To see my tribute to Flo, go here

See about helping Flo's Haitian artist friends at Jakmel Ekspresyon

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Returning home

After returning home, I'm posting just a little about getting home.  We completed our time in Umbertide mostly staying in town and around the house.  For our departure day, on the road to Rome, we stopped and saw Slow group friends Barbara and Art, who spend a good amount of time in Umbria, at Il Testone semi-fast food off the highway in the Perugia area.  We had a night booked on Starwood points at the Sheraton Parco de' Medici, at the intersection of the G.R.A. and Fiumicino airport road.  Even though I'd seen the road pretty well on Google Maps Street View, I took a wrong exit towards the Parco de' Medici golf course, and had Waze navigate me around the four loops of the cloverleaf to get me pointed the right way and continue to the correct exit.

That Sheraton is spread around three buildings some distance apart.  Building 2 was the first one and we stopped there, hoping we would not be put in Building 1, which has a high parking charge, while the others have free parking.  I'd seen some negative reviews of the place, many of them about staff attitude when guests wanted to check in early, but we were well past the 3 p.m. check-in time and were treated nicely, and given a room in that building.

The hotel might not have been the best for a true Roman experience for the final night, but it was comfortable: we went for drinks and then had a room service meal: a serviceable amatriciana for me.  Worried about a big flight day, we were awake early in the morning, and at 6.30 we were the first in for the breakfast buffet, which I'd agreed to take at check-in for a lower price.

We checked out and drove to the airport.  We had a reasonable car return, with the need to back up to make the tight turns up the ramp, and got to the terminal.  This was our first departure since U.S. carriers had returned to Terminal 3:  we needed to get to the far end, past a screening of passports to enter.  We were checked in, and went through unfamiliar real estate to exit passport control and security, and through a shopping area to the train to the satellite concourse.  Although it seemed slow, we were at the gate well before departure.

We had our boarding and some mechanical issue delayed our departure.  We were ready for a long flight: 10 hrs. 40 on the schedule, but 9.5 hours flight time that day.  It was long, but with entertainment options both on the seat back and our own devices, including live news: still less time that we're forced away from the usually bad news.

We landed and made our way through border controls in Charlotte: the Global Entry machines had trouble reading my passport, but we eventually got through.  Then we had the new TSA check for our connection to Boston:  a bit of a wait for that flight, and our seats were Main Cabin Extra, although I think they were just booked as Preferred.

We landed in Boston and were booked at the Hilton attached to the terminal, on a mix of money and points, since I was having trouble using the points but didn't want to empty the account. There was a bit of a wait for the shuttle bus, I thought it was taking a long way to get to the attached hotel, and it turned out it stopped at Signature Flight Support.

We got in, and since we were thinking of taking a bus home that didn't stop at a station with a ticket office, I tried to print our tickets on the hotel's computers.  I ran into trouble, and when I was going to try again in the morning, I found that the tickets had sat in the printers overnight.  We took this newly operating bus, which skipped the South Station stop, and got to Lebanon where my father met us and we got home.  All to end a fine trip.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Umbertide market day

Not much to report, but a highlight of time in Umbertide is the Wednesday market.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

A little time in Rome

For the dates that were originally to be the eve of our return flights, we had two free nights at the Hotel Indigo, one of them a free night based on having the IHG chain's $49 credit card, a night that was going to expire soon.  With that 64-room hotel being IHG's one property in central Rome, it's hard to get reward nights or change them on short notice, so I thought it best to break our time in Umbertide with these nights in Rome.  I'm not sure if it was the right decision, but I also thought it best to drive to Rome and end one car rental, then start a new one.

We took off Wednesday morning. The 500L had GPS navigation built into its central panel, but when I first entered the destination address, I couldn't figure out how to say "Now go there."  Since I pretty well knew the way there, I didn't worry more about it.  During the drive, it occurred to me that the system was made by TomTom, and I've had their satnav system where you start navigating by touching any part of the screen.  When we stopped for fuel on the outskirts of Rome, I re-entered the address and saw where to touch to start navigating. We got into Rome, where I'm pretty used to driving on via Salaria to reach the main car rental offices, but traffic was very heavy this time including my finding myself in a gridlock situation of blocking an intersection. When we got close, I took the route that I remembered rather than what was on the screen, and it worked.  We returned the car, I used the IT TAXI app to get a cab, and one showed up before the one that people before us had called.

