To see my tribute to Flo, go here

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

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.

Last day in Rome

Monday, the last day in Rome, included a change of hotels.  The included breakfast at the Bolivar let us get a great view of roofs of Rome from the breakfast room.
In the morning, we strolled up via Nazionale, noting the city buses decked with flags, indicating, from my memories 40 years back, either a holiday or a state visit.  I was expecting it to be the latter, looking for clues around the Quirinale, but from what I later understood it was Europe Day.

We went to the show about Correggio and Parmigianino at the Scuderie del Quirinale, interesting, about our only look at art on this trip, and also liked the city views that we got.

We were approaching check-out time at the Bolivar, and got them to call a taxi for our next hotel, the Indigo St. George.  That taxi came and took us to the neighborhood of the school where Margaret and I first met.

Our room was available for an early check-in.  This was a free night for having the affiliated credit card; staff were friendly, and the rooms had fun decorations, ours with the old-style Fiat 500.

Within minutes of settling in, there was a knock on the door and a lady brought us a bottle of Prosecco, because in filling out our preferences online before our arrival, I said the occasion was our anniversary (hey, close enough to the date).

We had our look at the two locations of the school; here is the first.

And we had our final Roman meal at La Carbonara on Campo de' Fiori: generally good Roman dishes, although the place may have declined some.  Then follows Piazza Navona.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

And on to Rome

Our last full day in Umbertide was our anniversary.  We talked about going to Assisi, but finally we just completed the time staying in the Umbertide area.  We had a lunch in the nearby country house of Poggiomanente, confusing because I remembered it being on the right side of the road, and there was a big sign there, but when we pulled in there was a car with a driver directing us to follow him to the new location down the road on the left side. We went there and had a nice meal with truffle pasta.

We closed down the house and had an early departure to get to Rome by the promised return time.  There was the fear that goes with driving in Rome; with help from the GPS, I found my way to the Hertz return garage open on Sunday, on via Sardegna.  I’d studied the street view and saw separate entrances for Avis and Budget on one hand, and Hertz and Europcar on the other.  The problem was that there were two cars facing out and blocking the entrance to the Hertz side.  I was reluctantly preparing to turn into the Avis side when a car pulled out of the Hertz side so we could get in.  An attendant (I hope the right one?) checked us in.  

Then I was hoping to use the IT TAXI app on Margaret’s iPad to call a taxi using our location setting.  I was getting an error message on that.  Of the numbers I know, I called 065551, got an operator who kept us on hold, then said there were no cabs to be found.  I called 063570 and stayed on hold without getting an operator.  We went to a cross street where we’d seen several cabs pass.  When one passed, the driver had passengers but advised us to call 060609.  I called this, and gave the address with voice recognition, glad my accent wasn’t too bad.  They connected me to a nearby driver, who was the one who had driven by.

He came by and picked us up; he explained that this was a busy Sunday with a marathon in addition to other sports and crowds going to the Vatican.  Our hotel, the Comfort Hotel Bolivar, is in a small alley where the driver had trouble getting.  We got there and were glad to find the room ready and on the ground floor.

We got ready and left by taxi for Di Rienzo by the Pantheon.  We had a get-together with people we knew from the SlowTrav group.  There was an endless assortment of food, very entertaining, then we spent time at members’ rented apartment.  That took us to the evening.

Pictures from Città Di Castello and in Rome around the Pantheon:

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Getting to Umbertide, first week there

We’ve arrived in Umbertide, and for this week one reason I haven’t blogged is that the Wi-Fi hasn’t worked in the house.  We pay for it for the time we aren’t here, and for the brief time we’re here we need to wait for a service call.  Today it’s finally done.

On my usual transportation theme, we loaded the car in Grimaud, then getting out of town was a problem I’d rather forget.  Anyway, we weren’t delayed too much, and we made our return trip through the many tunnels and past Genoa.  We had an Autogrill stop with pasta al pesto.  I had thought that, if the drive took a lot longer than expected, we’d stop for the night in Lucca.  It was around 3 when we went by there, and we were ready to complete the trip to Umbertide.  We got it done, finding the house nice except for Wi-Fi and TV reception.  For the Internet, we used the hotspot capabilities of the local SIM on Margaret’s iPad, but we ate through the allowance quickly and needed to get more data.

Beyond that, we worked, in a small way, through matters of the house becoming mine, a difficult matter to sink in.  We know how my mother’s presence is felt in the house and around town.  We've stayed in Umbertide the whole time, and it’s been fine not to be too ambitious.  We’ve had great times visiting with friends and in the familiar shops.  

There could be more to report, but pictures of the Wednesday market generally make for a good conclusion.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


It was Margaret's birthday, and we made our excursion to St- Tropez.  The traffic was intense; I directed the TomTom GPS to the Parc des Lices garage for this once-in-50-years trip. There were vehicles crowding into the entrance from multiple directions. A van with Dutch plates cut in front of us, the passenger found it was too tall, and made us back up to let them out with people behind us. 

