I was on the train from Venice to Milan — severely unhappy. The night before was a “night”mare, to say the least. The events unfurled before my eyes like a motion picture and I sat there helpless, unable to do much but wait for a phone call, hopefully with some positive response.
Like every other day, our last night in Venice was no difference. Drained and exhausted by the 14 km walk (and all that weight-lifting), we crashed as soon as we entered the hotel. We had to catch an early morning train to Milan the next day. (Yes, 7 o’clock on a December morning in Europe IS early morning and 7 o’clock on any morning in any country is early morning for me. ) Our bags were not packed, our tickets and booking prints not arranged. We had passed out even before we realised. A strange dream made me wake up with a jolt. I rubbed my eyes, looked at my watch and instantly jumped out of the bed. It was 2 am and our bags were still not packed. I gathered stuff from everywhere — from the almirah, from the washroom, from the drawers — and stuffed them inside my suitcase. In went the booty from Rialto market as well. But the suitcase still didn’t look full to the brim. Something was wrong. I sat still for some time and racked my brains. And then it dawned upon me. I had left in the other Bed and Breakfast the jacket and sweater I had worn from Rome to Venice. In the hurry of checking out on time, I forgot to look into the almirah where I had very neatly kept these two pieces of clothing. Now losing a jacket and a sweater shouldn’t sound like the sky is falling, right? But you see, they had great emotional values attached to them. The jacket was a part of my wedding trousseau and the sweater was the last of the ones Teesta had made for me. I couldn’t dream of parting with it. I looked at the watch again. It was 2.45 am. No way we could do anything about it. The owners of the BnB were only in the property after 8.30am. So there was no option than to wait for that night, hop on to the train on way to Milan, call them up after 8.30 and then just hope for the best. I waited with bated breath for the first 1.5 hours and then right at the stroke of 8.30, picked up my phone and called them. The wife received the call, said she hasn’t found anything in the room we had occupied and would ask the husband to cross check and get back to us in a couple of hours. And thus my entire journey from Venezia to Milano was spent in pindrop silence and in the fervent anticipation of a call.
We reached Milan around 10. Our hotel was a bit far from the station — and by a bit far I mean 2.8 km — so we took the metro. Metros in Italy have an ultra cool system. You can buy a 1.5 euro ticket, and even if your destination is worth a 6 euro ride, you get to take it with that 1.5 euro ticket if you avail of it within the next 90 minutes. We were waiting for the metro when the call came. Fausto had found the sweater and jacket and like an angel promised that he would courier them to our hotel in Rome (where would be be at the last leg of our journey). Humbled beyond words at the thoughtful gesture, I heaved a sigh of relief and was suddenly all pumped up. A 10-minute metro ride later, we were at our hotel and despite being of the same chain, it was a far, far cry from the grandeur in Rome or the vintage quaintness in Venice. It was plush, sophisticated and modern — clearly setting the stage for what Milan was going to be like!
|Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II|
And wasn’t she grand! Milan, as we know, walks at par with Paris as the fashion capital of the world and our first brush with the fashionable Milan happened as soon as we set foot in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Designed in 1861 and neatly nestled within a four-storey double arcade, the oldest shopping mall perhaps represents Milan in its truest colours! Galleria is a paradise for shoppers, the ones with an enviable amount of moolah in their wallets. Studded with stores like Gucci, Prada, Armani, it is a dream for any die-hard shopaholic … a dream one wouldn’t like to wake up from. But I’m not a brand-addict and what excites me more in a new city is its character. And so I strutted past the Giorgio Armanis and Louis Vuittons and found myself standing in one of the most imposing structures that I had encountered in the last week or so.
The Milanese Duomo was a class apart. Extraordinary! Majestic! It easily ranked as the second best church I had seen in Italy (after St. Peter’s Basilica). Distinguished by the Gothic architecture that set it apart from the rest of Italian duomos, this magnificent building left me mesmerised. I learnt later and wasn’t at all surprised to know that it is the fifth largest church in the world and the largest in Italy. Now that’s saying something!
Enamoured that we were by the duomo, we couldn’t spend all our time there as we had just that one evening to explore the rest of Milan. As they would say, it is a sin to come to Milan and not feel the euphoria of it fashion streets. Truth be told, I didn’t have the plan of buying clothes from Italy. Pastas and cheeses, chocolates and truffles and more my thing. But when in Milan, I had to go the Milanese way. Remember the lost jacket? Well, the temperature did not feel sorry about my loss and the winds started blowing strongly as ever. It was biting cold and it was then I realised that desperate situations call for desperate measures. Even half an hour back I was walking through those iconic streets, taking a peek into stores here and there, gaping and marvelling at clothes and shoes … both the designs and the prices. But now my agenda had changed. I was a woman on a mission… a mission to buy a jacket that screamed Milan WITHOUT burning a hole in my pocket. A lot of fancy stores and even more trial sessions later, I got myself not one but two jackets. And yes, a pretty darned good woollen muffler because…well, just because I was in the mood now! Shopping in Milan was never on my itinerary but the sheer thrill of hopping from one store to other, trying out a plethora of clothes and just walking through the streets that you see on Fashion TV and that too with shopping bags full, was an experience that I’d carry with me forever!
|Aah, so no one told you that Milan and luxury go hand in hand?|
Oh, and did I mention, we also gorged on some super-awesome involtinis in between our quest for finding the perfect jacket. There was a Christmas market right next to the duomo and surprised I was to find in the far northen Lombardy food items that are so innate to the southern culture. Arancinis, cannoli, fried mozzarella… you name it and it was there, all things Sicilian! 1. In a deep-bottomed pan, heat the stock and saffron over medium heat. Once the saffron blends into the stock, pour into another container and keep aside.
By this time, P wasn’t feeling too well and since we had to walk a good 3 km to our hotel, we called it a day and decided to head back. Packing would get difficult from now. But so tired we were that even before realising that we haven’t had dinner, we passed out. After all we had to be up at the crack of dawn. Tuscany was calling us!
Risotto Alla Milanese (Saffron Risotto)
2. In the same pan where you had heated the stock, add the butter and let it melt. Add to it onions and saute till soft and translucent.
3. Now add the rice, and cook till it is coated with the butter and onion mixture.
4. Now comes the part where you have to be vigilant. Add wine to the rice and cook till it gets evaporated. Keep stirring as it evaporates. This should take roughly 3-4 minutes.
5. Now start adding the saffron-tinged stock, half a cup at a time, and continue stirring, until it is absorbed by the rice. Repeat the process with the remaining stock and continue doing this for the next 20-25 minutes till the rice plumps up and is almost cooked. (If you run out of stock before your rice is cooked through, you can add water, but ensure you don’t add too much water. That may dilute the taste)
6. Add the grated Pecorino Romano, and season with salt and sugar. Blend well and turn off the heat only after the rice is fluffy and creamy.
7. Garnish with more Pecorino Romano and serve immediately. Eat like a Milanese.
1. In a deep-bottomed pan, heat the stock and saffron over medium heat. Once the saffron blends into the stock, pour into another container and keep aside.