No rooms available at the hotel, so why no refund?
While many tourists come to Italy only for the past, those who make time for Milan find that this powerful, no-nonsense city is a delightful mix of yesterday and today. Anchored by its historic cathedral, Milan is a modern, time-is-money metropolis of refined tastes. The window displays on its shopping streets are gorgeous, the well-dressed Milanesi are ultra-chic, and even the cheese comes gift-wrapped.
But beyond the bling, Milan has historic highlights as powerful as other Italian cities. A visit to its statue-studded cathedral (the Duomo), with its rooftop overlooking the city, is a one-of-a-kind experience. Nearby is the Galleria, an elegant shopping arcade built in the 1800s but just as lively today. La Scala Opera House is ground zero for the world of opera. And Milan claims one of the Renaissance’s top masterpieces, Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”
I like to start a visit in the center of Milan, dominated by the Duomo. It’s the third-largest church in Europe, after St. Peter’s in Rome and the Cathedral of Sevilla in Spain. To build it, the Milanesi used the most expensive stone they could find: pink marble.
The facade is a commotion of Gothic features — pointed-arch windows, statues, little pinnacles, and reliefs. Scholars count a thousand individual carvings, big and small, on the church exterior and another 2,000 sculptural elements inside. Once you
In his latest film, “Breakthrough,” Sam Trammell portrays a doctor who is trying to revive a child who no one believes can survive. The actor, 50, who lives in Encino, Calif., can also be seen in the Showtime series “Homeland” and previously appeared in “True Blood” and “The Reckoning.”
Q. What books did you read during your childhood that made you feel you were in another place geographically?
A. Paul Bowles’ “The Sheltering Sky” really had an impact on me in high school. The story of an American couple traveling to North Africa and then continuing into the desert without a solid plan, and the impromptu thread of the narrative (of ) following your heart and gut. The descriptions of Morocco and the desert were so vibrant.
It was very much of an escape for me. And it made travel and exploration feel like deeply important tasks for the soul. Ironically, I am now working on a TV show in Morocco, filming the eighth season of “Homeland.”
Q. Do the filming locations of your projects ever influence whether you will accept or turn down a role?
A. I’ve been so fortunate to work in many beautiful spots, like Berlin, the Swiss Alps, Sydney and Mexico, to name a few. Yes, some of these spots made the jobs that much more appealing. Switzerland was especially exciting for me. I grew up step through the entrance, you’re struck by the immensity of the place. The soaring ceiling is supported by sequoia-size pillars.
After touring the interior, you can climb the stairs — or take an elevator — to the marble-paved roof, 20 stories up, for the most memorable part of a Duomo visit. Up here, wandering through a fancy forest of spires, you’ll notice that the saint statues up close suddenly become more lifelike. Beyond the statues lies a stunning view: On a
Qin the mountains of West Virginia and love alpine culture.
Q. What was the first trip you took as a child?
A. One of my earlier trips as a child was a weeklong sail with my father and his friends from Ft. Lauderdale through the Bahamas. The first trek was an overnight sail across the Gulf Stream to Bimini. It was a pretty rocky affair. I remember getting very seasick for the first few hours. It was much easier after that, but intense.
My father liked to stay on the move. We didn’t stick around anywhere too long. We would dock at night in the bays of uninhabited islands and sometimes take the dinghy in to explore. There were a lot of cards played at night. A lot of open ocean and snorkeling, beautiful sunsets. All of this ultimately outweighed the lack of fresh water and punishing heat.
Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?
A. Bali in Indonesia. It was a long trip, which required an overnight stay in Tokyo, but it was well worth it. We started off in the beach area of Kuta, which has a bit of a nightlife scene, fun hotels, bars and a quasi-urban clear day you can see all the way to the Alps. A 15-foottall gilded statue of Virgin Mary on the tallest spire overlooks it all.
Back on the ground, one side of the cathedral is dominated by a grand arch — the entrance to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II — built as one of the first shopping malls in the world. Then as now, it was home to shops and cafes and lots of strolling locals. Today, you can linger among luxury stores such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and energy. A must-do is dinner on Jimbaran Bay. All the restaurants set tables out on the sand in the open by the ocean. It’s romantic and beautiful with simple and delicious local seafood.
We then moved north to Ubud for a few days. It’s surrounded by rice fields and is sort of the cultural center, with many art galleries and a monkey forest. We had the most amazing adventure there riding bikes down the side of a dormant volcano. The path took us through old towns and little villages inaccessible by car.
Our last stop was the island just east called “Nusa Lembongan.” I got some good surf in, and we rented a scooter and visited a little desolate beach appropriately called “Dream Beach.”
Q. What untapped destination should people know about?
A. I’m a big fan of Mexico, Sayulita in particular. On the west coast and easily accessible from Puerto Vallarta, it hasn’t yet been too built up and, though it has somewhat of an international flavor, you still feel like you’re living with the locals. It’s also safe and inexpensive. Prada.
