Prego is not just a spaghetti sauce!
Sunday, October 4, 1998
This is our first trip on Iberia Airlines. They recently started flying to Madrid from Chicago and they had this great fare of $349. We couldn't pass it up. Flying on Sunday increased the fare and we were able to get to Milan for about $800 for two. We flew on a DC 10 and we had a lot more legroom than we are used to on a British Airways 747. Our 4:55 flight is delayed and we finally take off at 6:30 PM. The food wasn't bad but no drinks before dinner. That didn't matter since we do not drink much alcohol on an international flight. You feel better when you arrive and the jet lag isn't as bad. Arriving in Madrid, we had to walk and walk to get to the Milan flight. Madrid is a very big airport. I was looking for an ATM but didn't see any. I didn't need one but wanted to see if they were readily available. You now go through immigration in the first EC country you arrive in so there was a little delay. That meant we didn't have to go through immigration in Milan. Most passengers are EC residents and only have to show their passports so many people are pushing and shoving to get through ahead of the people who have to wait to get their passports stamped. Everyone is in a hurry.
Only a one hour and 20 minute flight to Milan Linate. They have since re-routed most flights to Malpensa, much further from the city. At Linate we took a bus, paid the driver about 4,500 lira each and went to Centrale Statione, a 30 minute ride. The bus link at the airport is clearly marked "STAM" and is right outside the terminal.
We bought our tickets for Milano to Varenna for 7,600 lira each and for the Varenna to Monterosso al Mare (Cinque Terre) leg (25,500 lira each) in the Milan Train Station as the train station in Varenna is not staffed. The total was 66,200 Lira for the two of us, about $40 US. Just remember, this was for tickets from Milan to Varenna and then from Varenna through Milan to Monterosso al Mare in the Cinque Terre. Make sure you stamp your ticket in the yellow box at the entrance to the train track and before you get on the train. Italy is on the honor system and you will be fined if they ask for your ticket and you failed to date stamp it before boarding the train. The train ticket looks like this. We took the 45 minute train ride to Varenna. It runs up the east side of Lake Como through Lecco and the views of the mountains and the lake are very nice. Lots of people on the train making and getting phone calls. Christine slept and we got off the train in Varenna as did many other Americans. Most of them were also going to Albergo Milano. I guess you have to expect a lot of Americans when you stay at a place recommended by Rick Steves. We have not stayed at many places recommended by Rick Steves and we may not in the future. Just so you don't get the wrong impression, the Albergo Milano was excellent. Great breakfast, nice balconies overlooking Lake Como, nice public room for sitting, clean and warm rooms with nice showers, and a nice veranda. The hotel also served wine and cappuccino on request. A first class place. Just a lot of Americans.
There were several taxis waiting for the train but we walked. It's only about a half mile to the Albergo Milano and a little further to the center of town. You just walk down to the road from the train station, turn right, walk up to the next road where you will find the Hotel Beretta on the right (very nice bar and snacks). Turn left, walk over the river and straight (Turn right after the river for the ferry to Bellagio or Menaggio). Otherwise, walk up about two blocks and take the sidewalk (paved path) on the right just as the road starts to go up and veers left. Walk down this path and the Albergo Milano is on the right. Unfortunately, we didn't do this, we walked down past the ferry and then along the water until we saw some stairs going up. I asked at the dress shop and the nice lady told us to walk up the stairs. We got to the top and I looked into this beautiful lobby with Lake Como at the end. At that point, I did not know it was the Albergo Milano. I mentioned to Christine that this looked like a nice place and she pointed to the Albergo Milano sign. We went in and were greeted by this very charming lady who spoke no English.
One American was already complaining that his private toilet was across the hall from his room. The woman who owns the place does not speak English (her son does speak English but he wasn't there). Christine told the woman in Italian about the man's complaint and the woman said she would change his room. He wouldn't shut up even though he knew she didn't understand him. I finally said to him that the woman was going to give him a room with a toilet so what did he want? He then shut up but he didn't talk to me for the rest of our stay. Americans!
