Many of us are stuck in our homes thinking of all the places in the world we’d like to visit. Why not take an armchair tour of Venice with my favorite detective, Commissario Guido Brunetti. The fictional Italian detective, is a commissario in the Italian State Police, stationed in Venice. He is proud to be a native Venetian. The creation of Donna Leon, Brunetti becomes our eyes and ears in Venice. His wife, children, family life, upper class in-laws, obnoxious boss and the other detectives all become part of our tour. We peek into the worlds of Counts and Countesses, immigrants, Venetian middle class and the very poor. What I love about Leon’s books is the way they draw me into the social, political and historic fabric of the city, and region. With Brunetti, we hop on a traghetto (think bus in the water), a police boat, sometimes even a car, but most often on foot to wend our way through canals and neighborhoods tourists don’t see.
And then the air was just as suddenly filled with the sweetness of springtime and buds and new leaves, fresh grass and nature’s giggly joy at coming back for another show
As they turned into the broad stereet, Brunetti saw evidence in support of his belief that this was one of the few areas of the city still filled primarily with Venetians. It was enough to see the beige woollen cardiagans and short carefully permed hair to know the older women were Venetian; those children with their skateboards were not there on vacation; and most foreign men did not stand so close to one another during aconversation. The shops, too, sold things that would be used in the city where they were purchased, not wrapped up and taken home to be shown off as some sort of prized acquisition, like a deer hunted and shot and tied to the top of a car.
“By Its Cover” 2014
The Venetian inspector also editorializes on the not so positive transitions that have occurred in Venice over the past fifty or so years. He often speaks of the changes that all of us who have been fortunate to visit Venice over the decades have seen. The enormous cruise ships that displace tons of water and toss thousands of back pack smashing tourists all at once onto the island. Like whirling dervish they twist and twirl over bridges. Made in China faux Venetian glass, masks and more have taken over bakeries, butcher shops and vegetable stands.
Brunetti — I had the good fortune to grow up in a different Venice, not this stage set that’s been created for tourists … Venetian families, especially young ones, are driven out because they cannot afford to rent or buy a home.
“Earthly Remains” 2017
Picking up travel and life hints while binge reading Brunetti is also a great way to plan your next visit to Italy. There are so many food references that fans demanded and were rewarded with the Brunetti’s Cook Book.
The first time I had a prescription filled in our villages local pharmacy I was mesmerized watching the farmacista peel and stick labels from boxes. Leon’s accurate description of the action had me smiling. There are many more bits and pieces of everyday Italian life sprinkled in the books.
She took the boxes, peeled off stamps from the backs, and pasted them on to the prescriptions the woman gave her. Then she ran the prescriptions over the sensor plate next to the cash register, put the boxes in a plastic bag, and accepted a twenty-Euro note in payment. She rang up the sale and returned the woman’s change, added the receipt, thanked her, and wished her a pleasant eventing.
“Temptation of Forgiveness,” 2018
Take a walk with Donna Leon’s Brunetti and become a part of Venetian life. Just be wary when and where you walk. Once we were trying to get over the Rialto Bridge and cross the Grand Canal. A wild large tourist group of where could they be going in such a hurry, came galloping over the bridge. Jack and I clung to the sides. No, even though I thought it, I didn’t stick out my foot.
Brunetti’s first response, given that it was a warm day in early spring, had been to calculate the easiest way to walk from the Questura to the Palazzo without becoming entrapped in the by now normal migration paths of the herds of tourists. Because of the clear sky and benevolent temperature, walking hip Riva Degli Schiavoni would be impossible, crossing Piazza San Marco an act of madness.
Brunetti walked home quickly, paying almost no attention to what or whom he passed, deaf to the sound of the returning birds, the only tourists no one resented.
