If you have already seen some of the pictures, you will want to check out these galleries:
- 1. Munich Part 1
- 2. Rome
- 3. Florence
- 4. Venice
- 5. Como
- 6. Munich Part 2
Got to the airport, then heard that our plane that was coming from atlanta had to be turned back to Atlanta. Not exactly the vote of confidence you want in your plane.
Since we missed out connecting flight to munich, we will now have a flight to paris and then munich. unfortunately, this means I will miss the conference in the morning.
Click to see all of our pictures from our first stay in Munich.
more delays... finally made it into paris. Had a huge trek across the France airport to make our plane to Munich just in time. The french lady in security laughed at me. She pointed to my hat and said something in french. So I took it off planning to walk through the security scanner with it off. She laughed, called me back, and then put my hat on the conveyor belt. So far, even with the language barriers, all of the Air France workers could run circles around the Delta employees.
finally made it into munich, after missing an entire day of the conference, to find out that our bags are still in atlanta, and won't be here today, or tomorrow morning, which means i'm going to the conference in the clothes I have on. unbelievably aggravated. also, the stupid phone card that i bought (to avoid the hassles of roaming with my phone overseas) is turning out to be a giant pain in the ass. trying to add funds to the account goes to a screen saying an account administrator will try to do it within 24 hours??? nice. (NOTE: Consider this part of my review of the service from "MobilityPass". If you are thinking of getting a sim card for traveling, dear god, don't get this one. I am still fighting with them in emails waiting on a rebate of some of my funds.)
This forced us to spend our entire evening trying to quickly go shopping and get a sweater i could wear tomorrow before the shops close. had dinner at "Wirtshaus in der Au" which was really good. Had a really good waitress which helped us out.
Without our luggage, we are also missing our power adapter, so our laptop battery is all we have left to charge our phones. So far the trip is way too stressful!!!
had breakfast in the hotel and took off to learn how to use the subway system in munich to get to the conference hotel. after some confusion, finally figured it out (mostly) and got to the hotel. To add to the stress of being under-dressed for the conference, it was raining in the morning. Since I had no umbrella, I arrived soaking wet. Under-dressed and soaking wet, I walked up to the registration counter - that was uncomfortable.
Attended an incredible talk from Dr. Sankai, the founder of Cyberdyne (no kidding... cyberdyne... like the Terminator movies). The company research is HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) and they have applications from everything from entertainment (providing resistance and environmental forces for VR games) to replacement limbs. Some of the "challenges" he showed were things like helping a man with polio to move his legs for the first time in his life, to SCI patients learning to walk again. Truly amazing and inspiring stuff.
Attended some splinter sessions afterwards with 4 talks in each one. Some were very interesting. I particularly enjoyed one from a gentleman from Carnegie Mellon University. He talked about redundant robots (7 or more joints) and how there were indices to measure a robots ability with respect to its primary tasks (such as range of motion), but nothing related to secondary objectives of redundant robots, such as Torque limiting or obstacle avoidance. Since enhancing the design of a robot for obstacle avoidance (changing its morphology for example) may take away from the first objective (line tracking), he proposes a way to modify the performace indexes of others to include the secondary objective/first objective ratio. I can't reproduce his words very well, but i hope to do so once i get a look at the proceedings.
After the morning sessions, got back to the hotel to change into nice clothes (our bags showed up!), and then return with Christian for the dinner cruise. Took the subway this time and had a much easier time. The dinner cruise was very nice. Christian and I had great conversation with folks from Germany, England, Turkey and the US. This was really the first relaxing event of the trip, so we really enjoyed it. Tomorrow I will have a few more sessions in the morning at the conference, then it is off to Rome!
Had breakfast. Talked with the great hotel staff about the best way to get back to the airport with luggage. Decided to take the bus, and bought the bus pass. Attended the Friday morning portion of the conference and saw a great talk Dr. Gerhard Hirzinger from the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics. It is amazing what they have done in the field of robotics. Everything from space to surgical robotics. Also imaging and 3d modeling. Really cool stuff. Attended some splinter sessions. The first was a collection of presentations on walking robots (some papers on bipedal and quadrupedal) and one presentation on a robotic manaquin that could be used to tailor make mens formal wear. Very interesting. I suggested to the presenter that the technology could be of interest to those in the space industry for fitting of spacesuits, not only for the custom fit, but also to show the range of expansion of an individuals bodies in zero G (the spinal cord expanding for example). I'm not sure that there would be interest since I don't work with that at all, but something to look into perhaps.
