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The Prisoners of Gate A13

Our 2013 trip to Italy starts out on a decidedly wrong foot.

Exhausted. Grimy. Disheveled. On the verge of hallucinating from lack of sleep. That's how we arrived in beautiful Venezia on the afternoon of May 13th, after a miserable 40 hour transit. The best laid plans of mice and men are at the mercy of....US Airways??

Rewind 40 hours.

We're setting off on our first trip since 2011, a 12 night itinerary that will bring us to Venice, Sorrento, and Rome. With a 2 and half hour drive to the airport, we set off earlier than we need to and arrive at Philadelphia International Airport at 2pm, well before the recommended 3 hour window for our 6:35pm flight on US Airways 714.

We're relaxed and prepared. Mrs. Zukini and I have figured out how to pack for two weeks, each using just a 20" carry-on and a small day pack, thereby avoiding the hassle of checking baggage. We stop by Vino Volo for a light lunch and a celebratory glass of wine, then head over to Gate A13.

At 6pm, boarding begins. We've actually paid US Airways a fee for priority boarding, a ridiculous extravagance, but it ensures that there will be room in the overhead bin for our bags. We settle in and wait for take off....and wait. And wait.

The captain comes on the intercom to let us know there's going to be a delay. They have an indicator light in the cockpit that needs a look-see by maintenance. We've seen this sort of thing countless times before...I've seldom been on a US Air flight without some sort of short equipment delay.

Time wears on. The captain informs us that we have the right to leave the plane, but since there's no gate agent available to let us back on, he advises against it.

Finally, we are asked to exit the plane and return to Gate A13. The problem is proving to be difficult to diagnose, and no one is sure when we will be taking off. A flight attendant tells me that we're going to be switched to a plane that is arriving from San Juan as soon as it's cleaned.

At the gate, we're told that we will depart at 8pm. A substantial delay, but still ok.

That departure slips to 10pm. We're told a replacement plane is on the way from Charlotte.

Customers are getting restive. Warm water is distributed, and dinner vouchers are handed out. Unfortunately, all of the restaurants in Terminal A close at 10pm. A restaurant is open in another terminal, but passengers are advised not to leave the gate area as "the situation is fluid and you might be called to board at any time."

Midnight arrives. The plane from Charlotte hasn't arrived....in fact, it hadn't left Charlotte, as it had equipment problems of its own. I learn that our original plane has a crack in some ductwork that part of the air conditioning and air pressurization system, along with a malfunction in the electronic controls for the first officer's seat. We're told that the plane from Charlotte is finally taxiing to the runway, and we should be on our way by 2am.

There are only three working electrical outlets that can be found in the terminal. Passengers are desperately trying to charge their cell phones so that they can contact their hotels and transportation vendors in Venice. We help a couple from Canada contact their hotel using our Skype connection.

When stranded in the terminal, he who controls the power outlets rules the world.

When stranded in the terminal, he who controls the power outlets rules the world.

Snack boxes of turkey jerky and junk food are distributed. Philadelphia Airport brings down several crates of pillows, eyemasks, and emergency blankets, and leaves them in the gate area. The gate attendants make an announcement at Gate A13, but the passengers are scattered all through the terminal, trying to find space to lie down, and most don't hear it.

Irate passengers keep coming up to the podium, demanding answers. The US Airways personnel mock their anger and outrage as soon as their backs are turned, in full view of the other passengers.

At 2am, the plane from Charlotte has arrived. It carries replacement parts for our original equipment. It also has malfunctioning rest rooms, so it can't be used as replacement equipment until it is repaired. We're assured that we'll be in the air by 4am, on either the original plane, or the repaired plane from Charlotte.


At 4am, we learn that the plane from Charlotte isn't certified for transatlantic flight. We have to wait for the original to be repaired.

At 6am, we're assured the problem on the original plane has been solved, and the maintenance crew is just putting everything back together. A crew is on the way, and we'll be on our merry way by 8am. A supervisor tells me that the 767's being used for these flights are 30 years old and scheduled to be sold off to another airline. How comforting.


At 8am, they're short a crew member.

At 9am, the remaining crew times out, and the flight is officially cancelled.

Now it's time for 200 miserable people to scramble for a limited number of available seats on alternate flights. Two podiums are open for flight reassignments, but it's taking an average of 20 minutes per person. An emergency re-accommodation phone number is distributed, and those of us with working cell phones try to call that.

