Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Synchronicity and Magic Happen in Milan.

On a sunny Sunday, February 9th, 2014, I arrived at Genova Principe station.  I'd spent the morning up on the view point, gazing out at the city and harbour of beautiful Genova. 
Now I was off to Milan. I got there early and people were eager to board the train bound for Milano Centrale station. Milan is one of the hubs were so many journeys connect.

Once on the train I found a comfortable seat.  Suddenly as we were ready to leave, I realized I hadn't validated my ticket and started to panic.  

I asked this lady opposite me where I needed to go to validate my ticket.  She had very little English and could see I was concerned.  She went to some young people in the opposite side of the train and asked if they spoke English and explained I needed help.  She was so caring.  The young woman came and spoke to me and said to write the date and time on the top of my ticket and that she would explain to the train conductor, (the controller in Italy)  what had happened. 

I was so relieved, and when the controller did come round to check the tickets, my new friend explained the situation and he clipped my ticket with no worries.  Another incident illustrating how kind people can be to strangers. :-)
Afte a pleasant journey We arrived in Milano Centrale.  

It was very busy when I got off the train and onto the platform  I stopped to get some pictures to show how big this station is, once again reminiscent of those I had seen in London.

THe platforms led straight into the main station.  It was a huge space.

I had to find the metro in order to get to my hotel. First I had to exit the station and i headed down the very long escalator, following the signs to the metro station.

This station was like a cathedral, just enormous with majestic architecture and stone arches and alcoves.

This is one of the ceilings inside the station.

And this is one of the windows, so magnificent for a railway station.

This stone bench was one of a matching pair at the top of the grand staircase leading to the main exit.

Here is the view of this staircase from the bottom. 

Once you step outside there is this grandiose entrance way. re of it looking in both directions as I was so impressed with it.

I found the stairs leading down to the metro and headed for the line I was given in my directions to the hotel.
First of all I arrived at the ticket machine that were in the main section as soon as you walked into the metro station.  There were around four individual self serve ticket machines on the left, the a huge central space and four on the opposite side.  I walked to a machine on my left.  Immediately two woman came up to me as I reached the ticket machine and started tapping the screen as if to help me get my ticket.  They stood really close to me and had on long skirts.  When I was first approaching the ticket machine I thought perhaps the first woman was a metro employee there to help travellers find their way to the correct station, (the London Underground stations had staff doing this and it was so helpful for me.)  Unfortunately these people were not official staff.  They were there to mislead and pick peoples pockets.  I was immediately on edge and busy trying to hold onto my purse keeping it out of sight as I looked for my change, and also keeping my handbag and luggage close to my body and safe.  
The first woman kept harrassing me and I kept looking into her eyes and saying "No"  As I was busy trying to juggle my stuff and find the right money to buy my ticket I heard shouting behind me.
Being careful to clutch my bag to my chest I turned to look at the disturbance. There was a young man standing by a ticket machine and he was surrounded by about six of these women,who were all yelling  at him.  He kept arguing with them.  
I could see he was in distress and looked around to see if anyone was going to help him.  The women were really aggressive and he was all alone.  I wanted to go and help, but I had no Italian and was concerned to not get too distracted and lose my focus on looking out for these women.  They were still hovering at my elbow.  So I turned and got my ticket. ( i later read online accouonts of these people working in groups and one of their main tactics is to distract people and steal their luggage as  they to in aid of someone.) 
As I walked away from the machines the young man was still arguing with them and still no one was helping him.  I felt really bad as I made my way to the station and was second guessing myself all the way to the platform, hoping he was ok.  
I had done the sensible thing, but it didn't feel right. ( In these situations I hear my kids and my brother and sisters telling me how to keep safe on my travels. I have to think of them too as they want to know I am safe travelling alone.)
I followed the signs pointing to the green line to Cadarno. I located the right platform, still stewing over the fact that so many women were allowed to hover around the ticket machines and no metro security was there to protect travellers from this band of thieves. 
At the platform I waited for the metro train that headed towrads my hotel.

I had to change trains at Cadarno and get the red line to Gambara.

When I came out of the metro into the light of day at Gambara, a lady kindly guided me to my hotel.  It wasn't far at all. 
There was a buzzer on the outside wall and once inside, there was a courtyard in the middle of the buildings.

This is the view from the courtyard and the first door is the one that led to the hotel.  

Once inside the door there was an antiquated elevator that took you up to the Emmy Hotel. It was just like in the Thoroughly Modern Millie movie lol.

