ll write a review), that has what we would refer to as a “mother-in-law” apartment attached and that’s what they rent out to guests. It’s one bedroom, with two twin beds (I forgot to ask if they push these together for a couple), a living room area and a very large bathroom. In the morning, Carlo’s wife (name escapes me as I type), sets up breakfast in an adjoining room before your scheduled breakfast time, and they also take you to/from Malpensa all for the price of €50. Definitely worth it. Anyway, Carlo showed me around and then I settled in to do a bit of work for a few hours, munched on the sandwich I had originally planned to eat on the train and otherwise killed time until it was time to head to dinner.

Less than a five minute walk (one turn involved) down a somewhat dark road is another hotel (name escapes me but I have it at home and will write a review) that has a restaurant/brick oven pizza place attached. So about 7:30, I walked over there for dinner. There was one other group and one other solo traveler dining when I arrived but the place quickly filled. I enjoyed a salad, some pasta oglio olivo with aciughe (pasta with oil and anchovies), and profiteroles for dessert. This with a glass of red wine and a ½ litre of water came to €18. During dinner, I finished my book and then returned to the B&B to turn in.

Saturday

I awoke about 6 and heard Carlo’s wife setting up my breakfast, after a shower and dressing, I went into the kitchen expecting to see her there but no, the coffee (and hot milk – pre-arranged) was set up in carafe’s along with a spread on the table of some pre-packaged cornetto, crackers, jams and butter, plus bread for toast and some sort of homemade spice-type cake. That’s what I went for with my coffee and all was good.

Carlo was waiting outside for me at 7:15 as we had discussed, we loaded my gear into his car and he dropped me at Terminal 1 about 15 minutes later (T1 is a bit further from their home than T2). I went to Elite check-in (sweet), security and was at my gate probably within 30 minutes of arrival. Then it was time to read some Sherlock Homes and type some blog entries until departure.

Finally, we boarded (bulkhead seat with no one next to me – yeah), and then waited. The strikes in France were affecting air-space so we had about an hour delay on the ground which we made up for in the air (I think we landed maybe 15 minutes late).

I watched some TV and read and tried to nap (no such luck), and endured one of the worst landings in recent memories (total wind) after flying over my own home (love when that happens). Through immigration in less than five minutes, waited for my bags for about 15 minutes (it is Newark after all), through Customs with no issues, and reunited with my family and in the car home by 2:30pm.

This was an excellent trip and I am so glad I went!

I’ll have some more of those fill-in posts I hope to get up this week.

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to What I Really Think in the Italy 2010 category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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