“Upon Us a Son Is Given,” 2019
Donna Leon is incredibly prolific. I think there are twenty-nine Brunetti novels. But there may be a new one coming soon. She is my literary work ethic idol. Besides the cook book there are television shows, a Brunetti walking tour, even stories with music! But hey – she IS a Jersey girl! Born in Montclair, New Jersey, she lived and worked in Venice for over thirty years. Her Commissario Brunetti series has won countless awards. I would love to award her the Midge’s Favorite Author of All Things Venetian award. Would it be stalking if I just sat outside her house and stared???
“Trace Elements” is the latest book. I can’t wait to get mine and see where Brunetti goes next. Why not pour a glass of Prosecco and visit Venice with Guido Brunetti. You will be so happy you did.
On February 17, 2020 we raced to Newark Airport to pick up my Italian cousin, Annarita. We had great plans! Trips to New York, walks in Philadelphia, strolling through the Grounds for Sculpture and being foodies – eating in every interesting non-Italian restaurant we could find. Annarita is thirty-something and a great sport. The first week we visited New York’s Italian Consulate, wandered city streets and, starting with “French 45” cocktails, enjoyed great French Food. During the trip, rumblings of the Coronavirus were shaking in our head. I carried enough hand wipes and hand sanitizer to keep a troupe of scouts germ free. We smeared our hands with sanitizer in the train stations, cabs and well, just about anytime we touched something – out came the wipes and the sanitizer.
Carrying bleach wipes, sanitizer and vitamin C, Annarita flew off to Texas to spend time with our cousins. She had a great adventure. When she got back – boom – Coronavirus really dropped into New Jersey. Jack and I had just bought a condo and moved in moments before the “stay at home” orders started. Her March tickets back to Italy fell into the trash. The hip young woman was now stuck in a 55 plus condo. WOW! What fun! We cooked, we laughed, we got everything delivered and didn’t venture out. After six weeks of this frivolity, she was ready to go back to Italy. The other reality was, foreign nationals without Visas are only allowed to stay in the USA for 90 days. With this administration’s posturing on foreign folks we were frantic to get her back by day 89.
We had two problems to deal with – 1. Would Italy let her back in the country? 2. If we couldn’t get her home by day 89, what would happen to her when she tried to leave the USA at a later date? Taking deep breaths we booked a Lufthansa flight to Naples.
Would Italy let her in –
AUTODICHIARAZIONE GIUSTIFICATIVA DELLO SPOSTAMENTO IN CASO DI ENTRATA IN ITALIA DALL’ESTERO spit out of my printer. This Self-declaration Form of Displacement must be completed by any Italian National coming back to Italy from abroad. Since the east coast of the USA is a red zone, we started to worry and wondered what she would have to write and certify. Unless, you have an urgent reason to return, Italy would prefer you stay away in self quarantine. She had to attest that she didn’t have the virus and hadn’t been near anyone who did. The question that got me was, what is the urgency to come back? The bloody 90 day cut off for her American stay was the urgency. She also had to guarantee she had a place to serve a fourteen day isolation quarantine. That means – alone, no family, remain in a space where no one else has access. We wouldn’t know if they would let her in until she got there!
Could she stay in the USA longer than 90 days –
Before she came to visit she completed an application for the Visa Waiver program, ESTA – she needed a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) This is what Europeans usually apply for – you can fill it out at a Travel Agency. Easy – right? Except, according to Travel.state.gov –
If you enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, you are not permitted to extend your stay in the United States beyond the initial admission period. You must depart the United States on or before the date on your admission stamp when you entered the United States.
I couldn’t get a hold of anyone in the Department of State. Does anyone still work there? Being an old politico, I sent a nice campaign donation to my local congressperson. I then sent an e-mail and asked for help with the DOS. The office aide did call me and leave her Washington number. I called back and obviously the aide blew me off because I never heard another word. We were afraid that in today’s American climate she would be in major trouble if she overstayed the 90 day tourism window European visitors are allowed. Until she landed in Rome, we still worried.
