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Delta to Pisa and the "Teatro del Silenzio"

Delta to Pisa and the "Teatro del Silenzio"

Old Jul 25, 09, 5:17 pm
  #1  
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Delta to Pisa and the "Teatro del Silenzio"

Part One--The Eastbound Trip Over the Pond

15 July 2009

DL 6676—Comair CRJ-900 N697CA (scheduled 1450-1613 EDT)

Board 1440

Door Close 1506, 8 in F, including 3 NRSAs; roughly 60 pax in Y

Push Back 1510, Wheels Up 1542, Runway 19—Clear to Partly Cloudy Entire Route

Rosecroft, Annapolis, Dover, Manahawkin, Toms River, Point Lookout LI, followed Wantagh State Parkway until past the LIE, then turn left, then land on RWY 22L

Touchdown 1635

Gate 18 1648

We reached the economy parking lot at DCA south of the terminal complex around 1245. A shuttle bus came along within a couple of minutes, and we got on, but after the bus had made two stops, I realized that I had left my blackberry in the car, and I hopped off the bus. My wife continued on, which turned out to be a good move, as there were fairly long, slow lines at DL check-in, both F/Medallion and Y lines. As there were no buses in the lot when I got back to my car, I decided to walk, and I surprised myself by reaching the bus stop in front of the Northwest concourse (DL and NW are still separated at DCA) in less than 10 minutes, where I caught a bus to go the rest of the way to the “new” North Terminal. As I walked up to the Delta check-in lines my wife was being summoned to the counter. Check-in was efficient and friendly.

Unhappily, I didn’t take all of my electronics out of my backpack, such as my portable hard drive and my keyboard for my Dell mini computer (I found I couldn’t work the keys on the computer very well), and two female TSA employees got into a snit, and insisted in hand searching my carry-on, and then running everything back through the machine. I made the point that the TSA employee ought to be working at the Maryland maximum security state prison in Baltimore, where the incompetent guards are unable to prevent cell phones to be smuggled into the inmates. She took offense at that. Finally, TSA let us go, and we took refuge in the Sky Club accessed by an elevator just past security.

We were subject to air traffic control restrictions on the Washington-New York run, meaning that although we were scheduled to leave at 1455, ATC decided that our departure would be whenever they could fit us in, which turned out to be at 1542. The two female FAs who staffed the flight were professional and nice. Always impressed with the comfortable F seats on the CRJ-900. The weather was clear, and the flight out over Chesapeake and Delaware Bays and up the Jersey Shore was very scenic on this run. We had to circle over Manahawkin and Long Beach Island for a couple of minutes before being allowed to proceed on to JFK. We flew over an obelisk-type monument within a traffic circle upon reaching the south shore of Long Island (would like to know what that is). I consulted my DeLorme Street Atlas computer program and found that we flew along side the Wantagh State Parkway until past the LIE before turning west and finally southwest to land at JFK.

Very nice layover in the former BE lounge near Gate 10; we sat near the window in the room to the right of the concierge desk, and power plugs are located on the underside of the radiator that runs across the window in the room to the right of the concierge desk. T-mobile wireless internet connection worked much better than my AT&T wireless card.

DL 136—Delta Boeing 767-300ER ETOPS, N1605 (scheduled 2045 EDT to 1140 CET)

Weather—clear on both sides of the Atlantic, beautifully sunny and warm in Tuscany

Board 2001, Door Closed 2041, Push Back 2055

Wheels up 2123 on runway 13R. 25 pax in BE, probably 150 in Y.

It was not a long walk from the lounge to Gate 9. We had an odd moment. I stopped to take a picture of the sign behind the podium, reading flight 136 to Pisa, when the GA gave me the iciest of stares and said in an equally icy voice, “No Photographs”. I was unaware that either Delta or any airport authority had a rule against taking photographs, particularly when I was not taking photos of strangers (this is my 28th year of flying the Big D).

After a quick bear to the left, our route took us south of Long Island past Montauk Point, just north of Nantucket (could see its lights out the right side of the plane), then after 60 minutes we reached a point due east of Shelburne, Nova Scotia (533 miles covered); after 127 minutes, due south of St. John’s Newfoundland (1,146 miles covered) and out over the open ocean; got overhead Europe at Brest, France, then south of Nantes and Lyon, just north of Grenoble, crossed into Italy near Oulx (where the alpine events of the 2006 Winter Olympics were contested), got to a point near Turin and turned south, crossing the Italian Riviera west of Genova, then south over the Tyrrhenian Sea to a point where the Island of Elba came into distant view, then turned northeast, overflew Livorno and landed at PSA at 1046 CET on runway 4R, 7 hours 23 minutes total for the approximate 4,162 mile journey. On the ground, a “follow me” escort car met us, and led the plane to the single jetway at the airport. The door opened at 1100, we were among the first to reach immigration where our passports were checked and stamped within 30 seconds, our bags were some of the first off the plane, as priority tagging really worked on this run (no non-priority bags preceded ours onto the belt). Customs agents watched us but made no attempt to stop us. We emerged into the lobby at 1110 CET.

Couple of tips about PSA airport—small (not dissimilar to South Bend, Indiana’s airport in terms of size) but containing quite a few travelers’ services. Cash machine (Bancomat) and tourist information are to the right of the exit from customs. The train platform for central Pisa and Firenze SMN were located at the opposite end of the terminal, just outside the door, not unlike the set up at SBN for the South Shore Railroad. The airport was absolutely packed with vacationers trying to get on four low cost flights, two on Ryanair, one on Easyjet and one on Transavia, which could have a real impact on late arrivals for Delta’s departure at 1325. There were probably 500-600 people in line to pass through a maximum of 5 magnetometer lanes. Also, PSA has a car rental center which is separate from the terminal; there is exactly one shuttle bus, and it comes every 15 minutes. We had to wait 30 minutes in line to get on a bus. As it turned out, the car rental center was walkable from the terminal building (around the corner from a building marked “Aerostazione Merci”, which I think can be translated to “Air Freight”). Hertz #1 Club Gold Service allowed us to avoid a line of at least 15 people being dealt with by three agents.

CONTENTS OF AMENITY KIT:

We received a blue pouch, zippered at the top, with a flap that snapped into place. The pouch contained: (1) eyeshades and socks in a paper band; (2) pack of tissues; (3) two small earplugs; (4) Delta inkpen; and (5) a mesh zippered pouch containing a plastic pack holding tubes of lip balm and moisturizing face cream, a foil pack of “Hint Mint” peppermints, and a toothbrush and tiny tube of toothpaste.

