To see my tribute to Flo, go here

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A restful week

Most of this trip has been a matter of relaxing at this home, rather than going out and seeing much.  One thing we did was to meet with Slow Europe members at a restaurant in the country outside Marsciano.  Then, after there was confusion and they overcharged us, most of the group went back there for another meal with the refunded funds a few days later.

Wednesday, a new market day, we decided to go to lunch at La Botticella, on the road to Pietralunga. The owner, Leon, had made Facebook friends with us, as he had with several others in networks of friends, and recognized us when ee came in.  We were the only customers, and he put together a nice meal of Puglia-influenced specialties.

The time of the trip is getting short, and we're in suspense about the operation of our Düsseldorf-Boston flight.  It shows as the last day of operation of that flight, and is bookable for that day, but Air Berlin also issued a notice in German that apparently says the flight is discontinued as of that day, and people booked on the flight to Boston will be rebooked to New York and be on their own from there. I'm going on the assumption that the flight will operate, and there was some confusion in the composition of the notice, but we'll see.

Pictures include a street in Umbertide with old photo displays, more pictures of our house and the weekly market, and the sad matter of the gathering in front of the church for the funeral of a high school friend of mine, a prominent business owner, who died in an automobile accident.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Umbertide pictures

Here are pictures from Umbertide, including the Wednesday market.  Margaret took most of them.

Catching up: Rome pictures

We've mostly just been around the house in Umbertide: not a whole lot to report.  I have a problem posting pictures on the blog: here are a few more of Rome, Trastevere mainly.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Through Rome to Umbertide

Margaret generally doesn't like me to mention her getting disability assistance, but there's enough of a story from the continuation of the Düsseldorf stop that she agrees to have it mentioned.  Backtracking to our arrival there, her having a wheelchair assistant helped us slip past people in line in narrow hallways, and we had chair lifts next to short steps.

When it was time to leave the lounge for the flight to Rome, I first had the lounge agent tell me it was too early, but when boarding time was close we got the same friendly attendant.  Like many  German airports, this one has gates on multiple levels atop one another, and our gate would call for walkimg down three flights to get on a bus to the remote stand where the plane was parked.  The elevator by that gate was out of order, and we went to the opposite corner to  get a working elevator, to get to a van that our attendant drove to the plane.

We were the first on board, as other busloads followed.  This intra-Europe flight charged for soft drinks and bottled water.  Having gotten no sleep on the transatlantic flight, I slept for most of this 2-hour flight.

We arrived in Rome at a jetway gate.  We were pleased to see that our checked bags made it, and we were taken to the taxi to get into Rome.  We got to our hotel, the Cesàri, in central Rome.  I'd heard of it as a good deal in that area.  It was nice enough, but behind the times in their giving a key that was to be turned in when going out and, although there was an elevator, there was an extra half-flight of stairs to get to our room.

I went out to the TIM store around the corner: it being right there saved me from stopping at their store at the airport, as I'd considered doing.  This was to put my iPhone on that provider, using my established Italian number.  The store had a "take a number" system: the person ahead of me and I missed that people were being helped in two rooms and they'd passed over our numbers.  When I got help, the lady was rather abrupt, getting it done but I needed help after she said it was done, to understand the scratch-off PIN system.

Margaret was reluctant to go out to eat, but I could finally persuade her to go as I wanted to Ristorante Abruzzi.  We had a nice meal of Carbonara and Saltimbocca, and talked to an interesting young man near us comparing our multinational life experiences.

The next day was a landmark birthday for me, and we had imprecise plans for a certain amount of wandering.  Margaret wasn't well, and I first went alone to the rooftop  breakfast area for their buffet. Then, while regularly checking in on Margaret, I went on some walks, starting with our being on the busy pedestrian route between the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain. I found refreshing drinks to bring back to Margaret.  I did one walk up via della Scrofa, and got packaged salads to bring back.

With Margaret still not up to go out, I made my own determination of something new to see, and chose the Centrale Montemartini.  Going on my own, I was ready to take the city bus: the mobile version of the city transport site wasn't working well, but I found better advice on Google Maps.  There was a tabacchi place near the hotel to get tickets, and I could follow my progress on the map.  Still, the stop I wanted hadn't been rung for, and I got off at the next stop.

The Centrale Montemartini is an old power plant that has been redesigned to hold Roman antiquities, an interesting setup, also including Pope Pius IX's train.

After this, I decided that I might as well go to Trastevere, which Margaret and I had talked of wandering and where I hadn't been in 30 years.  I took a bus, getting to Ponte Sisto which has become a pedestrian bridge, and going through familiar small streets.

I got back to the hotel and Margaret still wasn't up to going out.  I went to the hotel's rooftop bar, and to an unmemorable place for dinner.

In the night Margaret's health had me worried, but in the morning she was well enough to get to breakfast and check out.  In fact first I went to the location off Piazza Venezia to pick up a portable Wi-Fi device.  While I'd tried to review the things she was at risk of forgetting, when we were at checkout the desk got a call: the housekeeper had gone right in and found Margaret's passport: we were lucky to get that notice.

