This post is backdated because I have taken FOREVER to update this poor blog. The actual date of writing is March 4th, 2006 – over a month late. As I told my Mom, I have been too busy living to write about living. Such is the trade off. The more I indulge myself in the present, and the more I experience, the less time I have to convey it to everybody, as well as record it for myself. As such, expect the remaining city descriptions to be somewhat bland and brief. The real interesting part now is Barcelona, and hopefully once I get caught up I can start making frequent entries again. That said:
I have a love-hate relationship with Milan. In some respect, I really liked the city. The Cathedral was probably my favorite that I've seen in Europe so far. There is also a large castle in Milan with a beautiful park. The streets of the city feel modern, yet like a 1920's American city because there are overhead wires for all of the streetcars and electric buses. Oh yes, and there are electric buses. I'm not quite sure how exactly they get that to work, even though I saw it with my own eyes. There are two overhead lines used instead of the usual one which a streetcar, subway, or train would use. This is because a bus has rubber tires and cannot use the track as a common ground. What I couldn't figure out was how the contacts could follow the lines without falling off. Good engineering.
The downside of Milan is that it looks like a 1920's American city, and is polluted like a 1920's American city. There was constant smog and it was noticeably more difficult to breath. Another downside is how ridiculously concerned people are with fashion and appearance. As an American, it is easy to feel ugly in Milan, or, at least, not well dressed.
Wednesday, on my arrival to Milan, I found a hotel and napped until I was supposed to meet William's friend/roommate from CMU, Stefano around 6pm. We had plans to go to a café or something, but he had to go back to work to make a conference call to the States at 8pm, so we had little time. I ran late anyways, and took a while finding him. We took the subway essentially back to the area my hotel was in so that he could show me what a good shopping area was, and then he had to leave. He quickly gave me some recommendations on clubs if I wanted to go out that night, and I said that one of the ones he mentioned was supposed to be hard to get in.
He responded with "Oh, its fine, you just put on a nice shirt and some good shoes and they'll let you in".
I told him that what I had on was the nicest clothes I had.
"Oh, yeah, they probably won't let you in then." So much for clubbing in Milan with my fashionable American backpacking attire. Something makes me think I didn't miss out on much.
We said goodbye. Seeing him was brief, but I appreciate the gesture of going way out of his way to see me.
That night I had decided to use up the remains of my Italian calling card to talk to people back home, since my clothing was obviously unsuitable for any type of night life. The calling card was cheap, I believe 1 cent/minute. However, what the hotel failed to tell me was that they would charge me for any calls made, even if they were local numbers. I ended up paying €12 for those calls. Evil hotel.
Thursday, I went around Milan to see what the city was all about before my train left for Lyon, France. One of the things that I really wanted to see was The Last Supper, but apparently you have to make advanced reservations to see it because it is so popular. Of course. The one religious renaissance art piece that actually interested me, I couldn't see it. I hardly cared, though, since I had just found out about 1 hour before that it was even in Milan.
Shortly before going back to my hotel, I decided to stop in a McDonald's Café located in a very nice glass domed building. I had some tea and some Pastry, and both were absolutely delicious. Why can't our McDonald's serve things that actually taste good? The bad thing is that sitting down and having that tea caused me to miss my train to Lyon and waste my €10 reservation, which was REALLY frustrating. I blame McDonald's, but really I know it was my own fault.
Exhausted and frustrated, I was trying to re-plan my trip since no more trains would go directly to Lyon that day. There was a night train to Paris, but I had no desire to go to Paris since I'd be spending a week there for spring break. Finally, I planned on going to Dijon (same train as to Paris, but earlier stop), and from there going to Lyon. My train would arrive in Dijon around 6am, and the train to Lyon would depart around 8am, giving me a few hours to kill in Dijon. Happy that I finally made a decision, I went to the ticket window to make my €20 night train reservation, but their systems went down so instead of giving me a reservation, they gave me this nifty piece of paper with a stamp on it stating that I had tried to get a reservation, but that the systems were down. This would, theoretically, prevent them from charging me an extra fee or higher price when boarding the train without a reservation.
