High Speed Trains and Slow Food – Italy and France by Train Part 2: The Miracle in Milan

You may wonder why this segment refers to the the Miracle in Milan, especially as for once I’m not specifically referencing the classic neo-realist film but instead referring to our own miracle. How we escaped a bout of the flu, a nasty cold or being struck by lightening I’ll never know as Milan threw all the elements at us from the beginning of our stay and did not relent until after we had sped out of the beautiful city on one of those gorgeous high speed trains as quickly as we had arrived, speaking of which you’ll probably want to read all about that!

Italo Treno 9925
Depart: Torino Porta Nuova 13:25
Arrive: Milano Centrale 14:25
Seats: Coach 2, Seats 2 and 3 (Prima Class)
Locomotive: Alstom AGV Top Speed 360 km/h

After making the short trip from our hotel in Turin to Porta Nuova station we easily found our sexy looking red, gold and black Italo train once it was announced.
Annoyingly we again ended up having to walk almost the length of the platform to coach 2 where our reserved seats were located.
There are some sleek looking trains in Italy, including this Trenitalia locomotive that we’d hopefully by riding later on our trip.
Our ride to Milan, an Italo AGV was only five years old and looked in great condition.

I think now is the best time to discuss the four classes of service on Italo in the hope that you don’t get confused further down the line with all the various different types of train and classes of service we tried out on this trip, and yes, before you ask it was planned that way:

  • Club Executive is the most premium option available, with the nicest seats, full complementary catering, lounge access and fast track for boarding.
  • Prima which we had booked, comes with more spacious seats than the standard Smart Class along with complementary snacks and non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Comfort (which was called X Large when we travelled) is effectively Prima without the snack run and is probably the best value for money.
  • Smart, is standard class or coach in American and on some routes even has a bookable cinema carriage.
Whilst Anne-So did not find the seats particularly comfortable I found them to be excellent which you would expect when your seat supplier also works with Etihad and Porsche!

The journey to Milan took an hour and was not overly scenic with nothing but soaked rice paddies filling our windows once we were away from the urban sprawl of Turin.

There was a basic snack run during our journey, but that was it in terms of service for Prima passengers on this short route.

We arrived pretty much on time and were immediately wowed the magnificently grand Milano Centrale station, a building that was opened in 1931 and originally modelled on Washington Union Station in the USA, though the version that was eventually unveiled had received a make over from the then Prime Minister, Mussolini who wanted to use the station to show the power of his fascist regime.

Hotel: Hilton Milan
Room: King Junior Suite
Status: Hilton Diamond

Our lodgings were the conveniently located Hilton Milan which was a convenient five-minute walk from the station. At the time of our visit, the lobby was undergoing renovation but despite the temporary facilities check-in was simple enough.

We were lucky enough to have been upgraded from a standard room to a Junior Suite, complete with lounge access and free breakfast thanks to my Hilton Diamond status.
Our Junior Suite was basically a very large room with a small coffee table and two comfy chairs.

I would note that since our trip the hotel has undergone further renovations though judging from the photos on the hotel’s website they seem to only have gotten as far as the entry level rooms, which might be worth bearing in mind when booking a stay.

Both the design of the bathroom and the products will be familiar to anyone who has stayed at a Hilton during the last decade or so.

We settled in and decided to grab a snack and drink from the lounge so we took the lift up to the 8th floor where it was located. It was shortly after sitting down that we wished we hadn’t bothered. There were some stale looking sandwiches, nuts, crackers, fruit, soft drinks and the one potential positive, a rather swanky coffee machine. The decor also looked a little on the old-fashioned side, reminding me of what I’d imagine a poorly stocked airport lounge from around the early 2000’s would have looked like. Oh well!

We didn’t stay long in the end and decided to take a walk to the Ticinese district to get ourselves properly introduced to Milan. We took the metro from Centrale and braved the rain to visit two beautiful churches. We started at the Basilica di Sant’Eustorgio which is famous for holding the relics of the Three Kings as well as some beautiful sculptures and frescoes.

The original church was likely founded in the 4th Century, though it had been continuously rebuilt in the 14th and 19th Centuries. The main highlight for us was the 15th Century Capella Portinari, which is said to be one of Milan’s first true Renaissance buildings.

