We’ve been in Milan for almost a day now, and here are some of my first impressions…
I must start by mentioning, the train ride here was HELLA long. Two transfers (Zurich, Switzerland and Lugano, Italy) and took about 10 hours start to finish. The scenery was beautiful – journeying through a portion of the Alps was particularly spectacular. Hubby is still fighting off a cold and tried to rest as much as possible; the toddler was a little super trooper and tolerated sitting on our laps, napping and looking out the windows for the most part of the trip. It was an exhausting day, and we were never so glad to pull into Milano Centrale at long last.
I think the train station itself is probably a taste of what’s to come here in Italy. The place looks like a museum. Or a cathedral. I’m not sure which. It is gorgeous with a huge domed ceiling that belies something greater than just a commuter stop. We managed to lug all of our bags into a taxi and cabbed to the hotel.
Our hotel is perched on the corner of a busy street. The room is smaller than our digs in Cologne, but the bed and the pillows are more comfortable. It didn’t really matter much last night – after 10 hours on trains, I could have slept on the sidewalk. The toddler is enchanted with the bidet in our bathroom, which concerns me a little bit. We’re staying a ways out from the main city center in a more residential area of apartments. A quick glance around confirms that there may not be much to do within walking distance of the hotel, unlike in Cologne where everything you could possibly want or need was within a block or two. Salvation – there is a tram stop just outside the hotel that zips right downtown to the Duomo.
As it was getting on to 8 p.m. by the time we arrived at the inn, we quickly ditched the bags and walked down the street in search of food. Hubby has spent a little time in Milan and is sorta familiar with our area, so he’d already sussed out a small casual pizzeria-ristorante about two blocks away called Il Pavone. My first thought when we walked in was, “Wow, this place is pink.” The walls are a shockingly bright shade of Pepto Bismol. I guess I expected something more subdued for some reason. No matter, though.
A pretty, friendly hostess immediately squeezed us into some seats at the end of a six-top table. The place is small and tables are kinda jammed together. If you’re not careful, you could end up rubbing elbows unintentionally. To my relief, no one looked twice at us rolling in with the stroller. A big flat-screen television on the wall drew more attention from the diners. Honestly, it was sort of like eating in front of the TV at home. At one point, we were treated to what looked like an Italian game show hosted by a couple of old farts and featuring dance numbers by two scantily clad hotties.
There was a steady flow of customers in and out of the restaurant while we were there, which I took as a good sign, and the plates we saw coming out of the kitchen looked insanely tasty. Rustic, hearty, uncomplicated Italian food. I was excited. And starving.
My college Italian is really rusty, but I recognized most of the food items on the menu and ordered the fusilli della casa (the fusilli pasta of the house), a mixed veggie salad and a ½ liter of the house red wine, or as they called it, the “wine on tap.” Nice. Hubby got spaghetti bolognese and a beer. All of it was FABULOUS. My pasta was a huge plate of noodles dressed in a combination of tomato, pesto and cream. Mmm, mmm, good.
The salad was super fresh and unadorned with dressing, leaving me to dude it up myself with the table condiment bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of parmesan. Perfect, and so refreshing to get a salad with slices of really good juicy red tomato, as opposed to the tasteless crap variety you usually find back home. We also got a basket of bread to share. The wine was really light, VERY drinkable, and went down like water. I had to monitor my intake closely, lest I get completely smashed.
We also made the brilliant discovery that the toddler LOVES grissani, those long, thin, crunchy, crackery-type breadsticks. A couple packages of those kept him more than occupied enough for us to enjoy our meal at a relaxed pace. I couldn’t believe how many he ate. On the way out, I saw a plate pass by that contained gnocchi with gorgonzola, completely stopping me in my tracks. Guess we all know what I’ll be ordering on our next visit! We returned to the room where all three of us took baths and slept the sleep of the dead for about nine hours.
This morning, we enjoyed an impressive continental breakfast here at the hotel. They really do it right, I have to give credit where credit is due and this was some spread! Cold cereals, yogurts, breads and rolls of all sorts, cold cuts, cheese, boiled eggs, juice, fruit, you name it. And all included as part of our hotel package – yay! It’s rare to find inclusive breakfasts in European hotels, so this is something we’ll definitely make good use of.
I ate the chocolate croissant to end all chocolate croissants. This little gem was composed of a blend of regular pastry dough and chocolate pastry dough, all wrapped around a thick layer of chocolate baked inside. And I made it into a triple hit by eating a small single-serving size Nutella spread. I seriously thought for a minute I was going to lapse into a chocolate coma. The coffee was top-notch as well. I was thrilled to get a cafe latte in the truest sense — small, dual carafes of strong coffee and steamed milk poured simultaneously to create the perfect cup.
We took a stroll down the block to find a supermarket and stock up on some in-room supplies. It is Saturday morning, so I suppose we should have expected the store to be busy, but this was ridiculous. It was the biggest clusterfuck I’ve ever seen. Aggressive shoppers, practically rolling over you to get to what they want, no one gets out of your way or makes room for you to pass in the crowded aisles – and I’m talking about frail little old ladies and harmless-looking little old men! Sheer craziness.
The store stock was something else, though. The produce was absolutely beautiful – if peppers and eggplants can be sexy, these are some sexy vegetables. Tins of fresh olives, cheese, hanging salamis, yum, yum, yum. It was a feast for the senses. The butcher shop featured a whole row of huge cured hams hanging off the back wall; there was an entire aisle dedicated to pasta and another to wine. The baby food section made me smile – it was the first time I’d seen jars of baby food containing proscuitto and fresh mozzarella. We made our purchases and got out without losing any limbs or getting into any fistfights, then the toddler and I returned to the hotel so hubby could run a few errands for his upcoming trade show this week. He later came back saying he’d walked by another market during the course of his errands and realized that the store we went to was actually the “LoBills” of Milan. He’s promised to take me back later.
After the efficiency, cleanliness and formality of Germany, Italy is really something of a shock to the system. You just can’t get in a hurry here. If you do, you’re likely to find yourself cooling your heels while everyone else chills and takes things at their own speed, wondering what the hell your problem is.
Case in point – coming out of the train station last night, we were on the lookout for a taxi that could accommodate our bags, plus a carseat and collapsible stroller. Mind you, we’d gotten everything into a station wagon in Germany with no problem… the first driver who pulled over to attend to us got about half of our stuff in his car, which was plenty big, and then decided he didn’t have enough room. He unloaded our bags again and pulled off, no offer to wave over a fellow cabbie or anything, leaving us unceremoniously dumped on the sidewalk and back to square one. Several cabs later, hubby finally spotted a mini-van and we were set. His attitude was like “yeah, whatever, I’ll give you a ride,” but at least he got us to our destination.
Hubby calls Italy “scrappy.” It’s not that it’s dirty exactly, it’s just that everything seems slightly worse for wear and outdated. This is odd to say in Milan, perhaps the fashion capital of the world, but it’s true. The buildings look dingy, the streets are dirty and things just have a dilapidated feel. It is what it is, but I’m not complaining! I’m anxious to get into the main city center and take it all in, I’m sure there’s MUCH more to see and be seen.