Friday, 29 September 2017

Milan, Italy (Malpensa Airport)

Had time this morning to have breakfast and casually pack and get ready for my flight to London. Since the flight was at 1:20 p.m. I planned to check-in at least two hours before the flight.

At the airport’s departure area I looked at my ticket and it said the check-in location was in the 9th row. I went up the 9th row and didn’t see any British Airways flights. Then I checked the big board with all the flights and no British Airways flights at all. Then I looked at my ticket closer and saw that the departing airport was not Malpensa, but actually Milan’s Linate airport across town. How could I have made a mistake like this? No time to wonder about that, I needed to get to the Linate Airport.

I asked the information desk how long it would take for a taxi to get to the Linate Airport and she said about an hour. I didn’t have an hour, but decided to make a try for it. First, I needed to get some money from an ATM. Thought 100 Euros would cover the cost of the ride. As I was walking towards the airport’s taxi stand, I was approached by a guy who asked me if I needed a taxi. I said yet, but they will need to get me to Linate Airport for a 1:20 p.m. flight, and it was 11:35 now.

Off we ran to the parking structure where his car was located. (Not a regular taxi. But at this point I didn’t care.) He understood I was in a rush and off we went. Along the way he made some driving maneuvers (like driving toward oncoming traffic and using the bus lane, etc.). This was through mid-day traffic, which was heavy is many spots. He took side streets and honked a lot. I followed his progress on my GPS and kept telling myself it would all be okay.

During this drive through Milan, I made another flight reservation to London on my phone. Got a fare for a little over $200, which wasn’t bad, but it didn’t leave until 7:00 p.m. But I had to get to my hotel tonight or I’d be charged for a night’s stay. This was really going to be an expensive mistake if I don’t catch my original flight.

In my head, I was planning what I’d do when I arrive at the airport and preparing myself to put aside “Mr. Nice Guy” and go for it. Of course, remembering to say please and thank you often.

We arrived at the airport in just a little over 45 minutes. I had asked him earlier about paying him, just to get that out of the way, and he said to wait. As he pulled my suitcase out of the back of this car, he said the fare would be 150 Euros. I pulled out what I had and it was 115 Euros. He must not have had a credit card terminal. I just looked at him and gave what I had. I knew that making 115 Euro ($135) was a good wage for about an hour of work. He let me go and I thanked him then ran for the terminal.

At check-in I got in front of the business class line and had my ticket on my phone ready and my passport. Fortunately, the woman at the desk immediately waited on me but she need to ask her co-workers what to do since they had closed boarding for the flight. After a few minutes she took my bag and gave me a paper ticket and she said, “Run.” The gate was B28. And off I went.

The security line was not too far away and I got in front of the line and people kindly got out of the way. I must have looked really frantic. (I was!) While I got through the line, one of the security guys pulled me aside and ran some strips over my bag and tested them. (Earlier, to make sure my large suitcase was under 23 kg, I moved some of the heaver items to my carry on bag. It was quite a diverse collection in my bag when I finished.) I’m sure that is why they wanted a closer look. After a few minutes he let me go and I was off to the next station – Passport Control.

At Passport Control, they look at your passport and stamp it to show that you were leaving the EU. Actually the UK is still in the EU, but because they have different travel requirements you get clocked out of the EU and admitted to the UK when you arrive. Again I went to the front of the line and got through there in 5 minutes.

Now I had to sprint through the duty free shops (about the length of a football field). Was thinking that the gate B28 could be at the end of a long concourse. As I was getting myself ready for a longer run I discovered that B26 – B28 were bunched together straight ahead. What a relief! Now to see if boarding had started. Another positive sign was that boarding had just started when  arrived at gate B28. I had made it to the gate within 20 minutes. Amazing!

When I found an open chair I sat down and started to see about cancelling the flight that I had booked during the drive to the airport. Doing all of this on a phone’s small screen wasn’t easy and I forgot my Easyjet password, so needed to make up a new password as the other passengers were getting on board.

Once I got on board and in my seat I took time to be grateful that everything worked out well and thanked everyone who helped me out along the way. Then I finished up cancelling the later flight. In the end I was out 115 Euros, but it was a small expense compared to what it could have been.

The rest of the travel process worked out well. Though it was interesting when I went through Passport Control in Heathrow. When I met with the agent, she asked about what I was going to do in the U.K. for the next month. Then she asked about where I was going after that and I said I wasn’t quite sure at this point. Perhaps Iceland or maybe Spain and Portugal. She looked at me, handed me my stamped passport and said, “It must be nice.” All without a smile. I thought to myself, it sure is and looked for the nearest restroom.

Took the underground from Heathrow in to London. On the way in I was reading the local news and saw that the underground in London was going on a one-day strike on Thursday. Wait a minute. Isn’t that the day I’m leaving for Edinburgh? It was. More planning ahead on how I’ll get from my hotel to the train station. Guess I’ll work on that later. All I wanted to do was get checked into my room and take a nap. I was out as my head hit the pillow.

