To see my tribute to Flo, go here

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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The long return home

On Sunday we talked to some Canadian guests at the Girasole, who advised against doing the Grotta Azzurra tour: a rowboat trip where we would need to lie down while it goes through the small opening: two minutes in there while the oarsman sings O Sole Mio, all for €12.50 per person and he's aggressive about a tip. The advice was that it would be better to take the boat tour around the island for €16.

So our tentative plan for Monday was to do that tour and go around Capri town. In the morning Margaret wasn't feeling well, and then a steady rain started, so we just stayed inside. So we had nice memories of Capri without doing that much. I got these pictures of the sunset with clouds from our terrace:

I was worried about how well Margaret would feel on Tuesday when we needed to get to Rome, but she got up and was well. I'd arranged the hotel shuttle at 9.40, and once again we had the little van going part of the way on what are really walkways. Once again we had spectacular views on the ride to Marina Grande. We were planning to take the hydrofoil at 10.35, but we were in time to catch the one at 10.10. Up to last week, that one had a promotional fare of €10.10, but now its fare was like the others: what had been €17 had increased to €18.70; local people had protested the fare increase, blocking a departure, on Sunday morning. After the purchase, it wasn't that clear where to board. We started on the right-hand side of the pier but had doubts whether it was correct; we went back to the head of the pier and had it confirmed; a board there lists numbered boarding spots. We joined the waiting group and the hydrofoil turned up; it was easier to board than the other ferry, without steps. It was a faster, sometimes rocking, crossing that got us to Molo Beverello in Naples.

We went to the front of the line of taxis and got a ride to Stazione Centrale; the meter was off, and at the end the driver counted bags and assessed a fare of €15. We were way early for the train we'd booked, at 13.45. That's a consequence of getting the great €9 Mini fare on a high-speed train, having time to kill once we made sure to get to the station on time. We had sandwiches at a bar, moving to tables once they opened. Then we had coffee at the bar past the low-numbered tracks, catering mainly to rail workers. We found seats open among those scattered around the station; a little past 1, we reclaimed Margaret's checked bag, at a cost of €28. We went to the track that showed on the poster as our train's regular track, although it hadn't been posted on the board. A train turned up, and people appeared to be confident that it was right, even though it wasn't posted. We found our seats in car 6, at one end of the car with seats facing each other, with bag storage space on overhead racks and between the backs of seats.

This was a train with a final destination of Torino; the stop in Rome was Tiburtina. Once the train left the station, there was wi-fi available with the password sent to my cell phone. I learned there of the new earthquakes in the North. There was an information board with the speed of the train, which got to 300 km/h. It was a nice experience, without any discomfort from the speed. Not many people were getting off in Rome, using that secondary station. When we got off onto the platform, we had the ramp down to the underpass; we didn't go up to the new area over the tracks, part of the project to increase the importance of Tiburtina. We had an elevator take us to street level. A taxi that was letting people off wouldn't take us; we needed to go to the regular stand, which was hard to reach around construction barriers. We got our ride to the Hotel de la Ville, where I'd booked an award stay with my points for getting the Priority Club Visa. This driver charged the metered fare plus €1 for each bag in the trunk, for €12.40 total.

I'd seen warnings about the hotel, at the top of the Spanish Steps, being a luxury hotel that was somewhat worn, with snooty service. Without great expectations, we found it to be nice; they gave us an upgraded room with a little more space. In this brief time in Rome, we just wandered the Spagna-Popolo area and enjoyed the room. I got persuaded to go to the 6th-floor panoramic terrace, where we had cocktails (a Bellini for me) at a high price. For dinner, we were going to try one place based on a SlowTrav review, but found it closed down. I had general memories of a place near Piazza di Spagna but didn't find it; we went to Il Re degli Amici on via della Croce and had a serviceable final Roman meal of spaghetti carbonara and saltimbocca.