While on the bus to the airport, I'll take a second to remark on the driving in Germany. My goodness people here drive fast, and with no margin for error. They drive very close and make very close turns. The bus driver from the airport made turns i would barely be able to make in my truck. Our cab driver was zipping through munich on wet roads at an incredible rate (although more like a professional driver, not like a madman). Somehow though, it all works. I think that people here are generally much better drivers than in the U.S. Talking with one of my German friends from the conference, he said most of it is due to the fact that all of the drivers follow the rules very closely. He also prepared us for what driving will be like in Italy. Based off what I have heard, I bet we will have some stories to bring back from Italy.
Checked out of the hotel and took our bags to the bus stop near the central train station. Caught the bus to the airport to head to Rome. Flight was fairly uneventful. The airline staff were very helpful and friendly. Our driver for our transfer to the hotel was awesome. He showed us many things and helped us to get situated in Rome.
Our hotel was nice, but in a bad area of Rome (lots of graffiti and trash everywhere). The hotel staff also seemed a bit standoffish at first, but later, when working our a dinner location, and help with the subway, it got better.
For dinner, we ate at a little restaurant that can hold about 30 people max. The food and service were outstanding, but the price was a little high (although, as we are discovering, everything is high). The prices were not out of line with the dishes. We had amazing food, laughed, and shared an entire bottle of Chianti. Good times.
Our first full day in Rome!!! Click here to go to all of our Rome pictures.
The next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel then made our way onto the subway. We got to the city center and started walking. We saw many old buildings and statues, although it was hard to know what anything was. Later, we started following the Rick Steve's walking tour suggestion, but we should have started that sooner. Eventually, we were at the Victor Emmanuel Monument. This was a monument made for the first king of the unified Italy. After that, we headed to the famous Trevi Fountain where we threw in a coin and made a wish. With a cup of Gelato in hand, we got back to the subway to head to the Vatican for our tour.
Here is a link to all of our pictures from the Vatican tour.
Our tour was incredible. We had headsets so we could hear our guide even amongst a sea of people. Her knowledge was very extensive. You could tell she was holding back some of her knowledge and excitements so that we would have time to see everything we could. No question challenged her knowledge.. even ones about the smallest details.
The Vatican museums... the Sistene Chapel... St. Peter's Basilica. These things were so amazing, that I don't want to talk about them. I feel like my words would only do injustice to them and give you an impression that is not big enough. I truly started to doubt how men on earth could be capable of creating such things. I'm sure we will have many stories to tell from here. I saw a quote somewhere that said,
"Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving." -- Werner Herzog
I think that is how I feel now.
After the vatican, we visited some shops and saw some really beautiful but expensive stuff. Then, we took off to eat. Which leads us to a good story.
We decided to take the Rick Steves book out and see what restaurants he recommended in the Vatican area. One, which will remain nameless, looked pretty good so we followed directions on the map and went there. We were greeted by a waiter who seemed annoyed at our presence (you read that correctly). He spoke without looking at us, and then eventually came back and asked me what I wanted to drink. I said "water". Christian then started to say "and I'll have" and the waiter turned around and walked away from her.
Christian looked at me with some eyes that I was glad were not for me. The waiter was an older gentlemen, so I thought, on a longshot, maybe he expected me to order drinks for the both of us. I don't have any idea how that would extrapolate out to ignoring the lady at the table, but I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt.
He returned with the water and turned around. Christian raised her hand and started to say "Scussi... can we have a menu?" and the man said something without turning around and facing her. Again, the eyes came my direction. I ducked. I asked if she wanted to leave. She was disgusted, but said she would stay. I said "C'mon... let's just go. There are plenty of other restaurants that want our business", but she said no. We would stay. I thought I could hear some teeth grinding but I couldn't be sure.
