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Posts Tagged ‘Milano’

Udine's Torre dell'OrologioFive weeks of intense travel had nearly come to a close. It was my second to last morning, and while at breakfast, I learned that the temperature in Udine had reached 41°C (106°F) the day before. Having weathered nearly a week of record heat, I was feeling utterly exhausted. Each day, I had taken a bus or train to a different town and walked until my legs gave out. For four evenings in a row, I had eschewed dinner out, choosing instead to have a light picnic in the cool of my hotel room. Today, I succumbed entirely, deciding to do absolutely nothing at all.

I did briefly leave my room midmorning, so that housekeeping could come in. I strolled for about an hour, wandering around Udine’s centro. I was hoping to find an air-conditioned bookstore to browse in, but being Sunday, nearly all the shops were closed. Already, the temperature sign at Via Zanon read 30°C (86°F), and there seemed to be nowhere for me to go to find some shade. I found a bar at Piazza della Libertà and bought a panino made with bresaola, mozzarella, and fresh focaccia. That would end up serving as both my lunch and dinner.

I spent the entire afternoon in my room, writing sections of my book Flavors of Friuli. It was a productive day, though by dinnertime I was beginning to feel claustrophobic and disoriented. My room was on the ground floor of Hotel Principe, with windows facing out into the parking lot. For privacy, I kept the dark metal shutters closed at all times. Since I couldn’t see outside—and also because I hadn’t done anything physically tiring for a change—it didn’t seem conceivable that it was already evening. After eating the second half of my panino, I went out for another walk to reorient myself. Though not quite dusk, the sun was lower in the sky, casting a warm peach glow over the rooftops. It appeared that the whole city had come out for a pre-dinner passeggiata, reveling in the ever-so-slightly cooler evening air. After getting a gelato (cioccolato and stracciatella again), I melded with the crowd, savoring my last night in Udine.

The following morning, I took the train back to Milano, with the usual hectic 10-minute connection in Mestre. While I always traveled light—carrying only a rolling duffel and a small backpack—somehow I had acquired what felt like an extra 20 pounds of stuff. My bag was filled with cookbooks that I had purchased along the way (including one huge coffee table book), and I now had a third bag filled with miscellany that would no longer fit in the suitcase. Maneuvering all this up and down stairs in the stations, lugging it onto trains, and heaving the largest bag onto the overhead storage rack was no small feat. I was relieved to finally arrive in Milano.

Duomo di MilanoI was staying again at Hotel Speronari, just off Piazza del Duomo. My room was on the third floor, with no elevator. These are the last stairs I will have to climb, I consoled myself. After checking in, I paid a visit to the Duomo, then walked to Via Solferino and the gastronomia Più del Pane Callegaro. There, I picked up a picnic dinner of assorted mini quiche, with toppings of eggplant, tomato, zucchini, and potato. On the same street, I found a bakery and bought some treats to take with me: an American-style lemon bar, a mini apricot crostata, and two unusual-looking apple cookies. These would be my breakfast and snack at the airport the next morning.

I tried to go to bed early, but found myself tossing around all night. For once, the room had an electric fan, which I positioned next to the bed, but even with the window wide open, the fan could only recirculate the hot, suffocating air. I slept in 15- to 30-minute increments, afraid of missing my alarm, finally getting up at 4:30am to take a quick shower in the bathroom down the hall. Once I had dressed and repacked, I was on autopilot, a routine I had repeated so many times in previous years: awaken the receptionist on night duty, check out, walk 10 minutes in the eerie darkness to Piazza San Babila, and catch the shuttle bus to Linate Airport. Soon I would be back home in San Francisco.

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Milano's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele IIIt was July 2005, and although Mike and I were now engaged, this was to be yet another of my many solo trips. I had just arrived in the sweltering, early evening heat of Milano and, after checking into Hotel Speronari, was preparing to meet up with Mike’s cousin Pam, who was in the city for her job with Bulgari. We decided to meet at the Duomo and then go somewhere for dinner. I left my room dressed in the most elegant clothes I had brought with me: a light, cotton mini-skirt, fitted t-shirt, and sandals. As I reached the edge of the piazza, the sky opened up and began pelting me with raindrops, so I sprinted across to take shelter in the giant doorway of the Duomo. Pam was nowhere to be seen. After a few anxious phone calls, I finally spotted her—an adorable, petite Asian in her mid-20s, with a pierced tongue and a flair for high fashion—waving to me from the south side of the piazza. I felt entirely under-dressed next to Pam’s chic Prada dress and 5-inch heels.

