06 December 2015

Milan -- da Vinci and the Expo

When I first heard about the special Leonardo da Vinci exhibition being planned for the summer in Milan, I decided that was something I wanted to see.  I picked the July holiday weekend and set up a short visit, since I had been to Milan before.  When the tickets for the exhibition became available, I went ahead and purchased the time slot I wanted.  Once that was set up, I identified a couple of restaurants I wanted to visit, so I secured a lunch and a dinner reservation.  I had also heard that the World Expo 2015 was going to be held in the Milan area.  I wasn't that interested, although I had never been to a World Exposition before.  After looking what I had planned, and researching the costs and time involved, I decided to include a visit to the Expo.

I chose to fly United all the way, which meant a day flight to Newark and an evening flight to Milan's Malpensa Airport.  One reason I chose UA all the way was that they recently changed the plane on the Milan segment to a 3-class 767, which I generally like flying.  The only really bad thing I encountered on the journey over was the layover in Newark.  There is no special Global First Lounge there and the regular United Club was overcrowded, making it difficult to find a seat and to find an electrical socket for charging devices.

I landed at Malpensa mid-morning.  Unfortunately, all of Europe was in the midst of a severe heat wave, so it was already quite warm.  Prior to departing for Milan, I had purchased online a Milan Card with an Expo 2015 package which gave me unlimited Milan public transit use, a round-trip regional train ticket to the Expo 2015 site, and a ticket to the Expo for any day I choose.  So, I had to first hunt down the location where I could exchange my voucher for the package.  And from the airport, there are several ways to get into Central Milan.  In addition to two bus companies, there is also a train.  As I wasn't in a big hurry, I chose a discounted bus ride.  The schedule is pretty regular, although it was a little bit of a challenge to figure out where to catch the correct bus from the company for which I bought my ticket.

The bus took me to the Central Station in Milan, which was only a few blocks from my selected hotel, the Hilton Milan.  My room, not, surprisingly, was not ready.  Bu they let me use the Club Lounge to freshen up and change clothes so I could make my luncheon appointment.

My lunch was near the center of the city by the Duomo.  It was called Ristorante Cracco:

For the full write-up, click here.

After lunch, I returned to the hotel to claim my room, a junior suite:

After getting settled and resting up a bit, I had to get ready for dinner.  Fortunately, it was on the later side.  But it was in a part of town away from the center, so it would take a little time to get there.  It was in a section of the city around one of the canals -- Ripa di Porta Ticinese.  The streets along the canal were lined with bars and restaurants and seemed to be a popular area (I had never been there before).

The restaurant was called Al Pont de Ferr.  In addition to an extensive a la carte menu, they had several tasting menus to choose from.  I chose the longest one, where the chef just chooses a series of courses to send.  It was a nice meal, but much more food than I needed to have.

For the full write-up, click here.

I used the Milan subway, which was easy enough to use, especially with the Milan card.

The next day (my only full day in Milan), I was to start off with going go to the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit at the Palazzo Reale.  With my pre-purchased timed entry ticket, I was able to bypass the ticket line and just had to wait for my entrance time to arrive.  The ticket came with a free audio guide, which was nice, as there were only limited descriptions in English.  Unfortunately, they did not allow any photos. It was a very good exhibition, with some famous works by da Vinci, including some items that rarely go on public display.  I was done in about two hours. I was very happy that I was able to see this exhibition.

After that, it was time to head out to the Expo site, which would occupy the rest of my day.  As part of the Milan Card package, I received a round-trip ticket on the commuter rail service that goes directly to the Exposition site located just outside Central Milan.

 Fortunately, the main walkway through the center of the grounds was covered.  But it was still very hot (close to 100 degrees).  All the pavilions had air conditioning, and there was plenty of food and drink.  each pavilion had a shop for the "native" trinkets, an exhibition on sustainability in food or water or energy, and food.  It was kink of like Disney's Epcot World Showcase on steroids.

There were a lot of people, but it was not super-crowded.  There were a few pavilions where there was a lengthy line to get in.  I did not bother with those.  In that sense, it would have been nice to have more time to spend over a couple of days.  But I went into several of the pavilions and felt like I saw enough after 4 hours.  I finished up with an early dinner at a building where several Italian food vendors were set up -- I went for pizza and then gelato.

The next morning, I had a mid-morning departure.  Fortunately, the bus departure area for the airport buses was near my hotel, and the schedules were posted.  So I knew which bus I wanted to catch and when. 

Since I was flying United directly back to the U.S., I wanted to make sure I had a enough time for all the formalities.  I actually ended up not having very much time before boarding.  I found the lounge that was available to me.  It was fairly busy, and I ended up spending about 20 minutes there before heading to my gate.

Upon arrival at Newark Airport, I cleared immigration quickly with my Global Entry privileges.  I thought I was going to have an abundance of time to get to my gate to continue my trip.  However, for some reason, I was singled out for immigration inspection.  It took a while before I was called.  The customs officer asked some questions and then began inspection of my suitcase.  Once it became known that I worked for the federal government, the inspection proceeded quickly and I was cleared to leave.

I still had a decent amount of time, especially since I could use the Global Services reception area to access the TSA pre-check line.  I was not worried about missing my flight, even with the extra time spent in Customs.  I headed to the UA Club, which was almost as crowded as when I passed through on my way to Europe.  I did manage to fine a decent place to sit and regroup for a bit before heading to to catch my flight back to SFO.

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