We got to the Indigo, and our upgraded room was ready.   There were steps down from the entry area, and with the status I have with the credit card, we had free use of the minibar, but the only alcohol in it was beer.  We did get free small bottle of red wine and jars of different snacks, with a card saying "Happy Anniversary." Was this because our previous stay two years ago was at the time of our anniversary in May, and this was still on a guest record for us?  Or did they do major detective work and find that it was the anniversary of when Margaret and I met in high school in Rome?  Or my credit card anniversary, when another free night is issued?  A nice room with some confusion about which switches to turn to control lights, operate the in-room coffee maker, and keep the charger for our devices on during the night.

We had some coffee at the hotel's rooftop restaurant-bar, then went down the street to Pierluigi restaurant, which was a neighborhood hangout when we were in the school across the street.  It has now become an upscale seafood restaurant with high prices, and we managed o.k. with one dish each.

We didn't have much of an agenda for this time in Rome; one thing we had in mind was to shop for good-scented items at the Rome branch of Profumeria S. Maria Novella.  It was a nice walk through our old neighborhood to the store off Piazza Navona.  On Piazza Navona, we mostly dodged harassment by vendors.  In the old neighborhood, we saw some stores reflecting gentrification, but there were also old-time shops serving a traditional population.  For the evening meal we were fine getting slices of pizza at Pizzeria Romana al Taglio, on via del Governo Vecchio, with creative bio toppings.

During the night, we had the problem that, when I turned off the master light switch by the door, it also turned off charging for the devices.  As I was working on that at 7 a.m., we heard loud beeps and the start of an announcement.  As I was wondering if I'd caused it, there was an announcement that there was nothing of concern.  When we got to the breakfast buffet, we got word that it was a fire alarm caused by a guest trying to smoke in their room. We had the breakfast buffet, at a discounted price by agreeing to it at check-in. It was a pretty good spread, with breakfast meats, eggs, and salmon, along with breads, cheese, and more.  Oh, and Prosecco.  This was the day that our main goal was to see St. Peter's Basilica.  In the morning it was raining and we made an effort to get a taxi.  The IT TAXI app didn't recognize Piazza S. Pietro as a destination, perhaps because it's outside Italy (Piazza Pio XII could be something to try).  We asked at the hotel desk, and they said there was trouble getting any cabs in the rain.  The rain let up and we walked.  We got to the Piazza at 10 and the security line reached the opening in the colonnade.  We joined the line and rapidly saw it getting longer.  We eventually got through security, I wondered about some people passing the modest dress screening, but didn't see anyone denied entry.

We entered the Basilica, and felt the difference from when we had been there decades prior.  We'd had the wait and the screening, compared to when we could just wander in.  Inside, the crowds were immense and it was difficult to appreciate the majesty of the structure.  It was difficult to get a clear look at Michelangelo's Pietà.  Then we wandered with the crowds, so many people holding phones and selfie sticks, and didn't feel like staying much longer.

We got back to the hotel, working around a 2 p.m. salon appointment that Margaret had, and just got panini from the bar down the street.  We'd talked about wandering in Trastevere in the afternoon, but didn't feel that much up to it, and it was just as well when we saw a downpour of rain.  We did take an occasion to drop another part of her parents' ashes into the Tiber in the city that they loved.

We'd talked about having dinner at La Carbonara on Campo de' Fiori, where we have a long history but I worry about it having declined.  I went on a walk before dinner to look into alternatives, and found Osteria dei Cappellari, which was nice for a Roman meal, having cacio e pepe and saltimbocca. 

