November 23, 2017

News


Sunday, July 26, 2009
Rather than try to word the announcement, I figure a picture is worth a thousand words.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 07, 2009
7.04:

This morning I had a meeting with a professor at the Polytechnic University in Milan. That meeting went great, although I had some pretty interesting adventures with the train rides into the appropriate area of Milan. But, in the end, I made it, had a great conversation, and headed back to Como.

When I got back to the hotel, I met up with Christian and heard about her trip out on the lake and her visit to Villa Carlotta. She said it was gorgeous. I'm looking forward to seeing (and sharing) those pictures.

We headed out into town to look for some lunch, and eventually came across a supermarket. We thought it might be good to buy a few things and bring them back to the hotel. We got some sandwiches, some fruit, potato chips, and some Bellini (a fruity, carbonated wine with peaches added). It made for a pretty neat lunch.

After lunch, we had a great nap in the hotel room, and then headed out later to walk around and find some dinner. Turns out, one of the stages for public music (like we listened to last night) is set up in the Piazza right next to our hotel, so we went and got some pizza to bring back to the hotel. The balcony of our room looks into the square so we could eat there and watch the band perform. Unfortunately, they got delayed due to a storm that moved in over the mountains, but as I am writing this, they have cranked back up and are jamming out in the square.

I really miss my kids. Christian showed me some pictures of them on her phone, and I wish I could be with them now. Just a couple more days.


7.05:

Had breakfast and got a transfer over to the Milan airport. Everything went pretty smooth flying into Munich, except we hit some bad weather and got waived off of a landing due to winds (first time that has happened to me... wheels down, almost on the runway, then throttle up and pull away... kind of scary until you hear from the pilot what is going on).

In Munich, called the hotel and got a transfer to the Best Western. The hotel is in a more residential area, but it was nice. Very clean. Very sharp looking. Free internet!!! Finally!!! But, no A/C (thank goodness we could open the window and let the cool air in). Thanks to the free internet, if there would have been A/C here, this may have been my favorite hotel (and it was only a temporary stay before catching our flight to Atlanta).

At night, decided to go walk to one of the only hotels in the area since the prices in the hotel restaurant seemed steep and didn't have anything we really wanted. It was a nice Italian restaurant, and we had great service and some amazing food. Also, we had a summer beer here that is half beer and half lemonade (It was great!!! Thanks to Mike for this suggestion.).

So, as hard as it is to write this... I think the best Italian food we had... was in Germany. I know, that sounds bad. But, I'm being honest. It really was great. And the German beer with it made for an interesting combination.

Walked back to the hotel and prepared to head home tomorrow.


7.06:

Checked out of the hotel, only to find out that the airport transfer service was not free!! We had to shell out quite a bit of money for the transfers to and from the airport. Oh well. I want to get home!

Got to the airport and had to check our bags in. All of the European airlines have had automated stations for checking bags, printing boarding passes, etc. Now we are back to Delta. I wish I had taken a picture of the insanely long line. And we checked in online!! When we got up to check our bags, one was 4kg too heavy. They threatened to charge us $150 if we didn't lighten it, so we opened up all our bags and started shuffling. After 2 or 3 tries, we got it under weight, but ultimately, the same amount of weight is going on the plane, so I don't exactly understand. Why don't they require that the average weight of your bags be below a certain amount?

Got through security, although one of the police stared at my passport for a while and asked why Christian's passport had a stamp from France, but mine didn't.

"Didn't you say you too have traveled together the entire time?"

"Yes"

"Then why don't you have a stamp?"

"I don't know... I guess we went in different lines."

I really didn't know. But, I think he was suspicious that we were lying. Ultimately, he decided to let us through. We got through security, waited for a while, and got on the plane.

The flight into Atlanta was fairly uneventful. The 767 had individual screens for each passenger so you could pick, watch, and pause your own movie, tv show, or music. Also, you could play games against other passengers, like poker, chess and trivia. Pretty cool.

Made it into Atlanta and went through some pretty intense security and customs controls. While we were waiting for our luggage to come out (you have to recheck luggage here even if you are getting a connecting flight), a homeland security officer was going around with a beagle and sniffing people's bags and carry-ons. It was amazing to see him work. He sniffed the bag of an older lady a few feet from us and he immediately, made a motion and sat down by the bag and stared at his handler. The handler looked at the lady and said, "You have fruit in there?"