We get rebooked, but the flight turns out to be from JFK to Munich to Venice...the problem is, US Airways has no way of getting me from Philadelphia to JFK. We try again, this time pulling a flight from Philadelphia to Newark to Paris to Venice. The problem is, the last leg requires a "paper ticket". How do we get that? "Just see a gate agent".

2 hours and 2 gate agents later, no one has a clue how to get me a "paper ticket". They don't even have ticket printers at the gates. They send me to US Airways Customer Service, in Terminal B.

When I arrive, the customer service is desk is closed, not returning until after my Newark flight is scheduled to leave. A cleaning person helpfully points out one of the personnel, heading to lunch. I run after her, and explain my situation. She sympathizes, but says she has no capability of printing a paper ticket either. The only solution she can suggest is that I leave the security perimeter and visit the check-in desks.

Eventually, I get my paper ticket, (along with a second trip through security screening, including a full body scan AND a pat-down) and I'm also rebooked directly from Philadelphia to Paris, and from there to Venice. My flight leaves at 6:30pm, 24 hours after the original flight.

The flight to Paris does take off on time, although, as the last seats assigned, we're stuck in the row 40 bulkhead seats that don't recline, with the galley on one side of us and the restroom on the other. Sleep? Not a chance.

It's 1pm in the afternoon on Monday, May 13th by the time we finally step off the plane in Venice. It's been 44 hours since we've left our house, with fitful bits of sleep interspersed here and there. US Airways sends an email with an apology and a $300 voucher, good for one year. As if.

Coming up, an abbreviated but wonderful sojourn in Venice.


Posted by Zukini 03:38 Archived in USA Tagged venice philadelphia us_airways flight_714 cancellation us_air delay flight_delay cancelled phl_to_vce philadelphia_to_venice Comments (0)

Better Late than Never

We arrive in Venice!

overcast 68 °F

We're finally on our way to Venice, via Charles DeGaulle and Air France. After a sleepless 8 hour flight in the non-reclining bulkhead seats sandwiched between the galley and the rest room at the rear of the plane, we arrive in Paris for our short layover. Even though we're in transit, we need to pass through a very disorganized security screening that involved a lot of rummaging through luggage and a pretty intimate and thorough pat-down. We also have to pass through passport control, where we're awarded with a French visa stamp in our passports.

I should note that US Airways did us the final courtesy of giving us the wrong local time when we landed, giving us a time 1 hour earlier than it actually was. Thanks guys! Glad we noticed our watches didn't match the airport clocks, or we would have missed our connection to Venice.

It's our first experience with CDG airport, and it is instantly our least favorite. We're at Terminal 1, a ring design with shops and facilities on the lowest level and departure gates the level above that. It's crowded, with minimal seating, and the shops are staffed with surly clerks who clearly hate their jobs and their customers. Fortunately, our sojourn there is brief, and we're soon on our way to Venice.

Flying over the Alps

Flying over the Alps

Our Air France flight is uneventful, and we arrive at Venice Marco Polo Airport (VCE) a bit late, at about 12:30pm local time. VCE is a breeze, especially without baggage claim to deal with, and we breeze right through arrivals and passport control. We're staying in an apartment rental, so our first order of business is to pull enough euros from a cash machine to pay the rental fee, and to get our cell phone working so that we can contact our host.

The ATM proves to be a bit of a surprise...on our last visit to Italy, in 2011, we were able to make multiple withdrawals for large amounts of cash from the Bancomat machines with no difficulty. Now, I don't know if this is universal or just limited to Venice, but the machines seemed to have been reconfigured. I can only make a single withdrawal of 250 Euros. Further attempts yield a message indicating that I have exceeded my international currency exchange limit for the day.

We think this might just be a configuration on the ATM at the airport, so we decide to try again once we reach Piazzale Roma. We've come prepared for any eventuality, though...we've got two separate debit card accounts, each with two debit cards, just in case.

Tip: I've mentioned it before, and I'll mention it again. When you're traveling in Italy, a debit card tied to a CapitalOne online account is your friend. Whenever we pulled money out of a Bancomat machine, we paid NO fees, and the exchange rate was the published daily FOREX rate for the USD vs the Euro. For this trip, it varied from day to day, but averaged around $1.30 for a Euro.

