Love Charmsuite Roma

I love it when Jack and I discover a hotel that is reasonably priced, close to everything a city has to offer and managed by folks that make us feel like family. When we are in Milano we stay in our Milanese home away from home – Il Girasole High Quality Inn. Now, I am excited to have finally discovered such a place in Rome!  Our Roman home away from home will be Charmsuite.

Charmsuite literally found us. Isabella, a New Jersey pal of mine, invited us to meet her Italian architect friend.  Over dinner we discovered that the charming Ruggero Donati was not only an incredible designer/architect but was quite entrepreneurial.  He and a group of friends rehabbed a large space in a 16th century Centro Storico building. Raffaello Charmsuite has four rooms for rent that all include a kitchenette and are bigger than some New York City studio apartments. A painting of namesake Raffaello festoons each elegantly appointed room/suite.  Even though the rooms are large, comfortable and easy to hang out in, what makes Charmsuite a home away from home are the folks who manage it.

Alessandra and Carla answered all my questions in advance including alerting me to their pick up service.  Wow, having a driver that costs less than a taxi meet us at the airport, help schlep the bags and deliver us to the door made me feel like a classy chick.  Our driver was so helpful, he even found a Mail Boxes ETC for me and drove by it. (When we are taking a train, we ship our suitcases ahead of us.)  Alessandra warmly welcomed us and showed us to our room.  Ruggero has created unique room configurations.  The kitchenettes were concealed in furniture, beds float in the middle of the room creating a second usable space behind a half wall.  Some suites are large enough for families.  Alessandra speaks a number of languages.  Her English is perfect, yet she was willing to let me speak Italian and gently correct me.  She told us where to shop to stock our refrigerator, how to take the bus to explore areas further out and how to navigate the transit system.  When we left we exchanged numbers and I hope we see her again.

Charmsuite is located at Via del Banco di Santo Spirito, 21, 00186 Roma RM.  That means you can walk to just about any site you’d like to see or grab a bus and explore further out. Piazza Novana, filled with cafes, is a short walk away.  In three minutes we walked across the bridge to visit Castle S. Angelo and afterward made a quick right and found ourselves at the Vatican.

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We climbed to the top of Castel S. Angelo and loved the view of the Vatican.

We were in Rome the first week in December and friends who were on their way to visit us in Pontelandolfo stayed there the second week.  Cindy tells me that she loved the fact that she could spend the day walking and eating, eating and walking.  They walked everywhere, including the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps.  I will admit that after our flight I mostly slept, went to good restaurants and explored all the little narrow neighborhood streets.   We did discover a wonderful museum, Museo Napoleonico, that featured art and furniture from the Napoleonic period.  As we drifted in – it was free – we discovered a classical concert was to start! What a lucky day for us. We had a great Roman holiday.

Next time we are in Rome, we will stay at Charmsuite, our Roman home away from home.

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Cindy relaxes after a day of exploring Rome.
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Norwegian Air Gets You There

Up in the air junior bird man.  Remember when flying was as easy peasy as putting your thumb and pointer fingers together to make a mask out of your two hands and then, with mask in place, singing and zooming around the house?  Sigh, how I long for those days.  Now it is surfing the web for air fares, thinking you found a deal and then pulling out your hair as your dates won’t work.  Errrrggggg.  With an extended family that we adore deciding they should all be getting married this year, we have been flying back and forth to Italy more than normal.  That meant one of us had to handle the insanity that is ticket buying.  Thank God, Jack enjoys the hunt and doesn’t cave under the price chase pressure.

This flight back Jack booked us on “low cost” (their website words not mine) Norwegian Air.  Compared to our usual flights in premium economy seats, we saved about $1500.  

WHAT A BIG LIE! – BECAUSE WE SAVED $1500 we promptly booked a hotel in Rome for four days, first class train tickets to Benevento and ate in great Roman restaurants – What?  Jack is reading over my shoulder AGAIN and says the air fare savings is the story.  Stick to the story.  Beh.

Norwegian Air now flies directly to Rome from Newark – a much easier airport for us to get to.  So for a base price of $959 for two premium economy tickets one way, Jack started shopping.  Of course the $959 number was only good after we wanted to go.  Our tickets form Newark to Rome cost $1293.  Getting back next year will cost us the $959.  Still pretty cheap.  Jack bought the $32 priority boarding privilege.  Not bad. Then you add on the airport fees – eleven different fees to be exact.  What the hell is Council City Tax (HB) or US APHIS FEE (XA)?  Smack the fees on and our price for two  premium economy seats  was $2535.

