DM and MM's Italy Trip Diary

Day 7 - Roma to Milano

Saturday, 5 May, 2001

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The day began a little early, with us waking at 06:30 so we could shower before breakfast. Last night in the laundromat we'd seen that the weather for today in Rome was supposed to be cooler and rainy, so it looks like we chose the right day to move on. The sky was indeed cloudy, though not fully overcast like Thursday. To me it looked like the sun would burn off the cloud leaving a hot and sunny day once again.

We returned to our room to pack our bags completely so we could leave and check out quickly when we returned from our visit to the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. The palazzo is part of the Museo Nazionale Romano and holds a lot of the best ancient Roman era artworks still around today. It opened at 09:00, so we had time to pack before walking over there. When we went outside it was definitely cooler than it had been on any previous day, so maybe it wasn't going to heat up as much.

We had some time to spare so we looked for a place where we could buy a strong cardboard tube to put the painting we'd bought the other day in, so it wouldn't get crushed in our luggage. We stopped at a tabacchi to buy stamps for our postcards, but the man there didn't speak English so I couldn't ask where we could buy a tube.

We arrived at the museum just before opening time. A group of American schoolkids was waiting out the front for the doors to open. A man came out and opened the gates, then shooed all the kids away as he tested the auto-closing function. Halfway through the closing, a woman walked right through, tripping a sensor and causing the gates to open up again, so he had to start again from scratch. By the time we got into the museum it was a few minutes after nine. Then we were told to check our bags at the cloakroom before buying tickets. I asked if photographs were allowed inside the museum, but the answer was no, so I checked my camera bag. We bought tickets and tried to enter the through the turnstiles but the first one we tried was broken and the man there tried to fix it for 5 minutes before letting us go through another turnstile.

By this time it was almost 09:15, and our tickets had included a guided tour of the Roman frescoes and mosaics on the second floor at 09:15 - a necessity since nobody is allowed on the second floor without a guide, for the protection of the artworks. A friendly woman took us around with only two other people to look at several magnificent frescoes which were on the interior walls of Roman villas, some from triclinia and some from bedrooms, and other places. Even better were the mosaics, which were incredibly detailed and colourful, using either natural coloured stones or pieces of coloured glass. The older mosaics used smaller pieces, sometimes only a few millimetres in size, to achieve intricate detail. The shades of the stones were carefully blended to create realistic shading and tones, and the portrayal of people and animals was very good. Later mosaics used larger pieces of stone until the last ones we saw used large chunks cut to the required shapes rather than small pieces used to build up blocks of colour. These also used other materials such as gold, lapis, and mother of pearl.

The guided part of the museum tour done, we proceeded downstairs to look at a large collection of Roman statues carved from marble, including many Roman emperors and gods, as well as other people. Some were incredibly lifelike, and the details of the muscles and even bulging veins on the arms and body of a discus throwing figure were amazing. Downstairs in the basement was a huge vault with doors like those you'd see in a bank vault, complete with enormous locking pins and a barred gate. This was open, and within was a vast display of Italian coins, dating from the Roman era right up to the present day and even into the future with some Euro designs. Most of the older coins were bronze, but some were gold, and many of the later coins were gold and silver. The entire collections must have been worth an immense fortune, in metal value alone, let alone historical value. Also in the basement was a room containing a mummy of a young child found in Italy.

By the time we had had a quick look at everything in the museum it was time to go back to the hotel and check out. We stopped at a bar on the corner near our hotel for a cappuccino for Michelle, then went up to collect our bags. When we left, we asked the helpful man at the front desk where we could get a cardboard tube to carry our painting, but he didn't understand enough English to really know what we meant, and pointed us at what I think was a large stationery shop. We walked in the indicated direction for a couple of blocks but found nothing of the sort, so headed back to Termini to wait for our train to Milan.

The train was supposed to leave from platform 3, so we sat there for a minute while we tried to decipher the ticket we had. Working out what carriage and seat numbers we had was made difficult by the fact everything on the ticket was in four languages, none of them English, and the resulting crowd of text and numbers didn't have any really obvious meaning. Eventually we worked out we had carriage 9, seats 53 and 58. We began walking to the far end of the platform where our carriage would be. Halfway there the indicator board on the platform changed, showing that a different train would be departing from there and the Milan train had been moved to platform 4. So we trudged half the length of the platform back and almost the full length again down platform 4 before we boarded the train.

