Walking the side streets..
hmm, I gather that Avian flu is NOT an issue in Milan?
Ah, Milan. After leaving the pristine, crisp and clean that is most of Switzerland and riding the rails through some of the most beautiful areas in Europe, we descended into Milano Centrale. Upon arrival, instantly, I was on guard. As we stepped off the train, to meet us was Chaos.. hoards of all kinds of people going every which way, dirt, grime and I am sure a few pick-pocketers thrown in the mix as well. I wasn't surprised actually. I had been here once before, and I remember forming my only opinion of Milan based solely on the train station. Back then, it was pretty much the same, but on top of the dirt, grime and hoards of people was the heat and the smog that was actually INSIDE the station. As you can imagine, this was not a positive first impression. So, this time, since we had a couple days in Milan, I was hoping that we would begin to discover this other side of Milan, the charm, the history and the secret underlayer of the city. Of course, two days isn't enough to really get into the groove of any place, but we certainly did try.
Our first impression of the city was a good one, and this is because I actually picked a good hotel to stay in!! (Mindy, I am hoping that my choices on this trip will make up for the BAD choices that I chose for us on our cross country trip!)
We also had a pleasant first meal, T's first meal in Italy, complete with some fine wine, good food and some nice dessert and espresso. (Not to mention a smoke free environment, something that we had all but forgotten about!) The next day, before taking our first jaunt to Torino for the Women's Hockey game, we had some time to kill. One thing that I noticed right off was that some areas of Milan are not suited for walking, especially if you are a tourist and are not familiar with the city. The sidewalks turn into streets, turn into parking lots, turn into Piazzas...AND on top of that, the names of the streets change so frequently even walking in a semi straight line, that I had to consult the map all too frequently, something that I am uncomfortable doing in public anyway. Somehow, through much meandering, backtracking and map consulting, we happened to turn a corner. There in front of us was the Duomo. This was such a surprise; although we were looking specifically for it, it literally took my breath away to see it. I have seen some amazing things, but this was incredible. I think that I was expecting it to look different, like the Duomo in Florence, and when it was completely NOT what I expected to see, it was such a surprise. Of course, the area around the Duomo was also crowded with many people, and the streets around the Duomo are packed with all the designer stores and the beautiful shoppers. We decided that the Italians, so far, are the best dressed. I definitely felt a bit frumpy in my strectched out jeans,smelly sneakers and my Target brand sweater!
I think Milan began to grow on us a little bit after seeing more of it the second day. It definitely seems like more of a modern business city than a tourist destination. So, in a way, there isn't much to set it apart from many other cities. I am sure that any one loyal to Milan would probably beg to differ, but as an outsiders view, this is what I saw. The next day, we came across more of the local and charming side streets, something that we didnt see much on the first day. I was glad that we saw this other side to the city, becasue had we not, I might have been a little disappointed. We ventured to see "The Last Supper" of Leonardo Di Vinci's that is on display at one of the churches. Although we couldnt get in to see it, (a week ahead reservation is required! what?) we did find a couple great cafes to sit in, some good espresso and again, some good wine!
SO, all in all, we enjoyed Milan...but, we were definitely glad to leave the grime and chaos behind.
Where Milan may have lacked in Charm and Character, Torino made up for. We could sense this right as we got off at the train station. Aside from all the Olympic excitement, Torino right away, we could see was a little more picturesque..set against the mountains with cobblestoned streets and bustling cafes. Who knows, maybe they cleaned up a bit for the Games, but on first impression, we liked it. THEN, there are the crowds, the Olympic billboards, the info booths, and oh yeah, the crowds, or did I mention that already? Actually, it really wasnt that bad. And I can be one for normally steering clear of crowds, but I felt that this was an exception that I had to make. The excitement of being in the host city of the Winter Games brought tears to my eyes..(yes, I tear easily, as you may know!) SO, I embraced the crowds and the excitement surrounding it all. We didnt have too many issues getting to the Hockey Game, and we actually had near front row seats! T made the comment that he never thought that the day would come where he wouldn't be able to see over the heads of the players.. True, we were sitting behind and not much higher than the USA team bench, so we did have some issues seeing the action on the far end of the ice, but, we were close, and when the American Women were pummeling the Swiss down at our end, it was incredible to watch, close up. Our next trip into Torino was a little more problematic. Well, we got to Torino ok, it was trying to get to the Curling venue up in the mountains where we ran into some issues. So, I have to say, there are very few signs depicting just how you get to these venues while you are in Torino. We received a booklet with the tickets talking a bit about the buses/trains to take but, I was really disappointed to see that there wasn't much more posted within the city. I wasnt really surprised though. It seems like the Italian way, to be a little laid back and maybe not the most precise about such things. So, after much frustration, we finally make it to Curling, an hour or so late. When we arrived there, we find more confusion and people milling around, trying to figure out just how to enter the venue around all the unfinished construction, lack of direction and again, lack of signs. We finally made it in though and were able to see a bit of the first "Round Robin" tournament, which is basically four different Games going on simultaneously. I enjoyed it. It was fun to watch the crowds from all different countries exploding in cheers whenever their team knocked the opponents puck-things (I dont know much about the game, as you can see..) off of the target. From here, we ventured back to Torino, a 45 minute train ride. More confusion. As we were boarding the train, an Official looking woman dressed in Train Conductor garb was charging people for the train ride, another thing that we and many others were not aware of. The helpful guidebook mentioned NOTHING about the costs of the transportation anywhere. The buses were free, but apparently, the train was not. Not to worry, we ended up making it back and to the Speed Skating venue, in time to cheer on the skaters in the Mens 500 M.
We are hoping that being the First and Third day of the Games, that these things were just some minor glitches that will get worked out...
some 'unfinished' business..
Cheering with the Fins!