Living for the Weekend: Milan

Saturday 14th May

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Jayde said “Hey Johno, do you wanna go to Milan for the weekend?” I couldn’t say yes quick enough even though it meant I’d miss the last Watford match of the season. During our first meeting in Athens I’d rather unsocialably cradled my phone as Watford hung on to beat Newcastle so it was slightly reassuring that travel can on occasions trump Watford.

The early morning journey to Gatwick was as painful as ever as I forced myself up at 3.15 and walked to the bus stop where I waited for a bus which never came. Whilst I wasn’t exactly running late it meant I could have had an extra 30 minutes in bed though as it was Jayde and I both arrived at the airport at a similar time. We even had time to grab a bite to eat. There was mild drama when as we boarded it emerged that the plane was smaller than expected (which meants our designated seats were outside) so we and a few others were both separated though thankfully weren’t put on another flight.

We caught the bus in to the city centre and as it was late morning decided to find somewhere for lunch. Trip adviser suggested a pizza place called Mister Panozzo which had a good rating, was cheap and didn’t appear to be that far. We had expected thunderstorms however the sun was shining so we decided on a walk which took us past the Piazza Duca D’Aosta near the Grand looking Central station and a small local market. We had a brief look around the busy market before escaping the crowds and continuing our journey.

Mister Panozzo looked like a chain with its mascot however it appeared to be one of its kind. The staff were really friendly and even gave us a free starter of cheesy garlic pizza bread. I ordered the chef’s special (chef decided what ingredients to use) which came with loads of mushrooms and whilst I ate a few, I picked the majority off and hid them under my napkin. It was however, despite the mushrooms, very good.

After leaving Mister Panozzo we made our way to the hostel. When we arrived we were told the room wasn’t ready but we were able to check in and to leave our bags in storage. We left the hostel and walked towards the part of the city centre that included most of the historical buildings.

First we arrived at the Duomo (Cathedral) and walked around the outside towards the Piazza del Duomo. The queue to go in to the Cathedral and up to the roof terrace was particularly long so we made a conscious effort to return early the following day. We walked across the Piazza and made our way towards the famous shopping centre Quadrilatero d’Oro. Near to the Quadrilatero d’Oro was a place called Cioccolati Italiani selling gelato which came in flavoured cones or in between a bun. We were still full from lunch but checked the opening times so that we could make time to return later in the day.

Next we walked towards the castle (Castello Sforzesco) however a combination of me and Google maps meant we didn’t quite take the most direct route. It was possible to walk through the castle grounds for free so we walked through the castle court yards and the Parco Sempione gardens to the Arco della Pace. We then took a slightly different path back to visit the Santa Maria seller Grazie which we believed contained the iconic “The Last Supper” painting.

It didn’t cost anything to enter the church so we entered and hunted around. The artwork and decorations were quite ornate however each was greeted with a underwhelming “hmm must be in the next section” reaction. Eventually there were no sections left to explore and asking in the shop realised it was in the building next door. We arrived at the ticket office and were told there was a 3 month waiting list to enter so made our way back to the hostel.

On our way Jayde noticed to a large crowd and pointed. I had somehow missed the mass of people and before I could respond the crowd were making high pitched screams in excitement. We wondered over and saw an elderly guy neither of us recognised come out of the shop but obviously realised he wasn’t why a huge group of school girls were so excited. Next we saw a sign saying Antony Di Francesco but were still none the wiser though when we googled him he appeared to be Italy’s Justin Bieber.

We returned back to the hostel and quickly realised that whilst the reception looked fancy and the website implied it would be as good as the 180 Hostel in Berlin the reality was very different. Firstly there were no locks on the dormitory doors but also building work meant our dorm was partially separated from the next room by a large net curtain. Our other room mates, a young couple from Canada who understandably freaked out when they realised their belongings would have no protection because the advertised lockers were also far too small for their luggage. I rested on my bed and waited for Jayde who advised the shower facilities were tight on space which I then discovered for myself.