Her face dropped. She must have remembered something that she forgot about in her bag. The officer looked in her bag and found an apple.

She mentioned that she had forgotten to claim it on the customs form (there is a section for food, fruit, and vegetables) and that she would go throw it away. "Wait he said. He needs to touch it." With that, he took the apple and let the beagle smell it and touch it with his nose. The handler then gave him a treat and started working him again. Really amazing to see what dogs are capable of. We saw quite a few seeing eye dogs during out travels as well. It is amazing how well composed they are in airports and subway trains.

In Atlanta, through security, rechecked luggage, found our gate, sat down, and saw the sign flip showing a 2 hour delay. Oh man. We waited for hours in the aorport (we were there early and already had some time to wait nominally). Then, it clicked again. Now it was delayed about 2.5 hours.

Delta. Friggin Delta. I can't think of one aspect of being an airline that they did not screw up. They had delays. They had maintenance problems with the planes. They had paperwork problems with the planes. They had poor service at the counter. They lost our luggage. They even destroyed one of our bags. Short of crashing, they did everything they could do to screw up being an airline.

When we finally made it into Lafayette, I was so tired I could barely see. We started walking, following a line of people. I was barely conscious. I would occasionally look up to make sure I was still following Christian and the line of people. I was a zombie. And then I heard it.

"Mommy! Daddy!".

Neo's voice rang out.

"Dad-eee!!! Dad-eeeeeeeee!" I heard Charlie say. Once his feet hit the ground, he ran to me as fast as he could. Oh man. What a feeling. I went and saw some of the oldest and most beautiful art and buildings in the world. But yet, in the end, it was my wife and my kids that I discovered. I see them and love them in an even stronger way. It was a trip of a lifetime. It is so good to be home.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, July 03, 2009
7.01:

Woke up, had breakfast, and ventured out again.

We headed to the science museum (can't remember the exact name). It was ok, but not really exciting. After buying the tickets we realized most of it was closed. The tickets were discounted, but I wonder if we should have went at all. Nevertheless, the stuff we did see was neat. It is pretty amazing to see the machines that people built hundreds of years ago. Some were as simple as a machine the could detect the exact moment of solar noon. Others, fancy telescopes and astronomy devices.

After the museum, we did some very last minute shopping.

We headed to the hotel, checked out, and went to the train station. It was pretty easy to find the right train, get on, and head to Venice. The train ride was nice. We met a family from Florida, and saw some beautiful mountain scenery out the window. After a couple of stops, we were in Venice.

Venice was hot, and after seeing the endless line of people trying to get tickets for the Vaporetto (the water bus line), we decided to go on an adventure and walk to the hotel, rather than taking the water bus. The walk wasn't that bad, except for the fact that every time we crossed a canal, we had to go over a bridge with the luggage. That made it difficult. Since we only had one map that started close to the grand canal, we couldn't get far from it. Eventually, we found the tiny alleyway leading to our hotel (there are lots of tiny alleys between buildings here).

The hotel is nice, although no free internet . We are in one of the last remaining portions of Venice where locals still live, so outside of our windows we can see the apartments of locals with laundry on lines and gardens in the window.

After checking in, we headed out for dinner and some sightseeing. We went in a gorgeous church, walked to the Rialto bridge, looked through the shops, and found a local restaurant.

In the restaurant, we proceeded to order way too much wine (1 liter, for two people who don't drink). The food was mediocre. I had salmon which wasn't very good. Christian ordered a pizza with cheese, shrimp, and mushrooms. It also was mediocre. Although, with that much wine you stop caring what the food tastes like after a while. Needless to say, after our dinner and liter of wine, we decided to stay close to the hotel and make it an early night.


7.02:

Woke up late this morning, washed some clothes in the bathroom, and then headed to breakfast in the hotel. The breakfast here is probably the weakest of all the hotels we've been to, consisting of some rolls, croissants, and some cereal. Still, it was sufficient. During breakfast, we met some nice couples from Canada and exchanged travel stories.

After breakfast, we headed to our walking tour of Venice. We saw St. Mark's Basillica and a few other things. I won't write too much about it as it was definitely the weakest of all the tours we have been on. We used the same tour company twice in Rome and once in Florence, and always had good experiences, although this tour was just boring. I can't tell if it was just the tour, or the tour guide, but it was weak. It was definitely not an issue of knowledge - she could answer any question from people in the group, and I often found their questions to be more interesting than the stuff she was talking about. Oh well. Still, I learned some things about Venice.

