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Five days in Milan & Lakes

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

Although Mrs. SFO777's major major birthday isn't until October, somehow this has turned into not only a birth-month but a birth-couple-of-months. We love Italy but have never been to Milan and the Lake District. I knew I was in trouble on this one, but figured "how much damage can she do in one day"? God, I am so naive. Mrs. SFO also figured out that one day was not enough and what was supposed to be only a day in Milan turned into two days last week when she announced "I couldn't sleep last night wondering how I am going to only have a day to shop". So here we are... three days in Milan and three days in the Lake district.

With DEN now vying with SFO for the toughest end of summer F award avails, I was resigned to making an extra connection. The good news is that means New First both ways. I booked our return about a month ago using our LH miles and bagged the FRA-IAH A380. And then at T-14, I used the last of my Air Canada miles to book the outbound DEN-ORD-FRA-LIN.

-United 254 First Class Denver-Chicago--O'Hare
-United Global First Lounge at ORD
-Lufthansa 433 New First Class Chicago-Frankfurt
-Lufthansa FIrst Class Terminal at FRA
-Lufthansa 274 Business Class Frankfurt-Milan Linate
-Hotel Principe di Savoia
-Hotel Grand Tremezzo
-Lake Como
-Villa Aminta
-Lake Maggiore
-Lufthansa Business Class Milan Malpensa-Frankfurt
-Sheraton Frankfurt Airport
-Lufthansa First Class Terminal at FRA
-Lufthansa 440 First Class A380 FRA-IAH
-United Club at IAH
-United First Class IAH-DEN

Gotta love .bomb. Even though I had verified all of our passport/trusted traveller info for this ticket on UA.com, .bomb showed a completely bogus passport number for me at OLCI. Naturally, when I corrected the info, it wouldn't let me OLCI. Everything worked fine for Mrs SFO on the same PNR, and I was able to print out all three of her BPs. We arrived at DEN at T-90 and headed for a deserted and I mean deserted UA Global FIrst counter, where the UA agent was only able to print out my DEN--ORD BP. "You'll have to get your Lufthansa boarding pass in Chicago". Seriously? Mrs. SFO's 3 print out fine and now you can't figure out how to print mine?

SFO777: Am I checked in for LH?
UA Global First Agent: I don't know.

The UC staff was even more useless and I left Mrs. SFO at the UC West and headed to Gate A41 and Lufthansa where the agents were prepping for the complete sold out DEN-FRA flight. Go figure. Great LH agent confirmed that I was indeed checked in my LH flights and was able to print my LH BPs. Now with BPs all the way to Linate, I was back on the train to B to pick up Mrs. SFO and head to the B22 and yet another equipment swap for our UA flight. Hey, at least they are trying to get us out on time.

Not today as DEN-SFO was sold out in First with revenue pax.

After the third gate change in less than an hour, it was chaos at B22.

More chaos on board as pax were boarding as catering was delivering the carts. Nevertheless, wonderful FA Lisa managed open bar PDB and we pushed only 15 minutes late.

United 254
5:30P-8:52P (sked)
5:45P-9:00P (actual)
August 31, 2013
Seats 3AB

Although the post-merger United has become one of the worst airlines for food on the planet, I continue to experience great crews. How embarrassed must they be to have to serve garbage that passes for meals on United. Great crew as the captain was hell bent on getting us to O'Hare as quickly as possible.

Typical UA dinner flight with pathetic options of cheeseburger or salad with chicken. Front to back selections without regard to status. Mrs. SFO wisely opted to pass on dinner and wait for the real deal a couple hours later. I took one for the team and selected the chicken salad. The chicken chili soup was actually very good but the salad was horrid. Two measly slices of awful chicken. One bite and I declined the rest.

Mrs. SFO had inquired about non-nut snacks and our FA Lisa brought here a can of Pringles for the Y BOB cart.

Chocolate chip cookies on descent.

I rolled the dice tonight with a 84 minute ORD connection, secretly hoping for a misconnect and a day in Chicago rather than an expensive extra shopping day in Milan. In spite of all the gate changes at DEN, we arrived at ORD C21 less than 10 minutes late. That plus our inbound LH 744 was running 45 minutes late. So Milan it is.

Next up:
United Global First Lounge at ORD, one of the most pathetic excuses for a First Class lounge you will ever find.

