Nearly there.

So, to keep you up to date.

The blog move is completed. The posts have been updated and, with any luck, I haven’t missed correcting any links. Some posts have been deleted and some draft posts deleted. Other draft posts are now published or about to be published.

There’s just a couple of things left to do:

1. Redirect certain old posts on the old blog to this blog.
2. Delete the old blog, putting a “this blog is closed” notice up.

And, of course,

3. Promote the blog – letting you link to it and putting it on the other websites for it to get “noticed”.

Nearly there.

You also might like the new pages I’ve put up (see the pages bar at the top) to enable people to “find their way around” a little easier. I’ve amended About this blog, All about me and added My Best Writing, Most Popular Posts and Information for Tourists/Visitors to Milan – just in case you’d care to have a look.

A long weekend with an old, old friend

What I really need now is a weekend off.

I am, in fact, completely fucking exhausted. The last four days have been just constant activity. And, for almost all of it, F has not been here. PaC is not good so he was down there for a couple of days and then he had to go to London for work. So, it was just me and I feel like I just want to relax now.

But, back to the long weekend, (since Lola is so insistent). It was exhausting because D wanted to walk everywhere. I do understand but, obviously, for me, living here means that I don’t need to see everything so the metro is fine.

But we walked. And walked. And bloody walked. Then, whilst they were relaxing in their hotel I would be out walking the dogs, of course. And then walking them in the morning and in the evening. I actually feel like I don’t want to walk for a week.

Or eat for a week when it comes to it. From my usual one meal a day to breakfast, lunch AND dinner. I am stuffed.

So, there it is. After around 30 years of not seeing each other, D was just the same. A little older, true, but really just the same. And I’d forgotten how much he talks. We would be in a restaurant and we (J, his partner and I) would have finished eating whilst he had been talking, so his food was cold (I imagine). And still he would talk. And talk.

And, what did we do besides walk and talk (or listen) and eat?

Well, not much as it happens. They didn’t want to go inside anywhere. I did take them to Villa Necchi – but I think I only got away with that because it poured with rain on the Saturday. And, so, being inside was a good thing. They said they wanted to soak up being in Italy, so I did my best to give them that.

On the first day, we walked to the centre of the city (via the flamingos off Corso Venezia), past the Duomo, into the Galleria to the front of La Scala then up to Brera where we had lunch. Then around Brera and on to the the Castle and then back down to the Duomo and back to their hotel via Via Della Spiga and the park. That evening we went to Ristoranti Al Grigliaro where we ate fish (this is because J really likes fish and so does F and F was only going to be with us for that night for certain.)

The next day, F was at work. I met them at their hotel which was close to our flat and we strolled through Porta Nuova (the brand new area of Milan), stopping for ice-cream (it was J’s first time in Italy), walking down Corso Como (we stopped in to take a look round Corso Como 10 a famous designer shop/café/restaurant which also has a bookshop and an exhibition space) and then on to Eataly where we had lunch. From there, down Corso Garibaldi and back to the centre and straight back to Corso Buenos Aires. That evening we went to eat at the Cantinetta Belle Donne so that F could get home easily if it got late.

The next morning, early, F left for London. I had some errands to do so I ended up at their hotel about mid-day. We went to La Belle Aurore for a simple lunch and then to Villa Necchi Campiglio (the villa that featured in the film I Am Love). The nice thing was that, this time, we had the tour with a guide who spoke English (rather than a recorded tape) and, as there were only 6 of us, we saw a couple of rooms that I hadn’t seen before (the bigger groups don’t get to see them). In addition, they had finished the work on the basement so we got to see the Butler’s pantry and what had originally been the changing rooms for the swimming pool and the snooker room. That evening, in spite of the persistent rain, we went down to Navigli (we took a tram) and had an aperitivo (with mountains of “free” food) and then a pizza at Fabbrica – they loved the pizzas.

By the next morning, it had almost stopped raining. By 10.30 we were on our way to via Paolo Sarpi, the “Chinatown” of Milan for the New Year’s celebrations. We got there early and walked about. We couldn’t get in to any of the Chinese restaurants but went to a Sardinian place off piazza Gramsci (Ristorante Giulia) and came out just before the parade started.

