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.

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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!

On The Road Again!

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Once again, Tony and Jack load the bags and we head to JFK Airport!

The bags were packed – mine stuffed with art to hang on the walls and fabric for Rosa, Pontelandolfo’s great seamstress, to make me cute outfits with.  Jack’s stuffed with new clothes – he is such a cute clothes horse.  My carry on carries all things related to my Mac Book Air.  Cousin Maryellen ran around the house making sure we didn’t leave anything behind.  We had passports, tickets – we are set to hit the highway and fly on home to Pontelandolfo.

Thanks to my nimble Godson, Tony, the ride to JFK was swift and chatty.  We were shocked to see that there wasn’t a line at the Emirate’s Air check in desk.  We checked in – our overweight bags were miraculously not overweight.  Then the clerk said, “enjoy your 4 hours.”  What!!!!  The flight leaves at 7:20 PM.  “No, the check in time was 7:20 – the flight leaves at 10:20PM.”  But, but it is only 5:00 PM!!!!  Well so much for good planning – who read that e-ticket????  We headed to the TSA clearance center to the gates.  I’m glad we got there four hours early – we needed the time.

I’m not one to whine – well maybe just a little –  but 55 minutes in the TSA line at JFK is a real whine, whine, whine! Moms with baby carriages, ladies holding babies, elderly people stooped with the strain of carryons – all marching slowly in circuitous paths.  Step by slow step we moved in one direction, only to be turned around and headed back from whence we came.   The only people that could avoid the 55 minute wait were the .05%  with first-class tickets. Stop bitching Midge -it is not a class issue – just a ticket issue. Sensitivity to the elderly and the woman carrying two kids would have been nice.  They literally had us go the entire length of the huge space in one direction and back four times and then do it again. What great fun. Reminded me not to come to Terminal Four at JFK.

After wending our way back and forth, fourth and back, back and forth, fourth and back, we got to the place where one takes off one’s coat, unpacks ones computer, ones iPad, ones anything metal etc.  I absolutely support this process.  It is better – as they say – to be safe than sorry.  In today’s world, we accept the challenge of travel and appreciate the oversight.  As I was accepting and happy to comply, I watched all of my goods going through the x-ray machine  and walked towards the door-frame like scanner.  Suddenly, I was told to go into another line for a different kind of full body x-ray. I didn’t mind the full body x-ray. I rather liked the patdown. Especially when she was fondling my breasts. I didn’t like seeing my purse, computer, IPad and briefcase laden with my good jewelry sitting about fifteen feet away from where I was. I never think about anyone mugging me or in any way doing all those things that people tell me I should worry about.  BUT – I was carrying  – rather my briefcase was housing – all the euros to pay the May Cooks in Pontelandolfo group expenses.  F#$%! There was no way they would stop patting me down so I could get to my stuff – I was able to turn around and at least see it.  Those of you who know the volume and rancor that my voice can take know that I would be able to thwart any evil doer with my not so dulcet tones. Putdown over I ran to my stuff.

Next stop, Terminal Four’s Tigín Irish pub. Rock and roll, starting with Michael jack son’s Thriller, called us to the pub and perked me up. Since we didn’t board for hours, a slow snack, Guinness and chair dancing to groovy sounds was in order. Perfectly poured Guinness – I might add – the glass rested partially full and then there was a second pour with a perfect head. OK – I belched at the airport prices.  Gulp, it cost over $100 for two Chardonnays one beer, hummus  and veggie platter, a grilled chicken, pear and fresh greens yummy salad and a chicken cheese bacon sandwhich.   Ouch, I want to get to Pontelandolfo where a pensioner can afford the prices.

