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Five days in Milan & Lakes

Five days in Milan & Lakes
via Lufthansa First Class
September 2013

As with almost all of our trips, we don't check bags and each pack only one 20" Tumi carry on. But even in the expanded mode, there wasn't going to be enough room this time. I stopped at the Bennet, the Italian version of K-Mart and purchased the cheapest toss-once-we-get-home bag I could find. For 29.95 euros, I got the ugliest duffel bag one could imagine, but a bag that no one would steal or confuse with theirs. And with Mrs. SFO not wanting to put any of her new clothes anywhere this thing, we used it for our dirty clothes, so that her new clothes would be in the carry-on and never out of her sight.

After winding our way down the coast of Lago di Como and nearly losing the side mirror a few times, we decided that we'd have enough quaint narrow roads for this trip and just took the fastest route to Stresa and Lago Maggiore. But not before a pit stop and the rules of the autostrade. Damn, what's wrong with Italians? Now we can't enjoy our porn on the autostrade.

Our first view of Lago Maggiore was when we came over the mountains at Stresa.

Maggiore is different from Como, but just as beautiful, and I think even more beautiful up north. Unfortunately, we couldn't say that for our hotel, the Villa Aminta.

Villa Aminta Hotel and Spa
Stresa, Piemonte
Lago Maggiore

But I think the Leading Hotels needs to screen their affiliates a lot better. Yikes. Exterior looks can be deceiving.

Another check-in, and yet another argument about Virtuoso upgrades. Front desk clerk first claimed that upgrades were not available, then professed ignorance about upgrades, then offered an upgrade for a price. After first saying the manager was not available ("I can't reach her on her cell"), the General Manager (a him not her)arrived and promptly told her to upgrade us. Unfortunately, it was a phyrric victory as our two level suite was just awful. Decor out of the 70s, more like the 1870s, bed hard as concrete and the 2nd floor loft pretty much unusable as, with no AC vents, it was 20 degrees warmer than the lower level.

On the other hand, the view from our balcony was spectacular.

Bathroom needed a lot of help, but what do expect for 600 euros a night. 

And the hallway was bizarre, with just a curtain and no wall at the end.

Really??

It was only one night so we decided to make the best of it, namely get out of the room. In contrast to the room, the main level of the hotel was pleasant although way over the top Louis XIV-ish for our tastes. Lunch on the terrace was excellent, with most of the staff friendly and eager to please... and wonderful views of the lake. The highlight of the day was a wedding, and provided us with much people watching entertainment.

After a bottle of wine, we decided we were too tired to do any sightseeing, and headed back to our room for a nap. Then woke up for cocktails, dinner in the garden and more great scenery to cap the day and night.

Despite a 6:25P MXP-FRA flight later that day, we decided to check out and try to put the memories of this hotel behind us ASAP, both of us wishing that we had planned one less day on this trip. We headed south and explored the Lago Maggiore coastline. While the drive was pleasant enough, the best part of Lago Maggiore is north with the mountains and islands.

With time to kill, we headed up the other side of the lake and found our way to Garinate. Throwing caution to the wind, we stopped at a lakeside restaurant down the hill from a nice residential part of the city. I voted no, Princess voted yes, so naturally we stopped in. Picture a log cabin on a lake in Wisconsin. You don't go there for the food. No one spoke a word of English, the menu was entirely in Italian and the food was mostly horrible. But the staff were all friendly in spite of the fact that I'm betting that they'd all done hard time somewhere.

And since we were in Garinate with time to kill, we decided to check out JMN57's suggestion of the Pasticceria Milano and the original Brutti e Buoni (Ugly and Good). Best stop of the day by far. Wonderful, friendly staff who were amused by the Americanis who had wandered in off the street. We got along famously with my Italian getting better every stop along the way. And the Brutti e Buoni and pastry were wonderful.

Just after 2:30pm and time to start winding our way to Malpensa looking to gas up before I got back to Avis. I stopped at four gas stations along the way but they were all self-serve, and none of the pumps like my credit cards (I found out later from the Avis staff that they don't accept credit cards). In the end, we just said effit and dropped the car off with a 1/2 tank. Amazingly, the total refueling charge was only 52 euros, not bad for 3+ days and at least 400 kms. It was probably cheaper than Avis would have charged me back home.

After check-in at the MXP Lufthansa counter, we headed for security and the Lufthansa lounge. At some point after security, I found myself walking alone through the concourse, having lost Mrs. SFO. I backtracked and eventually found her, where else...

