Ciao-ing down in Milan

Last night, I finally got a taste of the good life in Milan. In a show of effort to embrace the Milanese lifestyle and culture, I dolled up in a dress and my leather boots for the evening, although I knew I’d never really give the local women a run for their money. We braved the tram again to head into the city around dinner time and took a nice stroll around the Duomo and through the shopping district. THIS is where the action is – finally, some actual people watching and things to do and see! The place was full and busy, even in spite of the continued drizzling rain.

The Duomo was lit up with a million lights, and when you get up close, you realize the amount of detail that’s gone into the creation of this spectacular monument. A religious service was going on at the time, but we were still able to take a peek inside at the back of the breathtaking sanctuary. We didn’t stay long, but seriously, you could stand there for an hour just getting lost in one thing after another – gorgeous stained glass windows, murals, the soaring arched ceilings, the incredibly life-like statues. Simply amazing. I’m running out of words to describe it accurately.

In a complete juxtaposition, there is an enormous LED screen situated just next to the Duomo, lighting up the piazza with flashing lights and advertisements. About a million very coddled pigeons make their home in the piazza as well, tame as can be. It seems to be something of a tourist trap enterprise to take pictures of visitors amid the fluttering crowds of the critters. One such gentleman approached us and offered to take a photo of us, all the while tossing out kernels of corn to attract the birds in droves. Thanks, but no thanks. He was pretty pushy and refused to take no for an answer, following us nearly halfway across the piazza before he finally realized we weren’t biting.

The most prestigious shopping area in Milan is called the “Quadrilatero d’Oro,” which I believe translates to the “gold district” or something along those lines. It’s like Beverly Hills, Michigan Avenue and Manhattan, all rolled into one. A huge selection of stores, mainly of the highest high-end variety. The granddaddy original Prada store is here, the first haute couture shop of its kind in Milan, and it’s something like 100 years old. We weren’t able to locate it during our brief walk, but I plan to go back to get a look, even if it’s just at the exterior.

Hubby and his colleague stopped in their tracks at the sight of the Ferrari store. A spin inside was a given, and it was admittedly pretty cool. All manner of racing paraphernalia awaited inside, including a full-size open-wheel race car. Race car noises sounded over a P.A. anytime anyone walked in the door, and a well-dressed gentleman at the entrance handed out Ferrari labeled plastic bags for wet umbrellas. Hubby looked like a kid in a candy store.

After managing to pry hubby away, we decided to find a sidewalk cafe where we could enjoy a drink and feed the toddler. We snagged a table at one of the many such establishments and ordered up. There is a definite price difference between the main tourist area and the outer-lying neighborhood where we are staying. A happy surprise, though — the waiter delivered our drinks and then brought out a very generous array of little nibbles as well. It sort of made up for the inflated price of the wine and beer. We noshed on olives, pickles, slices of proscuitto and salami on fresh bread and potato chips. A thoughtful addition.

The snacks only served to whet our appetites, so we caught the tram back to our neck of the woods for dinner. Hubby’s work buddy suggested we go to a pizzeria down the street, one he’d been to the night before and enjoyed. Why not. This place was about the same as Il Pavone, very simply decorated with a scattering of tables, a large tv mounted on the wall and an impressive wood-fired oven from which delicious-looking pizzas kept emerging. The menu seemed much the same as well, pizzas, pastas, salads and grilled meats/fish.

I ordered some of the house white wine, one of the best deals around in my book. In these small restaurants, you can get 1 liter, ½ liter or ¼ liter of the house red or white on the SUPER cheap. My ¼ liter was enough for two smallish glasses and cost just two euro. SCORE! It’s not the best wine I ever had, but for two euros?? It was a fabulous value.

Foodwise, hubby and I decided to share a Caprese salad; I ordered tagliatelle pasta with porcini mushrooms and he selected the penne arrabiata. The pastas arrived first – mine was a very simple plate of flat noodles with slices of mushroom nested within. A drizzle of olive oil and some parmesan cheese was all it needed. Nothing fancy, but certainly tasty. Hubby’s penne had the thinnest coating of tomato sauce and a nice little kick of spicy heat.

taglia

tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms

penne

penne arrabiata

Hubby’s friend put us to shame, ordering a shrimp cocktail starter, spaghetti bolognese AND grilled sea bass. The shrimp cocktail wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen – a small dish of tiny baby shrimp mixed into a mayonnaise/cocktail sauce and eaten with a fork. He said it was good. The fish was delivered whole and the waitress deftly boned it for him at the table. It looked really, really tasty.

A predicament ensued, though. Hubby and I were expecting our Caprese salad to be a simple plate of sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese with basil, as advertised in the menu. When the waitress plunked down a huge entree-sized bowl containing a pile of veggies topped with tuna, we were confused. Her English was not very good, but I tried to inquire about the Caprese with helpless gestures. The best I could understand, she insisted that what she’d given us WAS the Caprese. Ok. I may be a naïve American, but I have eaten in a lot of Italian restaurants and I have never seen a Caprese salad that consists of an enormous bed of lettuce topped with corn, tomato bits, tuna, imitation crabmeat rolls and God knows what else.

Hubby hates fish, so he wasn’t having any of it. I did my best to eat a few bites, but all I could taste was tuna. Which was ok, but not what we had wanted at all. I tried my best to fill up on some of the lettuce and just when I’d given up and pushed the bowl away, lo and behold. Here came our waitress again with a plate of sliced tomato and mozzarella. Our Caprese. Only now I was too full to eat it. She set it down on the table and scurried off with no further explanation, leaving us scratching our heads and wondering what the hell just happened. It was like dining in the Twilight Zone. Hubby dutifully ate a few bites, but the toddler was reaching the end of his patience and we were forced to end our meal tout-de-suite. A fine meal, but hubby and I decided we prefer Il Pavone.

A quick walk back to the hotel, where hubby and his friend enjoyed another beer at the bar and I chased the toddler through the lobby and around the fitness center. I’ve been a little worried that I may not last here the whole week, bored with nothing really to do, but tonight gives me hope.

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