Friday, October 23, 2009

Quando vuole volare...*

Typical room in the First Hotel. Our room looked different but still had interesting fixtures

Lobby of the First Hotel that we stayed in on our last night

This sign, actually the name of a Bernese film festival and taken in Bern, fits in nicely with the theme, what a difference one letter makes, of this entry

Our pizza cappricciosa from our last day-the most common flavor other than Margherita and quattro stagione (4 seasons). Lessons to be learned from this picture: it comes to us uncut (apparently you are to fold it into a shape suitable for stuffing into your mouth though Teri is trying to cut it into a reasonable size. The topping consists of ham, artichokes, olives and mushrooms. Look carefully at the mushrooms: they are porcini. None of those Pennsylvania cave grown mushrooms on American pizza are found here. Also not found; their enormous cousins strangely called 'portobellos'. Despite their Italianate name, there are no portobellos in Italy. They were apparently named by marketing experts. This pizza later was our dinner.

Interesting architecture around the immigrant neighborhood that we found our last Italian meal at.

The antipasti bar full of all sorts of tasty goodies. I didn't take a picture though until it was mostly gone. One dish contained sea snails-really pretty shells (should have saved one for a souvenir-drat-always think of these things after the fact)

*When you (familiar(!)form) want to fly....

The above was on a billboard I saw several times in Milano that initially puzzled me as I thought 'volare' meant 'to want' and 'when you want to want' didn't make a whole lot of sense until I noticed the small print "Darwin airlines from 39 euros" Volare=to fly as in that song 'Vo-LARRRRR-e vol-oh-oh-oh " "Volere" means 'to want' and it is a very irregular verb that I used in almost every interaction, usually in its conditional form as in "Vorrei this" or if I wanted to include Teri standing next to me, "Vorremo that" I would like this or we would like that. We would want a lot.

Also the name of the airline intrigued me. Do you want to fly in a plane whose name suggests 'the survival of the fittest"? Also would the name bother the Christian right? (Few in Europe thankfully)

I almost entitled this blog, what difference one letter makes as in the difference between volere and volare. But more amusingly, the difference between anni and ani: pena and penna. (years and assholes: penis and pen) Americans, especially those of the Midwestern variety, gloss over double consonants and maybe, just maybe, will pronounce one of them (making us especially fun to understand by the foreign born). Double consonants in English give us a hint how the vowel preceding them is to be pronounced. Just because we learned a few words of Italian doesn't stop our bad habit of poor enunciation (Brits are much better). Imagine us asking to borrow a penis (which I am sure many would be happy to lend) or asking cute little school kids how many assholes they have. We have to be very careful.

Back to the travelogue: Monday was our day of many travel legs starting with Lia again, driving us to the train station after our nice breakfast. She was such an incredibly sweet person and we had some good talks in our (my)broken Italian. Then back on the local to Firenze, then on the 180 mph Eurostar to Milano Centrale,then on the Malpensa bus to the airport, then to the shuttle for our last hotel ironically named "The First Hotel".

So we already had seen most of the scenery between Lucca and Firenze. Between Firenze and Milano, is the flat, boring Po valley as it turned out. Time to read the papers. On the trip, we would either get the international version of the London Times (better and more puzzles but not useful news)or The International Herald which is some kind of version of the New York Times-better news but with only a single crossword puzzle. A sample of the news from the former was the distress of British housewives that the prime minister wouldn't name his favorite biscuit as the other politicians had. The newspaper had a contest that readers could vote what biscuit suited him the best. One of the choices was 'Jumpin' Jammies'. A slow news day, London style. Not that the US was much better with the mythical exploits of "Balloon Boy". On the plane to Detroit, we were only offered Dutch papers even though Delta is an American airline.

