I’m generally a pretty nervous guy, so I don’t really know how I manage to travel alone in a foreign country. But I did it. I’m usually flummoxed by the language. But now that we have Google translate, that should be easier. The last time I was in Italy it was for Tony’s wedding in 2001 and I was with Tami and a bunch of other people. That was a lot of fun and I could rely on other people to talk for me. This time I’m counting on Tony talking for me.
I have to get from the airport, Linate, to the Hotel Ritter. Google makes it look pretty easy. But the bus from the airport drops me at the Stazione Milano Centrale, and I have trouble finding the subway and buying a ticket. Eventually once I find the subway (not to be confused with Trenitalia which goes all over the country) a guy helps me figure out the ticketing and I pay him €5. He’s an entrepreneurial street guy. He hangs out in the metro station, sees tourists struggling with the bigliette machine and goes over and helps them, shows them where they have to go. He explicitly asks to get paid. He doesn’t say how much but just says, “Prego, I helped you, could you help me out with a little something?” Relying on the kindness of strangers does not a business model make. He speaks English and is clean, fairly well dressed and professional. Saved my ass, frankly. He points me in the right direction and I get to the hotel.
Tony is coming in a couple hours after me. He has already spent about a week at Cinque Terre, a coastal region where he goes every few years. So he is taking a train in from there. I figure while he’s not there, I’ll sample some of the local Japanese food. Because, in Columbia County, we have only one Japanese restaurant. Hell, in Melrose, we had 2. There is a Japanese restaurant in the building with the hotel, so I go and order a Chirashi and an Asahi.
I check in to my room and go to sleep for a couple of hours to stave off the jet lag.
The hotel is simple but adorned with semi historical prints on the walls and a comfortable lobby. It is priced well (or else you wouldn’t find Tony and me there.). The room is small, about ten by ten, with a similarly sized bathroom with a bidet! There are balconies in all the rooms. It has 7 floors with 6 rooms on each floor. There aren’t a lot of frills in the place, but it’s not a Days Inn, either. They have a very good breakfast in the morning with scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage and various little pastries and fruit and these coffee machines which can make like 20 different kinds of coffee. Very clever.
When I wake up, I meet Tony and we go out and see where we are. We walk down Corso Garibaldi, the semi-closed-to-traffic street that the hotel is on, checking out the shops and cafes. We stop in at RED (Read, Eat, Dream), a bistrot Libreria. It is a bookstore with food and drink. I want to try the different Amari available in Italy. An amaro is a sort of bitter liqueur or aperitif made with various herbs that comes from various little towns in Italy. I use them at home to make Manhattans. I have a few at home but there are others here that I’ve never seen in the States. Our waiter recommends Amaro Da Capo, which is made in his hometown in Calabria which is down by the toe of the boot which is Italy. He’s a great guy who has some English and we all muddle through and wind up understanding each other and having a great time.
After that, we walk farther down Corso Garibaldi and wind up in a plaza in front of an old church. We eat outside at Al Carmine under an awning. We can smoke there. It is so much more civilized here.
After dinner, we head back, going up some back streets and come to a place that has live music. Down in the basement, a man and woman are on a little stage. He is playing keyboard and has a laptop and she has a laptop and is singing. They are doing covers. They did Stand By Me and everyone started singing. They did a few Italian pop hits as well, which I didn’t know but was glad to hear. Everybody would sing and sway to them, too. After a little bit, we took off and headed back to the Hotel Ritter. It was a fun night. The music was a little cheesy, but it was honestly and enthusiastically performed so that counts for a lot.