Friday, March 7, 2014

Italy









Expectations

Don't expect to see Ferrari's and other exotic cars everywhere.  We only saw one and it was old and not interesting at all

Don't expect to be smoke free.  People will smoke everywhere and anytime.

Don't expect the place to be clean.  There is trash everywhere.

Don't expect cars or scooters etc to stop for you if you cross the street.  They will not.

Don't expect the food to be good just because the place looks cute.

Don't pay a tip, it is usually included.  Also, look for "service charge" or "cover charge" or other added items tacked on

Don't pay the price they ask from a vendor.  Always negotiate.

Watch out for pickpockets and other people who will try to take advantage of you.  They are not shy about it.

Don't expect to use your credit card.  Bring cash.

Don't expect toilet seats.



Friday March 7 departed Dallas

We arrived at the airport and with all of us TSAPre, we flew past the crowds.  Looks like everyone else took their kids out of school today to start Spring Break early like we did.
We had breakfast in the Admiral's Club (also hard to find a place to sit, so many families) then boarded our 737-800 and enjoyed a fresh steak salad.  Steven, our flight attendant, came over and introduced himself and greeted me with my name and said thank you for being one of our most loyal members (I am Executive Platinum) and I thank you for your business.  I like that.  I feel appreciated when they say that to me.


We arrived at JFK and went to the Admirals Club.  It was a zoo.  Could barely find a seat.  Standard menu and standard olives and crackers.  Inside the Club is the Flagship Lounge.  This is very hard to get in to.  It is much smaller but very elite.  Only for first class international travelers.  Look at the buffet they roll out at 5pm.  The sushi went really fast.  

Chicken, potatoes, mushrooms, full salad, split pea soup, mushroom soup, full open free bar serve yourself.

There is a catch.  I can only bring one person in to the Flagship Lounge.  They enforced it with me but inside I saw a family of three and another family of four. So I brought one person with me.  We ate  Then I took that person out to the Admirals Club and brought the other person in and I was told no.  You already selected one person and you can't bring in a different person.  Very strange.

Anyway, it was time to board the flight

If you have to fly a 767 then try for row 11 main cabin extra.  I was able to full stretch out my feet and touch the wall.  The person behind me kept kicking me all night, very annoying.  He and his seat mate and the person in the row behind them struck up a conversation that lasted about 2 to 3 hours.  Three 20 yr old boys talking and laughing as if they are in a bar just getting to know each other.  Meanwhile, everyone else was trying to sleep.  







The flight actually left on time.  Shocking. I have been tracking i for the past 40 days and it has been late 26% of the time as much as 4 hours late.  The concern is if it is late by that much, we would miss our connection from Milan to Rome.

Dinner in coach was chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans. The only fresh item was the salad. 


Sunrise

Breakfast in coach.  Don't have high expectations.






Beautiful view of the Alps

15,000 ft, 10 min from landing in MXP


View of first row of first class
My wife and I had two seats in first and the kids had two seats in the first row of coach (row 11).  I gave my seat to one kid for 1/2 the flight and to the other kid for the last 1/2 of the flight and I sat in coach.  In the last 15 minutes of the flight, I left the coach seat, made the kid move back to coach, and went to my first class seat and slept for 10 minutes so I could enjoy the bed.  Am I a nice dad or what?

The seats are NOT lie flat (180 degrees).  They are about 165 degrees so your body is always slipping downwards with the vibrations.

We arrived early in the morning into MXP and when you look out the airport window, you can see the Alps.  But two hours later, the atmosphere changed and you could not see this view at all.







Saturday March 8 Day 1: ARRIVE IN MILAN / ROME
Arrive in Milan, transfer to flight to Rome
Organized walking tour of Rome: Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain
Hotel Rome Cavalieri – Waldorf Astoria  http://waldorfastoria3.hilton.com/en/hotels/italy/rome-cavalieri-waldorf-astoria-hotels-and-resorts-ROMHIWA/index.html


We gathered our luggage and took a cab through winding narrow Rome to our hotel.  My son said it was an epic cab ride.  Winding roads. Traffic. People.  No regard for people crossing the road.  No one stops at intersections. 
video

And we are entering the hotel property

The front entrance to the hotel

Some president or someone really really important must have been staying at our hotel this weekend because there was a special police Land Rover parked outside the front door.  Then there were 10 or so police cars.  And about 10 or so police motorcycles.  Even the whole street for 1/2 km was totally blocked off from cars parking on the street.  There was yellow tape marking both sides of the street as a no parking zone.  As if they were ready to take this person somewhere.  We had this very high security all weekend, then by Sunday night they were all gone.



