Como and coming home

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June 8th 2014
Published: June 8th 2014
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Day 24, Thursday, June 5

This is our last full day of spending the day in one place without traveling so we took the slow boat ferry from Como to Bellagio on Lake Como. The one-way trip takes 2 hours. The ferry makes about 8 stops on the way and it is a wonderful way to see all the small towns that are nestled right next to the Lake. Lakeside are very large villas and we overheard a guide tell his customers where George Clooney’s villa is and it was not long before everyone on the ferry was snapping pictures of a large home on the side of the Lake. For all we know it could belong to anyone but it made for a good story. As the ferry reached Bellagio we could see the five star hotels and some had docks on the lake with a pool in the dock.

The waterfront area has a lot of cafes and shops to buy clothes and tourist trinkets. Once we reached Bellagio, we walked up a set of steps to the top of the town and by the time we got to the top we were exhausted. This is where we found less touristy shops and then a small trattoria where we had a lunch of small bites including cured meats, cheeses, bruschetta, olives, and a glass of wine. After lunch we walked around a bit more and made our way back to the waterfront to wait for our return ferry. Since we had about an hour to wait we found a lakeside café and ordered a Manhattan since it was a specialty on the menu. To our surprise it was about a big as the drinks Jim makes at home so we had only one.

The ferry ride back was just getting under way and with a Manhattan in our recent past Jim decided we needed a glass of wine for the return trip. It was not long when he returned from the ferry’s bar with a bottle of wine and two glasses. His reasoning was it was cheaper to by the bottle than two glasses so why not. It was not long before we saw other passengers following Jim’s lead and walking out of the bar with a bottle of wine in had. We met a nice older couple from Georgia and chatted with them for a while about our respective vacations.

Once we returned back to Como we had to take care of paying for the second day of parking our car, which was more complicated than it had to be, but nonetheless we accomplished the task.

Now it was time to visit the local beer bar we found the day before. Jim always takes along a few brewery related trinkets in case he finds someone interested in California beer so when we entered the bar the young bartender from the day before recognized us and said Ciao! This time we sat at the bar and as Jim gave him a few pins from Anchor Brewing and Bottle cap magnets from Lagunitas brewing his eyes lit up and was very appreciative. The owner (we think) came over and was also excited and said that when someone gives them something they give something back. He reached behind the bar and gave Jim a beer glass with their logo on it, very cool.

We sat at the bar and chatted with the bartender about some questions we had about Italy and he was very gracious in doing his best to provide some answers. Then another guy came in and sat next to Jim but spoke only Italian to the bartender but soon was chiming in to answer some of our questions. He introduced himself as Carlos and soon he and Jim were talking about cured meats, cheeses, beer, and other stuff. Carlos was impressed Jim knew so much about Italian cured meat and soon Lisa must of felt like she was not even there. After a few beers we were all having a good time and laughing telling stories about typical American tourists.

With all the imbibing it was time to get a bite to eat so we walked back to the center of town and ate at an outdoor café. Lisa had spaghetti carbonara and Jim had lasagna Bolognese with a bottle of wine. It was getting late and we are traveling to Milan tomorrow so we went back to the hotel to pack.

Day 25, Friday, June 6

Since it is only a one-hour drive to the outskirts of Milan where our hotel is located we took the back road so we did not have to pay a toll. The traffic was worse than the toll road but we had plenty of time. We arrived at the hotel around 11:15 AM and planned to check in but most likely not get access to our room until later in the day. As luck would have it our room was ready so we got our luggage out of the car and unpacked as little as possible.

The Air Milan hotel is located less than a half-mile from the airport and rental car return that is why we chose it. The hotel has seen better days and as we come out of the elevator on the first floor we thought we were in Las Vegas in the 1960’s. The carpet, wallpaper, and décor were right out of the 60’s. The door to each room was padded with tuck and roll upholstery and we would not have been surprised to see Dean Martin step out of one of the rooms. Once inside the room the theme continued so we just went with it, only one night so what the hell.

Since it was only about noon Jim suggested we take a short side trip to the city of Gorgonzola. Why not, the trip so far included cheese everywhere we went. We plugged the city name into the GPS and set out on our journey. It was not long before the GPS had no idea where we were due to major road construction that made a 30-minute trip last about an hour. Most of the time our GPS graphic showed us driving in a field as it did not know about the new road. There seems to be constant construction and even with updated maps in your GPS, have a back up plan.

Gorgonzola is a small town and one would think there would be some reference to the history of famous cheese but it was nowhere to be found. Apparently Gorgonzola is no longer made within the city limits and there is a discrepancy whether the specific style of cheese was actually invented there. Oh well, it was time for lunch so we found a small pizzeria and had to order a pizza with Gorgonzola cheese on it. The pizza was good but not as good as some of the others we have had. Time to head back to the hotel and get ready for our long day tomorrow.