I set the alarm for 5.30 as we'd booked a car from Rome Shuttle Limousine for 6.30. We checked out and the hotel person offered to put our charges (cocktails and city tax) in dollars using dynamic currency conversion, which I knew to decline. The driver was there and got us going ahead of schedule. We arrived at Terminal 5 around 7 a.m.; he said he didn't have change from my €50 for the €40 fare. I asked about paying by credit card, and he had €8 to give me in change, reasonable enough.

In my studies of Terminal 5, I saw a disability assistance area, marked by a smiley face, near the front. I saw the door and knocked as instructed; an unfriendly man came out and said to go through the airline. We had the first checkpoint where they ask security questions, and they couldn't find Margaret's booking; we needed to go back to the ticket counter for them to locate that. Then we went through to the regular check-in; they instructed us to wait five minutes for wheelchair assistance. We could have had breakfast at the non-busy Terminal 5 bar, but we waited past that time without help. We got an agent's assistance to call again, and got help. I was with Margaret, but they told me I would need to get the regular security screening and take the regular bus to the departure area, while she got the special bus.

I got through that, and not knowing how long it would take her to get there, went to the bar in the G satellite, getting something for her to eat. Margaret found me there, but it was questionable whether it was worth it for her to stand in the long line to pay the cashier before ordering to get a coffee. We went to the gate area, where someone was watching Margaret's bag, but I needed to stand. When they started boarding, at 9, they just called group numbers without a call for those with disabilities. We boarded regularly in our group 6. United flight 41 to Newark pulled out of the gate on time at 9.50, and took off around 10.10. The 767 has seatback monitors with many selections. For the meal, I selected a beef brisket rather than a chicken or vegetarian dish. I've been writing this onboard, and we're over Labrador now.

Finishing off when I'm home: there was a sandwich and bag of chips for the late snack. Although I preferred the Lufthansa service going over, the time of this return flight passed well. We landed a little ahead of the scheduled return time of 1.40; this flight arrived at Newark's Terminal B, which United (mostly former Continental flights) doesn't use for departures. It was good to tag onto the disability assistance that Margaret had booked. A wheelchair attendant took us through some elevators and the crew passport check. Then we had our baggage claim, were cleared through customs, and left our bags off for the next segment. There we had more elevators (where it was crowded, I went up the escalator to meet them at the top) to get to the monorail to Terminal C. We didn't find room on the first train and needed to wait. An elevator down to the security checkpoint, where we got to a privileged lane: got through the ordeal with a basic metal detector. I cleared there even though my much later flight would be from Terminal A.

The attendant left Margaret at her posted departure gate of C120 at the start of concourse C-3. We'd made good time, still with three hours before our departures, and we'd decided to have a meal at whatever nice restaurant was nearby; we went to a sushi place. We did what we could to catch up on things on our phones; when Margaret turned on her phone to get texts, her son welcomed her to the U.S. pointing out that it was still 12 hours until her final arrival: quite a long day for her. We went around some more, having coffee, then looked at the departure board and saw Margaret's flight now showing as going from gate C112, at the far end of concourse C-2. At the gate where she'd been left, the departure around that time was to Berlin; who knows how that might have wound up. I accompanied her to the revised departure gate for Houston, where she had the long time ahead to connect to Sacramento. It was 4 p.m., well ahead of her 5.25 departure, but we needed to say our good-byes for me to get to Terminal A in comfortable time for my 5.15 flight.

I went to the place at the start of concourse C-1, where there's the not-pleasant area to catch the airside bus to the area of Terminal A that most of United's regional jets use. I got to that terminal and found a seat in the crowded gate area. I boarded that regional jet and took my combined aisle/window seat in the 1-2 setup. It was nice when the pair of seats across the aisle was empty, and I could put my bulky shoulder bag there. The flight didn't have much of a wait to take off from Newark, and arrived in Kansas City early; I had to think with concern about finishing my flights six hours before Margaret.