When the waiter returned, he returned with about 6 bowls of appetizers. He said some things in Italian saying, "please please... enjoy". He walked away and we quickly asked each other... "is this free?"
Returning again, Christian asked "Quanto Costo?" (how much?), and he shook his head from shoulder to shoulder and waved his hands saying something like "not much... you enjoy". After some language barrier issues, a younger waiter decided to translate and pointed to the appetizer selection on the menu that specifed a spread of everything. It was about 9 Euros (about $14 USD).
Based entirely off of Christian's eyebrows and the rate at which she closed her menu, I knew we were leaving. As we stood up, the waiter started apologizing (although I think that had a little to do with the fact that the other waiters saw that he had been pressuring us and being rude to us). I told him thank you, paid for the bottle of water, then we walked out. We walked further down to a restaurant that was not in the Rick Steve's book, but had a great dinner. Things were great, and I really like the story we got from that other restaurant. I think it was worth the 2 Euros.
Tomorrow, we take the historical tour including the Colosseum!!
Missed updating my journal for a while, so I'll just have to hit the highlights of today :(
Here is a link to the gallery with all of our pictures from the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.
- toured Colosseum - Wow. What a sight! And to think, this was built in only 8 years!! The giant stones... no mortar!! They used a keystone.
- toured Roman Forum and Palatine Hill ruins - Also amazing. Some of the buildings built before Christ are just insane. Huge columns made of single pieces of stone. Still standing. It is almost unbelievable to see what the ancient Romans had built.
- saw Mamertine Prison - This is the prison where St. Peter was held before being crucified upside down. This was a very interesting place, with a hole in the ceiling where prisoners were lowered. Peter would have been chained to the walls here (his chains are in a church here in Rome), with dead bodies all around, rats, and people waiting to die.
- saw the Pantheon - After seeing what we did of Rome, this was one of my favorites in terms of ancient Roman buildings. All of the other ancient Roman buildings have been damaged, but this building is almost unscathed. An incredible place. The oculus is incredible, with a beam of light hitting an area inside. Rapheal and some other significant persons are buried here. If you go to Rome, don't miss this one.
- had gelato from Giolitti's - This is Rome's oldest "gelateria"
- took "where's mommy" pictures on the spanish steps - Fun pictures we sent home with mommy in a sea of tourists on the steps. A sample of one is here.
- took the subway back to the hotel and prepared to leave
Checked out of the hotel this morning and walked over to the Termini train station (it was close to our hotel). Took a little while to figure out which train to get on, but we ultimately committed to what we decided was the right train and the right car (but disagreed with the posted signs - which was part of our hesitation). Ultimately, we were in the right place, and we met a great couple from North Carolina. We had a great chat with them, had a nap, and saw some beautiful Roman and Tuscan countryside.
Here is the gallery with all of our pictures from Florence.
Once in Florence, our hotel was just across the street, so it was quick (and cheap) to get there. We got settled and headed out to find a place to eat. We went to one of the place suggested by the hotel, but the attitude of the server and the prices on the menu quickly convinced us to try something else. We found another one and were greeted by a lovely lady who was very helpful in explaining the specials and the prices. We ate there and had a great time.
After eating, we explored a bit of Florence and then walked around the Brunelleschi's famous dome at the Duomo of Florence. Incredible. The cathedral exterior is also quite incredible. Headed back to the hotel.
Woke up and had breakfast in our new hotel. It was good, but not as good as the breakfast at our hotel in Munich (but this hotel has free wireless internet!). Met up with our guide and headed out for a great walking tour of Florence (or Firenze as it is called here). Saw some amazing things. The Renaissance truly was born here in Florence (which is why Michelangelo's David is often used as the icon of the period). The architecture and the art are interesting, but most interesting to me is the open-mindedness of the period. This was the true reason the Renaissance flourished throughout Europe. It represented possibilities... a common man could aspire to be something greater, but using his brain and his gifts. Europe would begin thinking again, like the ancient Romans did over a thousand years before. One wonders what caused all of the Western world to stop using their brains for a thousand years. But regardless, it was in Florence that they began anew. Many of the great Renaissance sculptures are here, and quite a few of the originals are outside in the public!!! Some have been moved inside museums, but many of the great sculptures remain outside in the elements, and at the risk of crazy people who climb on them and do stupid things (Every great sculpture here and in Rome had these stories. On Michelangelo's David, there is someone's initials carved into his thigh. On Michelangelo's Pieta, someone brought in a hammer and climbed on it and started beating it. Etc.).
