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Published: December 6th 2009
Milan's famously spectacular highlight is the fourth largest church in the world.
It was somehow ironic that we would be going to Italy of all places for a weekend of Kiwi sporting pride. And going to Milan to watch my first ever All Blacks match on a cheap Ryanair flight (£16 return), it seemed inevitable that I was going to bump into some fellow Kiwis that I knew.
And sure enough, when I got off the bus from the airport at Milan's central station, I saw my old cricket mate Jacques, who I hadn't seen in years. Jacques, just like us, was here for the match and we had a bit of a mini-catch-up before making our way to respective hotels.
Almost giving up trying to find the right bus-stop to get to our hotel was indicative of how things have changed in the last two years. As a backpacker on a budget, a taxi just wasn't an option. It's sad in a way that a little bit of the adventure involved in travelling has been diminished by the improvement in our financial situations, so we decided to stick it out and take the bus.
Arriving at our hotel and sorting out a booking mishap (Davies had somehow managed to just about book
Where much of the city's nightlife is centered.
up the entire hotel for the whole weekend) Gkee, Davies and I met up with old friends Kevin and Tabitha from school, and Kevin's girlfriend Nikki.
Kelley, his girlfriend Penelope, and old friends from uni Ann-nee and Andrew would be arriving the next morning to complete our posse of 10 going to the match.
Grabbing a slice of pizza at the pub around the corner, I regretted not bringing along my Italian phrasebook as I suddenly remembered that English isn't as widely spoken in Italy as it is in lots of other European countries. Tabitha, Gkee and I managed to get what we needed though (vino rosso
would turn out to be the most important Italian words Tabitha would learn this weekend) before we went back to the hotel for an early night - at 1.30am. Gotta hate those late night after work flights.
The reason why we were sleeping "early" was so we could get up early to watch the first half of New Zealand Sporting Pride Weekend (TM) - the All Whites' most important match in 27 years as they took on Bahrain for a place in the 2010 Football World Cup. The last time New Zealand
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Elegant shopping arcade next to the Piazza Duomo.
qualified for football's showpiece event was the year I was born.
I had brought over my laptop specifically to watch the match, where we would use the hotel's WiFi to stream the match. Except that the hotel's WiFi was down and the hotel LAN cable was not giving me internet access for some reason. Epic Technology Fail. A scouting mission last night had rendered our Plan B useless as well, as there wasn't a single place remotely resembling an internet cafe within a square kilometre of our hotel. Dammit. At the time I wasn't too disappointed as I was so tired
, so I appreciated the opportunity to sleep. That is before I started receiving text updates on the match from my sister back home.
"1-0 to us with 7mins to go" read the text from my sister. The longest 7 minutes of my life, as I just lied there waiting for the next text.
"WORLD CUP 2010 MUTHAF*CKA!" read the next one.
A strange feeling of simultaneous contentment and anger came over me. We were going to the World Cup but I couldn't watch the match! Moments like these are what you watch sport for and I was denied the
From inside the massive courtyard behind the castle walls.
experience by circumstance. This was one (of admittedly very few) occasions that I actually wished I was back home in New Zealand, as I knew a whole load of my mates had gone down to Wellington for the match, and I definitely would have gone down there with them. One of few occasions where you actually had an electric atmosphere at a NZ sports match!
Congregating outside the hotel for a sightseeing walk of Milan, we bumped into a fellow Kiwi staying at our hotel.
"Did you guys watch the soccer this morning?" he asked. "We were at a bar full of about 40 Kiwis who had booked the place to be open so we could watch the game - it was awesome! We were cheering every tackle and every pass! Wicked!"
"How did you find out about this?" we asked.
"Met a Kiwi chick on the plane last night who told us about it".
Andrew then remarks that he is disappointed in me. Mate, you have no idea.
Of much reason but little consolation, Nikki tells me that there was no real way of knowing that this All Whites party was taking place unless you found out
East View Of Piazza Duomo
With the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the Vittorio Emanuele Statue and the Duomo in view.
by chance or knew about it through someone. Bloody hell.
Anyway, we had some time before kick-off in the All Blacks game so we decided to do a walk of the city recommended by my Milanese colleague Monica. Monica's travel tips in Budapest
were spot-on and we were not to be disappointed with her very detailed tips for her hometown.
Walking from our hotel to San Babila, we then walked down Milan's main shopping stretch, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, where we passed a paper-mache exhibition and all the main chain-stores. There seemed to be big queues at all the H&Ms - probably for purple puffa-jackets of which there were an absurd amount of (as well as other articles of matching purple clothing) in Milan.
