Milan, July 2015
Although I have been to Italy many more times than I can count, Milan was never on the list of places to go. Over the years I have heard so many different stories and opinions about the city that for some reason I just never seemed to gather my strength to go and take it all in. To go and see for myself and develop my own opinion.
But then the Australian part of our family informed us that they would be traveling through Italy in July 2015, and we realised that we would actually be able to meet up for 4 days in Milan. It was a no-brainer, and of course we absolutely HAD to meet up, and see Milan together!
The drive from Munich is about 6 hours. I know that Google Maps and other navigation-tools will give you alternatives that are quicker, but holiday traffic in the real world makes the average speed suggested by these apps absolutely impossible, so 6 hours is what it takes.
The first night we stayed in a hotel in the northern suburb of Bresso. We were to meet up with a former colleague of ours who took us to the city center of Milan, where we had pizza, prosecco and ice cream. And we chatted for a few hours in the warm evening while Anton played on the Piazza right next to us. It was hot and the visit to our first “Gelateria” - ice cream shop - was timed just perfectly. We enjoyed the first impressions of the city, which none of us had previously visited.
The next day we changed hotel and moved in to the same place as our Australian family, who would arrive later the same evening. We went sight-seeing and went to see a very exciting exhibition about the dreadful dinosaur species “Spinosaurus” - which is a subject that Anton already knows quite well. But the chance to get to see an entire exhibition could not be passed by and it was indeed a nice way to get away from the stinging sun, at least for a short while. As we exited the exhibition Anton drew a very nice Spinosaurus to be added to the museums collection of drawings. He took his time, while we gathered the strength for more walking around in the sun and baking heat.
Fortunately our hotel was well-cooled and ever so often we stayed in our room throughout the late afternoons during our stay. The 38-40 degrees Celsius would otherwise drive us insane. I actually managed it fairly well, considering that I am Scandinavian, but Anton and Alexandra seemed to struggle somewhat harder.
The family reunion was the highlight of the trip. Anton spent the days playing with his cousins. In english - with a broad Australian accent. Together we explored the city of Milan - first on the roof of the sight-seeing busses, then on foot. The heat continued, but we managed with plenty of water and sunscreen.
Unfortunately the Natural History Museum with its fine collection of dinosaur fossils was closed on Monday, which we had not been aware of. But then we walked through the parks and streets while looking for a place to get an afternoon snack. The schedules of the sight-seeing busses were absolutely useless, and we simply could not figure them out. When we were waiting for them by the bus stops, at what would appear to be the right time, nothing ever happened. And when we thought we had plenty of time to get to the bus stop, we saw it leaving in high speed right next to us. We ended up skipping the entire bus-adventure and decided to walk back to the hotel. On the way we went for lemonade, water and pizza slices in a small and very cozy coffee-bar. With prices for the locals - which means rather fair. We even went back there the next day because of their good service and quality. Some advice is due here: Always ask the locals where to go. It is far better than to go to the places near the tourist attractions, where price and quality is usually ridiculous. The smaller, local places can be found all over Italy if you just ask and look for them!
The day after our missed visit to the Natural History Museum we went again and this time we succeeded in getting in to see dinosaurs and other magnificent animals - both living and extinct. The children had a fantastic time, and thus the adults too. It simply IS easier to have children traveling with you when they engage in something like they did here in the museum!
We spent the evenings in local restaurants. The Italians don’t mind families with children and you will not get any annoyed frowning from the neighbouring tables when you enter a restaurant. Whether they have a children’s menu or not varies, but usually you can just order smaller portions of pasta and tomato sauce or the like. No problem!
The local, Milanese cuisine is usually heavy and thus best for the colder winter months. But in the summer we are happy with just a salad with buffalo mozzarella, a plate of gnocchi with home made sauce or a light pizza with only a little bit of topping. Needless to say there are restaurants that are better than others, but in general - in my opinion - Italian restaurants are of a higher and better standard than so many other types of restaurants. The interior deco may lack some passion and love, but I have rarely experienced any compromise with the ingredients and the professionalism of the way the dishes were cooked. The Italians take their food very seriously! And if you are seated by an outside table the interior of the restaurant shouldn’t matter to you anyway. In Milan you do pay significantly more for a meal, but hey, then you have fantastic surroundings and great atmosphere.
We did not get to see the castle or the Technical History Museum with its collection of original Leonardo Da Vinci models. Neither did we get to the large EXPO 2015 area outside the city, which is THE main attraction of the year. And we also did not get to see “The Last Supper”. We only had a few days to take it all in. For us these short visits are more about getting a FEEL for the place and the people around us. See how the locals live. And together with our Australian family we did get exactly that. They liked it just as much as we did. But we will have to return once more to see all the things we didn’t get to see this time around…
We did manage to get into the Dome. We lived literally just around the corner, so it would have been hard to miss. It is a magnificent building and it has taken centuries to build. Already from the outside it looks enormous, but once you get inside (after spending some time lining up - first to buy your tickets, then to enter) you cannot help but get really impressed. The cathedral is gigantic and your eyes will see tiny details everywhere they rest. It must cost a fortune to maintain, so the entrance fee of 12 Euros per adult actually seems fair. Included in that price is also a walk on the roof of the building, where you can enjoy the view of the city - in spite of the burning sun and heat up there.
After 4 great days it was time to go home. We took the metro back to the place outside the city center where we had left the car behind. None of us had any urge to drive around the center of Milan! As we exited the metro system we were met by a group of conductors who told us that we had bought the wrong tickets for the fare and that we would have to pay a fine of 36 Euros per adult. We would have liked to know how this mistake was even possible in a full-automatic, machine driven metro-system like they have in Milan, but they could not tell us. As we would not immediately pay the fine by credit card, the fine quickly grew to 50 Euros per adult. And while Anton got more and more sad and started to cry in the background, we had to engage in a rather heated discussion with the conductors to get back our passports. Note: DO NOT hand out your passports to ANYONE, before you know exactly for what purpose!
In the end we did get our passports back and we also managed to calm down Anton, although he was rather sad and angry! We refused to sign the papers they asked us to sign, because we had no way of knowing what they said. Finally we simply just turned around and walked away. We had our passports. To be frank, I did not trust them at all. Not even the slightest. It may not have been entirely fair of me, but I believe they could have just explained to us - in a calm voice (even in Italian) - that the ticket was invalid (IF that was in fact the case), and that we would have to pay the difference (IF there was in fact any difference) and then simply let it be. But with the aggressive and rude way they approached us they achieved absolutely nothing. Time will tell if they find us and send us a bill by post here in Munich.
A somewhat negative end-note of a fantastic trip. But both the positive and the less positive experiences are part of an exciting travel life! This is how it is, and should be. This is how we like it!