To see my tribute to Flo, go here

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

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.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Maui report is mostly about air travel

Well, as thrilling as it was to get to Hawaii, for various reasons, mainly around Margaret's health, we didn't cover very much of Maui.  We found satisfaction staying in Kihei and relaxing at the condo.  The volcanoes on the Big Island were not an issue for us.  One remaining highlight is that we went out to dinner, at Matteo's in Wailea, with Kelly and Charlie, whom we'd met at one airport connection and Margaret became a regular customer of Kelly's cosmetics sales, and we happened to wind up being on Maui at the same time.

So I wind up having the most to say about air travel on the return.  Early in our stay, when I happened to look at the American Airlines app, I think to see if the miles had posted, I found that my confirmation code had changed, while Margaret still had the old one that was originally for both of us; perhaps the change was because we wound up in separate cabins on the LAX-Maui leg.  Anyway, Margaret's record no longer showed her as being on the waiting list for an upgrade.  I went to the airline both on Twitter and by phone to get our records linked again, so Margaret too was on record as requesting an upgrade.

At the 72-hour mark, we found ourselves confirmed in First for the second segment, the red-eye LAX-Boston flight.  There were still six seats open (according to the seat map) in First, but the airline likely expected from experience that a fair number of people pay for First on short notice on Hawaii routes, and in those remaining days the cabin filled up without our getting upgraded.

On the morning of our flight, we returned the rental car before 11 and got to the terminal.  Because there was some question whether we would actually return as scheduled, and there are warnings that upgrade "stickers" purchased online are late in posting, I held off buying the upgrade until we got to the airport.  After putting our checked bags through an agricultural x-ray required for Hawaii departures, I was first in the Priority line, ready to check in and holding the credit card to buy the upgrade.  The agent, whom I'd have expected to be used to processing these, fumbled for a long time, made a couple of phone calls, and finally went back to a supervisor for advice on how to get it done.  The deal was that the upgrades needed to be added to my AAdvantage account before they could be applied to Margaret's check-in, and apparently this agent wasn't used to handling that, which happened at my status level.  It's more common to have passengers at lower status levels who need to buy upgrades for themselves, or for the group to be on the same confirmation.

We got our boarding passes printed after 11.30.  The TSA inspection area there is open to the outside, and there was a high number of electric fans for cooling.  Then it was a long way to our gate, including an agricultural inspection (x-ray) of our carry-ons.  We were getting close to our boarding time of 12.10.  Margaret sent me to Starbucks to get some things, and I was able to get back just in time to board together.  No upgrade on this flight, but our Main Cabin Extra seats were quite satisfactory.  The person initially assigned to the aisle seat in our row was, I think, a deadheading flight attendant, and when the doors closed she moved to another row.  There was pretty good room on this flight, I bought a fruit and cheese plate, on a credit card where 25% is rebated, and they didn't ask for payment for the sparkling wine that was mostly frozen when served.

The eastbound flight, with tailwinds, went pretty fast, with us going into darkness quickly before arrival at LAX.  We had a three-hour connection, in fact using the same gate although it was not the same plane; the best sit-down eating opportunity in that terminal appeared to be Sammy's Woodfired Pizza.  We got through a meal, seeing the terminal bustling through the wait to red-eye departures, there and back to our gate, and eventually to our Row 1 seats, with departure just before midnight.

I'd understood that there would be no meal service at all in First on this red-eye flight, but in fact they offered a fruit and cheese plate, in addition to drinks.  We tried to get a little sleep, and at the end they offered a breakfast with a cinnamon roll and yogurt.

With a scheduled arrival time of 8.41, we had hoped that a flight this long would be early and we could get the 8.55 shuttle bus back to our area.  Because of storms in the midsection of the country, the flight needed to go due east to the Dallas area before turning northeast, and we weren't early.  Even with priority baggage tags, we were just too late to catch that shuttle, and needed to wait another two hours.  When we were on the shuttle bus, we fell asleep often, and we eventually got to our destination for my father to meet us.

I wish the time in Hawaii had been longer, and there were some frustrations, but it was an amazing time.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Kihei-Kamaole photos

Here are some pictures from the condo grounds in Kihei and Kamaole Beach across the street.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Aloha Spirit: starting our time

It’s been a whirlwind of activity at the start of our time on Maui: I’ll just try to give the basics.  We appreciate the Aloha Spirit, as one waiter described it: nice open friendliness.

We got a rental car from Budget, and used the Waze app to get us to our condo of Maui Kamaole in Kihei.  It was an after-hours check-in; as we got the car Margaret called and got a code so we could open a lock box with check-in materials, including a code to unlock the unit door.  It is a nice spacious unit.

With the 6-hour time difference, we were up early and were too early for one place for breakfast; we went to another for packages of coffee, and they loaned us an espresso coffeemaker.

For one errand, we went to the main mall in Kahului, and wondered about trying to get in for a meal at the highly reputed Mama’s Fish House in that direction.  We called and could get in at 3.45.  Even at that time, the place was very active, high-priced but we ate in style.  Mama’s Stuffed Fish, stuffed with lobster and crab was our choice.

In the morning, we had booked the sunrise trip to the Haleakalā volcano, picking us up at the condo at 2.15 a.m. when that wasn’t too bad while we were on East Coast time.  It meant going up to cold temperatures, and the view wasn’t too good today, but the guide shared some pictures from better days, which I’ll attach here.

Continuing to report an anniversary celebration