Have Bag, Will Travel
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The previous day we had walked east around the lake so today we walked west. We thought that we might take a boat trip later but even as early as ten o’clock a long queue was beginning to form at the booking office so we decided to leave that until later. We are not very fond of queues.
So we walked past the boats and the ferry terminal and set out towards the expensive side of the lake where the nineteenth century palaces and villas all enjoy wonderful views across the water. What a place this must have been before all of the daily tourists arrived. This was a walk past fabulous houses and gardens, private jetties and boat houses, a place where the European rich would gather for their holidays and show off their wealth.
Gianni Versace lived in Como and so did the singer Madonna and the actor George Clooney, also Julia Roberts, David Beckham, Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta Jones. It is that sort of place, glamorous and filthy rich. I am completely unable to explain what we were doing there!
As we walked we came across a diversion around possibly the best villa of all on the lake, all fenced off and swarming with security guards, the sort of people who want you to look at them in a funny way so that they have an excuse to punch you in the face. This was all because this was a party weekend to celebrate the engagement of Isha Ambani and Anand Piramal who are two of the richest people in all of India, probably the world, and the expense here was obscene.
Why Como I wondered, probably because they were too embarrassed to have such a lavish event in their own country in front of the hundreds of thousands of really poor people.
As it turned out these mega-rich people had taken over the whole town for the entire weekend and much of it was off-limits to people like us. We couldn’t visit the gardens that are normally open to the public, we couldn’t walk down some of the roads in the town because they were cordoned off and worst of all we couldn’t go into the Cathedral because these two Hindus were having an engagement celebration in a Roman Catholic Church and stopping other people going inside. Filthy rich, dirty money, no manners. I’m not jealous!
So we kept walking until there was no reason to walk any further and we turned back and walked back the way the same way. I asked a security guard what was going on and that is how I learned about Isha Ambani and Anand Piramal and got the black eye!
We hoped that the queue for the boat might have magically got shorter but it hadn’t, it was even longer now and as we sat at a pavement bar and had a leisurely coffee it occurred to us that we didn’t really need to go for a boat ride anyway. We had walked both east and west and as the lake is less than a mile across we were unlikely to see anything different anyway, so we saved the cost of a boat ride and had a beer instead.
I liked Como, I had never thought about going to the Italian Lakes before, I always thought that they were for old people, but I am an old person now myself so it seemed the right time to go there. I didn’t really need three days there I have to say, maybe a day trip out of Milan would have been enough, it is nice but it is not very exciting.
Later we found the inevitable statue of Garibaldi…
We had walked ten miles today along the lakeside. We dined at the same restaurant, went to bed, had breakfast and left.
This was not a good day on the trains I have to say. We got on a train to Milan which turned out not to be going to our destination station so we got off half way to change only to find that the train that we wanted had been cancelled so we had to get back on a train to Milan which also wasn’t going to our destination station. This involved a change and an irritating delay. We planned to be in Bologna by early afternoon but now the clock was ticking.
And then things went disastrously wrong and travel plans started to completely unravel. I bought some tickets for the fast train to Bologna but then got on the slow train to Bologna by mistake. By a cruel twist of fate two trains were leaving Milan at exactly the same time to Bologna, the fast train was going to Naples, stopping at Bologna but we didn’t understand that so we ignored it and got on a train going only to Bologna.
Sadly it wasn’t only going to Bologna. The fast train took just an hour, the slow train took nearly three. The train crawled along like a long distance runner with a pulled muscle, it stopped at every tiny station and remote halt along the way and would occasionally stop in the middle of absolutely nowhere. As we were wondering why, the modern fast train would suddenly thunder past at the speed of light with a loud whooomp that made our carriage rock with the aftershock and then after a minute or so our old arthritic train would creak back into life, roll backwards for a while and then crawl slowly forward.
The only thing that made me feel better about the whole thing was that another couple a few seats away had made exactly the same mistake. Finally we limped into Bologna about four hours behind schedule and ignoring the line of expectant taxis walked the mile or so to our accommodation on the edge of the historical centre.
Rather sad and neglected. In Milan balcony flowers are not a priority it seems.
Except for the modern business district…
“Cities that are dedicated to making money, and in Milan they appear to think of little else, seldom have much energy left for charm” – Bill Bryson’, Neither here Nor there’
After the overwhelming success of the previous year’s holiday to Portugal where we used the train service to travel from Lisbon to Porto with various stops upon the way, we decided that we would do something similar again this year. When we were making plans we decided to travel to Italy, persuaded most of all it has to be said by the £40 return air flights to Milan.