As J comes from Taiwan, he was able to explain the procession – the Emperor, the concubines, the courtiers, the common people, the wedding party with the bride and groom, etc. So it made it much more interesting.

Then, even before the thing was over, we were back on the bus to their hotel as they had a plane to catch and I had a lesson.

It was really nice to see D again, after all these years. And J, his partner was lovely. There weren’t any “difficult” moments and it was all very easy (if exhausting) and I think they enjoyed it very much. It was unfortunate that F didn’t get to spend more time with them. But I think they did get a flavour of Italy, which was important.

And in a few weeks, my friend, J, is coming for a few days and a trip to La Scala, so that will be nice.

A change in feeling

So, I mentioned before that a friend is coming to Milan who I haven’t seen for more than 35 years. And, I mentioned that I was a little bit apprehensive. After all, we’ve kept in touch by Christmas and birthday cards only. Not even letters or stuff. So I don’t really know much about him over all these years.

At one point, the cards started to come with J’s signature. I guess that was about 10 years ago or more. I’ve seen some Facebook stuff and J appears to be Chinese or of Chinese origin (in fact, I learn, Taiwanese.)

They’re coming tomorrow.

We’ve exchanged phone numbers. And last night, we talked. It was so strange. It was him and it seemed like, apart from knowing almost nothing about each others’ lives over the intervening years, we’d always been in touch. Which, of course, is very good.

In his words, they want to “soak up the atmosphere.” They mean, of being in Italy, of course.

And that made me think. I’ve been here so long now that I don’t see things as different or strange. Or, at least, not so much. So I’m having to rethink. To try to remember what makes Italy different from being in the UK. What makes you go “ooh!”

Aperitivo is one thing. I’ll have to pick some places to go. Eating outside isn’t really on right now, unfortunately. Ice-cream, of course. Pizza. Coffee at the bar. Coffee near the Duomo, sitting and watching the people, even it’s it’s outrageously expensive. The places we should go.

I’m gong to take a couple of days off work. F doesn’t really understand this. He thinks it strange. But, then, even if he’s lived in the UK, he doesn’t quite understand us that well.

Anyway, he’s hardly going to be here. Sadly, PaC is not good and he’s going down for a couple of days. Then, on Saturday, he has to go to London for meetings. I’m not sure when he will be back. Possibly Tuesday. So, in the end, he’ll just have dinner with us a couple of times. But that will probably be enough for him.

So, now I’m quite looking forward to seeing D and meeting J. It should be nice.

In the case of the disappearing train station.

I like the Italian rail service.

I don’t use it much but I like to travel on Italian trains. I find them punctual and a good service. Of course, I don’t normally travel on the regional trains but, rather, the inter-city trains. And, always first class :-)

I usually buy tickets from their website, in advance. It always works fine for me.

So, my colleague asked me to look up trains for her daughter who will be travelling on Saturday from Diano Marina (on the Ligurian coast) to Milan.

Yesterday, I did it. However, today the timing had changed. So I went to the site and typed in the station name. Unlike yesterday, the drop-down menu of the stations did not appear, which was strange.

I told her that the station did not seem to exist. She explained that it was precisely this problem she had yesterday. Of course, yesterday, I thought she was just having a “blonde moment”. It seems not.

In my hunt for the elusive station, I changed the site to English. It sent me back to the front page. I typed in the station name again and, this time, the name appeared in the drop-down menu and suddenly the station existed! It would seem that yesterday I was using the English version of the site.

I tried it in Italian again – no such station. English again – the station exists!!

I feel sorry for the Italians using the Trenitalia website – it seems it’s much more difficult to buy train tickets in Italy if you don’t read English.

Who’d have thought it?

There are many advantages to being English in Milan and this is another :-)

More Tourist stuff to do in Milan

Jean was here for a few days. She had just turned 70 and, for her birthday present, I bought her the ticket to come.

The first time she came, about 18 months ago, we did all the things I do, if possible, for first time visitors – Duomo, Duomo roof, Dialogue in the Dark, Villa Necchi.