We had a cab called to take us to Hertz on via Sardegna.  The problem was that the driver took us to the return garage, rather than the office a couple of blocks back.  He circled to get there, I arranged the rental, and we were sent back to the garage.  We waited on the muddy garage floor while the car was washed: I got the car and made the drive to Umbertide without problems.

Now we're in Umbertide and have had restful times including the local feast day, and there's been a fiera with market stands.  This post has covered a lot of ground.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Making the flight

There were worries in our families, but the designated departure day arrived and we took off on our trip.  My father took us to the shuttle bus in Lebanon, N.H., and we got to Boston Logan Airport.  It was impressive to see what major international flight operations are there.  It was good to see Air Berlin operating, but our flight was delayed because of a late inbound.

The departure time was about an hour late.  Covering the flight more briefly than normal: the Extra Legroom seats helped some: I still saw during the night that I needed to put my tote bag in the overhead bin for comfort, and that's another area where it helps not to have rows too close together.  A problem was the woman in front of us, who spent some time in other seats, but was alone in the two seats in front of us.  She spent some time in each seat, and left each one fully reclined, bad for our comfort and impossible in standard seats.  There were nice seatback screens including USB ports. The meals and drinks were served at the same time, and the trays were cleared pretty quickly.  The delay was cut to about 30 minutes on arrival.

Some of this was possible because the plane wasn't that full.  The flight operated efficiently, and It will be sad to see Air Berlin's likely shutdown (Boston service is to end Oct. 1).

We artived at Düsseldorf, and noted a terminal on the old side, with stairs.  Since the delay cut only a half hour off our six- hour layover, we opted to pay for access to the lounge there.  In the morning there was a nice layout of pastries, self-service espresso-cappuccino drinks, and other drinks.  It's while sitting there that I compose this, and we wait to connect to Rome.

Monday, August 28, 2017

So many changes, and the next trip to Italy comes into place

I haven't posted since the end of the last trip to Italy, and much has changed in my life.  I've retired from my job, and we have moved in with my father in Vermont.  One feature of being in New England is that we're closer to Europe.  Margaret had urged us to go on a trip to Italy this year; I had my hesitation.

We had the American Airlines miles for two of us to go, but I was thinking of waiting the usual two years before using them up.  We were seeing enticing fares from Boston, and in May when I happened to search the Hopper app I found a round trip fare of about $450 each in September, and it could be done with a stop on the return in Düsseldorf, where we could see friends.  I messaged the friends to see if they could be seen that date; the affirmative reply came in, and I was ready to book.

The airline of this trip gives its name as airberlin, but I guess it's normally read as Air Berlin, as the media calls it, so I'll write it that way or as AB.  I would normally book on the airline's site, but it was giving error messages when I tried to force the overnight on the return.  I was hesitant to make such a big purchase on a smartphone (the Hopper app) but that might have been a good way of doing it.  I used Kayak and Momondo to search itineraries including the return overnight: many of the third parties they directed to had bad reviews.  I found, which I know people to have used with success, and booked through them with, I think, a $25 fee.

AB charges for advance seat assignments, with varying categories according to the type of seat.  With such a low fare, we decided to spring for €99 extra legroom seats on the overnight segment going over.   I made the booking at the start of my June credit card billing period, and got an error message after entering the payment information.  After that, I called up the reservation and it showed the seat assignments, making me wonder: did we get these seats without paying?  I used the online customer service form to clear it up, and the first reply said no seat assignments were showing and went over the basics of getting them.  I replied with a screen shot of the seat assignments that were showing, and got a reply asking for the confirmation code, which showed in the correspondence that that agent had quoted back.  After about a week of no reply to that (we were in the July billing period by then), I made a phone call to the U.S. number, but during German business hours since the call reportedly goes to Germany, and there can be long hold times outside business hours.

The agent I got said that the seats had been requested but payment not completed, so I completed payment on that, and the non-XL seats we wanted for the other segments were given without a charge, because of Margaret's disability category (something I learned from the first otherwise unhelpful reply).

Then, in mid-August, came the news that Air Berlin had filed for insolvency, under German law more severe than U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which most U.S. carriers have used to reorganize and eventually continue operating (some of them merging).  AB was out of money and could have left many travelers stranded at their summer vacation destinations, and the German government gave them a loan to assure operations for three months, so we're hopeful that our flights will operate.  Still, the general thought is that the airline will cease operations after the three months are out, and we'll have to expect low staff morale.

Beyond that, to keep the trip one year after the previous and not spend too much, just about the whole trip will be at our house in Umbertide.  We have two hotel nights in Rome booked using Chase points, and a car rental.  We're hoping for a nice one.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

And the return: Arrivederci

I'm running into trouble adding text after the pictures in the last post, so I'll start a new one here.  The day continued casually around our old neighborhood, with Margaret buying shoes, and finally eating casually standing up at a neighborhood bar, and it went on to night at the nice hotel room.

