Subject: Recent trip to Italy (long)
My wife, older daughter, and I just returned from our seventh trip to Italy. Obviously, this made it primarily a homecoming with old friends, such as 'Ziner Marco De Angeli, and the hotels, shops, restaurants, and photo ops we love. Even so, we did get some superb new experiences. Basically, the trip consisted of three bases, Como, Padua, and Florence

We went over on Delta/Air France, Dallas/JFK/Paris DeGaulle/Malpensa going and Florence/Paris/JFK/Dallas on return. On the negative side, Delta's Dallas agent was so incompetent that it took 55 minutes to get through the initial check in and our luggage was delayed for a day and a half (both ways-the return delay can be attributed to a close connection, but the departure delay was ineptitude). On the positive side, Air France served the best meal I have ever had in the air even though we were in steerage (one story I heard that you might enjoy is that Air France, perhaps via Airbus, attendants are taught English in Ireland, which makes sense because all the flight personnel we heard, though apparently native French speakers, spoke English with a definite brogue!). Also, all the European personnel were thoroughly professional, and their English was better than some at JFK (my wife needs a wheel chair to make some airport connections because of bad knees and the person assigned to her on our return basically could not speak English nor get us to the correct departure gate). Actually, the most professional service on our return came from Customs. Moreover, the security checks were no worse than a year ago (for right or wrong). Unfortunately, one gaping home is that airlines can't tell you whether the bag that missed the connection actually made it onto a given subsequent flight.

As I wrote recently in response to Callie Black's question, we much prefer Como to Milan for Northern Italian arrivals or departures, and connections from Malpensa were extremely easy. The Best Western Continental hotel has a fine location. We had a very good and reasonably priced dinner there the first night, but the menu is a bit limited for multiple visits. A block way there is a good pizza restaurant, El Sombrero (sic), and a superb family trattoria, Le Catene. We got a day pass on the water taxi to have lunch in Belaggio (not a thing like the Las Vegas place of the same name). We had a GTG with Marco and friends at the Grotto del Lupo, and the GTG picture is posted at http://www.thetravelzine.com/zine3.htm (thanks go to Don, Linda, and Jude Ronayne for various postings, including six pictures of our trip).

As I also have previously noted, we actively prefer Padua to Venice as a base. Besides the fact that the Hotel Igea is quite inexpensive with ample room and enjoyable help, we love the Vecchia Padua restaurant and the great university. We also had a most enjoyable dinner at Bar Ariston near our hotel here people watching was the best on the trip. We all repeated an amazing tour of the university I had taken on our first trip. Among the sights are Galileo's lectern and a statue of Europe's first female laureate. I am currently teaching a course in the history of psychology, so the pictures I took are really useful. We took day tours to Venice, Verona, and Bassano Del Grappa with the latter being the consensus great surprise. I have actually developed a taste for Grappa from previous trips to the point of bringing back four different kinds and loved the trip to the Poli distillery. Bassano's Old Bridge (Ponte Vecchio, not to be confused with Florence's) was a beautiful sight, though bereft of jewelry stores.

Florence was a true homecoming. Our beloved Hotel Nizza put a sign on the door for our arrival saying Hotel Bernstein-Nizza, and we surprised them in turn with a needlepoint Benvenuto sampler that Cari had made for them. In the process of moving into our room, the owners, Piero and Roberto, even helped us consume the wonderful wine that Marco's father had made. All our dinners were at the Giglio Rosso Ristorante next to the hotel. Lin and Cari swooned as usual at the Maitre D', Angelo, whom they define as a sexy beast, but things equaled out with our attractive female server. We also got to see old friend Tony Baloney at Old Town Leather's new location near the Palazzo Vecchio, and Lin bought a beautiful red (_Ferarri_ Red!) coat. On the sightseeing/photography front, we made visits to Piazelle Michelangelo, Fiesole, and (for the first time) the inside of Santa Croce Church, where numerous major historical figures like Michelangelo and Galileo are buried.

I need to say something special about our jewelry store, Vaggi's, which is the first store on your right as you get on the Ponte Vecchio from the Duomo side. I think I wrote some time ago that in accord with a suggestion I (and perhaps others) made, they began to stock a large amount of Judaica. This year, they had a hubcap-sized menorah in the window (the family is not Jewish, BTW). Given the anxieties that many of us who are Jewish have about recent events in Europe (e.g., Le Pen and even Italy, whose record is otherwise one of the best in Europe but where there are attempts to rehabilitate the memory of Mussolini), it was an extremely welcome sight.

Next year--Southern Italy rather than the Veneto. Only 49 more weeks.

Ira H. Bernstein UT-Arlington