Sunday, August 06, 2006

From the Traveling Roths Archives: Europe 2003

Italy, et al., March/April 2003

29 March, Saturday, 9:31am EST

JR and I are sitting outside baggage claim in Atlanta, waiting for Joe, Jennifer’s dad, to bring us a car. We flew from Raleigh-Durham to here on the 7 a.m. flight, and sat in first class. Flight time: 57’ 33”.

Our flight to Milan is at 5:40 this evening, so we have some time to kill. We could’ve taken MARTA into town, but we would’ve been limited in our travel to where the train goes. I don’t even want to think about the busses. After riding in first class, the shock and awe of a MARTA bus would probably kill us. We’re also carrying-on all our luggage, so Joe loaning us a car is the best solution.

Now for some background on this trip. Joe gave us some buddy passes on Delta last fall as a sort of housewarming gift. In November we turned in our passes for tickets to Milan for $304 each. Over the course of the past four months, we’ve done very little formal planning for this trip. About a week ago we bought Eurail passes good for five days of first class train travel in Italy, Switzerland, and France. We know we’re flying into and out of Milan, and we have a few places we’d like to see, but so far that’s all the agenda we have.

Complicating matters slightly is that the U.S. started invading Iraq a little over a week ago, and there is currently a fair amount of anti-American sentiment about, particularly in France. So maybe we’re not as anxious to go there as we could be. JR and I always try to blend in wherever we go, but short of buying a new wardrobe, luggage, and possibly a haircut in each destination, it’s hard to look completely non-foreign.

Once again my parents have come to our house to stay with the kids, just like they did in 2001 when we went to France. This time it should be a little easier since the kids are in school, and we’re not in the midst of selling our house, moving, and finding new jobs. Tristan is almost 4 ½, and Zoë turned 3 last month. They were half asleep this morning when we left at 5:30, but I think they have a good idea what’s going on.

If we go to Europe again in another two years, perhaps the kids will be old enough to come with us, provided they can carry their own luggage. We’re taking them to Albuquerque around Memorial Day for Jared (Jennifer’s brother’s) wedding, and that trip, complete with a plane change in each direction, should be a good initiation for them. They’ve both flown before, ten flights for TR and four for ZR, but all of those were before TR turned two, so needless to say, neither kid remembers flying at all. We’ll have to pay for their seats now, but at least we’re guaranteed they get seats, and that is worth it.

Today in Atlanta I’d like to get tacos at Taqueria del Sol, JR wants to find some more comfortable traveling clothes, and since I think we (probably I) left all the travel books at home, it would be a good idea to get another book on Italy, at least.


Joe loaned us his days-old ’03 Audi Quattro TT convertible, and JR & I drove to Phipps Plaza so that she could buy a more comfortable skirt. We ate at Taqueria del Sol, and it was awesome, as usual. We got dessert at Star Provisions, my favorite gourmet shop in Atlanta. From there we went to REI where JR got some high-tech travel clothing. After that we drove to Graham (JR’s mom’s boyfriend’s) house in Virginia Highlands where we took a power nap for about an hour.

Back to the airport, parking Joe’s car in the economy lot, past the TSA (Thousands Standing Around) security screeners whom I believe we woke up as we were waiting for our bags to come through the machine. So far we haven’t been singled out for any extra security attention, which is surprising with the war and all.

We’re sitting at gate E32, looking at what I hope will be our plane, N1610D.


No word yet, but lots of people in the gate area. Don’t know what kind of plane this is, but it doesn’t look new, like the 777, with a video screen at every seat.


Yeah baby! We’re sitting on the plane, in First Class, sipping champagne, mulling over our menu choices. I’m going with marinated pan seared halibut accented with Thai green curry sauce, offered with cilantro jasmine rice and stir fried vegetables. JR’s going with the grilled Porterhouse, enhanced by balsamic rosemary sauce, served with a rice and vegetable medley.

