Trip to Italy: Getting There

Getting to the Airport

On a Wednesday afternoon—the day before Thanksgiving—I left for Italy. I had planned it this way to utilize and incorporate two company holidays into my little Italian vacation. Since I was in Carlsbad—a northern city of San Diego—and my flight was out of Los Angeles International Airport, I needed to find a way to get myself there. While it wouldn’t be as easy as calling an Uber that could take me directly to the airport, the best and most affordable option was to take the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner to Union Station, and transfer to a Flyaway Metrolink bus that goes directly to LAX.

A round-trip fare in business class was $98 from the Solana Beach station to the Union Station in Los Angeles; Looking back, I should have chosen to leave from the station in Oceanside, since it’s closer to Carlsbad than Solana Beach is, and the round-trip fare would have been $84, saving $7 each way. The Flyaway Metrolink bus was $10 each way, making the total round-trip fare $108.

Another option would have been to drive to LA and pay for long-term parking, but the cost to park for 12-13 nights would have been nearly equivalent to the cost for the option above.

The gate to the tracks at the Amtrak Solana Beach station

The gate to the tracks at the Amtrak Solana Beach station

I boarded the train at 3:31 PM, and found my way to the business class area, which was located on the second floor of the train. There were ample spaces overhead for luggage, and I quickly stowed away my suitcase and duffel bag and sat down.

The conductor came around and I showed her my digital ticket (Apple Wallet), and she put a colored piece of paper overhead in lieu of a paper ticket, signifying I held a valid ticket.

The color of the paper changes depending on your destination, which I thought was a neat way to quickly identify passenger status visually.

Once she finished checking passengers for tickets, the conductor began handing out goodie bags intended for business class passengers, which included a smorgasbord of snacks ranging from turkey jerky to chips, as well as options for soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. I chose a small, single serving-sized bottle of red wine to go with the snacks, put on noise-cancelling headphones, and watched the California coastline flow by as the dusk settled over the Pacific horizon.

The train arrived at Union Station around 6 PM, and the Flyaway bus took another hour to get to LAX in Friday night traffic.

Los Angeles International Airport

One of the more recent perks of Priority Pass Select membership is dining credit at select airport restaurants. P.F. Chang’s at LAX was recently added, with a dining credit of $30. While this may initially sound like a lot for one person, keep in mind that this is P.F. Chang’s at an airport location. I ordered two entrées (Singapore Street Noodles and Coconut Curry Vegetables) with a pint of draft Kirin Light, totaling over $45 before taxes and tip. P.F. Chang’s is located on the second floor of the Tom Bradley International Airport, where there used to be a steak house (where I dined on Thanksgiving Day in 2016 before flying to South Korea to see my family).

Singapore Street Noodles (left), Coconut Curry Vegetables (back, center), Pint of draft Kirin Light (right) at P.F. Chang’s, LAX

Singapore Street Noodles (left), Coconut Curry Vegetables (back, center), Pint of draft Kirin Light (right) at P.F. Chang’s, LAX

To save on waiting time, I chose to sit at the bar, which worked out great since I met two very nice ladies whom I shared some of my food with. They were traveling from Boston and, when I told them I had never been, urged me to go for my next vacation.

Even though I totally went overboard ordering at P.F. Chang’s, you can probably avoid paying out of pocket if you order just one entrée and one drink. Note that the dining credit does not cover tip, so expect to pay some out of pocket regardless.

After dinner, I still had a couple of hours to kill before my flight’s boarding time, so I perused the duty free shops and saw an assortment of liquor, and purchased an extremely overpriced Apple Watch charging cable from iStore (my just punishment for forgetting to pack one in my hurry).

The Norwegian flight was boarding in an area of LAX TBT I have never been to, at the end of the North Concourse. Walking down a couple flights of stairs led to a wide hallway where low cost carriers greeted their passengers. Some of these gates are designated as bus gates, which means the gate leads you down onto the tarmac to a bus, which then ferries you over to where the aircraft is stationed for boarding. This is pretty neat to experience the first time, though I can see it becoming a minor annoyance after a few times, seeing as how the whole boarding process is lengthened by the added bus loading and unloading steps.

The Norwegian flight used bus gates on both ends, which meant passengers loaded and unloaded directly onto the tarmac and were ferried to the terminal on buses

The Norwegian flight used bus gates on both ends, which meant passengers loaded and unloaded directly onto the tarmac and were ferried to the terminal on buses

While I don’t have any interior pictures of the flight, there was nothing particularly wrong about it. The seat itself had ample width for my body, and food was offered à la carte via the seat-back screen. There was a decent selection of movies to watch for free, and while the screen didn’t seem high-definition, it was good enough to watch movies without frustration.

I spent the 12-hour flight with a mix of watching movies on the In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) and sleeping while listening to music via noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones (Beats Studio Wireless 3). I didn’t order any food as I was stuffed from the meal at P.F. Chang’s.

Upon landing at the Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport, I waited for my checked bags, and purchased two prepaid SIM cards (one for my sister). Prepaid SIM cards are fairly affordable in Italy, costing about 30 euros for a 10 GB data card via TIM. There was also free wi-fi in the airport, which lets you use data-based messaging platforms (e.g. Kakaotalk, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, etc.).

To get to the Airbnb location, I purchased a one-way train ride to the Ostiense station. After about 40 minutes, I arrived at the Ostiense station, and stopped at Eataly (couldn’t believe there was one in Italy!) to grab a Quattro Formaggi pizza before walking for about ten minutes to the Airbnb apartment.

At the Airbnb apartment, Autumn had already opened a bottle of Tuscan wine and set a board of various cheeses and cured meats. The relatively modest feast left us feeling full and tired, and so we turned in early after washing up to prepare for the first Roman morning to greet us.