Bathroom
We got two rooms.  One for the parents and one for the kids.  This has one king bed, couch and balcony overlooking Rome and the Vatican.  Electric blinds that close down and block out any noise from pool parties.  Then there is another door by the entrance door with a huge mirror that closes that is a sound proofing door to block out any talking or running down the hallways.


The sheets were so soft, the bed ultra comfy

Beautiful day overlooking Rome, temperature in the 60's.  Vatican is just to the right of the tree



Fully stocked.  Look down at the carpet.  Ultra soft and not stained or frayed.

Here are the electric shutters.  Sorry this is my first video with my iPhone and it it sideways.  I don't know why.


Marble.  Heated towel racks.  Pull the string for help if you need it.








This is the kids room.  Two beds.  Rooms are next to each other but not adjoining doors.





So we were starving and went downstairs to the restaurant in the hotel to eat.  Can't remember what these were.





Took a taxi and then explored

And approached The Spanish Steps



View at top of Spanish Steps

Lots of art for sale on The Spanish Steps

Very nice view.  There is a sinking boat fountain just below us that they are repairing (yes, that thing down below with poles and draping).  Dates back to 1626, same time as around 1607 when Jamestown, Virginia was being settled.

We walked all the way down
Spanish Steps in the background, hard to see.  Crowded market street must be their Rodeo Drive.  Every name is here.  Armani. Chanel. Louis Vitton.  Hermes.  Moncler.  Gucci.  Keep walking another block and there is another Gucci.  Chanel etc.  Just like in Honolulu, there is more than one.  Just in case you missed the first one, here is another one you can spend your money at.



Trevi Fountain.  There is the statute Triton on the right blowing his conch shell.  In the middle there is the statue of Ocean 16 feet high carved by Pietro Bracci  http://www.trevifountain.net/description.htm











This is the Pantheon from outside at dusk.  This is NOT the Parthenon.  That is in Athens, Greece.  This is where Thomas Jefferson probably got his inspiration as well for the dome and for the pyramid.  The original use of the Pantheon is somewhat unknown, except that is was classified as a temple  http://www.rome.info/pantheon/



panorama (formed from Greek πᾶν "all" + ὅραμα "sight") inside the Pantheon.  This has to be the most amazing building I have ever seen. Over 2,000 yrs old.  Everyone has been inspired by this.




Look at this dome.  No one had ever built a dome like this.  Again, 2,000 yrs ago.  Outside the building you can see they used arches to build the sides of the building.















This is probably the best restaurant in the whole trip.  We ate at the restaurant Hostaria Costanza.   http://www.hostariacostanza.it   This is the site 2,000 years ago for "si trova nei pressi del teatro di Pompeo"  It was a outdoor theatre that could hold 20,000 people.  The restaurant is built inside the ruins of of this.  The low ceilings around us are the ancient walls.  Our waiters were very funny and helpful.  My son would be on his iPhone playing a game and the waiter would come up behind him and crouch down and watch him play.  It was too funny.  I asked him to take a picture and instead of pointing it at us, he turned it around and pointed it at himself and brushed his hair back as if to take a self portrait.  Too funny.












Piazza Navona  http://www.turismoroma.it/cosa-fare/piazza-navona  A fountain with 4 statutes.  Built on the ashes of the Stadium of Domitian, used in ancient times for athletic contests and competitions of various kinds.  It is shaped like a race track and this is where ancient races were held.
Look in the center bottom.  That is the back of a horse with its tail and two legs.  If you walk to the left 90 degrees, you will see another opening and see the front of the horse and legs

Lots of sea monsters in this fountain


Then we took a taxi back to the hotel.  Look at this beautiful night view.  The camera cannot capture the temperature or the color of the sky or the humming background noise of the city.  Or the feeling of peace within me.  Of happiness.  Of content.  There is no technology for any of that.
Rome night view from our balcony.  Look to the right you can see the Vatican.


Zoomed in to Vatican




Sunday March 9 Day 2: ROME
Organized ½-day walking tour: Ancient Rome, Roman Forum / Coliseums / walk to downtown
Organized ½-day walking tour: Crypts and Roman Catacombs
Hotel Rome Cavalieri – Waldorf Astoria


Woke to a beautiful morning view of Rome.  Look at the right side of the balcony wall.  All the way to the right.  There is a very large framed mirror.  That enables you to see to the left as well.  Same on the left side of the balcony.  There is another framed mirror so you can see to the right as well.


