Friday, 7 February 2014

In Milano...

I knew that there would be 'Boris Bikes' in Milano and sure enough, I spied some this morning just prior to boarding the Malpensa Express. Malpensa is Milano's 'Gatwick' airport, it's quite a distance out of central Milano, but a lot depends on what train you catch.
The view from Room 107 of the Melia Milano hotel. Not very inspiring.
Last night, having fallen victim to my travel company's mess-up, I had to fly into Malpensa rather than the more central Linate. I had been booked on the 1225pm flight, which would have got me into Milano around 3pm, giving me time to have a wander around in the daylight and possibly have some dinner with my colleague, Ken. But it was not to be. Why? Because while I thought I was booked on the 1225pm easyJet flight... I wasn't.

And then, to make matters worse, the girl on the counter said there were no more flights available that day, meaning I'd have to go back to work. I called my travel company and they told me there were still three seats on the 1500hrs flight to Malpensa. They smartly booked me on it and I had to spend the day in The Terminal, pretending to be Tom Hanks. This wasn't as bad as it might seem. I had an early lunch (at noon) in Frankie & Benny's where I ordered a chicken club sandwich and a couple of glasses of red wine and sat there for just over an hour reading Q magazine, something I haven't done for a long time.

Inside Room 107 of the Melia Milano – a wonderful hotel with an amazing restaurant.
Then, around 1pm, I wandered around the very boring South Terminal looking at things I couldn't afford and, if the truth be known, things I didn't particularly want either – like clothes from SuperDry. What is it about SuperDry? Over-priced clothes in my opinion and hey, who wants to 'follow the pack'. I've always been 'man at Millets' so brands like SuperDry leave me cold. Then there was the raffle for the super car. I'd never win it, so I resisted the advances of the salesgirl who thought I would be foolish enough to fall for her 'charms' – I smiled politely but didn't stop walking. In fact, I walked and walked and walked, wishing I'd dragged out my lunch for a little longer.

Eventually I made my way to the gate. While I'm now what you would call a 'frequent flyer', I hadn't flown since November, when I went to Dusseldorf from City Airport. I was a little apprehensive because of the weather. Outside it was dark and rainy. Visibility was virtually nil and it was only 1330 when the plane took off and headed for the clouds. I was expecting turbulence, but got none. Within ten minutes of flying through the gloom the plane emerged from the clouds and was bathed in afternoon sunshine all the way to Milan where there was no rain.

EZY 5294 back in Gatwick Airport having left behind a rainy, cloudy Milano.
But I was a long way from dinner. First a bus journey to Terminal One at Malpensa where I bought a ticket on the aforementioned Malpensa Express to Milan's Central Station, a rather impressive-looking building where I needed to get some cash for the taxi to the hotel. I thought the Melia Milano was in the centre of town – and it probably was – but the taxi took an age to get there: a good twenty minutes. When I arrived, Ken was waiting. He'd already eaten so I had to eat alone in the hotel restaurant. I hadn't eaten since that Frankie & Benny's lunch at noon UK time. It was now nearly 9pm Milano time (I'd gained an hour and hadn't eaten a thing). On the plane I'd bought one of those small bottles of wine, but hadn't opened it, and a cup of tea and a bottle of mineral water both of which I consumed with gusto as the wine at Gatwick had made me thirsty.

The hotel meal was one of the best I'd experienced in a long time: vegetable soup, risotto with tender lamb and a glass of red wine.

I was tired. Around 10pm I went to my room and watched Question Time – George Galloway and David Starkey are always good value for money – and then I hit the sack, waking around 4am, getting up just before 6am, having an early and very healthy breakfast in the hotel before heading out to a nearby caff – Puro Gusto – for a quick cappucccino before the meeting.

The rain that had been pelting England the day before was now pouring down on the streets of Milano and had been during the night. Had the weather been better I wouldn't have taken breakfast in the hotel. Why? Because it was EUR35.00! But it was raining so I had a load of healthy stuff – yoghurt, fresh fruit, muesli, nuts, a banana and a cup of tea.

And that was it. We left the meeting and headed for the Malpensa Express. Oddly, it only took 30 minutes. Last night it had taken me 52 minutes and stopped at many different stations en route.

Once at the terminal I checked in and immediately lost that miniature bottle of wine I'd purchased on the flight out from Gatwick. The suitcase went through the X-Ray machine and an eagle-eyed security guard spotted it. "Have a drink on me," I said with jocularity, but he didn't even smile. I'd have been okay had I checked the suitcase it, but because it was the right dimensions to be considered hand luggage, I kept it with me. On the flight out I'd done the same thing, losing, in the process, my shaving foam. This morning I had to lather up my hands with soap as I had no idea where the nearest pharmacy would be and, besides, it was drizzling rain. So, I'd lost a small bottle of wine and some shaving foam, but they were the only casualties.

The flight back was as fine as the flight out. This time I had a window seat (seat 3A) – on the way out it was seat 9E (the middle seat in a row of three). For the return trip I ordered another mini bottle of red wine and a cup of tea, having bought a cheese and ham roll from a small café at the gate.

The weather in and around the UK was lovely. Cotton wool clouds over the English Channel and as the plane approached the UK I could clearly see Beachy Head and Eastbourne Pier and then that huge white church in East Grinstead. The landscape below me looked very familiar, probably because it was familiar and not million miles from where Andy, Phil and I go cycling at weekends.

I'm told the good weather of today won't last and that the weekend promises to revert back to the crap of the last few days: blizzards and driving rain. Things have been very bad in the South West: extensive flooding, emergency conditions, waves hitting houses, you name it, and it seems as if today is the exception to the rule. In fact, I feel relieved that both flights didn't fall victim to the extreme weather – there wasn't any turbulence and that, in my book, is a result.

For more on a caff visited briefly while in Milano, click here.

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