 

Why not cram four bags and two computer bags into Tony’s car?

The Norwegian Experience —-

Tony and Andrea once again drag our suitcases to the curb and kiss us good-bye.  We were there the requisite three hours early and were the only folks at the Norwegian Air counter.  The woman who helped us was charming and fun.  We dumped our luggage and headed for the included Arts Lounge. This is the “First Class” lounge for a slew of low cost airlines.  We discovered that Premium Economy is also considered First Class by Norwegian air.  Actually, they only have two classes on a plane – couch and premium.  The lounge was incredibly full of furniture and people speaking a babel’s worth of languages.  The chairs were comfortable and they had a hot buffet.  Did I mention that our flight was leaving after 11:00 PM?  Snacks, wines, sparkling wines, beers, hot food and comfortable seats – hmmm next time we should come earlier.

I read our tickets and realized that the flight was operated by Privilege Style.  A quick google resulted in our knowing that this was a charter company that offers flights on behalf of other companies.  Gulp.  Maybe we need to cancel the flight or just walk to Pontelandolfo.  The ever tranquil Jack brought me another glass of something alcoholic and said it was an adventure.

We easily got through TSA and went to the appropriate gate.  At 11:00 PM I noted there wasn’t any plane at the gate.  A glance at the call board didn’t even have a flight listed.  I had to restrain my Jersey girl bully and started to get up to find out the story.  Suddenly, an announcement was made to the 100 of us sitting at the gate.  “Norwegian Flight 7194 was leaving from the other f%&^ing side of the airport – RUN.”  No, they didn’t say that but they should have.  We all got up and power walked to the other side of the terminal.  There this line of pissed off people calmly – NOT – went through the TSA drill for a second time.  Our priority boarding fee wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.  By the time we got to the right gate they were boarding everyone.

Then we turned left into the plane.  Our seat – my God our seats – they were the size and shape of Business Class seats on other airlines.  There was a security screen that Jack could raise between our seats so I couldn’t talk to him.  The seats reclined flat and bed like.  There was tons of leg and wide butt room.  Cozy and comfortable.  Each of us was given a very Nordic throw to keep us warm.  Pillow?  Nope.  Headphones to watch the video screens?  Nope. Cute little bag with earplugs and eye shades?  Nope.  But hey it was cheap and I carry all that on anyway – well not the pillow.   I put on my eyeshades, plugged up my ear and slide the seat down to bed.  Ahhhh – what is that I hear – a cocktail cart.  Whisk, I was up and had my hand out.  Sorry no Scotch.  They had wines, beer and sparkling wines.  I sipped my Prosecco and went back to sleep mode.  About an hour later my nose woke me up sniffing hot food.  I vowed since this was a red-eye flight I wasn’t going to eat but the smell – – –

We both had pretty tasty salmon, salads and I don’t remember – oh year a funny messy bunch yummy potato thing.  All was served in a cardboard box with plastic cutlery.  Remember this is a low-cost carrier.  Since my earplugs weren’t compatible with the entertainment system, I popped open my iPad and watched the movie I had downloaded.  Actually, I will make sure to always do this.  Than, the choice is really mine.  After the movie, the mask was back, ears were plugged and the big snooze happened for a few hours.

At 11:30 AM Italy time, we were all woken up to the scent of coffee.  Instead of breakfast, we got a cardboard box of a brunch thing – teeny tiny pigeonesq eggs, salad, salami, salad covered in crumbly cheese and mild Nordic cheese.  Not the best food – remember this is a low-cost airline.  Correction – Jack said the food was good!

Would we fly them again?  Hell yeah – the seats went flat and were big.  Will I let Jack convince me to drop a bundle on a mini Roman holiday?  Hell — maybe.

Ci Vediamo!

PS – This is the time to register for 2019 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo!

 

An Accidental Visit to Basilica di S. Ambrogio

The sun was shining, the air was clear and we were energized to take the Metropolitana to the Duomo. Every time we come to Milano, like tourist lemmings we head for the Piazza Duomo, gawk at the Gothic marvel constructed of pink veined white marble and enjoy the energy of the crowd.

The outside is amazing. The facade features more than 3,200 statues. We have stared and created narratives to go with some of them. Today, we were determined to see the inside of this incredible house of worship.

