Searching for the tourists

Today was the only fully unscheduled day on my Milan itinerary.  (Tomorrow being La Scala and Thursday being the Last Supper, and perhaps a day trip)  After dropping my mercato purchases at the hotel, I set out to visit the top sights.

Milan doesn’t have a lot “top sights.”

And even the one it does have are kind of crap.

First was Castello Sforzesco, a massive complex (well, it is a castle afterall) with a scattershot collection of museums.  A few interesting items, but very poorly organized.  The maps are impossible as well – there are at least three floors within the complex, but the maps don’t indicate which floor a given gallery is on, and staircases are few and far between.  The small Egyptian collection was perhaps the highlight.  When an Egyptian object says “provenance unknown,” we can pretty much assume “grave robber” right?

From there, I took a look at Milan’s Duomo.  An impressive structure, but again, didn’t really set me on fire.  Was very disappointed that the archaeological exhibit under the nave was closed.

The church is adjacent to the rather amazing Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which perhaps more aptly reflects the soul of Milan.

Perhaps the oddest thing is that, despite visiting what are ostensibly two of the hot spots for tourists, I have yet to run into any large tour groups.  I’ve barely even heard any English spoken.  I find this odd.  I’m assuming it’ll change when I get to the Last Supper, but you’d think the groups would at least do drive-bys on some other sights.

In which I eat all the food

Somewhere along the way today, I believe my brain broke just a little bit.  I forgot that I’ll be in Italy for the next couple weeks, and instead tried to cram a lifetime of Italian food into a very short period of time.

Not that I’m complaining mind you.

Kicked off the day with the pleasant discovery that the included breakfast at my hotel is not only acceptable, but rather pleasant.  Espresso, a piece of fruit, a cornetto, how can you lose?

From there, it was the long (<pretentious>normal people long</pretentious>) walk up to Piazza Wagner, home of the largest daily food market in Milan.  The walk was a pleasant journey through a very “normal” (as in non-touristy) side of Milan.  Stumbled upon the local Lotus dealer – Evora, Exige, Elise and an Esprit!  That’s some deep stock (for a Lotus dealer).

The market at Piazza Wagner is nothing like the Mercato Centrale in Florence, it’s one of five Mercati Comunali in Milan and it still had a high acceptable selection of food.  Grabbed some focaccia, salame, prosciutto, and cheeses, along with some cherries and saturn peaches.  Day two, and my Italian has recovered to the point that I can ask things like “what would you recommend?” and understand the responses.  The very aged pecorino in particular is remarkable – very spicy.

So, picnic lunches, plus plenty of snacks for the next day or so.  Then, perhaps, another visit to the mercato.

Tonight, I’m eying a local Roman restaurant for dinner, followed by my continued quest to Eat All The Gelato In Milan.

The most dangerous store in Milan

A bookstore with whole sections on marques like Intermeccanica, Marcos and Bristol?  I feel lucky to have escaped having spent as “little” as I did – a very dangerous store.  And even worse, the owner gave me tips on all the other places to go in Milan for “car guy” stuff…

So, when in Milan, or a webbrowser, definitely don’t visit Libreria dell’ Automobile.

Saying hello to a new city

Travel day went as smoothy as a travel day can go.  Schipol was friendly and easy to navigate, as always, and it didn’t take long to figure out the various bus and subway transfers to make it to my hotel.

I’m staying just outside the “historic center” of Milan.  As in, I’m on the outside of the Roman Gate.  When the Italians say “historic center,” they mean it.

My approach to a new city is pretty simple.  After dumping my bags at the hotel, I pick a direction and start walking.  Stop, as appropriate for food and coffee, but do not stop to look at a map.  Remember, with an iPhone, you’re never really lost.  It’s a great way to get a sense for the pace of a city, the general vibe, the layout of shops, and so on.

Early indications are that Milan is a very walking-friendly city.  I made it across the center pretty quickly, then sort of deviated onto a ring road.  As expected, it’s a much more modern, urban and business-focused city than Florence, but nowhere near as obnoxious as Rome.  So far, I’m digging it.

I’m not one for capital-s Shopping, but strolling past shop after shop of amazing clothing and accessories on one of the many pedestrian-only streets makes expensive splurges pretty tempting.  The store that only sells handmade leather driving shoes was tough to resist.

Most exciting car sighted so far?  A bloody Aston Martin Cygnet!  Apparently someone bought one!


I’m of the mind that air travel has gotten modestly better over the last few years. I suspect distance from September 11th, combined with more human-centric efficiency optimization techniques has resulted in a couple steps back from the extreme unpleasantness of the early 21st century.

If you’re someone who can happily ignore small indignities and appreciate that there’s probably no means by which you could move 300-400 people halfway around the world in actual “comfort” (well, maybe on Emirates, but I’m not convinced they actually exist), the experience really isn’t so bad.

Watched the new Mission Impossible on the flight to AMS. It managed to blunt Tom Cruise enough so as to be tolerable. Slept the rest of the time. Quick flight.

The amount of joy I experienced when they handed out bananas at the end is probably unwarranted. The dry air and pressure meant it didn’t really taste like anything, but it was still delicious, in my mind.

Something I like

Allow me a brief moment to promote a local business I’ve come to rely on.

I hate the stress induced by the vagueries of waiting on a taxi to take you to the airport. But, if you don’t have a significant other to help out, it’s a fact of life.