Last year, you will recall we flew Emirates – cheaply upgraded to business class – ahhhhhh.  This year we tried coach.  The seats were big enough for my substantive butt and there was enough legroom for Jack.  That was a good sign.  The wi-fi surprised me!  Who knew you could have wi-fi in the air and not screw up the automatic pilot. It was 10:30PM and I sure as hell didn’t want dinner – I wanted sleep – wait what is that scrumptious odor?  Yes, I’ll have the chicken thank you.  My little tray sported real flatware – no cheesy pack of plastic.  Wine?  Of course, thank you.  The food was nothing to rave about but wasn’t anything to complain about either.  I think the aisle was a wee bit wider too – easier to walk about – and the giant plane was divided into sections with each section having a large walkable space fore and aft. Sounds like a good flight – right – ehhh – it was still coach.  No foot rest.  No flat down to a bed seat.  No little kit with ear plugs, mask, creams and presents.  Still coach…

Ci vediamo dopo.  Time to take a snooze in Milano.

Biennale Arte di Venezia

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On the Vaporetto to the Giardini and the Biennale!

We were excited to attend La Biennale di Venezia.  The 56th International Art Exhibition ran from  May 9th to November 22nd 2015.  Visiting Venice years ago, we had strolled through the Giardini, looked at empty buildings that every two years are filled with art and vowed to return.  Each country that participates in the Biennale has it’s own building to fill or we discovered – to barely fill  – with representative art of their country.  The exhibition takes place not only at the Giardini but also the Arsenale and in various locations across the city of Venice.

 

Curated by Okwui Enwezor, this year’s event got a scathing review in Art News.  Not to be put off by one person’s point of view and because we never do what we are told, Jack and I booked our train tickets and headed to Venice.

Our Cittidini Anziani – old people – tickets cost of €20 and were good for exploring both artsy sites – Giardini and the Arsenale.  The space is open and easy to navigate.  We strolled from pavilion to pavilion.  It was incredibly interesting to see the stylistic differences between artists and the types of art that were chosen by each country.  It was also interesting to look around and note that probably most of the 501,502 visitors and over 8,000 journalists that the exhibit attracted were our age.

One exhibit that the arts administrator in me found really enlightening was a giant space featuring blow ups of audience surveys from famous museums.  The surveys went back to the 1800s and asked many of the same demographic questions that we ask today.  Current exhibition viewers could sit with an iPad and take the Biennale survey.  As I did that, my answers immediately changed the results by 1 and were projected.  Most of the visitors to the Biennale have an advanced degree!  That bothered me – was it because only people with advanced degrees can afford to go to Venice?  There were young people interspersed among the baby boomers – were they all in graduate programs?  Hmmmm.

Jack and I love to go to museums and galleries.  We appreciate art of all types and eras.  That said – oh you know what is coming – she is going to say something bitchy about someone.  Who picks the American Artist?  I won’t say her name because she might be someone I got drunk with in the 60’s – actually her art reminded me of the crap some of my friends handed in to their art teachers in the 60’s.  The exterior of the American Pavillon could use a touch of paint and maintenance.  We entered through a side door held open by a fire extinguisher – charming.  The darkened interior sported a variety of screens all featuring the same film.  Two young girls dressed like  Isadora Duncan’s Isadorables scampered about, beat on a wooden log with sticks and generally didn’t do anything interesting.  Hung on the walls were props from the films, repeated repeated repeated prints and – oh I really can’t even talk about it.  With all the artists in the United States WHY THIS STUFF?

I did a little research and figured it out!  The artist teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and guess who curated the American Pavillon?  Good guess – MIT!!!!  They must have a “sacco di soldi” or access to the big list of sponsors that put up the cash for this trash.  Oops – I didn’t mean to make a disparaging comment.

Here’s a short video of just some of the exhibition halls we visited.  We intend to go again.  We had a great time – even if we did snicker at some of the art. Enjoy.

Ci Vediamo!

Terminal 1 – Roma

  • Happy travelers in Terminal 1

How is this possible ?  We just had a great meal, served on linen covered tables in Terminal 1 at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport.  Our day started on the Frecciargento fast train from Benevento to Roma. Next, we grabbed the 1/2 hour shuttle train to the airport. Lugging our luggage we finally got to Terminal 1 to wait for our plane to Alghero, Sardegna.