See the left side of the balcony?  There is a large framed mirror.






Here is a pillow menu.  Yes, you read it correctly.





Started off with a $50 per person breakfast.  Check out this video.  Three rooms full of food.  As much as you can eat.  Finest quality.  This is the best hotel in Rome.  The only Michelin 3 star in all of Rome.  Yes, in all of Rome.

Took a taxi from hotel to Coliseum.

Looking back at our hotel up on a hill

New monument built, I understand current Romans not happy about spending so much money on it.

Then we went to the Coliseum.  There were 80 gates.  Each numbered in Roman numerals.  We went into gate LIIII (53).

This was your gate.  Your stone tablet had the gate number LIII chiseled in it.  This was your gate.  Go in.  Go out.  You cannot mingle with people in LII or LIV.  Your bathroom was here.  Your drinks and vendors were here.

Go in.  Go out.  You cannot mingle with people in LII or LIV.

Here are some panorama (formed from Greek πᾶν "all" + ὅραμα "sight") shots
Click on picture to make it bigger

Click on picture to make it bigger

Click on picture to make it bigger


Notice the outside ring stops.  This was because Italy has many earthquakes, and part of the wall fell down and the Pope "took" the stones and also "took" all the marble floors and also "took" all the Roman Columns and that is what you can see in St. Peter's Square.  That is where everything from here went to.  The Popes were always in conflict with the Romans.




Click on picture to make it bigger

Click on picture to make it bigger

The Romans Empire lasted 1,000 years.  It took 400 years to rise to power, 200 years of power all the way from England to Iraq and traded with India, down to all of North Africa.  Then it took 300 years of downfall and it finally "ended" around 476 A.D.  It was all ruled from a small three story building in this complex (sorry, no clear photo of this building).  The photo below is where Rome first started, these are where people lived.



After all that walking, time to eat.

Caesar salad with ham

Chicken with risotto


Lamb chops

Paella




Back to the hotel.  Swam in the heated pool, sat in the hot tub in the Grand Spa in our Cavaleri robes






Monday March 10 Day 3: ROME / SORRENTO
Organized ½-day walking tour: Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Basilica
Train to Naples to Sorrento
Hotel Hilton Sorrento Palace  http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/italy/hilton-sorrento-palace-RROHIHI/index.html

Some things to consider.

Italians love to smoke.  As soon as the train empties out, the people start smoking.  In the train station, they smoke.  They smoke everywhere.  Almost everyone.

Traffic.  The cars do not stop for people crossing the street.  Almost every city in the world, people have the right of way.  Not in Italy.  The cars rule.  There might be lines in the road to outline the lanes but the cars are everywhere, the lines are disregarded.  The scooters go where ever they want.  In the opposite lane as well.  No police to help you cross the street.  No people to help you with tourist questions.

Cash.  Carry cash.  Cabs take cash.  It is mostly cash.  Tips at restaurants is cash.  Careful about tips.  Service is usually included in the bill.  Need to read the menu.

Toilet seats.  Don't expect toilet seats except probably in your 4 or 5 star hotel.  They don't have it.  Expect to not use the toilet.  Expect to squat.  Do not sit on that filthy toilet.  Don't expect to have water or soap to wash your hands.  There is usually no soap.

Wi-Fi.  Don't expect to find WiFi readily available.  It is very hard to find.

Trash.  There is trash everywhere.  Place is pretty filthy.  Other countries, one can see workers cleaning everything all the time.  Not in this country.

We should rename this the Carb Trip of 2014.  The amount of carbs we are having is nuts.  But then we are walking so much and burning off so many calories.

If you are looking for pottery, painted items, etc. they will say ohh this is one of a kind, original, you can only buy this here, special price for you.  Don't believe it.  It is everywhere and they all pretty much look alike and the prices vary all over the place and plus you can bargain.

You need to bargain.  I was looking at something and I asked how much and she said 20 euro, I said ohh, sorry, I really only wanted to spend less than 10 euro, she said ok, fine, 10 euro.

So be careful of pickpockets.

Here is the visitor entrance to the Vatican.  Make sure you buy your tickets in advance.  And buy them from viator.com or someone like that.  Make sure they are fast track or skip the line or whatever they are called.  Don't wait in line three hours.  We walked right past all the people standing there forever.

Lots of construction going on.

Hundreds of groups with tour guides.  Don't get lost.  Stay with your group.


