Sunday, 26 January 2014

A quiet one

 Very quiet in Milan on Australia Day. 
From the end of via Washington the view of the Alps gives a hint of the cold weather expected in Milan this week, but today it felt like spring. A beautifully sunny Australia Day. Our sympathies to those on the other side of the Atlantic trying to stay warm.
After seeing a Jackson Pollock exhibition at the Palazzo Reale, we walked over to my latest favourite cafe, Caffe Botega Cacao in The Brera for a panino and coffee.
Thanks to Stefano's strong will we resisted their delicious tarts.
 Too cold for us to sit outside, but not for the Milanese who were soaking up the sun.
On our way home we passed our local pub.
They too seemed to be having a very quiet Australia Day.
Hope they have a quiet Australia Day night!

Giorno felice Australia.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Only 212 kms from Milan but another world

It was only three and half hours from Milan, but as we exited the tunnel through the Alps suddenly the train stations became graffiti-less, the sun shone, the euro became almost irrelevant, and chocolate emerged as a topic of serious conversation. Oh, and there was snow, mountains and mountains of snow. The pristine beauty of Zermatt felt like another world.
Our week's holiday in Zermatt had been planned while we were in Australia.  Friends who had lived in Switzerland for several years recommended it as one of their favourite places to ski.  Thanks to them a large group made their way from Sydney for two weeks of skiing and we joined them from Milan.
Thanks Barb for this photo and your insider's knowledge of Zermatt.

Zermatt lived up to its reputation as a winter paradise. It is nestled high in the Swiss Alps, below the Matterhorn, which looms over the ski fields and provides endlessly spectacular views.
Reaching the ski slopes is a model of Swiss efficiency.  As well as cable cars and gondolas there is also a rapid funicular train which feeds two huge elevators opening directly onto the Sunnegga ski field.  Skiers reach the chairlifts and gondolas high on the mountain in less than six minutes. 
While the Sunnegga funicular seems almost space age, the Swiss also take great pride in their old-fashioned railways.  The Gornergrat Bahn is a cog railway that has been operating for over a hundred years. It runs all year round and in winter it is included in the price of a lift pass.
This love of old and new transport modes isn't restricted to the mountain. The traditional character of Zermatt has been carefully protected. In 1966 the town made a decision to protect its unique mountain environment by banning all conventional motor vehicles, permitting only electric buses, taxis and a few private electric vehicles. Horse-drawn drays and bicycles are also part of the transport system ensuring that the spectacular views of the Matterhorn and its surrounding peaks are never draped in a polluted haze.  
Swiss traditions like fondue, 
and curling, that cold weather version of lawn bowls,
are still important parts of life in Zermatt, alongside fast trains,
 and breath-taking gondolas.
Thanks Beth for this great shot.
On top of the efficiency of the Swiss, the beauty of the mountains, the crisp clean air, and the incredible snow, it was the joy of spending time with our friends from home that transported us to another world for a wonderfully surreal week. 

Buon viaggio!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Motorbikes and Magi?

First we heard the sirens. Over breakfast Stefano commented, "That's different. They've been going on for ages." Then after wandering over to our kitchen window he called out, "Wow, come and look at this."
Via Foppa had become a one-way motorcycle drag track.  There were hundreds and hundreds of motor bikes, all with their lights on and horns blaring, filling both sides of the road.
When we stepped onto our front balcony to get a better look, the traffic was banking up at the cross-streets and pedestrians had become marooned on the pavements, yet no one seemed perturbed.  Those stranded were happily waving to the motorcyclists, while the cars were unusually quiet. The only sound of horns was coming from the thousands of motorbikes of all shapes and sizes that kept streaming down via Foppa for 15 more minutes. What was that all about?
After a week of rain it was great to see the sun shining on the feast of the Epiphany, a public holiday throughout Italy, and the last day of Stefano's Christmas holiday. Like many Italian cities, Milan celebrates this final day in the Christmas calendar with an annual street parade re-enacting the visit of the Maji - the three wise men, who came to pay homage to the baby Jesus. In Milan the parade starts at the Duomo and travels slowly along via Torino, via Porta Ticenese to its destination at Sant'Eustorgio, the church dedicated to the Magi and allegedly where their relics are buried.

The Magi are accompanied by an assortment of citizens in costume, including shepherds, knights, ladies of the king's court and townsfolk  in traditional dress. We met the parade en route to the Basilica of Sant'Eustorgio, just by the Colonne at the church of San Lorenzo.  Here, what had been a reasonably orderly parade became a typically Italian celebration. The crowds mobbed those dressed in character to congratulate them and take photos.  Some of the traditional bands attempted a hesitant rendition of Silent Night but they were completely swamped by the exuberance of the onlookers. Once the Maji had paid their respects to the clergy at San Lorenzo, the parade continued on its colourful march.  
 The video below gives you a taste of the parade which was charming as it was low key, inclusive and  friendly.
The motorcycle cavalcade and the parade of the Maji are both Milanese traditions held on the feast of the Epiphany. Next year we'll know to look out for the the giant statue of the good witch la Befana who leads the motorcycle rally, a charity drive which raises money for the poor.

Fino alla prossima settimana e un felice anno nuovo!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The best thing about visitors

We love having visitors in Milan. 
They provide us with the perfect audience to share some of our discoveries, like our local pizzeria - San Marco's. It's almost compulsory to eat there at some point when we have visitors.
Our most recent visitors - Beth, David, Olivia and Georgia
Milan isn't one of the most beautiful cities in Italy so it's always a delight to take visitors to the Duomo.  It's luminous grandeur never fails to surprise.
Known for its bitterly cold, foggy days, we've been surprised by the beautiful weather that seems to greet our visitors in Milan.  Hope I haven't jinxed our run of sunshine. So far, we haven't tired of wandering through the grounds of Castello Sforzesco and Parco Sempione.
Perhaps the best thing about having visitors is that we are always looking at this city through new eyes. With friends and family we explore new places, like a trip to La Scala to see the new ballet. Memorable for the dancing, the incredible theatre and so much more fun when shared.
Not that I need an excuse to try a new gelateria but with visitors there's an opportunity to share one of my favourite gelateri, or to try somewhere new.  CioccolatItaliani is one of the most popular gelato chains in Milan.  It serves delicious gelato with small cones of melted dark or white chocolate.  After pouring the warm chocolate over your icecream you can crunch your way through the little chocolatey dripping cone. Georgia and Olivia couldn't stop at melted chocolate, they added nutella to their stracciatella gelato.  Beth and I were a little more restrained, sharing a bowl, a big bowl, of chocolate and fior di panna. 
CioccolatItaliani was such a hit that we returned two days in a row.  I'd only do that with visitors!

We went to the cafe-style CioccolatItaliani on via de Amicis 25.

Taste test summary
The serves are generous. One between two was plenty, even for the keenest teenage gelato consumers. Although I enjoyed the crackle of the solidified 'ice-magic' chocolate topping when the gelato comes in a bowl, I found that when served in a cone, it becomes messy and far too rich. I would always choose a cup or better still, eat in the cafe and enjoy sharing a big bowl.  The combination of flavours was perfect, especially when the fior di panna was served on top of the chocolate, which was a little stronger in taste.

Gelati rating *** 1/2 
(marks deducted as the single cones are the most expensive that I've bought in Milan.)

Buon anno e auguri per 2014!