Once inside I settled into my room,  there were three beds in it but it was empty when I arrived.  I was disappointed there was no kitchen and not even a kettle to make a cup of tea. I asked the lady at the front destk and she kindly made me a cup of tea.

I was pretty tired so I lay on my bed and started working on my phone.  After a couple of hours a young man came into the room.  He introduced himself and told me he was from Tanzania, but that he was studying for his Chemical Engineering degree in Turkey.  He was doing it in English.  I was amazed at how he could speak so well in all these languages.  
He wanted to call his friends and had quite a problem activating his minutes on his phone as this was his first stop on his journey.  He had come directly from Turkey as he was on a school break.  He wanted to see some of Italy and then he was going on to France and London.
Eventually he got his phone working and  he was talking to his friend as I was busily working on my blog.
He is saying how his trip has been so stressful and then I hear the words "gypsies" and "Romanies."  He mentioned how this trip is making him stronger and that he stood his ground.
When he got off the phone I asked him if he was accosted in the station by a group of women and he said yes, he had.  
This was the man I had seen arguing with the group of women while I was searching for my change to get my own ticket.
I looked at him and I couldn't beleve that this man had ended up being in my Hotel and in my room, in the bed right beside mine.  Another amazing incidence of synchronicity. 
He said that they had stolen one hundred Euro from him. But he didn't give up and he got them to give it back to him.  He said that the experience had made him stronger, and he was very proud to have prevailed and not given up. 
He only had two one hundred euor notes for his entrie trip.  One of the things they do is say they will get you change.  He really regretted trusting them, but they were so pushy, and took his 100 euro to put it in a machine they said would give him change.  He said it was like watching a magic act, an illusion, because it looked like they really put it into the machine and then no change came out, just a piece of paper. Then she handed him the piece of paper and said that the machine was broken.  Then he said he knew it was a scam and he started to argue with them. All the others suddenly surrounded him, but he didn't give up.  He knew she didn't actually put the money into the machine, it was sleight of hand.  I was amazed that he actually got them to give it back to him in the end, but he said it took a long time.  After it happened he went to the security office but they did not seem to care and did nothing about it.   
I  said how incredible it was and he said he needed to get it back as it was half his money for his trip. I said,, "But you don't speak Italian and they didn't speak English."  He smiled at me and said, "Ah but I understand about money and they understand about money."
He was such a gentle young man and called his family in Tanzania to let them know he was ok. He was so full of love and respect. Here is a picture of him from his facebook page.
Thhe next day it rained all day so I stayed inside.  I walked around the corner to a restaurant for my lunch.  It was my first time in an Italian bar that also serves as a cafe.  People order their morning coffee in these establishments and stand and drink them at the bar.  It was a new concept to me.
I loved the decor of the place and this old gellato storage unit.
I asked the waitress what the different types of pizza were on the menu and she advised me what to get.  This one was thick with toppings and I ordered a glass of red wine, (vino rosso).  
The man at the next table asked where I came from. He told me how he had been to Vancouver the previous summer as his son was in the Pokemon World Championship.  He was very chatty and nice company for lunch.
The next day I published my Mont St Michel blog.  Then it was time to visit the city.  
The  sun was shining and the sky was blue as I headed down the stairs to the metro.

I was always surprised to see so much graffiti on the subway trains.

I got off at the Duomo staion as my hotel lady had told me to.  As I exited up the stairs I was met with a vision- the Duomo cathedral was right there.. this was another WHAM moment.  Right off the bat.  WOW!

I was actually at the side of the building and had not even seen it from the front.  As I walked up towards the piazza I saw this wonderful arched entrance. I later discovered it led to lots of high end shops in a very special 'mall"  Look how it towers over the people in this scene.

The piazza in front of the duomo is massive and filled with people who seemed to be like little ants scurrying around in front of this massive, exquisitely carved vision in marble.  

I tried to get pictures to show how detailed the scuptures and carving was.

Once again I amd going to have to say I don't know how they accomplished this masterpiece of art and architecture. I truly am in awe of the artisan's abilities and what they managed to accomplish so many centuries ago.

Even the enormous doors were so ornate. I did go inside this beautiful building but there were no photographs allowed.  
I was able to sit at one of the sections set aside for prayer and spend some time thinking of my Dad.  He was the reason I had come to Milan.  He often told me a story of how he was in a truck full of service men in WW2 and they were driving through Milan.  He had a strong sense of deja vue and said he felt he knew what he would see when they turned the next corner.  And when they did turn the corner, the scene was just how he had imagined it.  He always said to me that he wished he could have learnt Italian, as it was such a musical language, so joyful. So I took time to commune with my Dad inside the beautiful Duomo.  It was the perfect place.