The tour ended in the museum that houses Michelangelo's David. Wow. What a sight to see the real thing. The guide explained so many great things to us. Why his statue was different from the one's before it (like Donatello's)... Why David appears the way he does. Why there is a tree in the background. Why his veins are so apparent. Why there is controversy over whether or not the pose is supposed to be just before or just after the battle with Goliath. Why the hands and feet appear to be enlarged. Why the toes look different. Etc. And even without all of that great info, the statue itself is truly amazing to look at. Knowing a little about how Michelangelo sculpted differently from other artists makes it even more impressive.
After the tour, we walked around and shopped a bit, and ended with a hot panini sandwich and slice of pizza from a local sandwich shop. Very good stuff. Took a nap at the hotel. And for supper... McDonald's!
Woke up, had breakfast, and ventured out again.
We did some shopping and I found a great gift for my dad. In this little leather shop, we looked at some bags and an older Italian woman came out to great us and show us all the different leather briefcases. There was quite a language barrier, but as she was explaining the different brands, she said one was hers. I asked again, and she showed me the little printed pamphlet that had the picture of her husband on it. He hand makes his own line of leather bags, and this was his store. At that point, I was really interested. It was one thing to see things made from Tuscan leather, but another to buy it directly from the person that hand-makes it. I knew my dad would love this, so I bought a really nice leather briefcase. I asked the lady for an autograph from her husband, but she said this wasn't possible. What we thought we understood from her was that he was in America at the time. But she signed the paper. I took this as good enough and we went on our way. I was really excited to have such a nice Italian gift for my father.
But then, later on, I decided to sit and examine the bag to make sure it was good before we left with it. I noticed that the inside of some pockets was not the soft leather like we saw with some of the others. This was something I wanted, so we headed back.
Once we got back to the store, the woman inside was gone, but a man was outside washing the steps. He asked if he could help us, but we explained we were looking for the woman. I even showed him her autograph. He looked at it and he said... "That's my wife." I was a little shocked, because we thought he was in America. Turns out, she was trying to say that his cousin lives in America. He just wasn't there at the time. I explained to him the difference in the bag, and he grabbed another one off the shelf that was like we wanted. "No problema!" he shouted. I told him this was for my "pa-pa" and he was "Siciliano" while showing him my last name. "Ahhh... Siciliano! Graffagnino!" he shouted. I was afraid he might see the name, make a sour face, and yell, "Get out!". I asked him for a picture and we took one in front of the store. I also got his autograph. Now I have the signature and a picture with the man who made the bag for my father and a picture of his store. Made with Tuscan leather in Florence. Beautiful.
We headed to the science museum (can't remember the exact name). It was ok, but not really exciting. After buying the tickets we realized most of it was closed. The tickets were discounted, but I wonder if we should have went at all. Nevertheless, the stuff we did see was neat. It is pretty amazing to see the machines that people built hundreds of years ago. Some were as simple as a machine the could detect the exact moment of solar noon. Others, fancy telescopes and astronomy devices.
After the museum, we did some very last minute shopping. We were on our way to check out of the hotel and head to the train, and didn't have much time left. We happened to pass by a small leather shop (almost every other shop is a leather shop here), that had some leather books, such as journals, diaries, etc. They had "fleur-de-lis" symbols on many of them (almost everything here does - it is the symbol of Florence). Nothing really new, but I noticed a small sign that said they could add names to the leather books. When Christian found a really nice leather photo album with a fleur-de-lis on it, I told her it might be a really nice gift if we could have "Bergeron" written in the leather on it. She agreed, and the lady got out the leather tools right there in the shop. We got a video of her doing it. I think this will make a really nice gift to Christian's parents. They love fleur-de-lis symbols, and this nice leatherbound book will serve as a great family photo album they can keep pictures or scraps in and hand down to their kids or grandkids. I think they will really like it. The "Bergeron" name at the bottom really makes it special.