Have I ever mentioned that I run from hordes of tourists? That backpacks attack me? That lines that go on forever are not enticing? Now, we knew it might be crowded. It was after all a glorious December day but we had no idea…

First clue – the armed guards at every door. Second clue – long lines waiting to get into the church. I asked when the next mass was and if you had to stand in line for that. The guard put his hand on his gun and looked at me. We went to the back of the line and discovered that to go inside the Duomo you had to buy a ticket. Ok. Ok. We can do that. Where the hell is the ticket booth? We wandered around the gigantic exterior and across a side street finally saw the ticket and Duomo souvenirs store. Upon entering I was handed a number – 40. I was number 40 in the longissimo queue to buy a ticket to stand in a two hour line to wander with a pazillion people in the duomo. NOT!

I remembered reading about the quality of art and architecture of Basilica di Sant’ Ambrogio, pulled out my map and dragged Jack in that direction. Boy, am I glad I did! It wasn’t a short walk but it got us out of the tourist crunch and into a neighborhood. The amount of graffiti I see in Milano confounds me. We were in, what appeared to be, an upper middle class neighborhood and there were graffiti tags everywhere. Tired of walking and ready for wine and sustenance, we happened upon Caffe’ Della Pusterla (Via De Amicis, 22). Yummy, friendly and full of local folks who were happy to help us on our journey to Sant’Ambrogio. We both had Stinco e Patate – pork shin, think ham hock braised to perfection and served with lemon roasted potatoes. I flashed back to my grandmother’s Sunday dinners. Ahhhh. After a great meal, wine and the local digestivo – Fernet – we set off to the Basilica.

Coming upon the complex, I felt like I was stepping back centuries. Saint Ambrose (Sant’ Ambrogio) is the patron saint of Milan and was the driving force behind getting the building done. The church, originally built between 379-386 A.D., is a great example of Romanesque Style.

For great pictures – CLICK HERE. The Basilica’s website has a super surround view gallery.

Today, the Basilica of Saint Ambrose’s crypt is the final resting place of the patron saint. It is below the main church, in an area called the “Tesoro di Sant’Ambrogio”. Numerous martyrs from Roman times have also been buried there. For €2 you can head down to the Tesoro see the Basilica’s artifacts. We walked through the iron gate, paid our €2 and slowly walked through the exhibit of gold and silver artifacts and other objects of high artistic and religious value from the 13th to 19th centuries. The works of art that had the greatest impact on me, were not made of gold, silver, silk or jewels but of found objects, scraps of cloth and stolen pieces of wood.

In 1944, Italian soldiers who were held at Wietzendorf, a German Concentration Camp, created this nativity scene. Determined not to compromise on their religion, these brave men created something special with a Boy Scout knife, small pair of scissors and door hinge as a hammer. We joined another couple staring at the installation, soon tears were sliding down all our cheeks.

Leave Piazza Duomo behind and visit the Basilica di S. Ambrogio located at Piazza S. Ambrogio 15. You don’t need a ticket and there aren’t any lines. All you will find is a pleasant opportunity to explore a historic venue in a great neighborhood.

Ci Vediamo!

Baci, Baci! Irregular Regulars

Baci, baci! Grand abbraccio! Kiss, kiss, big hugs. Within half an hour after landing at Malpensa in Milano, Jack and I were embraced by Milanese warmth and passion. Right off the plane we were welcomed back with gusto. For us, the hugs started at the Taxi queue. Since we were traveling with four – count them 4 – giant bags, we wanted the next mini van in line. Bentornati, welcome back, echoed from the cache of drivers waiting for fares. Three helped our driver put the hernia inducing bags in his van. One stole his keys, which – after a bit of kibitzing about why does he always get the bella gente, nice people – were returned. Bentornati? Who did they think we were? How could they know us? My kind husband smirked and noted that I chat up everyone, how could they not remember us? The standard fare from Malpensa to the city center is €95. After the driver belly lugged our bags to the door of the hotel, I handed him €100. He thanked me profusely and gave me a big hug. Bentornati!

We rang the bell at Il Girasole High Quality Inn’s portone (humongous door blocking the complex from the street) and announced ourselves. Midge, Jack Bentornati! The words rang out before the door was fully open. Nicola Negruzzi, one of the vivacious owners of our favorite little hotel, pulled open the door and wrapped me in a cocoon like embrace. Next, Jack’s turn for a huge hug. Whenever we come to Milano – which is about once a year – we stay at Il Girasole. Co-owner, Matteo Negruzzi came in – saw us – and….. Bentornati! Baci, baci, grande abbraccio. Big hugs and kisses to both of us. Matteo reminded us that Il Girasole is our Milanese home away from home.