After the tour, we walked around some more around the Rialto Bridge and took some pictures during the daytime (we were there last night). We headed back to the hotel and took a nap.

When we woke up, we ventured out one last time, only after the Apostoli Palace hotel clerk accused us of stealing cookies.

The story, basically, is that in the breakfast area next to our room there was a cart with crackers and biscotti. There was also a table with some candy in a bowl. Christian and I decided to grab some crackers in our bag for when we were walking around.

When we got downstairs, we were scolded by the clerk who was watching us on the surveillance video. He said that if we took the cookies, there would be none left for breakfast. I told him we didn't realize they were for breakfast only, and that we would put them back (I thought they were snacks for guests, just like the candy on the table appeared to be). He insisted that we could keep them, but I insisted that we would put them back if it was that important.

And we left. And I got mad to be honest. I mean, I understand if they don't want people taking them. But if something is important enough to say something to a paying guest that will make them feel like complete crap, then really, you should just invest the 50 cents on a sign that says "For breakfast only. Please do not take". If it isn't important enough for a sign, then it shouldn't be important enough to something that will make your guests feel bad. I was really aggravated when I left there.

And while I'm on the hotel, I can't really suggest that people stay there. The lack of internet, the mediocre breakfast, and the horrendous smell coming out of the drain pipes all put this hotel on the lower end of hotels we stayed at. And the cookie incident just made it worse. The one positive thing that had going for them was the cold A/C.

When walking around, we walked some of the areas with fewer tourists and more locals. Eventually, I saw a sign for a small restaurant called "Ostaria alla Staffa". Inside, we asked the man behind the counter for a menu, and he explained that they had no menu, but told us what he was cooking tonight. We liked that.

We sat down and ordered a half-liter of wine (lesson learned from the night before), and talked with Franco (the man behind the counter). He was very nice and was happy to explain things to us and help us with our Italian. Christian had a pasta with a creme sauce, and I had a pasta with a primavera sauce. It was good, but I was not extremely full. I decided to ask if he had desserts. He explained the three desserts that he had, which prompted my question "Which one is your favorite?". He made a face and tapped his chin. "Dis is problem," he said. He went on to say why he liked each one and that his wife made the filling in the cheesecake very light and he liked that.

"So your wife made the creme filling in the cheesecake?"

"She make all of the desserts" he said.

Awesome. I love food with a story. I had a slice of cheesecake with strawberry topping. Delicious.

I told him we would like to get a picture with him. He agreed but asked if we could send a postcard from where we were from (he had postcards from customers from all over the place). He asked where we were from.

"Houston."

"Ahh, Houston!" Then he used his finger as he pretended it was a rocket launching with the "pkew" sound to go with it.

"Yes." I nodded. "I work there. At NASA."

His eyes got big. He yelled something in Italian and started writing something on a piece of paper. He handed it to me. It was an address for us to mail him a postcard from there. He also gave me his email address. I was excited just seeing a foreigner immediately associating Houston with the space program.

So, another dinner. Another story.

Then we walked quite a bit around Venice, looking in shops, taking more pictures, and having more laughs, before heading to the hotel. We head out tomorrow. And to be honest, I'm glad. Venice just didn't seem like the right fit for us. We had fun anyway though.


7.03:

Woke up and ate breakfast at the hotel. During breakfast, we spoke with a lovely couple from Kent England. They were very nice and we chatted about all sort of things.

After breakfast, we checked out and rode the vaporetta (waterbus) to the train station. This was fairly uneventful. At the train station, we easily found our train and got on (as usual).

On the train, we met a great couple from Toronto, who had children in the movie business. One of them was getting married by Lake Como. It turns out, the man was the father of a celebrity actress (I'll keep her name out for privacy), but it was really neat to talk with them. We had similar interests and curiousities and had lots to share. We have met some really interesting people throughtout the trip from all over the world.

Then, we had a horrible train experience in Milan. Our train was delayed for quite a while. When it showed up, we tried to find the right coach and had lots of trouble. When we did get on a coach, we found someone in our seats. They explained to us we had first class tickets and this was second class. We had lots of trouble getting off the train as it was severely packed. When we finally managed to work our way through the extremely rude crowds (people would simply refuse to duck in a seat temporarily to let you pass), we got off and saw an employee of the train. We yelled for help and he pointed to the front of a train car. When we got on it, we started looking for our seats, and when we finally got there, the same employee (who was obviously the one who serves drinks on the train), had drinks and supplies all over the seats, so there was no way we could sit there. We asked him again (since he was the one who told us to get on this train) for some help and he threw his hands up and said "I can't help you. I can't help you."