MY SEAT:

Typical business elite seat, 18.5” wide, 60” pitch, 160°, adjustable head rest, all mechanical features seemed to work. The tray table doesn’t have the range of forward and backward movement as on AF, but rather pivots on an arc. The foot support panel that manually folds out from the bottom of the leg rest makes this seat work for sleeping. The seat cushion was acceptably comfortable. I sleep on my side, and when I turned toward the window, I got comfortable. I slept from shortly after passing Newfoundland until we were overhead Grenoble, 4 hours 40 minutes and 2800 miles later. I felt refreshed, probably more so than on other flights I’ve been on in the past.

SERVICE:

Champagne and orange juice were brought around in glassware (not plastic) prior to leaving JFK. AVOD system worked well. On board service commenced 12 minutes after wheels up, with a hot towel service where the towels were correctly prepared, and were hot, damp and refreshing. Mixed nuts were served in a small ceramic dish (on Air France, cashews in a foil pack within a cardboard box were passed out). Drink service was in glassware, with flutes used for champagne. New plates were used for the food service, with the trendy rectangular and square plates used (as opposed to old fashioned round plates). Service was individual in nature (no carts wheeled up and down the aisle). The first course involved two plates and a bowl: hummus with caramelized onions and pine nuts; spinach salad with cipollini onion, goat cheese and cherry tomatoes (with a container of oil and vinegar dressing on the side); and a square bowl of Thai chicken and coconut soup, which was flavored with ginger and was really good.

My wife and I both ordered the Grilled Beef Tenderloin and Shrimp Scampi entrée, which was served with “sugar snap peas” (which were in fact very delicious and the tastiest item on the plate) and lemon risotto (which was OK but was sticky and syrupy, not quite like the lemon risotto I ate in a restaurant in Sorrento a few years ago). The steak was OK, but in a sort of “steak night at South Dining Hall” kind of way recalling my Notre Dame years. The shrimp had a nice flavor, but were dried out.

The other entrée choices on the menu were: (1) the Michelle Bernstein selection of the month, Cheese Ravioli tossed with eggplant and artichoke caponata; (2) crab cakes and lemon aioli, accompanied by baked spaghetti squash and leeks with red pepper; and (3) a cold plate consisting of Roast Beef and Herbed Chicken Breast with a deviled egg, grilled peppers, asparagus and tomato.

The dessert course that was a cheese and fruit plate, or the traditional “all natural vanilla ice cream sundae”, which was enhanced by a raspberry sauce, chocolate fudge and chopped nuts, and garnished with a pirouline cookie. It was delectable, as always.

With respect to the wines and spirits on board, the good news is that Delta had a wide choice, and with four flight attendants constantly in the aisles, they were free flowing. The bad news is that a doctor put me on medication that ruled out alcoholic beverages.

Anyhow, the white wines were the “Pacific Rim Dry Riesling, California, 2007” and the “Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino, California, 2008”. The red wines were the “Wakefield Promised Land Shiraz Cabernet, Australia, 2005” and the “Chateau Greysac Medoc Cru Bourgeois, France, 2002”. The champagne was the “Scharffenberger Brut Sparkling Wine, California, NV”. The dessert vinos were the “Plunkett’s Blackwood Ridge Botrytis Semillion, Australia, NV” and the “Ferreira Dona Antonia Reserve Port, Portugal, NV”.

It is always interesting to receive canned beverages on international flights. My can of Coke Zero was produced in Egypt; and my portion of Schweppes Soda Water was canned in the Netherlands.

Breakfast consisted of a fruit plate consisting of citrus and melon. I went with the oats and honey granola cereal which was garnished with two strawberries, and came with skim milk and strawberry yogurt. The cereal was very good. This got me ready to go for a full day of touring. My wife chose the “Breakfast English Muffin” option to go with the fruit plate. She reported that it was inedible (the muffin was topped with scrambled eggs, spinach, cheddar cheese and turkey Canadian bacon).


We came in contact with five of the eight flight attendants on board. While all of them were very professional and did a great job, our favorite was Earl. Beside being a top Delta professional, we was extremely personable, and we liked him very much. Hope to see him soon on a future Delta flight.

VERDICT: What you would expect from Delta on a good weather day. Comfortable lounges with good refreshments, clean aircraft, professional crews, on-time performance, good on board amenities (other than the breakfast English muffin), and we were landside 30 minutes before the scheduled arrival time).
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Old Jul 25, 09, 5:19 pm
  #2  
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Part Two--ITALIA—Giorno Uno (Giovedi, 16 Luglio 2009)

Wheeling our five speed, four door Ford Focus out of the Hertz lot, we found that we had to turn east in order to go west—we got on the Strada Grande Communicazione (SGC) “Fi-Pi-Li” freeway in the direction of Firenze, went to the next exit, and worked our way around to get on the westbound lanes of that highway, and then found the entrance to the north-south A12 Livorno-Genova autostrada, which is set up similar to ticket system toll roads like the Indiana Toll Road, in that one gets a ticket at the entrance, and then pays the entire toll at the destination exit. At each interchange, all ramps funnel into one toll barrier. The Pisa Centro interchange is at km marker 161.5 (numbering starts at the north end). About 75 minutes later we exited at Rapallo, km marker 29, roughly 82.3 miles north. Our toll was €11.90 ($16.78 at an exchange rate of $1.41 = €1.00); an astonishing $0.2038 per mile (the toll turnpikes between DC and South Bend charge something like $0.06 per mile). This was a remarkable highway, the high toll aside. The first half of the trip, to La Spezia, just north of the Toscana-Ligure border which we crossed just past the Carrara interchange, was through relatively flat and very pretty farm land rich with corn and sunflowers, flanked to the west by seaside towns and to the east by decent sized hills which showed plenty of evidence of mining and quarrying, for marble, among other minerals. The highway beyond La Spezia is a masterpiece of the highway builder’s craft. There were some 35 road tunnels, some more than one mile in length, between La Spezia and Rapallo, and several decent sized viaducts bridging various streams and small canyons. That there is danger in driving high speed roads in Italy was made apparent to us as when we approached the Rapallo exit, we exited a tunnel and saw a medevac helicopter landing on the opposite lanes of the highway, as there was a serious accident inside the tunnel in the southbound lanes.