Jack and Matteo

We always truck over to Mail Boxes ETC and ship our suitcases to Pontelandolfo. If we are arriving from the states and off on other adventures, it makes sense to off load some of the baggage. Jack schlepped the bags over the threshold of the store and the owner joined the Bentornati chorus. He knew exactly why we were there, whipped out the right forms, asked where we were off too and guaranteed our luggage would make it home before we did.

Up the street and around the corner is Tony’s, an inexpensive restaurant that serves pretty good fish and just about anything else you could find in a higher end local place. We walked in, asked for a table for two, took off our coats and whomp – heard Bentornati! The waiter looked at us and said – New Jersey right? Glad you’re back – but you always come back!

I could give you two more examples – Vineria San Giovanni and the Restaurant Mamma Lina – but you get the drift.

Wow – I must look like someone famous! In high school I could pass for Sally Fields in her flying nun phase and once in an airport Jack was confused for Tom Wilkenson (British actor). Maybe we give off a famous person auro? Baaammm – then it hit me. We are irregular regulars! There is no schedule. No one knows when we will return to Quartiere Villa San Giovanni, this friendly Milanese neighborhood. We are absolutely irregular regulars!

Except to see the sites, listen to music and window shop, we avoid the tourist packed historic center of Milan. A few years ago, thanks to Nonna’s Mulberry Tree subscriber Lynn Y., we got turned on to Il Girasole. Located at Via Doberdò 19, close to Metro stop Villa San Giovanni, the hotel has all the bells and whistles of the big guys – free wi-fi, parking, more than continental breakfast and incredible staff. Every time we fly to Italy through Milan or venture north with our car, we stop and stay in this neighborhood populated by real people and featuring non tourist prices in restaurants and shops. At il Girasole, my favorite room is somehow always available for us. The afternoon registration ritual turns into aperitivo e spuntino and we like the local eateries. Bam – irregular regulars.

Becoming an irregular regular sort of comes naturally to me. I like things that are familiar and good. If the service, price and goods are great – why not go back?! Are you wondering how folks remember us? The former mayor of Princeton, Barbara Sigmund, taught me a great politicians trick – stick out your hand and say your name. Then make sure you get the waiters, store owners, etc. name and use it a few times while you are there. Of course, ten minutes later don’t ask me their names but I’m good while I’m in the place. Also, name badges and writing on uniforms help a lot. Why not joke, laugh and chat with folks where ever you are? It feels good, makes the time pass pleasantly and BONUS – you too can become an irregular regular and hear that pleasant bentornato – welcome back!

Ci Vediamo!

I Fell in Love on the Hop On, Hop Off Bus

The universe can toss you a curve ball when you least expect it. Certainly, riding a “hop on hop off” bus would be one of those places where you would least expect it. Least expect to fall in love. Least expect to find me. I’ve always striven to be the non-tourist and even thinking about riding the hop on hop off bus would give me hives.  My hip friends, Mike and Lori, insisted that I would truly enjoy it – no matter what city I was in. Well, I didn’t know if I would enjoy it but Jack and I had four hours to kill in Naples. 

Who knew the hop on hop off bus would have such an impact on my life. Maybe it was the Neapolitan songs. Maybe it was the sun shining over the bay of Naples. Maybe it was the 30 children on the upper level of the bus who were excited to be going to an art museum. Maybe it was the architecture or the feelings that the people of Naples sling at your soul.  Who can ever really tell you why you fall in love with someone or something. Love is a strange emotion.  It pieces your heart, turns your brain into mush and forces you to do things you never thought you would.  Today, I fell in love with the turbulent, bad boy city called Naples. 

Historically, I have found Naples crowded, a driving nightmare and the train station full of obnoxious faux cab drivers.  My eyes have been opened to the incredible parks, interesting neighborhoods and wealth of theaters and museums.  Tomorrow, we are going to Teatro San Carlo to see Verdi’s Il Trovatore.  Sigh…my love may deepen.

Multa – Ancora!!! NO More Tickets!