United Global First Lounge at ORD

Where do I start on this one? Not only is this one of the worst First Class lounges you will ever see, it is one of the worst lounges period. I thought the United Global First Lounge at JFK was bad but yikes, this is right up there with it. The place is so well hidden behind the UA Customer Service Area, that had I not known that it was there, I may not have ever found it.


Unlike the beautiful and spacious SFO and NRT GF lounges, this one is a very small lounge and lots of old worn seats give this a really cramped, depressing feeling.

No idea what kind of food is normally served. Even though the lounge is open until 10:00P or when the last LH flight leaves, by the time we got there at 9:05P, everything had been cleaned up and put away.

A single TV is on a wall with a seating area so close it's like being stuck in the first row of a movie theater. And even the TV service is cheap as the lounge features DishTV instead of DirecTV. The men's bathroom is tiny... one john, one urinal, one sink.

On the bright side, the lounge was staffed tonight by some of the friendliest people, who apologized that there was no food but did offer to get us anything beverage we wanted. At about T-50 as we prepared to walk over to B17, the agent told us that an LH employee was on her way over to escort us to the flight. Three minutes later, she arrived and indeed walked us to B17 to the front of the line, where we boarded a few minutes later.

On the long 10 minute trek from the United GFL to B17, our LH escort apologized for their facilities at ORD. She said that LH had wanted to have their own lounge here but dealing with the City of Chicago was very difficult.... took them three years just to get approval to redesign their check in area. Guess they weren't greasing the right palms. She also amusingly referred to our flight as the "garbage flight" as it was the last flight of the day to Europe, and as such they usually got a lot of misconnects from any and all earlier flights from any airline.

Lufthansa 433
747-400 New First
10:15P-1:30P (sked)
11:00P-1:30P (actual)
August 31, 2013
Departed 4/8
Seats 83CH

We were the first to board and happily retreated to our upper deck oasis, where we were warmly greeted by our FAs. And settled into our usual 83C and H. Some pics of the cabin from an earlier report.

Happy wife. Happy life.

A pre-departure glass of the Alfred Gratien Cuvée Paradis Brut. OK, it's not Krug but I enjoy it. We don't fly LH for the food and drinks.

The first thing I noticed tonight was the lack of a Hot Spot logo at the front of the cabin.

Indeed No WiFi tonight. Our FA said inbound crew said it wasn't working but with no Hot Spot logo at the front of the cabin, I'm doubt that this one was even WiFi equipped. Strange because even our old First 744 last month had WiFi.

We pushed back at 11:00P and after a short taxi at a quiet O'Hare, were wheels up at 11:13P. Captain announced that in spite of the 45 departure delay, strong tailwinds mean just over 7 hours tonight and he estimated an on time arrival at FRA.

The good news tonight is that only two other pax (81C and 82C), the flight was charter-like as we had the entire back of the cabin and lav to ourselves. The bad news is that this was not one of LH's better crews. Setting up for dinner seemed to take forever as did getting my next glass of champagne. Indeed, it was a full 35 minutes after wheels up before we had our first drink. The only rose petals we saw tonight. No rose for the rose holder.

Our amuse bouche, summer fruit salad... same as last DEN-FRA last month.

Normally, menus are presented while we are at the gate. Tonight, we didn't get our menus until after the first drink. Even Mrs. SFO asked "where are the menus?" Finally, after the amuse bouche...

As presumably with all US-Germany flights, the menu was from celebrity chef Toni Robertson of the Mandarin Oriental in NY. Same July-August starters as our last flight. I was looking forward to the duck that was on last month's DEN-FRA menu but apparently this flight was one of four shorter late night flights (including JFK, IAD and BOS), more supper than dinner, with "different" main selections, including two vegetarian dishes and cod. We both hate cod. Ugh. 

The set-up.

Caviar to start, naturally. And yet another service faux pas tonight as when I asked for some vodka with the caviar, our FA came back with a regular cocktail glass with a shot of warm vodka. Yeah, I guess it's one of those nights.

And a trio of delicious starters.

The Tuna Carpaccio was great.