We headed to the hotel, checked out, and went to the train station. It was pretty easy to find the right train, get on, and head to Venice. The train ride was nice. We met a family from Florida, and saw some beautiful mountain scenery out the window. After a couple of stops, we were in Venice.
You can see all of our pictures from Venice here.
was hot, and after seeing the endless line of people trying to get tickets for the Vaporetto (the water bus line), we decided to go on an adventure and walk to the hotel, rather than taking the water bus. The walk wasn't that bad, except for the fact that every time we crossed a canal, we had to go over a bridge with the luggage. That made it difficult. Since we only had one map that started close to the grand canal, we couldn't get far from it. Eventually, we found the tiny alleyway leading to our hotel (there are lots of tiny alleys between buildings here).
The hotel is nice, although no free internet
After checking in, we headed out for dinner and some sightseeing. We went in a gorgeous church, walked to the Rialto bridge, looked through the shops, and found a local restaurant.
In the restaurant, we proceeded to order way too much wine (1 liter, for two people who don't drink). The food was mediocre. I had salmon which wasn't very good. Christian ordered a pizza with cheese, shrimp, and mushrooms. It also was mediocre. Although, with that much wine you stop caring what the food tastes like after a while. Needless to say, after our dinner and liter of wine, we decided to stay close to the hotel and make it an early night.
Woke up late this morning, washed some clothes in the bathroom, and then headed to breakfast in the hotel. The breakfast here is probably the weakest of all the hotels we've been to, consisting of some rolls, croissants, and some cereal. Still, it was sufficient. During breakfast, we met some nice couples from Canada and exchanged travel stories.
After breakfast, we headed to our walking tour of Venice. We saw St. Mark's Basillica and a few other things. I won't write too much about it as it was definitely the weakest of all the tours we have been on. We used the same tour company twice in Rome and once in Florence, and always had good experiences, although this tour was just boring. I can't tell if it was just the tour, or the tour guide, but it was weak. It was definitely not an issue of knowledge - she could answer any question from people in the group, and I often found their questions to be more interesting than the stuff she was talking about. Oh well. Still, I learned some things about Venice.
After the tour, we walked around some more around the Rialto Bridge and took some pictures during the daytime (we were there last night). We headed back to the hotel and took a nap.
When we woke up, we ventured out one last time, only after the Apostoli Palace hotel clerk accused us of stealing cookies.
The story, basically, is that in the breakfast area next to our room there was a cart with crackers and biscotti. There was also a table with some candy in a bowl. Christian and I decided to grab some crackers in our bag for when we were walking around.
When we got downstairs, we were scolded by the clerk who was watching us on the surveillance video. He said that if we took the cookies, there would be none left for breakfast. I told him we didn't realize they were for breakfast only, and that we would put them back (I thought they were snacks for guests, just like the candy on the table appeared to be). He insisted that we could keep them, but I insisted that we would put them back if it was that important.
And we left. And I got mad to be honest. I mean, I understand if they don't want people taking them. But if something is important enough to say something to a paying guest that will make them feel like complete crap, then really, you should just invest the 50 cents on a sign that says "For breakfast only. Please do not take". If it isn't important enough for a sign, then it shouldn't be important enough to something that will make your guests feel bad. I was really aggravated when I left there.
And while I'm on the hotel, I can't really suggest that people stay there. The lack of internet, the mediocre breakfast, and the horrendous smell coming out of the drain pipes all put this hotel on the lower end of hotels we stayed at. And the cookie incident just made it worse. The one positive thing that had going for them was the cold A/C.
When walking around, we walked some of the areas with fewer tourists and more locals. Eventually, I saw a sign for a small restaurant called "Ostaria alla Staffa". Inside, we asked the man behind the counter for a menu, and he explained that they had no menu, but told us what he was cooking tonight. We liked that.
We sat down and ordered a half-liter of wine (lesson learned from the night before), and talked with Franco (the man behind the counter). He was very nice and was happy to explain things to us and help us with our Italian. Christian had a pasta with a creme sauce, and I had a pasta with a primavera sauce. It was good, but I was not extremely full. I decided to ask if he had desserts. He explained the three desserts that he had, which prompted my question "Which one is your favorite?". He made a face and tapped his chin. "Dis is problem," he said. He went on to say why he liked each one and that his wife made the filling in the cheesecake very light and he liked that.
