Italy tagged posts

Journey Home: Milan Malpensa and Milan to JFK on American

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I have flown through Rome Fiumcino airport many times, and, though it isn’t an amazing airport, it did not prepare me for the nightmare of Milan Malpensa.

Getting to the airport was pretty easy, though early, as we took a 7:25 Malpensa Express train from Central Station right to the airport, which got us there around 8:15. Somehow, this ended up being tight for making a 10 o’clock flight! First, there was a long walk to get from the train to the check-in area. Oddly, there was a passport check just to get into the check-in area – which was the opposite direction from the gates – but all I needed was to print my boarding pass at the kiosk. I did, and saw I had the dreaded SSSS on my boarding pass, meaning I’d be subject to special security screening. I had visions of my almost-detention in Berlin and was not happy.

So I headed right to security and immigration, where there very long lines – likely because there were two flights to JFK at 10am (Delta and AA), and a 10:10 to Newark (on United), as well as flights to Dubai and Doha. There was a lot of cutting and just general anarchy. Once through, there was a a loooong walk through cafes and shops to the gate areas.

There are two con...

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19 Hours in Milan: Alitalia CTA-LIN, the Hilton Milan, and exploring the city

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This post is in two parts- (1) Catania Airport and my flight on Alitalia from Catania to Milan, and (2) my stay at the Hilton Milan and brief exploration of Milan

Catania Airport and Alitalia Catania to Milan

IMG_1970After two days in Sicily, it was time to make our way back to the U.S., via Milan. Since the Milan-JFK flight leaves in the morning, the cheap fare included an overnight layover in Milan. Both involved flying from Sicily to Milan-Linate, the closer in of Milan’s two airports, and flying out of Milan-Malpensa, the larger airport farther outside the city. Since there was an airport change involved, there really wasn’t much to be gained by taking an evening flight to Milan and sleeping at an airport hotel, so instead we took an early afternoon flight, which would give us half a day to explore the city.

The cab ride to the airport was a lot faster than our incoming ride, and a little cheaper, totaling 27 Euro. The Catania airport was definitely an experience. Security was pretty nutty, as lots of Sicilians stood in the beginning of the security line shouting and crying as their friends and family wound their way through the rest of the line. The same yappy dog that had been our flight from Zurich was on the security line (I recognized its yelp), but thankfully, it seemed to be flying back to Zurich on Air Berlin. There was no special line for Skyteam Elite passengers, but it moved at a decent clip, but for the wealthy Italian women in front of me who had knee high boots and tons of jewelry that were definitely not TSA-friendly.

Catania Airport security

Catania Air...

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Two Days in Sicily: Catania, Mount Etna, and the Una Hotel Palace

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Catania by day

Catania by day

IMG_1948Or really a day in a half. By the time we landed in Catania, it was already almost 7:30, and it took me a while to find a functioning ATM. (Note: following the signs to “Bank” at the Catania airport leads to a nonfunctional ATM, but there’s a functioning one on the Departures level.) Although there is a bus that runs from the airport to downtown Catania, we took a taxi. Traffic was absolutely insane – even on a Sunday night – though we later realized that the drivers in Catania are all crazy, there’s always traffic, and walking is basically a game of Frogger.

We ended up not having a ton of time in Catania itself, as we had booked a Mount Etna excursion, which went from 8:30 to 2:30, and left me exhausted and in need of a nap after that. But there aren’t really any must-see sights in Catania. We ended up walking around the city a fair bit on our first night, proceeding down Via Etnea, which was packed with people even on a Sunday night.  Very different from Zurich, even some stores were open.

Catania is a univ...

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3.5 Hours in Zurich, the Zurich Airport, and Zurich to Catania on Swiss/Edelweiss

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Due to the delay of our American flight from New York, we ended up with only about 3.5 hours in Zurich, which isn’t a very long time to do anything but wander and get a decent feel for the city. We started with a walk down the Bahnhofstrasse, the main shopping street in Zurich. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday, so nearly all the stores (even the chocolate shops!) were closed. We peeked into the one open restaurant – a McDonald’s – and noted that value meals were going for about $18. From the Bahnhofstrasse, we looped back around and into the Altstadt, or Old Town, where the streets are narrower, and the buildings a few centuries older and much prettier. It was a gray day, and there weren’t a lot of folks on the streets, so it felt like a bit of a ghost town. Nonetheless, we had great views of the other side of the city from the Lindenhof, a park on a hill at the top of the Old Town.