Can you guess where they might have gotten the idea for this dome?



Swiss Guards



The balcony where the Pope stands:

Raphael painted this painting.  He was in competition with Michelangelo.  At the very end, he added the figure in the center leaning on his left hand.  It is a figure of Michelangelo.  It was to show how much he had come to admire Michelangelo even though they were in competition with each other.


Click on picture to make it bigger

Click on picture to make it bigger

Click on picture to make it bigger

Click on picture to make it bigger

Click on picture to make it bigger

Click on picture to make it bigger

Tapestry

 Tapestry

3D on the ceiling.  It is not 3D.  It is painted to look 3D

Handing him a letter






Michelangelo's work.  This is behind a plate of glass now. It used to be right there on the floor where you could walk around it.  A few years ago, a man came with a hammer and climbed on top of it and started chipping away at it.  He was able to hit it about 20 times and chipped parts of it away before he was caught and send to jail for a short time.  It took two years to restore it.  Then they put it behind this glass.  Through computer techniques, they have calculated that Mary is 70% larger than Jesus.



The square can hold 20,000 seats and they start to fill up at 7AM until the Pope comes out at 11AM.  The rest of the 80,000 people stand for four hours.




And here we see the columns that were "taken" by the Popes from the Colosseum.

Here is a picture of the columns in the Colosseum.



This is the exit.  Look to the far right in the back.  Those columns.  Those are the columns from the Coliseum.


We took a 3 hour walking tour today and started at the Catacombs http://www.catacombe.roma.it/en/index.php.  Since it is a religious site, photos were not allowed.  We went down many stories and there were a lot of tunnels where dead people were buried.  The estimate is about 500 or more people were buried every day.  People were not allowed to be buried within the Roman walls.  So they had to travel 1/2 day or more to get to the outside, to the countryside, to bury the dead.



 So take a look at how this person parked.  There is zero room behind it.  And the front of the car is sticking out in traffic.  Is the really right?  Is it the right thing to do?

Let's take a closer look.  The car doesn't even fit in the spot.  It physically can not.  Yet still this person parked here.  Without consideration of how the person in front or behind will get out.



We then cabbed it back to the Hilton Cavalieri, packed up, checked out, cabbed it to the train station.

The train station was packed and very confusing.  I had already purchased my tickets online but didn't know what to do.  Plan in advance.  I don't know how you would do that.  I went to customer service and showed him my reservation.  He said you need to log in and print out your PNR.  I said I have no WiFi.  He logged in on his iPhone and got me my PNR.  Thank goodness.  You need to figure out how to get WiFi.  I have not been able to figure that out.  We finally found our train track number.  We had reserved seats.  Again, people smoking everywhere.  Awful.  We found others sitting in our seats, I said we have these reserved, they got up and moved.  Again, the culture is very different here.  It is very much like China where people are very aggressive and just keep moving forward and are very aggressive.  These are two cultures where one cannot be meek.


Dinner at Sorrento Hilton

Dessert cart

Dessert cart





Tuesday March 11 Day 4: SORRENTO
Tour Pompeii, Herculean, Mt. Vesuvius
Hotel Hilton Sorrento Palace

We ate a full breakfast at the hotel this morning after sleeping in late.  Ahhh.   We walked 10 min to the train station.  Don't take a taxi.  They charge 15 euro which is really a rip off.  We boarded the train, the Circumvensia for a 45 min ride back towards Naples.  Be prepared to stand because it is always crowded.  So we stood.  Watch out for pick pockets.  Keep your sunglasses on so you can keep an eye on people around you without them knowing it.  That way you can watch eye movements between two people who might be planning something.  Our guide, the other day, said he was in Florence and was robbed by two guys in suits.

We got off at the Vesuvius stop.  There was a little shop that said Vesuvius on it so we went in.  It was 20 euro per person cash only.  Of course.  We barely had enough cash.  We paid the money and then were left wondering how we were going to pay for lunch and what if anything else came up.  He said 15 minutes.  We waited and waited.  30 minutes went by.  I went in.  What is going on?  They spoke in gestures, no English.  Five fingers went up in the air.  We waited.  Finally a taxi van came by and this other family of four and our family of four got on.  Sketchy.  This is code name for suspicious.  Unusual.  My son came up with this word.  There were five guys standing on the steps of the train station talking to each other.  What were they doing?  And they kept looking at us.  Sketchy.  No official van or anything.  Just a taxi.  Sketchy.  I looked at his gas tank and it was lit meaning it was low on fuel.  Sketchy.  We went through a little town and the lane got narrow.  A lot narrower.  One car width at places.  Traffic from the other side was coming and it became chicken and egg and I still don't know how two vehicles never touched each other.

