Portrait of an Unplanned Trip

Old May 8th, 2006, 12:43 PM
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Portrait of an Unplanned Trip

We didn't plan to take a trip in April. Really.

Maybe it was a combination of spring fever, the arrival of a SkyMiles statement, and the realization that our fall trip is a long time off.

It all started with my question: "What are we going to do with these zillion Sky Miles?"

And my husband John's answer was "Well, look for a trip for us."

That, now, was a challenge, since I knew that he meant traveling sometime between April 7 and mid June (summer is too hot and crowded, and a fall trip with a group of friends is in the works).

So I got busy.

Actually finding the seats on Delta (Sky Saver--didn't want to spend 200,000 miles to sit in economy) was an exercise in bullheaded determination. Type in dates, type in cities. No availability. Repeat. No. Repeat.

But eventually- lo and behold- there they were: two seats to Milan from Birmingham and back April 19-27. But this was on April 9--just 10 days away! Could we do this?

We really couldn't think of any reason why we couldn't or shouldn't. "If we get the tickets, we'll have to go," we told each other.

As soon as we "bought" the tickets, the next question arose. Where were we going? With little interest in spending time in Milan, we quickly decided on Bologna and Venice. Then we threw in Verona as the first night and the Milan airport area as the last.

Before anybody sniffs that that's entirely too much moving around for such a short trip, I say "baloney" (Bologna?)! All those places are pretty close together, and, besides, we like Italian trains.

After e-mails to every hotel whose name appeared anywhere, I finally came up with:

The Hotel Torcola in Verona, Hotel Internazionale in Bologna, Locanda Correr in Venice, and Hotel Cardano close to Malpensa.

Whew.

These reservations were completed on Wednesday, exactly one week before take-off.

Sunday night, we brought down the suitcases.

Not for me the luxury of asking "What should I wear?" and "How hot/cold will it be?" I just chose from everything I had that was black, could be worn with black, and was meant for any weather warmer than an Alberta Clipper or Blue Norther. And, of course, it had to fit in a 22-inch suitcase.

John, of course, quickly and efficiently packed his stuff.

Monday and Tuesday were spent doing all the things that have to be done before a trip, including breaking the news of our departure to startled family and friends .

We also called credit cards to advise of our trip and arranged for mail and newspapers to be held.

So 5 a.m. Wednesday morning found us checking in at the Delta counter.

I think I will touch only lightly on the next hours, which included a flight to LGA, shuttle to JFK($26 for two), flight from JFK to MXP (scheduled at 7:30 p.m.) which was finally in the air at midnight.

On to happier topics.

Our arrival at MXP followed several hours of sound sleep. Maybe some of the passengers got tired of waiting at JFK and went home, because the plane was not full, and most people seemed to have at least two seats in which to stretch out.

We took the shuttle (5 euro each) from the airport to Milano Centrale station, and bought tickets on the train to Verona (23 euro for 2) , which was to depart in approximately five minutes. With luggage wheels clicking behind us, we raced to the train, and made it with seconds to spare.


The Hotel Torcola in Verona is located just steps from Piazza Bra, which seems to be the center of activity. The hotel staff greeted us enthusiastically, having almost given up on our arrival, since it was by now late afternoon.

Our room (85 euro, breakfast 8 euro) was a nice corner room with a pretty wrought iron bed. The bathroom was sparkling clean. Interestingly enough, the large shower opened not into the bathroom, but directly into the room. Hmm.

Soon we were off to the Piazza and glasses of vino in the shadow of the Roman arena.

Dinner at the Ristorante Greppia was a short walk from the hotel along a marble-paved pedestrian street.

John had pasta and porcinis and osso bucco, and I had pasta with salmon and lamb chops. Cost for dinner with wine 66 euro.

We woke up to the wonderful weather that would follow us for the week: sunshine and temps in the mid-to high 70s.

We had the Torcola's breakfast, which included breads, cheeses, and eggs cooked to order. They told us that next week they will move the breakfast operation outside for the summer.

Since we had lost about half a day in Verona due to the plane's late departure, we really didn't have time to give the city its due.

We did spend the morning walking to the Piazza Delle Erbe and Piazza dei Signora, Chiesa di San Fermo, as well as Piazza Bra and the Roman Arena, which now serves as Verona's opera house.

We skipped Juliet's house and tomb.

We took the 11:37 train to Bologna (11.46 euro for 2)

The Internazionale Hotel (90 euro/night, breakfast included) is located in Via Del Indipendenza, and is an easy walk from Piazza Maggiore. We were very pleased with the hotel, which we booked on Orbitz after none of the Bologna hotels I e-mailed answered.

Our room was nicely decorated with a spiffy gleaming marble bathroom (shower opened into the bathroom this time). I think we probably got a good rate because we were there on the weekend.

