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Report 1204: Zig and Georgia's Trip of Gifts

By zig from Kentucky, USA, Fall 2006

Trip Description: An amusing journey with Zig and Georgia as they travel on a tight budget through part of Switzerland, Liguria and make a pilgrimage to Greece, Sept 25 - Oct 9, 2006.

Destinations: Countries - Italy, Greece, Switzerland; Regions/Cities - Cinque Terre, Liguria

Categories: Convent; Hostel; Hotels/B&Bs; Art Trip; Beach; Garden Visits; Sightseeing; Walking/Hiking; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 18: 9/25/06 Kentucky to Milan

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Zig and Georgia

Jenny, our daughter the lawyer, gave us a ride to the Bluegrass Airport about 11:30 am for our 2:15pm flight. We arrived early because she had work she needed to do and Georgia (nervous flier that she is) decided we needed to finish our liquid preparations at the airport bar.

The ticket counter was a piece of cake. After watching red-faced American tourists puffing up and down Venetian stair-step bridges last year, we travel light. We each had a wheeled carry-on. Mine was a fly-weight 22 lbs, and Georgia’s was only slightly heavier at the bantam weight of 24 lbs. The fact that we weren’t planning to go to an opera this time meant we didn’t need any special dress clothes and my black sneakers would have to pass for nice shoes in the low light of cathedrals. Georgia’s extra two pounds probably came from carrying a dressier pair of sandals and a relatively heavy coat. I decided to take only a light jacket but then layer myself like an onion for the trip through the Alps. Our clothes were all made of silk or permanent press so we could wash them in the sink and dry them overnight on the towel rack. Our denims were the heaviest and most slow-drying clothes we packed, but we just waited to wash them when we could hang them in the sun.

The security checkpoint was a hassle. Even though the radio said The Department of Homeland Security was going to allow travel-size tubes of toothpaste on the morrow, our examiners were working off today’s playbook and we had to surrender our three ounce tubes of decay fighting dentifrice, there’s no telling what carnage such a weapon could have caused in the closed space of an intercontinental jet. Oh the humanity! Even worse. you should have seen the line come to a screeching halt when Jethro discovered a one-ounce tube of dried-up titanium white in my water-color kit. He was probably one of those water-color sticklers appalled at achieving white in any manner other than unpainted paper but he claimed that there was no way to know for sure what was really in the dried up tube. Surrendering my own sensibilities to my critics I acquiesced in his removing the offending object. Lucky for our fellow passengers that Elly-May spotted the real terrorist threat: Georgia immediately set off alarm bells and got herself frisked. She said that all things considered it was pretty exciting.

The rest of the trip to Newark was boring. Skymall Magazine kept us abreast of the modern technological wonders. The instant “mail chime” looked interesting. A “You’ve Got Mail” ping for the snail-mail set who might not be able (like me) to actually hear the guy drive up. The stuffed toys with embedded cameras crept me out though, as did the bedroom clock with a hidden camcorder. I’m not really sure I’m ready for this century. Our fellow passengers were more interesting and a good bit less creepy.

You can always spot the Italian travelers, even before they speak a word. It’s the shoes. Wonderfully stylish shoes, impossibly long and pointed, and the women glide in them rather than walk. Well, actually I guess they have to glide in them since they can no more raise themselves up on the toe in a normal walking gait than Bozo the Clown could have gone en pointe in his shoes. But still, they look so suave and elegant, both the men and the women, at least the men and women who are flying to Milan, fashion capital of the world. I noticed them noticing me, of course. One fashion horse always recognizes another. The curled lip was an international sign of envy directed at my black sneakers, plaid shirt, and jeans de blue.

We were in the center section of the plane this time and Bobbi, a middle-aged lady across the aisle would wake me periodically to ask about each squeak, rattle, and thump. She’d only flown to Europe six times but was sure that I was the real expert because I’d flown a typewriter in the Air Force thirty years ago! Her husband, sitting on her other side, was desperately feigning sleep. Sitting on the other side of Georgia was a cheerfully chubby young man from San Francisco on his way to Lake Como for a family wedding reunion. Brothers, sisters, and parents were coming from Australia, Poland, Tibet, and he from San Francisco (no kidding). They started out as a nuclear unit in Oslo Norway, but he was a proudly naturalized citizen of the US and was not hoping for a prolonged get-together. “A little family goes a long way?” I asked. “Yes,” he said, “I love them but don’t want to hang out with them that long.”

That started me thinking more about my family. I wondered why my mother’s mother’s father, Johannes Koenig, left Iffwyl, Switzerland about 1854 for a new life in Pennsylvania. That must have been a truly awesome journey in the 1850s. According to family notes he traveled with some members of his family, but left others behind. Why? Was he tired of hanging out with them too? What makes some families all live within 20 miles of where they were born and leads others to scatter like dandelion in a wind storm? Maybe we’re notoriously footloose in the US because we were mainly populated by apples that rolled very far from the tree.