As was the Teriyaki Beef Brochette with sesame seeds

And a refreshing Seasonal Salad with shaved parmesan

I had the beef last month and, although delicious, didn't feel like I wanted anything quite as heavy. So I opted for the Sesame Soba Noodles with cashew nuts, mixed Asian vegetable and ponzu sauce. It was actually delicious although it could have been a tad spicier. Would have even been better if LH thought to load and offer chopsticks. 

And for dessert, the green tea cake was delicious.

And after dinner bon-bons

Other than the shot of warm vodka, I stayed with the Alfred Gratien the entire evening, polishing off the entire bottle.

After a movie, time to sleep. With my bed covered with books, papers and other stuff, I moved over to the bed in 84H and slept for a couple of hours. Then worked on editing pics and watched most of a funny Bollywood movie including the usual eye candy.

With that tailwind, very impressive ground speeds.

As I was still stuffed from dinner/supper, I passed on breakfast even though the full array was offered.

We touched down at 1:25P and pulled into Z19 pretty much on time with just over two hours until our FRA-LIN flight.  Time to enter Germany, walk thru baggage claim, exit the terminal and turn left for the 5 minute walk to heaven.

How quickly they forget. We pull into Gate Z19 and unbelievably Mrs. SFO says "are you going to make me walk outside again?" Well, yes I am. Considering that it is a beautiful +22 degree day and that it is a shorter walk to the FCT than to the B FCL. And the last time we were here you said "I'm glad you insisted we walk here". Welcome to my world.

Less than 15 minutes after deplaning, we have cleared security in the FCT and all is well again with the Princess.

As to critical issue of the day in the LH forum, I'm happy to report that gummy bears are back in the FCT.

Along with other wonderful sugary treats.

I showered while Mrs. SFO napped.

At about T-25 our PA came over to escort us downstairs to our driver and the S class to our FRA-LIN flight.

And right to our plane.

From the jet bridge, our driver heading back to the FCT.


Lufthansa 274
Frankfurt-Milan Linate
September 1, 2013
Seats 1DF

The bulkhead is the only good row to have on this Euro econony-seats-with-an-open-middle "business class" cabin. However, only HONs can preselect. The FCT agent was able to move us from 4DF to 1DF.

Today's snack was a pork quesadilla. Tasted better than it looked and not bad for a 55 minute flight.

We arrived at close in Milan Linate right on time at 4:50P

And after a quick 12 minute 18 euro taxi ride, we arrived at our hotel just after 5PM.

Rather than stay at some of the new modern 5* hotels, we opted for the more classic Principe di Savoia, part of the Dorchester Collection that includes the wonderful Le Meurice in Paris. Turns out that being just a little too far away from shopping to walk was one of my better ideas. Beautifully restored traditional hotel with a wonderful staff. From the hotel website.

Although I had booked an Ambassador Junior Suite, we were upgraded to a full Ambassador Suite as part of the Virtuoso package, which included full breakfast and an 85 euro lunch credit.

After we settled into our room, we headed out to explore the hotel and found beautiful Acanto, our home for the next few days... featuring the most exquisite collection of Murano chandeliers and lamps we've seen in a restaurant or any other place for that matter.

We were still a little early for dinner, so we headed to the wonderful Principe Bar, home of the 22 euro Gin & Tonic. Though still cheap by Georges V standards. 

From the hotel website...

And we almost got an entire meal in bar snacks...

Mrs. SFO, plotting tomorrow's route. I am so screwed. 

What a great dinner in the garden on an perfect +24 degree evening in Milan. When Mrs. SFO recognized our master sommelier Alessandra from a recent Conde Naste Traveler magazine on Italy's three female master sommeliers, we were friends for life. 

And back to the room before the big game tomorrow. 

Welcome to one of the longest days of my life. 

This is the day Mrs. SFO has been looking forward to for months. Also, the day I have dreaded for months. Bad news for me when she has a map, a plan and has just come off a good night's sleep.

And we're off...

I dodged a bullet at Loro Piana.

But not much else.

Interesting people watching the entire day.

And lots of beautiful women.

Including a one hour lunch stop, this was one exhausting 8 hour day. The spoils of the day...

After a drink in the Principe Bar and a stop in our room, we headed out for dinner at a great nearby neighborhood restaurant, Antica Osteria Cavallini . Mostly locals dining here is a good sign.

MIlan.  Day 2.  
OMG. Here we go again for round 2.

Back to Sergio Rossi to try these on again.