It took angst, my skill of phone sex or phone tears magic and the ever powerful lawyer Rossella but in the middle of May Annarita was finally able to go home. Home being my favorite southern Italian Village, Pontelandolfo. Was it easy? No. Were we gnashing teeth, arguing with airlines, frantic to get in touch with anyone in power? Yes
Let us start with the flight. Just by chance – I had called Lufthansa to check on her flight status – we discovered that her flight to Naples via Frankfort was cancelled. WHAT? I asked the representative why we didn’t get an e-mail or a text message or even a notification on the Lufthansa app? Who knows why? We went to the Naples Airport website and discovered that no flights were coming in or out. It seems that the small regional airports were closed. The reality was she had to fly from Frankfort to Rome. Great, you’re thinking, Rome is cool. Sadly, after literally hours on the phone with three different people in the Lufthansa call center, we discovered that because Italy is so concerned with social distancing and the safety of its residents they insist planes flying in had to be no more than half full. The only flight would arrive in Rome at 5:45PM.
Too late to get a train close to home – besides it was impossible to get train tickets. Maybe someone can drive the three hours and pick her up. WRONG! Italy knows how far reaching this virus is and contains it by not letting people go from one region or another unless they work in a vital industry. That means that no one from Campania can drive to Lazio and pick her up. We were frantic. Her family in Pontelandolfo was besides themselves. Her sister kept calling hotels in Rome. A pal who owns a travel agency called all his pals trying to get Annarita a place to stay. All of the hotels are being used for isolation quarantine. There are no beds in Rome. The tension mounted and pounds of cookies, biscotti and tortes were being devoured. We could get her to Rome but then….
Thank the Lord for Rossella, ace advocate and older sister, she found out that there were some limousine services that could cross regional borders. One was found in nearby Benevento. I am imaging the back passenger seat being a containment bubble. The driver texted Annarita and said not to worry he would be there and be carrying “real Italian” coffee for her.
Everything was in place – or was it. We got Annarita to Newark Airport three hours early. Social distancing apparently wasn’t on anyone’s brain. That said, the airline employees did exercise caution. Annarita said that no one would touch her luggage. She printed her own boarding pass, luggage tags etc. The wait for the flight was harrowing. No one respected the six feet rule. Airline employees screamed, “RESPECT DISTANCING.” But with hundreds of people anxious to get out of New Jersey, it was chaotic. Chairs were X’d out but people just stood crowded together. It was frightening. People all wore masks and many others wore white coveralls covering their clothes. They covered up but crowded up – makes no sense. To board the plane – it was a United flight – the had six foot makers near the door. Five people at a time were called to that position and allowed to board. The boarded from the rear of the plane first. That was smart. No one was standing in the aisle breathing on seated folks. Annarita said the plane was half-full and there were empty seats between people. Then she landed in Frankfort.
Frankfort was “impossible”. I thought the Germans would have had this organized. They didn’t and worse – Lufthansa had lied to us. The plane to Rome was not half full. It was freakin’ overbooked. People were packed near the gate and arguing to be let on. She got on. Kept her mask on and sanitized her hands a million times.
The Rome airport was organized and social distancing was mandated. There was a long spaced line for everything. They took the temperatures of very young people and others. Luckily, Annarita had filled out the Self Declaration Form in advance. Folks queued up for about twenty minutes to get a table and fill out the form. Again, one person at a table please. Every single traveller met with someone from border control to review the form. Questions were asked and answered. Annarita breezed through.
The Limo driver met her, helped with the luggage and walked with her to the car. Hand sanitizer and wipes were in abundance. She sighed, settled back and made it home to Pontelandolfo.
When an Italian returns they must also give a form to the local police, the mayor’s office and A.S.L. – Aziende Sanitarie Locali – universal health care agency.
Our house in Pontelandolfo was obviously empty so she hunkered down there. Her family had stocked the refrigerator and pantry, the wi-fi was on and the television works. What more could she want? After the fourteen days, someone will come and test her or give her a physical. That hasn’t happened yet. Doesn’t matter. She is home. She is healthy. She has opened the windows in my house.