We left the Basilica di Sant’Eustorgio and passed the sixteen Corinthian columns that made up the Colonne di San Lorenzo, a fourth Century portico to the church we were about to visit.
We headed inside the Basilica di San Lorenzo which was also originally constructed during the 4th Century; at that time it was estimated to have been one of the largest buildings in the western world and according to our Rough Guide was supposedly called the most beautiful church in Milan by Leonardo da Vinci.

We also enjoyed looking at the intricate Roman mosaics in the octagonal room.

We continued on past the Wall of Dolls, an artistic installation raising awareness to prevent violence against women followed by a Romanian Orthodox Church with a stunning interior. We finally made it to Milan’s bustling canal area where we carefully avoided the hawkers calling us in for what looked like some rather unappealing aperitivo, or happy hour where many of the bars give out free plates of food when you order drinks.

After wandering around for a bit in the drizzly early evening it was finally time for our dinner reservation.

I had booked us a table at Taglio, a deli/restaurant that we felt was perhaps trying a tiny bit too hard to be hip.
We were seated at a nice table in a quiet corner where we browsed the dual language menus and enjoyed the delicious bag of sourdough bread that had been placed on our table.
For her first course Anne-So enjoyed a lovely lemon risotto.
Whilst I had ravioli with broad beans.
For the main, we shared a delicious piece of chicken breast with spinach and potato cream.

Whilst it was only chicken, it was one of the juiciest pieces of fowl I had ever had the pleasure of consuming and we slightly regretted not ordering two portions.

However, the star of the show was dessert, a French inspired Paris-Brest, I could have eaten those sugar-coated hazelnuts till I was sick.
We rounded off our meal with a couple of quality coffees.

Out of all the restaurants we had specifically reserved this was probably the second weakest meal on the trip and it still contained a number of highlights that I would happily consume again. Sadly it seems that Taglio has become a recent victim of the Covid 19 pandemic, closing its doors at the end of July 2020, I hope the team behind it manage to find a new endeavour to share their culinary talents.

We headed back to the hotel to find a bottle of bubbly and a handwritten note waiting for us.

Too tired to drink, we crashed in to bed and decided to save the bubbles for the next day.

Today was our full on tourist day and we started out by getting the metro from Centrale to Duomo.
The outside of the Duomo is a Gothic influenced structure, whose life began is the late 14th Century and was under continual construction until the early 20th Century, whereby it entered a phase of refurbishment to keep it in tip top condition.

Although artistically controversial due to its mishmash of styles we found Milan’s Cathedral to still have many moments of wonder, from the beautiful statues, windows and alter pieces to the sheer scale of the building.

We also visited the Crypt of St. Charles and the archaeological ruins under the cathedral that contains the Baptistery of St. Stephen, the latter was not particularly memorable.

When we exited the Duomo it was starting to spit, but I suggested we should push ahead and visit the roof before the weather took a turn for the worse. Anne-So was not best pleased that we went inside before going up to the roof. We squeezed into the lift featuring some rather creepy promotional music from a video advert for its manufacturer and made it out on to the roof. So far so good, I thought as the view was truly a sight to behold, unlike my amateur photography skills that hardly do it justice.

However, within minutes the heavens opened with a crash of thunder and bullets of rain shooting down from the sky. We tried and failed to find a little shelter until the storm subsided, so we continued to dice with death and do the only sensible thing: continue onward. We reached the top of the roof and for a brief second it looked like we would have a reprieve as we stared upwards in hope towards the Golden Madonna who just stared blankly back at us.

Alas, it was the calm before the storm…

As we sneaked out a few photos from under Anne-So’s umbrella, thunder clapped and rain poured out of the sky, we tried to call it quits but it was easier said than done!

Sloshing our way back across the slippery steps, bedraggled, we entered the lift back down to street level feeling somewhat ashamed of our appearance and headed over to the Duomo Museum to dry off. The museum was not particularly exciting, with only a few eye-catching statues and items.

However, it was at least warm and dry and that mattered so much more as by the time we had finished touring the museum we had largely dried out along with the weather.