Then came the Milan's landmark highlight - the simply gargantuan but unbelievably intricate Duomo
. This thing was huge. Definitely a specatacular sight to behold, it reminded me of the Duomo in Florence
and the cathedral in Seville
in terms of sheer size. Imagine how long it would've taken to build!
We then decided that we should get going to the stadium for the game.
The Stadio Giuseppe Meazza aka the San Siro, can hold
Circular Ramps At The San Siro
As well as looking cool, these circular ramps were very effective in clearing the crowds.
80,000 people and with the game sold out, an electric atmosphere awaited. It was also another major football stadium ticked off the list with it being the home to Milan's two teams, and two of Italy's biggest teams - the current Italian champions Internazionale, and 7-times European Cup winners AC Milan.
The San Siro is a bit of a hike from the Metro station but everyone was walking, and stopping by at the numerous paninerias
. A nice local touch to have instead of the usual hot-dog and burger fare on offer at most English and New Zealand sporting events.
Getting into the stadium was no mean feat - as we weren't quite sure where we were sitting, but once we worked that out with a bit of local translation of our tickets, we discovered that perhaps we should have arrived here a lot, lot earlier.
Our section of the stand was quite clearly oversold and like a Ryanair flight, there were no allocated seats, so it was pretty much a free-for-all. So much for health and safety regulations then.
Our group ended up split, and Kevin, Nikki, Gkee and I were lucky to be sitting in the aisles. It was
Our View Of The Pitch
Couldn't really complain about the view.
a bit of a joke really. However the view just to the left of halfway was nothing to complain about, and with the stand being so steep, we had a really clear view right on top of the pitch.
Now I hate the New Zealand national anthem. It's the most boring drone of an anthem ever. But when it came on, I suddenly felt a huge sense of pride. I can't remember the last time I went to a New Zealand sporting event involving national anthems (I'm pretty sure they never sing it in cricket), but here I was, thousands of miles from home, with old Kiwi friends in a crowd of 80,000 Italians - it made the hairs on the back of neck stand up.
But not as much as the Italian anthem. 80,000 Italians singing (very well and in tune I might add) in unison was an experience to behold. The roar at the end of the anthem was incredible. You'd never see such passion expressed in such a way in New Zealand.
The noise and passion continued into the match and the roar whenever Italy got close to our try-line and the whistles that came from the
The Italian fans were out in force and were literally in full voice.
crowd with every decision against them was ear-splitting. I was so impressed by the passion on show here, considering that I didn't think rugby was that big a sport over here.
Unfortunately, the match was a poor one. The All Blacks looked jaded at the end of a long international season and although the Italians never really threatened us, they destroyed our scrum on several occasions and we only managed one try. Can't have been easy playing in that atmosphere though - a win is a win!
The circular ramps that are an aesthetic feature of the San Siro also serve a very practical purpose in clearing a big crowd very quickly. The Metro station couldn't quite clear the crowd in quite the same way so we decided to have a drink in a cute little Italian bar that served up some delicious free tapas too!
Once the crowds had cleared, we see a mob of Kiwis dressed in black Spandex suits in the Metro station. I've seen these before. Where's my cousin Rob? Ah, there he is.
"How's it going mate?" he asks.
"Good mate", I replied. "Aren't you a bit cold in that suit?" (It was freezing)
Cute Little Bar
Where we stopped for a drink while waiting for the Metro station to clear.
Rob and his mates have become quite famous for turning up at All Blacks matches in black Spandex suits. It was nice and almost inevitable then that I would bump into him. Rather frustratingly he had watched the All Whites game at a bar in the morning too! Were we the only Kiwis in Milan not to know about this shindig? Godammit.
Monica had recommended we go to an area called Navigli for dinner. The canals there definitely lended the place some character just a pity there was so much graffiti around to spoil it somewhat. It seemed that you're allowed to double-park here as well. I have read that Italians generally aren't the most law-abiding citizens and with the double-parking and the non-allocated seat fiasco they certainly weren't doing anything to disprove it.
The streets of Navigli were lined with loads of bars and cafes offering cheap buffets. We arrived at the Monica-recommended Antic Cafe to find the same deal going on here. If you buy a cocktail, you had access to an Italian all-you-can-eat "tapas" buffet. This is known as aperitivo
The food was fantastic and included antipasti of prosciutto, and salami, hot pasta and several salads.
Where we enjoyed our aperitivo. You can see that there is nothing left on the plates on the bar, thanks to us.
We almost felt bad about what we were doing, but you really can't beat 7€ for a cocktail and a buffet. Have to say though that I am more used to washing my food down with beer or wine rather than a cocktail of three shots put together!
We then went to the Tipota Pub, also recommended by Monica where we enjoyed some good conversation and some free foosball! The monastery-brewed German lager we were drinking was pretty disgusting though unfortunately.