Yawn. Bored right?  Impossible – this place is a stroll down Fifth Avenue on New York. I quickly zapped to attention and drooled on the display windows of oodles of Italian designers.

Jack was more focused. “Pranza,” he said. Let’s find a place to eat and relax. We started searching. Sigh, designer shops and a facockata food court?  However, the foodie gods were with us and led us to a wee bit of gourmet heaven just beyond the expensive panini.

“Wine and Food Restaurant” is tucked away at the end of the food court. Lunch cost us €52.50 but was well worth it. When you consider an airport panini can cost you €15 the price isn’t bad. I had the freshest mozzarella di bufalo that I’ve had in ages. It was served beautifully on a bed of greens and tiny tomatoes. Yum.

Jack’s ceasar salad was elegant and unusual. It was made with arugula, tomatoes, and tons of large slices of parmigiana. He followed that with pasta caccio e peppe. A thick creamy ragu laden with tons of cheese and fresh ground black pepper graced home made spaghetti.

Yes, of course we had wine and acqua minerale. Yummy.

We will remember this place the next time we have a long wait in Terminal 1!

Ci vediamo.

Train to Venezia

The adventure was just starting  out and I discovered a great spot.  Our train trip to Rome on Trenitalia’s Frecciargento 9350 began in Benevento. My first stop – the ladies room. It was wonderful and I encourage all who end or begin their journeys in Benevento not to worry about using the bathroom. There were only two stalls but they were as big as horse stalls. That means you can take your suitcases in with you and not be squished. At New York’s Penn Station I shudder at how terrible it feels to have those bags pressing my knees. The other station  amenity that appealed to Jack was the bar. Due cappuccini per favore – cost 1.50 each – double what they cost in Pontelandolfo – but hey this is the city.

We decided to splurge and booked first class train tickets all the way to Venezia. Two tickets round trip cost us a total of €300. The first leg was Benevento to Roma with a quick change. The train arrived a wee bit early and we plopped ourselves in the commodious seats. It was a 4 top table just right for a game of bridge – which of course I don’t play. Oops, I’m sorry, Jack hasn’t quite plopped yet. His suitcase was too big to fit overhead and they don’t have a luggage rack at the front. Hmmm – put it on an empty seat! Good plan. (We lucked out and no one ever took that seat). The host came through with newspapers, snacks, water, sodas. Ahhhh.

The guy next to us had set up an office. Each seat has electric outlets so phone, lap tops – even wee portable printers can be set up. Commuting with style. Or is that working under pressure?

Out the windows, the hills of Sannio passed us by complete with sheep and shepherds. Jack read. I wrote. It was lovely. Than the other shoe dropped – what is that announcement about Caserta? There was a problem on the track after Caserta and we could sit there for 40 minutes. Beh! That puts a big damper in our travel plans – we have a connecting train in Rome. Our seat mate said I should talk to the Capo di Treno – who or what the hell is that? Lets go find out.

I walked through the first class cars towards the bar – how civilized – searching for Il Capo near the bar. Even though it is only 9:30 AM I am tempted to have a caffè corretto – toss that shot of grappa in that coffee please. Yes, he must be  Il Capo – I’m guessing head conductor. There, in a uniform that looked an awful lot like Captain Kagaroo’s, was the charming and robust Il Capo. He glanced at my ticket and said it would be easy to change the connection at Rome Termini – just go to the info kiosk between tracks 3 and 4. There is a train to Venezia every hour. Whoops – the train moved, I guess the wait wasn’t the predicted 40 minutes. We didn’t sit for 40 minutes, they put us on a different track. The sloooooo mo track from Campobasso to Roma. The same track the 12€ ticket from Boiano takes. The seats may be first class but we are poking along.

Looking at the bright side – it is a clear and sunny day – the wifi works! I jumped to an empty seat, set up my iPad and keyboard, put on my classy shades, watched the world go by and sighed. Oops, I sat up straight, sucked in my gut and smiled. Here comes the cute host boy again with more drinks and snacks. I’m being good and just looking not touching. AT the snacks – the snacks.