Now I was steaming. This guy could speak english, so that was not the issue, but something else was going on. How could we have ridden 5 trains without a single problem and now, all of a sudden, we are frantically searching and can't find our seat.

I grabbed the ticket and ran off the train to find someone to help. I saw another employee of the train service, but this time wearing a special hat (I believe he was the conductor of the train if that is the right position. Other employees were asking him questions). I had struck gold. I ran up to him and pointed to my ticket. He looked me in the eye, scoffed, and turned around and started walking away from me, mumbling something in Italian. I stood there shouting, "But where do we go?" and he just kept walking away.

I couldn't believe it. These were people we were paying. This is not the DMV we are talking about here, but people we are PAYING for a train ticket. I started walking back to get Christian.

There, I saw a woman who asked if I needed help. I explained that we didn't know how to find our seat. She then proceeded to tell me that there is some confusion because there was problems with the other train so this train was being used as a substitute. The only possible explanation I can see for why employees were being so rude is that they were being asked to pick up an extra set of passengers or maybe passengers from another company. Not that that justifies being rude to the passengers, but I can't wrap my head around how some people here can be so blatantly rude to people. If that man had done that to a big ol' corn-fed texan in the US, I'm pretty certain he would have gotten a fist in his mouth.

To top it all off, when the conductor got on and started checking tickets, I saw him chatting with the guy who told us that he wouldn't help us, and it seemed pretty clear that they were friends. This first guy later walked by and gave me a smirk. I was pretty fired up.

Finally, we got to Milan. When we got off the train, I saw passengers trying to get on running up to the train conductor, and he was being rude to them too!!! I saw this asian guy ask him a question and then have this surprised look on his face when the guy motioned and walked away.

As we rolled our bags past him, I made a point to get his attention and say "Thanks for all your help earlier. You were a really big help. You ass." I can only hope he understood.

And so, now I'm angry. And like my father, it takes me quite a while to reset. But I did, and when we got to the hotel by taxi, I was hoping everything would be better.

The "Hotel Metropole & Suisse" staff member greeted us and pulled up our reservation. He said we had the room but breakfast was not included. Christian immediately said "uhhhh", because she new we had arranged with our travel agent to have breakfast included. We pulled out the voucher which very explicitly said breakfast included. The man thought we were arguing with him, so he started getting short with us. We told him we would call our travel agent since there was obviously some sort of mixup (we did later and she said she would handle it). After getting to our room, the view is absolutely gorgeous... except for the huge construction cranes right in front of the window. The jack-hammering was shaking the room.

To make things worse, the bathroom wasn't clean (Christian wasn't too happy about that), and the internet is not only not free, but quite expensive (6 euros for one hour.. about $9 USD and hour). Oh well, I was going to just have to get over it.

I went back downstairs to ask about how to get across the lake using the boats, and where we could go for dinner. The receptionist was again very short, just handing me a boat schedule and telling me there were some good restaurants in the area. That was literally all he said. I asked again for a suggestion and he said there were plenty of good restaurants. After being so upset with some of the people we have dealt with, I was ready to leave and go walk around with Christian.

We walked a bit and found some cool sights. The lake is gorgeous. We decided to stop in one place and order some food to go. We had seen some shady benches next to the lake, and rather then dealing with people, I was up for taking some food to-go, and going and eating it by the lake. We did, and it was delicious.

One interesting story about the guy we ordered the sandwiches from - he was very helpful and was helping us order, when he noticed my Walt Disney World hat. He asked me where I got it and I told him in Orlando.

"I work there", he said.

"Really?"

"Yes. In Epcot Center. I work in the Italian restaurant in the area where they have food from different parts of the world."

Apparently, he works there most of the year, and then returns to Como occasionally. What is interesting is that we ate in that restaurant when we went there! And given the time of year that we went, it is very probably that he would have been there.

"Small world," he said, I believe pun intended.

After eating by the lake and taking in the sights, we went up to our room to sit on the balcony and people watch.

Labels: , , ,

Archives

Current Posts


Atom news feed RSS news feed

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?


  Search

Google
Web graffagnino.net
  Friendswood Weather

  Click for Friendswood, Texas Forecast