Italy and Switzerland -- April 20 - May 14, 2004
This trip is rated 5 little globes out of 5 on the Globe-Trotting Globe-o-meter.
"Oh - this is gonna be fun!" enthused Sue as we wandered around the San Francisco airport looking for a good place to set up camp for the night, dragging our backpacks and clutching the little airplane pillows that we 'borrowed' from Alaska Airlines.
After several false starts, we had finally decided that we would use some of our Alaska Airlines Frequent Flier Miles and get 'free' tickets to Europe. In order to use only 40,000 (rather than 60,000) miles, we needed to get back home before May 15, which was the cut-off date between low and high season, so for a 3 week trip it meant heading over there on April 20 or so. We had decided against Salzburg, Vienna, Prague, and Budapest due concerns about bad weather, and after some much heated debate, instead chose Italy and perhaps a bit of Switzerland. After some confusion and conflicting information from Alaska Airlines, we finalized our airplane itinerary, which would take us from Seattle to San Francisco Tuesday night April 20, then early the next morning to Dallas/Fort Worth, and then on to Zurich that afternoon. The return trip was to be a bit more direct - Zurich to Dallas/Fort Worth to Seattle, arriving home at 8:30 PM on May 13. Or so we thought. Do not fail to notice the ominous and overt foreshadowing taking place here. Little did we know how this part of the trip would go. We headed up to Rick Steves' in Edmunds a couple of weeks before the trip and picked up our 10 day Second Class TrenItalia (Italian Train) passes and some fashionable and functional travel accessories at 20% off, dug out our long-neglected passports, and were ready to head east.
While "She Who Can Sleep Anywhere" was none the worse for wear, the same could not be said for the other member of the expedition.
We had already decided that this would be a sub-economy, 0-star trip, and accordingly decided that in order to save a few bucks we would just spend the night at the San Francisco airport on the way over. According to www.sleepinginairports.net, it was a pretty good choice for airport camping. We got up early and spent the day trying to tie up loose ends at work, then got picked up by the Shuttle Express guy at about 5:45 and headed to Sea-Tac Airport, where we flew out on Alaska Airlines, got into San Francisco on schedule at 10:45 PM, and noticed that there were some fine looking camping spots right by the Alaskan Airlines gates - 3-seat benches with no armrests. The airport was still a bit bright and noisy, and we headed off to find the American Airlines check-in counter, thinking that we should sleep nearby to simplify things in the morning - maybe even get checked in that night. It turned out that AA was in a different terminal building and we had to take the little train to get there. We talked with an AA agent, who said that we would have to check in the next morning, so off we went looking for a good camping spot. This is when Sue declared that "Oh - this is gonna be fun!". Hmmm...
It turned out that at the San Francisco airport they close and lock the arrival/departure areas after the last flights have arrived and departed. This way they can close down the security check points and not worry about security till the next morning. We ended up just across from the International Departure area which never closed, and where unfortunately the only camping options were 3-seater benches with armrests which made it impossible to stretch out. We tried and failed to sleep, till the nearby Food Court emptied out at about 1:00 AM and we joined another tired traveler on some finely upholstered bench seating in a dark and quiet corner of the dining area. At least it was quiet till the cleanup guy started scraping the grill at the burger joint. This went on till about 2:00 AM, at which time it sounded like he started using a hammer and chisel on the stubborn spots. He finally finished that, and we were hoping for some peace and quiet, when his floor cleaner buddy wandered by and they carried on an animated conversation in Spanish, speaking just below shouting level, for about 30 minutes. The burger guy finally left, at which time his floor cleaner buddy fired up the floor cleaner machine and we gave up and headed back to where we had been before.
At 5:30 or so we decided to head to the AA counter and got checked in for our 7:41 flight, which got us into Dallas/Fort Worth at 1:00, and we waited around for the 2:55 flight to Zurich which left only a few minutes late and was thankfully quite boring and uneventful. We arrived in Zurich on schedule, got through immigration with no problems, then ended up with a real butthead in customs. We had followed the 'Nothing to Declare' signs, and ended up in a big room with 2 customs agents - a pleasant looking lady that was busily pawing through someone's suitcase and a mean-looking guy with a pony-tail. We approached the counter where the mean-looking guy was standing, and waited for some indication of what he wanted us to do. He looked at us blankly and we stood there. He stood there. We stood there. We all just stood there. After a few minutes of this, we asked him if he wanted us to do something or if it was ok for us to go. He frowned at us and said something in German, then walked over to another counter. We thought that maybe he wanted us to go to that counter, and waited for some hint from him about what he wanted us to do. We were hesitant to just walk off for fear that it was not what he had told us to do, and then things could get ugly. We all stood there for a while longer and we again asked what he wanted us to do. Again, he frowned and said something in German and glared at us. We decided that this had gotten completely stupid and s-l-o-w-l-y started walking toward the exit, giving him lots of time to order us to stop or whatever, before shooting. We made it out the door without being chased, and didn't look back.