We found the busy Place des Lices market, went around there, and to a harbor café.  We didn't have lunch plans that were too ambitious, selected Le G for a pleasant birthday meal. 

The GPS took us down a narrow street that I wasn't sure was correct, but we wound up OK, including some extra circling of roundabouts. 

Back in Grimaud, for the evening, we hoped to go to a nearby creperie, but there seems to be a problem of limited places being open Monday and Tuesday. We wound with a pizza, not great. It's hard to review this full Grimaud stay, but it was an interesting return. Pictures:

Monday, April 25, 2016

Memories, getting to Grimaud

  Although the setup for the marathon appeared to allow traffic in one direction, we decided to leave the apartment before the start, go to the front of the train station, and get a taxi to the airport. At a fixed fare of 25 euros on Sunday, we got there much earlier than our scheduled pickup time, and sat with coffee for that time so the return time in Rome would be right. 

When we got the car, it was a Fiat 500L like last time, but automatic, which is overall preferable, especially without owing a supplement. It is a confusing type of automatic; with one setup it's semi and calls for shifting, although it doesn't have a clutch.

We took the autostrada-autoroute with some tie-ups on the Italian side. I planned a lunch stop for the last Autogrill on the Italian side; it turned out to be a snack bar with sandwiches. The tollbooth took a credit card at the staffed booth. Not many cars were crossing the border. In France there were three lanes in each direction all the way.  There were three booths that took a fixed toll, then a short segment with a ticket to hand in. 

I found my way close to La Maison du Prince, where we were staying. We checked into this small historic B&B. Wi-Fi is not that strong, and I'm typing this on the iPhone where I'm not used to typing much of length. The lady was maybe wanting to be too helpful in directing me where to park, but it's worked out well overall. 

We did a little exploration of the village of Grimaud, my house was not as I remembered it.  We had dinner at the restaurant I remembered, l'Ecurie de la Marquise, very nice with steak as it got crowded with the colorful waiter, speaking so many languages, needing to give attention so many places. 

In the morning, a bit more exploration of Grimaud, then a trip to the other picturesque village of Ramtuelle. We had lunch there at Saveurs Sincères, a burrata of mozzarella with truffles. Resting it off, here are a few pictures from Grimaud. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Genoa, over too fast

We woke up to a rainy day, our las day in Genoa.  For indoor attractions, we thought of the Aquarium and Palazzo Ducale, choosing the latter in the hope of some wandering of the Centro Storico.  

The Palazzo is a historic building that regularly has special exhibitions.  First we had coffee inside, then went to the show of Salgado photographs, great views of nature and primitive peoples.  

Then we wandered the small rainy streets a little, before finding the restaurant Da Ugo.  Had a nice meal there, green pasta with pesto and potatoes and green beans.  Then deep-fried baccalà (cod).   Even if the place looked modest, the price was about double that of Da Mario near us.  

Even though the rain had let up, we were ready to return home, and would leave Genoa without a whole lot of sightseeeing.  When we got home, in some of my browsing I found word of a half-marathon scheduled for tomorrow.  It will close our street, and it's hard to get word of whether we can get the bus to the airport to get our rental car.  I even caught a driver of the bus today, and he wasn't sure; no alternate routes have been announced.  I hope that, before the race starts, we'll be able to cross the street to the station, and get a train and shuttle bus, avoiding street traffic where the marathon is..

Here are some pictures of the rainy Centro Storico and a multi-ethnic street near where we're staying.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Settling in Genoa

Rough notes about our arrival in Genoa:  nice apartment in a multi-ethnic neighborhood near Principe station and the harbor.  Nice eating at the modest Trattoria Da Mario around the corner.

Main outings involved thinking of getting a smartphone for Italy at the main TIM store on the main shopping street, via XX Settembre.  When the model we'd chosen wasn't available, rather than make a rash decision while jet-lagged we slept on it and decided to go back to the last trip's plan and get an Italian SIM for Margaret's iPad.  

We also made two productive trips to the covered market, Mercato Orientale.  Yesterday we got a 24-hour pass for public transport, then today we found the metro shut down by a strike, and took taxis.  

Otherwise we've wandered around our neighborhood, and have one more day to wander the Centro Storico.  I have these pictures of the tiles under the porticos on via XX Settembre, the market, and the cruise ship terminal.

Getting to Italy

I was composing my account of the travel while in flight, and the file seems to be gone.  I’ll try to redo the basics of what I usually report.

First, we had a regional jet flight from Kansas City to New York LaGuardia. We’d been unable to check in online; it turned out the reason was a space in our last name on our passports, which was different from how American Airlines had it.  The flight went well, although we can see LGA’s bad reputation.  We hoped to get a Lyft ride, using a friend’s promo code, but I kept running into failures, for a weak connection or whatever, and went back to our established relation with Uber, found that car in the chaotic traffic in front of the terminal, and got a good ride.

At JFK we got in at a time of light activity for that terminal.  At a set of kiosks, a man started to help as Margaret asked for a wheelchair and we needed to recheck our bags.  There was a wait for that and, although we already had our boarding passes, we ran into the problem again of the space in our names. 

