Published: July 19th 2012July 19th 2012
Coming from the gentle serenity of Scotland to the crazyness of Milan was a culture shock in the very strictist sense of the word, no exaggeration! lol We had a super easy time getting to the airport and checking in and an uneventful flight until about an hour before landing when the plane dropped what felt like a thousand feet (I'm sure it was much less, but enough that it elicited screams from a group of girls celebrating a 40th birthday in Milan). Landing with no further issues, we exited on the tarmac to a bus that took us to the terminal, picked up our baggage and then had to take another bus from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 and then get a ticket for the Malpensa Express train that took us into the city. A little bit of a hassle, but not too terrible.
Now I will say that standing in a bus with a 35 pound backpack and holding another 20 pound backpack and trying to stay upright with an Italian bus driver is a major challenge! But we got to Terminal 1 and made our ticket purchase and boarded the train. At first we were wondering if anyone was ever gonna even check for our tickets, but finally the conductor came by and punched our tickets. Normally, you would think you're done with your tickets then except for a possible souvenir, but nooooo....you actually have to have the train ticket to exit the turnstiles at your arrival point! Thankfully we didn't toss ours!
During the ride into Milan, I couldn't help but notice that it felt a bit like coming into the south side of Chicage. It was very industrial and any buildings close to the tracks were heavily marked with graffiti. It wasn't a great welcoming experience to Italy and it didn't get better for a while! After exiting the train at Cardona Station and making it through the turnstiles through the mass of people, we stepped out onto the insanely busy streets of Milan. With a city population of over 1 million and an urban area of an additional 5+ million, I think half of them were on scooters passing right in front of the Piazzale Cardona. And it was old ladies, women in high heels and dresses, old men, professionals in suits...EVERYBODY was on scooters! This station is a central point for several different means of transportation and connections so there was definitely a frenzy of activity!
I have to admit my initial impressions of Italy were not very favorable. Not only is it crazy busy, but the streets and plazas were dark and dingy looking (no sunlight reached the streets where we were) and pretty confusing until you get a really good sense of where you are. And don't dare step off the streets unless the sign is lit to walk because they won't stop! Which leads to the next part of our Milan story.....instead of walking half a mile with our backpacks, we walked over a mile and a half in 90+ degree heat and humidity (another shock coming from Scotland), frustrated, hot and tired. The map I had didn't exactly match the streets (although later we realized it was quite good enough lol) and we had next to no sense of what direction to go! Now normally Kirk has the better sense of direction, but thank goodness he listened to me on this one, because otherwise, we would have been a mile in the opposite direction of where we needed to be! I won't let him forget that one. ;) About half a mile into it, with very few things matching what we saw on the map, we finally ran across a young guy working at a hotel and washing the courtesy vehicles. Fortunately, he looked approachable (not many did) and was quite sweet in helping us in his broken English and our pretty non-existent Italian. So eventually we make it to our hotel....about an hour or better of walking between waiting at crossroads and backtracking and resting for what should have been about a 10 minute walk. We later saw that we were truly just minutes away from the station!
The hotel was another bit of disappointment. Not that I had great expectations to start with...Milan was really only a stopover....a place to reach the Italian Riviera (Cinque Terra) on one day, and then to reach Venice the next day. The tripadvisor reviews (and I can't recommend this site enough for making travel plans!) were middle of the road, but the location was easy to get to, very close to our departure point for our coastal tour, and I didn't figure we'd be in it very much anyway. Well, I should have read a few more of the one and two star reviews instead of the three and four....I was giving it the benefit of the doubt. The hotel was pretty old and dated, though in a great location to the Via Dante (a pedestrian only street of shops and outdoor restaurants) and the Duomo of Milan (a cathedral that you'll see in the pictures). The furnishings belonged to the late 60's, the room was tiny and the shower was smaller than our shower on our RV....you should have seen Kirk trying to get into it....well, maybe not. lol The staff was nice enough....not exactly out of their way kind, but sufficiently pleasant.
This also was one of the major things we noticed about the difference between the U.K. and Italy. Nobody really goes out of their way to say hello or even acknowledge you in any way unless you have to have some kind of interaction with them, unlike the U.K. where you are immediately well received and everybody's friend. But I will say that when you DO need to interact, everybody (minus one or two unpleasant people who were obviously having a bad day ;) ) was kind and helpful. Our Venice hotel staff was exemplary!
Anyway, back to our room....it's a double mattress on a metal frame, no box springs and felt about like sleeping on a piece of plywood. The second night, we did manage to find a blanket and added it for a little extra padding and that helped some. So all in all, not a great introduction to Italy!
I was so disappointed and tired at that point, that I didn't even take pictures! But after leaving our luggage (reluctantly) in the room, we walked down to the Via Dante to grab some dinner. Now this section of the city actually was pretty neat. There were obviouis signs of Milan being a design and fashion capital of the world, tons of shops with big names, Dolce & Gabana, Louis Vutton, Chanel, Dior, Gucci, Prada, Versace...you name it and there was a store there. Mingled with the shops were all kinds of restaurants, every one of them set up with an outdoor cafe. And the cafe's were all covered with huge awnings, bordered with plants and lighting and each restaurant competed with the one next to it for your business. Settling on one, we felt the grime and frustration of the day fading a bit and could laugh at our misadventures and I of course, reminded Kirk that thankfully we had gone the direction I suggested! We weren't overly hungry, so we settled on a caprese salad (one of my favorites with tomatoes, mozzarella and balsamic vinegar) and an Italian pizza as that seemed to be a specialty at the place we chose. Italian pizzas are far different than ours! Not only are they all the same size...no small, medium or larges, but each person typically orders their own, so it's not unusual to see four people sitting each with a full pizza in front of them. They use much less sauce than we do (on some, not at all), thin crusts, and no pepperoni OR Italian sausage! lol At least not like we're used to. The meats are jambone (ham), proscuitto (thinly sliced ham), salami, anchovies and chicken. I don't recall any beef of any kind being on the pizza options. Then there are the obvious mushrooms, tomatoes, onions and artichokes. We setlled on the Stagioni Quattro.....mushrooms, olives, ham and artichokes. And the ingredients aren't all mixed together like ours, it's divided by a section for each ingredient. So dinner was really good, the pizza was excellent even though it was different and we quickly realized the food was probably gonna be one of the highlights of Italy.
After dinner, we were more than ready to call it a day so we retired to our hard bed and tiny room, set the alarm for 5:45 a.m. to meet our 7:00 a.m. tour departure and hoped this stopover was gonna be worth it the next day!