Zurich Train Station

Zurich Train Station

Main Sprungli Cafe on the Bahnhofstrasse

Main Sprungli Cafe on the Bahnhofstrasse

View of Zurich from the Lindenhof

View of Zurich from the Lindenhof

We then crossed the Li...

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Three Nights, Three Cities: An American Delay from JFK to Zurich

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As an extended Veterans’ Day trip, two friends of mine and I took advantage of a mistake fare from New York to Catania, in Sicily, with a fare of $270. The routing was a little bit kooky – flying American from JFK to Zurich, a 9 hour layover in Zurich, then onto Catania on Swiss for two nights. On the return, we’d fly on Alitalia from Catania to Milan-Linate, spend a night in Milan, and then on American from Milan Malpensa back to JFK. I was able to get pretty cheap positioning flights on American from DCA to JFK, and flew up the day before to spend some time with the family.

Before I even headed to JFK, our flight to Zurich was delayed by 45 minutes. The inbound flight (from Milan, actually) was arriving late, as it had left 3 hours late (as the inbound aircraft for that flight had left JFK 5 hours late the night before). Although it would shorten our layover in Zurich a bit, I didn’t really mind that short delay; I just left for the airport a bit later.  When I got there, JFK was absolutely swamped, and I was convinced that no Americans were actually flying out of Terminal 8 that night. The Precheck line was filled with foreign passengers who not only had no idea what Precheck was, but had large drinks and perfumes in their bags. But soon enough I was through and headed to the Admirals Club at Concourse A. Being friendly helped, and after schmoozing at check-in, the agent gave me two free premium beverage chits.

The Admirals Club...

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Trip Report: Madrid Part V: Flying with Shirley Maclaine and hundreds of Orthodox Jews on Alitalia FCO-JFK

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The wallet situation was not the only unusual experience of my Madrid weekend. No, I had perhaps the strangest flight I’ve ever had on my return.

I don’t quite remember why I decided on a 6am departure out of Madrid.  I’m sure it was cheaper than other options, but it would certainly have been worth it to spend a little more to have a little more rest.  I had arranged for a taxi to come pick me up at the Radisson at 4am, as I read it would run about 35 euros and would be quick at that hour.  I could have done the Airport Express bus, but that takes a little longer and runs only every 35 minutes and I didn’t want to be walking the streets of Madrid at 3:45 and then end up missing a bus.

I headed down to check out at around 3:50 and the desk staff was very nice, directing me to a coffee and tea spread they had set up in the bar. They told me they’d come get me when the taxi arrived.  Around 4:03, I noticed that there was no taxi yet.  At 4:05, the front desk staff called the taxi company, and one of the guys went outside to see if he could find the taxi.  The taxi called the hotel and said he’d be there in “two minutes.”  Finally, around 4:20, he showed up, though I was already getting very antsy.  Luckily, there is no traffic at 4:20 in the morning and we were at the airport by 4:45. Unfortunately, there is a rule with taxis in Madrid that, when a cab is called, the meter starts running from wherever the taxi is when it is called – which means the meter was already at almost 9 euros when I got in, without a 5.50 euro airport surcharge.  The total ended up being 48 euros – way more than it should have been.  I gave the guy 55 euros and headed inside as I didn’t care to figure out why it had gotten so high.  I could have just booked a private transfer on Viator and not had to worry about getting cash for that price, but oh well.