So, what to do this time?

Well, although it involved an early start, the day after she came, we went to Venice. I didn’t tell her where we were going and, in spite of the fact that the train was for Venezia, I hoped that Venezia and Venice were different enough for her not to realise. Luckily I was right. She has only started going abroad in her 60s, so is a little more naive than most – but in a good way.

We passed Verona (which she had heard of) and the sun was shining. As we approached Venice, the weather was a bit more miserable – fog – and it seemed cold. We got to Mestre, the stop before Venice and the sign said VE Mestre. She asked me what VE stood for and I said it was just part of the name. I said that the weather didn’t seem so good so at the next station we would go back to Verona.

When the train pulled up in Venice, we got out (with everyone else, of course as it was the end of the line) but she didn’t seem to notice. I said that we needed to see when the next train back to Verona was. And then I said I had to have a cigarette first. So we walked outside to the front of the station which looks out over the Grand Canal.

She cried, which was rather sweet. Anyway, we had a rather lovely day, although, in Venice, there are just too many people/tourists. Living there must be a nightmare!

Day two was much easier. I took her to Casa Museo Boschi di Stefano, which is only a short walk from my house. Then we sat at a café on Corso Buenos Aires, then did a bit of shopping, then another café. As we were sitting, we saw one of the sightseeing buses and I asked if she would like to do that for the next day. She replied that she would. After all, we had walked so much in Venice I was a bit worried about over-doing it.

So,day three was a trip to the Castle where we caught the City Sightseeing bus. It costs €20 per person and there are three different routes (the €20 covers all three) or you can get a 48 hours pass for €5 more! The automatic guide (you get headphones to plug in) are in a number of languages. We went on two of the routes and, if you’re a first-time visitor, I think it’s well worth it. You get to see all the main tourist sights, can hop on and off at any of the stops to visit something you want to see and/or enjoy the ride. It was the first time I had been and I wish they had had them when I first came to Milan.

I’ve put a link to the right (in the useful sites for Milan section).

If you come, do it. It’s a great way to see the city.

Tourists – always watch what you’re doing but if you pay over the odds – walk away and enjoy your stay

I suspect that we’ve all been there.

You’re abroad and not paying quite as much attention as you should. After all, you’re on holiday and relaxed (one would hope). You go to a restaurant, sit outside and order something – say, lobster. You enjoy it as it’s really fresh. One of your party doesn’t like it and spits out the piece they are eating but the rest of you finish everything.

Then the bill comes and you find that you’ve been stuffed for a couple of hundred pounds.

This was not helped by the fact that one of your party had been to this country and had already warned that, before asking for something, agree the price – especially for fish at restaurants. Of course, that made it quite funny, in spite of the shock of the bill.

That was a true story from some years ago when we were on holiday in Turkey. G went there quite often for work, so we relied on him to tell us how to go about things – but the thought of lobster made us forget everything. We reckoned that the piece that V spat out was worth about £8!

What we didn’t do was to complain about it. After all it was our fault. We should have known better but, what the hell, we were on holiday and these things happen.

In Italy, of course, one has to be careful about “hidden” charges. These charges aren’t, generally, hidden, of course, but displayed (although you may have to know a little Italian).

If you go to a bar, for example, have a cup of coffee for about €1 – IF you stand at the bar.

Go and sit down outside the bar and get the waiter to come and serve you and you’ll pay more. It could be as much as €4 for the same cup of coffee! It’s the Italian way. Everyone knows that.

Go to a restaurant and there is, invariably, a cover charge. This will cover the bread sticks and bread and the service (although you can tip up to about €5 if the service is REALLY good). The cover charge (coperto) WILL be somewhere on the menu but isn’t always easy to spot. It varies quite a lot but is usually something like €4 per person.

Go to an ice-cream shop and there is a dazzling array of options …….. and prices. Usually, for a small cup or cone with one small scoop of delicious (or, rather, usually delicious) ice-cream.

Of course, you can go for bigger ice-creams with, usually, up to three scoops. Of course, for this you certainly won’t be paying a few Euro. But you will have, in your hand, something that is almost a meal in itself.

