Friday, June 17, 2016

That time I didn't end up flying to Sacramento

A few days ago I was flying from Orange County (SNA) to Sacramento (SMF) through San Francisco (SFO) on United Airlines. My flight was scheduled for 8:00a. I arrived at the airport around 6:45a only to find out that my flight to SFO was delayed about 50 minutes. This would mean that I would miss my connection to SMF. The delay was due to air traffic control issues and probably fog or weather in San Francisco, so it was possible that my connection would be delayed too. So I just went with the flow. When I got to the United Club, the agent told me that the delay was worse and that I would miss my connection as it wasn't delayed yet. She said that the 7:00a flight to SFO was delayed and she could try to get me on that one. There weren't any seats, but she would continue to monitor it. At about 7:30a she called my name and I went up to the counter. I had a seat and the flight was scheduled to leave at 8:00a. So I left the club and went to the gate. That flight was United Express and so the gate was all the way at the end at Gate 1. When I got to the gate there was no indication that they were boarding the plane any time soon despite the 8:00a departure time. I sat around for a few minutes until about 8:00a and they said that we weren't going to leave until 9:00a. I still would've been fine because by this point my connecting flight was delayed. I was getting flight status updates from United and Tripit.

I remained in the gate area because I didn't want to walk all the way back to the United Club. Besides the gate area was not crowded and it was nice and relaxing. About 10 minutes later, I received a status update and my connecting flight to Sacramento was flat out cancelled. I already knew from when I checked in that the next connecting flight left San Francisco at 4:30p. So I end up walking back to the United Club to see what my options were. The agent told me that indeed the next connecting flight was at 4:30p, which would mean I would spend half the morning at the Orange County airport and then almost the rest of the day at SFO. No thanks. It got worse. There were no seats on that connecting flight and the next flight she could get me on didn't leave SFO until 7:30p, which would mean I would arrive in Sacramento around 12 hours from that point. Hell no. I could drive myself and get there well before dinner. So I asked them to cancel my ticket and refund my money so I could go home and drive myself. They issued a refund and I went home. I got a LYFT home and put my luggage in my car, cancelled my rental car in Sacramento, and got on the road. It was such a mess and such a stupid situation, I'm glad I didn't stick around and try to make it work. I could've flown to Tokyo in the time period they were quoting me. Ridiculous. I was only flying 400 miles away.

I ended up tweeting this experience to @United and they responded to me. Actually they almost always respond to my tweets. They said to submit a customer care issue through the website. So I did that once I got to Sacramento and over the weekend they sent me an airline credit for $75. I guess that covers my LYFT home and my gas money one way. It's better than nothing. I only ended up buying the United ticket in the first place with the connecting flight because it was a lot cheaper than the non-stop Southwest flight. So I guess there is a lesson to be learned somewhere in all of this.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Firenze, Italy to USA

My flight home was going through Frankfurt (FRA) and Washington Dulles (IAD). It was leaving around 10:00am and I was at the airport about 2.5 hours early. The Florence airport is very close to the city center and I arrived quicker than I thought I would. The lounge at the very small Florence airport was airside, which is before security, so you have to make sure to leave enough time to clear security and get to the gate. The airport is very small and there seems to be flights only on small regional aircraft. I think the largest aircraft that is able to land there is the A319.

I spent some time at the lounge and had some breakfast before I went to the gate. It was a very small lounge and it wasn't specific to any one airline. I think all the airlines use it and I was the only person there for a while.

I took a walk around the small terminal before I went through security. There wasn't really much to see and there was not any shopping at all.

These are the aircraft stands. There are no jet bridges here.
This is the check-in area.

There were a few little shops once you get through security and one large waiting area for several gates. You take buses out to the planes even though they are clearly within walking distance of the terminal. My plane couldn't have been more than 200 feet from the terminal, yet they still made us get on a bus.