Pulling out of Zurich, heading for Italy.
Our first step was to take the train from the airport to the Zurich Hauptbahnhof - the main train station - then get tickets to our first destination, Como, in the Lake District of northern Italy. We got a few Swiss Francs from an ATM, then tried to figure out how to get train tickets from one of the ticket vending machines, finally gave up, and ended up at the ticket counter where we got lucky and dealt with a most helpful agent who spoke very good English. We explained what we were trying to do, and found out that we could buy direct train tickets from the airport to Como. We put the tickets on our Visa card, boarded the next train to town, got to the main train station, and jumped on the 9:09 InterCity Express after buying a couple of liters of bottled water and the first of what seemed to be hundreds of the ham sandwiches that we were to consume, and grow very tired of, over the next few weeks. We settled in for the ride, and made good use of the airplane pillows from the Alaska flight from Seattle to Dallas.
After a few hours we pulled into Chiasso and crossed into Italy. Fortunately the heavily armed Italian border agents regarded us with only mild disinterest. We got to the Como train station, jumped off the train, and walked down into town, heading for the harbor since we were planning to take a boat to the town of Varenna half way up Lake Como, where we intended to spend the first couple of nights. But first we had to stock up on Euros at an ATM, which sounded pretty straight forward. We spotted a likely bank, but had to get buzzed into an ATM booth after convincing a bank employee that we had legitimate business to conduct. And, of course, after the buzzing started, we couldn't figure out how to get the door open, then we finally both squeezed into the booth with our packs on, brain-faded and asked for 500 Euros which exceeded our daily ATM limit of $500 and which caused the transaction to be aborted with no explanation and made us think that our new ATM card was no good in Italy. After another failed attempt, we finally realized what the problem was and asked for 200 Euros, which to our relief came spewing out of the machine just fine. Then we asked for and got another 250 Euros, still under the $500 per day limit. All seemed well with the money supply. Whew... We had brought credit cards and minimal traveler's checks as backup, but had planned to use ATM's as a matter of course.
The hydrofoil heads back toward Como after dropping us off in Varenna.
Arriving at the harbor, luck was with us and there was a hydrofoil leaving for Varenna just a few minutes later. We ended up in the back of the boat with a bunch of noisy school kids that apparently attended school in Como and used the hydrofoil as their school bus. They got off a few at a time as we stopped at various lake-side towns, and, to our relief, we were the only passengers aboard during the happily quiet last leg of the trip, arriving in Varenna at about 3:30 PM. The lake and surrounding area was extremely hazy, just like we remembered from our visit in 1995; apparently this is quite typical.
Sue tries out the one star balcony at the Hotel Beretta.
By now we were pretty well used up, and just wanted a room ASAP, so we followed Rick Steves' directions to the cheapest hotel in town, the one-star Hotel Beretta, looked at an ok room with balcony and lake view, walked back down to the harbor and the two-star Hotel Villa Cipressi where we looked at a room with no balcony and not much of a view, then walked back up to the Beretta, got the room, and moved in. Even as tired as we were, we wanted to get adjusted to Italian time, and resisted the temptation to sack out, instead taking a walk along the waterfront and ending up in the city center, around which we wandered till it started getting dark and then headed back to the hotel for some sleep.
The two- star hotel we didn't stay at is the yellow building on the left; our one-star hotel is behind the other buildings .
The next day called for taking a slow boat (much more pleasant than the hydrofoil) back to Como via Bellagio and Villa Carlotta, a ride on the Funicolare in Como, then a slow boat back to Varenna. We slept in a bit, then while getting dressed happened to take a peek at the boat schedule. It was by then about 7:55 and the next boat was at 8:05. After that, the next boat wasn't till 10:45, so it suddenly became real important that we make the 8:05 boat or we would end up sitting around in Varenna for much of the morning.
