Saturday, November 8, 2014

What to do with the kids, this weekend? Nov. 8 & 9 at Milan's museum for kids (in Italian)

The weather looks like it's going to cooperate in Milan, this weekend, so...what to do with the kiddies?

MUBA - the Museum for Kids (Bambini) in Milan, of course!

"Giochiamo insieme" (Let's play, together) - Hands-on creative activities (in Italian) for kids from 5 to 11 years of age.

Reservations required: 02.43980402.

Starting times: 10 A.M., 11:30 A.M., 2 P.M., 3:45 P.M., 5 P.M.

Oh, and the event is sponsored by Kinder Sorpresa. Just thought you ought to know.

MUBA is located in the portico-enclosed ex-church of San Michele, aka the Rotonda della Besana, aka the Foppone (don't get freaked was a cemetery for the nearby Ca' Grande hospital, but that was a century and a half ago).

Via Enrico Besana, 12 (not far from the Camera del Lavoro and the Tribunale)



Friday, November 7, 2014

Yummy food and other local products..."Popogusto" at Humanitaria, Saturday, Nov. 8, 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. ...

POPOGUSTO! Yummy! Or, as the Italians say, "Gnam!" (Make the "gn" combo like "ny-")

Local food producers of things ranging from fresh fruit and vegetables in season to cheeses of all sorts (I even saw a vegan "cheese" stand), bread, salami,...More...

...fresh pasta, name it, it's there.

Interested in some locally and "bio" (really or kinda...let the buyer beware) clothes? Sometimes there's that, too.

Popogusto is a Radio Popolare and Humaniter/Umanitaria initiative held within the historic mid 15th century walls of the latter (it used to be a monastery attached to Santa Maria della Pace, whose church, open to the public only once a month, is now cared for by the Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem). Worth the visit, just for that.

WHERE: Humaniter/Umanitaria, via San Barnaba, 48 (behind the Tribunale, between Piazza San Babila and Piazza delle Cinque Giornate)

WHEN: 8th and 22nd of November, 13th & 20th of December, from 10 A.M. until 5 P.M.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Strikes, more strikes: 14 and 15 November 2014

Coming to Italy in mid-November?

On the 14th of November, there will be a 24-hour general strike that will affect national (trains, busses) and local (trams, busses, subways) public transportation. Although no official information has been released to the general public, yet, the strikes in Milan usually start at 8:30 A.M., and run until 3 P.M., when they take a quick break to let people get home, quickly, if they can, then they start up, again, from 6 P.M. until the end of service.

On the 15th of November, the airlines will be striking.

Italian efforts to turn the economy around are making waves, on whatever side of the dispute you stand.

I can hardly say my usual "enjoy!," can I?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Here we go, again...strikes ahead in Italy...first one in line is this Friday, Oct. 24

Sigh... the ends of contracts are no surprise. They probably aren't even in fine print. So why isn't the arduous process of finding common ground begun sufficiently in advance to help both parties accept a reasonable compromise? Beats me.

That leaves those of us who depend on public transportation and services high and dry. On the following days:...More...

--this Friday, Oct. 24, there will be a 24-hour national public transportation strike with local variations. In Milan, the marquees of ATM give the usual news: the services will run until 8:45 A.M., when they will STOP until 3 P.M. for a short break to give people time to try to skeedadle home, then the strike BEGINS, again, at 6 P.M. until the end of service. And riders' patience.

--14 Nov, there will be a general strike that will include local transportation on a national level, as well as airlines. More than this, I can't say at the moment.

--Perhaps 19 Nov. there will be another strike, this time only of the airlines and only of four hours from noon to 4 P.M. Help me remember to check this one, especially, because the strike is dated 19 October (but I didn't hear anything about it), yet the placement in the list is chronologically where the 19th of November would be...I think there was a typo, but...

...all the info comes from the official Ministry of Infrastructures web site (in Italian:, but has been gleaned from the previews because...the full pages aren't opening, at all....

At least you've had a heads-up.