We had picked the hotel because we found a site on the Internet that promotes panorama views (360 degrees). One of their demonstration views was taken from a room in this hotel. Well, they gave us that room with the balcony.
The hotel actually occupies the top 3-4 floors in a building that has 3-4 floors below the hotel. The lower floors of the building are right on the water. There is a large veranda (deck) where you could have breakfast in nicer weather. We were able to have wine out there before dinner in the evening and some cappuccino before going to bed but not breakfast. It was too rainy in the mornings.
It started to rain a little. We walked around the town to get our bearings. Many stairs and levels. Beautiful gardens and plants everywhere, even in October. We walked over to the Hotel du Lac, an upscale hotel with great views, we ordered some cappuccino, we were the only ones there. I recommend this hotel as a place to stop for a drink and an excellent view. I had read that most places close for the winter around October 15 but all of the outside cafes are closed now due to the weather. We found a bar at the Hotel Baretta that we had seen on the walk from the train station. Many bars in Italy have a sort of "happy hour" where they have snacks available. We've found them friendly and a nice place to stop around 5 PM. The snacks tide us over until the late dinners. You can stand at the bar and snack and the wine is cheap, about 1,000 lira per glass. If you sit down, the price of the wine goes up and they give you a small plate of chips or olives. We prefer to stand, you have a bigger variety of snacks. We stopped in a bar in downtown Milan and the bar snacks rivaled some buffets I have eaten at. Another point, bars in the smaller towns are more relaxed and after a few minutes, the bar became crowded and the lady indicated that we should sit down. We got our second drink at the bar. You don't pay until you leave. Some of the bars in the larger cities want you to pay at a separate cashier counter, get a receipt and then order at the bar, where they either take your receipt, or more often, tear it in half and return it to you. This method is difficult for people who don't speak the language, as you can't point to what you want. You have to be able to tell the cashier what you want. Luckily, Christine can do this. I like to point. This same problem surfaces in some sandwich shops, especially in the train stations, and not only in Italy. You have to be able to order your food from a cashier, pay for it and then give the receipt to someone who fills your order. I've found it is sometimes easy to ask the person at the food counter the name of something you want so you can tell the cashier. This is harder when they're busy. It's not easy to order but it's not impossible.
Just remember, if you stand, a glass of wine is about $1 US, if you sit down, it's about $4-5 US. Many times, especially in sidewalk cafes, it's worth the money to sit down and watch the people. You can sit for a long time. Most cafes will provide you with some free snacks if you sit at a table.
After the bar, we went back to the hotel and got a small pitcher of wine, a mezzo liter. We talked to a couple from Minneapolis who had rented a car. He asked me how much our train tickets cost. I told him it cost less than $40 US for the train Milano to Varenna and Varenna to Monterosso al Mare for two of us he was quite surprised as his car was costing him more per day than we had paid for the tickets and he had to pay for gas and tolls. We have not rented a car in Italy since our first trip, it's just not normally worth it. You can get around easily by bus and train and it's so much cheaper. The one drawback is when you want to go to some of the hilltop towns, it's hard to get to the more remote towns by bus.
After we freshened up we walked into town, found this nice little place in the piazza called the Ristorante de Sole (pizzeria) which was full of Americans, and had a lovely meal. One American couple got up to leave because they didnít get waited on fast enough. They werenít being ignored, it was crowded and the couple that ran the place were waiting on people in the order they arrived. Christine had a small pizza and I had spaghetti pomodoro. We were starting to get a little tired, this was our first day so we strolled along the waterfront and back to our hotel where we had some cappuccino on the main balcony overlooking Lake Como. It was a beautiful night. We went to bed.
