Sunday, July 3, 2011

last entry

Final days
Leaving Milan on the 9am train for Rome meant an early start. Farewell to the same breakfast ingredients and a Ciao to the workers and we walked over to the Stazione Centrale for the last time, past the beer shack that catered to the Africans, some of whom slept in the park after a night's consumption, into the shopping mall at the station and a glance at the bookshop where Doreen had bought the latest Grisham novel, whilst ruing the fact that she had decided not to bring her e-reader so she had to buy a paperback for a larger price than the download. Waiting beneath the Departures Board for it to tell us the platform that the train would be leaving from.

Platform number nine, the sign displayed, and we set off. Validated our ticket in the franking machine and found our seats in car  nine. our companions were to be a mother and daughter who spoke no english. The mother was about six foot tall and had her hair cut in a masculine 'short, back and sides' the daughter was about eleven and acted like a five year old, bothering Doreen all the way to Rome. It must have been the day that the kids got out of school the train, at least our section of it, was overrun with little kids, none of whom seemed subject to parental control, all of them running the aisle with childish abandon. Jeez we must be getting old!

The Termini in Rome was the only stop and it took three hours to get there. Chaos appeared to be the norm for this station but the crowds didn't overwhelm us and we found the right exit to leave from and following the map, copied from Google, the night before, we found the address of the hotel. It became obvious why the hotel couldn't be seen on Google Earth's streetsview, the hotel was in a quadrangular building where the different floors were individual hotels. The Hotel Ferrerese (our two star) was the fourth floor, the Hotel Milo was the third and fifth and another hotel had the second and sixth. This hotel, selected and booked on the internet before we left, turned out to be run by  a family from Sri Lanka. All the doors were operated by button locks and we became quite adept at figuring out how to wait for the guy at the desk to look at his cameras and open the door on command. Very peculiar but gave one a huge sense of security. The room was a little cramped but very clean, no A/C but a fan. Trouble was the temperature rose quickly when one shut the window to keep out the street noise. But as Doreen said, "It is only for one night!"

Settled in we then walked around the block looking for a lunch. The difference between Milan and Rome can be seen immediately - Rome has sidewalk cafes on each stretch of the pavement that you trip over, in Milan you have to look for them. Competition ensured good prices and we had a "Turistico" for twelve euros - a good buy. back in the room we waited out the afternoon heat and then decided that a coffee and a bun would be nice. But I had googled "Irish Pubs in Rome" and found two just around the corner - so we went looking. Found the first one down a side street with three scruffy looking 'navvies' outside finishing off their fags. Doreen was a little discouraged and we entered the gloomy and dimlit space. I said, "cheer up this is what we will be doing in Ireland (in October on our next trip)," Somehow this failed to cheer her up and I guzzled the pint and we left. Walking a short distance, past the usual Roman sights of antiquities, mediaeval churches and modernity built side by side we found the other Pub. This one looked even dingier than the last and we forwent the pleasure. But we did come across a very nice and modern Cafe that served pastries and coffee. Sitting outside we 'people-watched' for a couple of hours. The main sight was a pair of scruffy men who were squeegeeing car windshields. One of them had it down to a fine art. Jumping out with a spray bottle in one hand and the squeegee in the other, he attacked the window as the car stopped for the red light, and refused to be waved off. It is to be quessed that the drivers felt guilty when the job was done and the traffic light allowed them to proceed because most paid something for the job. Very few refused to pay, at which point the squeegier just shrugged and waited for the next victim. Noticing us watch him he did wave and smile as if to say, "it's all part of the game." Calling it a night we walked back to the Hotel.

Up early we entered the very small breakfast room and chomped down our last pastry and coffee. Five minutes later we were walking down the long underground passage to the Fiumicino platform. This direct express - the Leonardo Express - runs every half hour nonstop to the airport. Recognising the terminal from last year's trip, the checking in, the security screening and the finding of the correct gate was completed with the usual waiting in line at each operation and the the three hour check-in process went quickly. Boarding was achieved without being called by seat number and it kinda fitted the Italian "controlled chaos" to be at the front of the line for a change. getting settled in on the plane was easy - too easy as the plane sat on the pad for an hour after the scheduled departure time, the official reason was "a problem with the flight plan!".

Impressions of the trip:

How clean and efficient Milan was. Everything worked, the transit was plentiful, fast readily available. The streets were clean and swept. The people friendly and eager to help. One wondered just who the City Fathers were who planned and built this City that works then I remembered that the Communists had been running the City for years - take that Ford Nation!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Day 4
The Last Supper viewing.