The next row of seats in front of us is so far away that I literally (yes Andy, literally) can’t reach it without getting out of my seat. These seats recline with power everything; foot rests, lumbar support, the works. We have video screens, individual reading lights, and little care packages that I haven’t opened yet. This is totally the way to travel. “More Champagne, Mr. Roth?” “More of everything!” Maybe that’ll be my motto for this trip.

The only downside to all this luxury is that I don’t want to sleep through it, even though I should. Milan is six hours ahead, plus daylight saving time begins tonight in Europe, so the jet lag factor is –7 hours. I’d like to believe that since I became a parent four + years ago, the effects of sleep deprivation on me are minimal, but even so, losing seven hours is significant.

Wheels up at 6:16pm EST. Dinner was pretty good. I watched Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on my video screen, ate my ice cream sundae, and then slept off and on for a few hours.

30 March, Sunday, 09:22 Central European Daylight Time/ 2:22am Eastern Standard Time

We’re probably half an hour away from landing, and just finished breakfast. We haven’t exactly decided what we’re doing today, but we may go to one of the lakes, Como or Maggiore. Como sounds nicer, in the books, but Maggiore is on the way to Brig (Switzerland), which we’ll probably see tomorrow. Right now we’re figuring out the trip to Milano Centrale train station from the airport.


We got €150 from the ATM, (€1 ~ $1) and bought tickets for the Malpensa Shuttle bus, and one way, second-class train tickets to Stresa on Laggo Maggiore for €17 for both of us. We took the bus to Milano Centrale, a huge, busy, train station, built by Mussolini in fascist-style architecture, and there JR got a panino (sandwich) and a Coke Light, Europe’s answer to Diet Coke, and change for the restroom.

We’re on the train to Stresa. The plan is to stay in Stresa tonight, then go to Zermatt, Switzerland, via Brig. We’re not sure if we have to come back to Milano or not to go to Brig, and then after that if we have to come back to Milano, or if we can go to other points in Switzerland.

We’re sitting in the upper deck of a two-story second-class train car. I have my window open because so far it seems like Italians like it warm and stuffy, much like their French counterparts. It’s probably around 60°F (16°C) today with a layer of high, thin clouds. Springtime (primavera) seems to be about 1-2 weeks behind us in North Carolina. We’ve seen lots of yellow forsythia and pink cherry blossoms. I don’t know the weather forecast, but I’m hoping for sunny and warm. I expect it’ll be colder in the Alps.


We exited the train at Stresa at 13:41, and walked down to Lago Maggiore. The lake is huge with three large islands in the middle. I imagine you can see mountains in the background when it’s a little less hazy. We walked past the hotel on the main street where Hemmingway wrote A Farewell to Arms. After a little meandering, found a hotel listed in our Rick Steves’ Italy 2003 guidebook. It’s Hotel Saini on Via Garibaldi, two blocks off Piazza Matteoti. After negotiating in French, we got a nice room with a double bed, TV, mini fridge, and private bath for €90, including all taxes and breakfast. We went back out toured the town. We got our first gelati and it was awesome! I had zabajone and nutella di gelato. JR had cappuccino et crema. We scoped out some potential restaurants for dinner. We went down to the waterfront and saw all the tourists, nearly all of them Italian. I don’t think we’ve seen any Americans yet, and that’s good. We didn’t come to Italy to see Americans.

We headed back to the hotel and took a nap for about two hours. We got up and bathed, and headed out to dinner. We chose the _____________. JR started with the insalata caprese (tomato and fresh mozzarella salad) and I had the prosciutto e melone (ham and melon). Both were very similar to the same dishes one would find in the states, only these were noticeably fresher. We also got a 1 liter carafe of vino rosso da tavolo (red table wine) for about €8. For our entrees, JR got pasta in creamy pesto, and I had spaghetti Bolognese. JR’s was really good, and mine was OK. I prefer Sal’s restaurant in Durham for Bolognese anything, but maybe my tastes have been corrupted. For dessert JR had the profiteroles (cream puffs in chocolate mousse) and I had a poached pear in a red wine-sugar sauce. Both excellent. We also had a bottle of cold water without gas. The whole meal was €47 including service and tax.