After my nap, I walked over to the nearby mall and found a place that served Chinese food. Relaxed and enjoyed some “Special Noodles” and wontons.

What a day!

Looking forward to meeting up with Prean and Viktor. Nothing else planned for my stay in London. I’m okay with that.

 

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Moving day! Was up early getting organized and cleaning the flat before I leave. I enjoy preparing for moves, even though it takes a bit of work. Really a sense of accomplishment when you can leave a place pretty much as you found it. Hosts appreciate this a lot, based on the excellent reviews I have received. I particularly liked working with this host who really had her act together and promptly responded to emails and answered my questions, the few that I had.

We did have a lapse in communication when I had asked about a taxi picking me up at 11:00 a.m. for my 12:15 train to Milan. When I met her at 10:45 I asked about the taxi. What taxi she said. (I had asked in an earlier email, but it wasn’t important to pursue the question.) We tried to contact one of the local taxi companies but no one picked up the phone. She said it was typical. I noticed the day before that the #33 bus went to the station. After we said our goodbyes I walked down to the main road with my suitcase. When I got down there I decided I might as well walk the rest of the way since I knew where I was going. Why not? I made it there in 45 minutes, well before my train arrived.

I had something unusual happen when I walked up to the platform. A man, who was not an employee of the train company offered to help me find where to stand to catch the train. I knew he would probably expect a tip. When I gave him a 2 Euro tip he wanted more, so I gave him an extra Euro. I didn’t know what to expect if I refused, so I gave it to him and thanked him. I need to better learn how to tactfully avoid these situations.

Once on the train, I had some assistance from another passenger to get my large suitcase in the overhead rack. He also helped me get it down when we arrived in Milan. Guess this is one of the perks of getting older – even though I can manage by myself, I’ve learned to accept the assistance when offered. This is good practice for later on when I will eventually need help from others.

Buying a ticket from the Milan train station to the Milan airport was a little challenging. Guess it looked like I was having problems and again another non-train company person offered to help and actually pushed me aside and was pressing buttons. I kept thanking him and he was getting a bit bothered that I was not appreciative of his help. I eventually had to walk away and went to the train station office to try and purchase a ticket there. That didn’t work either. I eventually found another type of ticket machine and was in the process of ordering a ticket when another “helper” showed up. He finished the transaction for me, I retrieved the ticket, thanked him and walked away.

The train ride to the airport takes about an hour and the train arrived a floor below the hotel. So glad I didn’t try to fly to London today and could now rest in a hotel at the airport. My flight doesn’t leave until early afternoon, so have all morning to rest before the last leg of my trip to London. Glad there is a McDonald’s here. Ha!

Has been a busy month. First to Cologne, then Darmstadt, to Italy’s Cique Terra, to Munich, to Cairo, and finally to Bologna, Pisa, Florence, and Venice. Lots of zigzagging, but enjoyed meeting up with family and friends along the way and exploring new places. Grateful I have the opportunity to travel like this and share and keep these travels via this travel blog.

 

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

After breakfast I walked down to the Bologna train station. Will miss the morning walk since I’m leaving tomorrow. Today I’m visiting Florence again to visit the Galeria Academiei where Michelangelo’s David is located, then to Uffizi Gallery. Both are two of the top attractions in Florence.

When I arrived at the Florence train station, I successfully bypassed the McDonald’s and went directly to the Galeria Academiei where I picked up my reserved ticket for the 10:30 group and waiting in line to enter. Glad that I had a reserved ticket online. The ticket line was long with probably a two-hour wait.

Had no idea what to expect when I walked in. After a security check, we were pointed to the entrance to the museum and didn’t expect that the first thing to see was the statue of David. As we walked down the gallery to the statue, some of Michelangelo’s works were displayed. I remember first seeing this statue, like most of us, many years ago and we have seen it often over the years. Whoever decided how to display the statue, they got it right.

After taking a few pictures of the statue, I visited the other galleries. It is a relatively small museum with a large collection of paintings by Florentine artists, mostly from the period 1300-1600, the Trecento to the Late Renaissance and a special exhibit on early musical instruments. I enjoy seeing the early works of art, which are almost entirely religious. And there was a room of plaster castings used to make various sculptures – mainly busts.

As you see David from the entrance to the gallery.

David from different angles

Room full of 19th Century plaster casts used for statues

Early 17th and 18th Century Instruments

13th and 14th Century Paintings

My next museum was Uffizi Gallery. From Wiki: “One of the most important Italian museums, and the most visited, it is also one of the largest and best known in the world, and holds a collection of priceless works, particularly from the period of the Italian Renaissance.” Along the way I was tempted by a shop selling gourmet ice cream, so I ordered a cone with two different flavors of chocolate. Molto bene!