Our plan was to use the trains to first visit the Italian Lakes and then to travel through the Region of Emilia-Romagna and stop off at the cities of Parma, Modena and Bologna and finish at the seaside at Rimini on the Adriatic Riviera. We would immerse ourselves in culture and then submerge ourselves in the Mediterranean Sea.
We arrived in Milan late one evening with only just enough of the day left to find our hotel, check in and then hastily find somewhere for evening meal and leave the sightseeing until the following day.
The mile long walk into the City was immediately disappointing. In Italy I like chaos with the street life, chatter and noise, dripping washing lines hanging across the streets, peeling paint, geraniums on balconies, pavement cafés with espresso stained cups, people selling things from mobile shops and groups of men hanging around on street corners discussing the big issues of the day but there was none of this in Milan just a long soulless street lined with shops and offices, boutiques selling expensive adornments for the body, shoes, handbags, jewellery, designer clothing and other pointless stuff.
The place for me lacked any sort of appeal but to be fair it was always unlikely that, as Kim was quick to point out, I would get on well with a city that boasts shopping and fashion as major attractions. In fact Milan markets itself as the World’s leading fashion capital and to prove it this week just happened to be one of the most important weeks of their year – Milan Fashion Week. FASHION WEEK! I broke out into an immediate sweat!
Milan is the second largest city in Italy after Rome and also the richest and most prosperous. The Barcelona of Italy. It concentrates on business and banking, commerce and trade; it prides itself on productivity, innovation and efficiency and as a consequence it lacks the vivacity of Naples, the grandeur of Rome, the heritage of Florence or the theatre of Venice.
This is a city of big business and enterprise rather than street vendors and indolence, hardly like being in Italy at all it seemed to me as we made our way to the historical centre. The reason maybe is that geographically Milan is the most northern major city in the country and only a few miles away from the Swiss border and therefore more central-western than southern European. Maybe also being part of the Austrian Empire for one hundred and fifty years (1706-1861) has given Lombardy and Milan a certain stoic Germanic characteristic that it cannot shake off.
I checked later and wasn’t surprised to discover that Milan has never been considered for European Capital of Culture and I got the impression that people here don’t really care.*
Although Milan is a large city much of it, it has to be said is rather uninteresting and the historical centre is a surprisingly small area right in the middle. As we approached we came first to the Opera House, Teatro alla Scala, one of the most famous in the World but just as the streets we had walked along I found the building exterior to be sadly underwhelming…
This by contrast is the Scala cinema in Ilkeston, Derbyshire which is where I used to live (Ilkeston not the Scala) which seems to me to a lot more attractive. Ilkeston may have borrowed the name for its cinema, maybe Milan should copy the design for its opera house and I think that it would be an improvement…
Beyond La Scala was the first really interesting building that we had come across in nearly an hour of walking and it turned out to be a shopping Mall, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. It is a fine building, four storeys high, built in the grand manner of the mid-nineteenth century with extravagant tiled floors, soaring marble columns and a decorative vaulted latticework roof of glass and steel with a central cupola one hundred and sixty feet high.
This was more like it, I liked this place even though the interior avenues were lined with shops that I have heard of but never used, Gucchi, Prada, Tiffaney, Coccinelle and Versace all with merchandise displaying price labels that had been attached by someone with a grotesque sense of humour. I mean, who buys this stuff when you can get perfectly good replicas from TK Maxx back home or from a Looky-Looky man on the streets?
The main entrance to the building opens out onto what is undoubtedly the finest part of the city, the Piazza del Doumo with an imposing equestrian statue of King Victor Emmanuel II (first King of United Italy) at one end and the magnificent marble Doumo at the other. There was a very long queue today to visit the Cathedral so we thought that we might save that for another time.
We satisfied ourselves today by circumnavigating the exterior of the largest Cathedral in all of Italy and the third largest in the World and then resumed our walking tour of the city which took us through a large park where we stopped for refreshment and then to the modern business quarter, all polished concrete, shining glass and gleaming steel where we didn’t linger long but instead after eight miles of walking made our weary way back to the Hotel IBIS.
In a fortnight’s time we would be back in the city with plans to visit the Cathedral but the next day we were starting our journey by taking a train to Como in the Lakes and for the time being I was glad that we weren’t spending longer here. One day in a big city is generally not enough to scratch the scratch on the surface but to be honest it was long enough for me in Milan.
* Florence (1986), Bologna (1999) and Genoa (2003).
In 1985, Melina Mercouri, the Greek Minister of Culture came up with the idea of designating an annual Capital of Culture to bring Europeans closer together by highlighting the richness and diversity of European cultures and raising awareness of their common history and values.
The European Union enthusiastically endorsed the idea and as a consequence The European Capital of Culture is a city designated for a period of one year during which it organises a series of cultural events with a strong pan-European dimension.