With the bags checked, the wheelchair assistant got us through security, chaotic even at that time of otherwise light activity at that terminal.  We were still six hours before departure, and planned to go to the Admirals Club, buying a 30-day membership, which would be useful also on our return.  I already knew that one of the two clubs was under renovation and we went to the other one, but precisely because of that renovation, the lounge dragon (term in common use) told us that they were not selling 30-day memberships there.

If we’d known that, that might have changed our plans not to leave the airport.  The attendant offered to have us stay in the wheelchair lounge, back in the other concourse.  He described it as comfortable, but when we got there, it had the atmosphere of a doctor’s cramped waiting room,and we were quickly out.  We found one place to sit down for lunch, stayed in that quiet concourse for a bit, then we went back to the other concourse with our gate, and the time didn’t drag on too much.

We had the excitement of boarding a transatlantic flight.  A large number of the passengers were Hasidic or other Orthodox Jews, we later learned on an extended family reunion trip to northern Italy.  We’d ordered one special meal, served quickly as there was a large number of special meals.  We got a decent amount of sleep.

We landed at Milan Malpensa and got to the gate at 8.30, 10 minutes late,and were hoping for everything to go well to make a train from the airport at 9.43.  We had a wheelchair waiting, and a big advantage was that attendant took us through passport control in the crew line, letting us bypass a long line.  Delivery of bags was being held up because the carousel was getting too full with the passengers still at passport control.  We eventually got the bags, and the attendant got us to the train station with time to spare.  He had me go to the staffed ticket window, where the agent, working for Trenord, only sold the tickets to Milano Centrale.  There was a machine for selling the tickets with seat assignments from Milan to Genoa.  I used the credit card that I had set up with a PIN, which that machine asked for.

The ride to Centrale went well, arriving at a track at the edge of the station.  With 45 minutes for the connection, we wanted to stop for a cappuccino, which appeared to call for leaving the platform area.  We got that, and re-entered the area, which now requires showing tickets.  Our train was the Thello, which continues into France.  That train went well, with a delay at the end.

We arrived at Genova Piazza Principe.  There was an elevator from the platform to the underpass, and we found our way to the via Andrea Doria exit from the station, just across from our booked apartment building.  We got the building manager, who showed us to our booked apartment, which looked fine.  The journey was complete.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sadness, with more changes of plans

On January 10, 2016, my mother died following a stroke that she had over the Christmas period.  It is difficult to think of writing a full tribute, but it's impossible to measure the full scope of her influence on my life as a traveler.  Her interest in living in Europe meant that I spent formative years there.  My quick picking up of skills in practical matters such as navigation and transportation schedules complemented her talents in showing appreciation of the beauty of the places and picking up on local culture.  Margaret and I will look at our upcoming trip as a tribute to her as we revisit places where I lived with her.  In particular the trip to Grimaud will be interesting as I go back after so long and have conflicted views of my year there at 13.

So we've seen the consequences of making a booking so long in advance, that we continued to be notified of flight schedule changes.   Seeing where I left off in the last post on the flight changes.  In toying around with airfare sites as I often do, I found that the Kansas City-Miami flight was back on the schedule for our date of travel.  I called to see if we could get changed back to that, our original booking, regardless of SAAver award availability.  This agent was very helpful, calling another department to force a second award seat on the Miami-Milan flight, and it looked like a good booking for a comfortable trip.

Then the next day, I got an email of a new schedule change:  the flight from Miami would leave at 5.30 p.m. instead of 2.20, giving us seven hours in Miami.  We could take advantage of that with an outing to South Beach, but the later arrival in Milan would also be something of a concern in how we would get to Genoa.

Go ahead a couple of more months, and on the evening of my mother's death the airline sent a new email:  KC-Miami was off the schedule again, and they had us booked via Miami with a connection at Dallas/Fort Worth that was too short for comfort.  While trying to deal with getting back into routine things, I had to consider what effort I could make to get the least bad rebooking, which be going back to the option via Washington and the change of New York airports.  Then award availability turned up on the KC-LaGuardia flight, where service will just be starting two weeks before then.  I got that booking changed:  we'll go via New York, a change of airports but not an extra stop.

We'll have 7.5 hours to make the airport change.  We may just spend the time from getting to JFK in their Admirals Club, considering the hassle and transportation costs of leaving the airport, even for lunch within Queens.

We've also completed bookings at an apartment rental in Genoa, and a B&B in Grimaud, the limited option of staying in the village rather than the country or the faux fishing village of Port Grimaud.  The other thing that threw us for a loop was that I discovered that the Intercontinental Hotel de la Ville in Rome, where we were going to spend our last night on a program free night, would be closing down before we got there.  I was able to change that free night to the Indigo on via Giulia, in the area where Margaret and I went to school, so that should be nice.  At the time that I understand that people with reservations were notified of the closing, I couldn't have gotten that award night.  It has paid to keep looking at travel sites and boards.