Hopefully, after she is back with her family, we too will soon be isolation quarantining in our Southern Italian home.
Roma Stazione Termini has always been a drudge for me. Drag the suitcases, muscle through the crowds, strain to see what track we needed and if we were hungry, tired and waiting a while, going a bit outside the station to a steak house. (There is a wooden cow that invites you in and the beef is actually good.) Plus there are chairs! Now Roma Termini has a new place to sit, people watch and eat –Il Mercato Centrale Roma.
Schlepping our suitcases down the right side of the station – through the department stores and shops – we found the entrance to Il Mercato. Actually, having to wade through cramped shops isn’t the most comfortable approach to Il Mercato. Leaving the station and walking outside around the block would have been easier. When we saw the funky sign, we knew we were in for a treat. Giggles bubbled up and we entered the hall.
WOW! Being there at an off peak eating time, we were able to see the space in all of its utilitarian grandeur. There is a lot to see – seventeen food stalls, one restaurant, one pizzeria, one beer vendor and one large coffee bar. The restaurant, La Tavola, is designed for those who don’t want to wander around. It can be found one level up from the ground floor. Also, there is additional seating on the third level. (Note – what we would call the first floor is PianoTerra, second – Primo Piano, – third – Second Piano.) It was fun strolling past the stalls tempting us with interesting things to eat, cook with or grab for gifts. Even better was sniffing all of the great scents of Italian home style cooking. We grabbed two seats ordered drinks from the friendly cameriere, Jack sat with the luggage and I zapped from stall to stall taking it all in.
I roamed trying to decide what to eat first – we had three hours. Yup, it is one giant food court. Yup, it looks like a food court in a high end mall or in Grand Central Station NYC. Yup, everything we tried tasted pretty good. Unlike the tourist restaurants in places like Florence or Rome or Venice – the quality wasn’t dumbed down for out of towners.
Being ace detectives we uncovered an amazing truth as to why it didn’t seem dumbed down for tourists – Italians seemed to be the principal patrons! We saw folks coming in off the street for a quick lunch. Folks opening briefcases, grabbing food and having impromptu meetings. And yes, we did see people like us with suitcases. Even though we had been warned by Pontelandolfese that the place was for tourists only, our observation led us to disagree. First of all, they didn’t try to gouge us with super inflated prices. It is Rome so prices were higher than our village, however, the prices were better than we have found in Manhattan. Since we had a few hours to kill we each started with an obscenely large cappuccino – the four cup cappuccissimo cost €7 and took us about 45 minutes to drink. It was a ridiculous huge accompaniment for our €1.20 cream filled brioche. After walking that off, we rallied for lunch. I jotted down some prices. A filling plate of Pasta Carbonara €8, glass of white wine €5, and a small bottle of water €1.50. Have I mentioned they also had Free wifi for everyone? Have I mentioned gelato?
During the lunch crush, it was a really a crush, we didn’t feel comfortable hogging the seats. Too many folks needed a place to plop and eat. Having hoarded seats for about two hours, we felt guilty. When our lunch plates were empty, we gave up our chairs and ventured back to the main part of the station. This September when we head back home from studying Italian in Sardegna, we will drag our sand filled suitcases through the station and return!
Ci vediamo! Perhaps we will see you soon in Sardegna!
PS – Message me at email@example.com and check out the cool opportunity to study Italian in Alghero, Sardegna! €1500 for two full weeks of classes, cultural activities, social events and HOUSING! Cheap and wonderful. September 28 – October 12 at Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera.
What? What is going on here??? We walked towards our gate in Newark Airport’s Terminal C – a terminal we never use – and I gasped. Tablets* to the right of me. Tablets to the left of me. Tablets on tables. Tablets at work stations. It had already pissed me off that United had us check in on a tablet. I of course asked for a person and eyes were rolled. Really, a person will be weighing and checking in my suitcase. Couldn’t the same person also check me in, scan my passport and talk to me? Tablets were everywhere – in every nook and cranny. Ohmmm – let us all stare at and pay homage to a silent tablet. Talk? Why would anyone bother to talk? Giggle about the characters in the queue with the woman standing next to you. Chat with a stranger about places unknown. Engage in conversation. Who would want to do that? I would. That’s who – ME!
