I have no class on Mondays, so this past week Simon (my companion in backwards three-day weekends) and I decided to head up to Milan for the day. We woke up early, convened alla stazione (at the train station), and caught the cheap (read: SLOW) morning train to Milan. The three-hour journey was actually quite enjoyable, and we still arrived in Milan to find rain and plenty to explore. Exploring (read: walking in circles around Milan) in the constant drizzle actually turned out to be pretty much all we did, beginning with a trip to the center to check out the Duomo and the Galleria.
|Mandatory tourist photo: Il Duomo di Milano|
(It looks like a wedding cake)
|The sign reads: "Qui il verde è curato da ARMANI"|
("Here the grass is cared for by Armani")
|First corner of the Galleria (Prada)...|
|...the next corner (Louis Vuitton)...|
|...AND the third corner. Tragic.|
If I had to describe this part of Milan with only one word, it would absolutely be "decadent." From the incredibly ornate architecture to the temporary runways for fashion week, from the mosaics underfoot to the ubiquitous billboards flaunting designer clothing, evidence of serious money was everywhere. Nel centro, the McDonald's was five-star and even the grass was brought to you by Armani.
Overwhelmed and feeling that our tourist duty had been done, we headed to the outskirts in search of grittiness and somewhere affordable for lunch. Milan is a city of sharp contrasts, and not a very long walk from centro is the graffiti-rich periferia (periphery) that still hasn't entirely recovered from WWII's bombs. It was here that we found not only a reasonably-priced trattoria (restaurant), but also an abandoned carnival and the work of a graffiti artist with an inexplicable fascination with Gary Coleman.
|My favorite is the flag with the meat with the pig head still on.|
Eventually, Simon and I decided to direct our wandering toward a certain enoteca (kind of like a wine bar) that he had read about that was purported to sell the very rare best beer in the world. So after a series of calls back to Bologna and the indirect assistance of Google Maps, we headed for the Metro station armed with the name of the via (street) for which we were searching. After examining the map of Milan at the station, we realized that this particular via was, in fact, nowhere near anything. But we persevered and took the Metro to the stop which appeared to be closest. It was a train station (Milan has five) somewhere near an edge of the city. After striking out in several wrong directions and puzzling an Italian man immensely by asking which way it was toward the center (he was thinking center like downtown, which doesn't exist), we eventually found la strada giusta (the right street) and proceeded to our enoteca without incident...only to arrive after an hour's journey to find that it was closed until seven, which was the time of the train we had been planning to take back to Bologna.
|Buio e chiuso. Così triste!|
(Dark and closed. So sad!)
As we sadly turned around to begin the hour's journey back to the station and the rain began to fall harder, inspiration struck. We had originally decided to return to Bologna at the early hour of seven because the next train of the same price (read: the next slow train) left Milan at midnight. But considering the fact that we had done little other than walk in fruitless circles in the rain all day, we decided that it might be worth staying. After all, midnight was only six hours away and we could easily spend that time eating dinner and lingering over a beer in the enoteca. Simon was at first skeptical (as Loren says, when faced with a crisis my reaction is generally "why don't we just wait and see what happens?"), but he was quickly won over and we set off again in search of a trattoria of some (not too expensive) sort.
Cue more circles. And more rain. And more circles.
At this point we were well outside of the center in some sort of quasi-industrial area, on a rainy Monday evening. There was very little to be found in the way of places to eat other than pizzerias and kebab stands, and what little there was was mostly closed. But we persevered and eventually found a little ristorante with a two-course fixed menu (perfect for killing time). Simon and I were the only people in the restaurant other than our twenty-something waiter and the twenty-something cook (who spent the majority of their time quietly giggling over youtube videos in the opposite corner). Although this lent the dinner a rather interesting atmosphere, we still dined well on risotto alla milanese (saffron risotto) and verdure alla griglia (my vegetarian staple: grilled vegetables).
After we had eaten, we returned to the enoteca, which was fortunately open by this point. Also fortunately, Simon's sources had been correct: the enoteca did, in fact, have the best beer in the world (the Trappist Westvleteren 12, only sold to individual buyers at the monastery in Belgium), and Simon was lucky enough to snag the last bottle (from which I was lucky enough to snag a few sips).
|Simon in beer heaven.|
After spending a few enjoyable hours at the enoteca, we headed back to the train station...only to discover that there was no midnight train to Bologna. We're not sure exactly how we managed to misread the schedule so badly, but the only train to Bologna other than the 7pm was one that left at 5:15am. Oops.
Further consultation revealed that we could also commence a four-hour journey back to Bologna by way of Verona. Although this makes very little geographical sense, we had no choice.
|Milan to Bologna.|
|Milan to Bologna by way of Verona.|
|Not our train.|
In this way we ended up freezing in Verona for half an hour (the train station was locked) while we were waiting for our connection, which turned out the the the overnight Deutsche Bahn from Munich to Rome. Simon and I grabbed a spot in the dining car, and at least when we arrived at the Bologna station around four in the morning, we did so in style.
As you can imagine, Tuesday was largely spent sleeping. It would in fact have no business being mentioned at all if I hadn't decided to roust myself and do some much-needed grocery shopping, only to find a giant manifestazione (demonstration) taking place in Piazza Maggiore. This was naturally much more interesting than grocery shopping, so I decided to stick around for a while.
|"Alongside the North African revolutions!|
Nothing is forever!
We demolish Berlusconi and racism."
|"We are all precarious workers.|
No one is foreign!!!"
|"I am not here because I would risk losing|
"I am not here because my husband keeps
me shut in the house."
|"North Africa revolted. What are we waiting for?"|
|"Exploited" / "I want a future"|
It appeared to be a rather general protest against bad things (racism and immigrant rights, sexism, and Berlusconi, to name a few), but it's a start. The next day when I returned to Piazza Maggiore to photograph the snow, I noticed another little detail from the protest that hadn't been taken down yet:
Women (and men) who say NO"
|Umbrellas in the snow.|
|Piccione e sirena nella neve (pigeon and mermaid in the snow).|
As for the rest of the week, I experienced my first festa di Carnevale (Carnevale party) on Friday and I learned that Carnevale is a lot like Halloween. There were a few venetian-style masks, but there were also several cows, a vampire, some Blues Brothers, and a guy in no shirt, baggy black pants and a giant pyramidal "iron" mask who looked like he had just missed the anime convention, just to name a few. Marie and I were walked back to centro by a smurf in full-on blue face-paint and spandex. Oi. With her flapper dress, my sequins, and both of our elaborate masks, we were still among the more lamely dressed. Now we know for next time?