Tuesday, Rainy. The bed was very comfortable and the room was warm and cozy. They had the heat on but we left our windows on the balcony open. We have a small balcony overlooking the lake, really nice. We had a nice breakfast inside as the veranda (balcony) was wet from the rain. It wasn't raining hard so we walked down to the ferry and took the boat to Bellagio. Bellagio and Varenna are very hilly, here are some steps in Bellagio. Some of the pictures we took from Lake Como of Varenna and Bellagio while we were on the ferry are one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine. The Abergo Milano had ferry schedules, pick one up as the ferry stops running about 8:00 PM in October (20:00 Hours). You buy a ticket at a ticket kiosk. I think the tickets were around 4,500 lira each. We walked around Bellagio but then it started to rain harder so we sat down at an outside table, covered with a canopy, and Christine had some coffee, I had some wine. They gave us snack. Christine caught up on her diary. That's the book that makes this travelogue possible. The rain turned to mist and we walked south from Bellagio along Lake Como to the Villa Melzi. We were the only visitors and we walked through the gardens. It was just okay.
We walked back to Bellagio and took the ferry west across Lake Como to Cadenabbia. The Villa Carlotta (View from the house to Lake Como) was closed for lunch so we walked to the town of Tregiezzi, found a ristorante and had something to eat and drink. By this time it was clearing up and the Villa Carlotta gardens were open. They were very nice, gardeners were removing the cactus plants for the winter. After awhile the sun was shining so we took the ferry back to Bellagio, walked around some more and sat down at the Bar San Remo for a drink before taking the ferry back to Varenna.
We freshened up and headed for the Hotel Baretta Bar, it's closed on Tuesday! Most bars and restaurants in Italy are closed one day a week. All the bars and restaurants in a town pick different days to close. If you see one that you would like to visit another day, check to make sure it will be open that day. We walked to the Piazza in town and found another bar full of locals, no Americans. It was still early so we walked down to the ferry and stopped at the Olivedo Hotel, sat outside with some more wine and watched the people going to and from the ferry. Took a picture of the last ferry leaving Varenna at about 8:00 PM. Ate again at the Ristorante de Sole, we both had pizza. We talked to a young couple at the restaurant from Seattle (Sandy and John). Had cappuccino back at our hotel and sat outside. We even saw some stars. Back to the room.
Wednesday, we considered eating breakfast outside but it was still a little nippy. We took a very steep walk up the hill behind the town to the castle. There was this old woman walking up ahead of us carrying some plastic shopping bags full of groceries. We just caught up to her when we reached her house. John had to rest. The castle was closed but we were able to walk around the outside. The views were breathtaking (see pictures one, two, and three) and they had a nice outdoor cafe which was closed. Well worth the walk even though it was closed. The castle must also be a nice tour, they had some scary "ghosts" hanging from some of the trees around the outside, sort of a Halloween type show. We met man who was collecting nuts who talked to us, we have no idea what he said.
Walked down and took the ferry to Menaggio. It's a bigger town than Varenna. Met the couple from Seattle, they were going to take the bus into Switzerland. We walked around the town and found a place that made and sold pottery, Christine was in heaven but it was closed. Then the lady saw us and motioned for us to wait, she came out and opened the gate for us. Christine bought a pot. Walked back into town and found the Hotel Bella Vista. We wanted to eat outside but you could tell they didn't want us to. Christine was persistent and they relented. Then they had to set up table for us. It was a fancy hotel and Christine had some soup served in a silver bowl, I had ravioli. It was a beautiful day and the hotel has a lovely view of the lake.
We took the ferry back to Varenna and walked up to the Villa Cipresi (Cypress) at the south end of town. Walked through the gardens for $2. It was much nicer than any of the other villas and gardens we had toured. It's not promoted much and they have rooms to rent in the villa but it is worth the $2. It's a short walk south out of Varenna. Here are pictures one, two, three, four, five, and six. taken at the Villas Cipresi. We then walked up to the Fiumelatte (Milk River) which is a forceful waterfall coming right out of a hole in the mountain. It supplies water to the towns and the rest flows into Lake Como. The path down to the next town was blocked so we walked back to Varenna and visited the church. Then we returned to the Albergo Milano and had a half liter of red wine on the veranda. Had a nice conversation with a lady from California who was also having a glass of wine.
