Monday, August 30, 2010

Tree Trunks and Train Station: Milano

We were late leaving the hotel because one man, for whatever reason, was late getting out the door to the shuttle.

The highlight of my morning at the hotel was asking the concierge for a safety pin, but not knowing the name for it in Italian, having to draw a picture and explain it. Do hotels even keep such things? Well, sure enough, the lady downstairs (a cleaning lady perhaps? I never knew for sure) had one, and the young man at the desk went down for it and taught me to say spilla da balia. Funny how I could live two years in Italy and never need a safety pin, or at least not need to know how to say it.

The shuttle took us to the airport, where I caught the bus that takes people to the train station. No problems there.

My plan was to buy a ticket to Florence at the train station. I could have bought one while in the States, but since I didn't know for sure what time the shuttle would go, what time the bus would go, and what time I would be able to catch a train, I figured it was better to just wait and get the ticket at the station, as I had generally done when buying tickets from Florence to Milano.

I hoped for the 11:00ish, a slower train, which would cost less and get me to Florence in time for supper. I turned the corner and went down the hall, following the signs for BIGLIETTI (tickets).

GASP! GASP! And a long sigh.........

The line for tickets was the longest I've ever seen anywhere in real life. It came out both doors to the ticket area, spilling into the huge hallway. People and their bags as far as you could see.

After a moment of surveying the situation, weighing pros and cons, I headed for one of the many automatic machines over in the corner, where the lines were only 5-10 people at each--only to have one machine break just as I was next in line, and a second deny my credit card once I'd finally navigated my way through the many screens and choices to the point of purchasing.

I gave up and entered the real-people-will-help-you ticket line. I counted approximately 150 people in line! Fortunately it turned out to be two lines, and there were three or four counters for each line.

I was in line behind a nice gentleman. I asked if this were typical for the station. He said he didn't know: he had lived in Milano his whole life, but it was his first time to take a train out of the city, as his car was in the shop. At least I had someone pleasant to talk with, making the wait seem shorter. hour and a half after entering the station, I finally had a ticket in hand. But I'd missed the morning and earlier afternoon trains and had to wait a couple of hours before my train left.

I decided to exit the station and get some lunch. I found a nice little pizza place with outdoor tables, so there was room for the huge suitcase I was rolling around behind me.

I'm not a great admirer of the city of Milano. Especially driving in from the airport to the station, it seems you see the ugliest areas....And then all around the station is just traffic and crowds and noise. I imagine a hundred years ago when they were planning to build it, it was a lovely area, but the automobile changed that.

So this row of trees really caught my eye, a bit of green in the midst of all that manmade chaos. I just thought they were lovely with their wavy branches, so I took the picture seen above.

Then it was back into the station to wait. Jetlag had hit by this time, and I fell asleep more than once in the big Sala di Attesa (Hall of Waiting.)

It was the first time I'd ever sat and waited there, rather than just rushing through. So between naps I enjoyed looking around--and mostly up. The train station at Milano is quite an accomplishment.

I just read that 320,000 people a day use the station; so maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised at the line for tickets. Maybe I got off easy, who knows?

Looking up from my napping place.

Looking up and over.

Looking toward the opposite end of the Sala di Attesa.

And looking out toward the tracks, looking for my train.

A nice site by the Italian train system is available if you'd like to see more of this architectural marvel of a station (you'll have to open a new browser and cut and paste, as I've forgotten again how to add a link:

Just click on the map, on Milano, and click on "English" (at the top) if you want to read about it. I just thought you might like to see the photos, since I didn't take any of the outside of the building.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Beginning of the Buon Viaggio

I jumped into telling about my trip with Monteriggioni, because of the Alpha and Omega symbol, the Beginning and the End.

From a chronological perspective, the journey began at an airport, of course. Not much of interest to share about my flights--except that I did have an empty seat next to me all the way across the Atlantic, a rare and welcome experience.