Back at the hotel we did some limited packing and then went to the hotel bar and ordered a bottle of wine and sat outside to relax and talk about our trip. We soon realized it is a good thing we write this blog just to remember all we have done and where we have been.

Day 26, Saturday, June 7 – Travel day

Lisa figured out that by the time we get home we would have been awake about 21 hours if we do not get any sleep on the plane. The first task is to return the rental car, new tire and all. That goes off without a hitch and we are off the Milan Linate terminal at 8:15 AM with our luggage. As we approach the British Airways baggage drop off counter we notice no one is there. We are a little early since our flight does not take off until 11:15AM so breakfast sound like the think to do. There is a McDonalds in the terminal but it too is not open yet. A cup of coffee will have to do for now. Back to the British Airways counter and by now there are other customers waiting to check in or drop off bags. The counter finally opens at 9:15 but we are told we cannot drop off our bags yet as our plane has not arrived, really! So we wait another 20 minutes before we can drop off our bags.

Back to McDonalds to get a bite to eat as all the other counters sell only pastries and a good old-fashioned Egg McMuffin sounded good. After breakfast we head through security that is not as strict as we are used to in the U.S. The guy watching the x-ray machine was chatting with a co-worker while bags move forward on the belt. Next we head to our gate but soon find we cannot get past the passport checkpoint as it was roped off and small glass booths were unattended. After a half hour wait the security personnel finally took their positions, in no hurry, and checked our passports and let us through to our gate. The plane is scheduled to take off at 11:30 AM but is delayed until 11:45 AM. We have a connecting flight at Heathrow and need time to go through security and immigration. We start to get nervous. Finally boarding begins and we are put on a bus and shuttled to our plan on the tarmac. The plane finally takes off about a half hour late. This has been a morning of hurry up and wait.

We land at Heathrow and the captain comes on and states, “we have to wait for another plane to leave the gate before he can pull in”, the stress increases. As we depart the plane we now have less than an hour to get from where we are through security, through immigration, and to the next gate to catch our flight. As we approach a line longer than the most popular ride at Disneyland in the middle of summer, Jim asks a woman working the area if we can be fast tracked since our flight leaves in less than an hour. She lets us go through the Fast Track line and we quickly get our passports stamped and on to security. It takes about 15 minutes to get through security because, unlike the guy at the Milan airport, the guy at Heathrow is moving the conveyer belt back and forth checking out all the bags. Ok, now we are through security and have 15 minutes to catch a shuttle train from the A gates to the C gates. As we run up to the doors of the train the sigh says, “security check in progress, please wait”. There is one guy walking through all the cars looking for spare change or something. Finally the doors open and it is like rush hour on a Tokyo subway, we literally have to push people into the car to get in. Lisa was crammed up against the door and she hoped she didn’t fall out when the doors opened. After a short ride we get off and run (literally) to our gate and soon find out boarding has been delayed a few minutes, whew, we are going to make it. All the rush and the plane leaves 20 minutes late. As we said, hurry up and wait.

We get to SFO and once again we are told by the captain we have to wait for another plane to leave our gate. We get off
Jim in GorgonzolaJim in GorgonzolaJim in Gorgonzola

Even though we did not see a cheese factory we had to get a picture
the plan around 5:30 PM and head to customs and believe it or not we get through somewhat quickly. Time to get our luggage at baggage claim. As the luggage starts coming out onto the carousel we position ourselves strategically so we are each at one of the two spots where bags come out. After 20 minutes go by, no bags. Jim checks with the British Airlines baggage counter and sure enough we made our plane at Heathrow but our bags did not. We are told they will be delivered to our house the next day by 5:30 PM. The silver lining is that we do not have to do laundry tonight.

Mom and Dad pick us up at the airport and around 7:00 PM. We walk into our house, exhausted and ready to sleep in our own bed. Grace was there to great us and fortunately she did not forget who we were, although Mom would have been happy as she has been taking care of Grace for us while we have been gone.

Both of us feel very fortunate to be able to visit Italy on a trip like this. Along the way we met some real nice people and aggressive drivers. Through our travel experiences we have found the best way to vacation is to leave behind our cultural norms and embrace those of the host country. This has allowed us to learn more, appreciate more, and have a much better experience. For example, we were in Bellagio and the streets are very narrow as they were built long before cars were invented. Pedestrians and cars use the same street so when a car comes through you have to jump into a doorway or alley to make way. We heard one American tourist say, “they should not allow them to drive such a big car on these narrow streets”. It kind of makes it fun dodging a car here and there so go with the flow.


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