Bologna has been on our list of to-dos in Italy for a while, so was an easy choice as a base for three days.

We spent out first afternoon there walking and looking. The arcades/porticos line both sides of almost all of the old city streets (guidebook says there are 40 km of them).

After walking for a while, we started looking for a place for lunch, but by that time the restaurants were closed until dinner, so we made do with gelato.

After a little rest in our room, we were up and out again, wandering up to see the twin leaning towers and Santo Stephano complex.

We stopped for wine in the warm sunshine, walked some more, looking into the old churches and buildings.

It had been a long day with only gelato for lunch, so we were ready for dinner early. We had a good dinner at Ristorante Cesarina very close to San Stefano.

We had antipasti (sorry, my memory fails me and John doesn't specify in his notes), green salad, grilled vegetables, and the "three pastas for two people."
(64 euro with wine).

Saturday morning we had a big breakfast at the hotel before following the guidebook to more areas of the old city.

We wandered through the university area, and the weekend flea market (nothing of interest there), then headed back to the hotel, before walking to the train station for a train to Modena (round trip tickets 10.20 euro for 2).

After a half-hour trip we were in Modena. We took a bus to Piazza Grande, no thanks to the Lonely Planet guidebook, which said we should take Bus 11, but which doesn't run on Saturdays.

We went to the Duomo, the Ghirlandina Tower (it also leans) and wandered the area of the Piazza Grande before settling in for a glass of wine and a plate of little sandwiches at a shady table across from the cathedral.

We had thought we might have dinner in Modena, but things seemed very quiet, so we decided to go back to Bologna.

This time we walked to the station (John says about .6 mile) and were glad we had time to cool down with cold beer in the station before train time.

We walked back to the hotel in Bologna, rested a bit. When we went out for dinner, it was cooler, and the streets were packed with people, mostly college-aged (remember, it's a university town). Saturday night is Saturday night all over the world, I guess.

We ate at Victoria restaurant, on Via Righi, a few blocks from the hotel. We split a big bowl of garlicky clams that were so good. I had pasta Bolognese and pork with porcini sauce. John had pasta with muchrooms and pork with potatoes (68 euro with wine).

Our last full day in Bologna, Sunday, was a little cooler but still sunny. We spent the day walking on the western side of Via Indipendendza.


In the aftternoon we rested a bit, then packed for the next day's trip to Venice. Dinner was at Da Nello (Montegrappa) , between our hotel and the Piazza Maggiori.

I had insalata caprese and pasta with smoked salmon. John had pasta with sausage and cream and risotto with prawns (65 euro with wine).

Monday morning we were up early, had breakfast, checked out, and took a taxi to the train station. We're off to Venice. (Train tickets 15.80 euro for 2).

The train was crowded and we were glad we arrived at the station early enough to get seats together.

How wonderful to be back in Venice! While I stayed with our bags, John bought 72-hour vaporetto passes (50 euro for 2).

We took Number 1, and off we went on what is surely the most beautiful public transportation route in the world.

As directed by Roberto at Locanda Correr, we got off at the San Zaccaria vaporetta stop (the stop next after San Marco), and started following the little map to the hotel. Anyone who has been to Venice knows that maps mean nothing there.

We have been to Venice several times, staying in a different hotel each time, and we've been lost trying to find each one (and the first one was the Bellini, right next door to the train station.).

However, thanks to some hints in reviews of the Locanda Correr on Trip Advisor, we eventually found the right little ruga? rughetta? ramo?--it seems a shame to call anything in Venice an alleyway, but that's what it looked like.

The Locanda (155 euro/night, breakfast included), with only five rooms, is located up a steep flight of stairs (no elevator), but the lobby and our room appear newly decorated and furnished. The bathroom was nice, the shower roomy, and everything was spotless.

The breakfast was basic but tasty, with breads, cereal, juice, and coffee.

The weather was still sunny and increasingly warm, and the air conditioning was not yet working. Roberto explained that last week it had been cold and rainy. (?)

Of all the hotels in Venice that maintain that they are located "10 minutes from San Marco," this is the only one we've stayed in that actually is.

And between the hotel and San Marco are many, many shops of every kind. This is prime souvenir-shopping people-watching territory.

We walked to San Marco just to look at that remarkable area, and took the vaporetta across to the Salute landing After having a pizza at one of the restaurants along the Giudecca, we went to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and explored Dorsoduro.

Roberto recommended an osteria called Da Dino for dinner, but we never could find it, so we picked Ristorante Carlotta.

John had gnocchi with four cheeses and calf's liver with onions and polenta. I had spaghetti with clams and veal marsala. (83 euro with wine).

The next day, we took the vaporetta to the Rialto, and spent the day wandering in that area.