Do you ever quit woman?? She tagged along closely after I told her I was "going to the lounge and I'll meet you there". Works all the time.

Lufthansa Lounge
MXP - Milan Malpensa

Typical mediocre Euro J lounge, better than a United Club, not as nice as your average Admirals Club, but pleasant enough and the AC worked better than in the rest of the terminal.

 

LH 255
MXP-FRA
A320-200
6:25P-7:45P
September 7, 2013
Seats 1DF

Really light load tonight with only 5 of 24 J seats (or what passes for J seat in Europe) occupied. We were able to move from row 4 to the bulkhead at check-in. Row 1, the only good row in LH domestic J.

Unlike on NA flights, a meal or snack was served on the short 55 minute flight.

On time arrival but at a tarmac/bus location.

A short wait at baggage claim and our lovely "designer" bag of dirty clothes was the first one down the belt. Ten minutes later we were at the Sheraton and a nice Platinum-upgraded Club Level room. Both of us were happy to be back in a modern hotel room with creature comforts.

Lufthansa First Class Terminal at FRA

We loaded our bags onto a cart and left the Sheraton at 8:25. After two elevators and a 10 minute walk, we arrived at the FCT.

We were the only pax in the lobby and cleared security in no time. I informed our PA that we needed a Customs officer to come to review/stamp our refund forms. With nearly 700 Euros in VAT Tax Free refunds due, I figured that the 75 euro "house call" fee was a good investment.

It took only 20 minutes or so for the customs officers to arrive. FA retrieved me and led me down the office wing of the FCT to a private sterile room where two serious gun packing agents were waiting for me. Yikes, just out of a spy movie. Not much pleasant chit-chat as one agent reviewed and stamped all six tax forms, while the other mute agent stood guard... perhaps in case I contemplated attacking the other agent.

Our PA collected the 75 euros, made a copy of the stamped receipts for me and then took the envelopes for mailing to the tax free VAT refund processing centre in Bratislava.

We had just enough time after the Customs visit to have a quick breakfast.

At about T-30, our PA came to retrieve us and escort us down to our limo for the short ride over to Z-59. Today was a first in that we had to share our S class with another IAH pax, although he was HON and in Business. Oddly, we were the only two (of eight) pax to use the FCT.

Wow, this is one big airplane.

And one big elevator, with a stop at the upper deck.

 

LH 440
FRA-IAH
A380-800 (New York, New York)
10:05A-1:30P
September 8, 2013
Departed 8/8
Seats 2DG

The upper jet bridge attached between at the galley between First and Business Class. First class is at the front of upper deck and like the A330/340s, configured 1-2-1.

Each pax has his/her locker with a lock, although no FA bothered to explain.

We were the last to board and as we settled in, our FAs offered pre-departure beverages. Time to start drying out so we opted for water... for now.

That water-only thing lasted about 5 minutes...

Time to check out the front of the cabin the two spacious lavs at the front of the cabin.

With two lavs for 8 pax, there was never any wait to use one. Large but pretty stark and hospital like. No need to go the Bling Air route, but maybe a little less sterile.

With a urinal discretely hidden behind the mini door.

OK, so the A380 is all new and pretty, but it just didn't do anything for me. In fact, I'd prefer to be on the 747-400 (even old First) any day. I'm thinking that LH could have done a much better job with this one. First class is on the less spacious upper deck. Yes, New First is a step up from old First but like the Airbi 330/340 cousins with a 1-2-1 configuration, not very private when the cabin is full like it was today. That privacy screen is a must after take off but we were the only ones that knew it was there.

But the biggest surprise of all today is that Lufthansa decided not to install WiFi on the A380... seriously?? It's 2013 and you either didn't spend the money and/or think to install WiFI. Most of the 744s, even the old First 744s have WiFi. Wow.

Other issues... Overhead lights are not well designed. Each seat has two sets of overhead lights, yet your controls only let you control one set of lights. The other set of lights, which shine right on your head can only be controlled by the FA and apparently on the same circuit as all the other overhead and logo highlighting lights. And as I've noted before with Airbus New First, the drink mini-table is beyond arm length from your seat, forcing you to lean forward every time you retrieve or return your glass.