The distance to Milano from Firenze is similar to that between Ann Arbor and Chicago. Imagine how nice it would be to get there in 2 hours instead of the advertised 5 hours that usually is close to 7 hours with Amtrak not having priority over freight trains, drawbridges up, etc..all excuses I've experienced for lateness. Our train system is so crude compared to the Italian one even with its doors slamming shut on slow-to-move passengers. With our now extensive experience, we are Italian train experts finding the correct binario (track), the cardozza -car-(always the fartherest one for our reservations and the trains are very, very long between the big cities) our posti (seats), knowing when we have to validate the tickets or not, reading schedules that at first glance look impossible to decipher, etc.

Milano Centrale was considered Mussolini's masterpiece and huge. Many, many tracks. The neighborhood around it is not the best but away we went looking for a bancomat and late lunch. The fast train ate up most of our cash being twice the cost per kilometer as a slow train. We walked quite a while in search for the ATM (and then we saw plenty!) We rarely used credit cards-just cash but it involved many trips to the bancomat. If I asked for too much at a time, I'd get an annoying message saying that I wasn't authorized to get international funds instead of saying the truth, you asked for too much. I'd ask for a lesser amount and then it would spit it out. Teri was allowed to get more because I guess, she's special (or asked for it in advance). The neighborhood was full of various immigrants including Tunisian men who followed us briefly saying how much they love people from England. We didn't correct them. The buildings were of interesting architecture but run down. We finally ate in a restaurant featuring Amalfi coast cuisine. (Southern Italians are considered immigrants by the northern Milanese-no love lost between the groups-rich vs poor-educated vs uneducated etc.). People there were very nice to us even though they could not speak English. No inglese but it was great and inexpensive. We had a wonderful antipasto bar with lots of nice vegetable dishes to try, then the pizza and for me, spaghetti carbonara, the best I've ever had. Of course, red wine. The pizza, always served uncut, was mainly uneaten due to the antipasto bar and Teri took it to the First Hotel along with some cheese that later was our late dinner. On to the Malpensa bus that drove a long time through the city going by the cemetary that Rick Steves says is the best in Europe for statuary. At the airport, we were to call the hotel to pick us up but alas, the phone didn't work until Teri included a 'plus' sign. There is a little village near the airport that contains the hotels. I selected ours because the boards say they have the earliest shuttles starting at 4:30 am. The boards also warned about the lack of restaurants in this little town but I did find the tabacchi shop that had a good wine selection and the cheapest kinder eggs yet. Dinner. The hotel itself, a 4 star place, was a boutique hotel very attractively decorated. We missed breakfast due to our early departure.

During our stay in Italy, we encountered many types of keys and they were part of the more frustrating experiences we had. The worse was in Stresa. Despite the very attractive, House Beautiful, rehab of our place, the keys were strictly 19th century things. We were given a keyring with an eight ball on it (this happened more than once)and 4 keys. The one for our room was more like 16 th century. Two keys for the various gates of the courtyard surrounding the building, one for the hallway we were on and then one for our room. At night, the key had to be in the lock and you had to turn the key in some special way to get out ( I never, never learned this skill-this is a job I left to Teri-I ask for train tickets, she deals with the keys). The first night I awake to Teri frantically trying to open the door as she wanted to use the WC. It took about 5 minutes of fumbling but she got faster with time. Good thing there was no fire. As for the gate key, Teri turned it once and we couldn't open it at all. Fortunately there was a backgate that we left open. In Bern and Milano, they had old keys too that you had to give to the desk clerk when you left the building. Esther and Lia had a series of keys that worked OK but there was usually no light around to see which one to use. Teri's flashlite came in handy. The First Hotel gave us a modern keycard with its own twist: you had to put it in its special holder in the room or you would have no electricity. This insures you not leaving lights on.

I got 30 minutes of Internet with the room but it erased my entire blog entry plus no word from Northwest/Delta about checking in ahead of time. Teri schmoozed the bartender there into providing a useful wine opener for a particularly hard-to-open bottle (but very good tasting) I bought. Our last sad to see this trip end.

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