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Europe 2004

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Journal for 11-September-2004 : San Giuliano Milanese (Milan)

This has to be the worst day of the trip.

After an hour trying to buy the right phone card, we called Air New Zealand to find out what our options were. We hoped we could change our flight to leave from Rome, which we presumed we could get to by train.

“Uf ut's uh pupa tuckit, tah chunge a distanution, wah need tuh seat thuh tuckit”.
“wah need tuh seat thuh tuckit”
I'm sorry I don't understand.
“wah need tuh seat thuh tuckit” (louder this time).

It turns out, because we have paper tickets Air New Zealand wants to eyeball our originals before issuing new ones with different destinations on them (so they don't end up issuing duplicates). Air NZ doesn't have an office in Italy, so we'd have to go to London to do this, or (based on the say so of as 13 year old phone operator who had to ask his supervisor), send our only tickets home off to London and hope something appropriate returns to us somewhere, somehow in Italy. So with that we decided we'd get our Travel Agent to try and sort it out for us, on Monday when they re-open.

In the meantime, maybe we could try cycling some of the very indirect, hilly, narrow roads that don't seem to go anywhere. Also, maybe things might be a bit quieter on a Saturday. In France, these roads were deserted. In Italy, they are still very busy. We climbed for one kilometre up a steep little narrow twisty road that lead (the indirect way) to a small village of no more than 20 houses, according or our maps. Now this road varied in width between one and one and a half lanes wide, had a retaining wall up one side and a very well scared guard rail protected a precipitous descent down the other. On this road to nowhere in that first K more than 30 cars zipped past us, in each direction. All the passes were necessarily tight, but after the second really close call we decided enough was enough and turned around and cycled – very carefully - back to Chivasso.

We made it to Chivasso train station just after noon, bringing our daily total to the grand sum of 5km. Chivasso is less than a kilometre across, but given we had to cross two busy boulevards, negotiate 4 roundabouts, an maze of cobbled streets, a pedestrian mall (cobbled of course) and four one way lanes the wrong way, we thought this wasn't too bad.

So we did the unthinkable, and caught a train to Milan with a view to heading to Rome and play tourist for a while, then flying home.

From the train I spotted a nice little back road that was quiet. I felt a touch ashamed we hadn't made the effort to find this little road, until I followed it's route over a creek, through a corn field, then straight to approaches of a massive overpass. Neither the quiet little road, the huge overpass nor the new high speed railway it crossed were on our maps, presumably because neither the railway nor the overpass were completed.

The train to Milan was no problem, but Milan Train station was absolute chaos! Finding the tourist office took us two hours. It was up a dingy arcade, the only without a blazing neon sign and really only identifiable by the queue of bewildered foreigners stringing out of it. Having said that, all of this station had lengthy queues of bewildered foreigners. While standing in one such queue I realised there were Aussies in front of us. A quick chat followed, from which I learned Milan is to host the Italian Grand Prix tomorrow.

We found an internet cafe across the piazza opposite the station, and booked a very expensive hotel room, but still the cheapest we could find. The internet gave instructions to the hotel's location, which amounted to: “Exit Freeway (bikes not allowed) then follow the signs”. It also had public transport guide, which I planned using to identify the hotel's location. After paying and booking, I noticed the public transport guide ended with the ultra useful phrase “after leaving XYZ station, catch a taxi”. Another visit to the tourist office left us with some more detailed maps, and a rough idea that the hotel was in “a small village just outside Milan”. It was certainly just outside our map.

So, we cycled across Milan, around the old part of town, thus avoid the cobbles, except at every second piazza intersection of course. While just as chaotic as the open roads, Italian city traffic is so slow it's relatively easy for a cyclist to claim and defend some space on the road. Our problems came when we reached the city outskirts. Some very imaginative road arrangements left us completely confused, at one point going around a semi-roundabouty spirally thing three times – each time in a different way – till we found our route out.

The hotel described itself as 8ks from the centre of town. After nearly 20ks of cycling we were way off our maps, but still cycling past row after row of high rise residential buildings. No sign of this little village, but a mud map sign by a graffitied tobacco shop suggested we'd found it. And low and behold we did find those mythical signs to the hotel! It was only another 5ks cycling through a short stretch of corn paddocks, across the railway, across the new railway, across the freeway, across the new freeway, then several more Ks of warehouses and factories. Behind a cement wall and security lattice fencing was another huge box with a “Hotel” sign on top of it. We'd cycled all of 25ks today, and arrived just on dusk.

No meals at the hotel, but we were given directions and a mud map to a restaurant “800m away”. So after a much need shower, we set off on foot with our mudmap and empty stomaches guiding us through the darkness. After walking about two or three ks through the industrial area past the gypsy encampment we started to set barking the viscous dogs keeping intruders out of the fringe residential area. Eventually someone came up to us and offered us directions. People walked about here are very obviously lost. They hadn't heard of this restaurant, but kindly looked it up for us, the drove us there. Italians can be such nice people!

After a huge (too huge in fact, because we ordered while hungry) meal we walked back to the main road, then back to the hotel, probably by a very indirect route. Rather incredulously we did find it, and we only had to walk for about an hour and a half.

So far, for us Italy has been like a role play computer game, where you can't work how to get to the next level. As nice as the food and people are, we fell trapped and no matter what we try, we seem to make things worse.

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