As for our cell phone: our normal carrier is StraightTalk, a great plan at a good price, but one which absolutely prohibits foreign roaming. We decided that, in order to have a functional cell phone the moment we touched down, we would pay the premium price that Telestial.com asks for an Italian TIM Sim card. Their price for this card is high, compared to what you would pay for it in Italy, but you get your Italian phone number well ahead of your visit, and a 15 Euro credit. The Sim is supposed to be pre-activated and ready to use as soon as you arrive.

Well, that's not how it worked out.

Any attempts to make a call resulted in a speedy Italian error message, too quick and too poor quality for me to understand. I gathered that there was something wrong with my activation or my balance. I stop at the Tabacchi shop in the airport to buy a Ricarcicard (the way you recharge a pay-as-you go phone in Italy), but I'm unable to apply it to the phone. I'm stumped. Somehow, we're going to need to contact our host to let her know we've arrived.

We step outside the airport to the Hello Venezia/VeniceConnected machine, where we collect our pre-purchased transportation pass (we've already pre-purchased a WiFi pass for Venice as well), then hop on the bus for the 1/2 hour ride from the airport to Piazzale Roma. Since I have the WiFi pass, I'm able to connect my phone up to the public internet in the Piazza, and make a Skype call to Luigia, our host, to let her know we're finally on the ground (albeit a day and a half late). She'll meet us at the Giardini vaporetto stop.

TIP: Venice offers a WiFi Connected card, for a 24 hour, 72 hour, or 7 day period. This buys you a username and password to connect up to the Venice public WiFi spots, near most major piazzas. It works well, but can only be used on one device at a time, and, of course, is limited to the range of areas where it can be used.

While we're at the Piazzale, I try to pull some more cash out of the ATM there with my original card. It won't permit it. My wife tries hers, and she's able to snag an additional €250, but that's it. We have to switch to the cards for our backup account to get enough to cover the apartment and our other costs.

We hop aboard a Vaporetto for our first ride on the public transportation system in Venice. It's pretty simple to figure out where you're going, and all we need to do is swipe our transportation ticket at the card reader before we board. A short time later, we're met by Luigia, who will escort us to our apartment near the Bienniale Gardens in the Giardini district.

The area is beautiful. It's about a 15-20 minute walk east of Piazza San Marco along the waterfront, but it's a different world. The public gardens border the east side of the area, the broad, park-like Vialle Giuseppe Garibaldi borders the west, and it's just a lovely residential neighborhood.

Calle Sarasina

Calle Sarasina

A chapel at Corte Sarasina

A chapel at Corte Sarasina

Luigia takes us to our ground-floor apartment on Calle Sarasina. It's compact, but efficient, and pretty well equipped. Windows on two sides of the apartment keep it well ventilated during the day, though they have to be closed at night for both privacy and limitation of noise.

Our apartment at Ca' Sarasina

Our apartment at Ca' Sarasina



We're pretty well exhausted, and would love nothing better than to take a nap, but it's far too early for that. We explore the neighborhood, heading up to Via Giuseppe Garibaldi to pick up some essentials for the apartment, and scope out some restaurants for dinner.

Via Garibaldi

Via Garibaldi

We can't resist stopping for a gelato while we're at it. While we're out, I pick up an internet connection and make a Skype call to Telestial, to try to get the phone Sim problem straightened out. They tell me there's nothing they can do, and I should try to find the TIM store near the Rialto tomorrow. I'm so impressed with their great customer service, I promise them I'll let everyone know.

We have a 7pm tour scheduled for this evening with Laguna Eco Adventures, and I'd like to let them know we want to postpone it because of our delayed arrival, but I can't find their phone number anywhere. Coincidentally, at that moment, my phone rings...apparently, I can receive incoming calls on my Italian sim, even if I can't make outgoing ones. It's Giovanni, from Laguna, and I'm able to explain the situation to him. We shift our tour to 7:30pm tomorrow.

It's too early for dinner, so we go out wandering, consciously avoiding the tourist areas and sticking to the back streets of Castello and the Arsenale.

The canal at the end of Via Garibaldi

The canal at the end of Via Garibaldi

Calle San Zuane in Riello

Calle San Zuane in Riello

Ponte San Pietro

Ponte San Pietro

San Pietro Campanile

San Pietro Campanile

A creepy display in a residential window

A creepy display in a residential window

We have an early dinner at a touristy restaurant along Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, Osteria al Garanghelo, where we enjoy Pizza Margherita and a side of grilled vegetables (which went directly on top of the pizza!), along with a half bottle of their house red. Somehow, we find our way back to our apartment, and collapse.

