18 March 2011

Quick Learner - Milan [Italy]

After some last minute wrangling I managed to secure a couch in Milan. Well, not exactly a couch, but I found a guy that was in Milan for business, in his company paid hotel room. His name was Jean-Marc, and being the awesome guy he is, he offered to share it - gratis! Problem - it is a single room and he was unable to change to a double. But not prepared to give up, we made it work. I am currently writing this first part of my Milan blog lying on a bed base. Yes, it is a little hard, but hey, it is right in the city, and FREE! And even more importantly I got to meet Marc, who is a crazy, quad-lingual, loose-as-a-goose, awesome guy. We clicked instantly.

Anyway, lets start at the beginning. I arrived into Milan at about 3 in the afternoon, and wandered out of the most crazy HUGE rail station I have ever seen. Seriously, huge. I made my way down the mammoth streets - unbelievably wide - which all seemed to be completely deserted! Immediately I got a feeling that there was plenty of money in Milan, from the high-rise hotels, to the marble arcades filled with Gucci and Luis Vuitton stores. I reached the point at which I was meeting Marc 30 minutes early, so gave him a text and settled down to wait. Five minutes later he shows up. Perfect.

So we check out the hotel. Yes, it is small, but it was a bed! (well, kinda). I throw down my bag, take a quick shower, then we make our way out into Milan. My initial feelings of wealth were strengthened as we wandered. Instead of small bakeries there were up market stores with glass cabinets and spotless, white interiors. Instead of corner cafes there were chic, up market coffee shops, with an upmarket price... Milan was not going to be cheap.

We had not gone far into center before we discovered why the streets were so empty; the end of carnaval parade was going on. There were thousands of people lining the streets, confetti, costumes, children running and screaming. It was all on! I decided to leave my camera back at the hotel as I knew we would not be returning before heading out that evening. Probably a smart move, but I was regretting it not being able to catch the parade.

I'm not quite sure why, but I was not expecting a lot from Milan. I had just never really heard a lot about it I guess. But just a wander through the center of town and I had already warmed to the place. Yes, it was expensive, but it did not seem fake or pretentious. It was real. And the architecture is amazing! The Cathedral in the central square - breathtaking. Again, no photos, but I will go back and snap some over the next few days.

I had not eaten since breakfast and my stomach was rumbling! Marc was keen to eat too, so we stopped in at a pizzeria. Later I found out the name was Big Pizza. It lived up to the name - MASSIVE pizzas. And sooooo good. I was starving and ate as much as I possibly could, but I still left a huge slice behind.

As it turns out the Couch Surfers in Milan had organised a massive carnaval party! But the tickets had sold out weeks before. Marc had emailed a guy and managed to get hold of one. I wasn't so lucky. Probably a blessing in disguise anyway, I am STILL recovering from the flu - waking up every morning feeling like crap, full of phlem. Drinking and partying all night probably wouldn't be an amazing idea. Plus it would seriously blow my budget. Geeze, listen to me, Being all sensible! ... Anyway, we went to a pre-drinks party to meet up with everyone, which was very cool. Mostly local people. I met an cool woman called Sonya who has offered to host me in her B&B outside Geneva next week, so I will be taking her up on that. The place we went to was having a 'happy hour'. What we did not realise is that happy hour doesn't quite mean the same thing in Milan as it does... well, everywhere else in the world. Here most places have what they call an aperitif. This basically means free food if you buy a drink. Buffet style. Different places run it in different ways - but this place just jacked the price of every drink to €8. Beer - €8. Whiskey - €8. Cocktails - €8. This was not ideal, as I was already completely stuffed! Had I known this I would have just gone there and ate them out of business for €8, AND got a drink. Anyway, hindsight... So my meager budget stretched as far as one drink. But tomorrow night - oh, it is ON!

Marc and I parted ways - I headed back to the hotel for an early-ish night, while he partied the night away, arriving home at about 4:30am, blue paint covering his face. Nice. On my walk home I discovered the Milanese method of parking. If there isn't a spot, just double-park. There were two rows of cars all the way down the street, and in some parts even three. The cars driving down the road could hardly squeeze down. And if the guy on the inside park wants to get out - screw him, he shouldn't have parked there!

I looked out the window the following morning to a miserable, grey day with sheets of rain falling from the sky. Having limited time in Milan meant it was now or never, so I went out for a wander. Yeah, being sick and wandering in the pouring rain is probably not the best idea, but some things you just gotta do. Even with the rain I could appreciate the beauty of the city. I visited the inside of the cathedral, which was actually a bit of an anti-climax after seeing the outside. For the rest of the time I had no real destination or direction, I just wandered...


After a few hours I returned to the hotel, cold, wet, and feeling like crap. So I spent the rest of the avo in bed watching Entourage. That evening we went out to another place called Lollapaloza. Marc tells me it is the Milan's equivalent to the Walky, but better. Girls dancing on tables, swinging from the lights, lighting the bar on fire, all that carry-on. Being 6pm on a Sunday evening it wasn't too lively, but it seemed like a cool place, and by the time we were leaving it was actually filling up.

Lollapaloza was also doing aperitif. The deal was €10 for two drinks and open slather on the food. SWEET! I think I made up for the previous evening, filling my plate with about five different kinds of amazing pasta, cured meats, bread, grilled vegetables. The lot. It was seriously good. But again, I felt like death so we headed home at about 9:00pm.

I managed to secure a Couch Surfing host for Venice which I was very happy about. Only two minor hitches - 1. he wanted me to wrestle? He has matched me up with some other Couch Surfer. A bit strange, right? But he has hundreds of good references, so I don't think I am going to be cut into 100 pieces and put in the freezer. The second was he couldn't meet me until 9pm. So I wasn't going to go into Venice and have to lug my bag around all day, I decided to just take an evening train. Again, maybe a blessing in disguise, as a chilled out day doing nothing was probably exactly what I need to get over this flu.

So the following day I slept for ever! Sorted a few things out I needed to get done, then in the afternoon decided to get some fresh air. I hadn't visited the castle yet - so it was a perfect opportunity. So the castle - Milan has a massive castle in the middle of the city. It is pretty freakin' cool. It has been around in some form or another since the 1400's. Yep, old as! And it has a cool fountain out the front. Check out the photos.


Right now I am currently plodding my way toward Venice. I got a ticket on the regional train at half the cost of the direct one. What that means is that it stops at every station, and takes twice as long. Meh, time is one thing I've got a lot of, money; not so much. I hope things work out OK with the wrestling Italian. If not, there is always a hostel...

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