Up we went.  A very windy road.  He went at high speed, of course.  We are in Italy.  Why would he go slow?  He passed other vehicles.  I just closed my eyes.  If you are car sick prone, I would suggest you don't take this trip up to the volcano.  After 30 minutes, we got to the top.  Not quite to the top.  We still had to walk 1 kilometer.  Five-eights of a mile.  Didn't sound too bad.  Except it was cold up here.  http://www.epnv.it/pnv/home/index.asp.  All I had on was a short-sleeve polo and a thin sweatshirt.  I needed hiking boots, gloves, hat and a thick jacket.  Up the trail we went.  School children were coming down.  I said well if they went up and came down, so can I.  A hundred feet later I paused.  It was a steep incline.  Probably 15 degrees.  Try it on the treadmill.  That is pretty steep.  So every couple of hundred feet, I had to stop and rest as I was pushing my max heart rate.  As I went up, it got colder.

It started to snow.  Finally got to the top.  Very nice view, I could see all of Naples and all the way south and the sea.  But I was exhausted.  I was cold.  Shaking from the cold.  Brain was starting to shut down and go into prehistoric brain mode.  Survival.

Here is the crater, you can see the sulfur dioxide coming out (http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/hazards/gas)

I was at the Kilauea volcano in December 2013 on the Big Island in Hawaii and it was similar and smelled the same awful smell, here is that picture

Panoramic view of Naples and the sea

Panoramic view

Panoramic view of the crater

I went to Maslow's hierarchy of 5 down to 1 very quickly as I was cold and tired and just wanted to survive.  There was no pleasure (pleasure is at level Maslow's 4 or 5) to be gained.  All I wanted to do was go back down the volcano.  One step in front of the other.  Finally made it down.  Wow.

We had zero cash.  Then we found an ATM machine and it rejected my card.  I tried another card.  It worked.  Got money.  Whew.  We could eat.  We found a place, ordered pizza and diet coke.  We ate and then walked to Herculaneum.  From the train station, just walk 5 minutes straight down the road, sloping downwards towards the sea.  You will run right into it.  http://www.herculaneum.org/hcp-home




Steps


These are the walls of rooms, this is the original paint.  This was a fountain in the center of the house.


Looking back at Vesuvius , only a few miles away

We are standing on top of the lava ash.  The city below us was covered by over 60 feet of lava ash and remained buried from 79 AD to about 1900.


What was disappointing was they closed the gates at 3:30 and we were not able to see the bones in the above picture.  See the arches down at the bottom?  That was at sea level.  That is where people ran and hid.  That is where they got buried.  Their bones are there.  When I took a picture from above, it was before 3:30 PM.  No one told us that these gates will be closed at 3:30 and we should go there first.  Really disappointed in the staff.  Also disappointed in the city and govt.  There is no official kiosk at or near the train station for Vesuvius or Herculaneum.  This is an important tourist attraction for the country.  But I guess they have a lot more important things to worry about than cleaning the street from the train station down to Herculaneum.  It is filthy with trash everywhere, food, dog poop, etc.  There is no police to be seen to help people cross the street.  No information people standing around to help tourists.


Also, as you are walking to Herculaneum, you will pass by a modern building called MAV.  Go in there to use the bathroom but don't waste your time going in the museum.  They spent millions of dollars on it but it is totally worthless.  It is all electronic with displays and it is dark and like a maze, it is quite large and confusing.


We were very tired and got on the train and again had to stand most of the way back to Sorrento.  We decided to eat downtown Sorrento right near the train station.  A lovely and quint downtown.  We looked at menus and decided on one.  Again, always ask if service is included.  Don't be shy.

Starters was salad

Ravioli first course

Prawn cocktail first course (for them this must be a wonderful sauce on top of the shrimp but to me it was awful)... and the shrimp were small.

Chicken fettuccine Alfredo second course but not much chicken

Veal Sorrento Style second course but was not very tasty

Lamb chops second course tasted good

Side of spinach, not sure why parts of it were warm, parts a little warmer, the rest was cold

We walked up the hill back to our hotel.  Exhausted.  Went to the lobby.  Sat by the huge sombrero fireplace on the soft couches.  Asked for the dessert tray.  yum.  Ordered desserts and coffee and hot chocolate and bottle of still water.  We had WiFi.  We all got on our devices to get online.  Ahhhh.  Warmth.  Dessert.  WiFi.  What else does one need.