Son of a &*^%(!  ONCE AGAIN our Fiat 500 L got a ticket.  Notice, I said the car got the ticket – not my Indy 500 wanna be speed demon husband.  Tickets are mailed to you two or three months after you zoom by an autovelox. Traffic cameras, autovelox, – which are bloody everywhere – clock your speed and grab your license plate number.  The autovelox, however, are not sneaky, smarmy cameras.  These are blatant speed traps. There are signs announcing them and most GPS devices have them listed. Beware of –

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Now, I don’t know where the car was out by itself speeding – because obviously no one in MY FAMILY would speed on an Italian road.  Or not see the SIGN.  The tickets come in the mail and you pay the fine at the ufficio postale.  This is the third one we have been SURPRISED to get.  The tickets go to the car – that is to the the person to whom the car is registered.  The car is in my name.  Hmmmmmmmmm.

Yikes, what if you are driving a rental?  The ticket gets mailed to the rental agency and then the rental agency – a few weeks or in our case months later – charges your credit card.  Watch out for that – because we also discovered that you can be charged and not have been driving the car that day.  Always ask to see the ticket and demand to know the date and time.

Here are some – Don’t get a ticket – hints.

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My favorite Italian Attorney, Rossella Mancini, filled Jack and me in on the speed limits law – JACK memorize this –
The general speed limits are as follows (this is only valid for cars. The limits are different for trucks, buses and agricultural vehicles):
-130 Km / h on motorways, which are reduced to 110 in case of rain or poor visibility;
-110 Km / h on main roads outside urban areas (the ones with 2 lanes in each direction) which reduced to 90 in case of rain or poor visibility;
– 90 km / h on secondary rural roads (they are those with one lane in each direction);
– 50 km / h in built-up area (which can be the smallest of villages perched on the highway.)
lower or upper speed limits may be imposed in the presence of suitable signals present on the roads.
Thanks Rosella!  I am posting this in our car.

The speed on the local roads changes randomly.  Sta attento!  Pay attention to the signs!  We noticed that where the roads need repairs – and that is a lot of roads in a lot of places- the town, region or province merely lowers the speed limit on that road. Whoops, we’ve got a giant pothole – lets just lower the speed limit and go for a coffee.  The road washed away in the last flood, lets put up some orange plastic tape to narrow it down to one lane and reduce the speed limit.  A lot of Italian roads are in deplorable condition – not the Autostrada or the main roads but the local roads.  Lack of funds that has caused this situation.  The speed limits are posted so don’t drive and daydream about lunch.

If you are zooming along and suddenly all the cars in front of you slam on their brakes, slam on yours.    All locals know where the autovelox cameras are and slam on the brakes to drive 5-10 miles below the posted speed.  The slowdown lasts for a few hundred feet beyond the autovelox and then zooooooom the cars race off again. Since Italians always slow down for these camera boxes, drive like an Italian.

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These signs are easy to miss!

Beware of Zona Traffico Limitato.  ZTL is a Limited Traffic Zone.  We are familiar with the one in Alghero, Sardinia.  In the historic center the roads are incredibly narrow and full of tourists. Driving there is limited to very few taxis and residents with stickers.  Hours may or may not be posted on the signs too.  Between posted hours cars are forbidden access to the ZTL. What will make you crazy is that all cities do not have the same rules.  If you are driving to a new city or village, take the time to look at a local map.   Car driving can cost you your vacation savings. Traffic cameras are everywhere and take a picture of your license plate. As I said earlier, the rental company will get the ticket and will forward the expense on to you. Probably with a service fee.  Do NOT drive in a ZTL.  Park outside the zone and walk in.  On foot you see more anyway and meet all kinds of interesting folks. If you are staying in a B&B or hotel in the ZTL and have a car – ask them what to do.  Some hotels can issue a temporary pass.  The fine is huge!  Better to spend that money on great olive oil to bring back.

2017 – new rules – Highway Code in 2017

Don’t text, talk or play with your cell phone!  Italians can now loose their licenses if caught.  The fines are incredibly steep – 161 euro to 646 euro!  Now that is one hell of a ticket.

Our Fiat 500 L misses us and we will soon be back driving around Pontelandolfo.  Since I don’t want my insurance to become so astronomical that I can’t afford to go out to dinner, I will become the car nag.  My nagging will be done with love….

Ci vediamo!

