I’d arranged to spend my first night at the apartment of Philippe, a Belgian who’s been living in Milano for about two years, through CouchSurfing. Philippe suggested I take the train from the airport to Cardora Station, by the beautiful Parco Sempione. There I could check out the famous Sforza Castle and the Triennale Design Museum. It sounded easy enough, so I happily agreed. I knew the museums would be closed on Mondays, but figured a slow stroll around the park and pretty buildings would keep me occupied for the few hours before I was to meet him outside the Triennale.
I bought a bottle of acqua frizzante (one of the only things I remembered how to say from my first trip to Italy with my family) in the park and took a baggage-burdened stagger through the castle grounds. Sweating from the strong sun in the fleece I couldn’t fit in my backpack, I searched for a place to sit. A grandmother with a baby sleeping in its carriage motioned for me sit beside her on a bench by a fountain. I sat with relief, and we exchanged a few words with the help of a Sri Lankan man. He’d been in Milan for a few weeks and spoke broken English and broken Italian, but enough to translate for us. When my new nonna learned I was on my own, she warned me not to have confidenzia in anyone. Or maybe she noted I was confident to travel alone? Then she cupped my cheek in her hand and went on her way. Feeling a bit more at home already, I found my way to the Triennale.
I rested against my backpack on the steps of the entrance, too tired to move. There was a party for a new exhibition, and a chic crowd of hipsters, gray-haired intellects, art students in skinny black jeans and businessmen with mopeds shuffled in and out, gathering and chatting on the steps and ignoring the dirty hobo starting to drift off to sleep at their feet. My new SIM card wasn’t yet active and I couldn’t pick up any wireless, so I just sat and hoped Phlippe hadn’t changed the plan to meet at 6-6:30. I was 6:37. I’ll ask someone to borrow their cell phone at 6:45, I decided. An Audi pulled up with a beep. I considered standing up, but how embarrassing would it be to lug my things over to some guy on his way to meet his fellow donors for the party? I was sure my host would arrive by foot, bicycle or something dirty from the 70s, so I stayed put. But then the man got out of the car, looked at me like I was an idiot, and returned my hesitant wave with a nod and smile.
Philippe made a few calls on his speaker phone as he wove through the streets towards the center of the city, to the beautiful apartment his company helped him pay for. We entered the building’s open terrace through a wooden gate and climbed three flights of stairs. It was ideal: a charming old facade with a modern interior. Happily dumbfounded that I ended up with such swanky digs, I took a much needed shower.
Then it was time for wine and antipasti with Philippe on his private terrace. I’d gotten my second wind. Life was good. I presumed this was dinner, and ate as such, but then he suggested we eat some real Italian food. I was full, but figured When in Milan….We drove to an old Sicilian restaurant in Milan’s petite version of Chinatown. 10pm on a Monday night and it was packed. Autographed photos and articles hung on the walls like they do in the best NY delis and the crowd was mostly older Italians, both of which we noted as good signs. We had some divine bruschetta (similar to what I’m used to but on thinner, softer bread), salty, garlicky linguine with tomatoes, pine nuts and teeny little fish whose name I can’t recall and warm eggplant wrapped around roasted peppers, tomatoes and a bit of tuna fish.
I noticed a man in the large party next to us admiring our pasta as it arrived, and motioned for him to try some. Philippe started to chat with them (telling me proudly that they mistook him for a Milanese) and soon enough, they had a plate of our linguine and we had a sampler plate full of their dishes, my favorite being the Pasta Alla Norma. Later, we topped it all off with some Grom and a wander round a piazza. I know we have Grom im NY, but I’ve never been, so I deemed this excusable. I got hazelnut gelato with almond granita (the latter being a first for me). It was an exquisite combination and Grom’s definitely worth all the hype. Sadly, I forgot to take my camera out that first night, so no food pics to share.
I’ll spare you anymore nitty gritty details and leave my whirlwind morning walk around Milan at this: La Basilica Santa Maria delle Grazie (need to go back with a reservation to see The Last Supper), La basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, Il Duomo (need to go back with time to climb the stairs) and a spontaneous stop for a meringue and cappuccino at the standing bar of a truly classic pastry shop, pictured above.
Left a bag of my warmer clothes at Philippe’s as I have more than I can carry, so I’ll be back sometime before November.