Dessert cart

Dessert cart



Wednesday March 12 Day 5: SORRENTO
Tour Capri
Hotel Hilton Sorrento Palace

We had another buffet breakfast at the Hilton.  I decided I did not like it.  I tried it yesterday and didn't like it and gave it a second chance today and did not like it. I don't know what is wrong with those eggs.  They just make them very different.

We took a cab down to the port and boarded our vessel to Capri.  A quick 25 minutes and we were there.  Remember to sit on the left side even though the sun will beat down on you.  You can watch the approach to the Island.  The island has a rich history of very very famous people, read up on it.  We mostly relaxed today on the island, returned to Sorrento to eat dinner, then went to sleep early.

Port parking lot

We made it on the ferry.  We then took a tiny 8-seat bus (but filled with people and we stood once again) from the Port of Capri for 1.8 euro per person up to the city of Capri.  Here is the view from the square.

When you go a little bit, you end up at a park on top of a cliff.  It was donated by the German billionaire with the last name Krupp.  There are trucks with that brand name as well as coffee makers and elevators (http://www.thyssenkrupp.com/en/konzern/index.html) and (http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/bloodlines/krupp.htm).  This is the view looking north.

There is a hotel named Krupp right here too.


This is the view looking south.  Look at the sheer cliff wall.  It is very peaceful here.  We sat on the benches and fell asleep in the sunlight and it was so quiet.  The water was perfectly clear.  It reminds me of Hawaii except here there are no waves.  These pictures cannot capture how quiet it is here or the quietness of the very gentle breeze or the perfect heat from the sun or the peace I can feel inside me.

Here is a pathway Krupp built that goes all the way down to the rocks

Picture perfect.  The temperature during the day was about 60 to 65 degrees F.  Could not be more perfect.  Usually the weather is bad.  Usually this place is packed with tourists.  The season starts April 1st.  Many of the shops AND hotels were closed.  Many were under renovation.  Lots of brand new awnings going up.  New tile entrances being laid.  New cabinets encased in plastic wrap in the storefront waiting for staff to unpack it and put stuff to sell on display.  Cardboard boxes everywhere with merchandise being unpacked and displayed in the windows.  They have their own Rodeo Drive here as well with all the famous names.


Here is Capri port

And now we are back in Sorrento after a 20 minute hydrofoil ride.  Take an elevator up from the port to the city center for one euro each.  Spectacular view.

Click on picture to make it bigger


Vesuvius is everywhere.  See it in the background?  You can see it from Capri as well.  Imagine you are on Capri in 79 AD and the volcano blows.  You are stooped down and you look up.  You stop what you are doing and stand up and mouth drops open.  Wow.  What a sight.

Here is a pano


We picked this restaurant because it had a very pretty dessert trolley.  They brought this dish to us but we said we did not order this.  They said it was on the house.  It was delicious.


We always start off our meals with a one litre bottle of sparkling water and two one litre bottles of still water.  Here is a ravioli first course

and a potato first course

and a mixed salad first course

But were already getting filled, so now came the second courses, here is the salmon.  Yum.

and the polo cacciatore, again yum

and fillet of beef slices, again yum, with french fries and slices of mozzarella

and seafood risotto, again yum



Thursday March 13 Day 6: SORRENTO
Tour Amalfi Coast – Ravello, Positano and Amalfi
Hotel Hilton Sorrento Palace

It is 8:30AM and we are heading down for breakfast.  2:30AM CST.  3:30AM EST.



We then had a driver pick us up at 9AM for an all day private tour of the Amalfi Coast.  He was prompt and brought a Mercedes MiniVan for 8 people but it was private so we had the whole van to ourselves.  We would return at 5PM.

We headed out of Sorrento to Meta to catch the highway to the other side.  Here is our first stop.  Yes, isn't it amazing?  All we said in our heads and out loud all day today was OMG.  Look at that. OMG.  Wow.  This is incredible.  Way in the distance, the last rock you see, is Capri.  So you are looking west.

The town behind us is Positano.  A very cute little town.  After the day trip, we decided Positano was the cutest town we saw today.  Let's go down the very windy road down to the beach.

And here we are on the beach.  Very empty.  Wait till summer when it is 40 degrees Centigrade.  The place is packed and it is HOT.