Rapallo, famous for two post-World War I treaties which were signed there, is the gateway to Portofino. Portofino is the inspiration for many Italian restaurants in the USA, but we’d never been to Portofino, nor had we known anyone who had. So, since we were using Pisa as opposed to Rome or Milan as our gateway, we thought we’d check it out. It is a place definitely worth going. However, don’t make the mistake we did by driving into Portofino. The road between Santa Margherita Ligure, the neighbor of Rapallo on the sea coast, and Portofino is maybe 5 km of a one lane road with two lane traffic, which has regular transit bus service as well as various trucks running on it. Further, there was no discernible public parking in Portofino. Finally, we went on an uphill street that appeared to be a through road—it wasn’t, and we almost got stuck at the top of the hill, as it was almost impossible to turn around at the top. Somehow, we got turned around, and drove back to Santa Margherita, a lovely place in its own right, and found on street legal parking (€1 bought 24 minutes), and caught the #82 bus for Portofino (€1.50 per 90 minute validity ticket). Portofino is a tiny place, but its setting and harbor are unforgettable. Going back to Santa Margherita, we took the hourly passenger ferry (€5.50 per one way ride). By this time, it was after 5 p.m., and we headed to our hotel in San Gimignano, about 125 miles to the southeast. We were able to follow high speed highways (110 kmph on the A12, 90 kmph on the Fi-Pi-Li) as far as San Miniato, making it to that town in less than 2 hours including a snack break at one of the ubiquitous Autogrill restaurant/convenience store setups in the service plazas that occur along Italian superhighways every 20 miles or less. It is hard to speed for long stretches, since there are “Autovelox” speed detection boxes off to the right of the road every few miles (their presence is indicated by conspicuous signage). However, the jaunt down highway 429 through Castelfiorentina and Certaldo seemed endless, with the highway having speeds of 30 kmph, 50 kmph and 70 kmph at various places, and speed cameras at strategic locations. In one place (I think Sant’Andrea), the highway becomes one lane as it passes through a village which is roughly a mile long, and there are traffic lights at either end of town, regulating alternate traffic. We knew of a very nice market in Certaldo, part of the Co-op chain, and were not disappointed with the incredible ham, salami, cheese, olives and bread we bought there for dinner. The house brand “Pompelmo senza zucchero” (diet grapefruit) soda in the 1.5 liter size is a bargain, and is probably the tastiest diet soda I’ve ever drank. We reached our lodging outside the walls of San Gimignano, a beautiful small hotel called the Relais Santa Chiara, at dusk. Thus ended day one in Italy.
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Old Jul 25, 09, 5:21 pm
  #3  
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Part 3--GIORNO DUE Venerdi 17 Luglio 2009

This was the day of the rehearsal (prova generale) for the big Andrea Bocelli concert to take place next to his hometown of Lajatico, off the road between Pontadera and Volterra, at the “Teatro del Silenzio”, which has exactly one performace per year. As this year’s performance happened to coincide with my wife’s birthday, and my wife is one of Bocelli’s biggest fans anywhere, we had to be there. So we were.

After almost 36 hours of traveling and touring, and sleeping on a very firm and comfortable bed at the Santa Chiara, we woke up about 1100 CET. By the time we got going, it was about 1230. We got in the car, saw the sign “Volterra 28”, and in 30 minutes or so we were in this very quintessential Tuscan hill town, population 11,309. We had forgotten that Volterra has received international fame recently, not for its archeological treasures relating to the Etruscan period, its claim to be the “Alabaster City”, or for its Roman amphitheatre, but for its hilltop maximum security prison, an ancient castle called the Fortezza Medicea, where several times per year its inmates prepare and serve gourmet meals with wine to visitors as a rehabilitation program. There is an underground parking garage at the top of the hill, almost below the prison, where we were able to stash our rental car at the rate of €1.50 per hour. We spent most of the afternoon exploring Volterra; sadly the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta was closed (Volterra is a diocese and has its own bishop), but its associated Baptistery was open. Interestingly, the “duomo” did not have a dome, but the baptistery did. We were treated to a musical performance, as a female soloist sang a hymn exquisitely, and the acoustics inside the octagonal baptistery were incredible. Also notable from a religious and charitable standpoint is that Volterra’s first aid and rescue organization, “Misericordia di Volterra”, dates back to 1291, and its chapel, adjacent to the duomo, doubles as a Mass site and a museum.

We drove to Lajatico via the village of Saline di Volterra, where we found a small bottega to buy a snack. I got a kick out of the main attraction of the little store, “vino sfuzo”, self-service wine, where the customer brings his own bottle (or you can buy an empty bottle there), and fills it up by a hose attached to a stainless steel vat, at the value price of €1.80 per liter. Let me tell you I was sorely tempted. Leaving the store, we headed up route 439 for Bocelli’s hometown. First, we got to the parking lot of “da Pasquino” bar/ristorante/albergo, just across the bridge over the river Era at the hamlet of La Sterza, which is where the box office for the Teatro del Silenzio was located. We picked up our tickets for the rehearsal (all seats were €40). As we were about out of gas, we frequented the only service station in La Sterza, an API. Our Ford Focus required “senza Pb 95”, which was priced at €1.254 per liter. A somewhat crisp €50 note bought 39.88 liters of fuel, meaning that we bought 10.53 US gallons at $6.692 per gallon (I bought regular unleaded at an XTRA Fuels station on Kent Island, Maryland on 7/22/09 for $2.299 per gallon).

We then drove along provincial road 45 to and through Lajatico, a hill town of 1,353 souls, containing a bank, a Coop supermarket, a few other stores, a church and lots of charm. We found the Teatro del Silenzio, which is on a hillside almost a mile outside Lajatico, with the audience facing a point just west of Volterra. We figured out where the parking was for the rehearsal, which was in a farm field about 300 feet vertically below the entrance to the venue which was to the rear of the stage. We then continued on to the end of route 45, the tiny hill town of Orciatico, where I proceeded to do what I did in Portofino, drive up a road which proved to have no outlet. Fortunately, I was able to turn around and avoid a head-on collision with an oncoming car on the one lane road.

Now, it was 1830, and with the rehearsal not starting until 2100 we needed to find a place to dine, and we found a beautiful ristorante called La Vallata, on route 45 between Lajatico and La Sterza. As we walked through the door, the chauffeur of a large black Mercedes sedan slipped in front of us, and announced to the hostess that he had the Katherine Jenkins party with him. We were a bit stunned as the Welsh mezzo-soprano, one of Bocelli’s co-stars, and her small entourage went by. We highly recommend La Vallata as a place to dine; it features hearty local Tuscan fare and incredible pizza with impossibly good crust, and very pretty dining areas, both inside and outside.

