Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace
From a few years ago, me mugging with the bronze buffalo sculpture at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Travel Update: My Italian Adventure So Far

The Milan airport as viewed from my hotel window.
I'm not the kind of guy who would turn up his nose at a trip to Italy. I mean, come on, who would? I had never been to Italy and it was prominent on my bucket list of countries to visit before I cash in my chips.

So, when AutoTrader asked me to attend the 105th anniversary celebration for Alfa Romeo in Milan in June in its stead, I was all over it. That's the kind of highly motivated go getter I am.

I responded to FCA – what Fiat-Chrysler now calls itself – announcing my attendance. FCA's travel department contacted me, booking me round-trip, business-class tickets from Atlanta to Milan. I have no clue what the tickets cost, but I'm sure I'm worth of every penny.

My flight was scheduled for 5:50 p.m. I left Greenville around noon for my two-and-a-half-hour drive to Atlanta's airport. I knew my international business-class ticket included admittance to Delta's Sky Clubs, I figured I'd enjoy a stress-free drive to Atlanta and then hang out in a Sky Club drinking Delta's wine until my flight. Although my flight left from E Concourse, I wandered into the Sky Club in F Concourse. This is officially Delta's international terminal. The Sky Club there is quite an operation with a fully stocked bar manned by a couple of bartenders. I'm impressed by any bar anywhere proffering Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon and Don Julio 1942 Tequila. This Sky Club had both. The Pappy was $20 a shot. The 1942 wasn't on the liquor menu, but the bartenders thought it was $8 a shot. $8? I nearly bought a shot, but decided discretion was the better part of valor. I stuck to my wine. I headed for my gate about 45 min before my flight's scheduled departure.

Three other U.S. journalists, as well as a handful of South American media were booked on the same Atlanta/Milan flight. Things got off to a rocky start when the flight was delayed for two hours – in 15- and 20-minute increments, of course – because after two weeks of Atlanta sweltering in 95-plus-degree temps, it didn't occur to anyone at Delta to maybe cool down our plane before it was time to board.

Nope; they left it to the crew to do when they boarded 25 minutes ahead of our scheduled boarding time. It must have been 110 degrees in that metal tube. Even with an auxiliary cooling unit backed up to the plane, pumping refrigerated air into it, dropping the temperature to a balmy 80 degrees required more than two hours.

The flight itself was rather pleasant. Close to nine hours, it provided plenty of time for me to savor a steak dinner, several glasses of wine, watch a movie and catch some shuteye. Extending completely flat, the business-class seats actually allowed me to sleep for two or three hours.

Arriving in Milan, our appearance startled the Italian customs officials on hand to check passports. Because our flight was two hours late arriving, they weren't expecting us. Scrambling around to man their stations, they finally opened for business. I get hassled more flying into San Francisco than I did Milan. The official didn't even scan my passport. He opened it, looked at me and then stamped one of the back pages. No one asked why I was coming to Italy; no one looked in my bags; no one delayed me in any fashion. I didn't check a bag and from the time I walked into baggage claim until I walked into the non-secure area where Alfa representatives were gathered to meet us required all of 45 seconds. Welcome to Italy.

FCA put us up at the Sheraton Malpensa. Malpensa may mean “right next to the airport” in Italian because that's where it is: right next to the airport. After more than 18 hours in Milan, I haven't seen anything but the airport and the hotel; both of which are about 30 miles from Milan.

Dinner and cocktails last night were in the – wait for it – hotel. Cocktails consisted of beer and Italian champagne. The Italians do a lot of things well, but brewing beer isn't one of them. Whatever beer they poured at this event tasted like it was filtered through Mussolini's gym socks. We did have some tasty wine with dinner.

The view from the other side of our hotel. I'm assured that Italy lies somewhere beyond the tree line.
Although I thought I would be able to check “Italy” off my bucket list, I feel like a cheater doing it. I could just as easily be in Des Moines, except I don't see any corn.

We are heading to some expo this morning that has been described as the “World's Fair of Italy.” I guess we'll see. This evening we're heading to the Alfa museum for some sort of pageantry and dinner.
The glass-half-full guy that I am, I'm filled with optimism that I'll catch a glimpse of Italy on one of these outings.

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