The first city chosen was Athens which was fair enough I suppose. In 2016 it was Wroclaw in Poland. A very good choice in my opinion, I have visited the city twice and would gladly go back again.
Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…
If you want to know about the Dwarfs you can read about them here…
“I still enjoy travelling a lot. I mean, it amazes me that I still get excited in hotel rooms just to see what kind of shampoo they’ve left me.” – Bill Bryson
Just like Bill, I too get a thrill from throwing open the bathroom door, turning on the light, waiting for it to flicker into life and the accompanying hum of the extractor fan and looking straight away for the complimentary shower gel and shampoo all neatly arranged as though in a chemistry laboratory next to the wash basin.
Never mind the number of stars the place boasts on TripAdvisor or proudly displayed as a certificate at the reception desk for me this is the really true measure of a hotel.
I can’t really accurately remember when these little gifts first started to appear in hotel bathrooms, certainly not on my early overseas adventures that’s for sure. On my very first holiday to Sorrento in Italy in 1976 I am absolutely certain there were none and there wasn’t a lot else either – no mini-bar of course and no television and it was light years before WiFi and Internet access. I think it may have had a small bar of soap!
Guests were expected to provide their own toiletries in those days and without baggage weight restrictions holidaymakers used to lug an entire bathroom full of lotions and potions half way across the World and then take most them back home again!
Thinking about it, I suppose they first came to my attention in 1995 when I was on a coach tour holiday of some of the National Parks in the USA and each motel bathroom that we stayed at had these little bottles of gooey bathroom goodies and every night I greedily collected them up and secreted them in my wash bag.
Soon the bag was full and the zipper was straining fit to burst but at some point along the trip we stopped at a shopping mall where there was a ‘dollar shop’ and my brother, Richard and I found some nice little wicker baskets that were perfect for keeping them in and giving away as gifts for family and friends when we returned back home.
The beauty of this of course was that none of my family and friends had ever come across complimentary give-away cosmetics before either so they all thought that they were getting a really genuine gift.
I had never been to one of these out-of-town shopping malls before either and I remember thinking that they were really dreadful, sadly, we now have these soulless, pointless places all over the UK as well.
Who started it I asked, well, claiming credit on its web site for introducing complimentary gels is the Canadian international luxury, five-star hotel chain, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts but I am certain there will be some conflicting claims from elsewhere.
These days any self-respecting B&B or hotel has free shampoo in little plastic bottles. Except those that have large squeezy containers that are screwed to the wall so that you can’t take them away and for me this always loses the place a couple of points when I complete the post stay satisfaction survey.
When staying in the room I always remain reluctant to use the giveaways because I view them as a sort of holiday bonus, a trophy and together with the sewing kits and the plastic combs, the pointless shoe horn and cheap toothbrushes I collect them up and take them home (except the plastic shower caps which always remind me of the rain bonnets that my mum used to wear and look completely ridiculous). I mean next time you are tempted to pull one over your head make sure that you lock the bathroom door and then just take a moment to take a look at yourself in the mirror. I guarantee that you will look ridiculous!
I can’t explain why they excite me, they are not top-quality products after all, I’m sure that most of them are based on some sort of industrial soap that probably doesn’t have many scalp or skin improvement qualities anyway. Sometimes Kim gets carried away and will say something like “Oh look, there is Moulton-Brown products in the bathroom”, I know that it is really cheap washing-up liquid but I say nothing and tactfully keep this devastating information to myself. In fact I am almost certain that although they may be different coloured liquid in the bottles that they are all the same product anyway with a bit of food colouring added and the shampoo works just as well as bubble bath and vice versa.
Back at home they sit in a box in the bathroom and every so often it overflows and the cabinet door won’t shut properly and it has to be cleared out and the little bottles disposed of – these days I take them to a homeless charity in the town and hope they come in useful somewhere.
“Hotels have plenty of items, all cute and travel-sized, waiting in store rooms and all you have to do is pick up the phone and ask. And checking out from the hotel isn’t like going through airport security. No respectable hotelier is going to want to pry open your luggage and search for shampoo. We hope you take the amenities. We want you to use them later and think of us.” – Jacob Tomsky – ‘Heads in Beds’
Apart from complimentary shampoo and shower gel what else do you own up to when taking things from a hotel room?
1 The tea bags and the coffee sachets?
2 The Kettle?
3 The Coat Hangers?
4 The Bottle Opener in the Mini-Bar?
5 The Gideon Society Bible?
6 The Notepaper and Pencil?
7 The Towels?
8 The pictures on the Wall?
9 The Carpet?
10 The Bedside Cabinet?