From La Vallata, we drove to the parking “lot”, and really got some walking exercise as we trooped up the hill and into the venue. Placido Domingo was not at the rehearsal, but Bocelli was, along with the aforementioned Ms. Jenkins and Slovenian soprano Sabina Cvilak, who is really something very special. Eugene Kohn conducted the Istitutione Sinfonica Abruzzese, based in L’Aquila. The orchestra was “backed up” by Il Nuovo Coro Lirico Sinfonico Romano. Other stars appearing were the Brazilian guitarist/vocalist Toquinho and the flutist Andrea Griminelli, as well as ballerinas Francesca Malacarne and Dalila Frassanito. There were also acrobats that were dangling from the light/sound towers around the venue. The rehearsal was basically flawless, until the final number, when a few raindrops fell from the sky (storm clouds had drifted in to the Lajatico area after dusk, making the temperature drop from the high 80s to almost 60° by 2300), and, according to maestro Kohn, the cellists were about to revolt if the rehearsal continued. However, the raindrops ended after about half the crowd of 4,000 or so had left, and the rehearsal concluded as planned. We got out of the parking lot surprisingly quickly, and almost as quickly found the direct road back to San Gimignano, and we reached the hotel around 0030 Saturday morning
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Old Jul 25, 09, 5:23 pm
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Part 4--GIORNO TRE 18 Luglio 2009

We were up early to celebrate my wife’s birthday. After a typical Italian breakfast in the hotel’s dining room, we were on the road. A day of shopping in Firenze for my wife, followed by an outing with Andrea Bocelli and friends under the Tuscan stars, was her present. We decided to park our car outside the city and take the train to Santa Maria Novella station, so we found a parking space a few yards away from the train station in Empoli (€0.50 per hour), and caught a regular train on the Pisa-Firenze line into town (€3.00 per one-way ticket, bought out of a coins-only machine). It took about 30 minutes to get to SMN; the train was packed and we had to stand. However, the discomfort was quickly forgotten as we quickly walked over to the piazza in front of the Duomo, and then found the department store La Rinascente a block or so later. As I didn’t want to crimp my wife’s shopping style, we picked a time to meet in late afternoon, and I took off for touring the city on foot, and she took off for the central market. Florence was an absolute mob scene, and it was hard to walk on the street running along the north bank of the Arno. After about an hour of bumping and jostling, I decided I’d rather go back to Empoli, get the car and do a little bit of car touring before meeting my wife at our designated place. As there are trains every 20 minutes or less running on that particular line, I easily and quickly got back to Empoli, got the car, and worked my way back to Florence. I got the idea of setting up a tailgate supper before the concert, so I got off the road, went into an “Ipercoop” (like a Walmart or Carrefour) in the suburb of Lastra a Signa, and put together a beautiful picnic of prosciutto, porchetta, salume, formaggi, olivi, pane, soft drinks and little mocha and chocolate crème filled pastries. Food shopping is a real delightful adventure in Italy, as the choice and quality of fresh ready to eat food is simply amazing, and at times, overwhelming. I used a self-service check out lane that gave out instructions in a disembodied English female voice, and got very friendly assistance from a female employee when the system balked.

I parked at the parcheggio (underground garage) beneath SMN, found my wife, got back to the car and set out for Bocelli country. We got to the parking lot at da Pasquino in La Sterza, where shuttle buses ran up to the entrance to the walkway to the venue at the south end of Lajatico. We tailgated for a time with a group of Bocelli fans from County Wicklow, Ireland who were traveling in a small RV, ate our supper, and walked over to a shuttle bus, got on, and 10 minutes later were dropped off at the road leading to the Teatro. I’m guessing we covered close to one mile, mostly downhill, before we reached the gate, meaning that we would have a dreaded uphill walk back to the bus at the end of the show. We had bought our tickets for the concert just after Christmas, when my wife learned about the concert and intimated that this is what she wanted for her birthday. €207 per person bought us seats in Fila R of the “poltronissima”, which turned out to be 23 rows from and just left of center stage. Although the concert was a sell-out, there were some empty seats near us (clearly due to the usual greed of the scalpers, er, ticket brokers).

Although show time was given as 2015, it was past 2030 when the opening act, the Lama Tzong Khapa Group, appeared on stage. I counted 17 performers. They performed for about 15 minutes Tibetan Buddhist liturgy and chants. According to the program, these men lived at a monastery a few kilometers from Lajatico, which was claimed to be the most important center of Buddhist philosophy in Europe. Their temple had been destroyed by a fire on 26 December 2008, but the community got together to help them rebuild. I sensed that a portion of the concert proceeds were going to be funneled their way. The leader of their group, who was seated in a place of honor on the stage throughout the concert, looked genuinely thrilled to be there (there was a “Free Tibet” table at the back of the venue). There was an ecumenical aspect to the proceedings, as a Franciscan friar from Assisi who is a friend of Bocelli was sitting near the Buddhist monk and some ladies from Japan in full kimonos, and the local archbishop was seated on the other side of the stage. Another honoree was the wife of former New York governor Mario Cuomo.

The theme of the concert was “I Colori dell’ Anima” (the colors of the soul). After the monks had concluded their performance. Andrea appeared on horseback, without an escort (he is blind). He rode about a circuit and a half on a track around a little pond with a metal sculpture in the middle behind the stage, resplendent in a handsome white suit and untied bow tie. He dismounted by himself, emphatically, in a way that would make Italy’s champion jockey Frankie Dettori proud. He proceeded to give a command performance. He struck me as an amazing guy, a world famous singer with tens of millions of fans and lots of money, everybody wants him to appear at their events (for example, he sung incredibly at the Champions League soccer final at the Olympic Stadium in Rome a few weeks before) and yet he has a genuine humility and graciousness about him. The first half of the performance was mostly about familiar operatic numbers from “Carmen” and “La Boheme”, with Placido Domingo dramatically appearing on stage for the final number before the intermezzo (Bocelli explained that he had just come in from Washington, of all places, to appear at this show).

The second half of the show was a mixture of the classics (such as the triumphal march from Aida), duets of Bocelli and Toquinho (who has a really enjoyable smooth Brazilian sound, by the way), Bocelli and Sabina Cvilak, a virtuouo performance from the flutist Griminelli (his performance of the piece known to me as the “Flight of the Bumblebee” accompanied by the orchestra was breathtaking), and then, a final familiar number from”The Merry Widow (La vedova allegro)” involving Bocelli, Domingo, Jenkins and Cvilak, which excited the entire audience, where Domingo tapped Kohn on the shoulder and took over the baton, and Kohn, the concert pianist and one time accompanist to Maria Callas, took over Domingo’s position on stage and started singing along with the other three. A really cool, memorable moment. There was a touching moment early in the second half of the show when Bocelli sat down at a grand piano wheeled up to the left side of the stage, joined by his niece Maddalena, and Bocelli played the piano and recited a poem dedicated to his recently deceased father. Color matrix screens attached to the light towers provided an English translation. There were three encore numbers, one of which, of course, was Bocelli’s signature number, Con Te Partiro (Time to Say Goodbye), which he performed with Jenkins to a standing ovation. The show came to a stunning conclusion when Domingo and Bocelli collaborated on the final encore in a virtuoso performance of the famous Puccini aria “Nessun Dorma”.