The brief downpour had ceased but threatened to begin again any moment; therefore, I suggested we eat at the nearby Pizzeria Dogana. After my pizza margherita and Pam’s quattro stagioni (actually a “due” stagioni pizza, since she ordered hers minus the mushrooms and olives), we said good-bye. Pam caught a taxi back to her hotel, while I walked the couple blocks back to mine. Around 10:00pm, the thunder and lightning kicked in with a vengeance. Despite the rain, I threw my window wide open, in hopes of getting some relief from the heat. The temperature gauge on the bedside alarm clock read 91°F! Between the heat and my jet lag, I remained awake until around 5:30am, when I finally dozed off, only to be awakened two hours later by the resonant tolling of church bells.

Once I finally dragged myself out of bed, I went out for a walk, leaving my suitcase at the front desk. With an appointment later that afternoon, I still had several hours to kill. First, I headed to Via Solferino to pick up some lunch at Più del Pane Callegaro. I came away with an assortment of mini quiche and polpettine di riso (rice balls), and after a picnic of sorts in Piazza della Scala, I returned to Hotel Speronari to collect my bag.

Since my appointment was in the direction of the train station, I decided to check my bag at the station, so that I could go straight there afterward. I was just leaving the deposito bagagli when I realized that I had left some important items inside my suitcase: magazines that I had promised to bring to my interview. The baggage handler was extremely annoyed with me, but I eventually persuaded him to retrieve the suitcase.

I was still 90 minutes early, so I treated myself to a triple cup of gelato to help beat the heat—limone, fragola, and pompelmo rosa. I sat for the remainder of the time in the shade of the Giardini Pubblici outside the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale, looking over my notes and rehearsing my questions in Italian.

Studio Pilates MilanoMy appointment was an interview with Anna Maria Cova at her flagship Studio Pilates Milano. At the time, she was Italy’s number one Pilates instructor and had opened numerous studios throughout the country. As a Pilates instructor myself (and author of Balance on the Ball: Exercises Inspired by the Teachings of Joseph Pilates), I had recently written for the new Pilates Style magazine. I was now planning on submitting two articles for their “International” section: one on the Pilates studio in Milano and another on a studio in Budapest that I would be visiting in October.*

When it came time for my appointment, I had a bit of a panic trying to find the studio. Italian buildings are notorious for their illogical numbering system; however, I was able to locate the correct address without much difficulty. The problem was that number 4 at this address simply did not exist, nor was there anything that indicated the presence of a Pilates studio. Frantically, I strode around the entire block and, by some miracle, stumbled upon the studio—on a completely different street from the address that I was given!

The interview went superbly well. I stayed for over two hours, chatting with Anna and observing a session with one of her clients—and yes, I did remember to give her the stack of Pilates Style magazines from my suitcase. It was 4:30pm when I finally left; I would now have to hustle to make it to the station in time for my train to Udine.

I reached the station with only five minutes to spare. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough time to buy a ticket, collect my bag, and pick up something to eat for dinner on the train, so I had no choice but to wait and get the next one that was leaving two hours later. The bad news: now I wouldn’t arrive in Udine until 11:30pm. The good news: this was one of the few direct trains, eliminating the usual change in Venezia Mestre. At the station’s market, I picked up a panino with mozzarella and bresaola, along with a cup of kiwi chunks, to eat while biding my time in the grand, high-ceilinged sala d’attesa. As it turned out, the 5:00pm train I had planned on taking was delayed by more than an hour. If I had caught that train as planned, I would have missed my connection in Mestre—and since the direct train I was forced to take didn’t stop in Mestre, I then would have had to catch an even later train into Udine. Sometimes things just have a way of working out!