After getting ready for dinner we walked to the Hotel Beretta for some wine and snacks. They were open on Wednesday. Most places in Europe seem to be closed one day during the week. It pays to check if you plan to stop in and become a regular. Itís always nice to go back to a bar or restaurant in Italy, they always seem to remember us and you can tell they are glad you came back. Greece is like this at their tavernas only more so. We had dinner at another Pizzeria on the Piazza. Our waitress was Irish! The place quickly became crowded with Americans, thank you Rick Steves. A nice walk along the water, back to our hotel, some cappuccino on the veranda and then to bed. Beautiful night. See the Varenna waterfront at night and during the day.
Thursday, heard thunder during the night and the morning was very dismal. Walked to the train in the rain and headed for Milano. By the time we arrived in Milano the rain had stopped and we bought some sandwiches for the train. Bring food on the long train rides, you can buy it in the station or at a nearby shop. Arrived in Monterosso al Mare, Cinque Terre by 5:30 PM and walked to the La Spiaggia Hotel. Andrea Poggi, the owner, was out so we were shown our room, up on the top but we had a nice balcony overlooking the sea. When we came down for a drink at the bar, we met Andrea Poggi and some of his staff. It's good to see familiar faces, Guiseppe is still the waiter and part time bartender.
The food at dinner was just as good, if not better, than we had remembered. Christine had Gnocchi and pesto and I had seafood ravioli, we both had grilled mullet. Christine discovered Amaretto Portofino after dinner. One of the customs they have here is Senor Poggi brings glasses and bottles of after dinner liquors around to each table after dinner. Thatís why they call them after dinner drinks. People sit around and talk. Dinner starts at 7:30 and we have been there as late as 11 PM. We met some people from New Zealand, some from Australia and a friend of Andrea's from England. In the past, we shied away from staying at a hotel where you were required to take dinner but on the few occasions we have done it, we have enjoyed it. You get to see the same people a few nights and you develop a friendship you can't have on that initial meeting. I recommend the dinner at the La Spiaggia Hotel. Try the Smoked Salmon Pasta. Christine went to bed around 10:30 and I stayed down at the bar with Andrea and his friend David from England.We didn't take a lot of pictures in the Cinque Terre, if you are interested in those pictures, see our earlier trips.
Friday, we walked to Vernazza by way of the higher path. We met a couple from Switzerland on the way up but they turned around when the weather looked bad. You could see the storm clouds far out on the water as they moved eastward. It was a real "killer walk" up the hill. The other couple spoke German. You could see where the forest fire last summer destroyed a lot of trees. The paths were treacherous as the lost trees allowed a lot of erosion. The views were spectacular. Monterosso al Mare from the top of the hill. It started to rain and then stopped several times. We stopped at the top of the hill at a church and restaurant for a drink and continued down to Vernazza and (another Vernazza from the cliffs) for lunch at Trattoria da Capitano. The restaurant was just getting ready to close so they told us we would have to order right away. They then turned several others away, explaining to one couple that if they allowed them in they would legally have to stay open for an hour and a half more. Then they would have no time to rest before preparing for dinner. We walked out on the sea barrier and looked back at Vernazza. We took the train back to Monterosso after waiting one and a half hours at the station. We could have walked back quicker.
Went back to our room, cleaned up and visited a few local bars for a few glasses of wine and some snacks. There are several local bars in the old part of Monterosso. The Hotel Porto Roco is also a nice place to stop for a drink and a nice view. A little on the expensive side but nice. There is another bar on the beach side of the beach road. It's the only building on the beach side of the road and you get a nice view of the sunset. They give nice snacks too.
Went back to La Spiaggia for dinner, talked to the Australian couple, Win and Peter. They were from Sydney. They were going to Siena next and we recommended the convent, Alma Domus. They stayed there and we met them for a drink a few nights later in Siena. They liked the Alma Domus. They told us about Bali, now Christine would like to go there.Win and Peter sent us a picture of the Montersosso al Mare Train Station they took from the hill behind the station, you can see how close the beach is.
