No matter what part of the city you are in it does not take to realise that Milan really is the centre of the fashion world. Burberry, Gucci, Prada and Giorgi Armani are just a few of the many designer stores that glitterfully colour Milan’s streets. Also plentiful is the presence of pasticceria’s – quaint little places selling cheap pastries, coffee and liquor. A notable difference between Milan and New Zealand is that people are less inclined to ‘go out for coffee’; rather coffee is merely seen as a quick fix, and is normally served in the form of an espresso (short black). It is for this reason that most of the pasticcerias don’t offer seating – rather it consists merely of a stand up bar whereby you walk in, have your drink and then leave again. I daresay this is all the Italian’s have time for anyway; they are always running late!
In terms of wining and dining; Italian people eat a lot later than New Zealanders – if you go into a restaurant before 7.30pm you will most likely have the place to yourself; in fact many restaurants don’t even open until this time (and clubs frequently don’t open until midnight). A wonderful concept that I just cannot get enough of is ‘aperitivo’. This is especially so in an area called Navigli, which is situated down on the canals; there is a whole line of bars and restaurants in which you walk in, buy a drink (of any kind) and then are treated to the buffet dinner that they have on offer. With everything from pizza and pasta to salads and desserts it is basically guaranteed that you will not leave hungry. Another frustrating difference I have noticed is that in Milan water is not free. When you go out to dinner, bottled water is on the menu like any other drink – and the norm is to order sparkling; I experienced many a funny look when I politely requested still.
Supermarket shopping is always an adventure – firstly the grocery store is enormous – it feels like we are walking into the Warehouse or something. Vegetables and pasta are ridiculously cheap and there is a whole aisle dedicated to pasta alone (pasta sauce is usually located in an adjacent aisle). When you buy fruit or veges you bag and weigh them, and a sticker is printed which you just stick on the bag and it gets scanned at checkout. Milk and cream are both found on the shelf – no refrigeration required, which I think is something that any New Zealander would find disturbing! Another thing that us Kiwis are not impressed by is the serious lack of peanut butter available. We had no idea what a luxury it was until we compared the price (€4.50) to a similarly sized jar of Nutella (€1.50!). Fresh bread is also a luxury; packaged bread is about the quarter the size of a piece of bread back home, and is usually pre-toasted (making it essentially like a cracker). Finally when you are at the deli or bakery (and even the bank, post office, customer service at train stations etc) you have to line up and get a ticket with a number on it, and then you get served when your number flashes up on the screen. Basically you have to line up twice, and it can therefore be very time consuming. Most of the things mentioned in this paragraph were learnt the hard way – clocking up a few embarrassing moments which made for good stories later!
The transport system in and around Milan is wonderfully efficient. It does not take long to master the underground (commonly known as the Metro) and it has so many different routes that run through the city that you can usually get off at any given stop and be only a few hundred metres from your desired destination. There is also a tram and bus system that operate, however we have found it so simple to just catch the Metro and then walk from there. The worst thing about catching the Metro is that people are ridiculously pushy, never mind a simple ‘excuse me’ – it seems that people just use their elbows to tell you they are coming, and push right on through. Avoiding loved up couples can also be a problem (and that’s not just on the Metro), but PDA is something that everyone seems to do (and is acceptable) by people of all ages! Lastly every time you enter or leave the metro station you get harassed by scam artists trying to sell you anything and everything from sunglasses to umbrellas, iPhone cases, hand bags and the most annoying one of all; friendship bracelets. These men will actually try and attach the bracelet onto you as you walk; “non grazie” becomes a very commonly used phrase! Something I will never forget with the transport system is the transport strikes – announcement would be made in advance, and for a whole day (sometimes more, sometimes less) transport would just shut down. It was SO inconvenient – luckily for us we walked to university anyway, but it meant our flatmates had to seriously reshuffle their schedules.
Despite the comprehensive transport system there are still a lot of cars to be seen, which inevitably equates to a lot of bad drivers. Italians have serious road rage; it is rare to walk anywhere without hearing multiple horns honking. Their road rules must be a lot more lenient; cars overtake anything, anywhere, anytime, and this dangerous passing is usually accompanied by more horns honking. Also worthy of a mention is the parking; cars are double parked all down the streets, on the footpath; literally wherever a car can fit. Thankfully most of the cars here are quite small (deliberately I suspect), meaning it is usually possible for these cars to do 300 point turns and manoeuvre their way out of their car-park.