I had called from Newark to book a taxi. The cab company said I'd need to meet it at the Marriott, taking their shuttle. I had some calls with the dispatch and the driver while I waited for a Marriott shuttle for nearly an hour to no avail. They finally advised me to go in and call the hotel; I'd been worrying whether that was proper when I wasn't staying there. Anyway, that finally got me to the Marriott and the cab, getting home in a rainstorm that I might have beaten if I'd gotten the cab promptly.

Still not fully recovered from the trip, I don't know if I can make final comments. It was a great trip, and great to have Margaret with me. Being together all the time we found that we continue to be comfortable with each other. She loves the thought of basing in Umbertide for slow travel or something more permanent, and I was glad to be part of it even if she sometimes had health slowdowns. I have to consider this a great trip, pointing to much good for the future beyond travel.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Capri Sunday

We had the hotel's nice breakfast, and Margaret was slow in finally getting up. We had the appropriate Insalata Caprese at the hotel. We took the walk to Piazza Vittoria in Anacapri There I had in mind to take the chairlift up Monte Solaro at the top of the island. We boarded it with some terror on my part, but we got to the top and had great views of the island and across the bay to the Sorrento peninsula.

We got back to the hotel, where we had drinks before dining at Il Cucciolo, a seafood specialty restaurant where the hotel arranges a shuttle bus; the ride calls for impressive maneuvers on the narrow sloping two-way streets. It was a nice meal, with the ride coordinated with two other hotel guests who went, and we had a great view of the sunset and the lights coming on over, I think, the Sorrento-Amalfi coastal area.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Getting to Capri

In the last few days in Umbertide, I didn't have my camera out. Margaret was happy to enjoy the time, and would like to have more long-term stays. Our trip to Perugia was just to have a SlowTrav GTG with Tery and Greg, no sightseeing, and we didn't do the usual Assisi trip. We went to the nearby hill town of Montone, eating at the Trattoria del Verziere. We had a last Umbertide dinner at a third ambitious restaurant in less-touristed Umbertide: da Zibu' . We had a juge dish for two of veal shin, getting it wrapped up to have in sandwiches for the next day's train ride.

The next day we had everything packed and needed to drive to Perugia to return the car. We made good use of the GPS to get to a gas station and Perugia station. I feel stress in these situations, but overall it wasn't too bad. There was no place to park in front of the Hertz office, but from previous experience I knew of a lot where I could park it and go to the office, and wait for the agent to check it out. Although I wanted to allow more time, we were 30 minutes ahead. We used the ticket machine to get, we decided, first class tickets. I validated them, and I think the conductor found people who hadn't done that once the trip was under way. We needed to deal with taking our bags down and up stairs with the underpass, located the first class car, and boarded with time for me to rush back to the station bar and get a bottle of water. I'm on the slow train as I write this.

Now updating: the train arrived at new tracks at Roma Termini, 1 and 2 Est, comparable to the Ferrovie Laziali tracks on the other side, set back a distance from the main tracks. We went to the head of the main tracks and had coffee. We found, 30 minutes prior, our train ready, IC 555, which goes to Reggio Calabria. I was expecting the IC train to be in compartments; in fact it was a new train with an open seating area, with 1/2 seating in second class, where we'd gotten a €9 fare. Our assigned seats 65 and 66 were in different rows; we went ahead and sat together, letting the person who eventually turned up take the previously assigned seat. I don't remember if I saw the diagram when I booked those seats, or perhaps the train was scheduled to be in compartments at that point, so we would have been together. Margaret reports a revolting experience in using the lavatory.

