Revisiting Milano Centrale

Reminiscing about the central train station in Milan, Italy

milano centrale
milano centrale
milano centrale
milano centrale small bytes


milano centrale

milano centrale
milano centrale

Milano Centrale has figured often in our past travel plans. The central train station in Milan, Italy is a great stepping off point for excursions throughout Italy, especially since it is almost impossible to find a vacant hotel room in that city.

However, we haven't done too much travel of late so vicarious travel is about the only way to scratch my travel itch. What with Paul’s health issues and finishing the anthology Rita Golden Gelman and I have been working on for years left little opportunity for boarding planes.  





It feels good to say that Paul's health problems have been mostly resolved. Here he is in the kitchen of our new rental. Photo taken by our latest Servas guests who are bicycling to Patagonia.

You can follow their progress on their web site:




And I'm extremely happy to say the book Female Nomad and Friends: Tales of Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World will be released June 2010 by Three Rivers Press. 

It finally happened. YEAH!  


female nomad and friends

In the meantime Paul and I reminisce about our last trips, and I devour book after book of travel literature. In an umpteenth re-read of The Old Patagonian Express, I see Paul Theroux fidgeting next to his seat companion, listening to Mr. Thornberry’s staccato nouns of the Costa Rican countryside. “Palm tree. Pig. Fence. Lumber. Pipeline. Ducks. Creek. Kids playing.”

The first time I read about Theroux’s train companion, I was on the other side of the Atlantic in Italy’s most sophisticated city, sitting on a granite bench in Milano Centrale.


malpensa shuttle bus


A few hours earlier, Paul and I had boarded the blue bus at Malpensa Airport. After twenty-eight kilometers, we were disgorged at the side of Milan’s massive train station.
We ran inside to check out the big board with departures and arrivals clicking on and off in a mobius strip of possibilities. 

milano centrale

Paul and I had first set our feet on the haute-couture pavement of this city in 2002, and hotels had always been full when we showed up so I appreciated the fact that there was always a train leaving for someplace else. Unfortunately, we needed to be in Genoa the next day, and the last train to Genoa for the night had just left. 

Ever the optimist, Paul pointed at the board. “We could still go to Lecce. It’s an all-nighter. We could sleep.”

“And Enrico? He plans on picking us up tomorrow morning. There’s no way to contact him.”

“So how about a beer?” 

I looped my arm around Paul’s elbow as I turned to the exit. “Beer it is.”


moretti beer
We settled into our chairs at a nearby coffee bar, and I set two Moretti beers on the little table.
moretti beer

After a few sips, I pushed back the chair. “Don’t hold your breath, but I’m going to check a few hotels nearby. We could get lucky.”

Paul snorted.

In no time, I was back. “You were right to snort. Complet. I ran into a chatty receptionist, and there are like a zillion things going on here this week. What was I thinking? Milan just has it in for us. This is one city that knows how to hold a grudge.”

Paul held up his empty glass. “It was those white tennis shoes we wore in 2002. We need more beer.”

I set down two more beers. “After the chatty receptionist, I went back to the station and found out that if we have a ticket, we’re entitled to stay the night in the horseshoe area around the railroad tracks. But we have to be back inside by midnight, or we’ll be locked out.”

Paul stared at the two tickets to Genoa I had plunked on the table top. “This should make me happy?” He looked in the direction of the barman. “Maybe we should get a couple brandies? This sounds like a long night.”


milano centrale tracks

A few minutes before midnight, we returned to Milano Centrale and made a bee-line to the horseshoe area around the railroad tracks. 


.  As I swiveled my head one way and another looking for a suitable bench, I stumbled over a large piece of luggage, stopped to set it upright among its many cousins and wondered why a tour group would choose such a time to visit Milan.

milano centrale

Then I saw the owners ― a be-speckled man, a forlorn-looking woman, and, hunched against the wall, a timid seven-year-old. The presumed husband and father tried his best to brow-beat a couple of nattily attired carabinieri, the best-dressed of the law enforcement entities in Italy.