Why have I not noticed this dehumanization of travel before? I am sure the tablet phenomena did not just happen overnight. How useful these little lonely centers are. One can order food – will that soon be delivered by a robot? Or perhaps play a solitary game. Log on and check what ever needs checking. Where the frig are we – at a freaking chain restaurant with fewer and fewer wait staff and consistency so boring that I cringe? Yup, just what our culture needs, robotic waiting areas, another way to ignore each other. There was a time when young people were sent off to do a European tour as a way to stretch their horizons. Letters of introduction were carried to far away places and young people would gulp, knock on a door, hand over the letter and hope that someone would welcome them. A conversation would ensue. Of course, all wore morning coats and top hats but hey the idea was a good one.
I’m a cultural dinosaur. If a store no longer has a cashier for me to chat with and expects me to self-checkout, I leave the stuff and go somewhere else. I am perfectly capable of using the scanner and sticking my credit card in the correct slot. I just won’t do it. Part of the joy of traveling, shopping, exploring are the people I meet. People are what make a new country interesting. Conversations are the cultural connection. Don’t you dare tell me I can text, e-mail, tweet or otherwise maintain a wi-fi connection. That is not a connection. It is a wi-fi wall between myself and other people. No one knows if I am being smarmy, sarcastic, ironic or honest. Real connection is seeing the smile, hearing the laughter, seeing the sadness in the other person’s eyes or getting pissed off at the tone of voice. Voice – I want to hear the voices.
When we got to where we were going, I looked around the very small international airport and sighed. Here too were the bolted down tablets – not as many – but scattered about encouraging isolation. If you are in an airport and see a woman in her second, hmm or is it third, act with tears slowly dripping down her cheeks staring at the robotic world. Go and talk to her. It will be me.
*Full disclosure – I have had an iPad tablet for years and years. I love them and use one often for writing, reading, researching etc. I use them when I am not in a restaurant, not at the dinner table with pals, not in a social setting and not when I can strike up a great conversation with a stranger.
What were we thinking dragging four – count them – four empty suitcases back to the USA? Well not exactly four empty suitcases. Jack has filled one to the brim. I leave clothes on both continents and am happy to schlepp nothing. Why empty suitcases? So that I can fill them with household goods we want to bring to our place in Pontelandolfo.
We have been flying Lufthansa which gets our full “going to Italy” suitcases to Naples where our best bud, Nicola picks us up. No suitcase angst. Jack, my frugal husband, discovered that premium seats on Norwegian Air from Newark, NJ was so much cheaper than Lufthansa. Downside – you land in Rome with four full suitcases. Upside – the seats lie flat and you can sleep. Downside – you pay to stay in a hotel for a night or two. Upside – it is Rome. Downside – you have four freakin’ full suitcases!
When we landed in Rome with our four incredibly full and heavy suitcases – yes, you heard a WHINE – the hotel’s driver picked us up and carried most of the bags. Then we used Mailbox Express to send half the bags to Pontelandolfo. We still had to drag two suitcases and computer bags on the train. Not fun. Oddio! I freakin’ hate it.
It was time to head back to New Jersey for a wedding – via Rome – with the same, albeit empty, four suitcases. I scoured for a car service – even a Bla Bla car – to get us and all our shit to Roma Fiumicino. The ever brilliant, Pasquale and Rossella, provided me with bus information. Flix Bus was cheap but took ten hours and left way too early in the morning. Azienda Trasporti Molisana, ATM, had a bus that left from Boiano and only took the same three hours it would take in a car. Hmm, I decided we would investigate.