Tomorrow, we'll be visiting the Palazzo Ducale, wandering Venice in search of a TIM store, and taking an evening tour of the canals. See you then!


Posted by Zukini 16:23 Archived in Italy Tagged venice giardini basilica_cistern sarasina Comments (0)

The Palazzo Ducale and a Notturno Veneziano

Touring the Doge's Palace, and an evening canal tour with Laguna Eco Adventures

sunny 69 °F

Prior to leaving, we had pre-purchased tickets for the "Secret Itineraries Tour" of the Doge's Palace, as well as a tour of the clock tower, the L'Orologio. We missed our reserved slots for both tours due to our flight cancellation, but on Tuesday morning, I head over to the Correr museum in Piazza San Marco, to see if anything can be done.

They are actually quite sympathetic to our situation, and rebook us for the Secret Itineraries tour immediately, and for the L'Orologio on Wednesday morning. I couldn't ask for better treatment than that. We're able to immediately enter the grounds of the Palazzo Ducale while we wait for our tour to begin.


We're as powerfully drawn to the beautiful architecture as we are to the tasty pastries in the coffee shop. We have learned to keep our priorities in order.



The Secret Itineraries tour takes you on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Doge's Palace, into areas that require the presence of a guide. Our guide speaks highly accented English with a bit of an overly dramatic flair, and is justifiably concerned about the tendency of her tour group to touch things they shouldn't be touching.

Denunciation boxes, ready for anonymous accusations

Denunciation boxes, ready for anonymous accusations

The Golden Staircase

The Golden Staircase

The Golden Staircase

The Golden Staircase

Although photos are permitted in the open air portions of the tour, once we get past the "Golden Staircase" all cameras are put away, so, unfortunately, no photos of the tour itself. We do, however, receive a comprehensive tour of the offices of various officials, the interrogation room, complete with pulley and rope, and the cells for the political prisoners. We venture into the rafters that support the ceilings of the grand halls below, and we hear the story of Casanova's escape from the prison, and see the prison cells and chambers involved. It's chilling to imagine an interrogation by candle light in these gloomy, oppressive rooms. It's a great tour.

Once it's complete, we are free to explore the rest of the palace, which includes an astonishing display of weaponry. The gallery traces the evolution of both armor and weapons, and is really quite amazing. Of particular interest are the weapons that appeared around the development of firearms. Apparently, the thought was that any weapon could be improved by adding a gun barrel to it, thus resulting in such bizarre combinations as crossbows that also fired bullets, and the combination hatchet/gun. The itinerary leads, eventually, to the Bridge of Sighs, where civil prisoners got their last glimpse of Venice before passing into the adjoining prison cells.

Crossing the Bridge of Sighs

Crossing the Bridge of Sighs

Last glimpse of Venice

Last glimpse of Venice

Corridor to the lowest levels of the prison

Corridor to the lowest levels of the prison

It seems unlikely the occupant will be seeing daylight any time soon

It seems unlikely the occupant will be seeing daylight any time soon

From squalor to luxury

From squalor to luxury

Once we exit into the sunlight, it's time for me to get my cell phone situation resolved, so we begin our hunt for the TIM store, which we know is somewhere in the Rialto district. Addresses in Venice are virtually meaningless, serving only to get you to a general vicinity, and asking for directions is akin to trying to sort out a plate of spaghetti. It's a good thing panini sandwiches are so plentiful to keep us nourished during our search.

We finally find the TIM store, and the clerk speaks no English. Fortunately, I have enough Italian that I can explain the problem. He examines my account, and discovers that Telestial never actually funded the card with the €15 I paid for, so it has been deactivated. It takes a little doing, but he's able to get me operational. At last, I have phone service!

Thanks, TIM!

Thanks, TIM!

TIP: If you're using TIM, you can buy a weekly data plan for your phone, allowing you 500mb per week of 4G data for €6. Other data plans for lower cost are also available, and I think it's a great bargain, allowing you access to things like Google maps and navigation while you're out and about.

We decide to head back to St. Mark's to see if we can get in to the Campanile, the bell tower. It's a short wait and €8 to be whisked to the top of the tower by elevator for stunning views of Venice.





We head back to the apartment to refresh ourselves before our 7:30pm meeting with Marco, our guide for our evening tour of the canals. Unfortunately, it doesn't occur to either of us to grab a jacket while we're at the apartment.