Had no idea that the Uffizi Gallery was so large. (See picture below.) There wasn’t anything in particular that I wanted to see there, but loved what I saw. So many great works on display – one right after another. Room after room. A little overwhelming. Good crowd control and didn’t feel like a sardine in a can. There was one set of rooms that was very popular and I had to make my way through it. It contained some of da Vinci’s works and people where lined up taking pictures. All in all I enjoyed walking around the museum very much and saw some works that I enjoyed and more that I’ll investigate later to learn more.

Uffizi Gallery’s Interior Courtyard

Gallery Hallways

The Tribuna of the Uffizi is an octagonal room. Designed by Bernardo Buontalenti 

(Via Wiki) Below is an oil painting mounted on a round convex wooden shield. It was commissioned to Caravaggio by his patron, Cardinal Francesco Maria Bourbon del Monte, who then gave it as a gift to the Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici. The theme of the Medusa was very dear to the Medici, had a symbolic value as an allegory of prudence and wisdom. The “shield” of Caravaggio went to enrich the collection of the Grand Duke’s arms and stayed there until the ‘700, when all the contents of the armory was sold except for this painting. Medusa’s face is caught by Caravaggio at the time the scream suddenly emerged at the head cut, the base of which flows a stream of blood. Eyes and mouth wide open are enhanced by the warm light that characterizes the painting.

Medusa, without the reflection via Google.

Portrait of Virginia de’Medici

The Ponte Vecchio

Bell Tower at Piazza della Signoria

About this time I was getting hungry. Like the day before, I wanted to find an excellent Italian restaurant to understand what great Italian food tastes like, and I found just the place, Trattoria Antico Fattore. This restaurant has been popular since the 19th century and located near Uffizi Gallery.

I ordered spaghetti bolognese for my first course, then an order of meatballs. (Yes, it was lot of food.) Enjoyed every bite. Both dishes were mild, flavorful with no one ingredient overpowering the rest, and nicely presented. The waiter was pleased that I ordered Italian style where each course is served separately and not on one plate.

After lunch I took a walk to work off the meal. Florence is a very walkable city and, like many other old cities, most every street has interesting twists and turns where you are often surprised with something interesting. But it was getting close to when my train was scheduled to leave so I pointed myself towards the station and was home within an hour or so.

Tomorrow I leave early afternoon for Milan where I’ll spend the night at the airport’s Sheridan Hotel, then fly to London the following day. I’ll have a few days in London to meet up with friends before taking the train up to Edinburgh.

 

 

 

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Was up early again today and ready for Day 2 of Venice. Had time for a quick breakfast before taking my now daily walk to the train station. Nice to be in some sort of regular routine, but miss sleeping in and gently starting my day.

Left again at the same time for Venice as yesterday and found myself more comfortable as I left the train and walked through the Venice station. I went outside of the station to see if my Day 2 experience of being in Venice was any different than Day 1. It was, but only slightly. Still in awe of the city.

My main goal was to visit Murano again, do a glass factory tour and maybe purchase a small gift to send back to Oregon from the factory. Also to tour the glass museum while I’m there. At 3:30 I had scheduled a boat tour of the Grand Canal.

After buying a bottle of water, I caught the first taxi to Murano. There are a few options, but I took the first boat to leave the dock. Met a couple from Pennsylvania while waiting in line and we visited before the boat arrived. Soon we were underway and headed straight for Murano (Got lucky because some of the taxi routes stop at several places before you land at the spot where you want to be.) I walked to where the place for the factory tour and waited in line. Turns out if really wasn’t much of a tour, more like a demonstration, but it was free. Think the purpose of the free demonstration was to get people to buy, in the stop next door, the glass decorations they were making. We saw the glass artists make a glass duck while we were there.

From the demonstration I learned that there are only a few factories or shops on the island now. Also was warned that a good portion of the glass items sold in the gift shops was not made in Murano.

After the demonstration I went into their gift shop (no pictures allowed) and picked out something that I thought would make a nice gift. Was invited to their showroom to view the more expensive offerings. I asked about a glass statue with some birds on it. It retailed for $77,000. Yikes! Everything I asked about was over $1,000. Last year, after divesting myself of most of my worldly possessions, I didn’t think it was the right time (or ever again) to start accumulating expensive glassware.

My next stop was to visit the glass museum, which got great reviews. I took some pictures while I walked to the museum. What a wonderful town! Clean, friendly people, and it looked like the tourists were having a great time as well, strolling along the waterfront and looking into the the shops just as I was doing.