We sat outside for lunch of pizzas and beer and loved watching the children playing, especially one little boy racing around on his pedal car.

After we returned to the hotel and I went out for a little more shopping, we headed out to dinner armed once again with directions to a restaurant.

We really didn't look too hard, though, because we stopped for wine outside next to Santa Maria Formosa.

The sun was setting, and that magnificent light turned the buildings and stones to the most remarkable glow.

We didn't want to leave, so we just ordered panini (I've forgotten what they were called, but they were basically toasted ham and cheese with tomatoes, etc.).

The next morning we took the vaporetta to the train station, and train to Milan (38.32 euro for 2 tickets). We took the shuttle to Malpensa airport, where we called the Hotel Cardano as instructed. The Cardano sent its shuttle for us, and delivered us to the hotel 10-15 minutes away.

The Cardano apparently has just been remodeled, because everything looked brand new (even though they told us it had been there since 1980.)

Our room (119 euro, breakfast included.) was very modern, quiet, and cool.

We had dinner at Ristorante il Ghiottone, which sent a car for us.

We each had antipasto of asparagus wrapped in speck, pasta with sausage and cream, grilled steak, green salad, and ice cream cake (74 euro with wine).

After a good breakfast, the shuttle took us to Malpensa, and we were headed home.

Byrd














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Old May 8th, 2006, 01:13 PM
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Wow. I'm proud of you for being so spontaneous!
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Old May 8th, 2006, 01:16 PM
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Byrd,

Great report! I love spontaneous trips - sometimes they end up being the best because you don't have as much time to "overplan" and you just formulate a quick plan and stick with it.

Sally
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Old May 8th, 2006, 01:19 PM
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Thank you, missypie and Sally. We really did have a wonderful time as we "planned" as we went.

Byrd
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Old May 8th, 2006, 01:21 PM
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what a nice report!
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Old May 8th, 2006, 01:34 PM
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Brava!
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Old May 8th, 2006, 02:18 PM
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Byrd, this sounds like a wonderful trip. Good for you and last minute travel!
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Old May 8th, 2006, 02:33 PM
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Byrd, This was great! Isn't it fun to just decide to do it and go? I was able to go to Rome at the end of March on the spur of the moment, booked both flight and apartment less than a week before leaving. I'd go again tomorrow if I could!
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Old May 8th, 2006, 03:40 PM
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Thank you, everybody! We're still laughing about some of the funny things that happened.

As much as I love to plan a trip, sometimes it's just as much fun to let the trip plan itself.

Byrd
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Old May 8th, 2006, 06:36 PM
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Bravo Byrd! I was hoping for an affordable last minute airfare to anywhere in Europe where I could spend at least 5 days. I'm keeping hope alive still!

Last minute trips are the best, aren't they? Can't over-excessively plan. It's the best!
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Old May 8th, 2006, 06:51 PM
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Wonderful!! You are my hero, to plan all that in such a short time. and it all sounds lovely
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Old May 9th, 2006, 03:08 AM
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Byrd, I really admire your spontaneity! Thanks for sharing with us and for showing that unplanned trips can be so enjoyable.
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Old May 9th, 2006, 04:13 AM
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Byrd...Love the report. One question, can I have your husband? Just for a little while? Mine will never do spur of the moment. He travels but it always has to be planned like a year in advance and he never does any of the planning! There's something wrong with that! (laughing)
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Old May 9th, 2006, 04:29 AM
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Great report and it again proves that everyone travels differently and you can easily have a very satisfying trip and still go to "lots" of places.

I wish I actually thought that Juliette had ever even seen Verona so missing that part was IMO a good decision.
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Old May 9th, 2006, 05:29 AM
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Grazie, everbody.

Intrepid1, you're right. There are many ways to travel and this last-minute trip was certainly an adventure.

Dejais, I think I'd better keep John. He actually does more of the planning than he would have anybody believe. He's the one who talked to Delta on the phone to work out a decent schedule.

By the way, I meant to mention in the report for the benefit of those who worry about their "aged" parents traveling, that we are 71 and 68 years old and manage pretty well.

Byrd

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Old May 9th, 2006, 05:56 AM
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Wow...I'm even more impressed. You guys rock!
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Old May 9th, 2006, 06:15 AM
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Lovely report with tempting details!
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Old May 9th, 2006, 06:17 AM
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Good for you, Byrd.

Thanks for sharing.

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Old May 9th, 2006, 07:09 AM
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Byrd, I'm glad that you and your husband had such a fun, impromptu trip. Where are you and "the gang" going in the Fall? I enjoy reading about your group trips, you can tell how well you all get along unlike the horror stories of group travel often relayed here.
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Old May 9th, 2006, 07:32 AM
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Wow - super trip.
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