"So your wife made the creme filling in the cheesecake?"
"She make all of the desserts" he said.
Awesome. I love food with a story. I had a slice of cheesecake with strawberry topping. Delicious.
I told him we would like to get a picture with him. He agreed but asked if we could send a postcard from where we were from (he had postcards from customers from all over the place). He asked where we were from.
"Ahh, Houston!" Then he used his finger as he pretended it was a rocket launching with the "pkew" sound to go with it.
"Yes." I nodded. "I work there. At NASA."
His eyes got big. He yelled something in Italian and started writing something on a piece of paper. He handed it to me. It was an address for us to mail him a postcard from there. He also gave me his email address. I was excited just seeing a foreigner immediately associating Houston with the space program.
So, another dinner. Another story.
Then we walked quite a bit around Venice, looking in shops, taking more pictures, and having more laughs, before heading to the hotel. We head out tomorrow. And to be honest, I'm glad. Venice just didn't seem like the right fit for us. We had fun anyway though.
Woke up and ate breakfast at the hotel. During breakfast, we spoke with a lovely couple from Kent, England. They were very nice and we chatted about all sort of things.
After breakfast, we checked out and rode the vaporetta (waterbus) to the train station. This was fairly uneventful. At the train station, we easily found our train and got on (as usual).
On the train, we met a great couple from Toronto, who had children in the movie business. One of them was getting married by Lake Como. It turns out, the man was the father of a celebrity actress (I'll keep her name out for privacy), but it was really neat to talk with them. We had similar interests and curiousities and had lots to share. We have met some really interesting people throughtout the trip from all over the world.
Then, we had a horrible train experience in Milan. Our train was delayed for quite a while. When it showed up, we tried to find the right coach and had lots of trouble. When we did get on a coach, we found someone in our seats. They explained to us we had first class tickets and this was second class. We had lots of trouble getting off the train as it was severely packed. When we finally managed to work our way through the extremely rude crowds (people would simply refuse to duck in a seat temproarily to let you pass), we got off and saw an employee of the train. We yelled for help and he pointed to the front of a train car. When we got on it, we started looking for our seats, and when we finally got there, the same employee (who was obviously the one who serves drinks on the train), had drinks and supplies all over the seats, so there was no way we could sit there. We asked him again (since he was the one who told us to get on this train) for some help and he threw his hands up and said "I can't help you. I can't help you."
Now I was steaming. This guy could speak english, so that was not the issue, but something else was going on. How could we have ridden 5 trains without a single problem and now, all of a sudden, we are frantically searching and can't find our seat.
I grabbed the ticket and ran off the train to find someone to help. I saw another employee of the train service, but this time wearing a special hat (I believe he was the conductor of the train if that is the right position. Other employees were asking him questions). I had struck gold. I ran up to him and pointed to my ticket. He looked me in the eye, scoffed, and turned around and started walking away from me, mumbling something in Italian. I stood there shouting, "But where do we go?" and he just kept walking away.
I couldn't believe it. These were people we were paying. This is not the DMV we are talking about here, but people we are PAYING for a train ticket. I started walking back to get Christian.
There, I saw a woman who asked if I needed help. I explained that we didn't know how to find our seat. She then proceeded to tell me that there is some confusion because there was problems with the other train so this train was being used as a substitute. The only possible explanation I can see for why employees were being so rude is that they were being asked to pick up an extra set of passengers or maybe passengers from another company. Not that that justifies being rude to the passengers, but I can't wrap my head around how some people here can be so blatantly rude to people. If that man had done that to a big ol' corn-fed texan in the US, I'm pretty certain he would have gotten a fist in his mouth.
To top it all off, when the conductor got on and started checking tickets, I saw him chatting with the guy who told us that he wouldn't help us, and it seemed pretty clear that they were friends. This first guy later walked by and gave me a smirk. I was pretty fired up.
Finally, we got to Milan. When we got off the train, I saw passengers trying to get on running up to the train conductor, and he was being rude to them too!!! I saw this asian guy ask him a question and then have this surprised look on his face when the guy motioned and walked away.