My plane to Frankfurt was an ERJ 190. It's one of the largest regional jets out there and I love them because the seating is only 2x2 and the windows are gigantic.

The buses leaving from the terminal are pictured here. The plane was ridiculously close.

A Swiss Avro Jet is pictured here.

The seat next to me had this on it and no one sat there. Actually about the first 6 or 7 rows had this so that there were only 2 people in each row instead of 4. I think it was to enforce weight restrictions because the runway is so short.

The take off from Florence was very similar to leaving from Orange County because they held the brakes and revved the engines and then the plane rocketed down the runway. They served a small snack on this flight that only lasted about 1.5 hours if that.

I was excited to fly through Frankfurt because it is a huge international hub. Our plane parked at least a mile away. It seemed like an area where many regional jets park. Once again we boarded a bus and weaved through various planes along the way to the terminal.

Here is a Qatar 787 and a China Airlines 777.
This is Lufthansa 747-8i.

Here is a Lufthansa A340-300.
A retro livery on a Turkish A330.
This is my 747-8i that would take me to Dulles.

The terminal in Frankfurt was huge and packed. I found a lounge and it was packed. I think only got some water and used the internet. The terminal was so hot and uncomfortable. The flight to Dulles was actually not great at all. It was jam packed and I sat in the second to last row. The seats recline a lot which is nice, but that means the person in front of you is merely inches from your face. The saving grace was that the flight was only about 8 hours.

We parked next to an Austrian 767-300
One of my favorite airport terminals.
This was from the mobile satellite from the international terminal to the main terminal.  

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Siena and San Gimignano, Tuscany

On my last full day in Italy, we got out of Florence and went around the countryside in Tuscany. As if it couldn't get any better, it did. We headed out early and went straight to Siena. I think it took less than an hour by bus. It was actually a really long walk from where we unloaded to the city center.

The city/town is like something out of a fairy tale. There are tiny little streets with quaint little shops going up and down hills. It's really so unbelievable.

This is the Piazza del Campo where they hold a horse race every year.

The duomo in Siena was spectacular. It's not quite as big as the one in Florence and its colors are the white and black stripes. I didn't take pictures of the inside because it just wouldn't do it justice, but there were all kinds of ornamentation and vignette's of biblical stories. I find that I rarely take a lot of pictures on the last day I am somewhere different. I think I know that my time there is coming to an end and so I just want to be in the moment and not worry about capturing everything in pictures. There were all kinds of scary-looking busts of prominent clergy and influential men at the top of one wing.

After walking around there we had a little bit of time to explore the city. It seriously feels like you are in Pinocchio or Beauty and the Beast or something. After that we went to a local Tuscan farm for lunch. We had this outdoor farm lunch with views of the Tuscan hillside. Again, it was like something out of a movie. The farm makes olive oil and wine and we were able to try all of it. From the farm we could see the medieval town of San Gimignano, where the movie Tea with Mussolini took place.

After lunch we took a tour of the farm and some puppies were following us around. We got to see some cows and the wine barrels.

Some of the group wanted to stay and relax at the farm and the rest of us went on to San Gimignano. I wasn't going to miss it and I'm glad that I didn't. The little town is so cute with a lot of pedestrian streets. It's all on the hilltop with a bunch of towers. We climbed up to the top of one and it was just a spectacular view. In the middle of town, there was a gelateria that has won awards for its gelato and apparently has the world's best. The winning flavor was pistachio, so that's what I had. It was amazing. It was actually the only time ever in my life that I have had gelato and it was to die for.

We made it back to Florence by the time it was dark. We ate dinner on the street at a little place about 2 doors down from the hotel. It was a great meal just like all the others earlier in the week and it was the last time I was going to see everyone since they were all leaving early the next morning. I left the next day too but later in the morning. I was very sad to say goodbye to my new friends and to Italy, but it was time to go home.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Pompei and Firenze, Italia

The day we left Sorrento, we made a stop at the ancient city of Pompei just in the shadow of Vesuvio or Mt. Vesuvius that erupted and covered the entire city and its inhabitants in ash. We arrived when they opened and it was a gorgeous day. We had a private tour with a guide who was so knowledgeable. Before we went on the tour I stopped in at the restroom and found this sign. I thought it was funny.