Anyway, Iffwyl, anxious to enter the 21st century, now has a website and I posted a message there asking if there were any Konigs still around. Elizabeth (Lisa) Konig Staub emailed me back in broken English that there were several Konig families there and she’d like us to visit the restaurant she runs with her sister. She’d try to find information on Johannes for me. I was looking forward to meeting her, but also apprehensive about the language barrier. I don’t speak any German, and it didn’t sound like she spoke much English. But I did have a lot of family pictures and I had them all labeled. It was going to be fun to see if there was any family resemblance.

The plane landed safely at Malpensa Aeroporto outside Milan and although there were a lot of people it only took about 20 minutes to go through customs because there were 8-10 different booths. Ker-chunk went the visa clerk and we were back in Italy! Glorious Italia!

Being experienced world travelers with one two-week trip under our belt (see Trip Report 788 at slowtrav.com) and because Georgia had done another wonderful job researching our trip, we knew we needed to catch our train to Bern Switzerland from Milano Centrale. The problem was that the train from the airport didn’t go all the way to Milano Centrale because there are at least two train systems in Italy and they don’t always service each other’s stations! Sort of like having separate phone companies where you may have to call your friend’s neighbor and ask them to carry a message next door for you. Anyway, we had to get off at Milano Carbinara and catch the metro to Centrale. As you might suppose we were not the only ones attempting this so it was pretty easy following the crowd. During my “Rat Pack” days mom used to ask me if I would follow my friends if they jumped off a cliff. I should have said “Only if I was trying to find Milano Centrale and they seemed to know the way.”

We know about big city metros now, having had my pocket picked in Rome last year, so I backed into a corner and blockaded myself with our carry-ons. A nice young man saw Georgia standing and gave up his seat for her. How nice! I wonder if they still do that in New York. He then continued reading his paperback book while holding the overhead strap. Looking around I saw that five or six others were also reading books and several were reading newspapers. Big-City literacy programs in the US should hand out books at Subway stops. The trip itself was completely uneventful. We were used to the mechanical voices calling out stations and warning us to “Mind the gap.” We knew how to read the diagrams over the door and Milano Centrale was the last stop on the line so it was going to be hard to miss.

Looking out the windows it occurred to me that there is a doctoral dissertation waiting to be written on the distinct national and regional differences of graffiti. Milan, design capital of the world, attracts a much higher class of street-artist than the other Italian big cities. Not only was there a much better use of color and “movement” in the designs, but there was also no jumbling. In Rome, for instance, graffiti was a contact sport, with everyone painting over everyone else’s layer. The walls become a riot of color with fragments of designs, survival of the latest. In Milan the artists apparently had particular stretches of wall with clear-cut demarcations. Some tags were even 15 or 20 yards long and absolutely pristine, a mark, I think, of real respect among the artists. Some of them were so perfect it looked like they’d been laid out with a chalk line and ruler. Amazing florescent colors and electric color-combinations with surprising use of black to highlight the designs. Really quite lovely. If only they could be more than just a signature or territorial mark. Even colorful dog pee, artistically applied, is still dog pee.

Centrale was ENORMOUS! When we emerged from the underground up an impossibly long escalator we came up into the alcove of a truly monumental building rising above us like a columned cliff. Huge nets were suspended between the tops of the columns to catch plaster and stone that might fall from the ceiling four or five stories above where hard-hatted workers were effecting restorations. We tried to use the automatic ticket machine but couldn’t find Bern as a possible destination so we got in a ticket line. We didn’t have much time so were feeling a little anxious. We finally reached the head of the line where the agent responded to my broken-Italian question with the revelation that he could not help us as we wanted the International ticket office at booth #53 because we would be leaving Italia to travel to the city of Bern which was in another country called Svizzeria. This particular booth, #41, was for servicing passengers who wanted to travel from one city in Italia to another city in Italia. Imagine my surprise!

So we set off hurriedly in search of booth #53. Booth #51 was the largest number we could find. Georgia suspected that we really wanted booth #46 where we saw another long line waiting for international tickets of some sort. That observation lead to a fairly heated discussion about whether or not the Milanese ticket agent was likely to confuse the numbers “46” and “53” or want to send those crazy Americans off in search of a non-existent ticket booth. Should we follow the Milanese ticket agent’s suggestion, or follow the gut instincts of the Lexington, Kentucky tourist?? I wonder! In walking around in circles muttering about each other’s parentage and intelligence we found a door marked, of all things, “Billetti Internationale” behind which we not only found booth #53, but also poor little neglected booth #52!

Only a couple of people ahead of us in line and when we got to the window the agent cheerfully sold us tickets but told us we had only 10 minutes to catch our train. No, she didn’t know what binario we needed. We’d have to ask the conductor. No problem, we thought, and hurried off for the stairway.

(to be continued)

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