We went back to the hotel for a good night of horizontal sleep.

31 March, Monday, 09:57

We’re sitting at the train station in Domodossola on the Italian/Swiss border. We woke up at 07:30 and had breakfast included in the cost of our room at the hotel. Croissants, packaged toast, and fresh cappuccino –the best I’ve ever had.

We walked to the train station and got our Eurail passes validated. We got on the 09:12 train to Brussels, Belgium, even though we’re getting off in Brig. Almost immediately you could start to see the Alps just jump out of the ground. We had to stop at this train station to change engines. The Italian engines run on 3kV, but the Swiss are 15kV. The Italian engine comes to a point on the tracks where the overhead wires carry no voltage, and the train coasts into the station and stops. From there a Swiss engine comes in from the front of the train and pulls the Italian engine off, and then comes back and connects to the passenger cars and proceeds. Various conductors, police, and immigration/customs officials have come by to look at our tickets and passports, and ask where we’re going and how long we’re staying.


We got off the train in Brig and got 100 Swiss Francs (~$72). We stowed our suitcase in a locker for 4F/24 hours and got some food at the train station grocery. We went into town for a few minutes to look around. Then we got back on the smaller gauge train in first class.

When the conductor came through, he informed us that our passes were no good, and that we’d have to buy tickets. Fortunately we had the 64F on us. There were two others on the train who were also under the impression that Eurail passes were good on that train.

We went through half a dozen alpine towns, going steadily uphill with the help of cogs on a center track (like rack and pinion) and in about an hour got to Zermatt.

It was noticeably cooler, and there were lots of skiers. The town allows no gasoline-powered vehicles, so there were lots of mini taxis, electric busses, and even some horse-drawn carriages. In a lot of ways it reminded us of Park City, Utah – pricey, and more hype than substance. Most of the places were closed for the Swiss version of siesta for a few hours around noon, so we walked to the end of the town to get a better view of the Matterhorn, the whole reason we came here. It was mostly shrouded in clouds. We looked into taking a cable car up the mountain somewhat, but for 60F each, it didn’t seem worth it.

We walked around some more, and eventually got some baguette sandwiches for 4.50F each. JR got some postcards, and we picked up some chocolate and yogurt at CoOp, the supermarket. Jennifer can’t pass up a good crepe, so when she found a creperie, she went in and got a sugar and lemon crepe, which we shared. Do I need to note that it was good?

We bought tickets in advance for the return trip to Brig, this time for 34F each for second class. Go figure! It cost more for the return trip in second class than the trip up in first. I think the train staff assigns ticket prices at their whimsy. I think we both slept some on the way back to Brig.

From the information kiosk in the train station we found a hotel in town, and made a reservation. We walked up the Bahnhofstrasse (train station street) to the Hotel de Londres. We got a double-bed room with a bath, three windows, a TV, minibar and a view of at least two snow-capped mountains for 90 something francs or Euros or something, I’m not sure. After unloading our junk, we went on a quest for some Swiss food. Nearly everything had closed, and this place seems really quiet. We decided on “Walliser-Weinstube” at 9 Bahnhofstrasse. JR got the Käsefondue and I had Walliser Steak mit Pommes Frites. I think it was pork with ham and melted cheese, and fries. It was good, anyway. JR’s cheese fondue was excellent. The place got progressively busier, all locals from what I could tell, and most of them smoked. Our waitress had responsibility for the whole place, but did OK despite how busy she was. JR had frozen custard with Grand Mariner, and coffee for dessert. The bill was 68.7F and I left 3.3F tip, not knowing anything about Swiss tipping customs. I hope I didn’t insult the waitress.

We headed back to the hotel since everything is closed, and just started to give tomorrow’s agenda a first thought. Right now we’re thinking maybe Geneva or Lausanne. It’s 9:16pm, 2:16 Mebane time, so we need to wait to call home so the kids will be there. They weren’t there, so we left a message.