I can hardly say my usual "Enjoy!," now, can I?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Public transportation strike in Milan, Tuesday, September 30, 2014

In Milan, public transportation will shut down from 8:45 A.M. to 3 P.M., then again from 6 P.M. to 7:45 P.M.

This time, it's "only" for 8 hours, so your work day shouldn't be too disrupted.

Plan to catch a burger and some time admiring the exterior of the Duomo after work.

(Can hardly add my usualy "Enjoy!," can I?)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Some practical advice before you leave for Italy

Expect the unexpected.

Sounds like silly advice, but it's true. The differences you expect, or intuit, are manageable. It's the ones you don't expect that blindside you.

Next...try to find out as much as you can before you go, but, once there,...More......

...put the surprises in perspective. (Somehow, we've gotten to the ridiculous place where our lives have become unbearable if we can't find our favorite shampoo just right to make our hair curly / straight / fluffy / soft / resistant / stand up / lie down / stick out / fall into place.)

So here are a few hints about daily life in Italy that might help you encounter fewer unpleasant surprises while visiting. Forewarned is forearmed.

If you've never used a train, bus or subway before, here's a hint that will help a lot, wherever you find them: note not just where you need to get on and off, but also the final destination of the line you need to take. You'll need this info when checking which platform (binario) or stop (fermata) to use to take the right means of transport going in the right direction.

For trains, if the ticket has a seat and day and time reservation printed on it, you don’t have to stamp the ticket before getting on (but just to be safe, I do it, anyway). The little yellow machines are at the head of the train platforms. Slip one ticket end all the way into the horizontal slot, and, if it’s working, the machine will stamp it, and maybe even bite a little chunk out of a corner.

To decide which bus/tram/subway ticket to buy from the ticket machines (which have screens in English), you'll have to know if your destination is inside, or outside, the standard zone. Look for a note on the overall map: "Limite tariffa urbana / Urban fare limit". If it's inside that limit, you're set, and you only need a "biglietto urbano" (urban ticket). Anything beyond that, and you'll need a ticket with a supplement (THIS ALSO GOES FOR THE NEW FIERA/TRADE FAIR SITE AT RHO-PERA JUST OUTSIDE MILAN). The calculations can be complicated. Ask the ATM rep, "Vado qui [point on map], che biglietto devo comprare?" (I'm going here, which ticket must I buy?) or "Vado a [say the stop name], che biglietto devo comprare" (I'm going to PLACE, which ticket must I buy?), and then "Potrebbe aiutarmi, per favore?" (Could you help me, please?) If you don’t do this properly, the automatic turnstiles might not let you out at the other end, and if the controller stops you, you will get a fine. (Moral of the story: always buy not just a ticket, but the right ticket.)

For the subways and trams, the credit card-sized ticket probably will have a magnetic strip on the back. On the front, there probably will be some kind of arrow-like design. With the design facing toward you or up, as the case may be, slip the ticket into the slot on the machine in the direction of the arrow. The machine probably will grab the ticket, swallow and stamp it, then spit it back out so you can take it. If you have a stiff credit card-like magnetic card, instead, it might be sufficient to place the card up against the machine's active surface (often marked, though on this machine it's not). There probably will be a pleasant "beep" and a green light, if all went well. If it didn't go well (the card or the time left on it is expired, or you need to take the card out of its protective holder before pressing it up against the machine), you'll probably get a red light and a buzz. If there is a digital screen, it might say something like "scaduto" (expired).

In Milan, more and more subway lines and train stations also require you to use your ticket to get OUT, as well as IN. Typically, though, it may be posted plainly, and not be in force, or at least not 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Don't let that fool you. The moment you toss it out, you will need it. Insert it, or hold it up to the machine, as just described.

Oh heck, why not just take a taxi, instead? They're white in Milan, and on their doors they will have an official taxi service company sticker, or the (very small) logo of Milan. They can be taken at taxi stands, sometimes marked with an orange sign that says, surprise surprise, "taxi." Sometimes, they are at a column outfitted with a special intercomm for the taxi drivers. Technically, they can't be hailed on the street, but if you see someone getting off right in front of you, and can jump right in.... Be on the look out for pirate taxis, that is, people who propose you private transport service in their private cars, with no insurance, no guarantees. Read this.