Laguna Eco Adventures advertises a 2.5 hour tour of the "back streets" of Venice by "traditional boat", including a romantic bottle of Prosecco and something called (sic) "Tipical Biscuits". The website shows photos of their fleet, all of which are charming vessels.

We meet Marco, as arranged, at 7:30pm at the Rialto Mercato vaporetto stop. The "traditional boat" is actually a small skiff with an outboard motor. It's equipped with a hard wooden bench seat, and little else. Not exactly what we were expecting, but we're willing to go with it. Marco explains that he uses an outboard to allow us to visit all of the sestiere of Venice in the allotted time, something that's impossible to do with a rowed vessel, and, true to his word, we putter through the narrow canals behind the elegant piazzas through each of the Venice districts. It's an enjoyable tour, though the conversation (as it does many times during this vacation) veers toward the political and economic situation in Italy.



Ambulance boats at the hospital

Ambulance boats at the hospital


As the sun goes down, so does the temperature, dramatically. We have no jackets, and Marco has no blankets or other amenities aboard. In fact, he admits he doesn't even have the Prosecco or the biscuits. This isn't at all what we had pictured when we booked the tour.


2 Hours later, shivering, thirsty, and hungry, we part with Marco at the Rialto Mercato. Although we weren't thrilled with the trip, I give him the money we had set aside for the tour (€120) as well as a €20 gratuity. I'm quite surprised when, 20 minutes later, he sends me a text to tell me I had shorted him €10 on the price of the tour. I check my pockets, and find that he's correct...I must have given him the wrong packet of cash. While I'm tempted to tell him to just take it out of his tip, to make up for forgetting the refreshments, I wind up agreeing to meet him back at the Rialto Mercato to give him the missing €10. He certainly keeps us waiting long enough before he returns to retrieve it.

If you haven't guessed, I really am not giving a good recommendation to Laguna Eco Adventures.

The Rialto at Night

The Rialto at Night

We look at the restaurants near the Rialto, but they seem very touristy and expensive (you pay for the view in Venice), so we head back to our neighborhood for dinner. We're surprised that at 10pm, most of the restaurants are closing. We wind up grabbing a couple of porchetta paninis from a bar, and purchase an €8 bottle of Sicilian wine to go with it, to eat back at our apartment.

I'm not a wine connoisseur, so perhaps Sicilian wines are supposed to taste like green olives. Somehow, I don't think so.

Tomorrow, we'll visit the L'Orologio, and take a trip to some of the islands in the lagoon.


Posted by Zukini 14:54 Archived in Italy Tagged venice campanile lagunaecoadventures secret_itinerary Comments (0)

The L'Orologio, and a quick tour of the Lagoon

sunny 71 °F

It's Wednesday, May 15th, and time for our rescheduled tour of the L'Orologio (literally, "The Clock"). The Torre L'Orologio dates from the end of the 15th century, and can only be visited on a guided tour.

Torre L'Orologio

Torre L'Orologio

We meet with the rest of our small group (about 12 people) at the Correr Museum at St. Mark's Square, and we're escorted to the tower by our guide, who opens a nondescript door under the archway to allow us access to the stairs leading up into the tower.


Along the way, we pass the old clock-keeper's quarters. He's only recently retired in 1998, when electric motors were added to the mechanism to replace the manual charging of the clock with chains and weights.




The clock features some interesting innovations...in the mid 1800's, panels were installed that strongly resemble modern digital clocks, ticking off the hours and minutes in 5-minute intervals. Twice a year, on the Feast of the Epiphany and on Ascension Day, the dials for the digital clock are removed, and figures of the Angel Gabriel and the three Magi are installed instead, performing a procession in front of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus above the clock face every hour and performing an animatronic action (Gabriel blows his horn, the Kings bow before Christ). We missed seeing this by a few days (Ascension day in 2013 fell on May 9th), but the figures are in storage in the clock tower, and our guide shows us how they work.



We ultimately find our way to the roof of the tower, where we get an up close view of the bronze "Moors" with their striking hammers. One is old, the other young, to denote the passage of time, and both swivel from the hip to strike the enormous bell. We get some beautiful views of the Piazza before it's time to descend. An excellent tour.




With the rest of the day to play with, we strike out on foot across the Rialto, heading for the Fondamenta Nuove vaporetto stop, our jumping-off point for the islands of the lagoon. We wind our way through the alleys and bridges, frequently getting lost.