I wanted to give a shout out to the conductor, Eugene Kohn. He was really cool to watch in action. His facial expressions showed both a serious, professional side, and yet how much fun he was having as the evening got better, and better, and better. The orchestra and chorale could not have performed better.

On a monument on the venue grounds, a plaque explains that Bocelli came up with the name Teatro del Silenzio because, when he breaks the silence to sing, he honors the land. He truly honored Lajatico and Tuscany with this concert, probably the most remarkable I’ve ever attented, considering the venue and the cast he assembled. Sitting in our seats, looking out to the lights of the beautiful hill town of Volterra in the distance, being with my wonderful wife of almost 30 years and watching the looks of sheer ecstasy on her face, being in a country I’ve really grown to like over the years, this was one of the best times of my life.

Although it was a long, slow walk back to the bus stop, the route through olive trees and under a starry sky was amazing. The venue was filled to capacity, and I’m guessing that the top row at the back of the theatre was at least 150 rows from the stage. I can’t believe that the listed capacity was only 7,490. I estimated that there were at least 15,000 persons were in attendance. I don’t think that a single person wanted a refund after this one. The shuttle bus system worked very well (it took some real skill to drive a bus on the one lane roads in Lajatico and avoiding the stout brick buildings encroaching on the streets), there was not much traffic on the direct road back to San Gimignano, and we reached the hotel at 0130.
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Old Jul 25, 09, 5:25 pm
  #5  
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Part 5--GIORNO QUATTRO Domenica 19 Luglio 2009

Sadly, we overslepped and missed Mass at the Latin Mass chapel we would have attended near the Campo di Marte train station in Florence. So we checked out of the hotel around 1100 and headed for Lucca, where we would spend the last two nights of our Tuscan holiday. My wife’s maternal grandfather came from Lucca, so this walled city of almost 83,000 people is very special to her. According to the electronic signage on the A11 Autostrada, the westbound lanes were in a state of “blocco” due to an accident near the Lucca Est interchange. So, we got off the tollway at Montecatini Terme and drove the surface roads into Lucca. After some difficulty we found our lodging, the Palazzo Busdraghi, Via Fillungo 170, not far from the Porta Santa Maria at the north center of the city wall. Our room rate came with parking in a secured gated lot in a courtyard two streets away, so it was only normal that we would miss the turn to the correct street, and we ended up driving on pedestrian only streets into the middle of the walled city, when we were spotted by two female police officers. Sensing that we might be about to get a really big ticket, we initiated contact with the officers, with my wife speaking her best Italian and starting to shed tears. The officers, taking pity on us, put their ticket books away and directed us to the closest exit. We parked the car in a legal spot, got out, walked around, and doped out the correct route to the parking lot. Crisis averted.

After checking in, we took a long walk along the same streets where we had caused such havoc a few minutes earlier. Sunday afternoon was art, book and furniture market time in central Lucca, and lots of used furniture, vintage wood radios and Mussolini memorabilia were on sale. Lucca has its own weekly music festivals on Friday and Saturday nights, and, at the same hour that Bocelli and company were lighting up the stage outside Lajatico, Burt Bacharach was performing on the stage in a piazza in Lucca. Like other Italian cities, Lucca is filled with Catholic Churches, and we explored two remarkable houses of Christian worship, the Basilica of San Frediano (named for an Irish monk who became the first bishop of Lucca in the 5th Century), and the chiesa di Sacra Cuore (Sacred Heart).

After a siesta and a snack, we split up. My wife wanted to take another long walk around Lucca, and I wanted to go to the horse races. Ippodromo Federico Caprilli in Livorno, about 25 miles away mostly by toll highway, had first post at 2040 (it appears that most racing in Italy during the summer months occurs at night), so I drove down there. I drove without any difficulty to the address of the racecourse, which turned out to be the backstretch area. I parked my car, but could not find the entrance; fences surrounding the city’s large football stadium (local team AS Livorno was promoted to Serie A for the upcoming season) and rugby stadium frustrated my progress to the ponies. A helpful policeman, who was on the scene to direct traffic related to a rock concert taking place in the soccer stadium (a reggae band was playing and really sounding good as this was going on) dircted me to get back in my car and to drive to the road which ran along the seacoast, as this is where the entrance to the track was located. I found on-street parking about even with the top of the home stretch, about 300 meters from the entrance. Admission was €3.50; the track consisted of a lopsided oval grass course of 1,250 meters in circumference (about 6.25 furlongs), right-handed (opposite to the direction run in the USA) with the lighting system consisting of old fashioned metal light fixtures suspended over the course by wires. Half of the races were run at 1,000 meters (about 5 furlongs) out of a chute at the top of the backstretch (races were also run at 1,500 meters and 1,950 meters). The stands ran from maybe 150 meters south of the finish line to 25 meters north of the finish line; the walking ring was just north of and behind the end of the stands; betting windows were behind the stands, with a piazza behind them, containing stands for bookmakers offering fixed win odds (the pari-mutuel system was available for win, show, quiniela and trifecta wagers), and then behind the piazza a building called “Punto SNAI”, which is where the state-owned lottery agency operated off-track wagering with commingled pari-mutuel pools on other racetracks running in Italy (on Sunday night, the Tor di Valle trotting track outside Rome and the Agnano thoroughbred meeting outside Naples were going, along with trotting from a place I once visited, Montebello in Trieste, and a couple of venues I’d never heard of, including the trot races at Pontecagnano). Oddly, there was a book fair taking place in the piazza.