Tips for taxi drivers and waiters usually suffice at a Euro, or two.

Out and about, and need to go to the toilet? Since malls and large department stores are few and far between, what to do? Go into a bar, pay for a water or a coffee, and ask to use their bathroom. You might need to get a key from the barman. Other options? Pay toilets are sometimes available in the metro and train stations, but they don't always have a human helper to take the money, and make change. You will have to use exact change in the gate machine. Don't count on there being a money-changer, or that, if present, it works. Moral of the story: carry spare change. (The last time I needed one, recently, it was 80 Euro cents.) Second moral of the story: carry TP.

Squeamish? I empathize. Italian toilets are usually filthy. Excuse my bluntness, too, but if you can't do anything without sitting, you'll either need to learn to squat and hover, or you'll need to bring your own seat covers. In my nearly 20 years in Italy, I've seen them in maybe TWO bathrooms. I was so flabbergasted, I snapped a photo of it. UPDATE: Forgot to mention that you just might not have any choice, but to squat...what the Italians call "Turkish toilets"--a ceramic hole in the floor--are becoming more widespread. The flushing mechanisms are similar to those already described.

By the way, the flushing mechanism is different, too, and can cause momentary panic. Old toilets still can have a chain from a suspended little tank of water. The mechanism can be a pedal or a large floor button. It can be a wall button of various kinds. It can be a press-down spot on the top of the toilet tank. It even can be a wall handle to turn on...AND OFF. It can be automatically activated by a sensor, and scare the pee-diddly out of you while you are tugging up your pants. It never will be the little lever on the front of the toilet tank that you expect.

Don't expect a little flip-down purse shelf in the stall, either. Maybe I've seen ONE in all these years, or maybe it's a dream. You'll be lucky if there is one flimsy coat hook. Moral of the story: leave your bulky stuff with a trusted friend, while making the trip to the john.

Love eating the local food, but it's also nice to have just some fresh fruit, now and then? Old style fruit and vegetable stores are beautiful, but DO NOT TOUCH THE STUFF, YOURSELF. Get help from the worker. Large supermarkets are getting to be more and more common in Italy, so they are navigable, for the most part. As you are wandering in the fresh fruit and vegetable section, you'll have a new experience (which I wish they would duplicate in the States): little plastic gloves for the hand you use to touch the exposed fresh fruit and vegetables in order to put them into the little plastic bags. Don't forget to weigh and price tag the bagged fresh fruit and veggies, too. The price/ID-ing sign will have a number...that's the number you need to punch on the weighing machine (they don't all have pictures associated with the numbers) to generate the price tag to slap on the bag.

All done? Time to go to the check-out lines. My first time, though, the clerk stared at me as I waited for someone to come to bag my groceries. That was twenty years ago. Last time I was in the States, I noted that that has gone the way of the dodo there, too. You'll have to ask for bags (for which you are charged a per bag fee) and, as the clerk passes the tags through the price recognition scanner then hands the stuff to you, you'll have to bag it yourself, rapidly. When it's time to pay, whip out your ATM card ("bancomat"), or cash ("contanti"), or even credit cards ("carta da credito"). If you whip out a card, the clerk will ask, "carta da credito o bancomat?". Forget checks ("assegni").

Oh, and some last minute advice. Stay on the right hand side (“tenere la destra”) of escalators (“scala mobile”) or moving sidewalks (“tapis roulant”…a la francese, so don’t say the “s” or the final “t”), so people wanting to go up or down faster than you can pass by you more easily.

Hot and thirsty? Seen these waist-high green columns with running faucets around town? It's (delicious and safe) drinkable water. These columns are scattered around Italy, but in Milan, they've drilled holes in the top of the faucets, so by plugging up the flow, you get a nice drinking fountain-like squirt of clean cool water. Make sure that no one is standing in front of the fountain the first time you do it, or in your efforts to control the squirt, they might get a shower.