Once outside I did some people watching, its so great to see how life goes on in other countries. And of course, its not that different.  There were groups of children from school seeing the hitorical sights of Milan.

They were heading off to walk through the hugh arches.

There are pictures from inside later in this blog post. 

And then there were the little ones with their families feeding the pigeons.

I finally had the chance to also look around at the rest of the square.  The duomo is such a dominaant feature that it takes a while to draw your eyes away from it and appreciate the other spledid features of the square.
There are many lovely buildings all around the edge of the piazza.

And I had to smile when I saw the Ray Ban sign above this building.

I had bought a map at a tobacconists shop and wanted to find the La Scala Theatre. 
I headed off in the direction indicated on the map.
On my walk I saw some really interesting old buildings and piazzas.

And a modern day milk truck in front of this lovely structure.

Once again I was surrounded by beauty.

I  kept walking and was confused, because according to my map I should have found the theatre. lol

Soon I was at a  square and I located its name high on a wall.  When I referred to my map, I had missed the theatre.  This square was interesting though as it was where the trams ran from.

They arrived from all directions.

Before I knew it I was back in the main square. lol.

I decided to walk through the big archway that was so impressive and was surprised to see all the shops. Here was another churchlike setting, so palacial, with frescoes high on the archways, and beauty everywhere. Once again humanity was dwarfed. I saw its name on a street sign, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. 
It certainly was magnificent. 

Later on I did some checking and discovered that the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II  is one of the oldest shopping malls in the world. The shops are housed within a four-story double arcade and it is named after Vittorio. Emanuele Ill, who was the  first king of the Kingdom of Italy. It was designed in 1861 and built by Giuseppe Mengoni   between 1865 and 1877. 

The architecture was amazing 

The floors were also works of art. 

There were so many high end brand name stores; Gucci, Prada, Louis Vitton and more

Leaving the magnificence of the galleria behind, I walked across a square still in search of the theatre. I discovered this marvellous stature of Leonardo Da Vinci.

And I saw the sign saying this was the Piazza Della Scala, and also a poster so I thought I must be near it.

Little did I realize that I was actually there. This picture I took as I was heading down a side street is actually the theatre. lol  It just didn't have a sign saying so.

 I walked all the way round the block and finally figured it out. 

I saw more posters on my way.

Once at the front of the building I saw the ticket office. Suddenly I remembered that my friend Sara from the writers retreat at La Muse Inn had told me that you could get cheap tickets to the opera of symphony, depending what was on. She said it was quite q typical Italian experience as you had to line up three times.  It was quite a process but worth it as the tickets were so cheap.
I decided to be brave and ask if there was an opera on that night.  I attempted to speak Italian and the ticket agent said I had to go to the metro station as the La Scala Tickets were being sold there.  This seemed very odd.  As I was leaving an Australian girl was also curious to see if there were tickets for tonights concert.  
I left straight away, walking back through the giant arcade and found the Metro office.  I asked how much the tickets were and they siad 50 euro or 72 euro.  I said that was too much for me.  Then he said that I could go and line up for the 13 euro tickets.  I had to go to the couvered area down the side of the theatre, past the cafe.
On my way back to the theatre I spotted these elegant gentlemen 
When i arrived back at La Scala I went  over to the left hand side of the building where the cafe was.  I found the covered area and there was a little man with a clipboard  in his hands.  
So it was just as Sara had described it to me at La Muse. You had to give this man your passport and he recorded your passport number on his paper.  then he gave you a number, mine was 70. I couldn't belive how informal it all was.  It mademe smile that he rested his clopboard on a scooter that happened to be parked there. 
Next you had to return at 5:00 to line up for a voucher that would also have your number on it.  Once you had this voucher, you needed to line up again at 5:30 to get your official ticket form the box office.
I decided I would take this opportunity to go and get some lunch.
There was a cafe attached to the theatre but the prices were very high

I walked up a side street and found a nice little cafe and treated myself. There was jazz music playing and I took my time eating and savouring the flavours. 
I still had some time to kill so I went exploring.
One of the places I spotted was this wonderful place promoting an event of some sort. I just loved the painted dome. 
I went back to the corridor around 4:30 and already people were gathering for the second line up.
There was still half an hour to wait so I walked across the road and up the street to see what was there.

I found more photo ops around every corner.