I stayed for the first six races on the seven race card, but only cashed two small show (piazzati) tickets. Horse racing is my passion, and I always have a great time, but I was getting exhausted and I had to drive back, and hopefully get the car parked in Lucca without further incident, which I managed to do. I got back to the hotel at 0030.
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Old Jul 25, 09, 5:26 pm
  #6  
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Part 6--GIORNO CINQUE Lunedi 20 Luglio 2009

We were up early, and after a breakfast of granola, ham, two types of salami (which were out of this world) cheese and orange juice, I was ready to go. We had decided to check out the city of Pistoia (for which the “pistol” is named), which is located between Lucca and Florence. I had wanted to visit Bologna on this trip, but my wife wasn’t sure whether she wanted to go there. There was heavy, stop and go traffic on the A11, which continued all the wait to the Pistoia off ramp. Pistoia was not an unattractive place, but it didn’t seem to have the promise that the guidebooks indicated, and it did not have convenient parking, and when we saw a sign for “Bologna 90”, we decided to make the run through the Appenines. The route was national highway 64, and offers beautiful vista after beautiful vista. About halfway between Pistoia and the Toscana/Emilia-Romagna line we passed through the Passo della Collina, at 932 meters (3,058 feet) above sea level. We crossed into Emilia-Romagna just south of Porretta Terme, passed through Vergato and Sasso Marconi, and then saw signs for a commuter rail station in the Bologna suburb of Casalecchio (Casalecchio Garibaldi), where we were able to park for free, and take a train operated by the local transit authority (Ferrovie Emilia-Rogmagna/ATC) for €1.00 one-way each (there is a €3.00 all day transit pass for greater Bologna, which we didn’t find out about until the end of the day). Our tickets were good for 60 minutes and allowed transfer onto city buses. We arrived at Bologna Centrale, arguably the axis of the national railway system in Italy (the Venice-Rome-Reggio Calabria and Milano-Pescara-Brindisi lines cross here). Before the bombing at Atocha station in Madrid was the catastrophic terrorist bombing at this station on August 2, 1980 that murdered 85 persons, and is remembered by monuments on one of the exterior walls of the station.

After consulting a tourist map we obtained at a booth near the entrance to the westbound platforms, we decided to walk out to the street in front of the station, turn left and walk one block to Via Dell’Indepdenenza, a major north-south street to go into downtown (the station, despite being called “centrale”, is actually on the north center of the perimeter of Bologna. A number of buses stop there frequently, so the service is great; we took bus 11B. Bologna is almost completely flat as it is beyond the Appenines and at the south end of the large plain that extends up to the Po River and beyond and east to the Adriatic Sea (except for hills to the southwest), compared to Florence’s location in a river valley surrounded by hills. Bologna simply drips with charm but doesn’t have all the tourists of Florence. For us, there was a surprise and delight around almost every corner. When we got off the bus near the piazza in front of Bologna’s cathedral (Basilica di San Petronio) and to the east of city hall (Palazzo Comunale), we saw two of the centuries old watch towers which remain in Bologna, one of which leaned at an even more rakish angle than the Torre Pendente in Pisa. It was closed to the public, but the neighboring tower, Torre Asinelli, was open, and for an admission price of €3.00 a visitor is entitled to torture himself by ascending 495 steps covering a vertical height of 97.20 meters (318.9 feet). I took the challenge. I made it without suffering a coronary, but my legs and hips are still sore from the trip. I was able to take some great photos of Bologna, which I’ll upload to my photo website in the near future.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering the streets of Bologna, touring the magnificent cathedral, and shopping in the city’s historic food market street, the Via Pescherie Vecchie (the Old Fishmarket), where we found the finest delicatessen we’ve ever seen, La Baita Formaggi. This place simply defied description. You could travel the world, but you’ll never find a better collection of cured meats, cheeses, olives and wines in one shop. Wonderful.

Also, a shout out to Bologna FC on their centenary (1909-2009). They won the promotion playoff and were promoted to Serie A for the upcoming 2009-2010 season. Good luck to them; I bought one of their polo shirts. If you see someone on Delta wearing a Bologna FC polo shirt, it will probably be me.

Downtown Bologna is not the only place to buy great food. After leaving the city by train and getting back to our car, we found that we were near the Bologna Beltway (the “tangenziale”), and it was very easy for us to get on the famous A1 “Autostrade del Sole” in the direction of Florence. Shortly after joining the express highway, we encountered another “Illinois Oasis” style rest area, and we went in to buy a cold drink. On the way out, we were channeled through the most amazing market I’ve ever seen at a roadside rest, where a shopper could buy whoe hams, mortadella and salame along with wines and beers. Amazing.

An hour later, we were at the north end of Florence. We had decided to have dinner at one of our all time favorite restaurants, La Lampara, which is on Via Nazionale maybe 200 yards from SMN station. Although it was after 1900, we got into heavy traffic, as two key streets leading from the A1 and A11 autostradas (and Amerigo Vespucci Airport) were blocked off for constructon, and we got lost. Finally, my wife’s Italian skills were put to the test, and she got directions from a passer by; soon we were driving by the Duomo, and the underground garage at SMN came into view. Soon we were dining on bistecca fiorentina expertly prepared over a wood fire and eaten in small, delectable bites with a squeeze of lemon. Desserts of tiramisu and lemon torte accompanied by wonderful Italian coffee were scrumptious. We had better luck exiting Florence than entering it, and less than an hour later we were back at the Busdraghi in Lucca.
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Old Jul 25, 09, 5:28 pm
  #7  
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Part 7--GIORNO SEI Martedi 21 Luglio 2009 GOING HOME

Weather: Sunny and clear over central and northern Italy, northern Switzerland and northern and eastern France; partly cloudy over the Alps; mostly cloudy over the English Channel and Kent; totally cloudy, including storm clouds, over most of Britain; totally cloudy over the Atlantic Ocean; clear over southwest Labrador, far eastern Quebec and New Brunswick; totally cloudy over New England and eastern Long Island; rainstorms in the JFK area.

DL 137, PSA-JFK (1325 CET-1705 EDT), Boeing 767-300ER ETOPS (N174DN); plane appeared to be 100% full in both cabins.

After breakfast at the hotel and a walk around Lucca, it was time to say goodbye to Italia. We got on the road shortly after 1000, stopped for gas at the Total station on the A11 autostrada service plaza between Lucca and Pisa (got gas for €1.221 per liter this time), and made it to Aeroporto Galileo Galilei without further incident.

We reached the Hertz return lot at 1100, and were inside the terminal and at Delta BE check-in by 1130. The ICTS employee who asked the security questions was a nice guy but did not speak English very well (although his English was far better than my Italian). Line for security was at least 500 persons deep; my wife stood in line while I made a quick trip upstairs to the airport’s VIP Lounge (outside security); when we emerged into the airport’s duty-free area beyond the checkpoint, it was 1212. Passport control for non-Schengen destinations (i.e., the USA and the UK) was after that, but was quick and efficient. Boarding started at 1235, the door closed at 1312, pushback was at 1322, and we were wheels up from runway 22L at 1339.