Have to be downtown at 9.15m, that means an early b'fast and a trip on the Metro in the rush hour. Managed it with time to spare and we people watched in the Duomo square. Being a Tuesday the crowds were down and only the commuters were rushing. This part of Milan is the centre and contains much of the  white collar industry. Even in this heat suits and ties were the dress of the day.
Getting on the bus at the appointed hour started the tour, two tours in one - English and Italian. This was achieved by the issuing to all an individual wireless receiver, tied to the mic around the tour guides neck and listening to a bilingual commentary. As usual many of the receivers did not work properly so some of the group were definitely left out. First stop a walk across to the Duomo, we were going inside. Remeber the Toronto pol who got into trouble for tweating that he had met "hot chicks"? Well there is actually a guy at the door of the church whose job it is to check out the chicks for modest dress - no bare shoulders and definitely no skirts or shorts above the knee. What a let down for those of us who have seen many italian churches this one is not lavish. It seems that all of the effort over the last five hundred years has been to construct the outside, not much pomp inside.

Over to the Galleria Vittoria Imannuelle an impressive indoor shopping mall built in the early 1900s. This structure is cross shaped and the main part leads into the Piazza La Scala - the home of the famous La Scala Opera house. We went in to see the inside but no pics were allowed but we slipped one in. Impressive: semi circular in design there are six tiers of private boxes, each seating six on normal chairs, and theatre seating on the floor. One can imagine the acoustics as the hall looks as though it would rebound sound - no corners for it to hide in. On the bus to visit the Castello, and to kill time for the main event - the Last Supper viewing.

When visiting Milan the main touristy thingy is to see the fresco that Leonardo painted depicting the last supper. However as the authorities limit the number of visitors in each session of fifteen minutes in the climate-controlled facility, the tickets are hard to get, if you are an average tourist. Booking online or phoning for a reservation are two ways of getting tickets but they can be tricky to get the dates you want. Secret number one - do not screw around with these methods there is a guaranteed foolproof method of getting last minute tickets. Buy a city tour that includes the visitation. You can pick these toursa up usually when you want to go, at least within the next two days.

So we go in, get a ticket and then access the area by means of two humidity controlled airlocks and then the room itself. After LdV painted the fresco and the room, it was vandalised and neglected pretty consistently over the next 400 years. But in the late 90s complete restoration took the fresco down to the original first layer by peeling away many othe top layers put on by ealy 'restorationists'. The room is bigger than one would imagine and was originally used as a refectory in a monestory. First impressions are 'is that all' bvut as you have to sit there for fifteen minutes the seriousness and sense of history is overpowering and one should leave thinking that have really seen history.

Now we're on our own and decide to wander back through the shopping area, which is pretty much everywhere in Milan. But we did get back to the hotel pretty quickly as the heat - 40 degs was hard to take.

Day 5
Ben's day - the museum tour.
Starting at the Museum of Science and Technology. Purchasing a "Milan Card" because it provided two days of transit as well as discounts for some museums - 30% off the one we visited first. The Museo of S&T housed a LdV exhibit which was realistic and working. as well as housing the Italian planes and trains. a real Brigantine was parked in the main exhibit hall of the maritime section. Two hours well spent. Walking back to the hotel and hitting all the museums on the way was going to be the plan but as we deliberately set off late, to miss the rush hour, the next museo on the list - Pottery and Ceramics, was closed as we arrived - long lunch hours are the norm in Milan. But seeing the Martinitte and Stelline Museo on the map we decided to hit that one. No idea of what it was but it was open and on the way home. M&S turned out to be an orphanage. The museum tracked its history and described the conditions of the 19th Century working life. Interesting. Next stop the museum of Archaeology. Three stories of old stones and exhibits were looked at and we finished the tours in yet another church, this one being differnt in that it really was two churches split by an altar wall. The reason for this was that the nuns had to worship free from the male influence.; not seen before by us. Quick beer and wine stop and then the subway back to the hotel. Tomorrow is Doreen's day - shopping.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The first three days