At the museum I purchased a ticket and walked through room after room of the most amazing, and some very old, glassware. Murano is known to be the mothership of glass-making. Here is a link (see History section) that describes how glass-making evolved here on this island. LINK

I was getting hungry and decided to have a full meal at one of the large sidewalk restaurants near the Piazza San Marco where my 3:30 tour will start. I decided on a restaurant that had great reviews. I figured I had a little over an hour to have a nice lunch and enjoy the view out into the lagoon. I ordered a starter dish of mussels and clams then some lasagna for the main course. I was served a large bowl full of the mussels and clams and I went to work digging into it and enjoying every bite. Was some of the best I’ve ever tasted. I used the bread that was provided to soak up the sauce. I mistakenly gave one of the aggressive pigeons (when will I ever learn not to do this) some of my bread. Soon this pigeon’s friends joined in. It took me and several of the people eating around me to shoo them away.

Next came the lasagna. It didn’t look exactly like the lasagna that is made in the U.S. It didn’t have the distinctive layers of pasta. It had a pasta-like bottom, but the layers must have been thin rather than the thick pasta used in the U.S. In any case, after the first bite, I was impressed. Never had I eaten lasagna like this before. All the ingredients worked well together and it wasn’t too spicy, just flavorful. And I wanted more when finished – even though I was served a generous portion.

I checked the time and needed to leave immediately to find where to meet up with the tour operator. I wanted to spend more time in the Piazza San Marco, but it was requested that I show up at 3:15. There was some confusion when I got my ticket, but we got it sorted out before we left on the tour.

We first went around where the cruise and cargo ships docked then came around to the start of the Grand Canal tour near where the train station is located. The tour guide was very knowledgeable about many of the buildings and churches we passed along the way down the canal. I had trouble keeping up with the stories behind each building that she described. It must have been something when these buildings were the palaces of the wealthy people who lived in Venice when it was at its peak. Much restoration is in process, but we could still admire each of this large homes which are now used more for entertainment and official residences or offices of organizations.

Rialto Bridge

Bridge of Sighs

When we docked, I took some time to explore Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Plaza). This vast square was very popular with the tourists. I should have allowed more time to properly visit this part of Venice. Even though I was there for only about 10 minutes, I saw an eyeful. Perhaps if I return again I’ll have a better idea what I’d like to see. Though I’d like to find a time when the streets are not so crowded with tourists. The guide on the Grand Canal tour boat said that 25 million people visit Venice each year. Wow! 25 million!

I checked the time again and realized that I needed to move quickly to catch my train back to Bologna. My GPS was good about helping me navigate the streets, but given so many twists and turns of each alley, I lost my way a few times and had to backtrack. I eventually found a path next to a canal that took me most of the way back to the station.

Because I thought the train left at 5:35, I didn’t realize my mistake until it was 5:24, a minute before the train was getting ready to leave. Because it left right at 5:25, I missed the train. If I had been one minute sooner, I would have made it. Fortunately my ticket was good for the next train which was leaving in 20 minutes. This train made all the stops between Venice and Bologna so it took about 30 minutes longer. I just sat back and enjoyed the countryside as we traveled to Bologna.

What a great day I had in Venice! The weather was perfect for walking around and enjoying the many shops and buildings that make up Venice. So many islands to explore. Next time…

By the time I got home, I was dead tired. I bought a small sandwich at the train station that I later ate for dinner. Even at 9:00 p.m. – was still a little full from today’s lunch.

Tomorrow I return to Florence and finish my visit there. My train leaves at 9:10 and I’m scheduled to return late in the afternoon. Another full day, but I’m ready for it.

 

Monday, 25 September 2017

Today I took a train to Venice. Another iconic location that we’ve seen in many different forms of media over the years. Because of this, I almost didn’t want to go. I guess the word is “cheesy” or “over-hyped” and also because the city will be filled with tourists. But I made an effort this morning to not judge before I have a look for myself.

Again I walked to the train station (around 4,500 steps). Today I took my phone charger so I wouldn’t run down the battery before the end of the day. On the way to Venice I saw the usual small farms and we made a couple of stops along the way as well. As the train got closer to Venice, the landscape became very flat, then I saw more water as the train passed over a causeway (built just for the train) into the city of Venice. The station is next to the Grand Canal and provides an excellent gateway to the city’s boat transportation.

So many people in the station. And so many stores which made the train station seem more like a mall. But when you walk through the station to the Grand Canal, then you understand what Venice is all about. It took my mind a few minutes to understand that this is a real city (though no large buildings or skyscrapers) where people live and work next to the water. Between the canals are walkways between the buildings, so if you didn’t want to take a boat, you can walk most places. But eventually, you’ll need to get on a boat.

Pictures below were taken from the bridge over the Grand Canal (near the train station)

My pattern is to arrive somewhere, do some, but not a lot of research beforehand. I want get the “lay of the land” before committing to visiting anything in particular. Like what I recently did in Florence – just walk around for a little while and get a feel for the place.

But where to go first? Since I was hungry from not having breakfast, McDonald’s was on my mind. Guess what? Only one McDonald’s in Venice. I took the longer route to the McDonald’s so I could see more of this particular island – or in this case two islands since the Grand Canal separates the two halves. Before leaving on my walk, I purchased a two-day pass (30 Euros) to ride any of the taxi boats.

