Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Milanese malaise

I find two things horrible in Milan.

First, air pollution. Once I get off the airport coach at the Central Station, I cannot help remembering the smell of Havana or Damascus. I mean, it smells of low-quality gasoline. Since Damascene buildings have a Roman influence, I cannot help thinking that Milan is similar to Damascus. Don't get me wrong. This can be a compliment as I love Damascus.

Second, taxi drivers. They don't accept credit cards. I ask how much it will cost from the Central Station to the hotel I'm staying so that I can figure out how much I should withdraw cash. This driver ignores me and takes another passenger. When my hosts Martina and Elsa take me to dinner by booking a taxi, the driver does not show up. After calling the taxi company again, another taxi finally shows up, taking 15 minutes or longer in the end. If they cannot find the street where customers are waiting, Martina says, the Milanese taxi driver simply ignores it without contacting the taxi company headquarters.

If taxi is not an option, then you need to take metro to get around. Taking metro for the first time, however, is very intimidating. No English display at ticket machines. You cannot find station staff. If you do, they are sitting inside a booth next to ticket barriers, and this booth has no window. Between you and station staff stands black translucent plastic walls. No matter how you appeal, they never notice you.

So remember the following if you plan to visit Milan: find the phrase abbonamento giornaliero urbano on the ticket machine screen, and select it to buy a 24 hour travelcard. It costs 3 euro (but prepare cash; credit cards are not accepted). This ticket allows you to pass the ticket barrier and to take bus and tram (Milan has an extensive tram network) for the next 24 hours.

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