Day 1
Travel, travel and more travel. Plane, train and foot but we made it after missing a night's sleep. We are getting too old for all-nighters and Doreen made up for it the next day by sleeping the sleep of the dead.
Sunwing and a full plane but we did get the outside pair of seats on the right side. Worth the extra payment for the pre-booking. This plane was on loan from TransEuropean Airways and the crew was Italian. Couldn't see the movie but the meals were timely and adequate. Arrival at Rome, was on the cheap side - down the aircraft stairs and into buses took us into the passport control, one look at the passport and no stamp lead us into baggage claim and a long wait. Walking through the customs hall we declared nothing and hit the outside. Walking for miles we found the train station and the place to buy the tickets. One ticket took us to Milan via Rome. We had been to the Rome station before and knew the drill. Find the departures board and see which platform the train is at. This time the Milan train was a little late in getting on the board so a quick transfer was need but we did find seats 21 and 22 in car 9. being Italy one of the seats was already occupied by a person who just shrugged when hints were given out that she was in my seat, I sat in hers - no big deal. Arriving in Milan the hotel was found and we checked in, unpacked and then looked for food. Finding it across the square we ate a most expensive meal - the first meal is always the most expensive - the usual tourist mistake.
Day 2
Sleeping in on Sunday meant a late breakfast - good all the same. Buffet and the same stuff every day means that we will get the same for five days. Out of the hotel and off to explore. Back to the main station and a slow explore (we are here for a leisurely trip not a fast rush). A nice man at the bookstore told us how to navigate the transit system and we set off to find an automatic ticket machine for the subway. BUT this is where one learns. do not listen to anybody who tries to help you. One guy came up as we were navigating the automatic ticket machine. Proceeded to show us what we had figured out ansd said "money here" and ppointed to the coin slot, as soon as the money was in he rushed in and grabed the tickets out of the slot, gave them to us. He then had his hand in for the change and slipped a two euro piece of the two coin change into his hand and gave us the remaining one euro and said "change". Fast but efficient and an easy ripoff.
Downtown at the main square the tourist office was our destination. Signing up for a trip on Tuesday for the usual sights that included the impossible - a visit to the "Last Supper". This sight, the fresco painted by Leonardo DeVinci, has to be booked many weeks in advance as the authorities only allow a limited number of visitors in the room at any one time, "Can we see the Last Supper?" "Guaranteed" was the answer. We shall see, we still remain sceptical. Receiving advice that the Grand Canal was a good start for a days touristing we were told how to get there. "Take a #3 tram to Porrta Genova."

The number 3 tram took us to the place we wanted to go - a boat ride on the Grand Naviglia, one of the two remaining canals left in Milan. Walking to the boat place wenoticed a huge Flea market, one KM each side of the canal. It was the last Sunday of the month and that's when the vendors come out to sell antiques - interesting. The boat turned up after we had waited in the sun for 20 minutes, it was crammed when we all got on. Up and down the canal and then back to the start and another turn into the smaller canal. Reaching the lock Leonardo had designed we came back - 45 minutes in all and a hot and sweaty 40 minutes it was. Entering the first Cafe we saw a white wine and cold beer were in order. One cookie to go with it and no change from a 20 euro bill ($30.00).  Walking back to the tram stop Doreen mentioned that she was hungry, we had only eaten b'fast, so we looked around, came across a bar selling 'happy hour" - aperitivo and first drink 8 euro - a bloody bargain at the price. Friendly owner and a good time was had by all. With Dire Straits serenading us, and with cheap food and drink what could be better to finish off the day.

Day 3
After the same breakfast yesterday and the same as tomorrow, we set out for the "hopon hopoff" bus stops. These tours, and they have them in every major tourist town, are the best ways to get the lay of the land and identify what you may want to go back and see - at your leisure. In Milan ther are two loops -red and blue. The first one was blue so we got on. Ninety minutes later we had half the town scoped out. As the two lines intersected at the main square - the Duomo, we left the bus one side of theduomo and set off to meet the other bus. But there were major sights to be seen between the buses. Firstlly a coffee stop. Two Cafe Lattes and a sit down did the trick and perked us up. On the way back to the bus we stopped at the Cathedral, bought a couple of tickets, entered the lift and whizzed to the top of the building where we were allowed to walk on the roof: impressive. back down, some 30 minutes later we had to wait for the bus and a McDonalds sundae was the snack. Entered the bus and finished the red loop. This time there was a breeze blowing across the bus and it was not so uncomfortable, did we tell you Milan is having a heat-wave! Back to another McDonalds for a burger supper and then home for a shower. Tomorrow is the walking tour.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday - we're off to the airport

1430 - in the car and drive the big four nothing one to the GTAA. Boarding passes in hand - printed then off at 0930 and changed our seat location from over the wing to nearer the emergency exit - we are fully prepared!

See you on the other side

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

We're off again

With airfares so cheap who wouldn't turn down the opportunity to travel abroad. This time it's back to Italy but this time it's Milan. Follow us with this travel diary