We had these two nights in Rome, most of the time in the hotel room and the neighborhood.  We had a second morning with the buffet and just spending a little time before a late morning departure and taxi to get a new rental car.  Here's where I relied on my memory more than I should have.  I remembered the Europcar address as via Sardegna 52; the driver first went by the garage, not what we wanted, and then found the street ending before 52.  I searched my phone (fairly new to have that option in Italy) and found the address was 51.  I know some quirks of addresses in Rome: that in the old neighborhoods numbers go 1-2-3 on one side, continue to the other end of the street, and then continue on the other side, so 1 could be across from 500.  In the newer quarters, which I understand via Sardegna, you'd have odd on one side, even on another, which this was, but not with adjacent numbers across from each other, so 51 was a few blocks from 52.

Anyway, with a wait, we got the new rental paperwork done, and had to go a block to the garage.  Our new car was a Fiat Tipo.  I didn't locate built-in navigation: I could pair my phone with it, but only saw phone calling features.  An interesting feature, during the slow move through stoplights in Rome, was that if I stopped in neutral, the engine shut off, and it restarted when I put the car into gear.  The return drive was o.k., and we got back to Umbertide.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Getting to Umbertide

At the end of the Soriano trip, we went in two rental cars to Umbertide.  Emily was to follow Margaret and me, and she had a GPS.  We also had Waze for a GPS, but only needed it for getting out of Soriano.  There was also a GPS on the car's control panel, but I had trouble programming it.  On Waze, I missed the first recommended turn, but Emily turned off behind us.  When I found the correct way out, I figured that  Emily was ahead of us, and checked if any Opels we saw ahead of us might be hers.  Eventually I saw that the car behind us was an Opel.  As we were on the Terni-Perugia superstrada, with several sections diverting traffic to two-way traffic on one side, at the end of one of these I exited to a service station for a pit stop, the Opel followed us, and it was indeed Emily.  Now we were confirmed to be able to stay together, with occasional vehicles cutting between us.  As we got close to Umbertide, we got a phone call from my longtime friend Graziano asking if we could meet him at the gas station where his nephew works as we got into town.  I said no to that, and he said he'd meet me as we got to the house.

When we got to the small piazza near the house, there was only a parking place for our car: while Margaret went with the key to open the house, I rode with Emily to find a parking place for her car.  As we walked back, there was Graziano approaching, and he was there just as we were first getting into the house.  We had a nice mix of catching up and trying to settle in. We found the house in good shape, after friends had put new beds and mattresses in.  For dinnertime, with our go-to restaurant the Capponi having closed, in order to walk to dinner we went to the Appennino and had a traditional Carbonara.

For the next day, Emily was glad to stay in Umbertide and see the small historic center.  For dinner, we drove slightly out of town to the nice Poggio Manente resort, for what, with the trip rescheduling, was the fourth meal that in some way was called my birthday meal.  It included risotto with truffles.

On Saturday, after a brief stop at the farmers' market, it was time for Emily to drive away and catch her return flight.  Since then, we've mostly been relaxing at home and dealing with a few matters with the house.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Interlude: Practical Matters

Going over a couple of practical things:  shortly before boarding at JFK, I attempted to put my active SIM card from the Italian provider TIM into my iPhone, but botched it and the tray got jammed.  On arrival at Rome FCO, I stopped at the TIM counter and the man said it was jammed so badly that I would need to  go to the Apple Store in Rome.  We proceeded to pick up the rental car with me wondering if I would really need to take some Soriano time to go to Rome for the Apple store, or go during our planned time in Rome a week later, or find an electronics store, perhaps the one in Umbertide.  In the center of the small town Soriano I happened to see a store for smartphone repairs.

I'd seen it on the way to lunch, and went back in the afternoon.   The man there was able to get the SIM in correctly, but warned that the battery was bursting and needed to be replaced.  He could get it the next day.  I went the next day, before going to Bomarzo, and the courier hadn't come.  I went back in the afternoon and the battery still hadn't been delivered, but he said to give him a few minutes and he could find one.  While we stopped at the bar next door, he got a new battery and the phone was no longer swelling, but I'm not sure if the instructions for charging a new battery are going well.