1 April, Tuesday.

We’re on the train toward Geneva. Right now we’re thinking we’ll get off at Lausanne and spend most of the day there. Then we’ll take a train to Geneva, and from there take an overnight train to Firenze (Florence). It looks like we’ll be bypassing France, but since we’re not meeting any friends there, and most of the places our train goes through we’ve already been to or seen places similar to, we don’t feel bad about not spending time there. We’re not too keen on going to a few, same places repeatedly as some people do. There’s a whole lot of the world we haven’t seen yet, so who has time to repeat?

I don’t know if this is a recent development, but I’m seeing more and more places where smoking is not permitted. Like on this train, for example. It’s kind of surprising because it seems like everybody smokes here. It’s still very prevalent in a lot of public places though, like restaurants. Maybe the Europeans are a few years behind us on that one.

We’re just passing Roche, between Brig and Geneva, and everything is now in French, where it had been in German. Even the conversations on the train that were in German are now French. I wonder where they draw the dividing line?


We’re sitting at a park near Lake Geneva in Lausanne. When we got into town we stowed our rolling suitcase in a locker again, and headed into town. Lausanne seems a lot like Paris, only much, much smaller. It’s a busy place with lots of stores and people, and everything is in French. We found a restaurant called “Le Cyrano” inside a mini mall. JR had some kind of country salad, and I had some kind of pork chop with a light tomato sauce and cheese, elongated tater-tots (röti, perhaps?) and braised fennel. It was just right. From there we went to the supermarket/department store (CoOp again). There we bought 500g of Frigor chocolate for Shelley, my brother Andy’s wife, because I think I recall that’s her favorite and it’s really hard to find in the states. We bought some other, store-brand chocolate for ourselves for snacking. The stores in Switzerland have an amazing variety of chocolate, and it’s almost hard to choose. We walked around some more, stopping for some pâte a choux (cream puff) for JR, and more Lipton Ice Tea Pesche for me. Then we found the park. We’ve been sitting here for at least 90 minutes, JR sleeping most of the time.

Watching the people in the park, you’d be hard-pressed to figure out where you were if you didn’t already know. Lots of kids from infants up to about age 12, usually with a parent or two, scooters, bikes, and soccer balls. It seems like most of the boys, even the tiny ones, are wearing backwards ball caps. Nearly everyone is white, and strangely, almost nobody is smoking. If this were an American park, I suspect you’d see more kids with helmets, and perhaps a football, Frisbee, or softball or two in the field. The weather is perfect; probably 65-70°F, bright blue sky, and the leaves are just starting to come out. The crowds are thinning out as it gets later, but it’s still a busy place, especially for a Tuesday afternoon.

Before we left the train station this morning, we paid for a private sleeping compartment on tonight’s train from here to Firenze. That part probably cost as much, if not more than a hotel room, but the rail passes cover the rest of the train ride. At least we wake up at our destination and don’t have to spend all our waking hours on a train, something JR doesn’t enjoy. We want to see the Cinque Terre one day, and the food towns of Parma, Modena, and Reggio-Emiglia the other. Friday we’ll get back to Milano and do the bulk of our souvenir shopping. I think we’ll need an additional bag or box or something, as our luggage has been nearly full from the start, and we’ve hardly bought any souvenirs yet.


We’re sitting on Platform 4 of the Lausanne station, waiting for the EuroNight train from somewhere (maybe Geneva?) to Rome, stopping at least in Lausanne, for us to get on, and in Firenze to let us off.

We walked down to Lake Geneva and took what I hope will be some really cool photos, provided our film wasn’t screwed up by the security in Atlanta who shoved it through the x-ray machine, and left it in there while they chatted. After that we went back in the general vicinity of the train station, and got a kebab and coke for 10F from a food stand right across from the station. I would’ve called it a Gyro, but it was top-notch none-the-less.

We found an Internet café attached to the second floor of a McDonalds, and for 4F we got 30 minutes of Internet time. I e-mailed Dad, Andy (who responded while we were online, and thus got a response from me) and my boss and a coworker. JR checked her school mail, and even then we had time to spare, so we surfed Rick Steves’ site ( to see if there was anything we’d missed in Lausanne.

