19. We tried

An Internet connection was all I wanted. I couldn’t find the tourist office, McDonald’s wifi wasn’t working, Starbucks was a zoo. I gave up on that for the time being and said to Keech, well we may as well see some of this city.

Here is the entrance to the famous Galleria, and Morvic, on a group tour with friends from Slunj, Croatia.

McDonald’s was booted out in 2012, after 20 years of slinging BigMacs under the stylish dome of the Galeria. They sued for compensation for the lost lease, but relented when they were offered a prime spot on the main square.

Spoiled scene: the young lady on the left- Now that’s how you dress for Milan! The two blueshirts front and foreground right- ugh. The Saudis have their morality police; couldn’t the Milanese have a fashion police? Me and Harry here would be in the stocks, not a bad tourist attraction in itself.


I suppose dressing like this is also fitting for Milan:

Taking a break in front of Allesandro Manzoni.

We came out in the main square again and circled the Duomo. The back side was a little less congested. I gazed high at the stonework of the windows, and Keenan gazed low at the bikes of La Policia Locale 

Very nice but I was hot and sweaty and tired of lugging my crummy backpack, my work briefcase, and a garbage bag full of dirty clothes and hiking boots. I said darn it I’m gonna find a hotel to shower, crank the A/C, and crash. If we couldn’t find a deal in Milan then so be it.

I had to get relief. My condition in Milan is summed-up by this video K took while the jackhammer pounded


We were a hop and a skip from the front door of Burger King when I noticed another place called Burger Fun or Burger Crazy. I’m all for local ownership so I asked if they had wifi. In no time Keenan was in heaven with the cheeseburger set, and I looked for lodging.

Milan is a megalopolis of X million and when you filter by price (low to high in case you wondered) you get places that would take a day of subway/bus/train transfers just to get to. There was absolutely nothing facing the main square, with air-conditioning and a veranda under 50 dollars so I gave up and found a place far from Milan and on our route. Sad to leave Milan, but you can see from the pictures that we saw pretty much everything, and this next place would be on the waters of Lake Garda, where K and I could take a cool dip with the sheer faces of the Dolomites looking down on us from three sides, and George Clooney’s villa on the other.

Keenan liked that idea, and the promise of AC. Here,in the Milan subway he exults: 

and not even Justin Bieber could dampen my spirits now 


Next: chillin’ with George on Lago di Garda

17. Vercelli part due

Virginia has traveled in the states, studied in the states, plans to get her doctorate in the states (evolution of US presidential inauguration speechifying/speechification or something along those lines), and wants to raise her children in the states. Massimo also speaks excellent English, has travelled to America and is completely on board with this plan. When they settle down in Knoxville they will, of course, maintain and promote the mother country’s language, cuisine, and expressive hand gestures while at home.

 Virginia is a real sweetheart, and she makes a great cup of Italian Coffee (molto forte, a mi gusto) and a fine tuna tortellini (though she is just as likely to whip out a winning macaroni and cheese, Philly style) but please tell me you’re not using processed, Kraft American slices, Ginny! If that’s the case this America thing has gone too far.

 Let’s look around the apartment. Even an American electric coffee pot- good thing ’cause it’s real hard to find cool appliances and coffee stuff here in Northern Italy.

If I needed a break from the Americana, I could just pop out on the veranda, watch life along the tree-lined street, share a little gossip with Sra. Molinari next balcony, and do something really Italian like air out my shirt.

Now let’s take a walk around charming Vercelli.

Basilica di Sant’Andrea: completed in 1227.

   It was an early gothic monastery church

What a treasure chest of grand old buildings is Italy, even in the lesser known towns.

 Many walls had been plastered over in this town, to prevent the crumbling of old masonry.

My old friend Pappagallo Papapicco would’ve never forgiven us if we didn’t stop by. (Careful with your double-consonants in Italian.)

This building was remodeled on the inside and serves as offices of the department of justice.

You can still find functioning phone booths in Italy. Here I argue with cousin Domenico. The phones function too.


Swap the Peugeot with a Porsche, the Fiat with a Ferrari and this becomes the parking spot on the the plaza of my Piedmont palace. (Cheap illiteration permitted once per blog)

 1849 was the year of the Battle of Novara, a terrible defeat for the Piedmontese against the Austrians in the First Italian War of Independence- I’m just guessing that’s what she’s bummed about.

Time for lunch. The Order of the Knights of Saint John, Hospitallers was created to aid, feed and shelter poor travelers on their sacred pilgrimages to Lourdes, Santiago, Rome and Jerusalem. The Royal Order of Industrious Turks was created to provide fast food to globe-trotting cheapskates. 

Pizza, Sprite, Keenan, Angkor Wat.


This local lager washed the pizza down nicely, plus the shiny label.


At these prices ya gotta go for two.

What Keenan is doing is seen as TABOO around here. (Transfer of Artichokes, Black Olives and Onions, unauthorized)

Back on the street to continue our tour.  Mind the midday break while in Italy, France, Switzerland, etc. and on Sunday you may not shop but you can scream and shout for la Juve!


 These cute Chinese kids monopolized the swings. Jeans and T-shirt for mom, but she’s keepin’ hip with the YSL.

The reverse-mullet is especially popular in Italy. Two specimens  passing another, sporting an also popular, but in this case more restrained than usual, arm tat.

here working on my best cunning trickster look: 

Before heading back to Virgina and Massimo’s for our second and final night here, K said he was still hungry so we found this place, rustic with vaulted, brick ceilings and good deals on spaghetti and salad. This was the appetizer and my paleo-diet is still on hold while I go for a hunk of this wheat-bomb.

