Subject: Trip to Italy (Long)
Hello everyone,

We recently returned from our eighth (I can't believe it either) trip to Italy. The our includes my older daughter, my wife, and me. This time, we spent four nights in Naples, eight in Florence, and four in Como. We tend to live a bit frugally in Dallas so we don't hold back very much on shopping in Europe, although we don't stay at expensive hotels or eat at higher priced restaurants-this is our big splurge for the year.

For those who are afraid to travel to Europe, this trip was especially wonderful since the dearth of American tourists made us especially welcome. Part of this welcome is due to the fact that many companies quite literally depend upon American tourists, as those coming from EEU countries typically are less inclined to buy things. However, whatever one thinks about Anti-American sentiments, Italians also almost universally have relatives in the US to an extent perhaps matched only by the Irish. Even those who strongly disagree with us politically clearly separate that from their reactions to us as individuals. Yes, there were a few Yankee go home signs, but that hardly spoke for the people we dealt with, whether in a commercial capacity or not.

We even got our luggage, both coming and going. Last year we scored a not-so-rare triple double when the luggage of all three of us was delayed in both directions. The only negatives were a less-than-friendly staff at the Hotel Cavour in Naples, which may be of interest to those who plan to stay in Naples, a 22 hour return caused by a missed connection, which was a matter of bad luck, sunburn on Lake Como, and an inept reservation service that handled our Como hotel (see below).

To begin, we decided to stay in Naples because we have missed Brandi's pizza, which we ate every night (we tend to eat at the same place in a city when we find a winner). I am also an avid digital photographer and wanted to get higher resolution pictures than the ones I got with my old camera three years ago. We chose the Cavour because it is located near the train station so we could get to Sorrento and Herculaneum as well as the hydrofoil departures at Molo Beverello. The hotel's location is a bit skuzzy, but we took cabs everywhere, save the train station, so it was not a problem.

While in Naples, the high points (besides Brandi's) were an excellent city tour (which we had not gotten around to taking in our previous trips) and a return trip to Capri. Having been to Pompeii three times before, we went to the ruins at Herculaneum. While it was not a disappointment, it was not nearly as moving an experience as Pompeii.

We then took the train to Florence. An important point for future train travelers to Italy is that the train system is going through a major change, perhaps due to the views of Prime Minister Berlusconi. The kilometric pass, which the three of us found to be an excellent option, is now gone. The Italian rail system (Ferrovia) is being broken into separate components. Italians we spoke to who use the system are uncertain about the implications of the breakup.

Florence was largely a return to the familiar and beloved (our Hotel Nizza, the Giglio Rosso Ristorante that we ate in every night, Vaggi jewelry, Piazelle Michelangelo, friends we have who own shops). Of course, it was the primary locus for our shopping, which even I enjoyed this time.

We went back to Lucca as one of several day trips. We had been disappointed in Lucca when we visited there on a Sunday a few years ago. This time, we were told that there was an antique fair on the particular Sunday we revisited. Not only was that fun, but right in the middle we began to hear the sound of medieval band flourishes. We stumbled into a flag-throwing contest among four groups trying to work up to a national competition. Fortunately, we have much of it on video which I am in the process of converting to DVD format.

We also visited Pisa. The tower is now open for people to climb. My daughter and I climbed to the top (not without a lot of huffing and puffing). Going down was at least as much an adventure since you are descending at an angle. We were so flushed with our success that we went to the top of Florence's Duomo the next day. It has more steps but is straight.

Along with Lucca, Arezzo was the big surprise of this part of the trip. We have run out of new cities in Tuscany that can be easily reached in a day trip by train or bus (we did not go back to Siena or San Gimignano but plan to do so next year). It is really an unsung delight. If you do go there, stop at the tourist office. They told us of a jewelry museum (Arezzo is famous for its tradition of jewelry), which has a fascinating and free tour. Unfortunately, the tour was basically in Italian, though it was comprehensible. There was also a jewelry showroom with sales available (naturally), at the end. The items were quite fairly priced. Among was a prototype of a sword they made for Saddam Hussein! The town itself is extremely pretty (Petrach's house was an interesting sight) and well worth a trip if you have the time.

Finally, we arrived in Como and got a beautiful room that faced the lake. The evening we arrived, we must have sat for two hours just looking at the lake from our balcony. The next day, we got day passes for the boat service on the Lake and took it up to Collico (the last stop) where we had lunch with two lovely Australian sisters. We then stopped in Bellagio. Unfortunately, though we knew better, we had not paid attention to the dictum that you can get sunburn even on a cloudy day. I am still peeling, and my daughter was so sunburned she could not even drink the wine with her dinner (not wishing to see an excellent house Barbera go to waste, I made the sacrifice). Dinner, BTW, was at a place we loved last year, Le Catene. It was superb this year as well.

One might think these experiences were difficult to top, but the next day we met with 'Ziners Marco de Angeli and Simone Reale, Marco's father and sister, Simone's new baby, two friends of Marco and Simone (Alessandra and Paolo) who had met with us in previous years, and two more friends of Marco's (both also named Marco-next year, we get what will be a fourth Marco in the group). We did pause at one point to note that we wished that 'Ziner Laurie Federgreen, who is responsible for all of us getting together, could also be with us. We met at an agriturismo and, had a feast of a lifetime.

We were led to believe the next day (Sunday) would not have much to offer. We simply walked around Como town for a while. Then, we walked over to Como's cable car (funiculare), which we had previously wanted to ride. We wound up having an excellent lunch at a trattoria in a small town overlooking Como. Later that afternoon, we found out that the Como tourist association had brought in various groups from Calabria (at the other end of Italy) which included tarantella dancers. The event was right in the square (piazza Cavour) that our hotel was located in.

All good things had to come to an end. Unfortunately, as we checked out, we discovered that the service we had made our reservations with had told us the cost would be 155 Euro but told the hotel it was 175 Euro. After an exchange of words and my showing the hotel the reservation that I had copied onto my PDA, they agreed on the lower rate. When I got back, I discovered that the hotel was not misleading me; they had been told a different rate. FYI, the company that did the booking was ABA Hotel Reservation LTD [reservations two people and not three, but what they sent me clearly said three people. I wrote the hotel and offered to pay the difference since they were not at fault. They were so surprised to hear my offer that they wrote me a lovely letter and declined to accept the difference.

Our return was nominally Milan Malpensa/Paris de Gaulle/Boston/Dallas. However, a departure delay in Paris due to a crew member who was called home for an emergency and the need to find a replacement caused us to miss our Boston connection. Incidentally, although the reasons are thoroughly understandable, getting through Boston security seems interminable. On a more positive note, US customs was a pleasure to deal with. This year, the exemption was doubled and tariffs were lowered. Still, we had to pay a nominal amount, but, since they also now take American Express, at least a part of what I had to pay will help finance next year. We were rerouted through Cincinnati and got home after 22 hours! Still, a small price to pay.

Speaking of next year, we probably will not spend all our time in Italy. We still want to spend a week in Florence and environs and to see Marco, Simone, et al, but we probably will spend a week in England, which my wife and I have not been to since 1980 and my daughter has not been to since she was 5. When time gets closer, I will be asking about experiences people have had taking cheap London/Italy flights, like with Ryan Air. Right now, my bliss from this year is still active save for the crash of reality (my American Express bill, to be supplemented by my wife's in a few weeks). Still. It was worth it.

Ira H. Bernstein Dallas, Texas