[Sorry this post is so late; we have been in the dark in terms of internet access for a couple of day and have only just come online again. Hence ...]
We are not natural travellers, in the sense, that we are not keen to move about all the time. We have discovered that we like to arrive and remain for at least a week, make some claim to the space in which we find ourselves and then we are able to move on. So moving on so quickly, from Antibes, to the Alps, and then to Milan, we putting us out of sorts in a big way.
We dragged the kids out of bed before nine; we had already been on a journey around Moutiers to find some kind of food for breakfast. The rain had come again, and we were getting wet. We had a chat about what it was that you did once before the internet came, about accommodation. We have booked before arriving, and while there have been some glitches with this system, by and large, we know we have rooms, and we have receipts to prove it. But before this system, we would just turn up to a town and hope to find somewhere to stay. I remember doing this once in Kuala Lumpur; it was ten at night and dark as anything, and we had nowhere to stay. The Lonely Planet guide (which we are carrying for this trip too, but I’m seriously considering junking it soon) told us to go to Chinatown, but there were not rooms at the inn. We then caught a taxi to the YMCA and there were no rooms there either; but around the same area there were some hotels and we finally found somewhere to stay, late at night. It turned out that these hotels were mostly for rent for the hour, and we were some of the few who took whole nights. When you don’t know what you don’t know …
On the road again. We drove out of Moutiers in the same horrible weather we drove in. The sparkling day we had had yesterday was long gone. It was the luck of the weather again. We drove back through the spectacular landscape of the Alps on our way back to the Italian border. This would be our last few hours in France for this trip. We said goodbye with a luke-warm hot chocolate in plastic cups and a pain au chocolat from a petrol station. Ah; romance.
The tunnel of Frejus takes you from the French side of the Alps through to the Italian side. It is a monster of a thing; you drive for some time through this cave like road. Anyone with any kind of phobia about confined spaces or lack of daylight might suffer in this place. We did a bit and we are not particularly phobic.
We decided to drive straight through to Milan. It was about 3 and a half hours, and we figured we may as well get there, and settle in. We had to return the car too, and this must be done (according to the God Hertz) at particular times.
We arrived in Milan. We are staying in the outskirts; a bit of a first for us. But we are only here for two nights and we thought, what the hell? Milan is expensive too, and finding somewhere for five of us that was more than a box with beds was pretty interesting. We are in Novate Milanese (which, as we heard later from a friendly bloke on the train) is considered very déclassé by ‘true’ Milanese. He thinks that Milanese are the biggest snobs in the world … but more about this later).
The bed and breakfast in which we are staying had been booked a while ago, but I had received an email from the owner to tell me that she was going away but there would be someone else to help. This is always a sinister message to get (I have a similar one from the host in Tuscany, and I’m already sweating bullets over it.). When we got to the place and rang as many doorbells and suggested by the notes beside them, we established that our contact did not live there, and there was no knowledge about when she might be on the premises. I did have a phone number, but we have no phone, so it was to find a phone booth, plus a bank and a toilet – degree of difficulty: 9.9. I managed to have a very stilted conversation with my host and established that she would meet us there in ‘two minutes’. We found a bank; the toilet was unsolved. Back at the B and B, we finally connected with our host, made our way into our place, and paid. All was wellish.
Time to return the car. I don’t really want to go into this horrible mess, but suffice to say that when we got to the car place, we were told that we were 45 minutes late and would therefore incur another day of charges. These car companies deserve to go out of business. Added to the stress Myles suffered to hire the thing in Carcassonne, this might have been considered the ‘last straw’. I kinda had to calm down both Myles and the bloke behind the counter (they had no language in common but anger – I had a bit of Italian). There will be some complaints made, but really it is a bit of hot air. We will go through some kind of process back in Australia, but no one will really care.
We came out of Hertz and found ourselves in the middle of a Milan suburb. No map, no idea. We followed a tram line until we reached a kind of terminus and I asked a few liked lads wearing what looked like conductor uniforms how we might get into the centre of town. After the horrible man at Hertz, this was very pleasant. Through my terrible Italian, we established where and how we would get into town. And so it was. Once on the tram, I asked some kids opposite us the stop that we should alight at. And they were helpful too. Not everyone is evil. But sometimes, the evil ones are so overpowering, that they block out the sun for a while.
Off the tram and there was the Duomo. In the late afternoon light, it is amazing; yellow at the bottom, and all pinks at the top. The square was humming with people (by the looks of what they were carrying, it was mostly about shopping). We were having a hyperglycaemic crisis (Myles and Zelda) so food had to be procured. Why do we always default to fast food in such a state? We stood in Burger King for way too long. I ate nothing. In the end, neither did Zelda. We then found an overpriced restaurant just in Piazza Mercantile and ate there.
You might detect some distaste with Milan at this point, and you would be right. I dunno about first impressions; I am beginning to think that anywhere can be terrible if the organisation is rotten (as it was here). For the next three hours, we were hostage to the train system. This is not an exaggeration. We have become use to (one might even argue spoilt by) the metro systems in London, Paris and Barcelona. We were expecting something similar here. Well, not to be. Where we are staying (not too far out; but clearly far enough for the Milanese to think that we are second class citizens) is not on the metro line, which means that you have to catch another system, and our line, for some reason, had all kinds of limitation on it. We also wanted to see if we could buy tickets to Venice for the Friday; and all this took hours. After having to BUY (if you can imagine that) a map of the metro, we found our way to something like the right line, but it was only really with the help of a very kind bloke who spoke excellent English, that we were able to find our way home. I guess I would put this down to just being not familiar with the city and a bit green, but we have had no trouble finding our way around other large cities (and without the language in at least two cases) so this feels like bad systems rather than faulty tourists.
Everything was shut when we finally returned to our rooms. There was no milk for tea. We could have done with a wine; nothing doing. And then the wifi didn’t work.
The karma is clearly running low.