Pulling into Bellagio for breakfast.
We finished dressing while we ran to the ticket office and barely made the 8:05 boat to Bellagio, where we wandered around for a half hour and had a bakery breakfast while waiting for the boat to Tremezzo and the nearby Villa Carlotta.
The impressive facade of Villa Carlotta.
We splashed our way to Tremezzo, walked from the boat dock to Villa Carlotta, and took a tour of the inside of the Villa, enjoying the abundant Objects D'arte while feeling somewhat out of our element.
Sue communes with the flowers in the garden.
After we saw everything inside the Villa, we spent the rest of the morning wandering around the lavish gardens, which Sue particularly enjoyed.
One of the many picturesque towns on the shores of Lake Como.
Continuing on our way to Como, we passed many lovely lake-side towns like this one.
One of the more impressive lake-side estates.
We enjoyed the remainder of the trip to Como, passing several ornate water-front villas, and shortly after arriving in Como we had the first of many lunches (and dinners for that matter) that consisted of a couple of slabs of warmed-up pizza and a few gulps of bottled water whilst walking briskly to our next destination,
The town of Como as seen from the top of the Como-Brunate Funicolare.
which in this case was the Funicolare (inclined railway) up to Brunate, from which the views of Como were quite spectacular. Upon our arrival back at the terminus in Como, we were ambushed by an unruly mob of school kids as we exited the Funicolare and were leaving the boarding area. Obviously on a school field trip, they had been waiting in eager anticipation for their ride up to Brunate, and we paused briefly and watched as they oozed, amoeba-like, toward the unsuspecting Funicolare, thankful that we were heading in the opposite direction. This, as it turned out, was just the first of several such encounters to which we would be mercilessly subjected.
The first of the school field trip encounters.
After extricating ourselves from the seething mob, we walked along the waterfront to the harbor, had another slab of pizza, slugged down some more water, and boarded the good ship Renzo for the return voyage to Verenna.
"La buona nave Renzo" about to carry us back to Verenna for a gourmet dinner overlooking the harbor.
We got back to Verenna, hiked up the hill to the train station for a look at the train schedule for the next morning's trip to Milan, and then decided to have a romantic dinner overlooking the harbor.
Sue the Gourmet digs in.
But first we had to go find the dinner. We wandered up and down some of the side streets, and found a little trattoria with some interesting erotic art on the walls, ordered up a couple bowls of freshly microwaved spaghetti to go, then headed back down to the waterfront, found a bench with a good view of the lake, and dug in. Our only regret was that Merle wasn't there to join us in this gastronomic extravaganza, since we know he is such a lover of Italian cuisine.
The next morning we got up early, took another stroll around Verenna, finally tossed our little airplane pillows into the garbage, and let the kids loose for a quick swim in Lake Como.
Our balcony can be seen on the top floor on the left side of the building.
We packed up and checked out of the Hotel Beretta, then hiked up to the train station where we caught the 7:24 for Milan. We pulled into Stazione Centrale di Milano late in the morning, jumped off the train, headed down into the subway, and took Line 3 to the Duomo stop, where we emerged from the subway and headed inside the Duomo. Built between 1386 and 1813, it is able to accommodate 40,000 people, and includes elements of Gothic, Renaissance, and Neo-Classical architecture (we really have no idea, but that's what the book said).
Il Duomo di Milano.
We wandered around inside for a while, then went outside and paid our 3 Euros for the privilege of hiking up the stairs to the roof, from which one has a wonderful view of Milan.
"Il Tetto di Duomo."
We stayed up on the roof for quite a while enjoying the view, while the kids got some fresh air atop one of the gargoyles.
Roanoke and Conner hobnob with one of the locals.
As can be seen, the building was quite dirty, and, unfortunately for us, the entire front of Il Duomo was being cleaned and was covered with scaffolding, thereby offering only very marginal photo opportunities.
The normally dazzling facade of Il Duomo - but not this time.
We spent some time wandering around the Piazza Duomo, then paid a visit to the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle, the world's first shopping mall.
The front entrance to the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle.
We walked through the Galleria and then to the "Teatro alla Scala" Opera House, to which we paid a quick visit, fondly remembering the evening we spent there enjoying Mozart's Abduction from the Serail the last time we were in town, then headed back into the Galleria, eager to engage in a quaint local tradition.
The Lucky (?) Bull.
