Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hoboventure: My lane, oh!

Day 7: Milano

Milan is loud, it sounded like the entire city was up at 6am. I had to check my watch a few times to make sure of the time was what i was reading. The regular quiet breakfasts of usual. I wonder when or travels will take us to another.  

With the lazy morning wearing on, we packed up all our stuff headed to the bikes. Regretfully, still there. Put the seats back on and walked them to our next hotel. This time a 4 star located in what looks to be an old grand cafe.  The entrance hall is full of polished red marble and gilt wood.

Our room wasn't ready so we hunted down a park and sat on some benches in the sun.  You can really tell were not from around here: no jackets, shoes off and sweating, all while the locals are still in heavy winter gear.

After noon we headed back to the hotel,  checked in and let our bags explode. The day's plan was to find a laundromat and sit in the sun catching up on our writing. This didn't go as planned. The hotel being a business hotel charges an outrageous 5 euro/hr for the internet. No internet means no maps and no idea where laundromats are or decent cafes.

Being the intrepid travellers that we are, we asked at the front desk if there was a laundromat near by. No, was the answer. Damn, no wifi to find one and it doesn't show up in the iPhone. I was really hurting for that app my dad had suggested (hands off to you potential iPhone app writers. I be doing it).

So we hatched a cunning plan: find a prepaid data SIM card for my iPhone, use the myWi to share the Internet and look for one that way. No luck there either, Sissy informed me at the store that the hotel had kept both our passports to photo copy.  Double damn. No options left but to look for a pay-phone and phonebook or an open wireless network, we went for another one of our long walks.

We had just found the main shopping district when we heard a commotion from behind us. A woman yelling, a thud of a helmet, a Vespa tear off and a man in a purple shirt and fanny pack run after it.  I thought the rider must have hit and run, Sissy being more observant tells me that the rider had jumped on the scooter and stolen it. What is nuts about this is that the woman was standing there holding while it was idling! The guy literally stole it from under her. Shocking to the point of speechlessness

We began to look for a lunch place that had wifi, found one. A pizza place, but the Apple products refused to connect. Oh well. The lunch was great, one pizza of tomato and pesto and another of cheese, sausage, and fresh basil.  The bill was a bit of a surprise, take note of this when visiting Milan. You pay a seating fee, so 5 euro for the pair of us and back on our quest for a laundromat.

We found a Vodaphone store. While I was asking questions, Sissy was using a display model and had found a street with a laundromat . We began the walk. We found the place, 300 feet from the park bench we had sat on before, and about 400 feet from our hotel. 

A nice old man waited for us to load the wash into the machine, told us to come back in an 1 hour and asked for 7euro. We paid and returned to the hotel.

After the hour was up we wandered back to the laundromat, were informed 10 more minutes so we sat next-door at the cafe in the sun. 2 cappuccinos later and a bill of 2euro we returned to the laundromat to our fresh laundry sitting in a basket. We tipped him nicely and left for the hotel again.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon browsing the shops having planned to see the important sights tomorrow. 

Day 8

Tomorrow rang, and we woke up. It was a nice room, nice breakfast (with more individually sealed 30 gram nutella packages stolen), and a nice walk in the morning. We'd left the bikes locked up outside the hotel, and they were still there - regardless of the warnings of various Milanese and the scooter scenario the day before. However, riding in a new city, especially one of the busiest in Italy was not on my bucket-list. Biking in Milan is deadly. 

We walked towards the Duomo, which is overly decorated and overly sized. . Walking up to it is an effort of distraction. It is the largest and most ornate Gothic cathedral in the world. There isn't a single place on the entire building that isn't covered in a statue or artistic foliage. The roofline is jagged, because of the number of spires and carved figures poking up. Of course, part of it was covered in scaffolding. Constant restoration and reconstruction are the norm for these buildings. The inside, I'm sure is also nice, but we didn't go in. Instead we headed into the piazza and towards a colonnaded structure. 

The arcade we went into was the primo shopping section of Milan. Earlier, we meandered through the outside shopping that housed H&M, Sisley and a variety of other mass market stores. Here, in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II were all the high fashion houses of Milan. Prada, Gucci, et cetera. The building itself was airy and light, with a simply elegant mosaic floor. The store windows were gaudy and oversaturated in Italian fashion. 

We moved on to a quick cafe stop, and then a peek into a biblioteca with a da Vinci video. Wandered laneways until we found the Castello Sforzeca: a Renaissance fortress that now houses a series of museums. We walked through it, and through the park behind. The castello is heavy and blocky - perfect for defines and living through a siege. Unfortunately, this makes it boring to look at. Again, I am sure that the inside is very nice, but we didn't go in. 

It was now the middle of the afternoon. Sadly, because of the quick planning of this trip, neither of us have had time to look up the "tourist attractions". We're getting better as we go, but in Milan we missed critical things. Both of them are da Vicni related (I am a bit of a fan-girl). One is the da Vinci museum: which was closed for the day. The other was the fresco of the Last Supper, by da Vinci. The fresco itself is  falling apart, by current reports. To see it requires pre-booking weeks in advance. Next time, right? Along with opera, the museums, and shopping. 