Living and working in central London over the years gave us plenty of time to eat out and our favourite pizza spot ever became Princi on Soho’s Wardour Street. Between the lovely sourdough base, the wood fired oven and the simple fresh toppings we’ve long since given up trying anywhere else. Milan is the home of the original Princi bakeries so we absolutely had to visit. Sadly the Milanese branch we found did not share the sit-down pizza restaurant found in London, but it did share the same beautiful stone and gold coloured interior. We took a couple of warming focaccia slices and some delicious sweet treats which we washed down with a couple of gloriously bitter espressos.

The only disappointing thing was that our lunch was only as good as what we’d had at Princi in London.

Somehow after lunch and the Duomo it wasn’t all that exciting, though it was fun for people-watching, especially those putting their heel on the bull’s balls and spinning round three times for good luck.
We took one last look back on the the drizzle of the Piazza del Duomo before continuing onwards.
We made it safely through the luxury shopping arcade and on to the Piazza Della Scala, home to the statue of Leonardo da Vinci and the famous opera house.
Our penultimate destination for the day was the Castello Sforzesco, a fort dating back to the 14th Century in the vicinity of Parco Sempione.

We didn’t manage to find the time or energy to do the full visit but we enjoyed walking the grounds and watching the many cats that inhabit the old moat around the fort.

There was the sound of someone shouting through a megaphone at the top of their voice over and over again. With my non-existent and Anne-So’s basic grasp of Italian, we struggled to understand what was being said. Why didn’t we spin on the bull’s balls when we had the chance? We decided that the only sensible thing to do was to take the first tram back to the hotel to enjoy our bubbly before heading out for dinner.

On the way to the tram stop we found the source of the protest at the nearby athletics stadium. I wondered what they were protesting about, or was there instead a hotly contested race in progress? We got a sneak peak through the gates to the arena where it turned out to be nothing more than school sports day, Italian style!

We took the tram towards Duomo, making sure to take one of the rattly classic ones which I enjoyed much more than taking the metro.

Now back at the Hilton we cleaned ourselves up and enjoyed an apero of cheap Ducalis prosecco in our suite before later heading out to Mes Amis, our choice for dinner. Unsure if it was the Spumente or me sucking at directions it soon transpired we had gone the wrong way in our search for food. After arriving at the wrong metro station and changing lines to the correct one, we finally found our way towards dinner. The new M5 line we took was very modern, so modern in fact that Anne-So’s sodden ticket was spat out by the gate leaving her trapped and having to use the help point as there was no staff member in sight. Luckily she was let free and the restaurant was only two minutes walk from the station. We had definitely left the typical tourist trail behind at this point.

Despite being twenty minutes late we were warmly welcomed and our reservation had thankfully been kept.

Not only was this amazing theatre with the flames, it was one of the most deliciously rich pasta dishes I have ever eaten.

For mains I had veal Milanese, served on the bone with fried potatoes, the meat was tender and flavoursome, but due to the generous portion size it started feeling a little dry by the time I reached the final slice.
Anne-So took the Ossobucco, served with a rich sauce and a beautiful saffron yellow risotto Milanese, the small taste she allowed me was stunning, simple and exactly what you want from good Italian food.
I boringly chose the chocolate fondant with ice cream and whilst our desserts were good, they certainly were not at the same high level of the other food we had eaten that evening.

Stuffed we returned to the Hilton to enjoy a coffee and a good night’s sleep as we knew we had a busy day ahead of us.

I’d noticed that on the previous day the hot buffet seemed to be missing potato based items, which are my favourite breakfast foods, so I ignored it the second morning. Of course on our way out Anne-So commented on all the potato based items on the buffet that morning, how did I miss the hash browns!

We left the hotel and walked to the Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli but having left late we only skimmed its edge before taking an unintended detour through the financial district.

To avoid any element of doubt, detour was probably not the best word to describe what happened. I was doing my best impression of an, “are we nearly there yet” and was subsequently handed the map. Whilst I continually struggled to get my bearings it turned out we had veered significantly off course. In the end we just about made it back in time for checkout and likewise our train! I’m not afraid to say it but that was the last time I was handed the map for a while…

Luckily checkout was fast and friendly and the Hilton had been a solid choice. Between the room upgrade, welcome gift and help with restaurant bookings from the concierge it had been a good stay. We then made the short walk to the station for our train to Venice was waiting for us.

High Speed Trains and Slow Food – Italy and France by Train

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