Our route took us just north of Livorno, then a turn to the right and up the Tyrrhenian coast until about Rapallo, when we turned due north, and flew near Malpensa Airport, then over the Swiss Alps until Zurich came into view, then almost a 90 degree turn to the west, when we reached Basel after 43 minutes and 330 miles (we had a beautiful look at both Zurich and Basel, the Rhine River as well as eastern France). We continued on south of Mulhouse and at the hour mark reached a point just east of Troyes, 504 miles along. We then headed northwest, bypassing Paris, overflying Amiens and reaching the English Channel at Boulogne, at the 709 mile mark. Although it got almost completely cloudy by this point, we were able to see a little bit of the white cliffs of Dover. We then bypassed London to the east, and overflew Leicester and Manchester before reaching the Irish Sea at Blackpool. The two hour mark found us just short of the Isle of Man, 1044 miles along. At the 2:19 mark we passed just north of Malin Head, the northernmost point of the Republic of Ireland, at the 1,274 mile marker. We are somewhere around the 55th parallel as we start the trek over the north Atlantic.

Lunch was very good on this run. After the bowl of mixed nuts and first beverage service, our first courses were (a) the carrot and ginger soup, which is really good; (b) a plate of two cooked shrimp and lemon slices; and (3) a salad of lettuce, orange slices and walnut slices with balsamic vinaigrette. We had the New York Strip Steak, which was topped with a brown gravy and some melted white cheese, which looked and tasted like a real steak, along with asparagus spears and roasted potatoes. For dessert, we had the ice cream sundae with the works. The other lunch options were (a) the Michelle Bernstein special, Roasted Chicken Breast with cippolini and gorgonzola sauce, served with mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach, (b) rigatoni pasta tossed with pomodoro, olives and capers, or (c) chilled roast beef and smoked salmon with a deviled egg, grilled zucchini, yellow squash and capers.

The pre-arrival light meal will consist of a choice of a hot ham and cheese sandwich with cucumber and tomato salad, or grilled chicken and goat cheese on a bed of mixed greens, topped with dried fruit and walnuts. I chose prosciutto e formaggi on typical Italian bread, and it was the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten on an airliner.

The wine selection appeared to be the same as that which was offered on the outbound portion of the flight. In contrast to our eastbound flight, the FA crew appeared to be mostly female. Blair provided most of the service to us, and she was a ray of sunshine, a true Delta professional.

I slept almost the entire time over the ocean, which was enshrouded by thick high clouds at either end. According to the air show we crossed the shore of Labrador north of Goose Bay at 1337 EDT, just 3 hours 39 minutes and 1,982 miles after passing the northernmost point of Ireland. While I slept we had flown just south of the southern tip of Greenland, taking advantage of almost no headwinds at that latitude. Now, as we are making on a southwesterly bearing toward JFK, we have run into 120+ mph headwinds, and our groundspeed has slowed to 431 mph from upwards of 560 mph. Our route took us to the southwest corner of Labrador, then to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River east of Sept-Iles, Quebec, west of the Ile de Madeleine.

At the 7 hour marker, 1439 EDT, we crossed the south shore of the St. Lawrence west of Madaleine-Centre. We’ve flown 3,740 miles to this point. At roughly the 3,838 mile marker we crossed the Quebec-New Brunswick border west of Campbellton, NB. The headwinds have subsided somewhat to 99 mph. At 1503 EDT, we crossed the international boundary between the US and Canada at a point between Van Buren and Bridgewater, Maine, 3,935 miles into the journey. We flew parallel to I-95, and at the 8 hour mark, 1539 EDT, we were just east of Portsmouth, NH, 4225 miles along. After passing overhead Boston and Providence, we reached salt water at roughly Pawcatuck, Connecticut, and by 1600 EDT we reached a point near Riverhead, Long Island, NY, roughly 50 miles east of JFK. At this point, the captain came on the horn and reported that because of heavy rain and “saturation traffic” at JFK, we were being ordered to circle. We proceeded to make a figure 8 (beautifully depicted on the airshow) between Riverhead and Montauk Point, and then about 1620 we got our clearance to proceed to JFK, where we landed on runway 4R at 1638 EDT, 4,581 miles covered in 8 hours 59 minutes.

Then the “fun” started. After being held from crossing runway 4L-22R for a few minutes, we were directed to park at remote stand 75. When the doors on the right hand side of the aircraft opened, it was 1701, and we were met by two mobile lounges, which deposited us at Terminal 3’s “hall of sighs” at 1722. There were five international flights in the Delta immigration and customs facility at the time. We were jockeying for position in the immigration lines with passengers from Rome and Istanbul. A hapless female employee wearing an “Aviation Safeguards” blazer tried to play traffic cop to prevent injuries on the escalator leading down from the “hall of sighs” to the immigration hall, but all she did was to create an angry mob. She thought she was alternating traffic between the Pisa and Istanbul flights, but what she was doing was allowing people at the back of the Pisa line to pass those of us in the front of the line.

There was a female employee with a Delta name tag performing the role of “maitre d’” at the immigration line. She directed us to a line behind a booth staffed by a CBP officer, then as we got to within one person of the head of that line, she directed us to booth #3, where there was no officer present. Finally, after about 5 minutes, a CBP officer showed up (he turned out to be a very nice guy). By this time it was 1755. Because of all the delays, all the bags from the Pisa flight appeared to be on the carousel, and we quickly found ours and headed for the customs exit, which we cleared without any delay or problems. We were then treated to TSA, which thoughtfully had exactly one lane open and maybe 50 connecting passengers ahead of us, and a loud-mouthed female officer with an attitude checking IDs. We finished with the TSA at 1820, only 40 minutes prior to our scheduled connection to DCA at 1900. The exit into Terminal 3 left us at Gate 5, about the furthest point in the Terminals 2-3 complex from our onward connection at Gate 25. After a rest stop at the Sky Club near Gate 14, we made it down to Gate 25 a little after 1830, and were told we had 10 minutes before boarding would start, so we ran over to the elevator servicing the T2 Sky Club, and grabbed a quick drink and snack there. We got back downstairs at 1845, and boarded via the breezeway.