We arrived in Naples on time; we'd decided to store Margaret's big bag at the station. Based on what I'd observed at luggage storage in Rome (we weren't putting it there because we'd be coming back to a different station), I expected this would make it sure that we'd miss the earlier possible ferry to Capri. In fact the bag check was quickly done, even though they needed to copy her passport. We took the taxi at the front of the line to Calata Porta di Massa; we had our brief look at the craziness of Naples traffic; this was a Fiat Multipla, where from what I could tell the middle front seat was down and covering the meter, and the driver charged €20. We were in plenty of time for the fast ferry at 17.25, when we had expected that we'd get the slow ferry at 18.35. We got the tickets, and did some searching to find our right ferry, next to a big Norwegian Cruise Line ship.

Boarding meant carrying our bags up a long stairway, and finding seats in the big seating area. I called our hotel, Il Girasole in Anacapri, to alert them when we'd be arriving, so they could send their shuttle. The crossing took a little under an hour; on the phone they mentioned Largo Fontana, which I was worried about finding, but in the crowds on arrival I saw a driver holding a sign for Il Girasole. We got into his little shuttle vehicle, and he described the features of Capri during the harrowing drive. We got a friendly check-in and were helped to our room., exiting to a garden with a room.

We had seen rain on the train to Naples, and the weather on Capri was potentially threatening, but we got this nice view.

One drawback of the hotel is that there is a walk to get to anyplace to eat. We talked about getting to a seafood restaurant that offered a ride, but they needed more notice, so we walked to the Pizzeria Aum Aum. It was nice enough, but Margaret wanted a taxi back, which the waitress called and took it as close as it could (only the narrow shuttle could get close) for €10.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Finally getting out

After some time in the house awaiting various services and when Margaret wasn't feeling the best, we took some trips. One was to Citerna, a hill town just on the Umbria side of the border with Tuscany, which also had an interesting photography show. The view:

A grocery store offered a cold cut plate; I've found this to be a common type of offering:

Today we went to Gubbio, a nice town, and it's especially nice to see Margaret enjoying it. Banners are up from last week's Ceri festival, and there were views with interesting cloud formations:

Historic day: Moving the newsstand

It continued being a slow time as Margaret wasn't feeling the best, but she's gotten better and I'll report on some outings.

In my time in Umbertide going back 40 years, I've been very interested in getting newspapers and magazines from the newsstand on Piazza Matteotti. It was interesting to feel that I was around on the historic occasion when it was dismantled and replaced in a new location. On Sunday night, the owners were packing up the magazines.

On Monday morning, I saw a blowtorch being applied to it; then it was being trucked away.

For the record, there was quite a lot under it.

Later on Monday, I found a new newsstand being set up. For people familiar with Umbertide, it's in front of the park between the Reggia and where the non-food market is set up on Wednesday morning.

And seeing it fully in business.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Slow time in Umbertide

We've mostly just been around the house in Umbertide and seeing friends. Adding some pictures of the house and the Wednesday market.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Getting to Umbertide

Saturday was our departure from Rome. I had booked a rental car to pick up at Termini, with worries about the drive from there to our apartment, and the parking when we loaded the luggage. The previous night, we saw the Baci da Roma owner at the restaurant; she said it could work out, including getting the complex's garage opened. In the morning I found the doorman, who said it could be done when I got back with the car.

I took the Roma-Giardinetti train to Termini, went to the Hertz counter, and there was a line. It took time to get to the front, I got the paperwork done, and was sent with keys to the garage down the street where I was to get a garage exit ticket at the ground floor office and take the elevator to the 7th floor to get the car, a VW Golf. I did that, I had my GPS good for Italy on me, but the battery had no charge and I'd left the charger at the apartment. I'd studied the route pretty well and made it without mistakes, just impatient drivers behind me and the harrowing changes of lane needed around Porta Maggiore. I found parking in the median; that was enough for me to find Margaret in the apartment and get the bags down.

I plugged the GPS in and followed directions. The route I'd studied had us going out on the A24; the GPS had me take the Tangenziale/Via Olimpica to Via Salaria to get to the G.R.A. and A1. We had a smooth ride to the Orte exit; with the later start than planned, it was time to stop for lunch. I exited at Narni Scalo, where there was a ride to take before we got to the town (the Scalo in the valley, not the hill town) and had a self-service selection at the Paprika bar-restaurant. Then it was a smooth enough ride to Umbertide.

