Sunday, December 17, 2017

AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY – MILAN 10-13 DECEMBER 2017

If someone had asked me a month back about my chances of visiting Milan any time soon I would have responded by saying, "Zilch". That is what I like most about life. It serves up cards that you never expect, pleasant or unpleasant. I have been served so many pleasant ones that it has helped me to appreciate the unpleasant ones as part of life’s great balance.

I work for Genchi India Pvt Ltd in Chennai as its Director Operations. The owner of the Company is the ebullient Ali Ashraf, who I had got acquainted with in my drive through Kazakhstan on the way to London. When he asked me to be part of company negotiations in Milan I was honored and happy at the same time; honored to be included in the team and happy to be visiting Milan once again. I had been to Milan in August 2014 during the London expedition. A friend I had made at the time, Shaji Paramkulangara, had become a regular FB mate. While planning the trip I took inputs from him and agreed to catch up on one of the days I would be in Milan.

I travelled to New Delhi on 1 December to arrange for a Schengen visa. The travel dates for Milan were yet to be confirmed, but I had to ensure that the visa was available soonest. Applying in New Delhi was the surest way to ensure its early issue, I was advised. And sure enough the visa was issued on 4th, despite two intervening holidays. And I was mightily impressed by the VFS facility functioning from the basement of the Shivaji Stadium metro station. If only the railways and metros in the country could exploit its premises like the DMRC they could make a pretty packet and at the same time offer a much better experience to travelers and shoppers.

I zeroed in on Qatar Airways finally for the flight to Milan from Chennai after exploring many options, even those of flying from Cochin and Mumbai. The meeting was confirmed for 9.30 am on 11th. To facilitate a strategy meet with Mr Ali in Milan I scheduled to reach early on 10th. I gave myself an extra day in Milan to attend to leftover business, if any, and booked the return on 13th. The weather promised to be cold, in keeping with the season, with forecast for light snow on the 12th. I hoped to catch some bright weather outside the meetings to take a quick tour of the city.

The meeting was in San Donato and I sourced a B&B close to the meeting place. Shaji told me that the best way to get to town from Malpensa airport would be to take a coach, which took about an hour from the airport to Milano Centrale. From there I registered that the Metro network would reach me to the B&B without a fuss. Later, however, Shaji offered to drive me from Milano Centrale to the B&B. Thus, all arrangements had been made for the three day tour.

The flight was at 9.15 pm on 9th. I decided to book an Ola cab at 5 pm and finally managed a share taxi at 6 pm; being a Saturday evening cabs were few and rare. I started to panic as the share taxi stopped at two locations to pick up passengers who were not worried about one who had to get to the airport. As it was peak time on a Saturday evening I was stuck, not able to get an independent cab. After much fretting and panic I managed to get one by 6.30 pm. The traffic holdups at toll booth, intersections and construction locations raised the panic levels intolerably. I started bullying the driver like a jockey on a laggard horse. When I finally reached the airport I was experiencing a nervous meltdown; the check-in and immigration was completed without much ado. It had been a jumpy ride and I needed to cool off. A large cup of hot coffee and a donut helped soothe the nerves.

The flight to Abu Dhabi was on time. Besides a helping of some lousy wine and passable rice and chicken curry the time spent in the aircraft was unremarkable. I managed to watch the highly recommended movie, "A killing in the Ganj", before the change of aircraft in Abu Dhabi. The terminal was crowded and looked inelegant. The duty free at the airport was so-so but had great prices for liquor. I picked up a couple of bottles to fortify me for the grey weather in Milan. I slept through most of the flight after dinner and watching "Half Girlfriend".

The flight was half hour late into Milan, but the faster than quick immigration, baggage retrieval and Customs made up for that. I walked out of exit gate 4 and found the Terravision coach bound for Milano Centrale. After paying Euro8 for the ticket I tucked the bags into the luggage hold of the bus. Dressed in a shirt and a thick windcheater I braved the cold windy conditions for some time and then sought refuge within the coach. Being a Sunday there were hardly anyone about. The coach reached Centrale in less than an hour where Shaji was waiting for me. After initial pleasantries he drove me to the place I was booked to stay. The drive to the B&B was more than I had anticipated.
I had picked the B&B over many fancy recommendations on the internet. The minute I entered the cozy three bedroom apartment and met with Cinzia, who minded the B&B, I knew I had made the right choice. After showing me to my comfortable room, that had an attached bathroom, I was served excellent Italian coffee, cake and croissants. In between mouthfuls of the goodies I got practical guidance on how to see the sights of Milan using the metro train network.

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