Boarding was completed and we pushed back on time for the 9 hour 50 minute flight to IAH. While our Purser was friendly and helpful, our primary FA was mediocre. Professional yet not interested in engaging or even smiling. Even Mrs. SFO picked up on it and had an interesting observation. "Our best Lufthansa crews were almost always male. Why do we keep getting women"?

We had originally decided to wait a few hours to eat, but service rolled out so slowly that we started to get hungry and decided to eat with everyone else.

Today's amuse bouche was excellent, but delivered before post-departure drinks.

September means a new menu and a new celebrity chef, one Marc Haeberlin from Auberge de 'Ill in Alsace.

And a new list with some interesting and pleasant additions. IMO, an upgrade from last month.

Lunch time.

I decided to try the 2010 Lupé-Cholet Chassagne-Montrachet which prompted this exchange with our FA.

SFO: I'll try the Chassagne-Montrachet please.
FA: Which wine?
SFO (pointing at the label on the wine list), the Chassagne-Montrachet
FA: Oh, the French one.
SFO: Yes, please
FA: That's a white wine
SFO: Yes, I know. thank you.

At this point, we ran into some mild turbulence and absent anything else to do, since there is no effing WiFi on this airplane, I took pics of my wine. Had three glasses of this very nice Chassagne which retails for $40-$45.

I passed on the caviar today but did notice Smirnoff has been banished, at least today.

The appetizer cart. Get your hand out of the food.

I went for the Medallion of Lobster on Artichoke Salad. Very nice.

The Celery and Cream Cheese with Truffle Vinaigrette and Apple Fennel Salad was excellent.

The Seasonal Leaf Salad with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and carrot with herb dressing. Way too big for the bowl with way too many extra, bitter ingredients for my taste.

Tomato Consommé with Sepia Ravioli filled with crabmeat. Ravioli was good, consommé not so much.

The Medallion of Venison with Basil Spatzie and Mango was tender, moist and delicious. Lovely with the excellent 2009 Bodegas LAN a Mano Rioja. Recently rated 93 by Wine Spectator and retails for around $40.

The cheese and dessert cart.

Passed on the cheese and went right for the Symphony of Chocolate Haeberlin. Wow, It was sensational... in the "to die for" category. With port.

After dinner drink cart.

A couple of bon-bons and glass of Ziegler Wildkirsh Nr. 1. Wow, now that's strong stuff.

After lunch, which didn't conclude until more than three hours into the flight, most pax watched movies and then ultimately slept.

This is certainly one way to keep the Y pax from exploring upstairs. LOL.

Around two hours from landing, our crew started the second meal service.

The Paprika and Onion flavored Curd Cheese with pretzels was really good.

And the Quiche Lorraine with assorted ham delicacies was excellent.

We landed on time at Houston and then got our exercise with one of the longest walks to customs I've experienced, worse than DEN. Fortunately, there was a bank of at least 15 Global Entry kiosks, unlike the 2 at DEN. Since we were over our duty free limit, we got the big circle, and then hand written C for secondary from a surly GE agent.

While waiting for the lovely checked bag, a Lufthansa PA offered to escort us to the United Club for our ongoing flight. We stopped briefly at secondary, friendly CBP agent this time, paid the $140 in duty, exited customs, dropped our colorful bag at UA connections and followed our PA Edna to security and the UC. Very nice personal assistance service, especially if one is unfamiliar with international to domestic connections at IAH, as we were.
 

The United Club near C-19 was packed and we couldn't find two open seats together...

... until I remembered the third floor, from my CO days.

UA 488
IAH-DEN
757-200
3:40P-5:17P (sked)
4:25P-5:17P (actual)
September 8, 2013
Seats 4AB

One more G&T before we get home.

While Mrs. SFO declined "food" such as it is on UA, I took one the team and the photo op. Choice of shrimp salad or chicken calzone, pretty much the same options we always get on United. Do they serve anything else. This is exactly how our FA placed the tray.

Meh, doesn't look any better after I spun it around.

Although UA soups are reasonably tasty, this one was inedible. My mostly bread calzone, which I always dissected to avoid the bread... had more chicken than my last one. Heads will roll at catering for that mistake.

Despite pushing back 45 minutes from the gate at IAH, we landed on time at DEN, just before the skies opened.

Thanks everyone for following this latest trip report and for all of your kind comments. We have a couple of weeks down time from travel to catch up, then to LAX to visit the LA grandkids for a day, and a week later, our Emirates A380 flight to DXB, then JNB and our first African safari.