Travelling to Milan
Sorry for the delay in posting more details about the Milan trip. I’d like to first just talk about the travel experience a little. First, I flew British Airways, so I got to use the still-sparkling-new Terminal 5 at Heathrow.
This terminal is the largest free-standing structure in the UK, cost over £4 billion, and took 19 years from initial design to opening in March 2008. Part of the controversy is the ongoing battle between the desire to expand Heathrow (which is generally considered to be THE hub of international aviation, with the most international passengers of any airport in the world and second-most total passengers after Atlanta) and the desire to limit environmental problems in the surrounding areas, which are quite built-up suburbs (largely noise, but also air quality, traffic, etc.). Anyway, I find the terminal to be pretty stunning – even considering the two-story duty-free megastore inside – and quite a civilised place to travel through. That was only helped by the fact that my colleague has travelled enough to earn the right to use the British Airways Business Lounge with a guest, so we enjoyed free food and drink before boarding the plane!
After just 1 hour 40 minutes, we arrived at Milan Malpensa Airport. Without a doubt, the Italian border control was the fastest and simplest I’ve ever experienced (ok, not a big sample), even less detailed than going from the US to Canada! They didn’t ask me anything – saw the US passport, stamped, and sent me on my way.
Don’t be confused, though; I wasn’t in Milan yet. Malpensa Airport is about 25 miles/40 kilometers (I’m trying to start thinking in metric!) from the center of Milan, which is slightly more than the distance from the Washington Monument to Dulles Airport in DC/Northern VA (and Dulles is commonly thought of as being WAY out there). Signs in the baggage claim area said that taxis were €85 ($116). This being Europe and all, though, there was an €11 option – the Malpensa Express, a fast train every 30 minutes that takes 40 minutes to the city center. Of course, as is frequently my ironic luck with trains, we went down to the platform and saw the train pulling away.
On the way back to the airport on Saturday, I also just missed the train by 2 minutes and had to wait 28 – Astrid says it’s because I cut things too close (I say it represents too much confidence in the quality, regularity, and speed of public transit). However, the real reason on Saturday was that the crowds were so big on the metro that I couldn’t fit onto the first train with my suitcase, and waited a ridiculous-for-Europe 6 minutes for the following train.
Anyway, I was on my own (without my Italian-speaking colleague) for the trip home, which was uneventful. I couldn’t find the check-in counter at first, but it turns out I had to go past an Italian police officer who checked my passport before being allowed to go to the British Airways check-in counter (odd!). Overall, Italian security was pretty laid back at the airport (still had to de-belt and de-shoe, though). I was going to get some of what is probably the world’s best airport pizza, but ran out of time. The flight was empty – a whole row to myself – I was second in line at the UK border control, and my suitcase was already waiting on the carrousel when I got to baggage re-claim (the British term). On Sunday night, when my colleague travelled home, it turns out he was sitting next to David Beckham (if you’re saying “who?” then you’re like me but not like everyone else – probably the world’s most famous and highest-paid “footballer”) in the lounge, and Beckham got onto his plane.
That’s the travelogue – stay tuned for reports on transit in Milan and the city as a whole (including pictures of the fantastic Duomo!).