Train Travel Hints

Class counts!  If you can swing it – go to the head of the class! Our business class seats on Frecciarossa between Milan and Rome had all the bells and whistles. Imagine, electric leather seats that accommodate a butt of substance and can slide into an almost sleep mode. Wifi that works was a plus as were the electric outlets.  All the seats had tables for two or for the working team or card sharks, seats and a table for four.  Each seat arrangement had a cute little clear plastic wall that separated the chosen few from the folks walking down the aisle.  Hey look at me – walking down the aisle to the clean and large bathroom.

First class seats are not leather and may or may not move – depending on the train.  They too have mostly four seats configured around a table with places to plug in.  But they were a wee bit more squished than business class.  I hate sitting near the window – great view but I have to climb over someone to get out.  That means they have to unplug their laptop, move their stuff and get up – ugggg.

The stewards come around in both first and business classes offering the included prosecco, caffè, tea, water and juice.  Both have a choice of snacks and my favorite – little packets of wet style wipes to clean up your yucky travel hands.

H’mm other differences?  I think it is just the size of the seats. Oh yeah, in both classes, the steward also offers newspapers and will take orders for the food available in the snack bar car.  Wow – a rhyme – I’m sure there is a classier name than snack bar car though the bar was stocked.  Adjacent to our business class car was a real dining car with menus, linens and comfy seats. We didn’t try it but plan to on another adventure.

Stop pouting. We’ve taken the slow poke regional trains too.  The too many hours in a hot sweaty car kind of trains that didn’t have enough seats – you know like New Jersey transit’s old diesel war horses during the commuting rush.  The regional train from Rome to Boiano can be standing with your suitcase room only.

Trenitalia offers the super speedy Frecciarossa family of trains.  Intercity and regional trains connect big cities and pokey little towns along the way.

Italia Rail offers background information on the train system. I just discovered at that web-site that Trenitalia and a private French rail company combined forces to create Thello (pronounced tell-OH), which operates overnight long-haul trains between Paris and Italy!  How glamorous to take  Thello through Switzerland and wake up in Paris!  Rats, what would I wear???

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Marta waves bye-bye from the Benevento Train Station

Train Hints

  1. When you are on line or in line figuring out which train to take from point A to point B make sure you look at the duration of the ride.  What?  It takes ten hours from here to there? Rats – is there a connection too?  Changing trains when you don’t speak the language can be a real adventure or a night mare.  Keep looking at the schedules.  Wait, look this train is only 4 hours – how could that be?  One is a local/regional train which may have a connection and one is a super duper fast train.  The fast trains cost more but….
  2. My good buddy Nicola looked at Jack and I and asked why we were taking the fast train to Venice.  He said we were pazzo! A flight from Naples on a budget airline was half the price of the train ticket and got there in an hour.  So check out other transportation options.  Here are some of the budget airlines – Easy JetRyanairMeridiana (Meridiana also has cheap flights, but I’m told uncomfortable unless you are a size 4, from New York to Italy.)
  3. When your get to a station use your train number to identity what track – binario – your train is on. My cousins had first class tickets from Rome to Benevento but didn’t realize it was the fast train to Lecce with a quick stop in Benevento. They inadvertantly got the slow boat to Benevento with the pigs and chickens. No one looked at their tickets and when the train poked along they panicked.  I panicked too when the didn’t disembark at the appointed time. Lesson learned – use the train number on your ticket to identify your train.
  4. If you are going to change trains – we do that from Milan to Benevento – it is super important at the station to look for the train numbers.  For example, the fast train from Milan to Rome that we take really goes further south.  If I didn’t look for the train number I’d get on the wrong train.  In Rome, the train we take to Benevento ends in Lecce.  We always look for the train number.
  5. Especially for the regional trains, make sure you go up to the box near the track and validate your ticket.  Sometimes you have to look for the boxes.  I tried to do this once with an e-ticket that I had printed and folded to fit.  It wouldn’t work, the train was coming, I yelled bad words in a lot of languages and stomped off.  So I stopped trying to validate  an e-ticket and  I haven’t gotten a fine.  Though I could – but hey, I’m a middle aged plus woman with a great smile. If you have a ticket make sure you stick it in the slot at the bottom of the box and get it stamped.  This is also important on buses and subways.
  6. When you find the binario – track – that the train is on you then have to find the right train car.  For the fast trains, your ticket has a carrozza – passenger car – number on it AND the seat number.  Don’t be fooled by the big number painted on all the cars – look for the smaller numbers near the doors. The signs will give the car number and what seats are near that door – cars have doors at both ends.  Even the regional trains are labeled.  We made the mistake of getting in a first class regional car – that looked as dumpy as the rest of the cars – and paid an up-charge.  PS – not all regional trains are dumpy.
  7. The train app – Info Treno- is helpful.  I like to follow my travels and get a handle on what stops are coming up.  You can use the application to help you pick trains too.  Following your train with the train number, however, is easier than trying to figure out what train to take.
  8. Luggage is a pain in the butt.  You have to schlep it.  I’m sure there must be porters but I’ve never seen anyone hustling for our bags.  The platforms are not all level with the trains.  There are steps up into the train.  That means you have to haul a suitcase up.  We only take small carry-on luggage when we take the train.  Even when we fly into Milan and train it to Benevento we send our big luggage on ahead. (Mail Boxes Etc.)  Business and first class trains have slots behind the seats for luggage. I tried to explain that to Jack as he was hernia bound lifting a bag onto the overhead shelf.  The big hint – was the picture of a suitcase in the space between the seats.  At the front of some cars on all trains – note the word some – there are shelves for luggage.  Luggage is a pain in the ass.

