Friday, September 4, 2015

Off to the races: Monza, Day 1

Off to the Races:  Monza, Day 1

Incoming drencher!
Yesterday, after we arrived in Bergammo we took the day to just catch up on some sleep and kind of regroup.  You know, pick out the dirty laundry and segregate it so it won't corrupt the clean, locate the toothpaste  you'd so carefully packed where you wouldn't forget it's location... that kind of thing.  Late in the afternoon, we decided to take the funicular up to the old city of Bergammo, the Citadel.  Most medieval towns have such a defensive area--it's how they survived into the subsequent historical eras.  We spent a few minutes looking around and then began hearing thunder and seeing lightning.  The Citadel, being high on a hill, was a good place to see the ominous sheets of rain in the distance, and moving our way, quickly.  We decided it might be best to head back down in the funicular and find dinner.

Right after we got off the funicular, it began to rain.  Nothing serious, just moderately heavy stuff.  Two blocks from the hotel, that changed to monsoonal strength and by the time we got back to the hotel, we were soaked to the skin and the insides of our "weatherproof" bags were dripping.  Dried and warm, we grabbed our rain coats (which, of course, both of us had left in the room) and went in search of dinner.  This is Italy.  A good meal is never far away.

This morning, we scurried out of bed, grabbed some hotel breakfast and set off for the train station and our ultimate goal:  Monza.  Rob tried to buy tickets online, but Trenitalia was having none of it.  Not only was their website dead set on speaking only Italian, but it was moving with customary Italian efficiency and would't let us past the initial name/email/where do you want to go page.  So, thinking he had the problem solved (and, he should have) he went to one of the ticket machines.  Insert his card into the machine and BOOM.  No sale.  Our cards all have the chip in them, but the rest of the Western world uses chip and PIN and that hasn't yet arrived on our shores.  Some modern banking system we have when the likes of Italy and Greece can better protect credit cards than we can!

We did finally find a way to purchase tickets, the old fashioned way, at the candy store.  We got on the train and found ourselves in another mini-UN.  An Italian boy, an Australian couple, an English couple and us, all united in getting to the racetrack.  The Italian kid, Vincenzo, was very helpful to all of us newbies and we finally got to the track just as the F1 teams were finishing their first round of practice.  At these events, there are three levels of Grand Prix cars: F1, GP2 and GP3.  GP2 and 3 are where the little boys learn to be big boys.  Quite a few of the F1 drivers came up through the  GP system.  The difference really, is the cars.  They're smaller and a little slower, but still fun to watch.

Team Lotus
After the GP2 practice, we found some lunch and toured the merchandise tents looking for trinkets.  Actually, we were looking for t-shirts, and while the really cool t-shirts are Ferrari and Red Bull, we both had reasons we couldn't represent for either of those teams.  Ferrari is the 9,000,000 pound gorilla in Italy and their fans are legion and legendary.  They don't need two more, plus their merchandise is enormously expensive.  Red Bull--well, it's Red Bull and it's hard to be seen wearing their t-shirt.  The current circuit leaders are Mercedes AMG Petronas.  Their drivers are both just jerks, so can't do that.  We finally decided to go with the really cool (I mean it) Lotus shirts.  Their team has been struggling financially and almost didn't make it to this race, so what the heck.  Team Lotus we are.

A quick word about Monza.  The original track was finished in 1922, one of three autodromes in the world at that time.  Indy being another, by the way.  For many years, because of it's steeply banked (60 degrees) curves, it was considered the deadliest track on the circuit.  It underwent redesigns in the 1950's and again in 1980 and is now much, much safer.  From where we sat, you could see firemen and extinguishers every 100' or so, bulldozers and tow trucks lining the inner field and medics and police everywhere.  We did see one engine fire, but it was out almost before you could register it.  You can walk around the perimeter and still see the old track--photos of that tomorrow or Sunday, I promise.

Rob arranged for our assigned seats in Section 1 of the grandstand.  We are up 8 rows and about 5 seats away from the Start/Finish, right in the middle of the straightaway.  Pretty near perfect.  We got to see the second practice of the day and I'm really excited to see the qualifying and race tomorrow and Sunday.  It's going to be fun to watch all those cars all bunched up together going at full speed!

For the record:  all these photos were taken on my iPhone!

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