Beneath the center dome of the Galleria, the mosaic floor includes the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac, and local legend says that wishes will be granted if made while spinning around on a certain delicate, but quite conspicuous, part of the bull's anatomy.
This banana-gripping spinner added a whole new aspect to the tradition, and caused quite an uproar.
Of course, we wanted to blend in with the locals, so we both went for a quick spin or two, hit the Galleria's McDoo's, and then, having accomplished everything on our Milan to-do list, we took the subway back to the Stazione Centrale and caught the train to Verona. We arrived in Verona mid-afternoon, and after some confusion regarding buses, bus routes, route zones, tickets, and the proper method of validating said bus tickets, found ourselves on a bus heading into the center of the old part of Verona, where we debussed at the edge of Piazza Brada - the heart of the old town and locus of the Roman Arena. The first order of business was to line up a hotel for the next 2 nights. We found a cheap place in an alley just a few blocks off the Piazza.
Our hotel in Verona.
Although the signs made it look like the Albergo Albergo (the Hotel Hotel), it was really the Albergo d'Castell, so named because it was across the street and down a few blocks from the old castle on the Adige River. The next order of business was to try to get tickets for the opera. We knew from www.operabase.com that they were performing Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte that night at the Verona Opera House, and headed for the box office. The ticket seller told us (we think) that there were exactly 2 tickets left for that night - box seats toward the front - and we grabbed them, ignoring his warning that the view of the stage would be somewhat limited. We hit the local 'supermarket' for provisions, stashed them in the hotel room, headed back to Piazza Brada for pizza, wandered around the side streets of the old town, and visited the first century Roman Arena while the sky clouded up and lightning began flashing.
The Roman Arena in the center of old town Verona.
Every summer there is a big Opera Festival in Verona, mostly works by Verdi, and they actually perform in the Arena at night. They had already started to install the stage and the ugly bright red plastic seats, which detracted somewhat from the feeling of antiquity. We hit the pizza place again just as the skies let loose with a torrential downpour and we huddled in a covered alley and ate our pizza. As the showers slowed, we ran back to the hotel, took a break, did some heavy breathing, and finally headed to the opera with a gelateria stop on the way.
Here is a shot of the interior of the Verona Opera House from their web site, looking from the stage toward the main floor, boxes, and balconies. Our seats were in the back of a third level box way up toward the stage, and we had to stand the whole time to see anything, but would gladly do it again. No subtitle translations were displayed at the performance, but fortunately we had seen Cosi fan Tutte just a few weeks previously at home, and were thus familiar with the libretto. We headed back to the hotel, tired and happy, via yet another gelateria, for a good night's sleep. By now we had learned how to ask for 2 scoops: "due gusti, prego" (due-ay goose-tee, pray-go).
Ever eager to enjoy life's variety, the next morning we got up exceedingly early and caught the bus to the train station, took the train to Bologna, then connected to Imola, hoping to get tickets to the Grand Prix of San Marino, the fourth race of the year on the Formula One calendar. The small town of Imola was packed with an extra 80,000 or so crazy Italian racing fanatics. The main street from the train station to the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari was a solid mass of people, and we were thinking that it was likely that we would not be able to get tickets and would be taking the train back to Bologna for a day of sight seeing. But we ultimately prevailed,
Schumacher and Alonzo, or was it Barrichello and Fisichella?
and luckily (or so one of us claimed) ended up getting 2 cheap tickets for the lawn area on the hill above "la curva della Rivazza". We purchased the obligatory Ferrari Flag - the small traveler's size - and were soon surrounded by the screaming Ferrari tifosi.
The tifosi celebrate a Ferrari victory.
Fortunately for all concerned, a Ferrari emerged victorious to the resounding accolades of the crowds,
and we joined the tifosi at the conclusion of the race as they took over the race track en mass. We headed back to Bologna aboard a very full train and then on to the Verona train station. While we were waiting for the bus to town, we met a couple of young ladies studying in Verona - one from Austria and one from Holland. We all finally gave up waiting for the bus and had an enjoyable walk into town together. The student from Holland had just spent 10 days in Sicily, and we were eager to find out what we could from her, since we were planning to get down into Sicily later in the trip. She said that things were very basic that far south, e.g. the busses have no set schedules - you just wait at the bus stop and sooner, or later, or even later, or maybe never, a bus that's headed where you want to go might come by, or it might not. We took this under advisement. The rest of the evening was spent wandering from gelateria to gelateria and then along the river, where we finally realized that we had gotten lost, and asked a friendly local couple for directions back to Piazza Brada. They escorted us a couple of blocks to an intersection from which they could point out the way to us. We got to the Piazza and from there it was just a few blocks to the hotel.
