A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

1. Departure

Charity Auction Prize: Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get...

Kansas City, Missouri, United States
Saturday, April 8, 2017

B4 made it back from her business trip on time, arriving home this morning around 1:00am. Her alarm went off at 6:00 so she could prepare. Our flight is at 12:35. I called for an Uber at 10:20. Eric arrived in his Cadillac DeVille after about a five minute wait. He couldn't fit our bags in his trunk because it was too full so they rode in his passenger side front seat on top of the dirt and old leaves he had stored there. Cheap rides come at a price.

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Joe wished us a fond farewell at the front door.

I tried online check in for our flights but AA refused; maybe it is because my old passport expired and I have a new one with a different number now. (I updated my AAdvantage profile a long time ago, but...) Funny, my new passport feels wimpy, skinny, like one a rookie would carry. Before, with two extra 24-page packets added (a regular passport has 28 pages in it), my old book told airline check-in agents, Homeland Security personnel and hotel clerks that I was a man of the world, a global traveler, someone to be reckoned with. But, it expired Now, my new wimpy little booklet says, "Here's a guy that decided to take a trip outside the country...probably for the first time. Be aware because he probably doesn't know what he's doing." Somehow, I'm disturbed by that. Anyway, we're on leg number one to O'Hare.

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As much as I dislike the OLD Kansas City International Airport and am completely in favor of building a brand new single terminal here, I was impressed with the remodeling project under way at American Airlines, Gate 82. They are adding new restrooms, a nursing mothers lounge and, most impressive, a "Service Animal Relief Area." Only in America. Oh, yeah. We ran into Jeff who, along with B4 took a picture next to the "Area" so they could send it to JoAnn, a dear mutual friend.

Posted by paulej4 07:45 Archived in USA Comments (0)

2. En Route

Who said getting there has to be boring?

Chicago, Illinois, United States
Saturday, April 8, 2017

On final approach to O'Hare aboard AA 3404, a 65 passenger Canadair CRJ-700 regional jet operated by Envoy Air as American Eagle, I spotted though my window at seat 3C, an aircraft approaching from our one o'clock position and just below us an instant later to be directly beneath us. At those speeds, everything one sees that is nearby is fleeting and that was the case here. A second later, looking across the aisle and through the window of a fellow traveler in seat 2A I got a better look; we had passed just over another jet, also on final to O'Hare. We were landing on some runway R---either 9R or 27 R or 10R--and the other aircraft was landing just ahead of us on some runway L--either 9C or 9L or 10L or 10C or maybe even 28C or 28L--I was too rattled to figure that part out.

In any event, it was as close as I have ever been to another aircraft in the air. They guy in 2A said the same thing. It was a Delta A320 according to him. "I could damn near touch the tail," was his comment. An exaggeration, to be sure, because his window was, obviously, closed.

On the way out, I asked our Captain, a stocky man in his forties with gray highlights in his fashionably long hair, (Perfecto according to his name tag), what our separation had been. "One thousand feet," he said "and we had him on visual of course. Nothing to worry about," Perfecto told me. Glad to hear that. I am usually not worried when I am aboard an aircraft but this time, well, I was.

Visualize 1,000 feet with me. 1,000 feet is a bit less than three football fields (including end zones), is less than the height of the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building and is equal to about thirty telephone poles or four Alameda Towers (where I live). An aircraft of this type at this altitude is doing about 175-200 miles per hour. For me, that's pretty close and pretty fast. Whew.

Our connecting flight is on British Airways and, as luck would have it at O'Hare, that entails a bit of a hike up Concourse G in Terminal 3, down the hall to the end of Terminal 2, out of the sterile security area, down the ticketing concourse, up the escalator, over the driveway to the ATS (Airport Transit System) train which runs every few minutes to Terminal 5. There, where there is no TSA Pre-Check opportunity, we got to be re-screened. Of course, this entails a more intrusive process using millimeter wave advanced imaging technology rather than the walk-through metal detectors that I am used to. I screwed up. I left the medication I need to take tonight in my pocket and the AIT (Advanced Imaging Technology) detected it and flagged me for a patdown. Spell check just corrected that word to putdown and that is insightful. It wasn't pleasant. I am spoiled by Pre-Check.

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After that, it got better as we made our way to the British Airways Business Class Lounge which was tacky, crowded and noisy. It was there that I tried to get my adrenaline level down and pause to pen this entry. I erred in not following B4's advice to get something to eat back in Terminal 3. The offering in the BA Lounge, like the lounge itself, was unappetizing to me. We had just a bit over three hours connecting time but I am not able to fully relax until I have cleared security and am ensconced near my ultimate boarding gate. Today, I should have opted for a change of habit.

To minimize my jet lag, it is my habit to immediately adopt "destination time" when I board an overseas flight. I always try to have eaten before the flight and skip the meal service to facilitate that process. The time difference between Chicago and London is six hours. Our departure time is 5:30pm. That means that as I settle into my seat I should "pretend" that it is 11:30pm. I doubt I get that done tonight.

