Milan, September 18-20

A late evening arrival in Milan meant that I had little time or opportunity to appreciate the awesome scale of the city’s central train station. I wasn’t too tired, having had a chance to rest on the train north from Rimini, but I did want to find my hotel and shuck the bags that I’d been carrying ever since I checked out of Hotel Arpa. So I headed northeast from the station, only getting mixed up in my directions once, and eventually made it to Hotel Nizza after maybe 15 minutes of walking.

It was a pretty nice place for a two-star hotel, with a spacious room and a larger than expected balcony looking out over a large courtyard filled with plants and other balconies. I took the opportunity to unpack, clean up and generally make myself presentable, then headed out into the dark of the evening in search of food. My goal was a pizzeria called Portobello, but after walking about 20 minutes south to find it, I learned that its TripAdvisor fame meant that it was packed out. So I turned back north again and made for the Stop pizzeria instead, which was no more than two minutes’ walk from my hotel. Having walked off some calories proved to be a good thing, as the pizza that was brought to my table was the size of a wagon wheel. It was damn tasty though, and matched well by a Leffe Rouge.

The next morning I woke from a restless night’s sleep unusually late (having not opened the window shutters the night before) and counted my bug bites (now around eight or so) before grabbing a quick and mostly inadequate breakfast downstairs. Having started late, I didn’t want to waste the day, so I headed out without any further ado, aiming first for take a proper look at Milano Centrale. It was just as impressive as it had first appeared and even more so when you took some time to explore. In fact, the only thing spoiling it was a large tent out front. This was an exhibit celebrating train station architecture but it rather spoiled the look of Milano Centrale from the front.

Next, I headed southwest towards the Duomo and the city centre (having decided to avoid public transport unless I felt a pressing need). The walk was pretty pleasant, if uneventful, and gave me a clear feeling that Milan was more of a European city than a Mediterranean one. The people felt different, and the city was clearly rich—there was no sign of the crumbling or abandoned buildings that had marked most of the places I’d visited (except Rimini) so far.

When I got into town, the first sight I came across was the rather unexciting La Scala, which was less immediately appealing than the statue of Leonardo Da Vinci in the square opposite. I paid to get into the Leonardo exhibit next door, which was interesting enough and replete with physical models built from his designs and interactive exhibits giving an insight into his work. With a little more translation it would have been excellent, but the real problem was that there was some serious construction work going on in the Last Supper section of the exhibit, and the noise spoiled just about everything.

So I headed out, walking through the uber-chic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II to the Piazza del Duomo. Here the massive and ornate Duomo proved to have a cultural gravity all of its own. I joined the queue to get in, only to find that I had to buy a ticket first, but I got in in the end and wandered around the the Great Hall of Moria-like interior for a happy hour or so. That hour also encompassed the archaeological remains of the Baptistery under the piazza and the crypt of San Carlo beneath the Duomo itself, but it didn’t include the terrazza on the roof, which I climbed after leaving the Duomo itself, enjoying both the narrow stairs and the sunny views of Milan and the distant Alps from the very top of the cathedral.

After all that exertion I returned to ground level and decided to head further west. My first goal was the Archaeological Museum and the associated monastery and church, but when I got there I found that they were closed due to it being Monday. I hadn’t known about Monday being a problem, but I was about to learn. I headed on from there to the Castel Sforza, a massive site on the edge of the old city walls, and enjoyed walking around the grounds for a while, but all of the museums within also seemed to be closed due to it being Monday. Not yet wholly put out, I went to the nearby park, sat down for a bit of writing and to rest my feet.

At this stage I was starting to get a little hungry, so I went in search of some kind of sustenance. At first I was successful, finding the “Chocolate” cafe and having one of the nicest gelatos I’d yet had (chocolate orange and fior del latte). However, while the nearby Santa Maria delle Grazie was open, the refectory next door, which housed Leonardo’s Last Supper was, you guessed it, closed because it was Monday. As far as bad runs go, I was on one.

I headed in search of food too, only to find that Milan’s trattorias seemed to favour closing between 3pm and 7pm, and I was just the wrong side of 3pm. More hungry shrugging ensued until I found a bar that sold paninis and got myself a Gigiotto and a mineral water to sustain me for the next few hours.

Newly sustained, if far from replete, I headed back towards the Piazza del Duomo, taking in a view of the old Imperial Palace ruins along the way. Once back at the piazza, I leveraged my Duomo pass to enter the Musei del Duomo, which was packed with statues, models, engravings, and other items either rescued from the Duomo or found in the workshops of those who decorated the massive cathedral next door.

On my way back from the piazza, I passed through the Galleria again and wondered whether a show at La Scala that night might be possible. I did find the ticket office, but it wasn’t yet open and was crowded with people better dressed and much more serious looking than this scruffy Irishman, so I decided to give it a miss. Instead, I just kept walking, mostly northeast, eventually finding myself in the Giardini Publicci Indro Montanelli, which was full of locals enjoying the evening sun, dogs enjoying each others’ company, runners doing circuits, and two more museums (Natural History and Planetarium) that were closed because it was Monday. Milan is nothing if not impressive in its consistency.

At this stage I’d mostly given up on the idea of getting to see anything new in Milan. It wasn’t quite sunset, but it was past 7pm, so I headed for Milano Centrale, where I got a ticket for Tirano the next morning and some advice (bad) on which train to catch. That done, I headed back to Hotel Nizza. I had planned to go out for dinner eventually, but as the evening went on I found that I simply wasn’t hungry, so I just stayed in, enjoyed the balcony, did some writing and packing, and generally made sure that this night would be more enjoyable than the one before (switching on the air conditioning, setting an alarm, and opening the window shutters, for example).

Next morning, I woke at the right time, didn’t seem to have picked up any more bites, and showered and breakfasted before gathering my stuff together and heading out. It was a pretty relaxed start to the day, and I imagined that I had plenty of time to catch the 9.20am train to Tirano. Except that when I got to the station, there was no such train. Odd. I wandered around a bit more, picking up provisions in the supermarket downstairs, then returned upstairs to write down some notes. Not having much expectation of exactitude from the Italian rail service, I was somewhat surprised to find that the Tirano train was marked on the board with more than an hour to go before departure time.

I wrapped up my notes and strolled to platform six, finding myself a place on the train where I’d have a good view of the Alps. Imagine my surprise when the train left half an hour early! At first I wasn’t sure that I was even on the right train, but it turned out that I was—my wristwatch had lost half an hour overnight and had been the cause of all my time confusion that morning. So the train barrelled on past Lecce and along the banks of Lake Como, carrying me with it as it headed for Tirano and my encounter with the Bernina Express.

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