The man punctuated each word like he was doing karate chops into a watermelon.  “Unacceptable….Not…possible….All…hotels …can’t…be…filled!”

In a moment of generosity rarely felt when I hear a person insist on using loud English with non-English-speaking people, I said, “Yes, it does seem impossible, but believe me, it’s true. As they say here, complet. Full up.” I trotted out every excuse the receptionist had given me to explain the complet signs. 

The fact that those attending an Inter-Milan soccer match, a marathon, a trade fair, a motorcycle convention, a huge shoe expo, and the opening of fall fashions had vied for hotel space and gotten there before us made no impression on the man. Looking down at the floor, I thought it prudent not to mention Paul’s theory about white tennis shoes. 

“Who gives a rip? Milan’s a big city.  Why the hell can’t they have enough hotel rooms? We never wanted to stay in this damn city in the first place. It’s Tren Italia’s fault we missed our connection.” 

He turned to the carabinieri.  “Some national train system you guys have here.  Three hours behind schedule.”

The carabinieri stared straight ahead. 

The man pointed to the big board. “Do you see a train going to Roma Termini up there? Huh? Do you? No, you do not ‘cause the last train to Rome left hours before we got here. All thanks to Tren Italia.”  

hotel gallia milan

I cleared my throat. “There is a room in the Hotel Gallia, but it’s ah, pretty pricey. It’s, ah, a thou a night.”

“You gotta be kidding! A thousand bucks?”

“Euros actually.”

“No way. What I’m trying to explain to these retards here is that it’s Tren Italia’s fault we’re stuck here so it’s Tren Italia’s responsibility to find us a place to stay.”

“Well, in a sense they have.You see, now that you have a train ticket, you are entitled to a place in Milano Centrale for what remains of the night.”

“This is absurd!” A bit of saliva jettisoned into the midnight air. “Unacceptable!  Absolutely not acceptable!”

“Look on the bright side. How many people do you know who have had the chance to spend the night on a bench in Milano Centrale? You could make it into a story.”  I smiled widely. 

The man looked at me as if he had confronted a madwoman.  He turned to Paul who grinned and nodded his head. He then turned to the carabinieri for confirmation of the lunacy ― or maybe for protection.


With a sudden and miraculous command of the English language, one of the carabinieri said in flawlessly un-accented English, “She is absolutely correct,” and the two buzzed off into the night in their little cart. italian carabinieri

Muttering “What were we thinking coming to Italy? The country is nuts! This city is insane,” the man rounded up wife, son, and assorted pieces of bulky luggage and steered his little entourage toward the exit.

milano centrale

We watched as a railroad employee pulled the great doors closed behind them with a resounding thunk. 

I shifted the strap of my carry-on bag. “Hey, you know something. I feel good. It won’t be so bad after all.”

“It will be if we don’t snag one of the benches. Hurry up.”

Paul and I arranged ourselves on the last available bench, right next to the bathroom. He folded his jacket and laid down while I pulled out The Old Patagonian Express which is how I happened to read about Mr. Thornberry.

It seemed Theroux met Mr. Thornberry on the streets of Limón, and the man offered to share his hotel room. All night Theroux listened to a staccato description of the city.  “Motorbike. Music. Yakking, Car. Train whistle.”

By morning, I found myself imitating Mr. Thornberry.  “Coughing. Toilet flushing. Snoring....

milano centrale

Street sweeper.


And at long last, with the first rays of dawn  ̶  “Train whistle.”   

milano centrale


milano centrale

We boarded the Genoa train, and I vowed to adhere to travel writer Jan Morris’s philosophy.  She maintained that if wine was to be had, she would have a glass of it every day for the rest of her life and would never travel disagreeably again.




milano centrale

milano centrale

milano centrale

Now there’s a philosophy I can live with.

And if things turn disagreeable, I can always have another glass of wine. 


milano centrale tracks milano centrale tracks milano centrale tracks milano centrale tracks



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