We pass Cassino. It’s laundry is fluttering from terra cotta and sun kissed yellow high rises. Smaller towns are bleeps as the train chugs on. Then countryside with plowed fields and neat small homes surrounded by goats and sheep enclosed in make shift fences. I expect to see barefooted children with their dogs standing near the tracks waving. Factories – 1950s style boxes – break up the green. I turn my head – a field of solar panels out one window and untouched hills out the other.
Staring is great fun and really relaxing until my inner “equal justice girl” roars out and and dons her cape. I realized that all of the beautiful verdant hills are unencumbered with freakin’ ugly wind mills. I’ve written about the windmill blight on the Southern Italy landscape. I just need to say it again. How come they don’t put any on the hills outside of ROME! Take a cleansing breath and get over it. Questa è italia.

That reminds me – no one ever checked our tickets. Does that mean you can scope out first class and ride for free?????

Any minute the view I find unbelievable will appear. Waiting for it – yes, yes, – I poke Jack awake – there they are – the wonderful Roman ruins.

Roma Termini is always a ZOO! Lots of folks getting off trains, getting on trains – New Yorkers, you can understand this. Le Frecce, the fast cool train, department of Trenitalia has quick fix booths between tracks 3 & 4. This is important to know. We did have to wait about 10 minutes to get our tickets to Venezia changed. Instead of being on the 11:50 that we missed by 40 minutes, we were on the 1:50.

Since we had time to kill, we looked for a restaurant with seats. Close to the tracks is an American Style joint called “Roadhouse Grill.” We knew it was American style because there was a life size cow statue by each door – like the ones that artists paint in cute American towns. I rolled my eyes and looked at Jack. “It has seats,” he said. We went in and what a pleasant surprise. Clean, well managed and if you like beef a great place. The steaks coming past us were rare and gorgeous. Jack had a cheeseburger and said it was good. I opted for Caesar Salad with grilled chicken breast. The chicken was a real breast – not pressed goop. It was again, surprisingly, good. Lunch with one beer and one bottle of mineral water cost us €31.60. Not bad for lunch in a major city.

We are finally on the way to Venezia! Train 9430 was waiting for us on track 3. Only problem was our seats weren’t together. Beh! I fixed that in a smile and a wink. Ahhhhh my own wide reclining chair with foot rests. Nice leather seats, wifi, big windows and have I mentioned foot rests?

The scenery changes. The mountains are off in the distance. This valley of small rolling hills must have caused invading armies sporting armor and spears to grunt and groan. We race through tunnels and zip by fairly modern houses painted in those terra-cotta and sunny colors. I long for purple or red or green.

We had our snack and the requisite glass of wine and acqua minerale then stared some more.

Filling my huge window are fortresses, lakes, and beautiful villas set back and surrounded by tall, skinny evergreens. Toscana I shout. Next stop Firenze. Che Bella. An Italian portrait right out my window. Know what else was beautiful? This train had a wheel chair, easily accessible, huge circular bathroom. Complete with toilet paper! Traveling with a handicapped student, I remember an Amtrack trip to Washington and it was the train trip of hell. This ain’t Amtrack.

The view keeps changing as we go. I am mesmerized by the shifting landscapes – mountains to rolling valleys to the plains of the north to the long bridge over the water to the station “Venezia Santa Lucia.”

We got off the train, dragged our bags out the front door and gasped. This is what greets the weary traveler.


PS – toilest at this train station costs €1 and are just OK.

Train Facts:

Great App for your phone – Info Treno

You can purchase Trenitalia tickets on line at www.Trenitalia.com. They have deals all the time.

Overhead space doesn’t hold big suitcases – airline carry on size works.

You may be sharing a 4 person table with strangers. There is no extra space on the floor for that giant Murano lamp.

Use the Train Number not where you are going when you are trying to find the right track. You may not know the last stop on the train and that is the town that will be posted.

Ci Vediamo.