European Vacation – August 3

I’ve been on European soil for a little over 48 hours now and a few things are notable. We escaped from the Hell that is New York in the midst of a heat wave. 100 degree weather that we were told “feels like” 120. All I know is that it was an oppressive wall of wet heat that made everyone in the Big Apple really. really bitchy. Despite that, the day was pretty much jam packed. Thanks to Anton at Acronym for slipping us past the crowds at the Empire State Building. The view was fantastic, if a little hazy. After, we discovered the benefits of a well air-conditioned museum on a really hot day, as we slipped inside the confines of the Met for a few hours of reprieve.

We had promised the kids a real “New York Slice” and we realized whilst sitting in Little Italy that there was no way we could get back to the hotel, get our bags and get out to JFK. We gulped the pizza down in eight minutes flat and headed out to try to catch a cab. On the way to the airport I asked the cabby if he thought we could make it to the airport. There is no breed of animal on the earth more pessimistic than the New York cabby, unless of course it comes to their ability to do the impossible. Any mere mortal would be hopelessly mired in the steaming and volatile stew that is Midtown Manhattan, but this individual (I believe his name was Anwar) could not only get us to JFK, but get us there close to on time. Of course, there was a small price to be paid. A quick calculation on my part indicated that although pricy, the cost was not totally ridiculous. With a shrug to my wife in the back (the heat had sapped her strength to protest) we put ourselves in the hands of Anwar. The cab was air conditioned and as long as it was heading in the general direction of JFK, I decided it was a better place to be than the street.

Anwar proved to be a good as his word, and got us to the airport in good time. On the way, we got a lovely guided tour of Queens, including what Anwar assured me were “the really nice” parts of Queens. I remained unconvinced. Then, we traded the hell of Manhattan in a heat wave for the hell of International Departures from JFK. One thing confused me. Why with all that is possible through computers and centralized reservations systems, would Delta Airlines be unable to figure out that 4 international departures within 15 minutes might require more than 4 people working a 12 position counter. Why do airlines continually do this to us, installing ticket counters that are at least 4 times larger than they ever intend to use? Also thanks to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for insisting that JFK keep the temperature at a nice refreshing zillion degrees. It was a wonderful way to cap off our day. We got on our flight (delayed for two hours) and with relatively little additional adventure, were on our way to Milan.

We landed in Milan, where it was cool and raining. I’ve never seen us more welcoming of crappy weather. This wasn’t rain; it was sweet nectar from the gods. We arrived at the Una Hotel Century, steps from the Stazione Centrale in Milan (where we had our first experience with Trenitalia, the Italian train system, as we made reservations for tomorrow’s journey to France. It took us an hour just to figure out which line we were supposed to be waiting in). A quick check in and several moments of confusion as we tried to figure out the hotel room. For some reason, none of the lights seemed to work. Finally, my 10 year old daughter Lauren told us to put our room key in a small slot near the door. Voila..light! Smart kid..I think we’ll keep her.

We grabbed a quick nap and then set out to explore Milano. The metro brought us to the piazza in front of the Duomo and we were immediately accosted by several swarthy Italians who grabbed our hands, jammed bird seed in them, after which we were swarmed by pigeons who proceeded to have a food fight while perched on our arms, shoulders and heads. My other daughter, Alanna and my wife, Jill were the first to be swarmed, then it was my turn. Lauren kept her hands firmly on her camera, establishing her place as our photographer, making her exempt from the pigeon mugging. My wife was not terribly impressed, with thoughts of bird flu running through her head. My initial reluctance was overcome by several assurances of “Free! Free!” Apparently that word doesn’t translate well in Italian, because after we’d had enough of our version of “The Birds” and tried to escape, a hand was quickly extended for money. My offering of a euro was treated with disdain (and what I suspect were a few Italian curses). We quickly retreated from the Piazza.

We wandered the streets for a while, gradually making our way up the Via Dante to the Castello Sforzesco, a rather imposing castle. Opposite the castle we grabbed a panini (sandwich) and our first gelatto. Oh my god! This is what ice cream is supposed to be. Do me a favor, go directly to your freezer, take the 45 gallon drum of that crap we call ice cream out, and throw it in the garbage. I’m not sure if you ever saw the episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where they go to Italy and Robert, upon trying gelatto, says ‘It’s like I never tasted a peach before”. I had to try it for myself so I also ordered Pesca (peach) and I can tell you it’s one of the few cases where Hollywood didn’t stretch the truth We walked back to the hotel along the street where the main fashion stores are. My memories of Milan will always include men coming from work in Armani suits, hopping on a Vespa (scooter) and zipping through the streets. It was everything I ever imagined Milan to be.

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