DON'T TAKE YOUR SHOES/SANDALS OFF IN PUBLIC AND DON'T DON'T DON'T PUT YOUR FEET UP...ON ANYTHING...EVER. Been there, know what it's like to travel your dogs off, and need to put your feet up ("Heck, I've got newspaper under my feet to protect the seat, don't I?"). It's considered very very disgusting and very very rude.

Oh, yeah, keep your voice down, even during normal conversation. Americans have very loud voices, and it’s very annoying to those around you. Even to me, an ex-pat.

And finally, you just might have to dress better than you do at home when you're out and about, if you don't want to look like a scruffy tourist not worthy of respect (because you're not respecting local traditions). Beach wear is another matter, but when in town, don't go half naked (no strap dresses, ladies; no open shirts or narrow shouldered t-shirts and no going bare-chested, guys), no short shorts, in fact, not even Bermuda shorts. Especially if you want to get into a church to look around, you'll need to be decently dressed (not even sleeveless wear otherwise considered decent is allowed). (P.S., some churches charge a modest fee to enter as a tourist; this helps to pay for the lighting and maintenance, don’t begrudge it; furthermore, look for the “Mantenimento della Chiesa” / “Restauro della Chiesa” alms boxes, and put some spare change in them.) And although having nothing to do with decency, it does have a great deal to do with good taste: no flip flops and no sayings and pictures printed on your T-shirts. Yuck.

Traveling is a mind-opening experience. If you don’t find a better way to do something or look at something, then at least it will be a different and equally valid way. Respecting local cultures not your own is a good habit. (Don’t like the local culture for whatever reason? Don’t go.) Challenging yourself with new situations is stimulating. Relaxing a bit and doing fun stuff is, well, relaxing and fun.

I hope these hints can help you enjoy your travels in Italy, even more!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Upcoming train and plane strikes in Italy

Can't find anything on the web about the local public transportation strike rumored for tomorrow, Thursday, June 19. In Milan, bus, tram and metro strikes are usually from 8:30 A.M. to 3 P.M., with a brief break, and then again from 6 P.M. to the end of service. Let the traveller beware.

While trying to verify that, however, I did find information about proposed upcoming strikes for planes and trains in Italy:...More......

--22 June, Meridiana airlines (from midnight to midnight) and ENAV (the union for flight stewards and stewardesses, from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M.),

--5 July, Livingston (whatever THAT is, from 12 or 12:30 noonish to 4 or 4:30 P.M.) and both Meridiana (again) and AVIA (ground that also might mean bags...for Linate and Malpensa, from midnight to midnight)

--12 July, trains from 9 P.M. on the 12th until 9 P.M. on the 13th

--20 July, Meridiana airlines (...), for 24 hours...probably from midnight to midnight.

To cheer you up, here's a snap in a train station in, I'm pretty sure, Chennai, India, that I snapped in the days right after Christmas, last year.

Want to check for yourself (in Italian)? Go to the strike page of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transportation (Ministero delle Infrastrutture e dei Trasporti).

Enjoy the snap...endure the strikes, what else can be done?

Monday, June 2, 2014

Like dogs and cats? 7-8 June "Paws" festival!

This scruffily cute Fido isn't too sure he wants to be on the tram, but you can take him, anyway, to the "Quattro zampe in fiera" (Four Paws in a Trade Fair) in the neighboring city of Novegro, pretty easily reached with public transportation....More......

As the organizers say, 'it's not a competition, it's a chance for dog lovers to get together, share their experiences and buy stuff.' This last point crucial to the continuing success of the event, of course.

All in Italian, but there's fun stuff to be experienced: free dog school lessons, a dog dance, dog agility, retrieving, lots of cat breeds to discover, seminars, a red carpet area for special viewings and...a restaurant where you and Fido and Fluffy can eat, together.