After dinner we had Amoretto and Sambuca (my favorite).
Saturday. After breakfast Andrea let us use his hotel van and we drove to several hill towns in Tuscany. I've seen several hill towns south and east of La Spezia from the train and have wanted, for several years, to explore them. First we walked around the town Nicole and had lunch at the Ristorante dei fiorella. We almost duplicated our faux pas from Anghiari and sat down at a table that had an open bottle of water on it. Some restaurants in Italy leave open bottles of water on the table if a regular guest doesn't finish it. They leave the water and sometimes an unfinished bottle of red wine on the table. If you sit down they won't say anything but they will clean the entire table. We've learned to avoid these tables. You are allowed to seat yourself at most restaurants in the smaller Italian villages. Sure enough, a few minutes later, a couple came in, sat down, and that was their water bottle. I had ravioli and Christine had tagliettele with porcini mushrooms. We had a nice view over the valley below. We then drove on to Ortonovo, Fosdinovo and Castelnuova. There was no reason to visit these towns, some are not even on the map and have no real sights to see other than the views and the churches and some small restaurants, cafes and bars. We had seen these towns from the train as we traveled from Pisa to La Spezia several times and they had intrigued me. They are east of the train tracks and they sit on top of several hills. They are just north of Carrara, famous for itís marble. I wonder how many Americans see these towns and wonder about them. This is the best way to explore. Then we stopped at some Roman Ruins near Luni. The roads were quite curvy and the Fiat van smelled of diesel fuel. We walked through all the towns and met friendly people, there were no Americans here. Two little girls were interested in us in Ortonovo and we took their picture. Late in the day we stopped for cappuccino in Castelnuova. We drove through the town in the hotel van, we felt like locals but we fooled no one. It was a long ride back through the mountains to Monterosso and we arrived around 7PM. We went right to the bar on the beach for a drink. Had dinner at 8PM, the Ristorante La Spiaggia was crowded. Sat with the Swiss couple, they had completed the walk we met them on the first day. They were tired. Molly spoke a little English, Tobias did not. Christine speaks a little German, I do not. We had a great time with them and learned a lot about each other and our families. When we ran into a real language problem that Christine and Molly could not solve, we asked Andrea Poggi, the owner, who speaks many languages. They invited us to visit them in Switzerland. The Australians invited us to visit them, we do not have enough time or money to visit all of the nice people we meet.
We had smoked salmon pasta, some mussels, some stuffed mussels and we shared a big gray mullet cooked in salt and tinfoil. Had some after dinner drinks then sat at the bar. Christine went to bed and I stayed up to keep Andrea company at the bar.
Sunday, we slept in and just had coffee at the bar, no breakfast. Found out that Guiseppe's name would be Joe Flowers in English. He works hard, every day during the tourist season, April to November. We walked up behind Monterosso to visit Andrea's lemon grove, very peaceful. We met the man who used to be the cook at the La Spiaggia, he remembers us. It's good to travel halfway around the world and see a familiar face. He now works at another restaurant in Monterosso. Stopped for a cup of coffee on the way back to the hotel. Then we borrowed the hotel van and drove up in the hills to the town of Pignone for lunch at the Trattoria di Rossi . We should have booked because it wasn't easy to find and they were packed. It looked good too! We will book a table next time we return. Drove back to Monterosso and told Andrea the restaurant he recommended was fully booked so he told us to go to the Ristorante Bagu de Fegina, right on the beach, just north of the La Spiaggia Hotel. After lunch, I took a nap, Christine went for a walk. She said everyone was out walking, I wasnít.
Before dinner we walked up to the Porto Roco Hotel, fantastic views, the only 4 star hotel I know of in Monterosso. Christine thought the place was a little stuffy. You have to walk along a narrow path along the cliffs to get to the place but they have a very small van to pick up the guests who can't make the climb. They drive the van between the hotel and the car park on the sea front many times a day.
