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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.


  1. I'm so glad to read your conclusion, that you felt you had a great trip and that you and Margaret are so compatible. It was such a pleasure to meet you both when you first arrived in Rome!