Our trip started off disastrously when we lost our first week’s spending money, a wad of Euros, before even leaving Wellington. Jenny just had a bit of contingency Euros. This happened when Kris took his NZ$ notes out of his bum bag to pay for a family brunch at Chocolate Frog cafe near the airport. The Euros were in a separate zip lock plastic bag and must have fallen to the floor. There were a lot of people around and we suspect someone just helped themselves.
Kris realised the money was gone after we had checked in at the airport. He jogged back to the cafe for a search while Jenny waited at the airport. In the meantime Reinhard had gone back home to fetch Jenny’s notebook which she had left on a chair at home. On his return to the airport, we all went back to the cafe in the car for another look and to give them our address in the slim hope that the money may be handed in.
After this, we were beginning to wonder if we were up to the trip!
We settled down a bit on the flight. International travel in economy class is never fun, but we had some luck here. On the long flight (16 hour Sydney to Doha) we were allocated seats on the top deck of the plane, just behind first class. This area was less crowded and cattle-pen-like than the downstairs deck. The seat next to me was vacated (the tall man previously sitting there complained his chair didn’t recline and was moved) and I was able to share this space (turn about sleeping on it) with the young Jordanian woman sitting on the other side. Then we had three seats to ourselves alongside the window on the 6 hour Doha to Milan flight. After a meal, movie and glass of red wine we both fell into an exhausted sleep. When we woke up the pilot was announcing that he was making his descent and apologising for the unusual amount of turbulence on the flight. We had felt nothing, It must have been like rocking a baby.
Our planned logistics on arrival also went smoothly – we easily found the 8 Euro airport bus to the central train station and it left after only a few minutes. Then we walked about 3 km with our luggage to the Decathlon store where our bicycles and panniers were waiting. The large store was incredibly crowded and it was hot and muggy. None the less, they fitted all the extra accessories we selected onto our bicycles for us (odometer, water-bottle holders, front pannier bag). We also bought some new helmets, gel saddle covers and a new jacket and running shoes for Kris. Kris’s new shoes were hurting his feet to the extent that we decided to just dump them.
On leaving the store a couple of hours later we found a quiet spot to pack our luggage into the panniers.
After finding the hotel on the bicycles and checking in, we went in search of a cash machine on our bicycles to replenish our cash. It was still hot so we left in just our T shirts. It was harder than we expected to find a machine. Some were behind doors as it was getting late and we couldn’t access them with our card. At one point we found a machine, which took Kris’s PIN but then said our card was invalid and declined to give us any cash. It seems many of the banks are local or regional and not set up for international transactions. We were beginning to get worried about the card not working in Italy or getting scammed by presenting it to dodgy machines.
It began to get dark and cold and it felt like we were riding around in circles. We figured out how to switch on the bike lights. By this time my head was aching and I had gone beyond feeling hungry and come out the other side. We only had T-shirts on and it was getting cold. A few drops began to fall and some thunder cracked. We got under the awning of a pizza restaurant just as the heavens began to open. We parked the bikes here (nice and dry) and went in to eat some excellent pizza. They also had Heffe Weissen on tap (one of my favourite things)! We threw caution to the wind in terms of preserving my precarious cash and had a couple of pints each after which we felt much better.
The downpour was heavy enough that people wanting to leave the restaurant loitered at the entrance, waiting for it to abate. By the time we were finished, it had reduced maybe a little but was still raining steadily. It was really quite cold out now and we were still just in our T shirts!
We were about 2 km from the hotel. Kris carefully checked the route on his phone and checked the direction with the waitress. Then we did our mad dash out into the cold. I just followed Kris as closely as I could. The previously crowded streets were pretty empty now which made it a bit easier.
Kris was brilliant, madly zig-zagging the dark Milan streets in the rain. We were wet but not soaked through. Arriving felt exhilarating.
When we got there we had to negotiate putting our bikes in the covered garage with the hotel clerk on duty (nothing about this day was easy). They thought we should store the bikes in their uncovered courtyard (in the rain!). Jenny got stubborn and refused to leave the Hotel lobby without covered parking, The garage was Kris’s idea – it had plenty of room. The duty manager eventually relented – they are obviously not used to catering to cycle tourists.
The final piece of misfortune of the day was that someone nicked Kris’s gel seat cover from the bike while at the restaurant!
Post script – Toilet interlude experience
Travel to unfamiliar places sometimes throws up particularly surreal “fish out of water” experiences. Such was my visit to the bathroom at the restaurant. After the meal and beer I looked around the restaurant for signs of a bathroom. Couldn’t see anything, so I asked the waitress. She gestured me to come to the kitchen and called a cook over to direct me to the toilet. He took me through a kitchen side door into a small interior courtyard, into a door in another building to the top of a spiral staircase. Just go down there he said and turn left and there is the toilet.
I went down and turned left down a grey concrete corridor. Nothing at the end just a bunch of closed featureless doors. My jet-lagged brain felt a moment of dark recognition – this is the part of the novel where a metal door clangs shut behind you, leaving you in a dank dungeon at the mercy of an Italian psychopath. I quickly turned, the corridor was empty and a few meters on was the toilet – to the RIGHT of the stairway. Someone had painted the toilet doors with abstract designs, trying to make it look hip.
Despite being in a cellar and having no toilet seats, the toilets seemed clean enough.
My next dilemma came when I went to flush the toilet. There was just an immovable metal plate behind it and no amount of prodding produced a flush. No sign of a chain up above either. At this point I was feeling quite anxious, not being the type of person to leave a public toilet un-flushed. Eventually I spied a contraption on the floor to the side of the toilet – a sort of metal plate with a bulbous button at the top. I gingerly pressed it with my foot – the toilet flushed!
At the top of the stairs again I was disoriented and unsure of how to get back into the restaurant – luckily the waitress was having a smoke at the back and directed me back in.