This was our last night in Monterosso and we had a good time at dinner and afterwards, sitting around with people, drinking wine and talking about the world's problems.
Monday, Just coffee for breakfast and then a walk to the train to Siena via Pisa and Empoli. We caught a bus at the Siena train station. I bought the tickets from the automated machine in the station. There were several other people on this bus and we had all asked the driver if he went to San Domenica Piazza, he said yes. We went on a one hour ride around Siena but not to San Domenica, we ended up back at the train station. We all got off and then the driver told us to get back on so we did. This time we went to the old part of town and we got pretty close to San Domenica so we got off and walked. Another Italian adventure. We got to the convent hotel, Alma Domus and they had a room for us. We had asked Andrea Poggi to call from Monterosso to get us a room. We had a nice view of the Duomo and a balcony. We walked over to the main piazza, Il Campo, sat at one of the outdoor cafes and had some wine. They gave us some chips and olives, we paid about 10,000 lira for this but it's fun to watch the people.
Later, we went back to the Alma Domus Hotel and met Peter and Win from Australia. We had met them at the La Spiaggia Hotel in Monterosso and recommended this hotel, they liked it. We went to a small café for a glass of wine and talked, it was a beautiful day. They've been married 2 years but are older than us. We shared travel stories.
Walked around, shopped and found a restaurant for dinner, DaDivo. Osteria da Divo. Via Franciosa 25, Siena. tel. 0577/286054. Closed Sun. Credit cards. Medieval atmosphere. Traditional Tuscan food. It's deep in the ground, many steps down and the tables are set in small grotto like caves. We had some house chianti, carprese with smoked salmon, potato and leek soup, and ravioli. Very enjoyable dinner. Walked around, had some gelato and got back to our hotel before the 11 PM curfew. Saw Win and Peter later, they showed us their room, it was in a different wing and they had a real shower stall, we just had a shower head and a drain in the floor of the bathroom. Win and Peter had also sent us a picture of the cafes and street that leads from San Domenica Church to the ALma Domus Hotel. They didn't have a curfew in this section but there was no view either. Many "bathrooms" in Italy have a drain in the floor and a shower head but no shower curtain. Water gets everywhere.
We walked over to the Church of San Domenica and saw the head of St. Catherine of Siena. A group of Germans came by and started singing songs in front of the head. The nuns at the hotel maintain St. Catherine's childhood home since about 1370. They got started in the hotel business to provide a place for pilgrims who came to the site.
Tuesday - A beautiful day in Tuscany, sunny and warm. We walked over to a cafe and had coffee standing (to save money). Peter and Win had put a brochure from the coffee house under our door. It was located on the street that runs around the Il Campo. Sort of a Viennese style coffee house. Another place where you pay at a cashier then walk over to the bar and order with your receipt. This is not an efficient system but it does eliminate "impulse" buying when you see the pastry because you have to walk back, get in line and try and tell the cashier what you want. Sometimes I go to the cashier several times before I get everything I want.
We walked over to the Bus ticket office under the Church of San Domenica and bought tickets to the town of Monteriggioni. Andrea Poggi (from the La Spiaggia Hotel in Montersosso) had recommended a restaurant, Il Pozzo, for lunch. * Il Pozzo.Piazza Roma, Monteriggioni. tel. 0577/304127, fax 0577/304701. Closed Sun. eve., Mon., 1/8-2/5, 7/30-8/11. Credit cards. Inside the walls of the magical city. Food fresh and beautifully prepared.