The first thing I noticed when I got into the terminal at Madrid was that there was trash everywhere.  It looked like garbage had just been collecting on the floors of the airport for days.  Weird.IMG_0018-001 IMG_0016-001

There was no line at the Alitalia Sky Priority check-in, and I got my boarding passes and headed for security, where there was again no line.  It was a bit of a trek through the terminal, which was mostly a ghost town at that hour.  Skyteam Schengen flights mostly depart out of Terminal 2’s E gates, which is a pleasant, airy, modern terminal – though it was also covered with garbage.  Surprisingly, there was a lounge open before 5am, which I had access to as a Delta Gold Medallion on a Skyteam flight (and also as a Priority Pass member).  The lounge looked out over the terminal and was relatively nice for a contract lounge.  There were some pastries, yogurts, and pasta salad, and self serve alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages.  Wifi access was limited to a code good for 30 minutes only, which was good enough for me since boarding would begin in less than 30 minutes.  Since it was a code for the airport’s pay wireless system, it worked once outside the lounge as well, which was nice.   I had some water and an apple pastry, sent some last minute emails to folks in the States before they went to sleep, and then it was time to board.

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Trip Report: Weekend in Madrid Part 1: Alitalia JFK-FCO, a Missed Connection, and Why Chris Elliott is Wrong

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Trip Report: Weekend in Madrid Part 1:  JFK-FCO and a Missed Connection

Alitalia Flt. 609, Boeing 777, Economy
Sched. Dep. 5:35pm, Actual Dep. 7:05pm
Sched. Arr. 8:10am, Actual Arr. 9:10am

In the fall, Alitalia had a promo on its Japanese website that effectively took $250 off the price of any Alitalia ticket booked on that site.  Alitalia said it had only been meant for flights departing from Japan, but in the end, honored tickets that, after the $250 discount, still had a net positive cost to the customer.  So lots of people who had bought shorthauls within Europe were out of luck.  But for folks like me who had bought tickets to Madrid that still cost around $280 after the coupon, the tickets were honored.   So a long weekend in Madrid it was.  Huzzah!

Although I’ve flown Alitalia to Europe before, I’ve never flown it in coach, and never flown it out of JFK.  Alitalia’s business class is generally an underrated/forgotten Skymiles redemption, and in the past I’ve redeemed for flights out of Newark on what I think is Skyteam’s best transatlantic business product.  You can read about my last flights on Alitalia here and here.  So this was basically an entirely new experience for me.

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Trip Report: Two Days in Rome

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As I’d mentioned in an earlier post, I had a ton of mixed advice about Rome.  And after spending two days there, I can understand why.  My two days were actually two quite different experiences, not just because of the difference in hotels, but because of the general feeling of the city I had.

After dropping my bags at the hotel on Day 1, I headed to the sites of Ancient Rome: the Colosseum, the Forum, and Palatine Hill.  Compared to ruins I’d seen in Greece and Israel, I was a bit underwhelmed.  The experience wasn’t helped by either the overwhelming number of tourists or a slight drizzle, and wasn’t the inspiration I expected.

Colosseum Exterior

Colosseum Interior

From there, I headed to the Parthenon and Trevi Fountain, which were both pretty, but also packed with tourists...

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Trip Report: Rome: A Tale of Two Cities (or Hotels): Radisson Blu Es and Intercontinental de la Ville

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(Sorry for the pause in posting, as I have been out and about enjoying Israel rather than blogging.  You guys will get caught up; don’t worry.)

Hotels in Europe in summer are expensive.  That’s no secret.  And despite my numerous tricks, there was no way to get any of the top properties in Rome down to a reasonable price.  I ended up splitting my two-night stay, though, between two very different properties, spending quite little for the two.  But the two experiences were a study in contrasts.

My first night was at the Radisson Blu Es .  The property is a modernist behemoth located nearish the Roma Termini station...

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Trip Report: Florence and the Montebello Splendid

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When I booked this trip, I didn’t really know what I was going to do in Italy.  I figured I could find a way to spend Saturday morning to Wednesday morning and get a good taste of the country.  As soon as I asked for advice, the competing advice started rolling in: Skip Rome! Rome is the most magical place on earth; spend your whole life there!  Florence is boring! You can’t go to Italy and not go to Florence!  Venice is magical! Venice is the dirtiest smelliest place on earth!  Hit the southern coast!  Leave your beach time for Israel!

Well that was helpful.  I decided I’d spend two nights in Rome, allowing at least one full day, and end my trip there, as I had a late morning flight to Tel Aviv from Rome and didn’t want to have to worry about connecting from another city.  Arriving in Rome at 7am also meant I could get lots of places within Italy and still have a full first day there.

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