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!


Vineria SanGiovanni a Milano!

Yummy for my tummy – maybe not for my wallet – but worth it!  ( We spent €83 which compared to New York City or even Princeton, NJ isn’t so bad – and remember in Italy you don’t tip.)

For the past couple of years we have landed in Milan and enjoyed 3 days of the urban experience before heading for the hills of Campania. Why?  So that I can walk city streets, smell city air and taste the food of great restaurants that are a subway ride or few block walk away from where we are staying.  This trip we are staying at a sweet albergo – 3 stars – Il Girasole – just a few metropolitan stops away from Milan’s historic center.  That means we get to try neighborhood – not tourist – restaurants.

Our hotel host, Matteo, suggested Vineria San Giovanni located on Via Le Monza 256.  I didn’t bother to check out Vineria San Giovanni (the link goes to their Facebook page). Vineria means winery, so we didn’t know what to expect – was this a cantina where we could fill a five liter jug from a gas like pump?  He said the menu was small but good.  So trusting,  we  just walked the five blocks from the hotel not knowing what to expect and entered a wine and foodie heaven.


Jack is surrounded by Italian wine – a happy camper!

We shared a sliced meat platter – Tagliere Vecchia Umbria – that had thin slices of the most scrumptious prosciutto, salami and I can’t remember – but it was great.  Under the advice of our doctor – we have both sworn off wheat – no bread.  These thin meaty slices just tantalized my tastebuds and didn’t require anything else. (€10)

For our main courses we both had exceptional beef.  Jack’s Filetto di Manzo was surrounded by these sweet and succulent onions.  It was perfectly medium rare.  I tasted the onions and thought  – honey is the secret ingredient.  I was right. (€22)


I had Tagliata di Manzo – a beautifully sliced cut of beef oozing red.  AHHHH! It was perched on a bed of arugula and surrounded by parmesan shavings.  YUUUUMMMMM! (€20)

Everyone is wondering about the wine.  Don’t raise your eyebrows – I know you are. It was after all Vineria San Giovanni!  We had a Tuscan blend of merlot and rats – neither of us can remember!  But here is the label.


For €18 we thought it was a New York bargain.

The price point was less than a New York City restaurant and the food was amazing.  Oh, I forgot – espresso was only €1.

If you find yourself in Milano on business or just exploring Italy give Vineria San Giovanni a try.!

Ci vediamo a dopo!


Mail Boxes ETC. Italian Style!


Jack had two large suitcases.  I had one large suitcase and a small suitcase stuffed with books.  He had a carry-on.  I had a carry-on and a purse.  Easy peasy – we get a ride to JFK International Airport and are a scant few feet away from the Air Emirates counter.  They take the bags and we go off to have a drink and talk about our next six months.  In Milano we use a FREE cart to hold the bags and take them out to the taxi kiosk.  There the driver jams them into the trunk and escorts us to our apartment building – where he hands over the suitcases to a charming man who worked there.

Ahhhhh – we open a bottle of wine and stare out the window at the street. “Look Jack – the subway stop is so close it will be easy to get to the train station.”  EASY – we have three huge suitcases, one book stuffed sack, two carry-ons and a purse!!!!  What were we thinking!!!

We decided we would end up paying big bucks to take a cab to the train station – in rush hour traffic and not worry about the bags.  Than one morning we decided to walk down our street in the opposite direction.  There, on the corner was a Mail Boxes Etc.  Dragging Jack over to the window I pointed out the sign that talked about a cheap rate if you could stuff a bunch of stuff in a box and it weighed less than 10 Kg.  “The books,”  I screeched – let’s at least offload the books.  I went in and talked to Fernando La Vigna, the store manager, and he said the books would get to Pontelandolfo in 2 days.

The next morning, we dragged two shopping bags full of books back.  It cost us €16.90 to send the books – we were under the 10 Kg too.  I jokingly said, “lets go back and get more stuff from the suitcases to stuff in the box.”  Fernando looked at us and said, “we can ship the suitcases.”

The thought of a way not to schlep all the suitcases on the train and drag them around Roma Termini to switch trains was incredibly appealing.  We had looked into shipping the suitcases from the USA and the average charge door to door was $250 each.  I asked how much it would cost – “not to worry – not much.”

The day before we left Milan we dragged the four suitcases to Mail Boxes Etc. located at Via G. Pelitti 7 – 20126 Milano.  ( or 02 395 46101)   For €80 all four pieces went from Milan to our house in Pontelandolfo.  They actually got there the next day before we did!

Would I do that again?  In a nanosecond!!!  Riding the train is a great way to see the country – dragging the suitcases for a six month stay on the train is not.

Some S.O.B. Hit Me!!!!!

My arm still hurts and it has been hours since I was hit by an asshole on the very safe, clean streets of our apartment’s zone.  E*&^&^%$%%^^&@$!!  Damn it – so mad.  Taking a calming breath I remember that the day had been wonderful before I encountered mister wacker.  Let us explore the magic and beauty that is Milano.