As we left Navigli, the place was just starting to hot up as the bars and cafes all started turning into nightclubs. Although there were lots of people out, no one place seemed to be packed with people.
It had been a long day, and with everyone (except me, haha) having an early start the next day, no-one was too keen on hitting the tiles, so for a change, it was back to the hotel for an early night.
Milan of course, is the home of Da Vinci's famous Last Supper painting, and is so popular that tickets to see it must be bought in advance. We had all booked our tickets separately and I was lucky enough
Santa Maria delle Grazie
Where the The Last Supper is painted.
to get a 1.15pm slot meaning I could sleep-in. Everyone else had got 9.15am while Kevin and Nikki got the rather brutal 8.15am slot. Suckers.
I arrived alone at the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church a bit early, so I stopped in at the espresso bar across the road for an espresso. Mmmmm...Italian coffee...bellissimo!
I didn't actually know that the painting was actually on the wall of church's dining hall. Security was certainly tight, where three rooms with automatic doors must be passed before you can enter the dining hall. I don't know a lot about art, but I certainly felt a sense of awe looking at the painting, probably caused by the significance and importance that people have put upon the painting rather than the painting itself. I don't know if it was the lighting, but looking at the painting, it certainly had a mythical feel about it. Opposite the The Last Supper is fresco of the Crucifixion. No photos were allowed of course, although that didn't stop a couple sneaky people taking snaps. I tend to be a bit more respectful of such rules these days and was annoyed to see people blatantly disregard them.
A tourist gorges his heel into the bull's testicles - but I think you're supposed to just tap them...
Last Supper, I was to meet the rest of the crew outside the Duomo to grab some supper of our own. We settled on an 80s-style pizzeria complete with pink tablecloths, where I had a rather average Milanese veal escalope.
After lunch it was time to say goodbye to Kelley, Penelope, Ann-nee, Andrew and Tabitha as they were on the early flight back to London.
That left Gkee, Davies, Nikki, Kevin and I to wander through the grandiose Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele, an elegant glass-covered shopping arcade. In the centre of the arcade is a mosaic featuring a bull. Apparently it is a tradition to spin yourself on your heels three times on the bull's testicles for good luck, thus ensuring a gaping hole in the ground where the bull's balls once were (poor bull). According to Monica however, you're only supposed to tap the testicles with your foot, as I saw one local man do. And apparently, all it means when you do that is that you will one day return to Milan. So to not look like a dumb tourist, I simply tapped the bull's nuts, although the tourists looking on all thought I was doing it wrong. Dumb
It was at junctions like these when you swear you've been warped back to the 1930s.
At the other end of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is the famous opera house, the Teatro alla Scala, although it's fame must come from the performances inside it as the outside was very bland indeed.
We then continued walking through the elegant streets of Central Milan towards the Castello Sforzesco. With tramlines, classic 1930s architecture, old folks wearing classic overcoats and the odd bowler hat with the famous Northern Italian fog descending upon the city, for a moment I felt like I was in a time warp. I was impressed by lots of the architecture here and some parts of the town reminded me of Paris a bit. Milan certainly is a fashionable place and you can feel that there is a lot of money here. Even the old folks look fashionable - anyone who was badly dressed over here were almost certainly tourists. Milan is after all, one of the fashion capitals of the world.
We then arrived at the medieval Castello Sforzesco, the old residence of Milan's former ruling Sforza dynasty. The castle was certainly large and imposing and we seemed to arrive in the midst of several processions that were running on the main path
Statue Inside The Castello Sforzesco
Statue of St Giovanni Nepocedemo inside the Castello Sforzesco.
that ran through the castle. The people in one of the processions that included horse-drawn carts were dressed in traditional medieval attire. There was also a military procession running back and forth through the castle. It had the tourists fixated as they followed the processions like sheep. I thought it was just rather annoying after a while. In one of the courtyards was a Lego exhibition and on the dried-up moat outside, was a course set up for what looked like jousting practice. It was all very medieval.
A trip to Italy is never complete without sampling some thick hot chocolate, as we did on the way to the airport. It was so thick, you could stand your spoon up it in it. It was deliciously satisfying.
At the airport, I once again bumped into Jacques - on a weekend of Kiwi sporting pride and having bumped into him at the start of the weekend, I thought it was a rather fitting way to sign off.
So that was the end of an action-packed weekend - there isn't an awful lot to see and do in Milan, but I would definitely recommend going there for a weekend away.
Jousting In The Moat
That's what I assume this has been set up for...
The trips are now coming up thick and fast - in three days time I am off to to Bratislava and Vienna. So you will be hearing from me again very soon...
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