K. considering strategy.


Well, thank you Virginia and Massimo for a great stay in Vercelli! Good luck in the good ol’ US of A and we’ll be watching for you on TV at the ‘Bama-Auburn game!


Next: How not to “do” Milan.

16. Torino/Vercelli part 1


Cuneo to Vercelli via Torino 



Keenan was a bit hungry, as always. I ordered him a plate of spinach lasagna and told the waitress I wasn’t very hungry. She said how ’bout I make you up a plate with a few slices of meat on it. 


She was a real nice girl from the South. She poured both Keenan and I a glass of some great Italan liqueur with a kick as I payed the bill (no, he didn’t). Had we stayed in Torino, I think I would have made this home base for food. 

Goodbye Torino! Goodbye Spider-Man! Sorry it was so brief. I had heard it was a working class industrial city without quite the culture of Milan, but downtown was fantastic and I intend to return.


Vercelli, halfway between Turin and Milan: here was a bargain right along our route.

 Virginia and Massimo took a vacation to the U.S. and were smitten, especially with the South. pics of their place and town in next post.


15. Ventimiglia and beyond

 Nice to Alpbach, a small mountain village in the Tyrolean Alps, where we’d booked a few nights at an inn and would meet Walter and Klaus, old friends from Germany. Inbetween those two circles we’d have six nights. Where would you stay? What would you do? How would you get from A to B? This would be the least thought out part of our trip. Holland was set before we left, so was France. I thought we’d sort of wing it in Italy, and see how things go. We could have just picked a city, arranged cheap lodging with airBnB or something, spent the whole time there, and got in and out with the fast train. Instead we chose to take local trains and make short hops all the way until Austria. We’ll see if that was a better plan.

First leg: Nice to Cuneo.  Like I said, we spent so much time swimming around Nice we left none to do other stuff, and the little towns in the Alpes Maritimes on the way to Italy that we’d planned to explore would have to be seen in passing on the train. There is a direct Nice to Cuneo train, but the Ventimiglia option worked better for our schedule. Note how after you change trains in Ventimiglia you go back into France. Why would the Italians run a line from V. to C. through France? Probably because the land used to belong to Italy. Even Nice was once part of Italy; In Nice, I saw some old signs with street names in both French and Italian.

I’ve read nice things about the coast from the French border to Genoa, but Ventimiglia didn’t have the charm that all the French towns from Nice to Menton did. It was congested and noisy and looked way past its prime. The only interesting thing about our 1.5 hour layover was a fat Russian lady and her young son throwing bread off the Pasarella Squarciafichi, a pedestrian bridge that spans the Fume Roia, which trickles into the Med. It was a good battle between the seagulls, ducks, unknown shorebirds, and swans that hang out here. The feisty seagulls ruled and mostly fought each other, while the swans, although by far the biggest, were complete pushovers.


Tende, I believe.

After the long tunnel under the border, we emerged at the hiking/skiing village of Limone in Italy, and about a half hour later arrived at Cuneo, a small city at the foothills of the mountains, about one hour south of Turin. We missed a turn on the walk from the station to our hotel and took a roundabout route into town. The weird thing was, in the 15 minutes that took us to get to the hotel, we saw not one Italian face nor heard Italian spoken. Every person we saw, the men loitering around the fountain at the train station, men walking the streets, leaning against buildings, talking on cell phones, some on bicycles, some on the veranda of apartments on the old  streets, were sub-Saharan Africans. Hmm, what were they doing in this not-so-well-known, mountainside town of Piemonte, Italy?

The next morning I asked the concierge what was up and he shook his head and said, “It is a huge problem in Italy now. The refugees come across the sea from Africa to Italy, in the South. Then they come to the North.”

He went on to explain that most of them are trying to get to the UK and other countries in northern Europe. The problem is, France has blocked them and apparently Austria has too so the Northern Italian cities are full of homeless, jobless Africans wandering the streets, talking on their cell phones, trying to get North to the promised lands of Great Britain and Holland, where there is no unemployment, a surplus of affordable housing, race relations are perfect and the citizens await unskilled 3rd world immigrants with open arms. Those meanies in France block the border and so Italy must provide food and housing for the unfortunate travelers. The scene in front of Cuneo station repeated itself in all the cities we visited in Northern Italy. 

We found our hotel in Cuneo, the unsmiling Algerian gave us our key, and we went on a search for sustenance. We found a Mexican restaurant, of all things, just a few blocks down a narrow road in the old town. The owner was a friendly guy from Mexico City who had been in Italy since he was 15. He was full with group reservations on this Saturday night, but he made a spot for me and Keenan. His father came up and asked in Spanish if we’d been attended to. I blame it on the fact that I’d been trying to speak French the last four days and today had tried to switch to Italian-I answered, “Si, nos atendimos.” (Yes, we attended to ourselves.) blaaa.

I asked Raul how is it he had come to Italy. “My father was a police officer of Los Federales. He couldn’t abide by the high level of corruption so he left the country.” K. Had enchiladas, I had a burrito, and we walked the town a bit and headed back to the hotel. In the morning we took it slow leaving. 

Some Cuneo Pics: . See-through bathroom window .   

The all-important look at yourself upside down mirror.

Italian Doraemon.

I can manage an extended vacation away from home if I get my regular dose of WWF.

Glazed nuts. Pure decadence.       

italian Willie Nelson coming to town.

I asked K. to smile here but he was suffering from some sort of millais.

I’m sorry this collection of photos doesn’t do justice to Cuneo, a real nice town in Piedmont. Next time you are on your way from Torino to Nice, by all means stop by.

Next: Italian Americanophiles