These limestone rocks absorb sunlight and that means they hold heat, so it is even hotter.  Look how pretty it is.  This is looking east.

This is looking west.


After Positano, we kept heading east along a VERY narrow road that was built into and built as an outcrop of the limestone.  Yes, the road is hanging off the side of the cliffs.  And it is narrow.  Cars at high speed.  Scooters.  Tour buses.  People walking.  Tip: you don't want to drive in Italy.

This picture look at the building.  That was a monastery.  These religious people have had primo land for centuries.  This is being converted into a hotel and should open in a few weeks.  What a view.


We stopped for lunch.  We had a special table waiting for us.  What a view.  The railing was right at the cliff.  Straight down to the water.  Clear water.  Perfect blue color.  Not a sound.  No motorcycles.  No sirens.  No traffic.  Not a bug.  No mosquitoes.  No bees.  No yellow jackets buzzing around wanting your food.  Gentle breeze.







Scuba diving

Ancient watch tower



We had the whole patio to ourselves most of the time until a other family came along.  There are only 10 table tops out here.

And we had a wonderful lunch

Yes, everything did taste really really good







Ten minutes later we were at the ancient Republic of Amalfi.  Not as pretty as Positano.  These two used to fight a lot with each other as they are separated by only a ten minute drive.  Back then, not sure how they would fight each other, there weren't any mountain passages.  And the rock jutted out to the water, so their beaches did not connect.

Narrow streets, lots of steps







Then we left the coast and went up into the mountains to Ravello, a very quiet little town with lots of concerts.  Not sure why they have concerts here, there are very few hotel rooms, 120 euros for a cab one-way from Naples airport to here and it takes forever in the summer traffic.





Now we are back in Sorrento, this is the view of Vesuvius from our hotel room, that is Sorrento below us.  Do you see the haze?  That is partially from people burning fires.  On the hillside, you can see they take trash and burn it and it creates a haze and it smells bad.



Ate a wonderful dinner at















Friday March 14 Day 7: SORRENTO / FLORENCE
Train from Sorrento to Naples to Florence
Tour market
Hotel Pendini http://www.hotelpendini.it

Up very early today, here is the sunrise over Vesuvius.  Imagine you are in 79AD and you see the sky red like this.  This is the Hilton Sorrento.  Nice view from our balcony.




All packed and the taxi came at 6:00AM (midnight CST or 1:00AM EST).



We went from Sorrento to Naples and had to get off to get our high speed train.


This was our train from Naples to Florence

We reached over 155 MPH


We arrived in Florence and took a cab to our hotel, though later we realized it was just a few blocks away and could have dragged our luggage.

We could not find our passports.  They let us into the room and empty out all our bags.  After a desperate search, we found the passports were hidden in a place we forgot they were hidden.  Panic.


The food here was not good at all.  It was a random pick, there were so many on the square, we just picked one that had an empty table and hopefully no smokers near by.



Everywhere in Italy, there are beggers that come up to you asking for money.  In the Circumvensia train,, a man with a boom box strapped to a cart turned his music on when the train started in Sorrento and started playing the tambourine.  I just thought that was so weird.  It got worse.  He left the back of the train, just 10 feet from me and came and stood next to me.  One foot away.  And he turned the music louder.  He was a short guy.  Then I noticed he had a small boy with him.  About six years old.  The boy held out a can.  They wanted money.  The boy would come up to each person and look at each person.  As the boy walked towards the front of the train, the man moved the boom box forward another 10 feet.

OK, it gets worse.

Then a little later I heard another instrument.  Didn't put two and two together.  Then the sound came closer.  Then I saw it was a woman this time.  She had a child with her with a cup.  Same modus operendi.

Then somewhere else, a woman holding a baby came through the train and asked for money.

In the train station, an old man came into the cafe and went to each table and asked for money.

There are no police around to shoo these people away.



Let the shopping begin with the smell of fresh leather everywhere


Our hotel is the Pensione Pendini.  This is a very famous square.  There are pictures going back to 1898.  There was even a big flood in this square in 1966.




I found it interesting to watch this father and son construction crew lift up each stone and set it aside, then lift up the next one, etc. and flatten the earth and then lay each stone back exactly where they found it.  Each stone was a different shape so it had to fit exactly from whence it came.





We went for dinner at 6:15PM we were starving but found out Florence is completely different.  They don't open until 7PM.  Really.  They want tourists but they won't open till 7PM.  So we had to walk around.  Here were are by the river at sunset.



