Saturday, August 15, 2015
Trip to Europe - Milan
France was beautiful and we really enjoyed the sights, food, and most of the people we met. Neither one of us had been to Italy, and it was next. I think we both decided Italy was the highlight of the trip. The Italians are a warm and friendly people, full of life! And there's an opera everywhere you go!
And so we caught a regional train from Nice to Milan, leaving at 3:15, due to arrive at 7. The train followed the Mediterranean coast until Genoa, then turned north to Milan. The train stopped at many small towns on the coast. This turned out to be bad. We were used to trains leaving on time (the Eurostar leaving London left on time to the second!) but the Italian trains were not quite so punctual. We left about 30 minutes late. At one of the small town stops on the Italian coast, an announcement was made in Italian. It turns out there will be a delay. After a short time we get rolling but stop again at the next station. Another announcement, this time we will not be departing for at least an hour. We're already quite late, and now the calculations are that we won't get into Milan until around 10PM, three hours late. We are able to get off the train, and we mob the little store at the station. We joke that the shopkeeper must have arranged this. There is a rumor that the shopkeeper is the brother-in-law of one of the drivers, but that's not really what causes the delay. Turns out someone had arranged suicide by train somewhere up the road, and everything was delayed. This actually made the news. But as we are all getting on and off the train, no one is checking tickets. There's nothing to stop us from wandering through the station into the town and getting back on the train. Or anyone else for that matter.
That's our train, just sitting there.
At this point one of the highlights of the trip occurs. A gentleman sitting near us gets up and asks if we think the train is still going to Milan. I said I guess we'll find out, being not sure myself. We get to talking later and he introduces himself as Dean Fearing, a chef from Dallas. We say we're from Austin, and once again, all of the English speakers think that's just too cool. Also we quickly surmise that he's going to Milan for Expo, and he confirms. Awesome, so are we! Now I'll backtrack a little. Lynne had been researching and had seen that the American pavilion at Expo had a restaurant and one of the first things she wanted to do at Expo was to make reservations for one of the nights. You can see where this is going. Turns out that's why Dean was going to Expo, to present meals for 3 nights. We said maybe we'd see him at the show. Well again it turns out that Dean would be cooking dinner for us in three days! But I'll save the rest of that for later. (It also just now turns out that Dean crushes me in a "Google duel").
Finally the train gets rolling. A couple of stops later, one of the big lowlights of the trip occurs. We are in a first class coach at the back of the train. There is one more first class coach. We had commented that, aside from just leaving Nice, no one was checking tickets as people got on at various stops. All of the sudden, a few guys with plastic bags over their shoulders start walking past us toward the rear of the train. Then it turns into a torrent. All dirty, some smelly, all with various hobo bags, some with sleeping pads. They start taking empty seats. They clearly didn't belong in first class and no doubt they didn't even have any tickets. I tried to stop the parade and shoo them back up to second class, but there were too many, and a whole bunch of them were already sitting in the aisles and the gap between the coaches. There was nowhere for them to go. This is our first hand experience with the African Migrant Emergency. The Italians in the cabin are livid about all this, and they are really pissed at the Italian government. There will be a change in parties the next time Italy votes.
The conductor comes through, looking harassed. I make a smart assed comment, showing him my ticket, and asking if I really needed a ticket to sit in first class. He tells some of the migrants that the police have been called. They all get off the train at the next stop, in no hurry, looking like this is just part of their routine. Finally we get our calm first class cabin back. It takes about an hour for the smell to dissipate.
Finally, we arrive and leave Genoa and the train makes no more stops until Milan. We get in around 10, and take a Taxi to our place, Hotel Tiziano. We are in the hotel for 6 nights, July 27 through August 2.
The next morning we take Milan's awesome subway system into town to buy tickets for a tour. We want to see DaVinci's Last Supper and the only way to see it is as part of a tour. After finding the tour office, getting tickets, and having an espresso (which would become part of the routine), we walk over to the Castle Sforzesco to see the sights. The tour includes the Teatro alla Scalla, the Duomo, and the Last Supper.
The castle is an impressive sight, and now houses a complex of museums, including armor, musical instruments, archeology, architecture, etc.
I especially liked the musical instrument museum. We would find out there were quite a number of music museums, but the one at the castle was the best. One of the exhibits was a live luthier's workshop. This is worth seeing. Advice to someone working on a PhD in classical music: Go to Milan to study for at least a year. You will find dissertation material everywhere.
After our fill of museums, we walk a bit more around Milan, then take the subway back to our stop. We find a place to eat, just a block or two away, an area filled with many different types of restaurants. They open at 1900, start filling up at 9PM and are packed until 11PM.
The next day we got downtown to do the tour. The tour format is more than I can handle, but I made it through. The theatre is OK but not enough to post many pictures. We did walk through the Galleria as part of the tour.
The Duomo is truly an awesome sight. I liked the uniforms that the Italian security troops wore. They were patient and friendly, but fully armed.
Leonardo da Vinci
We don't know it yet, but the windows in the background behind the base of the statue are where we will be eating dinner.
For once we got back to the hotel a little early and just relaxed for a little. We'd been averaging about 12 miles and 40 flights of stairs a day and we were both exhausted. At about 1930 we went in search of food, an easy proposition in our nice little Wagner neighborhood.
A quick comment about the quality of the restaurant service. There's this stereotype that service in Europe is poor. That is simply not supported by the facts. We found one pub in England where we didn't quite understand their system, but from Briancon to Milan, we kept getting the top notch head waiters. Being a waiter is a profession in Europe, and these guys were all fantastic at their jobs.
They take their cappuccino seriously in Italy.
Another comment about restrooms in Europe. In airports and train stations, it wasn't too uncommon to have to pay to get into the restroom. At least in the areas we were, there are no public restrooms. Also there can be some unusual configurations such as squat toilets and questionable privacy, not to mention no toilet paper. But all restaurants have facilities, and most of them are acceptable. So just stopping for an espresso or a quick snack is all that's required to find that desperately needed break. The museums also had restrooms.
We did spend more days and evenings in Milan center, but it was more the same, impressive sights, lots of walking, museums, espresso and snack breaks, then a subway ride to the next destination.
The time in Milan continues with the next post, Lake Como.