After walking around for nearly an hour, I arrived at “the” McDonald’s. Was almost difficult to find since the building codes, I expect, do not allow for the Golden Arches. While eating my two cheeseburgers, it gave me time to decide what I wanted to do next. And I decided to take a taxi boat to Murano, where some of the finest glass is made.

The main taxi boat launch is back at the station. After figuring out which boat leaves from which launch, I was on my way. I didn’t have enough time to stay on the island, but I knew that this was one of my main interests while visiting Venice. I will return tomorrow.

Enjoyed the light breeze as the taxi boat (which I guess can carry about 50 people above and below deck) traveled down the Grand Canal into the Venetian Lagoon towards Murano. The trip lasted less than 20 minutes, but gave us on the boat a break from the busy city and time to enjoy the surrounding waters of Venice. The three pictures below show where Venice is located in Italy, the larger picture of Venice and the surrounding islands, and then the city of Venice (showing the location of the one, and only one, McDonald’s).

Location of the One McDonald’s Restaurant in Venice 

When we were let off the boat at Murano, everyone headed in different directions. There was a guy as we disembarked who pointed out the direction of a glass factory, an interest of mine. I had seen glass blowing before and found it fascinating. Along the way to the glass factory there were a few cats walking around near some of the homes. I realized that this small island is very safe for them because there are no cars or predictors and they can freely roam around.

I had thought that the one factory that was open for visitors would be crowded, but it wasn’t. Now that I know where it is, and after walking around for 30 minutes, I can return tomorrow and allow more time for a longer visit. Before I left to meet the next taxi, I thought: Wouldn’t this be a great place to live? Very peaceful and quiet, but with (fairly) easy access to a larger city and transportation to the rest of the world. Milan, a central transportation hub in Europe, is only about a three hour train ride from Venice. For some reason, the idea of being around water, on an island, in a town where many of the people are in the business of making glass.

View from Boat Returning from Murano

Was thinking about staying longer, but when the taxi boat got back to the train station area, I had enough for one day and didn’t upgrade my ticket to stay longer. Just had enough time to make a reservation for a small (no more than 6 people) guided tour of the Grand Canal for tomorrow.

The weather today was perfect. Partly cloudy, slight breeze, and just warm enough to wear a light coat, or not. Before I left, as I was entering the train station, I saw the look on people’s faces as then came out of the train station and saw Venice for the first time. The look in their eyes I guess was like mine when I saw it for the first time as well. For me, it almost looked like some dream that Disney created. Who would ever think about building a city in the water?

I road back on the train to Bologna with a smile on my face – feeling glad I’m visiting Venice when I am. When I got back home, I sent a note to friends Clayton and Stacy, who had visited Venice only a few weeks ago, for their recommendations. Looking forward to Day 2 of Venice.

17,354 Steps Today

 

 

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Up early once again to visit Florence today. And again I woke up before the alarm went off. Was out the door and walked to the train station. A very quiet Sunday morning in Balogna. My plan was to walk around Florence and explore the city on my own.

Even though I had a little breakfast before leaving (coffee, a slice of brown bread, cereal, and an apple), I was still a little hungry. Thankfully there is a McDonald’s at the Florence train station. While waiting in line I noticed that the person taking our orders was a bit slow, unorganized, confused, and forgetful. I could have changed lines but stayed where I was. When it was my turn I spoke slowly, clearly, and used all of the Italian words that I knew – all with a big smile. She responded back well and I had my order in a few minutes. I was so proud of myself, then after I sat down, noticed she gave me a sausage McMuffin instead of a bacon McMuffin. Alas…

After my second breakfast, I walked toward the Cathedral. I only saw one side of it yesterday and wanted to see more. Also, I didn’t get the name of one of the building next to the Cathedral. (The Baptistery) I sat down and admired the Cathedral while I collected my thoughts. It was discouraging that all of the Florence attractions charge a hefty price for admissions. As I walked around the Cathedral I saw something that caught my eye. Segway Tours!  

The Florence Baptistery

The Segway office was not busy when I walked in. I asked the guy behind the desk (Ahmed) when the next tour was scheduled. I learned there wasn’t one. He asked that at least two people are in a tour group then offered me a personal tour for a reduced rate. Perfect! We agreed on the price and he let me practice on a Segway in the nearby parking area. He closed shop and off we went.

Ahmed took me around the Cathedral, the Baptistery, and the Medici Chapel which I had already walked around so our visit was short. Then rode over to the Basilica di Santa Croce, which is the principal Franciscan church in Florence, Italy.

Florence Cathedral and Bell Tower

Next was Piazza della Repubblica. It is on this site, is the porticos with the triumphal arch, called the “Arcone“, which was designed by Micheli.

The Church of Santa Maria Novella  Architecturally, it is one of the most important Gothic churches in Tuscany.

