Train Trip To Milan

After planning this trip around a concert some months ago, it came up a bit too quickly and we were left panicking to book a couple of nights in a hotel and to get our trains organised. Have you ever done that? Always last minute and regretting not spending half an hour to find the accommodation and to get the train booked early to take advantage of those special offers that keep coming in on your phone.

We, (the we is me and my daughters) scoured all the cheap booking sites for information to find the perfect hotel. You know cheap ‘n cheerful prices but with luxury comfort.

We booked one hastily but afterwards found some bad feedback. Okay, mum to the rescue. I went back and found the Hotel Da Vinci in Milan. It looked great and if you booked through their website the offers were the best you could get. So before booking anywhere in the future, I’m going to find a great place through the cheap booking sites and then go direct to the hotel’s site to see if I can get a better deal.

Hotel booked, on to the train. I’ve done a lot of travelling the last few years up and down to Rome and also up to and through the south of France. I normally like to check out Italo since they are fast, comfortable, have free wifi and a movie carriage. If you register with them and download their app, you get information on special travel offers which are usually just fab especially if they have first class tickets with a special offer, sometimes even cheaper than some of the second class tickets and with complimentary snack and drink.

We didn’t really book early enough to get the best deal but I got 3 return tickets for 48.80 € each, not at all bad. That and with under 20 € to get from our local station to Florence to pick up the train, I think we did very well.

On the day of our travels, we picked up a train around 9 am to get us to Florence around 11.30 which gave us an hour to pick up a snack and have a potter around some of the station shops.

At Florence SMN station, the departing platform for Italo trains is normally only announced just 5 minutes before the train gets in so you can relax and mooch around for a long time. Just be ready for a last minute rush to get to your platform and positioned for the right carriage. The Italo trains nomally come into platform 9 and above.

Once on the train we were had seats round a table. Great for me, I could work. We were in the movie carriage but I wasn’t really in the mood so I didn’t plug in my headphones. The journey was fast and uneventful seeing us in Milan in 1 hour 50 minutes and feeling fresh.

Milan station is a very grand building, inaugurated in 1931. We needed a 2 day pass to use local trains and metro and we were easily able to buy one at a newsagent within the station before going down the escalators to the metro which was simple to navigate.

We picked up our train and got off at Comasina with a walk of about 900 m to our hotel. Good job we had our GPS!

Arrival at the Hotel Da Vinci

We arrived just before dusk.

Checking in was easy. There were four people on the check in/out desk.

Although I speak fluent Italian, the staff spoke great English and were very helpful. One negative was that there was nobody designated to show us to our room and help with bags without asking. We were fine with small suitcases but there was an American family with a lot of baggage who had to ask.

That said there was no problem with that and a member of staff obliged.

One thing to remember is that there are daily taxes to be paid on checkout which aren’t included in the price. In the Hotel Da Vinci this worked out at 5€ per person per day.

We were on the seventh floor. I admit that during our journey I was just a little anxious that our room wouldn’t match the lovely photos on the hotel’s website.. You know, the most beautiful room only in the photos and all of the others, bog standard.

When we opened the door of our room, we couldn’t have asked for more. It was just like the photos. The beds roomy, well, enormous and a balcony with a view looking out on that part of Milan which was semi rural. It would be lovely to sit out on a late afternoon in summer sipping an ‘aperitivo’ before dinner but since we were there in chillier November, that didn’t really matter.

I’ll be writing more on our stay at the Hotel Da VInci in Milan and also our Milan experience in a later post.

Don’t forget to check back!

Hey, Where Did The Time Go

Summer Sagras and Other Distractions

Hey, where did the time go?

My last post was at the start of summer and we’re now here on the edge of wintertime.

Not good enough I hear you say, and I agree. I looked at my blog last week and I got started almost a year ago. I was full of enthusiasm of how great it would be telling you all about living in Italy-

Well it isn’t that good really, mainly because I’ve had a lot of distractions and I travel in the summer and there are tons of events on in this area of Tuscany. We have sagras where we all flock to local venues such as school play grounds, sports fields or church gardens or land, where we eat good, simple meals prepared using wonderfully fresh, seasonal local ingredients. Top that with lashings of local and cheap wine or prosecco, a band and dancing and you’ve got a fun evening.