JR got a coffee at McD, violating my no American food policy, but at least the Swiss McD coffee was much better than say, the Mebane, North Carolina McD coffee. No surprise there.

We went back to the station to collect our pull-along, and got rid of our last few Swiss francs; water for JR, and chocolate (Cailler’s milk chocolate with hazelnuts, Swiss, of course) for me. Once we’re in Italy it’s back to the Euro, so our francs change back into Monopoly money. Up to the platform to wait.


We’re in our tiny private room on the train. I’m in the top bunk, JR in the bottom. The room is ~5’ front to back, 3’ of which (or less) are the width of the beds. The room is about 6.5’ wide. There’s a little sink, a chamber pot and flushing mechanism, a mirror, some hangers, and lights. We gave our passports and tickets to the conductor who will deal with customs on our behalf overnight. We get up ~ 06:00 and have breakfast included. Need to sleep now. Only 7+ hours until wake-up call.

2 April, Wednesday

Well, sleeping on a train is yet another one of those things that sounds much cooler than it actually is. The tiny little room was warm, even in early April. We had the window, which opens from the top, open, and tried to have the shade, which opens from the bottom, closed, but it flapped and made too much noise. So the choice was hot and quiet(er) or loud and more temperate. We tried an intermediate position, but it was less than ideal. JR thinks she slept about an hour. I slept more, but I woke up often.

We woke ourselves up at 06:00, and got cleaned up and dressed as best we could in the small space. The conductor brought us our included breakfast of cappuccino, croissant, toast, jellies, butter, and orange juice.

By 06:50 it was time to exit the train in Firenze. We decided to skip this city in favor of the Cinque Terre. We hopped on a 07:10 train to Pisa, and from there we’ll get on a train to La Spezia.


We hung out in Pisa for about an hour, not seeing the leaning tower, and got on the EuroStar fast train to La Spezia. It took about 40 minutes to get there where we got on a “milk-run” train to Vernazza, Terre Quattro of the Cinque Terre (land four of the ‘five lands’).

Vernazza is beautiful. There’s a small natural harbor with a little town around it, and all up the hillside are grapevines, olive and lemon trees. The town has a fishing fleet of about three boats, and the town’s restaurants buy pretty much everything they catch. We found a private room with a view and a private bath right off the Piazza Marconi, right at the harbor, for €60. We were trying to get a room at Albergo Barbara, but they were booked up. On the way out of there, we bumped into the proprietor of FrancaMaria (Maria?) and told her we needed a room for two people for one night, and she offered us a choice of €60, 70, and 75 rooms. We went with the cheapest, and even so, it has everything we need, and it’s clean.

If anyone reading this decides to come here, and you should, know that everybody has rooms to rent, many with excellent views. You can ask at just about any business in the town, and they either have rooms, or have a friend that does.

We ate lunch at a bar on the main street. JR had a focaccia sandwich with cheese and prosciutto, and I had Pizza Margherita (tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, named in honor of Queen Margherita and looking like the Italian flag, red, green, and white.) Both excellent and cheap, and definitely my kind of meal.

Afterward we went to one of the town’s two gelaterias for gelato. I had the local specials; a zabajone and crema, and JR can’t remember what she had. They were both awesome, and made me really wish we could get this at home because it is so good.

We wandered around some more, and then went back to our little room for a nap to make up for the night on the train.

After about probably three hours, we got up and went out again. The tour groups of German students and older Americans who probably came on buses this morning were gone, and a lot of the shops were closed or were closing. We walked a little way on the trail that led to Corniglia (Town 3). It was small and steep, leading through vineyards and up past an old castle, high on a rocky hillside that was now a restaurant/bar overlooking the Ligurian Sea. For the physically fit adventurous, you can start at one of the end towns and hike through to the other end of the Cinque Terre in about 4-5 hours. This was part of that trail.

