Many questions have been raised about the cities we have chosen to visit in the journey to London. To illustrate, well wishers have asked why we did not choose either Venice or Turin, or even both instead of Milan. The route was finalised on the basis of the driving distance in a day, the number of days on the road without break, the historical and touristic importance of the place and the possibility of hospitality. Some places of halt answered all questions while a few met some of them. Milan belonged to the latter. It was almost the midpoint between Ljubljana and Zurich, covering Italy en route. So that was where we were headed this morning. The hotel did not offer breakfast as part of its room charge and hence, we did not find it necessary to stay beyond 6.30 am in the room. I was told that the reception would be closed between midnight and 7.30 am. We were asked to leave the key in the room in case we decided to leave early. We did just that. The next problem was to solve the matter regarding the parking ticket. I did not know what to do with the ticket to get the garage door opened. A kind cleaning lady in the building took me to the concerned person in the building who helped me pay Euro 10.20, using my credit card, which was due for the overnight parking. All set and the Navigator was tuned to the destination in Milan. I got through to the highway without any blushes.
The A1 was a beauty all the way up to the border of Italy - the weather was excellent too - which was only about 80 kms from Ljubljana. Suspecting that fuel could be expensive in Italy I stopped at the last fuel station on the Slovenian side and filled up the tank for Euro 1.365 per litre. I also eased into a fuel station on the Italian side to check if they had a Toll Card I could buy for transiting the highways in Italy, as they have in Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia and Austria. I was told that in Italy one had to pay toll at the gates. I was apprehensive about this arrangement since I did not have enough change on me. I need not have worried. The system is much like in Chine. At the entrance to the freeway I collected a ticket from the machine that showed the place of entry, date and time. I travelled on the freeway right up to the exit of Milan, a distance of about 400 kms. At the exit gate I paid a toll of Euro 28.90, very steep by Indian and Central Asian standards or even by European standards encountered till now. The Toll Cards, in the three countries I bought them, ranged from Euro 12 to 15. However, it must be said in favour of the user fee the road was the best I have travelled on in the past 52 days. The nearly 500 kms with two luxurious stops was done in slightly over 5 hours. Yes,I was right about the fuel; the cheapest cost Euro 1.59 per litre in Italy.
The Navigator went bonkers in the Milan city centre. It started ‘looking up’ and assessing best route options at the most critical time. Therefore, I left the car in the custody of Lal and decided to foot it in the general direction of the Hotel. I found it within a kilometre of where I had left the car and the old gentleman at the reception suggested a Public Garage, where he said I should first park and get the check in done. The public Garage, which was not too far from the Hotel, offered a reduced tariff of Euro 45 per day! I double checked if it was for two days or one. He confirmed that the car would be charged that much for a day since it would take up the space of two. It is said that there’s no free lunch, but in Europe it is the parking slots that are never free. I cynically recalled the times I have scowled and got into a temper for paying INR 20 on Marine Drive! I decided to look for open parking and found one. The next hour was spent in trying to change a Euro 20 to coins and find a working parking meter. Eventually after all that we reached the hotel at 2.30 pm – I had got in to the city centre well before 1 pm.
After putting the bags into the room I spent a quarter hour hand washing some clothes. The room had a balcony from where hot breeze blew in and I knew that the clothes would dry fast. Then we went looking for something to eat and it was siesta time. We finally located a store that sold sandwiches and drinks. I had a ham sandwich and Lal a healthier one with salad and turkey. The Indian Association of Northern Italy had organised a get together function at the Indian Consul General’s Office, for which Mukesh Jain said he would come to the hotel by 6.15 pm to pick us up. He also agreed to keep the car in a free parking lot close to his house till we needed it further.
The function at the Consul General’s office was more informal than formal. A small sprinkling of the Indian diaspora turned up for the function which was followed by a South Indian high tea cum dinner. The Consul General, Manish Prabhat, 1996 batch IFS, spoke eloquently after Mukesh had welcomed the gathering. Gangadhar, Manager India Tourism in Milan felicitated. Four small children did the honours this time in Milan to affix green stickers on Italy. The 17th country had been done and over 75% of the trip has been completed in distance and time.
After the function Mukesh Jain took us to the promised parking lot, which is quite far from the hotel we were staying in. however, using a combination of tram and Metro we reached the hotel within 30 minutes. The Euro 4.50 each could be used for the Tram, Bus and Metro for 24 hours. This ticket will come in handy for the sightseeing trip that Dr. Shaji, who owns the Yogakshetra and has been resident in Italy for over two decades, has planned for us.