Another matter was booking our return flight.  When we changed our dates on short notice, I initially booked an inconvenient return on British Airways via London with high carrier surcharges.  I really wanted to change it, and checked regularly to see if space on SAAver awards for two had opened up with a return in the same date range we wanted.  During our connection at JFK, I saw availability returning through there and called about it.  The agent said we couldn't confirm it before our outbound was completed (a reason to book these awards as one-ways in the future) and she wan't finding availability for two anyway.  From Soriano I called again, seeing similar availability, and got a similar response: I was running into "phantom" availability showing on the AA site.  Once we were in Umbertide, I saw new availability via Charlotte and called AA's Italian number.  The first agent said it could be confirmed but I would have a fee for redepositing the miles and starting a new award, which I knew was not the case for a trip between the same two cities, but I figured it would be sorted out.  While I was hold, this call was cut off.  I made another call and got the same.  When I started the third call, I got an alert that my TIM account was out of calling time.  Not being a talker, and knowing that they don't charge for incoming calls, I hadn't paid much attention to the fact that my good plan was just for data and texts, not voice calls, and my voice plan was wiped out during the time I had on hold.  I made the next call via Skype, with a cost but a lower one, with the longest time on hold but it was finally resolved,  I didn't have a charge for redepositing the miles, and I would get a refund of British Airways' surcharges.  It's inconvenient to have to take such a long Rome-Charlotte flight before getting to Boston, but it's the best option we were getting in the current situation.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Getting to Italy with busy start

After our night in Boston, we got to the airport and boarded our flight to JFK.  The plane was in the configuration for JFK-LAX flights, with large First and Business Class sections and a good part of the Main Cabin being Main Cabin Extra.  We had those seats at no extra charge when they were assigned by the airline at check-in.  The plane left the gate on time but we were instructed to hold because of New York weather.  We waited 35 minutes to take off, and circled before landing, but landing was essentially on time.  They passed out water rather than doing a regular drink service.

The connection was between gates about as far apart as possible within Terminal 8 at JFK.  We  had three hours to connect.  We eventually boarded, and took the seats we'd paid for in Main Cabin Extra.  This was a 777 configuration with three seats on the side, and even with the extra legroom I couldn't sleep.  We eventually had our views of Europe in the air, and landed at Rome FCO with applause from the passengers.

 With this arrival at 7.10 a.m., we had the train from the satellite to the main terminal.  From what I could tell, U.S. citizens now can join EU citizens in e-passport lanes, putting their passport on a scanner while their picture is taken, and it goes quickly, but people with wheelchair assistance were directed to the crew lane, where not many booths were staffed at that hour and it was slow going.  We eventually got through to claim our bags and proceed to the rental car area.  We were helped right away and assigned a Fiat 500L. 

Now off to Soriano nel Cimino.  I hadn't gotten my Italian SIM card to work (more on that later) so Margaret, using the International Day Pass on AT&T, started Waze.  Driving in Italy after a sleepless overnight flight was o.k. for me, with a few cappuccino stops.  The problem was when we got to Soriano, the turn directions were ambiguous, and we went around in circles, including going to the top of town and needing to get turned around, a challenge on the slopes.  I finally understood the correct turn to get to the bottom of the pedestrian street going to Palazzo Catalani, where we were staying.  I needed to park on the sidewalk, just not blocking a drivable entrance, so we could go up and get help.

We went up, the hotel desk lady said our apartment wasn't ready yet, and Margaret's sister Emily found and greeted us.  One problem with the Waze directions is that the street leading to the Catalani goes uphill from two sides, and it led us to the non-preferred side.  In my jet-lagged state, I wasn't sure from what direction we came uphill, and there was extra confusion as I walked with the hotel porter driving a three-wheeled Ape vehicle to find the car, and follow him as he directed me to park in the town's main lot, and he brought the bags back to the hotel.

