Hastings Battleaxe visits Milan.

This is the first of two posts about our holiday to Milan and Lake Maggiore. We spent three days in Milan – I think that was enough…..

The Duomo, Mil

    Had a disagreeable journey to get there – because Philosopher has bad hip, we had booked a car to Heathrow, but the traffic from Hastings was horrendous…. Arrived at Terminal Five where I had requested Special Assistance for Philosopher. It was fortunate that he is still pretty mobile, albeit with some pain, because firstly we were instructed to walk to the Special Assistance Desk, which was a long way, only to find one disorganised woman who clearly had no idea what she was doing. We waited a considerable time. I asked them how long it was likely to be – no real answer, but they suggested we should walk to Security, where someone would be waiting for us the other side…. of course they weren’t. I hunted about, in vain, and we then decided to walk to the Gate… fortunately not too far. It then turned out that the plane had no airbridge…. We were told to wait until the special lift tractor came along to take us to the plane…. and waited…. One of the perks of Special Assistance is that you are supposed to get on the plane first – I think in our case it was more like last……
    Caught the Airport Bus to Milan Central Station – quite easy, and our hotel was very near there.

Hotel Berna- nothing fancy to look at.

    We stayed at the Hotel Berna,Via Napo Torriani, and although nothing fancy to look at it was one of the best hotels we have ever stayed in – anywhere. Battleaxe totally recommends!
     It was quite cheap by expensive Milan standards, but our every wish and comfort was thought of, and catered for. The staff were pleasant and helpful. Our room was quiet, with efficient (quiet) air conditioning and an amazingly comfortable bed. The soft-drink mini-bar was free. There was a kettle, tea, coffee, milk and biscuits. The bathroom was large, modern and well-equipped. Downstairs there was a lounge area with free tea, coffee, croissants, free to use PCs with printers, a bar with an amazing free early evening nibbles buffet that was so substantial that one night we didn’t eat any dinner. And the breakfast buffet! Wow!  Everything! I disgraced myself by having cereal and fresh fruit followed by thick hot chocolate with fresh croissants to dip into it….  If that was not enough, literally next door to the hotel was a reasonably priced friendly little restaurant.
   On  the first evening we took a walk round the immediate area – Milan is huge, and rather a grey city. Much of it is modern, but plenty of old buildings.

Street by the hotel.

  The first cafe we encountered was, would you believe, a cat cafe…. The Crazy Cat Cafe….One of those places where the kitties are free to roam round the customers. Am always a bit suspicious of such things but this one was very spacious and the cats had plenty of space to escape the customers’ attentions, including a whole network of aerial walkways. The cats looked very cheerful and well cared for, the customers mostly young and hip.

     The next day we set off on the Metro for the Duomo. As ever with these Great Sights, the Piazza was absolutely heaving with tourists.  ‘Wait here’, I says to Philosopher, ‘I’ll go and get the tickets’.  Well. There was a queue of about 200 people….  Inside the ticket office it was a milling confused mass of humanity. After more waiting I was eventually directed to take a number from a machine that had ‘senior’ on it, and you then waited for your number to show up on an electronic board above a row of counters, like Argos… I waited, and waited, but nothing like my number appeared at all. Eventually I lost patience, went to the front of the queue, bustled up to the nearest free desk and announced: ‘Mio marito e disabilitato…’  It worked wonders. Two minutes later I was out of the building, clutching the precious tickets.

Queue for the ticket office

     Well, that Duomo is absolutely huge – just as well, given the vast numbers of people cramming into it.  We wandered down echoing cavernous aisles for what felt like miles. I could have used up my entire Fitbit daily step allowance in that cathedral alone….  We didn’t like it. It was very heavy and grey, and felt like a monumental exhibition of power and wealth….. which indeed it was. Mediaeval Lombardy was one of the richest places in the world…. Stained glass was nice though.
     The best thing was was a supposed nail from the True Cross (that cross must have had more nails in than B &Q) which is kept in a little cabinet high up in the roof of the choir. Apparently once a year the Bishop of Milan is hoisted up there on a special cradle, to fetch the nail out and hold I t aloft. Rather him than me – it was terrifyingly high.

There’s the nail – up there in the middle….

Next, we wandered through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, and stopped for a coffee in probably the most expensive pavement cafe in Europe. The galleries are very impressive, some of the passers-by more so, and the prices more impressive still.  A bit later, real masochists, we stopped at yet another pavement cafe for lunch… The coffee stop cost 15 euros (£15 quid these days).  Lunch…. 55 euros for a very modest repast.

Then, on to La Scala. I had toyed with the idea of getting tickets, but went off it when I realised that to get a seat where you could actually see anything – stalls or the front row of a box, would be mind-numbingly expensive. However, our visit to the theatre did include a good look at the famous auditorium from one of the boxes. For me, that was one of the highlights of the trip….

La Scala

 They had an excellent museum including a whole section on Maria Callas – lots of her costumes etc.

The next day we wandered round the fashion district. We saw some nice old buildings en route.

Spent much time marvelling at how anyone could be prepared to pay £4000 for a coat…. Even if I won the lottery I wouldn’t want to get into that..  The fashion seemed very bitsy-ditzy – all clashing fabrics and patterns and glitter everywhere.

   Then, the next day, it was time to get the train to Stresa, on Lake Maggiore. Milan Central Station is not for the faint-hearted. Huge, heaving, vaguely fascist in architectural style…. But we managed – on to the next…..

   So, what did we think of Milan?
   Well, we saw some interesting things but it is not an easy city to get to know – and it is not like other Italian cities we have visited. Public transport seemed excellent – but it is so big…. Would we want to go back  – no. Sadly, not even for the lovely hotel!

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