We were up around 6 in the hope of getting a cappuccino, but the bars weren't open yet.  At 7, in the hotel lobby they were pushing the expensive breakfast, and we just wanted cappuccini sitting down.  We were afraid of a high price for those, but they were comped, and we were certainly pleased with our free night at the Indigo.  Margaret looked at her email and found notice that our flight to Chicago, scheduled for departure at 11.20, was delayed until 13.45.  Although we'd have liked to stay in central Rome a little longer, we had a car reserved with a driver there.

I'd reserved a car  through the Rome Shuttle Limousine service, and a minivan was there for us in advance of our booked 7.30 time.  As much as possible through the sometimes terrifying traffic, it was a nice ride to the airport, Terminal 5 for American Airlines.

We got to the counter before there were too many passengers (and we'd printed our boarding passes at the hotel, space in name problem resolved), but had to wait because of an apparent system problem printing our luggage tags.  The agent added a note that we could get a free snack such as a sandwich at the Ciao bar in the gate area, because of the flight delay.  Margaret asked for a wheelchair; from past experience we figured we could have breakfast at the less crowded T5 snack bar while waiting for the chair.

In fact it seems a chair turned up quickly when we weren't looking.  We waited and were told a chair was coming until people decided that we'd missed one.  I could also observe that the check-in counter had a considerably longer line at 9 than when were there shortly after 8.  Contrary to the previous time, after clearing exit controls and security I could be on the same bus as Margaret to the gate satellite.

We got to the gate with lots of time to see go by; we did some of our separate runs while saving a seat for each other and seeing the previous scheduled flight for that gate board.  We each got our own panino from the Ciao bar, when we saw a different flight show at our gate, and we heard an announcement that our gate had changed.

We went to that gate, and eventually it was time to board.  They paged Margaret as one of a group getting wheelchair assistance, and there was a group of friendly attendants.  We boarded, and were told that some of the delay would be made up.

We took off, and after Margaret first got up she noticed her seat cushion was wet.  The best conclusion we could reach is that, in the quick turnaround of the flight, delayed because of being late coming over from Chicago, they didn't have a chance to do a very thorough cleaning.  There were several empty seats--perhaps people were booked on other transatlantic flights because they were going to miss their connection on this one?--and we could move forward a row.  It appears that this meant we were in a Main Cabin Extra row, with a few inches more legroom, so this was nice enough.  We had our special meal, I ordered a cognac, and they waived the charge, the flight attendant not knowing the charge since hard drinks are ordered so rarely in the main cabin with wine and beer being free.  Then there was ice cream mid-flight, and a warm snack, as the hours moved on.

Our revised arrival time was showing as 4.15, after the scheduled 3.05 and first-announced with the delay 5.30.  There were clouds in the area and we needed to fly over and approach O'Hare from the west instead of the usual east.  Our arrival was around 4.30, and we docked in a slightly closer-in than usual gate at the international arrivals terminal.

We had a wheelchair attendant there.  He took us to the customs area.  I pointed out that we had used the Mobile Passport app and had completed our information there.  He said to hold onto that, but he took us to the regular clearance area, where we took our pictures at kiosks.  We were in the regular line, and it appeared that it spent long periods at a standstill, with the agents at the booth not doing anything.  Our best conclusion was that their computers were having problems, and I don't know if going through the Mobile App lanes would have been faster.  The delivery to baggage claim had been completed, and our bags were in a handful taken off the belt still to claim.

We were clear, and at around 5.30 were delivered to the area represented as where we would wait for the shuttle to the Embassy Suites, although we would need to call because it didn't regularly go the international terminal.  With our calls, there was confusion about going through the phone menu correctly.  We got someone who promised a prompt shuttle.  We waited long enough with nothing showing; I called again and was told to go up to the departures level because of construction (there but not causing major problems then) at arrivals.  We went up, with Margaret feeling a major burden, and the bus showed up.

The bus, also stopping at other hotels, got us to the Embassy Suites.  It was nice to have this night on points rather than a tight flight connection that we would have missed, or extend the day much longer with another flight.  The hotel was a little worn but it was nice to have a suite, with Margaret ready to go right to sleep.  There was a "manager's reception" with a drink for a nightcap, not much to eat but we weren't much in need.

We had plenty of sleep and were up early for the hotel's full breakfast.  With a noon flight, we went ahead and took the shuttle at 9.20.  We checked bags and had wheelchair assistance and Pre-Check to clear security promptly; I didn't notice long regular lines.  Since we didn't have the lounge access that I'd hoped before the start of the trip, we had ourselves taken to our gate in concourse L.  I had in mind that I'd like to try one of the best-rated airport concessions, Tortas Frontera, in concourse K.  Margaret agreed to go, putting up with the vastness of the walks at O'Hare.  Although it was crowded and confusing, we got counter space and had nice breakfast sandwiches.

Our flight to Kansas City had a long standby and they were looking for bump volunteers; we weren't ready for that.  Many passengers on the flight had just connected from India.  Then that flight and the trip were concluded.

So, what to say in conclusion?  It was great to go to these places that are part of us, and see great people.  I can think of how well my mother is part of these places, and how well she is remembered.  I hope that, with Margaret, we can keep seeing the part of us that is in Italy and Europe.