On the Ponte Pietra over the Adige River.
The next morning, we decided to take a short walking tour of town, starting in Piazza Brada, then to Piazza delle Erbe on Via Mazzini, past any number of significant historical sites about which we really knew nothing, and to the Ponte Pietra. We did, however, avail ourselves of Rick Steves' valuable insights in his Italy book.
The Corso Porta Borsari - one of the original Roman gateways into Verona.
We hit a bakery for breakfast, then proceeded past the Corso Porta Borsari to the Castle, then back to the hotel, where we finished packing up and checked out and made it to the train station, where we got real lucky and had to wait only a short time for a EuroStar Express train to Florence.
Our arrival in Florence.
The train pulled out of Verona at 10:55, blasted through Bologna, and arrived in Florence just after 1:00. We had 17 minutes till the next train to Siena, and made the most of our visit to Florence by running over to the Duomo, taking a picture, and running back to the train station.
Our 17 minute tour of Florence.
We had done all of the obligatory museum and tourist stuff during our '89 visit, so we didn't feel bad about leaving town shortly after we arrived. The train pulled out of Florence and into the sunny Tuscan countryside, and an hour and 45 minutes later we arrived in Siena, looking forward to spending the next few days visiting some hill towns. We headed directly to the Alma Domus, a hotel just down from the San Domenico church, run by the nuns of St. Catherine, and got a room for 2 nights (separate beds only), then headed out for a look at Siena.
The Siena Town Hall on Piazza del Campo.
First we went by Piazza del Campo for a late lunch, scoped out the self-service laundry for later that evening, then walked over to the Duomo.
The Duomo in Siena.
We got to the Duomo late in the afternoon, but it was closed for the day by then, so we decided to come back the next day for a look inside. We headed back to the hotel to gather up our dirty clothes, then to the self-service laundry, dinner on Il Campo while the clothes spun, back to the hotel to drop off the laundry, then back to Il Campo where Sue had her second course - a fresh squid salad. Aaaaarrrrgggg.
The next morning we got up early and headed down to the bus depot for some particularly salty and dry breakfast ham sandwiches and a trip to San Geminiano. We happened to sit by a couple from British Columbia, and we chatted about our respective travels as the bus weaved its way through Poggibonsi (which wasn't much of a town but was fun to say) on its way to San Geminiano. They had spent a few weeks hiking around in Portugal and recommended it highly, so we dutifully added it to our ever-growing list of travel destinations.
The view from atop one of the towers in San Geminano.
We arrived in San Geminiano and walked through the town for a while, had some lunch, hoofed up one of the towers and enjoyed the view, then walked around the town - literally. A musician had his harpsichord set up near the city wall, and was playing a Bach Cantata. We of course requested that he play some Dominico Scarlatti, which he seemed quite happy to do. We listened for a while, gave him a few Euros, did not buy one of his rather pricey CD's, and headed back to the town center.
Another school field trip close encounter.
As we were approaching the main piazza, we warily approached and ultimately overtook this momentarily stalled mob of unruly school kids, making good use of our relative speed differential to slip virtually unnoticed between them and the wall on the right, then heading back to the bus stop to catch the bus back to Siena. We ran into the couple from the morning bus ride - Mitch and Ruth - waiting at the bus stop, and chatted with them on the way back to Siena.
Inside the Siena Duomo.
We spent the late afternoon and evening walking around Siena, and started off with a peek inside the Duomo, which had truly remarkable floors,
The Dome di Il Duomo.
and the dome wasn't too shabby, either.
Frescos in the Piccolomini Liberia .
Nor was the interior of the attached Piccolomini Liberia.
The Piccolomini Liberia ceiling.
Sue and the kids enjoying an evening in Siena.
After a late lunch / early dinner, we swung by the hotel and picked up the kids, who are seen above enjoying the view with Sue. Our hotel is in the background - our room was the third arched window from the left.
The view from our hotel room.
We wandered around Siena some more, had the second course of our dinner, and stopped by the hotel where we enjoyed seeing the Duomo in the sunset. It was still early, and we decided to head back out and wandered around town for a couple more hours, since there was nothing to do in the hotel room.
By this time, Sue's feet were starting to get a little cranky.
