blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Umbrellas in Milano

Early Morning View between Bern and Thun
Writing this on the hotel's machine running Internet Explorer may not be a great success, but I'll try. Photos to illustrate these recent posts will be added later, and yes, I know that I still haven't described our memorable train journey from Köln to Bern down the Rhine and up the Aare last Thursday. I'd love to record that experience, shall do so soon.

Yesterday, another tremendous train journey! At 06:20 I was complaining about the early start, but my complaints didn't last long. We were sitting on the train to Milano Centrale an hour later and then riding smoothly along the line to Thun and Spiez, marvelling at the panoramic view of the Voralpen, across the flat, glaciated valley, above the early morning clouds. It was sunny there. Then we turned south into the Kandertal towards the new Lötschberg tunnel through to the upper Rhone valley where the hillsides were close and the skies became darker. Visp and Brig seemed gloomy places. The young Rhone is grey with glacier meltwater. Immediately after Brig comes the entrance to the famous Simplon Tunnel, dated 1921. We emerged at Varzo, in Italy. (This is something that I've wanted to do for years.) The villages in the mountains reminded me of Wales with their old slate roofs held on with heavy stones and little churches with bell towers. I saw a narrow hump backed footbridge that must have been centuries old.

At Milan's central station
Prossima fermata, Domodossola, in the rain. People got out for a connection to Locarno here, sending them back into Switzerland. We stayed on the train and continued beside the wildly rushing River Diverna to Lago Maggiore. Our seats were on the wrong side of the carriage; the views held our attention even so. One day I'd like to alight at Stresa, the platform only a short walk from the lakeside there. There are island villages on the lake, Lombardy cypresses, palm trees and castles. It is as beautiful as I imagined it would be.

The train steward came by, saying buongiourno, and sold me a coffee. I told him in four languages that I'd like some cream with that. Beyond the lake we slowed down for the last part of the ride, through an industrial landscape in the flatlands. Roman roads used to run through this country and the modern roads follow their traces.
Milano Centrale is an imposing piece of architecture, with the Piazza Duca d'Aosta in front of it being renovated. Yellow trams from the 1890s are still in operation in the city, but I prefer walking. If you walk down the Via Torriani you soon get lost in the side streets and have to dodge into a four star hotel to ask for a street map. Then the Via Lazzaretto takes you towards a park, the Giardini Publici, beyond which is the gateway to the old city at Piazza Cavour. From there you can follow the Via Manzoni to La Scala. I pushed the doors open but wasn't allowed to set foot in the foyer, did have a peep at it before they shooed me out. Leonardo da Vinci's statue is in the square opposite.

You can find a brief respite from the torrential rain and your sodden feet in the Galleria Vitt. Em. II through one of the four enormously high archways. Good restaurants within the covered area and lots of sheltering tourists, so it was lucky to find a little table. My choice of lunch was tagliatelle alla bolognese with fresh rolls, and stopping at the nearby Cafe Mozart later I also sampled Italian dolci, in this case, an apple flan.

"Closed, today" The Pinacoteca is on the upper level
Trying to find the Milan Pinacoteca after a visit to the Duomo was a wild goose chase. If you make the mistake of following the traffic directions round a one-way traffic system instead of following the quick route down narrow cobbled alleyways, as shown on the map, you have to ask the way four times. Actually the Pinacoteca is on an upper floor of the university buildings, where students were attending lectures. I popped my head round the door of one lecture room and would you believe it? the slide they were looking at was of Louise Bourgeoise' spider sculpture outside the NGC in Ottawa. The steps up to the Pinacoteca were barred. I asked a caretaker yet again ... "Oggi chiusa" she said. Closed on Mondays.

A glimpse of old Milano
The rain began to ease off so walking back was a more leisurely experience. There are wonderful Italian icecreams for sale at the stazzione. The train back to Switzerland (heading for Geneva) was late leaving Milano Centrale, therefore 8 minutes late at Domodossola where the Grenzwache / Garde-frontiere / Guardia di confine in their blue shirts with guns at their waists boarded the train and walked up and down the carriages but didn't bother to inspect our passports (we haven't had our passports checked since Frankfurt). We thought our connecting train at Brig would leave without us, but it didn't. This was a double-decker local train to Basel, on which we sat in the restaurant car over a beer, talking to a young couple who run an hotel at Faulensee next to Spiez, as well as to another fellow at the table opposite, in a mixture of German, Swiss German and English. Both men knew Canada. The young man was a mountain bike enthusiast who'd practised the sport at Whistler. He had also ridden down from the top of the Niesen which looked like a near vertical slope and an impossible feat to me. He said his hands had ached from the braking that day.

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