Church of Santa Croce (Holy Cross)

Sculpture on the Santa Croce Piazza 

I knew it was going to be busy in Florence, this being a Sunday. Managed to not hit any fellow tourists as I guided my Segway through the crowds.

Saw a few other sites and then we headed up the hill to the Piazza Michelangelo, which is on a hill on the south bank of the Arno River, just east of the center of Florence, and offers amazing views of the city. On the way up the hill it started to rain. It was okay for me, but Ahmed was getting soaking wet. He asked about a poncho for him from the vendors who had stands in the Piazza, but no luck. Fortunately, the rain let up and after taking a few pictures of the city we continued our tour.

 

Ahmed’s Improved Rain Helmet

We stopped next on one of the bridges that span the Arno River. I took a picture of Florence’s famous Ponte Vecchio (“Old Bridge”) that also spans the Arno. Our last stop was Dante’s House Museum.

Dante’s House Museum

After Ahmed and I parted ways, I thought about lunch. Perhaps find a good restaurant nearby. I checked out a few places before settling on Fiaschetteria Nuvoli. Other than McDonald’s, I choose restaurants that met my criteria: Staff, Smell, and Customers. (Staff smiling and welcoming, the smell inviting, and customers should look like they like being there.) I ordered a bowl of bread and bean soup, then some cheese and spinach ravioli (and a small glass of Chianti).

Took my time walking back to the train station. My train wasn’t due to leave until 3:00 and it was only 1:45. This gave me time to edit my pictures, get some cash from an ATM, a cup of coffee, and do some people watching. Nice to be in a train station and just sit there. I took a picture or two of the trains and the long platforms. Some of the trains are very long as can be seen from the picture below – difficult to see the end of the train or the platform. Keep in mind that many of these trains are, by this time of day, completely booked.

Took a taxi back to the flat and almost immediately took a nap. It was starting to rain and nothing makes me sleep like the sound of rain. After my nap I started to plan my visit to Venice tomorrow. I’ll probably visit Venus on Tuesday as well. I’m going to try to sleep in until 7:00 tomorrow. We will see…

 

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Today I planned to attempt visits to both Pisa and Florence on the same day. (What did I get myself into?) I set the alarm this morning for 6:00 a.m., but ended up waking at 5:00 a.m. ready to start the day. Guess I’m feeling better.

The walk to the central train station was easy. Just 30 minutes away and had enough time to find which platform to be on when the train arrived. I had a small recurrence of my “bug” before I left the flat and hoped for the best.

In Florence (or Firenze as it is known by Italians) I changed trains for my journey to Pisa. The train was delayed on the way to Pisa (something about a person on the track) and once we got going again our train slowed to a crawl for almost an hour. By the time the train was able to resume its normal speed, we were 45 minutes late arriving in Pisa. Considering the number of trains I’ve taken over the last 15 months, and this was the most significant issue, I’m very thankful and hope my good luck continues.

On my phone, It didn’t look like the Leaning Tower was too far from the Pisa train station, but it was a good 40 minute walk nonetheless. The weather was very mild and enjoyed walking through the town (more like a small city) to the tower. Could it be that someone in the early years knew of the tower’s popularity and put the train station away from the tower so visitors would walk through Pisa and buy from local merchants along the way? There were a number of high-end stores, but I just kept walking. Walked over the Arno River on my way to the Tower of Pisa.

I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at the tower, actually Piazza del Duomo is the proper name for the location. The Cattedrale di Pisa is next to the tower and the two buildings work well together. My first thought was, “Well there it is. And it does lean – that’s for sure.”

First Glimpse of the Tower of Pisa

Was more interested in the number of people (seemingly, most everyone) taking selfies with the tower. Even me. Many happy tourists enjoying the nice weather and visiting this iconic tower. I can’t remember when I first learned of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, maybe it was in the 4th grade. So much a part of our lexicon and cultural reference. And I was here today seeing it in person.

I took some other pictures of the tower and surrounding buildings before I left to explore a little more of Pisa before boarding the train to Florence. Wasn’t sure how crowded on the streets it would be on a Saturday, but found it was an easy walk to and from the tower.

Because of my earlier train delay, I missed my train to Florence. Rather than take the chance that my ticket would be void, I purchased another ticket for 8.40 Euros, which I thought was good insurance. (Later I found out that my original ticket was good for another 4 hours.) Had I read my ticket. Live and learn…

Got to Florence about 1:30 or so and walked first to the museum that has Michelangelo’s David but when I saw the line, and found that you can purchase a ticket ahead of time, I moved on. The next place I wanted to visit was a museum, rather more like an exhibition of da Vinci’s inventions and art. Someone, probably more like a group of people, built his best known inventions to scale and had them on display. Remarkable!

From there I casually walked back toward the station when I came upon the Florence Cathedral. (You can’t miss it!) Its proper name is “Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore” and building started in 1296. What a huge building. I heard another tourist comment that he couldn’t get the whole building in one picture. But I made do by taking pictures of one side of the building to capture the building’s splendor.