Our seats were facing each other on the aisle, so we decided to commandeer a window seat so we could sit side by side (and both facing forwards). We waited as other people boarded the train, with me flipping through the phrasebook to figure out how to ask the person who had my seat number if we could swap, and the words for "honeymoon" so they'd let us sit together. As we waited, some people came on the carriage to beg for money or sell trinkets. One man walked down the train yelling "panini salami, l'acqua, panini, coca", selling sandwiches and drinks. The train filled up almost full, but nobody came to claim my seat, so we stayed where we were as the train pulled out.

We were soon out of Rome and passing through hilly countryside at a fair clip - certainly the fastest train I've ever been on. The scenery looked typically Italian, with hills covered in grape vines, villas, and little towns built on top of them.

We arrived at Milano Stazione Centrale right on time at 17:00. The suburbs of Milan that we passed through made it look much more like a sprawling modern metropolis than Rome. We saw something we hadn't see yet in Italy: Buildings less than about 100 years old!

During our trip on the Eurostar train we had determined that the maps in our Lonely Planet guidebook didn't have the street with our hotel marked on them. We did however note that a free English monthly publication named "Hello Milano" had maps of the city (as well as daily event calendars), so we cruised around Stazione Centrale looking for a place that had a copy we could pick up. One news-stand woman I asked had no idea what I was talking about. We wandered around looking lost a bit more, then I asked another news-stand woman where Via Ricordi was, showing her our map and pointing to show that she could show us on the map. She pointed off the edge of the map and spoke a stream of Italian, which altogether was not very helpful. I asked a man at another news-stand and he simply pointed us at the tourist information office just across the station hall from him. Besides having copies of "Hello Milano", the office had a very helpful woman who gave us a bigger and better map of Milan, showed us exactly where the street was, and told us where to get the tram to get there and exactly how many stops away it was.

It would have been a good 20 minute walk or so, so we elected to take the tram. We noted that the trams gave Milan a distinct resemblance to Melbourne, and that many of the buildings we saw were late 20th century, with 10 or more floors, unlike the wall-to-wall 5-6 storey old buildings of Rome. There were squares with neon signs, and the traffic lights had normal-sized red lights. Altogether a more normal-looking modern-day city than Rome.

We arrived at the Hotel Adler and checked in. The lift here was the same size as the one at Hotel Rimini, or even a little smaller. It also had manual doors which needed to be opened and closed by hand before the lift would move. It reminded Michelle of the opening title sequence from Get Smart, and she hummed the tune every time we used the lift. Our room turned out to be a little older looking than the previous one, but clean, and with a balcony overlooking the garden at the rear of the hotel and facing gardens of apartments on the far side of the block. Quite lovely.

Hotel Adler view
View of Milan from our room balcony, Hotel Adler

With shopping time fast running out we immediately left the hotel to check out the famous Milanese shops before the closing time of 19:30. We caught the Metro from Piazzale Loreto to Piazza San Babila, where the pedestrian mall of Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II began, lined with high-class fashion shops on both sides. The plaza was incredibly crowded with people, some of the shops even more so. Michelle had to go back to one shop after trying once to get in the door and not being able to because of the crowd inside.

Corso Vittorio Emanuele II
Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II

We walked towards the fantastic Duomo, hearing the sounds of buskers and street entertainers as we went. By the time we got there and I took a few photos, most of the shops were closed and we were getting hungry. We stopped at a Spizzico - a fast food pizza place - and had some margherita pizza slices and drinks. Michelle had orange juice, which was freshly squeezed blood oranges again.

Mariae Nascenti
Duomo di Milano

I wanted to get some photos of the Duomo with twilight sky and floodlights illuminating it, which involved waiting a while. To pass the time we checked out a department store which was staying open late. After spending half an hour or so in there, we emerged to a wonderful scene with the piazza full of people, the Duomo floodlit, and a full moon rising majestically behind the spires. I took some photos with my mini-tripod strapped to some barriers and the Metro station entrance railing - I hope they turn out!

Milano Duomo
The Duomo in twilight

Mission accomplished, we caught the Metro back to our hotel, ending another full day in Italy.

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