We walked back in to the city centre to get gelato from the parlour we’d seen earlier and which just happened to be on a website I’d stumbled across when I was looking for recommendations. I ordered it as a kind of ice cream sandwich with Nutella, salted caramel and chocolate with hazelnut however I’d been severely tempted by the cone filled with melted milk chocolate.

After we’d gorged ourselves on the gelato we waddled to the underground and caught a train to the San Siro. Considering it was the last match of the season and a match between AC Milan and Roma two Italian heavy weights I was slightly surprised by the lack of numbers making their way to the ground though that did make it a more pleasant journey. I got goosebumps when I caught my first glimpse of the famous ground and brought a scarf as a memento. I think Jayde was excited for me though was no doubt bemused by my reaction.

We climbed many floors of steps and took our seats just in time for kick off. I had expected the ultras to generate an intimidating atmosphere but they were relatively placid and smoke bombs and flares were kept to a minimum. The match itself was pretty comfortable from a Roma perspective and AC were rather painfully a shadow of their former glories. Their defending was so calamitous they even gave away an indirect free kick after the goalkeeper foolishly picked up a back pass. It’s quite rare these days and as far as I’m aware not even Watford have done it in the past 15 years.

Totti came on and got a standing ovation from all 4 sides of the stadium but there was little for us to cheer and with Napoli winning Roma couldn’t sneak 2nd their small number of traveling fans were rather quiet. We decided to leave when Roma made it 3.0 around the 85 minute shortly after AC missed a chance to grab a consolation. As soon as we were outside the ground we heard a cheer followed by overly loud celebratory music considering. It’s a shame the “I Rossoneri” (red and blacks) hadn’t scored earlier in the match because it would have ignited the atmosphere.

After leaving the ground we followed the crowd and went slightly off course but found the train station. When the train came in the platform was busier than when we’d arrived and the we somehow squeezed on to the train. Fortunately the stops were close together and we were able to generate some space after the first stop. We walked back to the hostel via the Cathedral though both agreed it didnt look as spectacular as we had expected. We arrived back at the hostel and I fell asleep

Sunday 15th May
There had been occasional loud conversations in the corridor and the room next door, which was hardly a separate room because it was only partially separated. Both had woken me up and even though I’d had so little sleep the day before I just couldn’t get back to sleep so got ready and waited for Jayde who got up a little while later. After leaving our bags in the stored luggage area we had the free hostel breakfast before catching a tram to the city centre.

The queue moved quite quickly and we had a look around the inside. A service was taking place which gave it a moving atmosphere and it was grand as I’d expected however I was more interested in climbing the steps leading to the roof terrace. Unfortunately both of us had seen different signs and ended up walking around the Cathedral before finding the entrance. Luckily the queue was shorter than the one to buy tickets and we were quickly climbing the tower.

I had expected one viewing platform however instead we were able to walk all over Cathedrals roof and therefore got good views of the city from both sides though my attempts to spot the San Siro failed. It was certainly something I’d recommend doing and it was obvious why it is one of the highlights of Milan.

We took the stairs back down and as we were in decent time stopped to get a final slice of pizza from a nearby restaurant. The slice itself seemed as big as a normal pizza and I imagine i had the look of a kid in a sweetshop. We decided to walk back to the hostel and after collecting our bags caught the underground train to the central train/bus station.

Throughout the day we had done a good job of going at a relatively relaxed pace whilst ensuring we weren’t running late and preferably staying well in the Green, ahead of time zone as we were when we reached the bus. We were therefore able to catch an earlier bus to the airport and I napped on the uneventful journey doing the same on the flight.

When people asked what I’d done at the weekend, they probably didn’t expect me to say I went to Milan. It had certainly been an unforgettable weekend and did feel slightly surreal. I had 5 blisters on my feet and after walking 40,000 steps on the Saturday alone my legs were aching but I’d do it all again. It is so quick to get to some historic places in Europe from London and rather ludicrously some can cost much less than a train I once caught to Liverpool.


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