When I got back the crowd had grown.  This was quite an experience.  I wondered how people found out about these bargain tickets. I had searched online and couldn't find it mentioned anywhere.  I tried to imagine how crowded it would be if it was common knowledge.
The man with the flat cap was the one who shouted out the numbers, beginning with one, he said the number in Italian and also in English, which was very kind of him, although I did know that 70 was settana. You had to to up when your number was called and a lady beside him handed you a slip of paper with your number typed on it. 
I met a lovely Russian couple while we were waiting.  They were working in Germany and on holiday in Italy.  

Then there was more waiting time so I walked back into the shopping centre.

And finally back to the corridor for the third and final line up.  This time it seemed more organized and we were shepherded into the box office in groups of around ten at a time, still in the order of our numbered vouchers.

Once inside the box office, the ticket attendant found your ticket, it had your name on it and your seat number.  
I was thrilled to bits.  I was going to see an opera performed at the Teatro alla Scala and for only thirteen euro. 
Now I had to wait until 7:30, the time when we could go into the theatre. 
It was getting dark and I set off back to the piazza and the duomo, through the arcade one more time. 

The Ray Ban sign was all lit up.
And I saw this wonderful dog being walked in the square. He reminded me of our old bull mastiff cross, Bosley.
It was great to see the moon shining above the Duomo.

It was nice to revisit the Duomo.  This time it was much quieter and I got to go and stand in front of it close up and really look closely at all the sculpture and art work in its facade.

Everything was so thoughtfully created.

Some of the scenes that were inset into the wall were thought provoking.

And the intensity of expression and the movement and motion were powerfully expressed.

Every inch of this building was sublime.

Looking back at the huge entrance to the shopping complex, I saw how lovely it looked lit up at night.

Everything changed as the evening fell and the lights came on. The La Scala Theatre looked gorgeous as I approached. 

I was the first one waiting at the door lol  Soon a couple arrived and it was the  Russian couple I had met earlier. d as I was.  Our tickets were in the same gallery.  We waited impatiently for the doors to open. As we waited an American behind us said that this production of Lucia Di Lammermoor had just been presented at the Met in New York City.  It was reputed to be an excellent production.
I have to admit I was just so stunned that this was actually happening.  I was standing outside the door of the La Scala theatre with a ticket to a world class opera in the theatre with the best acoustics in the world and for 13 euros.  When I left the hostel at 2:00 I had no idea this would be a part of my day!  
Once inside we were directed to our seats, which were of course right up in the highest section of the theatre.  We had expected this to be the case. 
As we waited for the theatre to fill, a solo harpist played in the orchestra pit, setting the mood.

Because we were up so high we had a great view of the giant chandelier. :-)

I was beside myself with excitement. The scene was classic.  This theatre had been here for centuries, and had witnessed such great music.  Here I was waiting to experience Lucia Di Lammermoor. 
I looked across at the boxes opposite me and tried to imagine the elegant ladies in their finery with their opera glasses looking out at the other theatre goers in times gone by. 
Here  you can see the special box for the VIPs set at the back of the theatre.

Gradually it started to fill up.

Here is a shot of the stage.

And a close up of the boxes that were lower down. :-)

Once again we were not permitted to take pictures during the performance. 
This opera was so beautifully done. I actually stood up for part of the performance so I could see things better, but that was irrelevant. It was such a privilege to witness this great, epic opera. The orchestra, the set design, the costumes and the amazing talent of the singers made it such a magical and emotional night for me. Superlatives cannot express it and when the audience spontaneously erupted with shouts og Brava, brava," after the solo 
a, it was magic, and a memory I will have forever. 
When I set out to visit the city centre that morning, I had no idea that I would be taking in this amazing scene.  It all came together so magically.
During some of the  emotional scenes of this opera, it felt like my Dad was there with me.  His love of classical music was a huge comfort to him and also had a big  influence on me as well. The fact that he was my inspiration for visiting Milan, and then that I was experiencing this phenomenal music at such a beautiful theatre overwhelmed me momentarily. The score to this opera was beautiful and I'm not surprised it moved me to tears.  I am sure I was not the only one who felt overwhelmed with emotion that night. However, for me it was also a personal time to feel the presence of my father and to share this musical moment with him, he would have been so happy for me.
As the opera ended and the 'Bravas' were ringing in my ears, I left the beautiful La Scala, certain I would never forget its magic. 
I was not sure what time the last train left the metro and was concerned about getting stranded in the city.  I hurried to the metro station and was surprised as I watched couples entering the station who were obviously from the opera.  There were women dressed in furs and fine clothes and men in evening wear.  Everyone seemed to be going home on the metro.
I walked back to the hotel with the music vibrating through my being and marvelling at what had just happened. 
The next morning I got up and headed for the station.  I was on my way to Verona.
 But that my friends, is another story.