Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Holiday peace and good cheer

Happy Holidays and a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year from Milan.


(Photo: I snapped this at dusk on the 7th of January, 2013, for your personal non-commercial enjoyment.)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

(More) Stupid Strikes: TreniNord 12, 13, 14 Dec

TreniNord departs (mostly) out of Cadorna, the station flanking the Sforza Castle, and runs "nord"--north--to places such as (lovely) Como.

Just in time for Christmas visits and shopping (mean! mean! mean!), the workers are planning strikes.

Friday, the 12th of December the strike will be from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. (in truth, this should spare many commuters), but ATM is also involved, though other sources say ATM will stop from 7 P.M. onwards. Your guess is as good as mine.

Saturday and Sunday the 12th and 14th of December, the trains stop at 9 P.M., and even if your train leaves before 9 P.M., if it doesn't get to your destination by 10 P.M., you're fried.

Get out your walking shoes, and hope that the clouds don't produce rain.

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

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Freebies entrance to civic museums every first Sunday of the month (at least until April 2015)

Good news for museum lovers...especially those with big families, or big groups of friends.

You can get into Milan's civic museums for free the first Sunday of every month -- including TOMORROW, the 7th of December, the day of Milan's patron saint Sant'Ambrogio -- at least until April 2015.

Make it a habit...then don't break it when the entrance fees kick back in.

It's really not that much, anyway, more or less like going to a movie, and--just think--museum entrance fees generally cover no more than 30-40% of a museum's BASIC budget.

Be a good joe. Go.


Light to bring hope in darkness: a traditional Swedish (free) concert in honor of Santa Lucia, 11 December, 5:30 P.M., San Fedele

In honor of the Early Christian martyr St. Lucy--can you hear the song...More...

"Saaaaaantaaaaa Luuuciiiiiiaaaaaaa" in your head?--whose eyes were gouged out, lights are lit to bring hope in the December darkness.

Her saint day in the Catholic calendar really is the 13th of December, but the Swedish choir is busy between appointments in Rome and Milan, so they'll be giving us a free concert--thanks to the Swedish-Italian Chamber of Commerce--on the 11th of December at 5:30 P.M. in the church of San Fedele on the other side of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele from the Duomo.

While you're there, oogle the little jewel of a (16th century) church, one of the earliest churches to take into consideration the needs of the then new order of the Jesuits. (Want a hint? No more deep side chapels, no more side naves...back to the hall-like formation of Early Christian churches to help the worshippers focus their attention on the altar, on the pulpit and on the sermon.)


P.S., obviously, I've broken my usual practice of putting only my own photos on the's the Chamber of Commerce's illustration with info.

P.P.S., thanks to my friend, Jill, who reminded me of this by now annual happening...mark your calendars already for 2015!

Monday, December 1, 2014

48 hours to visit Milan?

48 hours to visit Milan?

Here are my suggestions for two food- and fun-packed days, especially for a first-time trip to the city.

See my "48 hours for your first time in Milan" post for my "Art in Milan" column on the excellent "Where - Milan" web site.

It was so time-consuming to compile and illustrate, you'll probably have time to come and go before I manage to do a second or third one. :-)

(Photo: my snap of Palazzo Belgioioso in Piazza Belgioioso, Milan)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

No rest for...the users of public transportation: an evening-time strike, Friday, Dec. 12, 2014

Get yourself home quickly on the evening of Friday the 12th of December.

Public transportation strikes and protests that will block town are planned to begin by 7 P.M. (Keep checking the news to see if it will be cancelled, but it's unlikely...we're under the Christmas-time pressure-cooker...too much visibility at stake.)


Forewarned is forearmed.

Stumped for Xmas gifts? Artigianato in Fiera has high-quality crafts from all over the world

Not another tie ... no, please ... CDs? ... I guess ... if they're chosen with the recipient's taste in mind ... a good bottle of Italian wine? ... usually a good idea, but you never know about personal problems, do you? ... Diamonds? ... a girl's best friend, but you should check out their origin, first ....

Christmas shopping is getting complicated.

Uncomplicate your life: go to the L'Artigianato in Fiera at the new Rho-Pero site in Milan, beginning today! And the web site is in English!

Check it out for details...maybe we'll see each other there!


(Image captured from their web site...obviously...and I don't get any kind of kick-back whatsoever...equally obviously, but better to be clear.)

Friday, November 28, 2014

In Milan? Do something sweet...for yourself, friends, family, and for sufferers of Aspergers, beginning Dec. 1st

From Monday, the first of December, until Friday, the 12th, you can kill three birds with one stone: get a yummy 'small bakery' panettone instead of an industrial one (or a very costly fancy bakery one), build up brownie points with family and friends, AND help out kids with Asperger's syndrome....More......

The "Casa del pane 1921" ('The House of Bread 1921') at Humanitar/Umanitaria already helps out people in need by giving jobs and training to people with intellectual difficulties. So, that's brownie point number 4.

This year, part of the profits from the sale of the reasonably priced panettone (E. 16 each, I immagine for a half a kilo, the standard size) will go not only to the "Casa del pane 1921" to help their outreach, but part also will go to Casa Riccardo for kids with Aspergers. (I suspect that you'd better bring cash.)

Can't get better then this.

Humaniter/Umanitaria, via S. Barnaba 48 (immediately behind the Tribunale)
Go upstairs to the first floor. Sales will take place there.

P.S., the image is taken from Humaniter's info!

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?
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