After admiring the view for a minute, we headed back down, and decided on Trattoria de Sandro, 60 Via Roma, for dinner. Unfortunately, we were given menus in English, and seated next to a young couple from California, who had been seated next to an older couple from Canada. We didn’t interact with the other English speakers, but the chick from California was really pissing me off with her ignorant, loud discussion of political affairs. She was parroting the same left-wing views prevalent in the mainstream US media and in Europe. It was just grating. We tried to ignore her as much as possible and focus on the food.

JR started with the Insalata Caprese (fresh mozzarella with tomatoes and herbs) and I had the octopus salad, which was perfect. Very tender octopus with fresh rosemary and Italian parsley, in olive oil with a splash of lemon juice from the local lemons. For the entrée, JR had the prawns, which were gigantic. They looked like half-sized lobster! I had the mixed fried fish plate, which included calamari (squid), shrimp, and fresh-caught anchovies. A note on anchovies. Fresh anchovies are nothing like those salty, oily things you get out of the can in the states. These were tiny fresh fish, gutted with their heads removed, lightly battered and fried in olive oil. They were completely un-fishy, and could be eaten whole, bones and all. We had a bottle of the vino da tavolo bianco (white table wine) made locally and bottled exclusively for this restaurant.

For dessert JR had the panna cotta, and I had the tiramisu, both perfect. We also had coffee, which we could call “espresso”, or more incorrectly, “expresso” in the states. It’s a tiny little cup that would appear more natural in my daughter’s tea set than on a restaurant table, about half full with wicked strong coffee. It was great though.

After that we headed back to the bar where we had eaten lunch, got two beers (Moretti) and sat down at a computer to catch up on our e-mail. After that, we called again to check up on everyone, but the kids were still at school. There seems to be some contention as to whether daylight saving time has occurred in the states yet. I thought it was a little after 4pm Eastern time, but Mom said it was a little after 3, and that she thought DST started around Fathers Day in June. Anyway, we wrapped up the call and headed back to the room.

Its 23:07 locally, and I’d like to try to talk to the kids a little later. There’s no phone in this room, so I have to walk to what seems to be the only two public phones in the town, at the foot of the steps coming from the train station.

I went back to the phone at 23:30 (5:30 or 4:30 eastern) and tried to call Andy’s house, where the family is to be eating dinner, but no one answered, so I left another message.

3 April, Thursday, 09:15

The plan for today, so far; if the weather’s crappy, we’ll skip the other four terre of the Cinque Terre, head back to La Spezia, and from there get a train to somewhere in Emilia-Romagna. If the weather isn’t crappy (we can’t tell yet since the single frosted-glass window in our room is about nine feet up, so the sky is just a concept to us right now) we’ll want to see Manarola, town 2.


We took the train to Manarola. The weather started out a little sunny, but now is cloudy, chilly, and windy with a little rain. In our brief walk around the town, we decided that it is enough like Vernazza that we didn’t need to stay long. The prices here (and in Vernazza) are surprisingly cheap. We got two cappucini for about €2.20 total, and later picked up a focaccia sandwich (one of my new favorite foods) for about €2.

We’re waiting for the train back to La Spezia, from where we hope to be able to get a train to Parma. Ideally we’ll find a hotel there to park our stuff, then visit the other nearby towns, returning to Parma in the evening.

There are a lot of school groups here in the mornings. Today it seems to be Italian kids, when yesterday it was Germans. In both cases, the kids were pretty diverse looking. If you didn’t hear them speak, you probably couldn’t tell where they were from based on their looks.


We waited a long time for the train to La Spezia, but finally got here. We had to walk past four Italian cops and two large drug-sniffing dogs on our way from the tracks to the station, and then back to the tracks. There aren’t any trains from here to Milano, so right now we’re thinking we’ll go to Parma, maybe eat lunch there, and then go to Milano, staying two nights and leaving tomorrow, Friday, our last full day, less frenetic. We have a hotel in mind near the Milano Centrale station, and we probably should call ahead from Parma for a reservation.