The keys that I brought worked. We settled in, but the wi-fi wasn't working. We went out to market and had our walks around town. When I wanted to put the car into long-term parking, I found that most of that space had been taken by a new park relating to the walk along the Reggia stream, which had basically been a drainage ditch and was now prettied up:

Sunday and Monday we settled into town, seeing old friends, and getting prompt service for an unmentionable plumbing problem and the wi-fi connection. We're looking for a nice slow stay here.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday: the Sistine in a Dream

I learned yesterday of a city transit strike today. We started the morning slowly, and I saw some buses and trams go by, most going to the garage, but some in service. Going by Porta Maggiore.

We walked to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele and tried to catch a cab on this transit strike day. While I was on hold with one of the switchboards, an available one showed up. We went to Campo de' Fiori, and ate at La Carbonara, which she wanted. Good memories and o.k., but I think it's declined. She did some shopping, and we visited the Pantheon, a great place, and it's been decades since I've been inside. Then some time at a café nearby.

She really wanted to see the Sistine Chapel; I warned her about the current state of the crowds, but when I learned, I think from Sandra, about the Friday evening openings for this season, I booked us to go there at 7. It's questionable whether I should have had us walk with time approaching, since she was aggravating her ankle injury. The approach to Castel Sant' Angelo:

We got to the Vatican Museums entrance, and found the line for people with 7 p.m. reservations. We got in through the entrance new to me. We went straight to the Sistine Chapel, without being in position to run. It was amazing to see the Chapel almost empty, and admire the art without the crowds. We were getting, from what I could tell, only the natural light, so it was interesting not to see the effects of the post-restoration bright colors so much. A very memorable experience for the current time.

With a bit of a wait, we found a taxi to take us home. We've come to like the Miseria e Nobilta restaurant under the apartment, a hangout for the residential neighborhood, with karaoke tonight.

That ends our stay in Rome; off to the Umbertide house in the morning.

Full day to start in Rome

A busy day; I'll try to be brief. Thursday, our first interest of the day was to get to the Centro Storico. At Piazza di Porta Maggiore, at a tabaccaio we got transit passes for the day for €4 each. Rather than the bus, we took the Roma-Giardinetti train, which is really a tram, in this section operating on the street (via Giolitti) but ending at the Ferrovie Laziali section of Termini station. We split a panino in the station bar rather than planning a full lunch, and boarded express bus 40, to Largo Argentina. We cheated a little more on a rich calzone at Il Delfino.

Great memories for Margaret to see Piazza Navona. People were gathered an apparent fashion model on a shoot.

We went through more familiar streets to Campo de' Fiori.
Sat down at a café on Piazza Farnese, and walked down via Monserrato, seeing our old school building: it has changed.

We turned around and went to the Campidoglio museum for the Lux in Arcana show, the Vatican's secret archives. We got tickets and had a bathroom need. Being directed to that, we followed signs upstairs to the show. It was a small show on preservation matters, such as dealing with document deterioration. This was what the whole widely promoted show was? I thought we had some time to visit the main museums. Then I saw that the main show was near the entrance; we'd just seen a final technical section. The main show had important documents like Galileo's recantation and on matters with the end of the Papal States.

At the Campidoglio:

We had our booked tour of Palazzo Valentini, where there are recent excavations of an ancient Roman house. There was confusion as we walked down glass steps on top of historic steps. Fascinating, although the TripAdvisor rating of it as the number 1 sight in Rome may reflect more ratings because it's new rather than objective fact. Margaret was feeling her old ankle injury flaring up.

The full day ended with a get-together at Piperno with Slow Travelers Sandra and Heidi. I'd known of Piperno as a well-regarded restaurant in the Jewish Ghetto; it was nice to have their specialties including carciofi alla giudia and gnocchi, as well as meeting with nice people.