DL 6653—Comair CRJ-100ER N594SW JFK-DCA (1900-2056)

The one-class CRJ plane filled up fast, and the door closed at 1858. However, one the door shut, nothing happened. The one FA was sitting in the pullout jumpseat in front of the cockpit door, reading some sort of novel. The ground crew was non-existent. After about 15 minutes of inertness, we asked the FA what was going on, and she gave us a nonchalant “I don’t know”, to which we responded, could you ask the pilots, which she grudgingly did, and then gave us a snarky “we haven’t been given any authorization to push back, we don’t know when we’re going to be given permission to push back, we have to sit here and be ready to go when they tell us”. A couple of moments later, the captain got on the horn and indicated that he expected that we could get permission within 5 minutes, and blamed the situation on “congestion in the alley behind us”, which was odd as no aircraft rolled out from Terminal 3 to the taxiway at that time. Finally, at 1925 we started to pushback, but we had difficulty, as the front tires were stuck in what the captain called a “divot”; it was unclear whether this was so or whether the ground crew failed to remove a chock from behind one of the wheels. Anyhow, they finally got it figured out, and pushback was accomplished at 1939. I counted only seven aircraft in front of us, and we took off from runway 4L at the stroke of 2000. We slept until final approach, and we touched down on runway 19 at 2056, scheduled arrival time, and reached gate 21 at 2101.

Despite having priority tags on them, the crack Comair staff failed to load our two checked bags onto DL6653, but left them at JFK; Delta baggage claim agents at DCA quickly located them, indicated that they would be on the last JFK-DCA flight of the night, which is what happened, and promised delivery to our home the next day, which they did do.

CONCLUSION: Fantastic trip. Our air arrangemens worked very well, and Delta’s cabin service was great. There are few places better to tour than Italy. I’ve vowed to learn how to speak Italian and develop a working vocabulary for our next trip.
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Old Jul 26, 09, 6:37 am
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Sounds as if you had a terrific time. Great report! Thanks.
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Old Jul 26, 09, 8:30 pm
  #9  
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Originally Posted by violist
Sounds as if you had a terrific time. Great report! Thanks.
+1
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Old Jul 27, 09, 2:39 pm
  #10  
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Great report.

Totally right about the similarities between PSA and SBN. never thought of that before.

Go Irish! ^
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Old Jul 27, 09, 4:02 pm
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You saw Boccelli in person...I'm so jealous! As you reflect, was renting a car a good thing or a hassle? Would you / Could you have used the train exclusively. I always fear a parking problem. I enjoyed your report.
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Old Jul 27, 09, 10:15 pm
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Another fine thorough trip report.
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Old Jul 27, 09, 10:45 pm
  #13  
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Originally Posted by Policypeddler View Post
You saw Boccelli in person...I'm so jealous! As you reflect, was renting a car a good thing or a hassle? Would you / Could you have used the train exclusively. I always fear a parking problem. I enjoyed your report.
Because of the location of the venue and being unsure of ground transportation options to the venue, we chose the rental car. The "Teatro del Silenzio" was just south of Lajatico, which is about 30 miles southeast of Pisa on a logical route between Pisa and Siena. Lajatico is not on or near a railway; there were some public buses that ran between Pisa, Pontadera and Volterra, but since we were talking late at night (both the rehearsal and the concert let out at 11:30 at night), public transportation was not an option. I learned that the promoters for the show (Four One Music) had minibuses running from hotels in the Pisa area for a round trip fare of E100.00 ($140.00).

For us, the rental car was a great option on this particular trip, but it was not cheap. Hertz quoted a rate of E324.00 for five days, but this did not include the national value added tax (most other price quotes, like on hotels and restaurants, include the VAT); also, I was unable to buy the "supercover" insurance on the Hertz website (Hertz cars in Italy come with basic liability insurance but a E900 deductible for damage and E1,500 deductible for theft). The "supercover" was E17 per day, and was really worth it on this trip, as I damaged the front bumper and got some scratches on the car as I got to know a wall at the top of the dead end road in Portofino. I bought it for peace of mind, not wanting to end up in an Italian jail if there was serious damage to the car or to a pedestrian or other person. So, the car cost us $140 per day. When I bought the supercover at the counter, the Hertz agent gave us an upgrade (we must have had a really small car reserved). To us, it was worth it; we stayed in a beautiful hotel in San Gimignano the first three nights that was for all practical purposes inaccessible without a car.

We covered quite a bit of distance on this trip, and paid through the nose at the pump (less than 30 gallons of gas cost us at least E135, and I probably shelled out at least E50 in tolls).

The trains in Tuscany serve quite a few communities, and the train from the Pisa Airport is an express in that it only stops two or three times before SMN station and covers the 50 miles in about an hour. The Rome-Pisa-Genova-Nice train line passes through Pisa Centrale station (not even a 5 minute ride from Pisa Aeroporto station). Also, trains are very cheap in Italy; I would recommend not buying a train pass, but rather buying tickets out of the selling machines that you'll see in the stations; the Trenitalia machines (as opposed to the "Regionale Rete" machines) take bills and credit cards and have an English language function. If you buy a train pass, you get ripped off in Italy, as you can't go on the Eurostar Italia, Frecciarossa or Cisalpino high speed services without a seat reservation, and they charge up to E11 for that, close to 25% of what a reasonable length journey (say, Milan to Venice) would go for on a single ticket, seat reservation included.

As far as parking is concerned, our hotel in San Gimignano wanted E13 per night to park on their grounds; they only had 10 or so spots--as it turned out, there was a municipal parking lot outside the walls of the town about 1/4 mile down the hill from the hotel, which only charged E1.00 for the overnight hours through 8 a.m., then E1.00 after that, to a maximum of E6.00 per 24 hour period. That is where we parked. In Lucca, parking came as part of the hotel rate. Parking at meters is high, just like road tolls or gas.

If you were going to do Italy by train, Florence is a great choice, because of the many, many hotels within a short walk of SMN station, and Rome is just 95 minutes away on an amazing high speed train line. However, I think the city I would check out to base myself in would be Bologna. Bologna is a totally underrated place, and it is fantastic. You'll never eat better than in Emilia-Romagna (Parma and Modena are located there, for two shining examples outside Bologna). You could do Rome and back in a day because of the high speed train (probably 2.25 hours each way tops). Venice is 2 hours away, Milano is less than that, Florence is 45 minutes, Rimini and Ravenna are within an hour. On our next trip to Italy, my wife and I have decided that we are going to fly Air France IAD-CDG-Bologna (not sure what the code is, the airport is Guglielmo Marconi Int'l).
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Old Jul 27, 09, 11:50 pm
  #14  
 
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Quite extensive, great TR. Thanks!
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Old Jul 30, 09, 4:55 pm
  #15  
 
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lol - For some reason, I thought 'Teatro del Silenzio' in the subject was a reference to a malfunctioning IFE system.

Surely a sign that I read too many trip reports.
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