A day in Milan

Even though it put us out of our way a little, I think we made the right choice to come down to Milan. The drive was only 90 minutes from Verbania (on Lake Maggiore), across the lake on the same ferry we took the day before, through some pleasant countryside and down the Autostrada. The day started off cooler and quite a bit less humid than we’ve had lately, so the breeze on the ferry was the type that makes you just want to spread your arms and grab as much of it as you can.

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In the photo above you can see our technique for self-portraits. I hold the iPhone with one hand, and Eleanor taps the ‘shutter’ button. This results in the classic iPhone self-portrait with arms extended as if we are about to grab and hug you. We haven’t done a lot of these, but we do a few as insurance because I’ve noticed when you give your camera to a stranger to take a picture of you, the result is often awful. We have photos from many beautiful places showing us as tiny dots or dark blobs in the foreground.

The Italian Autostradas used to have a fearsome reputation but I have always found them to be very convenient, despite the tolls. We emptied my pockets of Euro coins but soon were landed in Milan, so it seemed a fair trade.

It would be impossible to attempt to absorb in a single day even 10% of what Milan has to offer. This is a city of great art, culture, architecture, and design. Our goal was only to walk some of the city’s center and find a great plate of risotto. This turned out to be harder than we expected. While walking is easy, the restaurants of the center are mostly pizzerias. Risotto takes time and effort to make, so places that specialize in feeding tourists or providing quick food won’t bother with it.

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We started at Milan’s “Duomo” station on the Metropolitan (subway). This is a tourist mecca, and there was a line to go inside the Duomo complete with inspectors. Since it was once again hot, and the line was long in the sun, we opted to keep walking.

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You really can’t go here without walking through “the world’s oldest shopping mall” Galleria Vittoria Emanuele, right next door. It’s all high end brands in here, and Eleanor joked about doing some shopping but we kept on going. (At least, I think she was joking.)

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We walked for miles, literally. I can’t begin to describe our route, since it was convoluted, but we pretty much checked out every street in a half-mile radius. The Castle of Milan was a highlight, where some Italian artist (musician?) was doing a dance routine for what will probably be a music video later.

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Energy flagging … water supplies running low … no risotto in sight. What to do? Eleanor supplied the solution: a massive cone of gelato in two flavors, coffee and cinnamon. It’s amazing what gelato can do to revive the spirits. Refreshed, we continued our quest for risotto.

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We finally found what we were seeking at a well-hidden restaurant down a narrow side street. You can’t rely on Yelp for restaurant recommendations here (there are few reviews to rely on). We found it the old-fashioned way, by poking our heads in every corner until we found a menu that worked. This was the Calafuria Unione, on Via Dell’Unione, 8, and it had a very nice risotto con funghi (Porchini mushrooms) for Eleanor, and a risotto osso bucco (saffron rice with a very tender veal shank) for me.

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It’s even more satisfying to find a good meal when you’ve been on the quest for several hours. I had gone through a water bottle or two from my backpack on this long and hot walk, and killed a half-liter of sparkling mineral water at dinner too. Dinner was around 9 p.m., which has been typical for us this entire trip.

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It was a good day in Milan, and a full one. We walked roughly 4-5 miles over a period of six hours, shot dozens of photos, saw many beautiful things, and ended up with a great meal. The train had us back to the hotel in 20 minutes. Everything was wonderful … except that we remembered we hadn’t bought anything for breakfast.

So we kept walking past the hotel to a grocery store that a certain online service told us was four blocks away. It wasn’t. It didn’t exist. Should have asked the hotel concierge instead. All we found were a lot of quiet dark streets and two hookers. (One of them gave us a distinct “hmph!” and turned away as we passed by—not sure what we did to offend her.)

Ah well, you can’t let a little thing like no breakfast or an irritated prostitute ruin your day. It’s the next morning now. We slept till 10 a.m. and will have to check out in a couple of hours. We’ll pick up breakfast along the road, as we head north now, back to Switzerland.

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