Around 11:30pm the train comes, and the fun begins. I, as well as about 15 other backpackers are angrily waving these stamped pieces of paper at the car attendants asking what to do with them, and where we should go. They say to go to the front of the train, so we walk the 1/4 mile length of the train. At the front of the train, we are told to go towards the middle of the train and talk to the guy with glasses. At this point, the train is about to leave within 5 minutes. We talk to the guy with glasses, and he says it would cost €180/person, even with the rail pass. Oh no, that is certainly incorrect. We were all told €20 by the receptionist. How is it that nobody who works for this same company knows how their own service works? He then explains that it is €180 for his car, but that other cars are cheaper, and tells us to follow him, so we do. The next car, we are told it would be €120 with the rail pass. I say no, that is not right either. The whistles are now blowing, and he says to board now and we'll figure it out once inside. Sounds sketchy, but I wanted to get out of Italy, so fine with me.
Now is the fun part. I have my large backpack on, following two Korean girls who are following the man with glasses to a cheaper car. They can go fast, because they don't have the backpack. Every time we would go through a door, though, I would get stuck because they were so narrow and the doors would shut on my bag. Eventually, we came to a car where there were probably 5 or 6 people in the very narrow aisle, trying to figure out their rooming situation. It was impossible for me to pass through them, so I just gave up the chasing bit and took my bag off and waited, flustered.
Shortly after giving up, a guy my age came out of the room I was standing near and asked me in an American English accent.
"Hey, how's it going? Where are you from?"
"Oh cool, we're neighbors, I'm from Indiana. So, are you a model?"
What? What? Do I model? What kind of question is that? If it is smalltalk, he obviously has some skills to be developed. If he is hitting on me, he still has some skills to be developed. Flattered that he thought I could be a model (though questioning his sanity), I responded that I was not, and asked if he was, hoping that he had some other motive of asking me such a rare question.
"Oh, yeah. In fact, this train is pretty much full of models."
I look to my left, and sure enough, the people who were preventing me from finding a cheap car were all rather good-looking guys wearing clothing that would probably be considered suitable to go clubbing in Milan. Obviously, I felt instantly out of place. If Milan didn't make me feel self-conscious about my appearance, this train ride certainly would.
"Yeah, there was a fashion show in Milan this last week, and this week there is going to be one in Paris so we are all going up there."
Dumb luck. I ended up chilling in a room with them while bartering with the car-agent as to how much I should pay to stay on the train. He said €80, I said no. Luckily, this Brazilian guy spoke Italian and could translate for me. Eventually, we settled on €40, which was more than what the lady had told me, but at that point I just didn't care anymore and wanted a place to sleep. The good thing was that the agent was so clueless as to how the whole Eurail pass thing worked that he didn't even check my pass. This meant that I didn't have to mark a date on it, which means I got an extra day of travel for free, and that I essentially traveled from Milan to Paris for only €40.
I ended up sleeping in the same room with some of the model guys. You would think it could be a potentially awful experience, but they honestly weren't all that bad. Certainly better than the smelly bowling team on my ride from Zagreb to Milan. They're just pretty ordinary guys who happen to look really good and use it to their advantage. Honestly, though, I was somewhat jealous. I was asked a couple more times if I modeled, so it is at least somewhat conceivable.
After thinking it over decided to go to Paris instead of Dijon. This gained me 2 extra hours of sleep on the train, and looking at my book I realized that it was the same amount of time to go from Dijon to Lyon as from Paris to Lyon, so there really was no point in sitting in a freezing station in Dijon for 2 hours before anybody is even awake in the city. I also decided that if I went to Paris, it superseded Lyon and I could just skip Lyon entirely.
That is how I ended up in Paris for a day.