And then there was the Amsterdam-Milano flight that had an interesting twist: We had fully boarded and loaded the plane and then were told that it could not fly, because--get ready--a lavatory door was missing. This was not a safety issue, we were assured, but it was a liability concern, and therefore the plane could not fly. We would have to wait for a second plane to land, disembark, and load and board the other plane.

How a lavatory door could be removed from a plane without anyone noticing until the plane was completely set to take off is beyond me. It's a mystery I'll have to live with, though.

So, I arrived at Milano more than an hour late, but that was fine, as I had nothing to do but call this Ramada Inn Hotel and wait for a shuttle to come pick me up. And that's what I did, once I figured out how to get change for a phonecall on a Sunday, when almost everything in the airport was closed....

I was driven to the hotel by a sweet older Italian man, who was surprised to hear me speaking Italian and happy to converse about the importance of travel and languages. He had spent a total of six years of his life in India! A very interesting man, somewhat unusual for an Italian, from my experience.

I'm not one to splurge on hotels, but I learned last time I traveled alone to Italy that spending the money for one good night's sleep after that long flight (rather than going straight from air travel to train travel, and arriving truly exhausted at my destination) was well worth the expense.

I was happy that the same hotel I stayed in two years ago had room for me, even though I arranged it very late in the game. I wrote about this place in my May 12 and 19, 2008, posts, if you want to check it out. Two years ago I had the energy and motivation to walk to the nearby town of Oleggio--the motivation being to avoid paying hotel restaurant prices for food! In the older posts, you can see some shots of architecture in the city and of the cows in the country!

This year, I was less motivated since everything in town would be closed, it being Sunday. But the hotel itself is pleasant, and I paid the circa $17 for a plate of risotto alla Milanese and a bottle of water, and didn't regret it too much. You gotta love a hotel that has this many bicycles out front, anyway!

So, the next morning I took a walk along the nearby streets, where I saw this metal banner for one of the businesses on the street. I never saw the name of the place, but I loved their creative sign.

Walking around the grounds of the hotel itself wasn't too boring, either. They've done a nice job with the landscaping, and the tower section of the hotel adds a note of interest.

I am still in denial about the reality of the European Union. All throughout the years of its being talked about, I hoped it wouldn't come to pass. I'm sure I absorbed some of that attegimento via my Italian friends, who tended not to think it a very good idea. Many still think it was a mistake, from what I hear. But it happened: the flags are seen here and there, usually, as here, next to the Italian flag; the license plates all look the same; the money is boring, as it is the same all over most of Europe; people lament about how countries are losing their distinctiveness; and life goes on.

I end with this photo and its teasing "what's around the corner?" feel, and I'll try to let you know that soon.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Monteriggioni, Up Close

Okay, if you haven't seen the photo from the previous post, you must go look at it now, before reading or looking any further here. Context is everything.

Somehow Monteriggioni had escaped my notice until about two years ago. It is near San Gimignano, which is so well-known among Italian, and especially Tuscan, visitors, that I suppose it has just escaped the media machine, largely.

But our friends who grew up in the area insisted two years ago that I should visit it when possible, so this time, with other friends, I did.

According to what I read (on Wikipedia), the fortress city was built in 1213 by the Sienese, as a lookout and base of operations in defending themselves against the Florentines, who wanted to enlarge their territory.

The Wikipedia article states, "Except for some work done in the late 15th century, very little has been done to Monteriggioni's walls or buildings since they were first erected. Monteriggioni's walls and the buildings that make up the town within are the best preserved example of their kind in all of Italy, attracting tourists, architects, medieval historians and archaeologists. The town appears to float above the valley at night due to the hillside walls and towers being lit from below with light."

Well, I would love to see that nighttime view, but it will have to wait until another visit. If it's waited this long, I suppose another couple or few years won't increase the risk of the city disappearing. Meanwhile, I have happy memories of our daytime visit.