As we rolled our bags past him, I made a point to get his attention and say "Thanks for all your help earlier. You were a really big help. You ass." I can only hope he understood.
And so, now I'm angry. And as I have some of my father in me, it takes me quite a while to reset. But I did, and when we got to the hotel by taxi, I was hoping everything would be better. We were finally in Como.
To see all of our Como pictures, you can go here
The hotel staff greeted us and pulled up our reservation. He said we had the room but breakfast was not included. Christian immediately said "uhhhh", because she new we had arranged with our travel agent to have breakfast included. We pulled out the voucher which very explicitly said breakfast included. The man thought we were arguing with him, so he started getting short with us. We told him we would call our travel agent since there was obviously some sort of mixup (we did later and she said she would handle it). After getting to our room, the view is absolutely gorgeous... except for the huge construction cranes right in front of the window. The jack-hammering was shaking the room.
To make things worse, the bathroom wasn't clean (Christian wasn't too happy about that), and the internet is not only not free, but quite expensive (6 euros for one hour.. about $9 USD and hour). Oh well, I was going to just have to get over it.
I went back downstairs to ask about how to get across the lake using the boats, and where we could go for dinner. The receptionist was again very short, just handing me a boat schedule and telling me there were some good restaurants in the area. That was literally all he said. I asked again for a suggestion and he said there were plenty of good restaurants. After being so upset with some of the people we have dealt with, I was ready to leave and go walk around with Christian.
We walked a bit and found some cool sights. The lake is gorgeous. We decided to stop in one place and order some food to go. We had seen some shady benches next to the lake, and rather then dealing with people, I was up for taking some food to-go, and going and eating it by the lake. We did, and it was delicious.
One interesting story about the guy we ordered the sandwiches from - he was very helpful and was helping us order, when he noticed my Walt Disney World hat. He asked me where I got it and I told him in Orlando.
"I work there", he said.
"Yes. In Epcot Center. I work in the Italian restaurant in the area where they have food from different parts of the world."
Apparently, he works there most of the year, and then returns to Como occassionally. What is interesting is that we ate in that restaurant when we went there! And given the time of year that we went, it is very probably that he would have been there.
"Small world," he said, I believe pun intended.
After eating by the lake and taking in the sights, we went up to our room to sit on the balcony and people watch. Later, we decided to go walk around some more and came across a really neat outdoor concert near our hotel. We sat down and heard some great music, and went back to the hotel.
This morning I had a meeting with a professor at the Polytechnic University in Milan. That meeting went great, although I had some pretty interesting adventures with the train rides into the appropriate area of Milan. But, in the end, I made it, had a great conversation, and headed back to Como.
When I got back to the hotel, I met up with Christian and heard about her trip out on the lake and her visit to Villa Carlotta. She said it was gorgeous. Here is a link to the gallery with all of her pictures of the villa.
We headed out into town to look for some lunch, and eventually came across a supermarket. We thought it might be good to buy a few things and bring them back to the hotel. We got some sandwiches, some fruit, potato chips, and some Bellini (a fruity, carbonated wine with peaches added). It made for a pretty neat lunch.
After lunch, we had a great nap in the hotel room, and then headed out later to walk around and find some dinner. Turns out, one of the stages for public music (like we listened to last night) is set up in the Piazza right next to our hotel, so we went and got some pizza to bring back to the hotel. The balcony of our room looks into the square so we could eat there and watch the band perform. Unfortunately, they got delayed due to a storm that moved in over the mountains, but as I am writing this, they have cranked back up and are jamming out in the square.
I really miss my kids. Christian showed me some pictures of them on her phone, and I wish I could be with them now. Just a couple more days.
Had breakfast and got a transfer over to the Milan airport. Everything went pretty smooth flying into Munich, except we hit some bad weather and got waived off of a landing due to winds (first time that has happened to me... wheels down, almost on the runway, then throttle up and pull away... kind of scary until you hear from the pilot what is going on).