So this is really quite annoying. I mean, there you are in one of the tourist hot-spots in a capital city and you go into the ice-cream shop. You see the prices start from a few Euro so you have the ultra-large cone with three scoops and think that that will cost you 3 times (say) €3. But, of course, each scoop of ice-cream will be double the size of the small scoop and the ice-cream will be hanging well over the sides of the cone. It’ll probably take about 15 minutes to eat it and you’ll feel quite full afterwards.

So, stop complaining. The prices will have been on the board in the shop – it’s just that you were being a tourist and forgot to check properly. Have a laugh about how you should have checked it better and move right along to enjoy your holiday.

So, stupid people. Not for missing that price nor paying so much – but for complaining about it afterwards to the British press.

Street Markets in Milan

Actually, this is all down to a colleague.

She wondered if I knew about a “very famous” (her words) street market in Milan. She gave me the address but the piazza name she gave me didn’t exist.

She can be annoying at times.

So I went on the hunt for somewhere which listed the street markets in Milan.

Everyday there is a market somewhere.

Perhaps the most ‘famous’ is Papiniano. This is on a Saturday near the canals (Navigli) and stretches up a couple of long roads. It sells clothes, mainly. Not all street markets are the same. The one near me (on a Tuesday) sells mainly fruit and veg although there are at least a couple of stalls selling the usual street market stuff (clothes, household goods, etc.).

In fact, people looking for somewhere that’s the equivalent of Primark, here, would do quite well to go to the Papiniano market, since we don’t have either a Primark or, as far as I am aware, an equivalent.

But to get a full list of what street markets are where and when could look here. It’s a comprehensive list and shows a map for nearly all of the markets.

For certain, wherever you live there will be a market somewhere, nearby on one of the days in the week.

Update May 2015: It seems the link is currently broken. Here are some alternatives, although the link above was the best a it was easier to “see” the closest market to where you were living or staying.

1. Where the original map came from. Markets are listed by zone (but you need to know which zone you are in) but no other details (other than street name given).
2. Showing some of the “best” markets, ordered by day and linking to a map.
3. All markets and shown on a map. Click on each flag to bring up details of when it’s on. (In Italian, I’m afraid).

Hidden Gems that make Milan a special city.

There are hidden treasures in Milan, should you be visiting. Some of them are more hidden than others.

There has been a link on the right of this blog for the Dialogue in the Dark for some time, and I’ve written about it before, but it’s still worth a reminder.

A hidden gem that has become less hidden since it was featured heavily in the film I Am Love is Villa Necchi.

It is a stunningly beautiful Art Deco house and should be ‘must see’ on your trip to Milan. When I went there with J towards the end of last year, F couldn’t (and didn’t really want to) come. However, last week he went there and was talking about it for the rest of the week. If you go to the link, make sure click on the slideshow to see wonderful pictures of the house.

Another place that is really a hidden gem is an apartment owned by people who collected art – and then gave the apartment to the state so that it could become an ‘art gallery’. It is just off Corso Buenos Aires but so hidden away that you’d never find it if you didn’t know. It is the Casa Museo Boschi Di Stefano.

Even better, the one above is completely free – i.e. no charge!

The stunning Bagatti Valsecchi Museum, right off Via Montenapolenone has been written about by A Welshie in Italy in her dedicated post and I’m almost certain it is also free!

Milan is a great place to live and visit – providing you can find these hidden places, of course :-)

Useful Tips for Italy/Milan part 1: When to use cash or credit/debit cards

I’m going to start a new tag theme.  Useful tips for those of you visiting Italy/coming to live in Italy.

For this first one, I give you the places where it is OK to use cash and those places where you are better using a credit/debit card.

Cash:  Garages (especially if you are using an Italian credit/debit card); Restaurants (especially if you get a discount); bars.

Credit/Debit cards: ALL supermarkets; most shops;

So, having given this information there must be a reason why.  And there is.  First though, I give you my experience from last night.

I needed to do some shopping.  Spese, here.  Things for the house.  I needed milk, washing powder, coke and some other bits and pieces.  I use Carrefour, just round the corner from my flat.  It’s only a small supermarket but it has most things.  Occasionally, for some other things, I must use a different supermarket.