We had a nice arrival lunch at Tre Scalini restaurant.  Back at the hotel, the apartment was ready and it was great.  We made a late booking, and for €50 a night we had a 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment, recently completed with air conditioning.  Time for something of a nap before we had Emily over for some time before dinner.  For dinner, we went to two places that were on their weekly closing, thought of going back to the hotel restaurant, which would also have been closed, before we wound up at Rottezzia, on a stairway street.  Finishing that decent meal, we were ready for a good night's sleep.

The next day, our main plan was to see the Parco dei Mostri or Sacro Bosco, the park with monster sculptures in Bomarzo.  We got there, and we'd put together a picnic lunch and found that we'd only bought half of it.  We made do with that, and liked exploring the park.  I'd been there before in decades past, and find interest in the sculptures of the 16th century, eccentrically designed and with enigmatic inscriptions.  Margaret and Emily had brought a portion of their parents' ashes along, and scattered them in this place that they would have liked.

Back in Soriano, we had dinner at Il Mare ai Due Camini, with seafood and vegetarian specialties.  Emily and I had the tasting menu with a great variety of seafood dishes.

In the morning, we signed up for a cooking class with the hotel restaurant's chef Roberto.  He went over bread and pasta preparation, generally saying the students' efforts were disastrous or catastrophic (all in fun, we're sure).  I probably would have been better off not going, and making a better effort to explore the town.  We needed to be checked out of our great apartment before the class, and that included the hotel staff bringing our baggage out, and taking it all in the Ape to our cars in the parking lot.  A nice good-bye to Soriano.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Off to Italy for 2018

We’re ready to take off on another trip to Italy.  So let’s go over what planning we did.  Last November. Margaret asked about the next trip, and we had the miles for the two of us to go on an American award.  From Boston we could go on the most convenient routing they offered to Rome on their own aircraft, via Philadelphia.

We found a good booking for that, and for the Philadelphia-Rome flight, any seats on the side were "Preferred" with an extra charge, and we got those, in the second row of the Main Cabin.  Then in January, I was given temporary Platinum Pro status, which was to our advantage on the Hawaii trip.  Although I would no longer have the status at the time of the Italy trip, while I had the status I could request Main Cabin Extra seats for these flights, and they would hold unless there was a schedule or aircraft change.  I made these selections, except for trying to get MCE on that overnight transatlantic flight where it would be the bulkhead row only, they warned that there would be no refund for the previously purchased Preferred seats, and I wondered how it would turn out in case of an aircraft change.

While I had the status, there was a schedule change for Boston-Phila. that gave us less connecting time than we'd like.  I sent a Twitter message that got us more time and the MCE bulkhead.  But for the Rome-Phila. return, there was an aircraft change when I no longer had the status, and they no longer had the multiple MCE rows.  They'd put us towards the back, and again we needed to pay extra to get Preferred standard legroom seats towards the front.

So the plan is to spend time in Umbertide, with time in Rome at the start, with Margaret's sister also there,  and end.

That was how I wrote this as we were initially getting ready to leave.  Then something happened with Margaret's health that made us postpone the trip.  It wasn't possible to go on the scheduled date, but it was resolved quickly enough that we could reschedule quickly.  Margaret's sister needed to scramble to make new arrangements when she was in Italy alone, and we wanted to salvage some of the time with her. 

We took advantage of American's policies on award tickets, that a trip between the same two cities could be changed to new dates without penalty.  The problems were that, for the short-notice trip we wanted to take, there were no SAAver awards, but we could choose any American itinerary, using more miles.  For the outbound, connecting via JFK and getting Main Cabin Extra seats for a fee looked worthwhile.  For the return, my initial thought was that we needed to stick to the SAAver number of miles, and the only way to do that, keeping the duration of the trip in the range we wanted, was on British Airways with its high carrier surcharge on awards.  We booked that, with an awkward itinerary with overnight stays in London and Boston.  I'm on the lookout for SAAver awards on American opening up, and we may use the extra miles for another AAnytime award on the return, getting the surcharges refunded.

For now, we're staying in Boston tonight, hoping for an easy trip tomorrow.   On arrival in Rome, we will rent a car to get to Soriano nel Cimino, for a couple of days with Margaret's sister.