Along the way I saw something I had read about. (This has nothing to do with museums or towers – just my geek side making an appearance.) A number of cities are investing in new ways to collect garbage from street receptacles. A hole is dug, a self-contained trash bin is lowered into the ground and every few days a special truck picks up the container and dumps it into a truck. Saves time to individually remove trash from sidewalk collection stations.

About this time I was starting to get tired. I checked how many steps I walked today and found that I had almost 15,000 steps recorded and still needed to walk back to the station. The battery in my phone was getting close to 10% even though I turned off most of the functions. And I didn’t bring my backup battery.

Since I had originally planned to until 8:00 pm, I needed to re-do my ticket. It only cost an extra 4.10 Euro and I got a reserved seat. By the time I reached Bologna, my phone died, but still needed to give an address to the taxi driver, which was in my phone. Was amusing trying to communicate with the driver, who could speak some English, but not enough to understand my instructions of where I was living. I knew how to walk from the flat to the train station, but didn’t know the driving directions from the station to the flat. He had me talk on the phone to his friend Claudio who could speak good English. Then I had an idea. I noticed he had a Samsung and asked if he had his charger with him. He did! I plugged in my phone and was able to give him the actual address. We had a good laugh about it. Of course he got an extra tip for his efforts.

When I checked how many steps I walked today, was a little surprised that it was 21,509, or 9.78 miles. Pretty good for a guy in his 60’s. Though, after I got settled, I took a good nap.

After my nap, I started to make reservations for tomorrow’s visit to Florence. Guess I should have verified that I could get tickets for the two museums tomorrow before I booked my train tickets. Looks like I’ll go back to Florence for a third day on Wednesday. Monday, and possibly Tuesday, I’ll visit Venice. My original concept was to find a central location (Bologna) that would give me easy access to Pisa, Florence, and Venice. Perhaps a little more expensive to keep taking the train, but avoiding the inconvenience of moving every few days is well worth it.

I’ll be up early again tomorrow. I have an 8:25 a.m. train to catch. Hopefully I’ll not wake up again at 5:00 a.m.

 

 

Friday, 22 September 2017

Woke up very late today. 11:30 a.m.! Very much enjoying another full night’s sleep after months of waking up many times through the night. Maybe because I’m a floor above where the bathroom is located I don’t want to get out of bed. Who knows? Perhaps having the “bug” took some of my get-up-and-go.

The idea today was to leave a little after noon and take a train to Florence. Was out the door by 1:00 p.m. The Bologna station is only a 30 minute walk and is mostly downhill. Enjoyed looking in the stores and restaurants along the way. No tourists in this area, so I’m among the locals, which is nice for a change.

When I got to the station I discovered that most of the trains were already booked for the rest of the day. Good to know. I’ll wake up early tomorrow, leave for Pisa (which goes through Florence), and return to Florence for the rest of the day (Noon until 8:00 p.m.). If I need to return to Florence to see a little more, it is only 30 minutes by train from Bologna. I’ll see about going to Venice on Sunday or Monday.

About this time I started to not feel well at the station. It was nearly 3:00 and realized that I had a small breakfast of coffee, one slice of whole wheat bread, and a bowl of cereal. Also felt a bit dehydrated. I bought some water and took a taxi back to the flat. Then took a long nap. Glad I’m not pushing myself and really get sick.

No need to get dinner or prepare it. Still have the pizza from last night. The pizza could still feed me tomorrow as well. (The medium sized pizza was only 8 Euros.)

Nice to have my laundry done, for the most part. I still have one more load of wash to complete. Reorganized my suitcase and once my clothes are dry, I’ll put them away in one of the many dresser drawers and closets in this flat. I’m thinking this place is too big for me. But it’s so quiet at night – that I appreciate very much!

Now have my tickets for tomorrow. They were emailed to me after my online purchase and will just need to show the conductor the ticket from my phone when asked. I have to be careful because some trains in Europe want you to have a paper ticket.

No pictures today. Before I leave, I’ll take some of the neighborhood and the university, which I found out was founded in 1088 and is the oldest continuing university and at the top of the best universities in Europe. And I’m next door to this. Yes, will look around – maybe on Monday. I’m here until next Thursday.

I expect to feel 100% tomorrow and will be up at 6:00 a.m. to ensure I have time to get ready for my day as a tourist.

 

 

Thursday, 21 September 2017

What a great night’s sleep! I must have been really tired after all. Woke up at 7:00, then 8:00, then 9:00. Eventually got myself up at 11:00. Then I discovered that I must have a travel “bug” while I was making coffee. From there, I decided to not be too far away from a toilet for the rest of the day. I had some Imodium with me and followed the instructions.

