No rooms avail­able at the ho­tel, so why no re­fund?

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - TRAVEL - By Jae-Ha Kim By Christophe­r El­liott

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.

CAMERON HE­WITT/RICK STEVES’ EUROPE PHO­TOS

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

LAURA ISE

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