We went to Largo Argentina to catch the two buses that we planned, but Margaret said to go ahead and get a taxi, so the transit pass was not put to good use. Still, it was nice to get promptly to our apartment at the end of this full day.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Flights and surprise on arrival in Rome

Noting while I'm offline: The flight to Chicago was on a United CRJ-200, a cramped regional jet, but it was short enough not to be too painful, and it was on time. Unlike most of their RJ flights, it arrived at the main Terminal 1, concourse C, with the design evoking grand old train stations. I have three hours to wait for Margaret's arrival, and don't know much about that flight's status; for now I'll just count on everything working right.

The flight, scheduled for 7.30, arrived at 7.50. I was getting worried about getting to our departure gate in time for the international cutoff for the 8.50 departure. We took the underpass between concourses C and B and went to the Lufthansa boarding gate at the far end of B. An agent said Margaret's carry-on had to be checked, and he let us sit in a special sitting area for preboards. We got to preboard, and when boarding was complete there was a couple behind us whom Margaret met on the flight from Sacramento; they were also going to Rome. It was nice to meet them.

The aircraft, an A340, was reasonably comfortable in Economy. The lavatories were on a lower level, nice that waiting passengers weren't in regular aisles. I took the dinner choice of curried chicken. It's different than usual having Margaret with me, but I got a fair amount of sleep.

The arrival in Munich was scheduled for 12.50; we were early, landing at 12.15, and getting to the gate at 12.30. The arrangement was simlar to Frankfurt; we disembarked on the upper non-Schengen level and walked the length of it, clearing passport control, then went downstairs to the Schengen level. We went through an area of several shops and an airy gate area. I was surprised that there was no security check; they relied on our TSA clearance in the U.S.

Margaret got an iPhone plan that seemed to be a good deal, although I'm skeptical. We got euros at the ATM. We asked to get seats together and for Margaret to preboard. That boarding gate had stairs down to the tarmac where we were the first to board the bus. Our preboard status wasn't much help in getting off the bus and taking stairs to board the plane; our new seats were in row 7, towards the front. We were served cake. I'm writing this onboard as we're on target for an on-time arrival at 4.30 p.m.

We arrived. and baggage claim at Fiumicino airport was surprisingly fast. We had reserved a car and driver with Rome Shuttle Limousine; the driver was there and took us to the Mercedes. We were reserved at the Baci da Roma B&B ; even though the area south of Termini isn't a favorite of mine, I was intrigued by the rooms evoking fashion and pop culture icons. Just to be extra sure, I called the owner while we were on the way; she said there was a complication with the room and asked me to give the phone to the driver. She asked him to take us to an alternate nearby location. We got there and the owner said the previoius guest had left with the key; even though they had other keys, she couldn't guarantee the safety of the place, especially if the guest had lost the key. So we were booked in a 2-bedroom apartment with kitchen, a more complete space, in the same general area but beyond Porta Maggiore, and so outside the Aurelian Walls. We'll see how it goes; we had our first meal in Italy in a restaurant downstairs from the apartment.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Taking off to Rome

Margaret and I are at our respective airports, ready to join on the trip to Rome. So far we're showing our flights on schedule to Chicago, where we connect to Munich and Rome. There's the confusing matter of when we get the boarding passes for Lufthansa after the first United segment. United could check us in online but not print boarding passes unless our passports were scanned in their system. Then when I got to Kansas City airport, the check-in counter just gave me the United pass; for LH they gave cards saying "This is not a boarding pass." They said the gate counter might help. I asked there and they gave me the LH passes.

Meanwhile, Margaret got all her passes; we compared notes and, in spite of my having asked LH to link our reservations, our seats were separate for the Munich-Rome flight, where seat assignments open only when check-in opens. So we'll wait and see if we can get that sorted with Lufthansa somewhere. That's it, I don't think I'll be posting until Rome.