It had been a long day, and we called it quits after one last gelateria stop. It felt really good to kick off the boots and lie down for a while.
The bus trip through the Tuscan countryside from Siena to Chiusi.
Then, before we knew it, the next morning we were on a bus headed across Tuscany to Chiusi, where we caught the train to Terentola, from which we anticipated a short bus ride up to the hillside town of Cortona. Our guide book said that Cortona was accessible from both Terentola and Cumucia, but didn't really make it clear which would be the better bet. Turns out that we should have stayed on the train till Cumucia since it was directly below Cortona. We ended up taking the bus from Terentola to Cumucia (unhappily noting that the bus dropped us off right in front of the train station at which we would have arrived an hour earlier had we stayed on the train), then waiting again for a bus connection from Cumucia up to Cortona. We finally got into Cortona, and knowing that there were very few cheap places to stay, immediately started looking for a room.
The Albergo Nuovo Centrale in Cumucia.
There was nothing cheap enough to suit us, so we took the bus back down to Cumucia and found a cheap place (60 Euros) near the train station, dumped the packs, then waited again for a bus to take us back up to Cortona.
The church on the hill above Cortona.
We spent the afternoon and evening wandering around Cortona, first walking around the perimeter of the town,
then weaving our way through the narrow steets of the town enjoying the quintessential Italian sights,
Si, automobili sia verbotten.
and finally taking the bus back down to Cumucia after a late dinner.
After a short night's sleep, we found ourselves pulling out of the Cumucia train station heading south to the hilltop town of Orvieto, at which we arrived mid-morning. The plan called for a visit to Civita, which was not accessible by train, so we got off the train and started looking around for the bus to Civita. We didn't want to spend time taking the Funicolare or hiking up the hill into Orvieto proper looking for a room for the night, since then it would be too late in the day to start the Civita trip - we planned to return to Orvieto from Civita later in the day and then worry about accommodations. Fortunately, the bus depot was right in front of the train station, and after getting bus tickets and yet another round of salty, dry ham sandwiches for brunch, we jumped on the next bus to Civita, and found ourselves once again sitting behind Mitch and Ruth, who we had met on the bus from Siena to San Geminiano a few days previously. Unfortunately, we were unable to find a place to temporarily store our packs, so we ended up lugging them around with us for the day.
Heading up the ugly bridge to Civita with Mitch and Ruth.
The bus lurched out of Orvieto, wandered through the hills, and dropped us off in the town of Bagnoregio, where, beneath the thickening clouds, we started our walk to Civita, refreshed by the light drizzle that fell briefly.
Looking out through Civita's Front Door.
Sue stands guard at the "Porta di S. Maria ingresso principale di Civita", the best way to enter and leave Civita, since the rest of the town is built right up to the edge of the cliffs. Note that the windows above the arch are in a free-standing wall - there are no rooms on the other side of the windows.
Piazza San Donato - piazza principale di Civita.
Just down from the town's main piazza, we paid a visit to Vittoria's Antico Mulino, an olive press museum, which included a huge press dating back about 1,500 years and used till the 1960's. We continued along the main drag and the next thing we knew, we ran (literally) into Maria, who hustled (or was it hassled?) us through her gate and ushered us into her garden, promising us wonderful views of the countryside and a taste of small town Civita. We took a few pictures and poked around for a few minutes, then on the way out ran squarely into Maria's outstretched hand. It turns out that it wasn't a handshake that she wanted, and while her husband Peppone ran interference, she made it clear that our meager (2 Euro) token of appreciation was woefully, indeed perhaps insultingly, inadequate. We had noticed through their open back door that they had a nice, big, shiny, new-looking wide-screen TV, and wondered if perhaps this acquisition contributed to their voracious fiscal appetite.
The austere chapel exterior.
We made a run for it, had a leisurely passeggi through the suburbs of Civita, and found some interesting chapels carved into the sides of the cliffs. Here Sue stands in front of the entrance to one of the chapels; the door on the left leads to a storage room full of farm implements.
The austere chapel interior.
The dark and mysterious tunnel of Civita.
We next stumbled into and explored the tunnel running beneath Civita, then hooked back up with Mitch and Ruth, walked back down to Bagnoregio,
The Gutter Gourmet.
and got a bite to eat while waiting for the bus back to Orvieto.
The Orvieto Funicolare.