We didn’t set off until almost noon and our first stop was the neighborhood il forno.  The bakery also served caffè and we needed it – lots of it.  What surprised me – since I was expecting Manhattan prices – was that two cornetti and caffè only cost me €3.80.  My tired Italian must be rusty – when I said “due cornetti e due caffè” the cute teenager behind the counter asked me in English if I meant American coffee.  GRRRRRR.  I got over it when the strawberry marmellata in the cornetto dribbled on my chin.

The entrance to the metro was clean and I could breathe.  I say that because my asthma keeps me off New York City’s smelly subways.  Tickets within the city are €1.50 per 90 minutes of riding and changing.  We were in the center of Milan at the famous Duomo in about 15 minutes.


 Exiting we saw the spires of the cathedral touching the clouds and heard this – (HIT THE LINK!)

It took almost six centuries to build this gothic beauty. I’m glad its finished and those great break dancing boys could please the crowds and the Duomo’s patron – St Mary of the Nativity.

What?  It is only May and there are oodles of tourist groups cramming the Piazza del Duomo.  Follow me flags were blowing in the breeze and tightly packed groups of Asian tourists were in formation.  Yellow capped groups, blue capped groups, school color t-shirt wearing groups of students added to the chaos.  OK, we ain’t standing in the Disney Land length line to buy tickets to enter the magnificent edifice.  Perhaps January is a better time to see the Duomo.

We meandered the clean streets away from the crowds.  The Milanese are well dressed, polite and urbane. I have no idea what section of the city’s center we were exploring but it was architecturally interesting.  After a €10 each lunch – in a little joint filled with locals – we decided to walk back to the Duomo and the metro.  Back at our corner of the city we decided to look for a marcelleria and strolled down a wide avenue. That is when it happened! %$#!!!

A Haight Asbury, dreadlocks sporting, filthy throwback was walking towards us.  Lilting and tilting and sending out noxious fumes.  I’ve lived in cities and not much scares me.  I looked at this ill, stoned or simply sad excuse for a human and moved over.  He picked up his pace, got right up next to me and lashed  his over coated arm out. Whap – what the *&%!  I swear a stick was in the sleeve of that coat because no one has a femur strong enough to raise a lump on my arm.  Being a calm and pathetically introverted little thing I promptly turned and screamed at him.  He kept on lilting and tilting down the street.  I guess it could have been worse.  I could have swung my purse at him and knocked him out.

Time to hit the local bar.  Livarghi Bar was a cute little joint.  A Compari soda only cost me €2.50 and Jack’s wine €1.50 – no tourist prices in our neighborhood.  What shall we do tomorrow??  Whatever we do it will be magical and beautiful!

Waking up in Milan

I’m still shaking off the zzzzzzzz’s from our travel day so if i start to sound incoherent toss caffè on me.  The trip from the airport to the center of Milan by cab is €90 – we had too many bags to take the train.  Jack keeps saying we have to leave more stuff in Italy and get down to one carry-on.  I’m sure he is right – but why does he have two giant suitcases and I only have one????  The apartment we rented is not in the heart of the city – we love the neighborhood vibe and lack of tourists.  To get there by train we would have to take the Malpensa Express train ( and at Cadorna Station take the red line metro.  Easy, but not with enough luggage to outfit a baseball team.

Our host, Claudia, met us at the apartment – Via Livraghi 1/A. Yes, yes, it was Jack who did the research and found the place on (vacation rentals by owner).  The rent is considerably less  – way less – think less than €100 a day – than we would pay in a hotel and we have a cute one bedroom flat on the 7th floor in a real neighborhood. Of course it has an elevator – who would carry umpteen bags up seven flights?  Not us!  Claudia provided maps and information on Milan, recommendations for restaurants and volunteered to drive us out to Bellagio on Lago Como next Monday.  She is wonderful!!  We are one block from the Metro stop “Villa San Giovanni”.  Our goal today – if I ever stop staring at the views of the city out the windows- is to hop the metro to the center of the city and just reconnoiter.

Last night we followed Claudia’s advice and ate dinner at Mamma Lina di Milano.  Our apartment is really on the corner of Via Livraghi (a private street I might add) and the thoroughfare Via le Monza.  Since all we had to do was cross V.le Monza to get to Mamma Lina and we could barely walk it was a no brainer.  The exterior looks like any urban building but the interior –


A hidden garden greeted us.  The tables are to the right.

The fare is “tipica Pugliese” from Puglia.  (Check out their website at We both started with an incredibly creamy mozzarella cheese on a bed of rucola.  The description said it was bathed in cream – yummy.  Too tired to think, we both had the same entrée – scallops served in their shells with diced asparagus and an angelically light sauce.  Yes, it was seafood heaven.  A side of steamed but herbed vegetables and we were happy eaters.


Almost too pretty to eat – but  we did.

What – it is almost noon.  Too late to get a cappuccino and try out the bar on our block.  Rats, I’ll have to start moving earlier tomorrow.  We are off to see the famous Duomo and explore the center of Milan.  I’ll have more to say domani.  Ci vediamo a presto.