The entrance fee is E. 10, online pre-sale E. 6; kids, dogs and cats enter free-of-charge.
Saturday hours: 10 AM to 8 PM
Sunday hours: 9 AM to 7 PM

To go with public transportation (BEWARE, you'll need the regular ticket AND the supplement), take the 73 to the Linate Airport, then take either the 923 (direction: H.S. Raffaele, i.e., S. Raffaele Hospital) or the 930 (direction: Peschiera Borromeo) for just a few stops, and get off at the Via Novegro/Parco Esposizioni stop, then walk the short distance down via Novegro to the entrance. (These two last busses go only once a half an hour [!], so check the ATM web site for departure times, or you might even want to hoof it, I'm guessing that it would take about 15 minutes on foot.)

Quattro zampe in fiera

Parco Esposizioni Novegro
Via Novegro (no street number), Segrate
tel. 02 70200022

Thinking of going by car? The parking fee at the nearby official parking lot is E. 2.50 for all day. BEWARE of the illegal and unofficial parking farther from the center and more costly. For a map, go here.

I snapped Fido on the 2nd of March of this year.


Monday, May 26, 2014

45 floors and counting... City Life

The first of the three tall towers planned for City Life in the area once occupied by the in-town convention and trade fair center (bits of which are still left, don't worry!) has reached 45 floors and counting.

I snapped this shot today at about 9 AM just for your personal non-commercial enjoyment. Aren't I nice?

(Now, if they would just put an official ground plan on their web site, we'd all be happy...)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Looking for something to do this weekend, Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th of May? Look no further! "Chiostro in fiera" is here!

Like to feel all warm and fuzzy when you support local quality crafts? Does your mouth water when you think of specialty cheeses and the like? Flowers and aromatic plants more up your alley? Want a treasure hunt, games and workshops for the little ones (all in Italian, of course!)? Like even more feeling warm and fuzzy because your money is (at least partially) helping a good cause, the cultural and didactic programs of a museum?...More......

You're in luck this weekend! "Chiostro in fiera" (Trade Fair in a, my, how much less poetic it is in English) runs from Friday the 23rd of May to Sunday the 25th in the beautiful and historic courtyard of the Diocesan Museum attached to Sant'Eustorgio whose façade you see, here. The entrance to the museum is around the corner to the viewer's left.

Diocesan Museum
Corso di Porta Ticinese, 95
10:30 AM - 7:30 PM
Tram 3 stops right in front of the church in both directions

I snapped this shot on the 15th of December, 2013.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Open Courtyards (Cortili Aperti) in Milan, Sunday, May 25

Milan is like a discreet lady, often luxuriously gorgeous behind a simple veil.

Want a chance to go nosing around some of these courtyards? You're in luck!...More......

Sunday, May 25, is the annual "Open Courtyards" (Cortili Aperti) day organized by ADSI, the association of historic Italian homes NOT to be confused with historic house museums. The homes belonging to this association still can be private dwellings, or can have been transformed into B&Bs or hotels.

In Milan, here are the places you can visit (no reservation necessary):

- Casa Sioli – Legnani – via Borgonuovo 5
- Palazzo Orsini di Roma – via Borgonuovo 11
- Casa Recalcati – Taglisacchi – via Borgonuovo 15
- Casa Bigli Samoyloff Besozzi – via Borgonuovo 20
- Palazzo Moriggia – via Borgonuovo 23
- Casa Valerio – via Borgonuovo 24
- Palazzo Landriani – via Borgonuovo 25
- Palazzo di Brera – via Brera 28
- Orto Botanico di Brera – via Fiori Oscuri 4
- Casa Ajroldi - via Fiori Oscuri 13

In some courtyards, you will be treated to music thanks to a collaboration with the Civica Scuola di Musica.

In others, you'll be able to look at historic cars thanks to a collaboration with CMAE, the Milanese club for historic vehicles.