And finally over to the Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, an amazing 150 year old glass topped belle époque shopping center.

After more than an hour doing damage to another credit card at one of the most sensible priced non-designer stores, Luisa Spagnoli, our first look at the impressive Duomo.

Before taking a taxi back to the hotel for halftime, and our "free" Virtuoso lunch. And what an amazing lunch it was. Our new friend master sommelier Alessandra was working and one glass of wine turned into a bottle.

After a recharging nap, we headed out back the Duomo and il Rinascente, which has all the designers but under one roof... much less walking. Thankfully, we didn't start here.

Amazingly, I escaped without a purchase as mercifully, even Mrs. SFO seemed to be tiring. And outside il Rinascente, the Duomo

And yet more shopping.

And great people watching.

Yeah, that looks real sanitary. 

Finally, at around 7:30P we hopped in a taxi and headed back to The Principe with a tired Princess finally announcing "I now know what it means to shop until you drop". 

We freshened up and then headed out for a 9PM dinner at 13 Giugno, a romantic Sicilian restaurant a 10 minute taxi ride away. While the food, wine and grappa were excellent, the highlight of the evening was the live entertainment, where singer/pianist Pippo Scagliola played amazing versions of classic songs like Home and Besame Mucho, and great Sinatra classics like My Way and Strangers in the Night.

After a leisurely breakfast at the Principe, I walked 15 minutes to the Avis office on via Gasparotto, just next Stazione Centrale. Another gorgeous morning in Milano.

Friendly staff at the Avis office, and my pre-reserved BMW 3 series (318d) and GPS was ready.   Back to the Principe to pick up Mrs. SFO and her "loot", and bid adieu to a wonderful staff.   I cannot say enough wonderful things about this great hotel and staff.

And before we leave Milan, a recap of the Girls of Milan. 


Mrs. SFO dared me to post this one.  LOL.

Believe it or not, I was just minding my own business waiting for Mrs. SFO.  What was I supposed to do??

The GPS worked wonderfully and less than an hour later we were in Como. Then we slowly wound our way up the coastline towards Tremezza, on some of the narrowest roads I've ever driven. I'm amazed that I didn't lose a side mirror or scrape the door against a building. The most embarrassing part was being honked at by a woman driving a Smart Car who felt I was being waay too cautious. Easy to criticize when your "car" is only three feet wide and four feet long. We arrived at Tremezzo and the historic Grand Hotel Tremezzo just after 12:30P.

Grand Hotel Tremezzo
Lago di Como
Lakeview Deluxe Room 406

Lovely old world hotel, needs a little TLC, but a wonderful staff makes you not really care. Except for the front desk staff and/or management and those pesky Virtuoso "upgrades on availability". Yet another hotel and more lies about no upgrades available. We had booked a Lakeview Deluxe Room, one of eight corner rooms but as of that morning, there were plenty of rooms available in every category above ours. I'm so fed up with being lied to about "no upgrades available" that I now try a mock reservation just before checking in. That way, when I get the "no suites available", I can call them on it. Amazingly, the front desk clerk said that even though it showed availability online, online was wrong ("thank you for telling us") that suites were not really available. Got to give her credit for trying. When I persisted, suddenly a penthouse suite mysteriously opened up. In the end, after looking at both, we opted to decline the suite as the view and "feel" was not as nice as the Lakeview Deluxe Room.

Spectacular 180 degree views...

Even the bath has a view.

Lake Como is indeed beautiful but pretty sleepy, which I guess is the attraction. We relaxed by the pool the first afternoon, had a great meal the first night and then decided we'd had enough relaxing. So we got in the car and drove to Switzerland, specifically north and west to stunning Lugano, about 30 minutes away.

The circling back to Lake Como and figuring we'd have lunch at Villa d'Este. Apparently the place was rented out for a couple of days for a private function and "we thought we'd stop for lunch" didn't cut it. Somehow, someone had left us off of the invite list.

So we headed back to Tremezzo...

... and lunch at the TPizza, the hotel's wood oven pizza resto by the pool. Would rather have eaten of Villa d'Este. But on the bright side, I no doubt save a few hundred euros on lunch.

For dinner we decided to drive 5 minutes north to Menaggio.

The lasagna looked better than it tasted at yet another TripAdvisor dud.

Although the after dinner gelato was excellent.