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The Boeing 777 for tonight is fine; we're in 15 A-B, Business Class. The seats are lie flats and we face each other through a lowered divider; in the window seat I face aft.

There is salmon on the menu and things are looking, well, up, literally and figuratively. We push back at 5:16pm, fourteen minutes early. Imagine that.

Posted by paulej4 07:52 Archived in USA Comments (0)

3. Airport Number Three

Early morning arrival, jet lag commences

London, England, United Kingdom
Sunday, April 9, 2017

Our flight to London was scheduled for just under eight hours but was actually less: just under seven hours, putting us on the ground at London Heathrow at around 6:43 in the morning on Sunday, April 9. There was dinner and breakfast. The menu was billed as "Height Cuisine," “packed with flavour at altitude.” We were also told that if we are puckish between meals the Club Kitchen is always open for us “to tuck into a range of healthy snacks or naughty treats.” There one finds artisan biscuits, healthy snacks, Cadbury chocolates and premium crisps.

The white wine was either La Picossa Garnacha Blanca 2016 from Catalunya, Spain or Seifried Chardonnay 2014 from Nelson, New Zealand. The red was a choice of Barbera d'Asti Superiore 2014 from Piemonte, Italy or Grant Burge “5th Generation” Shiraz 2014 from Barossa, South Australia. Of course, there was champagne: Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain NV or Champagne de Castelnau Brut Reserve NV or Champagne de Castelnau Brut Rose NV.

Dinner was a starter of salad of beetroot, Montrachet goat’s cheese and sea lettuce with mirin and onion seed dressing. We don’t know what mirin is. The “Main” was either pan-fried fillet of salmon with creamed spinach, roasted fingerling potatoes and horseradish cream, or, Fillet of beef with gnocchi, café de Paris sauce and haricot verts, or, Ricotta tortellini with truffle cream sauce and prosciutto. B4 opted for salmon as did I. After a scare, “Sorry, we’re out of salmon; but wait, let me check,” followed by, “my mistake; we have two remaining” we got the two.

Dessert? Of course. Either flourless baked chocolate espresso pudding, or, New England Cave Aged Cheddar and Gorgonzola cheese with quince paste, or, a selection of whole fresh fruit, or, chocolate, or, hot chocolate with milk chocolate and pistachio cookies.

We slept a bit.

Breakfast was juice, a strawberry and elderflower smoothie, fresh seasonal fruit or honey and lime marinated fresh bananas topped with Greek yoghurt and homemade granola. From the bakery, the offering is a warm panini with Cheddar cheese, scrambled egg and grilled bacon alongside a selection of assorted breakfast pastries.

The food billing was better than the food itself.

As business class passengers, we were given a “Wash Kit.” It is a cloth bag containing a toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste, a sleep mask, ear plugs, socks, lip balm, hand and body lotion and .2 ounces of “pro-collagen marine cream ultra rich” from Elemis. It is noted that upon arrival a Heathrow, we should report to the Elemis Travel Spa in the British Airways lounge for a “complimentary treatment.” On our flight alone, fourty-eight of the 250 passengers aboard got one of these; the spa must be overbooked. a93f6430-2e40-11ea-9f36-054733e4f723.jpga93726d0-2e40-11ea-9c72-fb0711072829.jpg

As transit passengers—people not staying in the country—we don’t have to deal with Heathrow customs or immigration but we do have to do security. B4 bluffs the liquids rule and is busted, losing a bit of this and that and five minutes of her life. There is a train and escalators and crowds and many languages. We find the BA lounge for a quick two-and-a-half hour layover until our flight onward to Milan, Italy, Linate Airport.

BA flight 576 from London Heathrow to Milan Linate airport leaves at 9:20am and arrives at 12:20pm. It’s an Airbus 319 and we have business class seats.

Posted by paulej4 07:55 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

4. The Vacation Begins

...with travel complete...

Milan, Lombardy, Italy
Sunday, April 9, 2017

We grab a newspaper as we board BA 576, an Airbus 319 from Heathrow to Milan Linate. a9da44a0-2e40-11ea-a3c7-a913fa34bebd.jpga9d33fc0-2e40-11ea-9cd3-858dd1cfac62.jpg

B4 has a fascination for British Royals and there is a big article about Prince Charles. As she sours it, I gaze at the terrain beneath us; first France, then Switzerland and finally Northern Italy.
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There are two airports that serve Milan, Italy. Linate, where we land and Malpensa, from which we will depart a week from now. Linate is tiny; like one in a medium to small town in America. The line for immigration is almost rural. The immigration officers are friendly. A child escapes her mother and runs through the immigration checkpoint and everyone laughs while the agent waves the distraught mom by so she can corral her wayward three-year-old.

We have only carry on bags. We stroll through customs where the uniformed guard cares not one bit.