The InfoPoint is in Palazzo Moriggia, seat of the Museo del Risorgimento (via Borgonuovo 23). There are guided tours throughout the day, but they'll be in Italian, and you have to sign up by 7 P.M. on Saturday the 24th. Adults 18 and over pay Euro 10 once there (the price includes the use of the headset...but from previous experience, if you're a little picky about putting things on your ears that have not been sterilized, I'd bring some disinfectant, if I were you), anyone under 18 attends for free. Just in case you want to brave it:

Tel: 347 3661174

I snapped this shot in Via Amedei on the 23rd of December, 2011, at almost 3 P.M.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Google, Maria Gaetana Agnesi and via Manzoni 6

Maria Gaetana Agnesi, a Milanese woman born into a well-to-do family in 1718, dedicated her life first to scientific and humanistic learning of the highest levels, and then to caring for the poor for which she spent even the last pennies of her hefty inheritance, and gave up the family mansion to live in a humble suite of the Pio Albergo Trivulzio, of which she had been nominated director. She died in 1799, and was remembered two decades later in the bust on the far right on the façade of the Brentano-Greppi mansion at via Manzoni, 6. For more info about her and the palazzo, see my earlier post.

Today, she is honored by Google with a lovely animated logo, catch it while you can.

I snapped this photo on the 2nd of August, 2011, around 3:30-4 PM.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Days stale? Add a bit of tang with white vinegar...if you can find it.

Hunting for fun, interesting and helpful reading for my ESL students is a (time-gulping) joy. One of the latest just in time for spring is a list of clean freak fixes easier said than done in Italy because some of the common U.S. products aren't readily available, here. For example? Your be all and end all white vinegar....More...

According to Rozin in DIPLY, white vinegar kills 99% of bacteria, 82% of mold, and 80% of viruses. (For a slide show of all the things you can do with vinegar, Rozin sends you here.)

Especially suspicious when it comes to English foodstuffs, I can hear Italians asking, "Just what is white vinegar?" Even if white vinegar is a given in your household, you might not even know. I didn't until I came to Italy, and had to try to track it down in the "exotic" food stores in town (white vinegar as an exotic food, still makes me chuckle).

Think grappa gone sour: distilled grain and water resulting in a perfectly transparent vinegar. In the international food stores in Milan, you might find it in various concentrations; 5% is the standard, but to me it tastes a bit stronger than typical Italian red vinegar, so be parsimonious, at least the first times you use it.

It can be used just like you use Italian vinegars, but since it only is tangy, but really doesn't add any flavor of its own, it doesn't alter the taste of food, as all the Italian vinegars do, it just adds a pleasant bite.

Furthermore, since vinegar is acidic and anti-limestone, it’s a very effective and inexpensive cleaner, for example, for the interior of your fridge.

I miss the Heinz brand, if only I could find it in Milan….

Just a closing reminder that I get no kickbacks of any kind for mentioning products.

Hey, if you're an international food store person in Milan, and are curious about all the products that I miss, and that might be interesting to the Anglo-Saxon crowd in town, just drop me a comment. I'd be happy to send you my annotated list. Really, I have an annotated list.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Incredible India!

Believe it.

The tagline for India's national tourism pretty much sums it up for me.

A fascinating mix of...More...

...ploughing with oxen and a wooden plow while wearing a loincloth and talking on a cell phone,

...palm leaf huts with satellite dishes,

...little dusty dirty feet on spindly young legs topped by a tidy school uniform worn inside an unpaved roadside village's spotless cheerily painted classroom without a stick of furniture, but strung with children's proud drawings and with a blackboard covered with local and English writing,

...filth and refuse carpeting river banks and filling streets next to spotless sidewalks swept continuously with a handful of twigs forcing the sweeper to bend in half at the waist,

...brilliant colors and drab and dusty grays and browns,

...magnificent ancient temples and palaces and crumbling, moldy, paint-peeling stretches of post-WWII buildings,

but most of all what echoes and re-echoes and re-echoes in my heart...

...the ubiquitous open-souled eyes connecting warmly soul-to-soul even in a glance and the occasional hostile glares.

I've almost finished getting my pictures in order.

I can't wait to go back.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Telethon "Walk of Life," April 27, 9AM-noonish

We've just survived two marathons, and now here comes the Telethon "Walk of Life."

Super cause, but a big pain in the...More...

...neck, public transportation-wise.

Forget moving around anywhere in the areas of downtown Milan and past the castle into Corso Sempione from 9 A.M. until about noon.

Get to the castle park early with the kids, cheer on the walkers and enjoy Parco Sempione's greenery and kiddie park.

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