Chapter One – An Early Setback On Our Way To Italy

We Didn’t Drink All The Vino:  2005 Italia Uncensored!

Chapter One – An Early Setback On Our Way To Italy

Days One and Two – Are We There Yet, Which Way To First Class and Excuse Me, Is This The Airport Sauna?

Although we managed to trash one rental car (a precautionary…and cautionary… tale of stupidity from the first part of our trip) in addition to seriously impairing dozens of brain cells along the way during our 22-day Italian journey, we successfully returned from another wonderful trip to Europe.  No Italian animals, pedestrians, priests or nuns were injured during the making of this trip report (frightened, yes; harmed, no), which will describe our travels to the hill towns of Umbria and Tuscany, the beautiful cities of Firenze, Venezia and Roma, and all the sundry details I can remember from the trip.

AtkinsLogo-227-kbI devoured enough pasta and miscellaneous carbohydrates that poor, dead Dr. Atkins has turned over in his steak and scrambled eggs.  My cholesterol count became so inflated from my over-indulgence that not even an intravenous drip of Lipitor could make a dent in it. Since this trip, I have awakened on many occasions, screaming in the middle of the night for Ravioli stuffed with Ricotta, Pecorino and Spinach, drizzled with olive oil.  Yes, I have become a full-fledged Pastaholic (below is just one of our delicious recipes we now make).

P1000512Before departing on this journey, I had read trip reports by overwrought travelers who incongruously perceived that Italians were taking turns laughing and mocking them as they strolled the streets of Rome and other Italian environs.  For those traveling to Italy in the future, let me first allay those misguided fears.  Although given ample opportunity to do so, Italian citizens neither laughed at nor mocked us throughout our three-week stay (at least to our faces).

Tracy and I (on the left of the photo at the top of the page) traveled with another couple (Kim, not in the picture because he took it) and Mary (center) that we have known for years, and, I am happy to report, the four of us remain on speaking terms to this day.  We hooked up with another couple (Dan and Linda, who are on the right) for a night in Florence and the last three days in Rome.  Between the six of us, we took 1,500 pictures (more if you count Dan’s camera, now resting comfortably at the bottom of a Venice canal).

Following are the facts and nothing but the facts.  The story you are about to read is true.  No names have been changed, because no one is innocent.  This is “Italia Uncensored.”

For those who hate airline stories, this is your chance to skip to Day Three, although if you have never flown first class or had to spend 12 hours in two airports in the span of 28 hours, you might enjoy this part.  Confusing?  Yes.  Much like our flight plan to get to Rome.

Tracy and I had converted most of our frequent flyer miles to go first class (once before I die, we thought).  Because you are at the airlines’ mercy when it comes to FF awards, we were booked to go Los Angeles to New York, New York to London (six hour layover at Heathrow) and finally (mercifully), London to Rome. Basically, the only thing slower than our trip to Rome would be FEMA’s response to a disaster.

Upon checking in about two hours before our Thursday, 1:15 p.m. flight to New York, Tracy and I decided to take Aadvantage of the American Airlines Admiral’s Club (I never met a free drink I didn’t like).  Upon entering the lounge we were greeted with an awkward smile and the words, “You must be Mr. and Mrs. Your Flight Is In Peril But You Don’t Know It Yet” (not our real last names).

At first we thought, “How nice. They know our names.”  Then came word that bad weather in the east had caused a four-hour delay in our flight to New York, meaning we would miss our connection to London.  Not to worry, they said, and we were quickly re-booked on a 6 p.m. Los Angeles to London non-stop.  We’d already dropped off the cats and taken the limo (OK, it was a Lincoln Town Car) to the airport, so we were not going to spend a fortune to go back home and come back again.

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This was one time we wished we had some unemployed friends who could come and pick us up at the airport and play for a few hours.

The American Airlines’ people were terrific from the start. They notified us that our luggage had been found and rerouted to our new flight and told us to relax in the lounge.  Granted, six hours in a lounge is a lot of relaxing (even for me), but we made the best of the situation. A few drinks and a few hundred peanuts later, we boarded our flight to London.

First Class Baby!  It is the only way to travel. When we boarded, I inadvertently turned to the right toward my usual seat in the bowels of coach Hell, but the flight attendant, realizing my error, quickly turned me to the left toward first class, and there before us lay a world I did not know existed.

Nobody reclines their seat back into your knees while your legs lose all feeling twenty minutes into the flight. There is champagne when you board and free-flowing French wine served while awaiting dinner (a few hundred peanuts can make a man thirsty).

Our movies were brought to us on a silver tray (if only the movies had warranted such an intro). The seats reclined all the way to form a sleeper bed. I stood, turned around and gazed toward the rear of the plane at the sad, pathetic faces of cramped, uncomfortable passengers and could only think, “Oh, the humanity!

hindenburg-wideDinner consisted of smoked salmon with crème fraiche, onions and capers and a salad laced with baby lobster tail. The meal was topped off by a delicious steak (I could have opted for a sundae, but I was afraid the plane might become overloaded if I indulged any more in this gluttonous activity).

Tracy and I stretched out for about five hours only to be awakened by the smell of breakfast; a very rich tasting cream-cheese, chive omelet with a side of filet mignon, coffee and juice. “I wonder how the other half lives?” I asked Tracy.

At Heathrow, reality hit us again as we took grasp of the understanding that a six-hour wait laid ahead before our flight to Rome on British Airways. Heathrow is huge, and a bus driver (who must have just received his learner’s permit that morning) made the trip from Terminal Three to Terminal One quite exciting by applying the brake and gas at unusual intervals. Plus, the guy was driving on the wrong side of the road (yeah, I know)!

The BA lounge offered a nice variety of finger sandwiches, cocktails (my first Campari of the trip), coffee, tea and soft drinks. It also had a number of computers to wile away the hours and showers to rejuvenate the spirit (Campari did the trick for me).

2011-05-17-images-campariWe arrived in Rome at 9:30 p.m. Friday night after a 2 hour and 15 minute flight from London (nothing special) and walked to the Rome Airport Hilton, where we would spend the first night, awaiting the arrival of Kim and Mary from San Diego the following morning.

If you enjoy a good sauna, the walkway between the airport and the Hilton reminded me of one, except that nobody was naked. The weight we gained on the plane was quickly shed during the five to ten minute walk to the hotel.

It had been mentioned that the Rome Airport Hilton was overpriced. Well, maybe it was (210 Euros a night), but the shower and late dinner of ricotta and basil ravioli with julienne zucchini hit the spot perfectly (the two martinis didn’t hurt either).

For a couple of weary travelers, the room was just fine. We hit the pillow by midnight and were asleep in a matter of seconds.

That was a good thing, because I had a wake-up call for 8 a.m. so I could pick up the soon-to-be infamous rental car, meet our friends and head off to Spello in Umbria. The adventure was now officially under way.

Next: Day Three – Things Go Better With Spello, Reversal Of Misfortune and I Didn’t Know You Could Speak Yiddish!


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