After a couple of cups of coffee I was starting to wake up. Has been surprising how little I’ve had the “travel bug” since last year. In anticipation of “unknown water” I took with me some devices that take out bacteria from the water before drinking. After a few months, and no instances, I donated them in Edinburgh charity shop.

Slept a little more, then got up and organized my wash before leaving for the store. Like many hosts, even though they have a washing machine, doesn’t always mean they have detergent. Also needed some cereal and toast for breakfast. Also got a pizza for dinner.

The pizza place that I went to was named, “Video Pizza” but not sure why. I selected a pizza because I could pronounce the name and hoped for the best. No “Hawaiian Pizza” here. (But I did find it in Dubrovnik.) I watched him make it and it contained very few ingredients. My first real Italian Pizza!

My walk to and from the grocery was much easier than last night. And it only took about 10 minutes. The weather is perfect for me. In the 70’s and sunny with a lot of shade trees. I seem to be located in a nice part of town with many large homes and villas (with several flats each) are behind gated drives. I’ve read that Italy’s burglary rate is much lower than the U.S. (4 times higher in the U.S.) but almost all homes have bars on their windows and driveways are gated.

Got home with my groceries, ate my pizza and did the wash. Of course, a new washer and took my time trying to figure out which setting to use. This washer had over 30 settings and used a cross-reference map on the front of the machine to guide me on which setting to use. The shower was more complicated because it has several settings for the direction of the shower in addition to the water flow and temperature settings. The stove, thankfully, it very easy to understand.

I asked my host if she knew of anyone who could drive me around Bologna and take me to popular attractions or to those of local interest. I’ve found that this is a great way to tour a new city and get an idea what local people like and better understand the culture.

My wash is done. Nice to have a place to get caught up with laundry. I was thinking that I have too many clothes, but appreciate that I have a good selection and clean clothes while I travel. For that, I don’t mind the larger suitcase and it hasn’t slowed me down. Though always thankful when I see my suitcase roll off the baggage carousel at the airport.  Was only a little worried in Cairo when my suitcase was late, but a reminder that I should place more items in the carry-on that would be difficult to replace.

Tomorrow, I’ll visit Pisa. Will see if the Leaning Tower is still leaning. Was thinking about why this particular tower gets so much attention. One of the first memories  I have about people visiting Europe. Think I’ll research what people saw when they did the “Grand Tour” of Europe.

 

 

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Was so relaxing in Cairo for the past week and found I was a little hesitant about leaving, but had to honor reservations in Bologna, Italy. Taking the early flight was a little difficult because I needed to wake by 5:00 a.m. but got to the airport, through three security lines and was on my flight as scheduled. My friend, Hussein, had to wait several hours before his flight to Luxor departed.

Flew into Milan, took the train from the airport to Milan’s central train station for my train ride to Bologna. At the airport I met up with two women who were from Belgium but lived in the United States. They were also headed to the central train station and they hadn’t been to the Milan Airport before, but I had. So we all walked together to the ticket office and purchased our tickets together. (Safety in numbers.) We enjoyed our hour long ride together (for 13 Euros each) to the Central Station and shared travel information and, of course, talked politics. Again, I meet the nicest and interesting people during my travels.

At the Milan Central Train Station, I just caught, by a few minutes, my train to Bologna. Enjoyed looking out at the Italian countryside during my trip. Like England, it is just as you imagine it would look like. Small farms, a few homes, and fields of corn and other crops. During the next week, the weather is expected to be mild (in the 70’s during the day and 50’s at night) with no rain expected in this part of Italy.

I selected Bologna because, if part, of the great food served here. But also due to its proximity to Pisa, Florence, and Venice. Maybe Florence and Venice will take two days each, but I like being in one location that allows for flexibility. The cost of the trains is minimal when weighing the cost and time of moving to a new city every few days. Also, I can always return if I would like to stay longer.

When I arrived at the Bologna station I was amazed at how large it was. It was on several levels and appreciated that I didn’t have to carry my luggage up or down a flight of stairs. I found a taxi and off we were for my flat for the next week while I’m here. Was met by the host who showed me around the flat. I was upgraded a couple of times and found myself in a very large space. Big open room with the TV, an office, large bedroom with several closets, and the downstairs was the kitchen and bathroom (with washer).

The flat is located near to the University of Bologna and my place is generally rented out by the year, so was lucky to find this place. Very quiet at night but hear the sounds of daily life during the day. (I’m writing this on the next day.) I’ll need to find a bus that will take me to the train station when I visit Pisa, Florence, and Venice.

Had barely enough energy tonight to walk to the nearby grocery store and pick up some supplies. What would normally take 10 minutes seemed like an hour when I walked to and from the store. It took 10 hours from when I woke in the morning to arrive in Bologna, so was a long travel day. Found a place near the grocery that sold a slice of lasagna and my food needs for the day were met.

Took a nap when I returned, and when I woke, got caught up on mail and getting settled before retiring for the night. Think I’ll like it here.