The train to Parma took forever. It was a second-class regional train, so it was slow and made a lot of stops. More than two hours. Fortunately, not long after we arrived there was an InterCity (fast) train to Milano Centrale. We grabbed some sandwiches at the station; prosciutto de Parma of course, and drinks and got on the train. First class again, thankfully, and this train only took an hour.

Once back in Milano we took the Metro (subway), which is very similar to the Paris version. We found the train to the Duomo (church), and got off at that station. (Line 3, Direction ________, stop ‘Duomo’). We walked up out of the Metro and almost didn’t see the duomo because scaffolding occludes the entire front. We walked all the way around before breaking out the guidebook and consulting the map. We found Hotel Speronari, and got a room with a double bed and no bath for two nights for €73 per. It’s about a block from the duomo, and is safe, clean, and quiet.

We dropped our stuff and headed out to the neighborhood. We checked out this huge department store right on the duomo’s piazza called “La Rinescente”. We’re looking for a nice outfit for ZR for the wedding next month. I want to get TR and XR (nephew AleXander) little soccer uniforms. I also have some wine to search for for my boss and a co-worker. We didn’t buy anything yet, but went searching for dinner. We found a pizzeria about a block off the piazza called Ristorante Dogana, which means “Customs Restaurant”’ and the food was surprisingly correct, despite the fact that were seemingly in the Enlish Only section. Not surprisingly, we were the only ones even trying to get by in Italian. The rube next to us ordered a cappuccino after his meal, just like a tourist. (To Italians, cappuccino is a breakfast drink, and never ordered after ~10:30am.) Anyway, it made me feel better about myself.

JR ordered gnocchi in saffron sauce with spinach and peck (a kind of ham). I got pizza quattro staggione, which means ‘four seasons’. It has a different topping on each quadrant of the pizza; prosciutto, olives, artichoke hearts, and mushrooms. It was about 14” (35cm) across, had a thin, chewy crust with little bits of wood ash on the underside, something you can only get from a real wood-fired oven. It was perfect, and what all Neapolitan pizze should aspire to be. For dessert JR had some kind of lemon cake, and I had chocolate cake that tasted strangely like bubble gum. JR had a caffee latte, and I had caffe (espresso). From there we went to the gelateria directly across from the duomo. JR got lemon and frutti di bosco (berries), and I had panna cotta and pistaccio, which tasted exactly like eating the roasted nuts.


From there we headed back to the hotel and set our alarm for 23:30 so we could call and try to talk to the kids again. We woke up at 23:30 (4:30pm EST) and called, but once again, no one was there. We reset the alarm for another hour, and tried then, this time getting through. TR still talks about wanting to get an action figure of talking Woody the Cowboy (from Toy Story) with a pull string. ZR talked about her day, and her plans to take a bath and afterward have a treat. They were both busy playing outside, and seemed like their usual happy selves.

4 April, Friday, Milano

We woke up and hit the street. There is a chain bakery two doors down from the hotel, and they were packed. We got some kind of pastry there. (As an aside, that bakery shares the enclosed courtyard with our room, so pretty much all the time you can smell goodies baking from our open window.) We walked around, ending up near Sforza Castle. There we found a vendor with soccer stuff, so we got TR a Team Italy soccer uniform (Size 6) and XR a Team Italy jersey (size 2). We walked some more and found a children’s clothing store, du pareil au même (, kind of like an Italian Gap, and also busy with Italian women buying clothes for their children. We got ZR a spring/summer outfit consisting of a green top with a bird on it, and a reversible skirt. We found another soccer-stuff vendor and got a pair of soccer shorts for XR. We walked some more, and JR found a women’s clothing store (not like there aren’t a million of them in this city) where she bought some tights for herself.

Wandering around, we passed an enoteca (wine bar) and went in to get two bottles of Montepulciano, one for my boss, and the other for a co-worker. I’m hoping the stuff I chose, a mid-priced selection, is decent.