These sagras normally pay homage to a certain food such as polenta or pork or chestnuts but generally you go and eat a good plate of pasta, a second course and a pudding. Who could ask for more on a balmy summer evening!




sagras in Italy

So, back to my blog, I have decided to be myself and to share my experiences properly. I’m off to Milan for a few days next week so I’ll be reporting on my trip there.

Other up and coming events include the Christmas markets at Florence, oh and the chocolate festival, yet again, from Barga!

Sagra in Tuscany

Summer’s Here, Italian Style

Well summer is here and my little town is full of visitors and starting to get very lively.

It’s the last day of school before the long 3 month summer holiday snd the tradition is that the kids soak themselves with water before going home.

I love the warm weather particularly the  breakfast ritual. Going the bar for a pastry and cappuccino to watch Italian life go by. My town has a Saturday market and so there’s lots of action, friends meeting, cheek kissing, hands frantically moving to embellish the conversation….. Love it all.

At around 12.30 things start to quieten here. Local people are conscious of the 1pm lunch deadline and town empties out. The only ones left at the bar are visitors who lunch there and take in the sunshine.

My cappucino cup is empty. I have chatted and met up with some old friends but  I am semi-local so I’m anxious to get back home for my pasta

Summer’s here!

Thailand Travelling and Musing

Having lived in rural Italy for nearly 12 years I have learned never to expect the mundane and that every single day will present something unusual.

I am travelling around Thailand at the moment with a friend who lives mostly in London. The differences in our handling of situations are vast. My friend becomes irate at almost every inconvenience, every little set back and has no patience when a local person is trying to tell us something.

I on the other hand listen and look and of course smile. It then becomes much easier to understand what I am being told.

I am used to strange and unexpected things happening in my life (I do live in the country after all!). Things such as our taxi running out of petrol in the middle of Bangkok at 2 in the morning. My friend was furious and stormed off. I just flagged another one down and started again. The taxi drivers here seem to just cover one area of Bangkok (where I am currently) and so don’t know the other parts of the zone. This infuriated my companion here but as I keep saying, this isn’t London, life here is much more exiting!

Customs and general behaviour are obviously different. Religion, culture. It needs to be respected not compared to “back home”. Living in Italy, even such a short distance from my birth country has taught me that things done a different way aren’t wrong, they are just different and one shouldn’t anger because something is done in a different way. Instead, it is an opportunity to find a fascinating insight of into the culture.

Trattoria da Ubaldo – Lucca

Had a great evening recently at the Trattoria da Ubaldo in Lucca.

It’s a quirky place which is found in the street that runs around the back of the perimeter of the anfiteatro (amphitheatre) dating back to Roman times.

I didn’t know what to expect at this restaurant owned by eccentric Frank Zappa look-alike, Ubaldo.

Trattoria da Ubaldo Lucca

On arrival, I was delighted to be greeted by the host and taken to our table.

The restaurant is full of amusing references to horror. A coffin is suspended over the entrance and there are toys in various states of added or removed limbs, rather like Toy Story as well as skulls on the fridge, upside down Christmas tree and an array of cazzi (look that one up yourselves!). Oh by the way, it is usually full of local diners so you know you are getting a good deal!

Now, this restaurant is very meaty and not really very good for vegetarians but, as a ‘pescatarian’, Ubaldo had made some fish dishes for us to eat.

The first was a fish soup. Delicious and full of flavour and extremely filling. The second was an octopus sauce, spicy and for my tastes a little salty but still good and served with polenta. I also add that while I found this dish salty, my Italian friend found it very spicy and hot.

Now at this stage I was full to the brim but I forced down a pudding of pear and chocolate in a filo pastry.

We washed the meal down with a bottle of Ubaldo wine, and finished with coffee and limoncello.

The price was good for what we ate and yes I would go back.