We used the automated machine to get a schedule in English and then to buy our tickets. It was easy. The first time I used one of these machines, I didn't know you could ask it to give the instructions in English. You can print the schedule and then buy the tickets. VERY IMPORTANT, enter the bus in the rear and exit from the front. Remember to stamp your tickets in the yellow time stamp machine at the rear of the bus. The bus trip to Monteriggioni went through Poggibonsi and the beautiful Tuscany hills. We got off along the road where the bus driver told us to and looked around; then walked up about a mile to the town. The restaurant was full for lunch but we waited anyway. There was a couple on their honeymoon in line ahead of us. She was from Miami and he was from London, they were living in London. Here's their picture. The owner came and told us that only one more table would be available for lunch, they asked us if we wanted to sit with them and we accepted. We had a delightful time with them. Here's a picture of all of us in the restaurant. Christine even had wine with lunch. It was a fantastic place and we have to go back. Here are pictures one, two and three taken inside the restaurant Il Pozzo, which means the well. The staff was very friendly and the place had ambience, they had pictures of Ted Kennedy when he visited. Our lunch and a half bottle of Chianti cost us $66 US, a little more than we're used to for lunch but worth it. When I asked for a half bottle of the local Chianti, the waiter brought a whole bottle and said they would charge for what we drank. They were very fair and we had a great time, I recommend this restaurant. The food was very good, the place had ambience and they were friendly.
The town was charming but we had a bus to catch. Matt and Andrea had reminded us that the next day (Wednesday) was market day in Siena. We walked back to the road and waited for a bus. Matt and Andrea were going to Siena on Wednesday for the market, they were staying in a nearby villa. Christine now wants to rent a villa in Tuscany. We took the bus back to Siena and went to our room.
I took a nap, sightseeing is tiring, and Christine went out to relax in the piazza to bring the trip diary up to date. We cleaned up and walked over to Il Campo, stopped at two different cafes, sat and watched the people. The second café (Il Palio) was only 8,000 lira for two glasses of wine and 11,000 lira for a half liter, the first was 10,000 lira for two glasses, it pays to shop around.. Both served snacks, chip and olives. There was little difference between the two except the cost.
That evening they were filming something huge related to Christmas in the Il campo. We watched for awhile but got bored as they kept filming the same scene over and over. We had gone behind the big tower in the Il Campo earlier in the day and there was another smaller piazza with some restaurants. We had booked a table and we're glad we did. It was too cool to eat outside so we went inside. The restaurant, Il Pape was very good. We haven't been disappointed much in Italy. After dinner we just walked around and had some gelato. They were still filming the scene in the Il Campo, the crowd in the scene kept moving back and forth on cue and there was a priest sort of blessing everyone. It looked like a couple of principle players were walking towards the crowd from another building. The whole thing had a sort of sinister look to it. I thought they were filming a movie.
Back to the room.
Wednesday - We went over to the market the first thing. Lots of people and stalls, had a great time, bought a terra cotta Tuscany pot for about $21 US. Had to carry it around too. We found a stall selling meat and cheese and Christine was able to have them make sandwiches for us. I also bought a belt and we found a place to buy vegetables and fruit. We decided to go back to Monteriggioni and have a picnic by the side of the city walls that overlook Tuscany and from which you can see the towers of San Gimignano. Took the 13:04 bus, Fermata #3, to Monteriggioni. While waiting for the bus, we met a girl from Sicily who was saying near Monteriggioni and studying in Siena. Like most people we meet when we travel, she was only too anxious to talk to us in English. She took us under her wing and made sure we stamped our tickets and knew where to get off.
Itís very important to learn the "rules" when you travel on public transportation in Europe. In most countries you buy a ticket before boarding (at a kiosk, automatic vending machine, tobacco shop or ticket agent) and stamp the ticket in a yellow machine when you get on. It Italy, you are expected to enter the bus from the rear and exit from the front. Riding the bus is on the honor system and there are severe fines for riding without a ticket or riding without a validated ticket. This is the same with trains in Italy, you must validate the ticket before getting on. The fine is 10,000 lira. If the machine doesnít work you can write the time and date in ink where the machine would have validated the ticket but it must be done before the conductor asks to see it.
