Arriving at Bergamo airport in Milan was easy enough, we had a quiet, speedy flight, no luggage to wait for only carrying one back pack each, no passport control being members of Schengen, and then straight through to the coach park where there are numerous coaches to choose from all offering competitive rates. We boarded the one that was leaving immediately, after paying the friendly chap who stood in front of the coach selling tickets. A single journey ticket costs 5 Euros, return journey, 9 Euros and can be used on any day, no time limit.
The coach trip into central Milan was pleasant, it wasn’t full, the air conditioning was working and there was plenty of leg room. It took about 60 minutes to reach Central Station and what a beautiful building it is with its outlandish façade consisting of several pillars and fancy ornamentation on the roof.
It was around 8pm when we arrived at the station and we were keen to find our hotel before it got too dark. Before leaving for Milan I hadn’t studied the whereabouts of the hotel, I had a map which I had printed off from Booking. com and just assumed that we would follow the directions that the hotel had issued. It didn’t quite work out like that.
Once in the station we managed to find the Metro okay and worked out which line to take and where to get off. The Metro is a bit scruffy, litter in places; trains are full of graffiti and not the best illustrations in the world. Although the station is a grand building there is an underlying feeling of deceit and shady dealings. Undesirables hang around the ticket machines pretending to be helpful by showing visitors how to use the machines but then ask for payment afterwards for their advice and help. My suggestion is to steer well clear, don’t make eye contact and move on.
At this time of night the Metro was packed but not like the trains in Warsaw. I think this is because the lay out of the carriages is different, the aisle in between seats in the Milan trains is much wider so can hold more bodies. Also, I noticed that people chat on the Metro here, in Warsaw this is unheard of, everyone is silent and people never look at each other, they either stare through the window or at their feet.
When we reached our stop we realised that we had a problem. For one thing we couldn’t work out which exit to take and rather than the city being built on a grid format the street system forms a series of concentric circles with the Duomo being the main centre piece. In theory, finding our hotel should have been simple but somehow it turned into a 60 minute journey through the side streets around Piazzale Lorenzo Lotto.
By now, night time clouds were descending, we were hungry and in desperate need of a beer. We stopped a young guy who was out walking with his Mama and pet daschund. We asked them if they knew the area, they said they did so we showed them the map and the dot where the Hotel Sabatino is situated. The guy said he knew where it was and the street it was on, told us to turn back, go under the underpass and find Corso Buenos Aires. This is a very long thoroughfare where shoppers come when they can’t afford the prices of Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II, a lively place with shops and cafes and hordes of young people buzzing around. It was Saturday night, seemed very noisy and quite a few dubious people lurking around. Carrying two back packs, we were prime targets for con-men and pickpockets which do exist in the city especially in the station and on the back streets. Beware of the bracelet selling entrepreneurs – before you can blink and say Jack Robinson these guys will have tied a bracelet around your wrist, wished you a happy life and demanded payment of 1 Euro per bracelet. They have a cunning charm and I have seen people fall for it and when the victims shake their heads and say that they don’t have any money to pay for the bracelet, the charming entrepreneurs turn into nasty aggressors.
You automatically think that when locals give you instructions they will be correct but not in this case – we were trundling around in the wrong area. My husband was getting weary now so he decided to pop into a hotel which turned out to be in the red light district and asked, ‘Where the hell was Hotel Sabatino?’ The friendly, sun-tanned gentleman who was sat at his computer engaged in an important task, asked us to wait a second and then attended to our needs. He knew the hotel well and said that we were only 3 minutes away from our bed for the night and drew another little map to guide us. There was a musty smell to the reception and the walls were painted in lime green, it looked a bit seedy to me but it didn’t matter, I trusted the man and believed his instructions would lead us to our destination.
Passing the street where the shady ladies of the night stood in front of waiting cars we walked on towards Viale Gran Sasso and kept our eyes peeled for the side street bearing the name Via Giovanni Lulli. At last we saw the illuminated sign of Hotel Sabatino.
We ascended the stairs in a weary fashion, sweat on our brows from the humidity of the night, to be greeted by a smiling Chinese man who spoke very good English. At last, we had arrived and found our temporary home for three nights. Once shown to our room, we lay on the bed, pooped out. It had been a long day. Did we want to walk around Corso Buenos Aires again to look for a bar or restaurant? We both said, ‘No,’ and went downstairs to ask Chinese Joe if he could sell us a cold beer. Only bottles of Heineken were on offer but they were 0.66, enough beer to refresh our dry, parched throats, cost 3 Euros, 50 cents and did the job. We drank and talked about the day and what we would do tomorrow, went down and bought two more bottles and then turned in for the night after a quick wash and a teeth clean. We slept for 8 hours like babes, woke up to eat breakfast and take on the Duomo and its rooftop views.
The important messages of this story are; to read your directions and memorise them before you arrive in the city, not to wander around in the dark carrying a back pack, look out for scammers and don’t always believe that the directions local people give you are true.