Once we board the vaporetto, our first stop is the island of Cemetario, which is exactly what it sounds like...the cemetery island for the lagoon. It is quite beautiful and well tended, but it is also expansive. Several tour loops are laid out for visitors, and we begin to wander through sections dedicated to nuns, monks, and soldiers. Everything we see is rather modern and uniform. I'm sure there are older, more atmospheric sections of the cemetery, but photos are not permitted and we have a lot we want to see today, so we cut our visit short.

Next stop is the glass-making island of Murano. We forgo the museum, and wander the streets instead, visiting various glass shops.



We Are Here.

We Are Here.

Some have great prices, but don't specify that what they're selling is Murano glass. Others have signs that proudly proclaim that no Chinese glass is sold there.

One of the many art installations in the piazzas of Murano

One of the many art installations in the piazzas of Murano

We pick up a few genuine Murano glass souvenirs, small things that will be easy to transport home without risk of breakage. We stop for a wonderful porchetta panini in a small shop that makes sandwiches to order, and browse some more.

A great sandwich shop

A great sandwich shop

...and a great sandwich. Oh, and some art, but mostly a great sandwich.

...and a great sandwich. Oh, and some art, but mostly a great sandwich.

We stumble across Fiore Fiore, and stop in to find the owner at work making a small glass butterfly. Here's proof that this is genuine Murano glass! We purchase it as soon as it is cool enough to touch, and chat with the owner about (what else?) the Italian economy.

Sorry, inside, no Chinese glass.

Sorry, inside, no Chinese glass.


We walk to the Faro lighthouse to catch a vaporetto for our next destination, the island of Burano, renown for lace making and for the brightly colored homes. It is a small, scenic place. Many homes have curtains in front of their doors, trying to get a modicum of privacy from the unending procession of tourists peering in their windows.





We intend to wind up our lagoon trip with a visit to the abandoned island of Torcello, but our best intentions are betrayed by our tired feet and the lengthening shadows. We board a vaporetto back to Venice proper. Naturally, in true Zukini fashion, we decide to take a short cut, and get off at the San Pietro stop, figuring it will be a quick walk to our apartment. How hard can it be? We have the San Pietro Campanile to use as a landmark. We find that, in Venice, unless you know the SPECIFIC route to take, NOTHING is a quick walk. We get lost again, wandering through the twisty lanes of San Pietro until we finally reach familiar territory.

This evening we decide to try Trattoria Sottaprova on Via Garibaldi. TripAdvisor reviews are sharply divided on this restaurant, but a guest journal that was left in our apartment gives it good reviews. We're not disappointed, and we thoroughly enjoy our meal there, the highlight being a pasta dish with fresh shrimp that is quite delicious. We share a bottle of wine, and weave our mellow way back to the apartment, passing down Viale Garibaldi. At the foot of the Viale is a glass building, a combination of a greenhouse and a bistro, called Cafe La Serra...tonight, they're having some sort of a dance event there, and everyone is dancing the Tango. It's a found moment of perfect enchantment.

Tonight, we pack up and prepare for our onward journey. In the morning, we'll be taking the Frecciargento high speed train south to Naples and onward to Sorrento, but for tonight, we bid Venice a fond farewell. Our visit here has been all too short.


Posted by Zukini 20:13 Archived in Italy Tagged burano venice lagoon murano clock_tower l'orologio Comments (0)

Riding the Rails to Sorrento

rain 69 °F

Thursday, May 16th starts with a rainy morning. Today's the day when we'll be vacating our apartment in Venice, and beginning the long trek south to our destination in Sorrento.

We check out early, wrap our luggage with plastic trash bags, and make our soggy way to the Vaporetto for the ride to the Ferriale stop, the rail terminal. The waters of the canal jostle us about, and the vaporetto is very crowded with commuters, tourists, and a large group of very young French students on an outing. We find a spot to stand where we're relatively dry and relatively stable, and wait out the crush.

This will be our first experience with the Italian train system. We've booked second class seats on the Frecciargento ("Silver Arrow") from Venice to Rome. This is a high speed train that should take about 5 hours to make the trip.

Finding our way through the train station to our platform ("binario") is simple. We're glad we're traveling light...there are no porters or baggage compartments on Italian trains...if it doesn't fit in the overhead or behind your seats, it gets stacked in a common luggage area at one end of the car. Having taken an Amtrak ride many years ago from Philadelphia to Florida, I'm very pleasantly surprised by the comfort of the 2nd class accommodation. Mrs. Zukini and I have facing seats, with a table between us.