The grounds of the Pompei site are just amazing and it is still an excavation site. Basically the whole thing is a large walking tour and you wind around the grounds until you end up on a plateau above everything. You don't even realize you are climbing in elevation.

The mosaic floors are incredible.

At one point during the tour where it looked like we were in the middle of an ancient village, the guide asked the adults if we thought it was ok for him to take us through the red light district. It was fine with their teacher and so we went through. The walls outside of the brothel had pictures in a sort of menu of services so I guess the patrons could just point to what they wanted. It was hilarious.

This is a dog that was tied up in their home and was trying to get away during the explosion.
This is where you end up and look out on everything.
That statue is on loan from somewhere else and is not original to Pompei.

After lunch we were taken to the central train station in Naples. We would end up taking a high-speed train from there to Florence (Firenze) via Rome. Like all central train stations in European cities, Napoli Centrale was bustling with people trying to catch their trains to cities all across Italy and beyond.

The train was really nice and comfortable. I was seated next to a woman who kept coughing and it made me anxious that I would catch her funk. The ride was about an hour to Rome and 1.5 from there to Florence. The scenery was incredible.

That is Vesuvio in the distance.
300 km/hour is pretty fast.
We arrived in Florence in the late afternoon.

Our hotel was walking distance from the train station and we immediately hit the town once we dropped of our luggage. We went directly to the duomo cathedral and the cool thing is that you can't see it until you are right in front of it. Then you are hit with its magnificence. It's amazing with the pink and green marble everywhere.

A short walk from the Duomo is the Piazza della Signoria, which has a ton of beautiful statues around it and a fountain. The statue of David is a replica as the original is indoors in the Galleria dell'Accademia. But this is where David was for hundreds of years. Just the fact that there are these amazing statues out in the open tells you a lot about the culture and history of Florence. This is where things were happening and being created. So incredible! One of my favorite statues is the Rape of the Sabine Women. The movement and the intensity of it is quite emotional. For some reason I didn't take a picture of it. I guess it didn't occur to me.

This is Hercules and Caucus with an interesting shadow.
This the replica of David.
On the Ponte Vecchio lots of people have written on a certain section of it. I thought this was cute because of the math.
This is the view from Ponte Vecchio
This local artist played a bunch of songs and he played "True Colors" and it was amazing.
This is the view from my room at the Hotel Croce di Malta
This is the view looking the other way.

The next day we got to the Galleria dell'Accademia early so that we could see David. The line was going down the street. It was crazy. But we were able to enter the group line. The first thing you see when you enter is a plaster model of the Rape of the Sabine that Giambolgna used to create the actual statue. Then you enter another room where there are huge chunks of marble that are unfinished statues. I didn't realize it at first but in that room to the right and down the gallery is David. I was so enamored by the marble that I didn't see David. Then I looked down the hall and I was blown away. I was just not prepared for how huge the statue is and the way it is framed in the room it is in is just amazing. It is hard to believe that he is about 515 years old.

You are able to walk completely around the statue and view it from all angles. It's incredible and I was really moved by this piece of art. There were a lot of people in there, but we stayed for a while. One thing that I learned was that David's pupils are hearts. He was also created to go on the top of a building which is why his arms and hands are larger than they should be. He was meant to be viewed from below.

There were lots of doggies in Florence.

I was able to get away from the group for a little bit and I went to the Galileo Museum on my own. It was very cool and it put some mathematics and science into perspective for me. There were all kinds of contraptions and devices that were used at the time to create geometric shapes and take measurements. It was so cool for me especially being a mathematician.