* Shortly after I sent in my articles, Pilates Style hired a new editor. In fact, their entire editorial staff seemed to have turned over in a very short period of time. Although I submitted my pieces several times during the following year, they were unfortunately never published.

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Milano Stazione CentraleOn the final day before our flight home, Mike and I took the train back to Milano. After changing in Mestre, we boarded an InterCity train, which was already packed with people leaving Venezia. The compartments were all full, so we joined the countless others sitting on fold-down seats and standing in the corridor. After the three-hour ride, we finally arrived at Milano Centrale and took the Metro to the Duomo stop. By now, this part of the city was quite familiar to me, as I had stayed numerous times in the same hotel.

Located on a narrow alley just off Piazza del Duomo, Hotel Speronari lacked the comforts of a multi-starred hotel, but it more than made up for its flaws with a friendly staff, reasonable rates, and a convenient location. Our room, on this particular stay, was the most unusual of any I’d seen so far. To be more precise, it was the bathroom that was so strange. Obviously added as an afterthought, in a recent effort to try to modernize the rooms, the bathroom was scarcely large enough to fit a toilet and a bidet (the function of which, I, as an American, still can’t fully comprehend). The sink was on a panel that slid back and forth along the wall, so that you could position it over either the toilet or bidet. The showerhead was on the far wall, with so little leg room that I had to take my shower with one foot atop the toilet seat. There was no shower curtain, so this meant all clothing and towels—and even the roll of toilet paper—must be kept outside the bathroom in order not to get wet. At least there was hot water!

Duomo di MilanoI loved that the hotel was so close to the Metro and just a 10-minute walk from the Linate airport shuttle—which I always needed to catch around 5:30am on the mornings of my return—but the best part of its location was its proximity to the Duomo. After settling into our room, Mike and I took a long walk, stopping first at the cathedral, where we drifted silently through the hushed interior. Shafts of sunlight streaming through stained glass and flickers of candlelight from the side altars illuminated its shadowy dimness. Muffled voices and footsteps echoed off marble walls, the dingy smell of centuries-old dust hanging in the chilly air.

Since we had plenty of time before dinner, we then took a meandering stroll past the Teatro alla Scala and along Via Brera to Via Solferino. There, I was hoping to find a dollhouse miniature shop that I had learned about while interviewing dollhouse-maker Salvatore Ciccorelli for an article two years prior. Unfortunately, the shop was closed. Mike and I retraced our steps to Piazza della Scala, where we lounged for over an hour, listening to a group of elderly men quarrel and watching fashionably dressed women saunter by in their trendy high heels.

For my solo dinners in Milano, I would most often grab an order of melanzane alla parmigiana from Rosticceria Fontana, located across the street from Hotel Speronari. This I would typically take back to my room to eat, after having selected a pastry from the next-door bakery for my early-morning breakfast at the airport. We did buy a couple pastries, but since Mike was with me this trip, I wanted to splurge on a nice dinner for a change.

Heading down Via Orefici toward Castello Sforzesco, we took a sharp left at Piazza Cairoli. Here, along Via Manfredo Camperio, we stumbled upon the romantic, art-filled Osteria Artidoro. As a special treat—and since this was obviously not the type of restaurant to serve house wine by carafe—we chose to order a different glass of wine to accompany each course. I began my meal with the involtini di melanzane, prosciutto e mozzarella and a glass of prosecco, while Mike enjoyed a platter of salumi di Parma, which included prosciutto, coppa, mortadella, and pancetta, with a glass of Gewürztraminer. Next, I had an amazingly flavorful lasagnetta di crespelle con fiori di zucca (crêpes layered with zucchini flowers) with a glass of Orvieto Classico, while Mike ordered the tortelli (half were served with a walnut sauce, the other half with mushroom sauce) and a glass of Shiraz. For our desserts, I indulged in a plate of sbrisolane con cioccolato fondente (chunky almond cookies with a dish of warm melted chocolate for dipping), while Mike had chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano served with a syrupy balsamic reduction. This was one of the most memorable Italian meals I had ever had the pleasure to experience, and, once again, it set my culinary bar a notch higher.

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