Saturday, September 24, 2011

Milano Part I, or Getting There is Half the Fun

With the entire family away, it seemed like a great idea to do a little traveling myself. An acquaintance, B, invited me to join her on her trip to Milan.
The morning of my departure, I was feeling pretty adventuresome. I posted on my Facebook status update: "I'm going to Milan today, AND NO ONE CAN STOP ME." Playful, yes, but little did I know I had thrown down the gauntlet.
I left in the late morning, toting an overnight bag, for the train station in Baar. A quick train ride took me to the Zug station, where I would catch the 3 1/2 hour train to Milan. Simple, right? As I waited on the platform, I saw that the train was going to be 20 minutes late. Another train pulled in, bound for Lugano. The platform attendant approached me, deducing I was waiting for the Milan train. He proceeded to inform me that, in fact, since the Milan train was late, it might not even stop in Zug, but instead travel down the other side of the lake! This was because there were so many trains on the line, that, in order not to be further delayed, the Milan train could decide to take a longer but less traveled route. Hmmm....well, he said, you should take this train to Lugano, and meet the Milan train later on, down south. But then the on-train employee told me, it's okay, you can take this train or wait for the Milan train, it's up to you. I decided I would rather wait in Zug, where it was familiar, than in some strange station somewhere...strange. So the train left, without me. The nice young man on the platform then informed me that I had made a mistake, that I should have taken the Lugano train, because more than likely the Milan train would not come to Zug. The Milan train stayed on the arrivals board, though. Until it disappeared. Down I trudged to the ticket office. After some consternation on the part of the agent, she consulted her colleague, and her computer screen, and finally - you guessed it - the nice young man from the platform, who was now in the back room. She came out and told me, you should have taken the Lugano train! Duh! All nice and friendly, of course. Next, they told me, you can take a local train to Arth Goldau, and meet the Milan train there. Somehow, I would beat the Milan train to this station! And so I did, and duly boarded the Milan train. I even found my assigned seat in the correct car. Alas, an Italian lady was hogging most of the space of the 4-seat area, so I nicely and quietly settled in to the one remaining seat. All proceeded smoothly for several hours, until we arrived at the Italian border. We were informed, in German and in Italian, that everyone would have to exit the train and board another train. Much confusion ensued, naturally, and we were there quite a while as everyone filed off one train, and reloaded themselves into a shabby, rickety Italian commuter train. Nearly every seat was taken, and aisles were filled with baggage, too. The border patrol came through, doing random checks of people and baggage. Since I deigned to look one of them in the eye as he interrogated the Italian man next me, the agent demanded to see my passport. Luckily, I passed muster, and he handed it back without a word. The nice British couple across from me began to chat me up, relieved that I spoke English. It seems they were en route to Venice, having left London the night before, and travel via Paris and Zürich to this very station on the Italian Swiss border. She was cheerful and up for the adventure, and he was grumpy and rather put out by the whole cock up. They were enjoyable to talk to, though, and we chuckled at the situation as the train finally got underway, and lumbered slowly along. We traveled at a snail's pace, stopping at every seedy, rundown no-name station along the way. People who boarded the train clearly were surprised by the crowds, so I think this was not the usual run of events. Finally a voice announced, this time only in Italian, that anyone who wanted to go to Milano Centrale (me! and the nice British couple too) should alight at Monza and wait for another train to take them there. We arrived at Monza, and scads of disoriented tourists with their baggage milled around aimlessly, befuddled and bewildered. It then slowly became clear that the next train going to Milano Centrale would not be for another 90 minutes! Ugh! Of course, there were absolutely no railroad employees anywhere in sight. This was becoming quite the saga. I came upon the British couple, who were listening to a man explain that many people who had stayed on the last train, knew that instead of getting off at Monza, they could go to Garibaldi, and there take a Metro (subway) to Milano Centrale. Oooooh! The man showed us that the next train to Garibaldi was arriving in a few minutes. We three decided to try this new leg together, with the help of our new guide. We boarded an even shabbier train, and traveled about fifteen minutes to Garibaldi, while enduring a beggar who laid a typed (in Italian) plea for money on our seats and returned to silently chide us for not giving him money (and taking back his little slips of paper for further begging later). In the Garibaldi station, the Metro ticket machine was broken, so our guide trotted us (me and the nice British couple) up into the station, out the door, down the street, and into the Metro station. He showed us how to buy tickets, and brought us to the correct subway platform. During this time, I learned that the nice British couple were Ron and Julia, and they were heading to Venice in order to take the Orient Express train! Also, they were worried that they had packed the wrong clothes, as they learned that they would have to 'dress' for dinner. The Metro train came (think New York City subway circa 1977), we got onto the crowded car (by now it is full-on rush hour, so you can imagine the crowd), and traveled 3 or 4 stops. Guess what, we had arrived at Milano Centrale at last! As we said our goodbyes (Ron and Julia had to find a train to Venice), I learned that our wonderful new friend was named Martin. I thanked him, and he just smiled and wished me a a wonderful stay in Milan. I think he was German, and he did not seem to be completely familiar with Milan, but he sure knew a lot more than we three travelers! I will always be grateful for his kindness....Next, I had to find my hotel. I knew roughly how to get there, so I figured if I just wandered around enough, I'd find the street I was looking for. That did not exactly pan out, so I stopped a police officer as he was writing a parking ticket, and he nicely pointed me in the right direction. A ten or fifteen minute walk brought me to the Piazza Lima, the site of my hotel. And there it was! And it only took me six and a half hours to get there. What an adventure. The Italian train system TRIED to STOP me, but I made it to Milan. And I'm all the richer for the experience. In case you lost count, that was six trains, from home to hotel.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Leapin' Lizards!

Off we go, into the wild blue yonder! Life is an adventure. To quote a wonderful, wise woman: every day is golden, every moment is sweet and precious, and meant to be lived. Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, YAHOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

9/7 Wednesday Hodgepodge....

There is a link to the wonderful blog whence these questions came, to the left of this column.....

1. What is one piece of advice you would give a 'just turning' 21- year old adult? 

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.

2. Besides cooler weather (or warmer weather, depending on your hemisphere) what is one thing you are looking forward to this fall?

In general, I am looking forward to seeing what fall is like in my new country.

3. What sound lulls you to sleep? 
I love the 'white noise' of my fan. I admit, it is a hard habit to break when the cooler weather comes around!

4. September is National Preparedness Month...does your family have an emergency 'kit' and/or disaster plan in place? 
I first built a kit after 9/11. It's around here somewhere....

5. How has your blog changed since you started blogging? Or has it? 
It's pretty much the same: usually intermittent, and occasionally insightful!

6. What's something you've recently learned to do on the computer?

I'm trying my hand at Google+.

7. Is a picture worth a thousand words? Elaborate.

8. Insert your own random here. 
 I was excited to learn today that, not ten minutes' walk from our place, is a lovely hiking trail through the the end: the Höllgrotten caves..."Amid the wild romanticism of the Lorze ravine, these most beautiful limestone caves are richly adorned with calcareous formations, while miniature lakes, impressive stalagmites and stalactites in a variety of hues give each grotto its special characteristic." I can't wait to go there!!