It was a hot summer’s night. The temperature here in London had soared into the 30’s during the waking hours, bringing with it a dense heat usually only found on the continent.
Meals and beverages had gleefully been consumed al fresco by happy patrons, before goodbyes were said and bedtimes were called. Long after the sun had set, the humidity, however remained, toying with the city’s sleeping patterns. I lay myself, fitfully switching between sleep and wakefulness, as street walkers cat-called and the sky finally gave in, breaking its silence, yielding a warm August rain that fell in small, soothing pitter-patters, trickling down open window panes.
The droplets lulled me softly, and I had not long reached slumber before the squawk of an alarm in the pitch-black roused me. With reticent anguish, I tore myself away from borrowed pillows and duvets, to get dressed at the unseemly hour of 4am, as my friend joyfully whizzed past me, herself preening and prepping for our imminent departure for Italy.
I snoozed the duration of our cab ride to the airport, and only really came to after procuring a warm breakfast, although still too tired at this juncture to consider eggs (a rather scandalous turn of events if you have been following any of my previous antics).
Our flight to Milan departs on time, and I resumed my snoozy post in a window seat, only waking 20 minutes before landing to catch sight of the beautiful Alps as we cross over the border from Switzerland.
I’m fully awake now, as I gaze in wonder at the beauty before me.
Sheer, angular cliff faces, interspersed with humped whale backs; a palette of grey and brown earthy tones, each peak topped off with a dusting of icing sugar. Deep ravines and breathtaking drops melt away into lakes, pooling a mixture made up of equal parts green murky water, and shallows whispy clouds.
The treacherous terrain flattens out, before giving way to terracotta rooftops and a vast oasis of trees and shrubbery. we land surrounded by tall leafy soldiers, all standing sentry, and I feel the sunshine on my skin already.
It’s smiles all around as we disembark the plane to begin our Italian adventure.
The brainchild of an idea post-masterchef episode (more on that another day), this trip was planned to mark birthday celebrations, and actually ended up being the usher out of one era, into another, with both a move across the country, and a career change looming in my near future. I have been excited for weeks, after emailing in borrowed Italian, planning our road trip adventure that begins right here in Milan, the capital of fashion.
We head for the train, whose ride takes us through the rougher outskirts of town, real concrete-jungle territory, with tall minimalistic apartment blocks, and urban graffiti adding a grungy edge to this stylish city. The train tootles on at a leisurely pace for just under an hour before depositing us at Milano Centrale Station.
We wheel our luggage up the platform, and I am overcome with déjà vu as my eyes take in what surely must be the Gare du Nord. We continue towards exit signs and are immediately thrust out into an arrival hallway with sky-high vaulted glass ceilings. I catch myself for a minute, and if I did indeed imagine myself in Paris, it must most certainly be in one of its many grand galleries, as the design is simply exquisite.
We continue out into an equally impressive entrance hall, down stone steps and out towards the Piazza Duca d’Aosta.
Turning back on ourselves, and the regal column flanked entrance is far more deserving of a presidential abode than a humble train station. It comes as no surprise therefore, that the architect of this grand venture, Ulisse Stacchini, modelled it after Union Station in Washington DC.
No time to stop and stare though, as the midday sun beats down, unrelenting overhead. We head down the via Vittor Pisani, a dual carriageway of sorts, lined intermittently with cafés and bars; their tables spilling out onto the pavement.
My phone picks the perfect moment to give up the ghost leaving us bereft of a map, and our sense of direction awry. We do however chance upon a friendly local fellow, who not only looks up our hotel address, but proceeds to walk us there, carrying my luggage to boot. Once safely within the air conditioned, glass-fronted walls of our hotel, we quickly dump our things and head back out in search of sustenance.
We veer back towards what were, moments ago, teeming eateries, which have now just about seen off the the last of the office lunch-break crowd.
We hit up a cafeteria style café where our plates are loaded with salad and mozzarella, which we immediately devour with gusto.
Bellies full, we meander back towards out lodgings, grabbing a Prosecco along the way.
We arrive back at our hotel, pitching up in the bar and perusing the guidebooks for places to eat this evening, imbibing yet more Prosecco and coffee whilst we await our final member of this ‘three amigos’ collective to arrive on a later flight.
Soon enough our trio is complete, and we head out for the evening to explore.
We stroll tree-lined boulevards, the shops and apartments with their picturesque miniature balconies reminding me a lot of Barcelona. It’s particularly quiet this evening as we pass high-end shops and five star hotels, where a peer through doorways reveal cascading marble staircases and glittering crystal chandeliers.
Even the banks here look like colonial mansions.
Our destination is the Trattoria Laterria San Marco, which promises the finest Milanese risotto (according to The Lonely Planet).
We aim for the financial district, where towering chrome and neon skyscrapers mark the skyline, a stark contrast to the cobbled streets we are currently strutting. We make it to Via San Marco, but have somehow overshot our destination, proceeding to walk repeatedly up and down the same stretch of road, in search of our illusive dinner venue.
After twenty minutes of back and forth, we eventually locate it (on our third attempt), but to our dismay, it is closed. Undeterred, we pitch instead for another of our choices, which is thankfully close by.
We enter ‘Dry’ and are greeted by a low lit venue, blaring music, with a prohibition bar in front and a quieter back restaurant, decked out in exposed ventilation shafts, and bare bright-red wires dangling mixed light bulbs on their ends.
The crowd is extremely boho-chic and could be just as easily found in the NYC Meat Packing District, or out on a Friday evening in Stoke Newington.
We wait for a table at the bar, watching the mixologists do their thing. Armed with a blowtorch, our barman expertly burns a tiny piece of orange peel before dropping it into the concoction before him. We barely have time to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ though, we are led in back to our table.
We have been assured of fantastic pizza here, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint, as we are served perfect traditional wood-fired pizzas, full of delicious toppings, chased down by equally scrummy beers. We all share, and work our way through spinach, spicy sausage, salty capers, prosciutto, aubergine and courgette, all topped off with homemade gelato in salted caramel, and a local concoction that tastes just like forrero rocher.
We head back to the bar in front and take a window seat, finishing off our evening with cocktails and a spot of people watching, gawping at the Italian in-crowd.
We’re completely spent after our long day of early starts and travel, so cocktails consumed, we lazily stroll through the evening back to our digs before calling time on our first night here in Milan.
It’s been a truly perfect day, and really wasn’t what I was expecting at all, our fun found far off the beaten track, rather than in the hubbub of the main squares.
It’s not long until we are all out for the count and, with the August night rain left far behind me in London, I drift off to the sound of nothing at all except miei amici sleeping soundly.