In and out of Milan

Hello boys and girls,

Since we last spoke I’ve had a blazing row with a taxi driver, been trailed by a professional photographer for 24 hours, and gone to a casino with no gaming tables…

It was back to Italy again a few weeks ago for a meeting – once again flying to Milan but this time destined for a resort town called Pallanza, which is just north of Stresa on Lake Maggiore. The last time I came this way I had a well-meaning taxi driver who used his sat-nav to get us here, this time the guy had no clue what he was doing or where he was going. He also had a sat-nav, but despite showing him the address of the hotel he proved completely unable to find even the town and we drove all over the place clearly lost. Unfortunately my Italian wasn’t good enough to make him understand that he should stop and ask someone the way, and he didn’t seem to have the rudiments of any other language. Eventually we got to the hotel and he had the cheek to ask for the full metered fare, which was well over £100. He was sheepish enough that I think he realised he had little chance of getting that, but was dismayed when I gave him what I thought was appropriate (I’d kept my eye on the meter and pretty much just deducted all the money incurred from driving round in circles). An argument ensued with him saying “poco poco” and me saying “but you got lost” and “we wasted 25 minutes”; none of which he understood. Eventually I just got out of the car and hoped the hotel staff would rescue me if he came after me with an axe, which he didn’t.

The hotel added further evidence to the argument that Italian hotels are always rated 1-star over what they should be. The Hotel Pallanza was very friendly and perfectly comfortable, but wasn’t a 4-star hotel. Pallanza itself is quite pleasant – much smaller than Stresa and less showy. It was pretty hot on the Sunday I arrived and I sought some shade where I could have a glass of wine and check some proofs. Dinner was at a large and very busy pizzeria place – what the French would call a brasserie I guess – and was excellent.

The next morning I took the boat out to Isola Madre, the largest of the Iles des Borromees. With less formal gardens than Isola Bella, it’s also less touristy, although that didn’t stop me running into rather too many German tour groups. Peacocks abound, as did frogs in a pond and overall it merited the detour. I then had to decamp to Pallanza’s poshest hotel, the Grand Hotel Majestic, where I would be the next night. I think they’d given me the disabled room judging by the equipment in the bathroom and the lack of a chair by the desk. The view from the terrace was gorgeous, across the bay to Stresa and I could see the Grand Hotel Iles des Borromees imposing itself on the waterfront there. Dinner that evening was at the Milano restaurant, with the rest of the attendees. The restaurant had opened just for us and despite being asked to serve a simple three course meal, we ended up with 7 courses! But, they were all very good and much fun was had by all although sadly I had my back to the sea view.

The Tuesday meeting went well. The hotel’s largest meeting rooms were rather dramatic and well suited for our purposes. Everyone seemed very impressed overall, and I suspect we may be back, possibly with clients next time. While everyone else scrambled into taxis for the trip back to Malpensa airport, I was headed in the opposite direction to Verbania station and the train to Switzerland.

Just as we reached the station, the heavens opened and large drops of rain, heavy with intent, plopped onto the car and then onto me as I scurried for the ticket office. A minute later and torrential rain was clattering onto the metal awning over the platform as thunder and lightning rolled around the hills. The tannoy announced that the train from Milan to Geneva was running about 10 minutes late.

This was not a good start for me. I was heading to Switzerland for a very specific reason. I was attempting to cross all 26 cantons (actually there are 23 cantons, but 3 are split into “half-cantons” making 26 in essence) in 24 hours using only the train. You can find out how I got on in my next blog post.

Since then I’ve been back once again to Milan – a sweltering, muggy, rather oppressive Milan as it turned out. Another nice hotel: Principe di Savoia. And this time I managed to hunt down the funky and fashionable 10 Corso Como, which is a designer clothing and “stuff” outlet with a rather beautiful café/bar, where I whiled away an hour or so thanks to the marvellous Italian tradition of plying drinkers with food. It’s almost like they don’t want people to get riotously drunk and throw up all over their Armani suits.

Sticking to an Italian theme, yesterday saw us at the Casino at Marino. This is allegedly the finest neo-classical architecture in Ireland. It’s not a casino in the way we think of it today; it’s actually a “garden ornament” built in the 18th century for Marino house, which has since gone. This is no garden gnome though, it’s a 16-room house and for the bargain price of €2.90 you can get a guided tour (in fact the tour is obligatory).

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