TRAVELOG: MILANO by Loreta Kovacic

MILANO, roundabout to fashion street

 In Milano Malpensa airport I am back in my native Europe, enjoying an attempting to use my favorite and the most musical language, Italian. Italians are always especially happy when you give Italian a shot, but here in Northern Italy most of them speak English.  It’s been a long time since my favorite Italian class with senora Anna at Rice, so I feel super clumsy with it, like a cow in a ballet class. My two teenage kids are here to readily point this out.  Most times I just give up and switch to English.  I decided to go with our original plan, which was created before my beloved husband Joe was denied entry on the plane because of his passport expiration date. The plan was to rent the car at Malpensa airport and use it here in Europe for our three week vacation. Car rental people were super nice, they gave us a nice new Fiat diesel.  My family back in Croatia used to own a diesel Fiat that my dad called “regina di monte” or queen of the mountains. I think this was a joke, because this car was huffing and puffing while trying to go up the mountain.

Now it is time to drive to the center of Milano, to our little apartment that I rented through Airbnb. I was counting on Joe to be driving especially here in Milano, but given no choice, I accepted this new role with excitement: this will be my first time driving in Europe!  My son accepted his role of Google map guide boss. Our car had a hotspot (yes!) and we have Google, so now we are rolling towards the city. It starts to feel like a roller-coaster because every two minutes there is a roundabout. I am yelling, which street, first, second or third?! My son, the boss is assisting the best he can. Truth is I have never been in a roundabout and this place was full of them.  I call them runarounds and my kids correct me perpetually.  They are also trying to explain that roundabout is a better for traffic flow then an intersection, and I am definitely not buying it.  It feels like we are in some kind of countryside maze full of circles and we are going somewhere far out of the city. My kids reassure me that indeed we are going towards the center of Milano. I just can’t believe it. Why are we on this country road? Well, there is a little glich, something I forgot all about: back in Houston I set my Google map to avoid toll roads.  Yes there is a toll road going from Malpensa into the city, but we are taking the scenic rout…

The city of Milano finally appeared in front of us, with beautiful architecture and bustling big city traffic. This is where the roller-coaster became real: there were still roundabouts on every corner, but on the top of that there was insane rush hour traffic with two and sometimes three lanes of cars driving on roads without any white lines that indicate a lane.  I was taking wrong turns and making mistakes left and right. I was covered in stressful sweat, but drivers around me seemed relaxed in all that chaos.  Even though they were cussing me out in a big way, and I was covered in cuss words from head to toe, they still let me in and almost guided me…There is a natural elegance and coolness about Milano drivers: it’s like they all act so cool to defend the grand face of their famous automobile city, the home of Ferrari.

Our street in the center, also known as Fashion district is pedestrian zone only, and our next challenge is to find parking.  I entered a garage on our street, Via Montenapolleone. Sri Lankan attendant told me that it will cost 45 euros per day. I could not believe it, that much?! I stormed out of the narrowest and steepest garage tunel and after another round of hopeless runaround, I returned to that same attendant, flashing my cowgirl dance pants that he complemented. I also knew about the first woman head of government of our modern world was the prime minister of Sri Lanka from the sixties, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and this impressed him I think. So thanks to my Texas pants and my fading knowledge of Ms. Bandaranaike’s very rhythmic and musical name stored deeply in my brain’s memory, I negotiated my parking fee down to 35 euros per day.  Small victory of the day! It was not so much about the savings, it was more about claiming my victory and my territory at the time: a lesson for my American teenagers about taking charge, women power and their European roots.

Traveler beware: parking in center of Milano will be expensive, and you should probably look into using public transportation from the airport into the center of the city.  Most European airports are well connected with public transportation: busses or trains.

I confess that I chose our airbnb based on two things: central location and the picture of the host. My friends in Houston were betting that Mauro pic is just a smart marketing move and that my actual host will be an old man. Somewhere deep inside I must still have a heart of an optimist, because I admit I would have loved to meet Mauro from that picture. My Houston friends were right, because we never got to see Mauro.  We were greeted by Mauro’s cleaning guy and at the end of our stay in the fabulous building on Fashion street, I think I caught a glimpse of an old guy that looked like Mauro’s grandfather or father at best. My intuition told me that I just saw real Mauro. Who knows?! In any case, Mauro look-alikes are not a rarity in Fashion district, center of Milano. 

Our sweet little apartment was surrounded by fabulous stores by Gucci, Armani and who is who in the designer world. It was also decorated with beautiful and perfect looking Italian sales people, perhaps friends of Mauro.  Most people are window- shopping, discovering the latest trends in world fashion.  Our apartment is in the rooftops, high up, closer to the church bells and birds who are singing different kind of melodies than those familiar birds in Houston.  I was imagining a mocking bird that would sing us an aria she learned from a nearby “Teatro alla Scala”, the world’s most famous Opera House. Our cozy little apartment had a cutest little terrace from which we were greeted by a marvelous Milano moon at night. Coffee shops and restaurants in Milano center are fabulously hip and expensive and/or very touristy.  My kids managed to find a few stores to shop in, including Pull&Bear, a European chain, similar to H&M.

I was missing Joe and talking to him using Facebook messenger. We both purchased “passport” for our phones, which is supposed to allow you to use your phone in Europe, but this thing just did not work. I could not call anyone, not even my cousin who lives in Milano. Not even Mauro. Thanks God for Mr. Google and thanks God for Facebook. Out of many Milano cultural attractions, debating between going to see the “The Last Supper” in Santa Maria delle Grazie or the famous Milan cathedral, the “Duomo”, we decided for the letter. The building itself is a true work of art, the largest church in Italy, and third largest in the world. It took nearly six centuries to complete, and it practically covered in sculptures made by famous artists.  I had to do a Duomo selfie.  Mauro’s would look better, without a doubt.

Good news came to us from Houston: papa Joe is coming on a Scandinavian Airline flight to Malpensa and we have to stay in Milano one more night.  We decided to get out of the city, booked a cool modern “Novotel” Milano Malpensa hotel very near the airport, hung out at the pool where we watched a brave British kid challenge us to jump into its freezing cold water.  He was our person of the day, because he made that pool look so alive and almost tropical!  He told us that he wants to be a scientist and would love to work at NASA one day.  We told him that he would melt in our climate, and he agreed that he would miss his winters if he ever moved to Houston.  The next day we picked up our Joe at the airport and drove off into the Italian autostrada adventure, leaving Mauro and Milano behind…

Next stop: VENICE    to be continued….

I got this pic from Airbnb. His name is Mauro, but I call him Mauro Milano
Duomo selfie. Mauro would look better here...
Milano fashion street
Milano fashion cafes