We finally got to each dinner at La Spada.  As soon as the doors opened, within 10 minutes, all the tables were packed.  Unfortunately the waitress was the busser and the everything else, so the service was terrible.  Ravioli was very good


Penne with beef was good

Chicken with potatoes unfocused was good

Salmon was dry

And we had dessert but it came and we ate it before I realized I had not taken a picture.  Sorry.





Saturday March 15 Day 8: FLORENCE / MILAN
We are up early, need to eat breakfast, then catch a 3pm train to Milan.


This was the buffet at Pendini hotel






Yum

At lunch, more dessert


Looking at some sliding glass doors at this restaurant

And lots of windows full of chocolate

and more chocolate

Currency exchange


tons of gelato

Parade appeared out of nowhere

they stopped right in front of us

started waving flags

more

more

then this grey haired guy showed up and they put a green banner across him, must be somebody

down a path with lots of famous statutes








 
















Typical Florence street

Old building converted into shop stalls

Exchange rate today


This was the food market, it closes at 2pm, this is where the locals come

See if you can eat here


This was the food market, it closes at 2pm, this is where the locals come to eat food, fresh.  No tourists here.  There are the only seats here.

This was the food market, it closes at 2pm, this is where the locals come

Typical restaurant, fresh food to-go or eat-in

Typical restaurant, fresh food to-go or eat-in


Ferrari stores everywhere but no Ferrari cars ANYWHERE to be seen

Ferrari stores everywhere but no Ferrari cars ANYWHERE to be seen


Ancient maps in the Galileo Museum
























Very old globe showing old India.  It even says Bengal.  On the left it says Persia.


Here the earth in the center of the universe model


 

Ptolemy (born 100 CE) felt the Earth was at the center of the universe
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/482098/Ptolemy
and here is a model in the museum that is very interesting













This is what it looks like inside the train to Florence.  I am in C and D is next to me.  Row 9.  Then in front of me is a table.  The seats facing me are C and D as well but it is Row 10.  So be careful when you book seats.  Don't book 9ABCD because you won't be facing each other.  You will be back to back.


Look how fast we went.  The limit of the train is 300 kph.


Then after a 1 hr 50 min ride, we had to run, yes, I said RUN to catch the Malpensa express, which took another 50 minutes to get to the airport in Milan.  Did I say RUN?  Yes, I meant RUN VERY FAST. The train to the airport is at Track #2 which is at the END of the station.  If we missed, it we would have to sit around I don't know how long. 

BUY your tickets at the machine when you get off your train.  There is no machine at Track #2 to buy your tickets.

Even in this waiting area, there are seats just off to the right, you can't see them.  There was an old retired guy sitting there, wearing a coat, like he was waiting for a train.  He got up and started going to each person asking for money.  Then he went back to his seat and sat down.





Goal is to stay tonight at the Hilton Garden Inn Milan Malepensa  http://hiltongardeninn3.hilton.com/en/hotels/italy/hilton-garden-inn-milan-malpensa-MXPSLGI/index.html



Sunday March 16 Day 9: DEPART MILAN
Transfer to the airport for flight home
Depart for JFK
Arrive JFK
Transfer to LGA
Depart LGA
Arrive Dallas

It is 8:00AM Milan time (2:00AM CST and 3:00AM EST) and we are up and off to breakfast.  Lots to do.

This is the breakfast area of the Hilton Hotel.  We ate dinner on the left side here.  The area past the plants is where breakfast is served, see next slide.

They have a buffet set up, the regular breakfast fare.

and more regular fare

We had exactly 3 minutes to eat breakfast.

Then we had to get on the shuttle to the airport.

This Hilton at Milan airport is weird because it is NOT at the airport.  It is a 15 minute drive through winding narrow streets way out in the country side.  Don't know why they call themselves Hilton at the airport.


We made it to the airport and we were invited to visit the lounge, it was very nice.  This was only because I was Executive Platinum and I was first class.  AA said they have to pay this other lounge for every person AA sends to this lounge.

Unfortunately, it is very hard to find and takes a while to get to and it took forever to get to it, so we only had time to go to the bathroom and grab a coffee and a Danish and then dash off to our AA gate which was far away.


The lounge was empty of people


Then we boarded the flight




Beautiful view 10 minutes after take off of the Swiss Alps


We had first row of first class in the airplane.








First class pizza was so much better than coach class pizza




We landed at JFK 40 minutes early.  Lucky.

Then we went to the Admirals Club and sat and waited for the flight to Dallas.

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