Looking up at the city walls from the parking lot.

Proof that I was there.

With my friends.

Despite what the Wikipedia article said, I'm thinking the walkways were probably added later than the late 15th century. It's really nice how they did this, so you can walk around part of the walls--though you're not allowed to walk on the walls, as I suppose soldiers would have done centuries ago.

I love the way plants grow anywhere they can! (As long as it's not where I don't want them.) I learned on this trip that these are the plants from which we get capers.

The back of the church, seen from atop the wall.

The front of the church, seen from the city square.

The colored stone used in the church is just beautiful! I don't recall ever seeing such stone anywhere else.

I was intrigued and encouraged by a sign inside the church that read, essentially and in Italian, "We may be a small church in a very small town, but we are 42 active Christians who worship God here, and we welcome you to our church." I also saw information about that tiny church helping support mission work in Tanzania. It's not simply a museum in a tourist town.

Ah, Italy!

Standing at the bottom of one of the city's two streets. Walking the street and coming upon this view was breathtaking.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


The lovely tiny city of Monteriggioni sits atop its hill like the sentinel it was designed to be.

(This is a photo of a bookmark I bought in the town. We just weren't able to get this good a picture from the car windows as we approached or left the area. So, to give credit where credit is due, the original photographer was Paolo Busato. It's really neat how much you can see if you enlarge it twice. Gives it a grainy look, but that kind of goes well with it, kind of like a watercolor.)

Tomorrow I'll try to put some of my own photos of the town up, but you just have to see it this way, from afar, to understand why it holds such a sense of wonder. Monteriggioni is near Strove, the hometown of our dear friend Paolo Chesi, where he and his wife Tosca now have a weekend home. (Yes, they are the ones for whom our little dogs are named.)

When Tosca and I were walking the roads around Strove, we weren't quite as close to Monteriggioni as was Mr. Busato when he took this photo, but the view was rather similar to this, only from further away. It's really breathtaking. For a moment I had the sense of walking through a storybook, because we pretty much don't see such things except in storybooks--at least not in the life I've lived!

So, here's the view from afar, and next post I'll share some "closer-ups."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Beginning and End

I wish I could tell you what larger object this image is a smaller part of, but the truth is that I don't remember. I just noticed this decorative section and took a picture of it.

It's from the tiny medieval town of Monteriggioni, about an hour south of Florence. Not very far from San Gimignano, for those familiar with Tuscan towns.

I realized yesterday that it has been over a month and a half since I "blogged," so it seemed that I really should write something. But, having just returned from almost a month spent in Italy and Croatia, I couldn't think where to begin! I'm not planning to attempt a full report of the trip; when I tried that two years ago, it just didn't work, because current life kept giving me ideas to write about, and I eventually gave up on trying to finish the account.

So, for now, here is this photo from my trip. It mentions the Alpha and the Omega, which brings to mind the presence of God, certainly an important reality of the past month of my life.

And it mentions the Via Francigena, a path I was unaware of until two years ago. It is a travel route between Canterbury and Rome used by pilgrims and other travelers from early centuries into the present. (My friend and I even met some modern-day pilgrims on the road as we walked one afternoon.) Monteriggioni, one of the cities along the route, had various ways of welcoming pilgrims and offering hospitality to them. I suppose this little sign was one of those ways.

So, my trip has had its beginning and its end, although I think the trip itself brought about some new things that may be just beginning. That remains to be seen. (Now, aren't you curious?)

Whatever the "via" (way, path) of my life holds, I'm thankful to walk it in confidence that it's not just up to me to find the way, but that there are strangers who have offered, and will offer, hospitality; there are signs to mark the way; there are countless others who have walked before me; and there is the Alpha and Omega who gives strength and guidance to all who want to walk with Him.

And maybe I'll share some more pictures and stories in coming days. (No promises, though. Still a lot of laundry and cleaning going on here! And translating to do!)