In Munich, called the hotel and got a transfer to the Best Western. The hotel is in a more residential area, but it was nice. Very clean. Very sharp looking. Free internet!!! Finally!!! But, no A/C (thank goodness we could open the window and let the cool air in). Thanks to the free internet, if there would have been A/C here, this may have been my favorite hotel (and it was only a temporary stay before catching our flight to Atlanta).
At night, decided to go walk to one of the only hotels in the area since the prices in the hotel restaurant seemed steep and didn't have anything we really wanted. It was a nice Italian restaurant, and we had great service and some amazing food. Also, we had a summer beer here that is half beer and half lemonade (It was great!!! Thanks to Mike for this suggestion.).
So, as hard as it is to write this... I think the best Italian food we had... was in Germany. I know, that sounds bad. But, I'm being honest. It really was great. And the German beer with it made for an interesting combination.
Walked back to the hotel and prepared to head home tomorrow.
Checked out of the hotel, only to find out that the airport transfer service was not free!! We had to shell out quite a bit of money for the transfers to and from the airport. Oh well. I want to get home!
Got to the airport and had to check our bags in. All of the European airlines have had automated stations for checking bags, printing boarding passes, etc. Now we are back to Delta. I wish I had taken a picture of the insanely long line. And we checked in online!! When we got up to check our bags, one was 4kg too heavy. They threatened to charge us $150 if we didn't lighten it, so we opened up all our bags and started shuffling. After 2 or 3 tries, we got it under weight, but ultimately, the same amount of weight is going on the plane, so I don't exactly understand. Why don't they require that the average weight of your bags be below a certain amount?
Got through security, although one of the police stared at my passport for a while and asked why Christian's passport had a stamp from France, but mine didn't.
"Didn't you say you too have traveled together the entire time?"
"Then why don't you have a stamp?"
"I don't know... I guess we went in different lines."
I really didn't know. But, I think he was suspicious that we were lying. Ultimately, he decided to let us through. We got through security, waited for a while, and got on the plane.
The flight into Atlanta was fairly uneventful. The 767 had individual screens for each passenger so you could pick, watch, and pause your own movie, tv show, or music. Also, you could play games against other passengers, like poker, chess and trivia. Pretty cool.
Made it into Atlanta and went through some pretty intense security and customs controls. While we were waiting for our luggage to come out (you have to recheck luggage here even if you are getting a connecting flight), a homeland security officer was going around with a beagle and sniffing people's bags and carry-ons. It was amazing to see him work. He sniffed the bag of an older lady a few feet from us and he immediately, made a motion and sat down by the bag and stared at his handler. The handler looked at the lady and said, "You have fruit in there?"
Her face dropped. She must have remembered something that she forgot about in her bag. The officer looked in her bag and found an apple.
She mentioned that she had forgotten to claim it on the customs form (there is a section for food, fruit, and vegetables) and that she would go throw it away. "Wait he said. He needs to touch it." With that, he took the apple and let the beagle smell it and touch it with his nose. The handler then gave him a treat and started working him again. Really amazing to see what dogs are capable of. We saw quite a few seeing eye dogs during out travels as well. It is amazing how well composed they are in airports and subway trains.
In Atlanta, through security, rechecked luggage, found our gate, sat down, and saw the sign flip showing a 2 hour delay. Oh man. We waited for hours in the aorport (we were there early and already had some time to wait nominally). Then, it clicked again. Now it was delayed about 2.5 hours.
Delta. Friggin Delta. I can't think of one aspect of being an airline that they did not screw up. They had delays. They had maintenance problems with the planes. They had paperwork problems with the planes. They had poor service at the counter. They lost our luggage. They even destroyed one of our bags. Short of crashing, they did everything they could do to screw up being an airline.
When we finally made it into Lafayette, I was so tired I could barely see. We started walking, following a line of people. I was barely conscious. I would occasionally look up to make sure I was still following Christian and the line of people. I was a zombie. And then I heard it.
Neo's voice rang out.
"Dad-eee!!! Dad-eeeeeeeee!" I heard Charlie say. Once his feet hit the ground, he ran to me as fast as he could. Oh man. What a feeling. I went and saw some of the oldest and most beautiful art and buildings in the world. But yet, in the end, it was my wife and my kids that I discovered. I see them and love them in an even stronger way. It was a trip of a lifetime. It is so good to be home.