Here we see a blurry 1/18th of a second's worth of the Orvieto Funicolare, whisking us from the train station up the hillside to Orvieto proper, where Mitch and Ruth had spent the previous night at the Hotel Posta.
Sue tends to matters of the laundry in the Hotel Posta.
According to Mitch and Ruth, the Hotel Pasta was the place to stay, largely because they had talked the proprietors down to 51 Euros per night for their multi-night stay. We were just looking for a single night, but thanks to Mitch's efforts, we got the discretely decorated room seen above for the same good-guy price of 51 Euros. Thank you, Mitch!.
Leaving the Hotel Posta.
The Hotel Posta entrance is the door on the right.
The Church of San Michele in Anacapri.
After one of us was finished communing with our Western Civilization roots, we headed back to the train station and after a bit of a wait were on our way back to Salerno, then to Naples, and finally back to Sorrento on the light rail. The next morning we headed back up to Naples and Rome, and then up the west coast to La Spezia, where we got off the Inter-City Express and caught the local train for our Cinque Terra connection. We decided to get a place for one night in Vernazza, then the next day figure out what to do and look for a place to move into for several days.
60 euros - 4 nights
The flight home called for leaving Zurich and connecting in Dallas for the flight to Seattle. As it turned out, when we left Zurich we were actually embarking on a whole new trip - Zurich to Seattle via London, New York, and Dallas. What better way to spend 26 hours?
When taking off from Zurich, one of the plane's engines apparently ingested a couple of birds, and, as the pilot said, there was some concern about internal engine damage. The plan was to fly around in circles over Switzerland for an hour or two burning off fuel so we would be light enough to not shear off the landing gear when we landed back in Zurich for an engine inspection, then head for Dallas, from which we would connect to Seattle. We burned off the required amount of fuel, but then the problem was that a tail wind had come up at the Zurich airport, so we would have to land at such a high rate of speed (in order to stay aloft in the tail wind) that we would run off the end of the runway. The alternative was to head to London for the engine inspection, so we found ourselves landing at Heathrow airport with 7 or 8 fire engines and rescue vehicles waiting for us along the sides of the runway. They followed us, with emergency lights ablaze, to an outlying inspection area, where we spent about 90 minutes getting inspected.
We took off again, and after getting to cruising altitude the pilot announced that we had another problem: the crew would exceed their maximum allowed time in the air before we made it to Dallas, so we were all going to New York to get a new crew! The plane landed in New York ok, and we got through Customs and Immigration, then, since we only had our carry-on packs, we were the first to arrive at the American Airlines "Your flight has gotten all screwed up so we'll help you make your connection" assistance desk, where we were disappointed to learn that there was no good connection from New York to Seattle, and we were stuck going through Dallas after all. We headed to our connecting gate, and waited for our plane-mates to finally all arrive. The passengers with checked baggage took a long time to get through customs, and we overheard the desk agents talking about how lots of passengers took off to the far corners of the airport to try to make their own alternate connections, so we all were waiting to make sure that those who failed to make alternate connections got rounded up and ended up back on our flight.
As we approached cruising altitude, we were less than happy to hear the pilot announce that there were severe thunderstorms in the Dallas area, and some flights were being delayed and even canceled, but not to worry, we could always go to Denver instead, and in any case we had enough fuel to circle for 4 hours waiting for the conditions to improve. We landed in Dallas pretty much as planned, except that the detour to London and New York had put us a bit behind schedule. We got off the plane and headed to the connecting departure gate, where we were not amused to find that most flights had been canceled (including our original connecting flight to Seattle), and that the terminal was full of people sleeping on the floor and on cots provided by the airlines. It looked like some sort of disaster evacuation shelter. It was particularly unamusing to listen to our fellow travelers bemoaning the fact that they had been "waiting at the airport for over an hour"; we had been flying around for over 20 hours by then. And what, after all, does it mean, really, to fly? Our flight to Seattle was supposed to leave at 9:10, and we finally boarded just before midnight. We all got our carry-on luggage stowed and were waiting to taxi, when Kaptain Kafka the Existential Pilot announced that the crew would exceed their maximum allowed time in the air before we made it to Seattle. Too bad they didn't figure that out sooner - it seemed to be a recurring theme. We all had to get off the plane, followed by the old crew, then the new crew got on the plane, then we all got back on the plane, and finally headed to Seattle. We arrived at about 4:00 AM, and took the shuttle bus home, 26 hours after leaving Zurich.