We got off the bus, walked up the hill to Monteriggione and found a nice place to sit under the town walls to have lunch. We had put one of the hotel blankets in our day pack so we had something to sit on. It was a beautiful day and we could just see the towers from San Gimignano in the distance. We walked around the town and then sat in the piazza before leaving to catch the bus back to Siena. Back in Siena we did a little shopping and located a restaurant were we had met Millie and Stephanie on our last trip to Siena, the Osteria Il Tamburino. We walked back to the Il Campo for some wine and people watching. We ate dinner at the Osteria with Chianti and pasta.
Stopped for gelato and then back to the hotel before the curfew.
Thursday, October 15. Caught the 10:05 #10 bus in the Piazza San Domenico to the train station. Made our way to Milan via Firenze. Took the Eurostar from Firenze to Milan, very fast. You are entitled to a reserved seat on this train, no extra charge, but you must make it the day prior to your departure. We didnít so we had to find a seat in the unreserved cars. People put their bags and purses on the seats but quickly moved them if you asked to sit down. You wouldnít believe the number of cell phones on the trains, everyone was talking or calling. The Eurostar costs a little more but there was only one stop (Bologna) between Firenze and Milano, 2 hours 40 minutes. We paid 48,000 lira per person, about $30 US. When we first got to Firenze we went to see whether we could still get a reserved seat, it was too late. We bought the tickets in Siena, you would have thought they would have asked us if we wanted to reserve our seat. You will find that the train ticket agents to be a bit on the unfriendly side. They donít go that extra mile, or even a few meters either.
We had reserved a hotel near the Statione Centrale in Milano so we could catch the first bus in the morning to Linate. Most flights now leave from Malpensa but both of the buses stop at the same place, just south of the station. We stayed at the Hotel Sopergo, two blocks away. It was clean, with good showers. We paid about $100 US for the night.
After checking in the hotel, we walked back to the station and just in front of the station are the stairs to the metro. We bought some tickets and took the #3 Metro to the piazza in front of the Duomo. Quite an impressive church, very ornate and very crowded. We walked across the street to the Victor Emmanuel Arcade. We looked for the bull in the pavement so we could do a twirl on his testicles but couldnít find him. Walked around and saw some very expensive shops, out of my price range. Finally, we saw an attempted Gypsy scam. There were two oriental men walking in front of me when two young girls went up to one and pushed a paper up to his face. He jumped back and I walked into him. He started yelling and the girls disappeared. Christine saw it coming, I didnít. It made us a little more aware so we stopped at a bar for a drink. It was crowded with people after work so we stood and had a couple glasses of red wine and some snacks. They had quite a lot of food, it was wonderful. It was a friendly place. We had to pay at a cashier and then go to the bar to get a drink. We walked some more and then found a metro station so we took it back to the train station. Later, near our hotel we found another bar and we sat down for a drink. First they brought our drinks and then he brought over a plate with bread slices topped with mayonnaise, lunch meat, lemon and olive oil. This was almost enough for dinner. As I mentioned before, when you sit down you pay more but they give you snacks.
We found a restaurant nearby for dinner, a real local place. We were eating early and later the place started to fill up. You could tell they were expecting a large crowd later, they had a table set for 12 for a birthday party starting at 10 PM. During our meal we struck up a conversation with two Americans who were staying in Switzerland and had come down for the day. Later, two tables filled up with nine men who all put their cell phones on the table. It was so funny, they all made and received calls while they sat there. We were laughing about it with the Americans. They too had seen a lot of people on cell phones in Italy.
The next day we got up early, breakfast was included in our room price but it didnít start until 7 AM and we had to catch the bus at 6 AM. We walked the 2 blocks to the Central Train Station and waited for the bus to Linate Airport. The bus arrived on time. On this bus, the driver collects your fare, 4,500 lira. We had coffee at the airport and then looked for a place to sit where no one was smoking. People totally disregard No Smoking signs in Italy. We did have one nice experience on the train from Empoli to Siena. In error, we sat down on a smoking car but everyone who smoked got up and went out to the vestibule to smoke even though they were sitting in a smoking car and the vestibule was no smoking, you figure? What a joke.
A long flight home through Madrid on Iberia Airline.