For the past year or so, I’ve been relying on corporate rides by Mike Linn. He always shows exactly when scheduled, he’s super friendly, safe and efficient. I love removing that bit of stress. He can also handle meeting inbound guests at the airport and getting them to your business, etc.

Give him a try if you need such services!

Thoughts on packing

Spent some time packing this morning.  I’m breaking with my travel tradition, and am bringing my backpack (as in, backpacking) instead of my trusty Lowe Alpine Voyager 40.  It’s only an extra 10 liters (backpack is 50) but it feels somewhat extravagant.  Oh well though, at least it’s not a roller bag.  I’m not that old yet.

Bringing along a set of Wine Skins on this trip.  It’s a pretty neat little product, to solve a specific need.  They’re big enough that I figure I’ll be able to get two bottles of balsamic in each – family members, start your begging!

I’m debating how much of my own climbing gear to bring. I don’t want to be lugging around too much stuff, since I know I’ll have to hit an outfitter anyways, but a few basics (belay gloves, a handful of quickdraws, etc) seemed prudent.  My Italian, while passable for the important things (“tre fette di pecorino,” “un caffe e un cornetto con crema”) doesn’t extend to climbing gear, so I’m counting on an english-speaking outfitter.  We’ll see!

My other travel norms – I assume I’ll do laundry while over there, so I only pack 5-7 days of clothing.  I’ll pack some Emergency Shorts, but will do my best to stick to proper Italian attire.  I’m going with Kindle+laptop this time, leaving the iPad at home.  Briefly considered going iPad only, but I’ll need to be doing work that will necessitate the full laptop.  At that point, the light weight of the Kindle wins out.

@vexed and @rgun3 were nice enough to loan me a digital dslr for the trip – it’ll be fun to have a Real Camera again, and I’m looking forward to doing some shooting.  Will be interesting to work at getting my eye in.


So, back to Italy

Let me say off the bat that I fully acknowledge that everything I post from this point forward is the ranting of an over-entitled middle class yuppie.

Ok, proceeding with whining about first world problems.  Over the last few years I’ve become a full blown travel junkie.  While lacking the the creativity- and physique-enhancing qualities of heroin (see: Iggy), the travel addiction consumes an unreasonable amount of my mental energy.  My mental list of “must-do” travel destinations stretches on and on – to the point that I often get a little sad, realizing that I’m unlikely to hit them all in my lifetime.

And yet, I’m about to head back to Italy for the fourth or fifth time, in almost as many years. Why’s that?

To me, travel serves many purposes.  While some travelers take a cynical approach to seeing the sights (“gosh, you went to the pyramids while you were in Egypt? What a waste of a day!”), I tend to believe that the sights are sights for a reason.  Experiencing them in person is meaningful.

There’s the cultural side of travel as well – interacting with the global community, experiencing life in a different context, and taking the opportunity to settle in to a place.  For me, Italy, and particularly Florence, is a home away from home.  In this case, I’m not going to Italy to see great art (though there’ll be some of that) or do some capital-s Shopping (there’ll be none of that), but rather to eat, breathe, and enjoy a culture that I value greatly.

This trip will also be a little different, in that I’ll be doing some “adventure” travel.  After checking out Milan, I’m headed into the Dolomites to do some Via Ferrata.  If you’re not familiar with Via Ferrata, check out this primer.  Honestly, I don’t know quite what to expect from it – it may be physically taxing, or it may be a slightly-scary hike.  It may be quiet and lonely, and it may be a rolling party.  I’m guessing there’ll be Germans involved, because you can’t do anything semi-athletic in Europe without running into Germans.

Initially, I landed on a via ferrata climb in an effort to recapture the experience I had on the Camino de Santiago last year.  I no longer expect anything like that experience, and I’m trying to temper my own expectations.  Because via ferrata climbs are typically undertaken either by locals or by groups with a hired guide, there are a variety of logistical issues that I’ve left up to chance – renting gear, having places to stay, and so on.  All part of the adventure.

Do I worry?  Of course not.  I’ve got an iPhone and a credit card.  Everything else can be dealt with.


Nitty Gritty Logistics

If I stop posting for a suspiciously long time, here are the details for how to track down my remains and notify my next of kin.  That’d be Molly I guess.


Flight 1 Sun, Jul 1
Depart 7:30 PM
Minneapolis, MN , United States

Stop 1
10:45 AM
Amsterdam , Netherlands
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines 6064

12:15 PM
Amsterdam , Netherlands

2:00 PM
Milan , Italy
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines 3419

Depart July 17th
6:55 AM
Florence , Italy

9:00 AM
Amsterdam , Netherlands
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines 3412

4:50 PM
Amsterdam , Netherlands

6:55 PM
Minneapolis, MN , United States
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines 6065




Milan – July 2nd to 7th.  July 7th/8th, Lagundo.  July 8-12th, Mountains (near Madonna di Campiglio).  July 12th – 17th, Florence.


Travel Bloggin’

I’ve lost track of how many blog platforms I’ve used over the last 15 years.  Everything from home-spun code to iWeb.  Now, all defunct.  With more travel looming, it seemed appropriate to give another one a try.  Hence, this.

I’m headed to Italy for a couple weeks.  I’ll use this site to let my mom know that I’m still alive.  Any meaningful content is an unintended side effect.

Be warned, I occasionally get introspective.  It’s the nature of the blog platform I suppose.  So, here goes!

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