Though it looks like it’s built of stone, the Galleria is actually a skeleton of iron beams, faced with stone, and topped with glass. When it was built, it was the marvel of its day and proclaimed Milan as the most cultured city of a newly united Italian nation. Later, the Galleria was the first building in Milan to have electric lighting.
If you cut through the Galleria from the cathedral square, you’ll pop out at Piazza della Scala, home of the La Scala Opera House and Museum. Teatro alla Scala first opened its doors in 1778 and quickly established itself as one of the premier opera theaters in Europe. The stage is enormous, the acoustics are wonderful, and the talent has always been top-notch. Many of the greatest operas got their first performance there — “Madama Butterfly,” “Nabucco,” “Turandot.” Almost all of the great opera singers, from Caruso to Callas and Pavarotti,
A: The Hotel Pennsylvania should have found a room for you. In the hotel industry, there’s a standard rule that says if a hotel can’t accommodate you, it will “walk” you to a comparable property and cover your first night. If you’d asked a representative to “walk” you to another hotel, you might have been able to avoid paying an extra $365.
Priceline’s refusal to refund the money sounds absurd, but it makes sense. The online travel agency doesn’t know any more than what’s in your record. And your record says you didn’t check in (which is true, but not the entire have sung here. But unless you have tickets to a performance, you’ll be limited to the adjacent museum. The main reason to visit the museum is the opportunity (on most days) to peek into the actual theater.
Milan’s most famous sight, “The Last Supper,” is away from the city center. Decorating the former dining hall of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, this remarkable, exactingly crafted fresco by Leonardo is a masterwork of naturallooking lighting and expressive faces. Reservations are mandatory and should be booked three months in advance.
This famous fresco survives — just barely — on a church wall. Christ and his 12 apostles are eating their last meal before Jesus is arrested and executed. Leonardo captured the moment of psychological drama when Jesus says that one of the disciples will betray him. The apostles huddle in stressed-out groups of three, wondering,
I’m a professional photographer, and I was working in New York City recently. I had a double shift and was scheduled to work again in New York the next morning.
Because I live a bit outside the city, I decided to book a hotel for the night. I did so through Priceline at a cost of $170. I went to check in at the Hotel Pennsylvania after my second shift was done, around 1:30 a.m.
When I arrived at the hotel, I found a line of people waiting to check in despite the late hour. As we waited, a hotel employee came from behind the desk and informed us that there were no rooms available. They were still being cleaned and would not be ready for another three hours. He said if we had booked a room through an agency such as Priceline, then we should call them and have them find us another room.
I called Priceline twice, but I was not able to get through to a real person. I tried using the chat function through their website but again was not able to message with a real person.
It was almost 2 a.m. at this point and I needed to sleep before going to work the next day. I was able to book a room through Hotel Tonight, but it cost me $365.
Priceline won’t refund the $170 I prepaid because they say I never checked in and was a “no show.” I talked to three different customer service people who all said the same thing. I’ve also emailed their Executive Services email and received the same response. Can you help me get a refund from Priceline? truth).
Your experience is an important lesson for the rest of us. If you’ve prepaid for a room through Priceline or Hotwire, and the hotel can’t accommodate you, make sure you get a confirmation of your cancellation in writing.
In other words, get proof on hotel letterhead that the hotel turned you away or supply a cancellation number. Otherwise, you’ll be a “no show” and lose your money.
I’m unhappy that the Executive Services email offered the same canned response as everyone else. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of “Lord, is it I?”
Leonardo spent three years on “The Last Supper.” It’s said that he went whole days without painting a stroke, just staring at the work. Then he’d grab a brush, rush up, flick on a dab of paint ... and go back to staring.
Milan may be overshadowed by Venice and Florence, but no Italian trip is complete without visiting this city. This vibrant and vital melting pot of people, industry and history is one of the treasures of the wonder that is Italy.
Rick Steves (www.ricksteves .com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at [email protected] ricksteves.com and follow his blog on Facebook.
| Priceline’s customer service executives on my nonprofit consumer-advocacy website. The company should have researched your claim, which would have proved you were correct.
I contacted Priceline on your behalf. It refunded the $170 you spent for the room you never got at the Hotel Pennsylvania.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at [email protected]liott.org.
Made of pink marble and decorated with Gothic spires, Milan’s cathedral is one of the largest in Europe. Sleeping: Hotel Spadari, two blocks from the Duomo area, offers 40 rooms with billowing drapes, grand paintings and designer doors (splurge, www .spadarihotel.com). Antica Locanda Leonardo is just down the street from “The Last Supper” and has a romantic, Old World vibe (moderate, www.antica locandaleonardo.com). Eating: Near the Duomo, Ronchi 78 is a Milan institution for traditional Milanese cuisine (Via San Maurilio 7, www.ronchi78.it). Pizzeria Tradizionale is an affordable favorite of locals in Milan’s canal district (Ripa di Porta Ticinese 7, www.pizzeria tradizionale.com). Getting around: Milan’s public transit system (www.atm.it) includes a clean and easy Metro; buses and trams fill in the gaps. Information: www.turismo.milano.it