I was telling my ex-pat pal in Ecuador, Marie, about my experimenting with bus transportation. She promptly said, “ah, an experiment with four suitcases.” Thanks Marie for the title! Thanks for also reminding me that in Ecuador you have been using the buses forever.
An Experiment with 4 suitcases –
ATM really had a comprehensive schedule. But before I would investigate price, I sent a few e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Dear proficient speakers of Italian – ignore my linguistic flaws. Non- Italian speakers will think I’m brilliant.) Gulp, could I really drag 4 suitcases plus computer bags on the bus. ATM responded immediately. (Damn, that impressed me.)
Me:Quante valigie possono portare ogni passeggero? Grazie.
ATM:Quante ha bisogno di portarne? (I could see ATM rolling his/her eyes. How many do I need to carry – indeed!)
Me:Due (2) per me & due (2) per il mio marito.
ATM:Non c’è problema, buon viaggio. (Now ATM is laughing out loud and can’t wait to see us drag the suitcases down the street to the bus.)
Then I remembered a really important question.
Me: Dov’è ferma il pulmino nel Via Cavadini Boiano? The street is a long one. How would we find the stop?
ATM:Davanti al vivaio La Ginestra, c’è il palo con l’indicazione ATM. Hmm near a nursery and there is a sign – sure there is a sign NOT. This is Italy.
I moved on to the next step in the grand experiment and for €28.35 I booked two seats on the 9:55 AM ATM bus from Via Cavadini in Bojano (Boiano) to Fiumicino. Jack and I often go to Boiano and decided we would do a trial run to find the alleged bus stop. Shazaam – there was a clearly marked ATM sign right where they said it would be. We were psyched. This will be easy-peasy.
Trying to make the trip a wee bit easier I stuffed the duffle bag Jack usually packs into an oversized suitcase. Great! Now we are down to three suitcases, two computer bags and a purse. What? Jack promptly took his favorite blankee, I mean duffle bag out of the larger suitcase. We are back up to four. I whined again. Jack then jammed, kicked and bullied a slightly smaller empty suitcase into the oversized one. Four suitcases – pulling three and pocketing another.
Rossella and Pasquale drove us to Boiano. It had snowed. The mountains looked fabulous. The bus stop – full of snow. How do you drag suitcases in the snow? The bus arrived on time and stopped in the street. Smart move. We pulled the suitcases down the street and tossed them in the under-carriage storage bin. The bus was modern and the seats comfortable. The glass roof and wide windows provided breathtaking mountain views. They also eliminated any large overhead storage. My computer bag nested under my legs.
After about an hour, I noticed the Lavazza Caffè maker ready to serve us and that there wasn’t a bathroom. Suddenly, I had to pee. Snow capped mountains zipped by. I had to pee. I refused to think about peeing. Olive groves, flocks of sheep and goats, plains prepped for spring plantings – those views and those thoughts filled my head. So did the many ways one could ask for a bathroom – C’è un bagno? Dov’è il bagno? La toilette?? We arrived at Roma Stazione Tiburtina. Our bags came out of the bottom of the bus and we were told to wait at the same place for the bus to Fiumicino. I used my now longer list of Italian bathroom phrases and found the bathroom. Paid the 50 cents to enter. Waited for a stall. Opened the door and found a marble hole in the floor with foot pads. NOOOOOO! I had on pantyhose. That means taking off the pantyhose and putting my bare feet – noooooo! I sucked it up and went back to get the bus to Fiumicino. I could hold it another 40 minutes. I am a strong woman.
The bus arrived and they loaded our luggage underneath, checked our tickets and off we went. The wi-fi worked on this bus – it hadn’t on the first one. It was a double decker bus and we chose the easy to get to bottom level. We each took two seats and put our computer bags on one. Most people went upstairs for the better views. Soon we arrived at Fiumicino’s international terminal. They helped us with our bags and off we went to check in. (Yes, I immediately found a bathroom.)
The bus company was easy to work with, ran on time, and was comfortable. We have now discovered yet another way and another reason to get to Pontelandolfo!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.