Our carry on bags fit handily in the overhead rack above our seats, and train whizzes through the Italian countryside, affording brief views of the rolling hills of the Veneto, Tuscany, and Umrbria on our way south.



We're surprised at the discomfort we feel in our ears each time the train passes through one of the many lengthy tunnels. I surmise that the train passing through the tunnel at high velocity actually causes either a bit of a vacuum or a bit of a pressure wave, but our ears block and pop each time we dive into one.



The train, unlike a plane, is the perfect vehicle for lulling us into a stuporous slumber, and we doze frequently during the trip.

Some 5 hours later, we coast into Napoli Centrale, the hectic Naples train station, roughly a half hour late. Before the trip, we debated the choice of paying a pittance to take the Circumvesuviana commuter train from Naples to Sorrento, or to hire a private driver for a substantial fee. In retrospect, after seeing some of the crowded conditions on the Circumvesuviana we experienced later in our trip, we're glad we sprung for the big bucks to hire a private driver.

Emmanuele from Astarita Car Service is waiting for us at the end of the platform, and takes command of our luggage. We drag him around the terminal for a bit...we're looking for the Tourist Information Office, with the intention of purchasing the Campania Artcarde Tutto Regione, a combination ticket that will give us access to transportation and museums throughout Campania at a discounted rate. Unfortunately, the card is being revamped (with higher prices) and temporarily unavailable.

Emmanuele escorts us out into the chaos of Naples, seats us in a very nice Mercedes sedan, and skillfully navigates the insanity that Neapolitans call a daily commute. Once we're out of the crush of Naples traffic, he starts to chat with us, and inevitably, the subject turns to the state of the Italian economy.

It takes about an hour (with some truly breathtaking views) before we reach our destination in Sorrento. Our apartment rental is on a limited traffic street, so Emmanuele parks his car about a block away, and escorts us to our apartment. Our rental agent is no where to be found. I attempt to call her, but I get to practice my Pimsleur Italian almost verbatim. "Il numero non e il numero giusto."

In a coincidence that repeats itself many times during our trip, the owner of the apartment takes exactly that moment to call ME. He sends Anita, the agent, around immediately, and we bid Emmanuele a fond farewell.

The apartment itself is in a historic old palazzo. After passing through the massive front door, we make our way up the stairs to our rooms. The apartment is nice enough for what it is, pretty spacious. The kitchen is poorly equipped...there's no toaster or kettle (electric or otherwise), and the coffee maker, a small moka pot, is rusted and disgusting.




There's a small balcony over the noisy, shop filled street below, and a loft bedroom. The bathroom sink is cracked, and the shower is caked with mold and mildew.



Every drawer and cabinet in the place has a torn piece of notebook paper with a full, written inventory of every cup, knick knack, and button taped to it, and most have zip ties securing them closed. There's no TV, just an 80's era boom box. We both feel like we're invading someone's grandmother's house. Of all the vacation rentals we've used, this one is the most unwelcoming. We feel like intruders rather than guests.


I setup my laptop to check in with my job, and find that the WiFi we're supposed to have in this apartment doesn't exist. I call Piero for an explanation. He tells me they had trouble with the DSL line and had it disconnected, but if I stand on one foot with my left arm in the air in the corner by refrigerator, I should be able to get a signal from a neighboring apartment. Good thing I had the foresight to get that data plan for my phone, which will now act as my modem as well.

Sorrento doesn't really have the feel of a destination to me. It has more of the atmosphere of hub, a base of operations for other, more attractive locations. The shops selling lemon products and ceramics, the restaurants with eager touts rushing to explain their menu if you accidentally glance their way, all give the impression of a place that is trying too hard to impress, trying too hard to show you a good time.

We freshen up, explore the town, then head to Zi'Ntonios, a restaurant that had been recommended to us by Emmanuele (he's friends with the owner). We enjoy a delicious meal there, with stuffed zucchini flowers, ravioli, and a wonderful baked fish, and our waiter, Carmine, is a joy.


We meander the streets of Sorrento until it's time to return to our palazzo. Next installment, we'll be heading out on a day trip to Pompeii and Herculaneum.


Posted by Zukini 17:30 Archived in Italy Tagged venice naples sorrento trenitalia frecciargento Comments (0)

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