For lunch we decided on a food cart on the edge of a park, probably about 1-2 km north of the duomo. JR got a prosciutto and mozzarella panino, and I got a prosciutto and fontina focaccia sandwich. Seriously, for a one-week trip in Italy, I’m pretty sure I could eat the fresh sandwiches like these at every meal and not tire of them.

Following the entrances to the metro stations, we made our way back to the duomo. From there to the hotel to dump our stuff. Then back out, and back to “La Rinescente” department store. There we bought a duffle bag to put out newly acquired goodies in for the flight home, a leather belt for my dad, a leather eyeglass case and a Polish porcelain duck for my mom, and a set of four Italian cheese knives for me. JR bought herself a leather wallet, some socks, a key chain, as well as a wallet for her mom.

We went back to the hotel to dump all this stuff, and nap. After an hour or so, JR went back out to hunt for shoes, and stayed in to write and get organized. When she came back, we left again, heading south on the main road. This time JR actually found some shoes, and she was very excited. They look to me kind of like a cross between indoor soccer shoes and bowling shoes, but they’re similar to what I’ve seen many fashionable Milanese women wearing, so they’re cool.

We found a place to eat called “Dai Dam Secondo” on a side street off that main north/south road. We were the fist patrons in this evening, as it was only 20:00 or so. I got the seafood antipasto, which consisted of mussels, squid, octopus, and shrimp. For the entrée, JR had a kebab platter, with gyro meat, couscous, fries, and grilled flatbread. I had the vitello coteletta Milanese (Milan-style veal cutlet) which at home would probably be described as, “chicken-fried veal” and fries with ketchup and mayo (European-style.) We got a nice €10 bottle of Lambrusco, and a bottle of mineral water without gas. For dessert we had the house special, which was a small coconut flavored cake, and an almost Greek shredded filo and honey thing. JR had another cappuccino, the turista.

One last stop at the duomo to the gelateria. Tiramisu and crema for JR, nocciola (hazelnut) and stracciatela (choc chip) for me. Then back to the hotel to pack and bathe. The flight leaves at 11:45 Saturday, we we’ll get up around 07:45, and leave by 08:45. Should be plenty of time.

5 April, Saturday, 17:50 CEDT/10:50am EST

We’re just crossing over land, Newfound land, Canada actually. We’ve been flying for about five hours, 45 minutes. The day has pretty much gone according to plan. We got up, finished packing, took the metro to Milano Centrale (€1 each) and then the Malpensa Shuttle for the 50-minute ride to the airport (€4.50 each). We checked in, checking our pull-along bag, and spending our last euros on two more panini, and some peach iced tea. We found the duty-free shop, and it was impressive. We found Frigor chocolate, just like the kind we’d been carrying with us since Switzerland, plus some Milka for Andy, some Limoncello di Sorrento (Italian lemon liquor) for us, a huge bar of Swiss chocolate for my coworkers, some Swiss chocolate coins in a cardboard bank for the kids, a model airplane for TR, and a colored pencil kit for ZR.

We got all the way to the checkout where the clerk told us that our standby boarding passes were no good, and that’d we’d need assigned seats to buy stuff there. So we left the duty-free shop dejected, and made our way to gate B12. There we checked in and instantly got real boarding passes with seat assignments (6C and 6E), so I hauled ass back to the duty-free shop and re-collected all the stuff that someone had just finished restocking for us. I went to the checkout, smiling broadly at the checkout chick who had denied us earlier, paid for our stuff, and hauled ass once again back to the gate. Boarding had already begun in the organized fashion of “everybody at once.” Kind of disappointing that the higher caste afforded us by our first class seats was of no value in avoiding the proletariat. I want those people to watch me get on ahead of them, and then when they finally get on, have to walk past me again and watch me drink my champagne while they contemplate the next ten hours shoehorned into a steerage-class seat my three year old would find constricting, while their fleshy-flyer neighbors overflow the armrest boundaries and bump them at the slightest movement. Well, there’s one more flight today, from ATL to RDU, and provided there are enough seats for us to be in first class, we may get our chance, until we too return the world of the economy traveler.


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