I come, of course, from the UK.  We may all be European but each country does have a slightly (or completely) different mindset.  And there are many differences – most so subtle that you really don’t notice for a while.

I had to find a basket.  They are always ‘short’ of them.  People, queue up to wait for someone to empty their basket at the till so that they can have one.  Last night, it was busy.  I went in search of a basket.  I started round the supermarket.  Being an inner-city supermarket the aisles are narrow. And there are people who have their basket on one side of the aisle whilst they are on the other contemplating something …… for ages ….. effectively blocking the aisle. Grrrr.

I get my stuff. I start to queue. The queues are long – there are only three tills out of 6 open but, since this is a small store, they don’t have enough people to cover all six. I am patient.

I reach the conveyor belt. I have been waiting for about 20 minutes. It has been raining all day. It is still raining. The woman before me takes her umbrella from the bottom of the basket and places it on the conveyor belt. The umbrella is soaking wet. She picks up the umbrella. The conveyor belt is now soaking wet. I wait in my patient way, seething with anger at the thoughtlessness of Italians. She realises, as I am not putting my shopping on the conveyor belt, that there must be a reason and seems to suddenly realise that her actions and stupidity are the reason. She asks the cashier for some paper to dry the belt. She dries it. In the meantime, the woman two people in front of me is paying for her shopping. There seems to be a problem with her card. She asks if it is OK to leave her bagged shopping there for a moment. the cashier says ‘yes’.

I unload my shopping.

The person in front of me says she’s going to pay cash. The cashier starts putting her stuff through. The cashier then says to the queue that she can only accept cash. I explain that I am paying by card. I ask if I can’t pay for the shopping over at the control desk. The cashier explains that it won’t be possible because it’s not her till that’s the problem – it’s the bank card system that’s down.

I lose it at this point. I say, in my best English – ‘Oh great!’ and walk out, leaving my shopping on the conveyor belt.

In my wallet I have more than enough cash to pay the bill but I no longer use cash at the supermarkets. I refuse to use cash. I will use credit cards or debit cards but NEVER cash.

So why?

Supermarket scams:

1) Sometimes you will pay for the plastic carrier bags. Sometimes you will pay a couple of cents, sometimes 10 cents, sometimes (depending on the operator), nothing at all. This is in the same supermarket, for the same bag but with different operators. It is one of the reasons I rarely go to Unes now.

2) As I have mentioned in posts before, if you offer cash, they will invariably ask you for the small change part. If you don’t give it to them you are likely to find that the change they give you does NOT include the odd 1, 2 or 5 cents that you should have. Either they don’t have those small coins or they can’t be bothered to count them out, I’m never really sure which. And yes, these are major supermarket chains I’m talking about. To be honest, this, I believe, stems from the time when the Lira was the currency and the coins were about the same value as buttons. Italians think of the lower value coins in the same way. We in the UK would never think like this and nor would a shop offer us less than the exact amount of change.

Therefore, ALWAYS use debit cards (bancomat here) or credit cards (carta) to pay at the supermarket.

Shops: Can do the same as the supermarkets above in terms of small change. Pay by plastic, if you can.

Garages: Petrol/Diesel here is about the same price as the UK. I’m not sure this applies if you are using a UK (or foreign) debit/credit card but it certainly applies if you are using an Italian one. There is an extra charge made, by the bank, if you buy fuel by plastic. Always, therefore, use cash. Also, if you use cash, if you have, say, filled your tank with €50.03 worth of fuel (as I inadvertently did this morning), they will accept €50.

Bars: Except if you are going for a night out, use cash. Coffee costs less than €1. If we go for breakfast at our local bar, two cappuccinos plus two brioches (croissants to you) cost us about 5 Euro. And they will always give you the correct change down to the last cent.

Restaurants: If you know the restaurant or are getting a discount (or expect to get one) pay by cash. If you pay by card you will not get a discount or, if you have already been given one, they won’t be so happy with you. Depends, I suppose, if you want to go back there ;-)

If I think of any other places where you should use one or the other, I will update this post.

I hope it helps.