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Our driver is Luca Benassi and he awaits us outside customs. His English is as polished as is our Italian but we understand each other well enough. Ushered to his brand new black Mercedes with its gigantic Tesla-like electronic dashboard and GPS map system, we leave for our just-over-an-hour drive to Parma on a road that would make US government infrastructure planners drool. The far left lane is reserved for those who want to drive very fast--a Panamera zooms by with its spoiler proudly engaged. We spend our time in the center lane while lorries and pensioners occupy the far right.
B4 is asleep before we have driven for five minutes; I follow her lead twenty minutes later.

The town of Parma is, as we drive in, unremarkable. So, too, is the Hotel De La Ville, its five-star placard notwithstanding. Check in is efficient, the bellman is at the ready and our room is small, spartan and clean. I can't figure out how to work the light at the front door but I will solve that problem later as B4 wants to nap and I want to jot these few words.

Posted by paulej4 08:06 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

5. Not Cheesy

All is arranged...

sunny 70 °F

Parma, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Sunday, April 9, 2017

6f203650-2e43-11ea-8553-0930382aa034.jpgAfter a nap, we are off to Osteria del Gallo D/Oro where reservations have been made for us in advance. The restaurant is a ten minute walk from the Hotel de la Ville. Along the way we see that Parma Ham is a favorite retail opportunity. There is lots of it for sale. First, though, some antipasto and a glass of wine at a sidewalk cafe and a walk around Center City. Parma is warm, friendly, bustling on this Sunday evening and, well, just right. 6fc92080-2e43-11ea-a19e-35068134e7c2.jpg6fc3f060-2e43-11ea-9715-29534401c373.jpg6f1512c0-2e43-11ea-a3c7-a913fa34bebd.jpg

Our reservations at Osteria del Gall D/Oro are at eight and we are expected. I inquire as to whether or not my Visa Card is accepted and the proprietor lets us know that our meal is compliments of Academia Barilla.

Our menu is pre-selected for us: We begin with a Parmagiana and pumpkin flan with sesame seeds. Then it is papardeli pasta with meat source and risotto with Parma Ham rosette. Next, bread and parmesan and egg stuffed veal with parmesan sauce and roasted potatoes. Last, dessert of a zabaione mousse and lemon sorbet. Oh, my. Sarah, our server, was the only one of the staff who spoke English. It was a delight.

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The restaurant opened at seven; guests were still arriving to sit down for dinner at ten. The place was, mostly, full on this Sunday evening. There is a bit of everyone here. French, Italian and English are being spoken. Young, older, interracial, gay, elegant, not so elegant; all hungry and happy to be here.

Parma, Italy; once sacked by Atilla the Hun, once gifted by Pope Paul III to his illegitimate son, once bombed by The Allies when occupied by Nazis, this week hosts B4 and yours truly.

Why? We are winners (read that as the couple willing to pay the most) of a Make-A-Wish charity auction prize generously donated by Maggiano's (a unit of Brinker International and one-time employer of my daughter Megan) and hosted by Academia Barilla, we have been amazed by the intricate planning and gracious attention paid to our upcoming week by our multiple hosts.

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Home to fewer than 200,000 residents, an outsized number of them pensioners such as myself, Parma has been discovered by foreigners who have begun to move here. Italians make up 85% of the population but Europeans from Moldova, Romania, Albania and Ukraine are moving in. The average high temperature is 63 degrees and we expect that during our April stay. Next month, it will be ten degrees warmer.

Most will likely know Parma from its gastronomical renown. Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (Parmesan in English) Prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham) and an abundance of tortelli d'erbetta and anolini in brodo. Barilla Corporation is a major citizen along with one other multinational, Parmalat.

Barilla "Perfect Pasta in 60 Seconds" was founded 140 years ago by Pietro Barilla and his brothers using local durum wheat to make pasta to feed Italians and, ultimately, the world. Along with pasta, family owned and operated Barilla produces sauces, bread, cookies and breadsticks. Today, Guido, Luca and Paulo Barilla run the company that boasts here the largest pasta factory in the world producing 1,000 tons of the stuff every day. There are 27 other plants around the world but none in the United States. Sales are over 3 billion dollars. Barilla brags about things I value: diversity, inclusion, sustainability, environmentalism and health using the slogan, “Good For You, Good For The Planet.”

But the Barilla road hasn’t always been a smooth one. In 2013, company president Guido Barilla said he favored “traditional” families and would not use same-sex couples in advertising. Boycotts ensued and Barilla backtracked. Now, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has awarded Barilla a top rating after it earned perfect scores in the eight categories HRC evaluates ranging from prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity to offering health coverage to same-sex partners and transgender employees. They get applause from me for admitting they were off base and doing something—a lot actually—about it. Times change even if pasta doesn’t.

We have a big day tomorrow. Stay tuned while we ham it up in Parma. (You must have seen that line coming...)

Posted by paulej4 08:17 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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