Day 9: Milano to Crema. 

Milan is a city best known for fashion, performance arts and living the good life. Matty and I, if you haven't noticed, are a bit Scottish. We're cheap. For fashion, we spent 100 Euros on a half-dozen essentials (t-shirts, shorts, etc). For performance arts, we wandered through the free sections of a couple museums and saw the outside of the Duomo. And for the good life, we had awesome breakfasts, courtesy of the hotel (there was cake! multiple types! for breakfast! which I ate!). Basically, we spent one day relaxing looking for , and one day sight seeing. 

This morning, we were both grateful to get out of the city. Not that there is anything wrong with Milan, it's just that it was a starting point for the Italy trip, and we wanted to start. Our destination was to be Cremona, about 75kms away as the bird flies. Was to be. Why? Because it's flat. Other directions lead to the Alps, or the Appenines (which we'll have to cross at some point, but not now.)

We started by picking a direction. Knowing that Cremona is south-east of Milan, we started out by heading south. In a city, it rarely matters if one's direction is slightly off. The streets are so tight that even a wrong heading will sort itself out, and the right direction will be found. However, that doesn't mean one can just keep going without consequence. By the time we had reached the suburbs of Milan, we were definitely south. Not south-east. The decision was made to head eastward to try and rectify the situation. I grabbed the map, and in attempting to fold it properly, I hulked out and managed to rip the entirety in half. 

I can't even believe that this happened this morning. I am exhausted. 

First, we ended up participating in a marathon with runner and recumbant-riding amputees. Afterwards, it was bouncy traversing of narrow cobbled roads, shared with trams and cars. We ended up in some sketchy ass ghetto park, of which we had to travel 3 sides of a square to get around. We found a series of run-down allotment sheds and abandoned cow barns in the midst of multicoloured apartment blocks.  Then, it was a sub-suburban McDonalds, for the wifis (which failed) and a coffee. We had about 6 minutes of good riding with the iPhone Nagivator (henceforth known as "Naggy") until it decided that a highway was the best route. To avoid the speedy road, we literally went 10 kms out of our way, through random little villages on the outskirts of Milan. We skirted the ring road highways, and saw the local trade in action. By that I mean we passed by 6 prostitutes. Um. It was a bit weird, really. They each had white plastic lawn chairs at their "station". At one point, there was a cop car who broke up a date by the side of the road. Also, I really don't think that mini-skirts (or for one, no skirts) is advisable attire in 10C. 

Even with our effort to avoid traffic, we ended up on a semi-major road. The shoulder was… existent, mostly. But was about as wide as the skull of a 4 year old child. We were getting passed within inches, there was gravel strewn across our path and the road was collapsing in place. This road took us to Lodi, as did the signs. I kept seeing signs for "Milano 27 km", which was disheartening, as it felt like we'd already gone 50 clicks. In Lodi, after seeing dozens of billboards for grocery stores (which were all closed on Sundays), we found food! Hunger and exhaustion make even the simplest foods taste fantastic - and the parking lot ground can be as couture as a tablecloth in a Michelin starred restaurant. 

In Lodi, I took the time to look at a detailed map and write down a brief regarding directions to Crema on the backroads. We knew now that Cremona was not going to be reached, and that Crema was even a fair jaunt still. Even though the SS268 (or whatever) would lead us directly there, the riding was miserable. It's far better to have a pleasant long ride than an awful short one. Well, it can be better. Until one ends up in a national park, on dry-river bed and sand pathways with an upcoming stream fording. And a bunch of skittish horses. Matt shamed me the whole way as we back-tracked. So maybe I should have listened to Naggy, but it's really annoying taking directions from a stupid phone with a stupid voice that talks all stupid like. 

The other downside to small local roads are the farms. Oh my. I think I smelt every type of poop today. I'm starting to distinguish which comes from what. We certainly know what sheep poop smells like, as we passed by a flock being herded across the street. That was just outside of the town of Prada. No jokes. 

After exiting the park, and getting away from the especially stinky farms (pigs = ewwky), there were only about 10 kilometres left until Crema. Matt looked at the tracking of our route, and proceeded to inform me that we had gone over 70 kilometres. The last distance was hard. Our knees, never in the best condition were worn out. Our bums… oh our bums! They are hurting even now. Heads, backs, hands and patience had all taken a beating. And to top it off, we needed to find a proper campsite or a cheap hotel - tomorrow it is supposed to rain. 

We headed into Crema (where I nearly got run over for the fourth time today), and found a hotel. The hotelier kindly gave us a detailed map of the region, and helped us park our bikes. He also told us that our bikes are not exactly correct for touring. Eh. He might be right, but who cares!?

It's raining now. But only outside. Here, we are happy and exhausted. Tomorrow will be better. 

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