These hints are not meant to dissuade you.  We love the take the train.  The views are incredible.  I get to talk to all kinds of people and we sit back and relax.

Choo Choo!!!

Ci vediamo!

Albergo – Il Girasole a Milano

Hmm – should I take a picture of Jack napping in our comfortable room at Il Girasole in Milan?  Nah, that would be nasty – and you my readers know that I am never nasty. Besides, surrounded by the warmth and love that emanates from every inch of Il Girasole  it would be impossible to think a nasty thought.  In the city of Milan, the Negruzzi family has created and warm and winsome atmosphere .  The three star hotel is a short subway ride to the historic and arts filled center of the city.  What I appreciate is that it is in a neighborhood where we felt like cittadini di Milano – not tourists.

When our taxi pulled up to the industrial looking portone of the exterior, Jack and I looked at each other.  My  cousin Rich and his wife Lynn had recommended the place so we knew it had to be OK – but the big metal gate???  We rang the bell and all of our concerns were swept away by the effusive smiles, laughter and bubbling personalities of Matteo and Nicola – the two brothers who manage the family business.  Nicola schlepped our 4 huge suitcases up to our room while we enjoyed a prosecco and conversation with Matteo.  (Yes you read that right – 4 large suitcases – we are here for 7 months.  Most of the stuff was Jack’s.)  Matteo whipped out maps for us, and in perfect English gave us restaurant hints and immediately made us feel comfortable with where we were.

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Matteo threatened to put Jack to work!

Our room was large – by European urban standards – and had a desk, couch, armoire and large bathroom.  It costs us €303 for three nights and included a continental breakfast. I loved the smiley faces on the cappuccino.  The hotel has free wi-fi that worked quickly everywhere – including outside in the small garden.  There is parking and a meeting room.

The first night we took Matteo’s advice on a restaurant, Vineria San Giovanniand came back to peels of laughter bursting up from the breakfast room.  Never one to miss a party, I dragged Jack down the steps and discovered three men and Nicola swapping tales.  (He speaks English, Spanish, Italian and is studying Chinese.) Nicola  promptly poured us each a beer and we joined the party.  The three guests were regulars.  They worked for an international company – one was from Taiwan, another Hong Kong and the third a Chinese American.  We prattled on about politics, food, fun and I felt like I had known them forever.  That is what Il Girasole does to you!

One morning I asked Matteo to tell me how the hotel came to be.  The building was originally a bicycle factory.  His mother, Bianca, and brother Nicola started the business in 1998 as a B&B.  The original space only had 3 rooms.  As they continued the renovations, they opened for guests .  Their first international guests were from the USA and stayed for three months.  The family relocated for the dad’s business – he worked in radio and actually got the B&B a month of free spots!  They are all still friends.  The hotel now has 16 rooms and three star hotel status!  Bravo.

The brothers grew up in a “culture of responsibility.”  Bianca was a community organizer who – through a not for profit agency – spear headed local projects. The family feels that their home is the entire city and that means they have a responsibility to help solve the city’s issues.  Nicola is currently president of the parent organization of the public school and organizes fund raising events.

It was joyous to hear Matteo tell me about his city, his family and the passion they all have for the hotel. Even their website is steeped in sunflower good cheer.

Il Girasole  – Via Doberdò, 19, 20126 Milano, info@ilgirasolemilano.com

A sunny spot of home in a big city.

Ci vediamo!