Thursday, June 16, 2016

Breakfast Fit for a Queen

Having breakfast in a five star Italian hotel was a unique artistic experience – they left nothing to chance. Tables were decorated with crisp embroidered linens, pressed and starched to perfection, with small arrangements of fresh flowers on every table. Artsy clear vases filled with oranges or lemons added a touch of classy color to the marbled floors.   

Breakfast area fit for a queen
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
The antique chairs were decorated with cotton brocade, not a wrinkle or stain in sight; the covers were removed after breakfast. The large bay windows overlooked layered terraces with exotic potted plants, orange and lemon trees, lounge chairs with umbrellas, and verdant gardens. Blooming plants and bushes I’ve never seen before were overwhelming my senses.

Lemons Photo: Ileana Johnson
The food was an assortment of breakfast items fit for a queen, artfully displayed by a chef – from yogurt, compote, Italian prunes, peeled fruits, real scrambled eggs, crepes, boiled eggs, panna cotta, chopped vegetables, cereals, rice milk, soy milk, cow’s milk, to an espresso machine that made every type of coffee sophisticated palates might desire; fresh squeezed juices, cheeses, rolls, croissants, and miniature coffee desserts completed the elegant tables. And the hot chocolate was so thick that it looked like molten chocolate lava. I had to add lots of milk to make it more palatable to me. A basket of exotic teas and a silver pitcher filled with hot water invited us to a steaming porcelain cup of tea.

Galleria Photo: Ileana 2016
It was cold outside, in the low fifties, damp and drizzly Milanese weather.  I had a cashmere sweater on layered with a cotton t-shirt but it was not warm enough. It was a good day for museum hopping and window shopping.

I picked a tie in a silk boutique for my hubby.  Another boutique that was moving from the Galleria to another location was offering umbrellas, costume jewelry, richly decorated canes, theater binoculars, ballroom masks, silver and gold pieces with ornate turquoise, and coral beads. Intricate cameos displayed the fine artistry of Sorrento’s shell carvers. I have watched one such carver on a previous trip to Sorrento; he had a deep blister in his palm where he was holding a short stick with the cameo on one end. He was carving it with so much focus that the raw skin in his palm did not seem to matter.

Duomo front door Photo: Ileana
We entered the Duomo because I wanted to pray for my family and to light a candle in memory of my Dad. It was even colder inside; the majestic stained glass windows did nothing to increase the warmth of the cold marble floors and walls. There was a service in progress already and signs of Silenzio were posted here and there. Tourists were still quietly milling about, taking photographs.  This time I couldn’t climb the stairs to the roof to admire the flying buttresses and the gargoyles up close. The spectacular panorama of the city that we saw eight years ago would have to wait on this cold and dreary day.

Getting lost was a daily occurrence in Italy; it was part of the exploratory fun. We never knew what we might find along the way. A little old lady walking in high heels but with a cane, asked us if we needed help. You had to admire the Italian ladies’ fashion sense that could not be compromised even when handicapped. Who wants to wear comfortable shoes when they are so unsightly?  We must have looked utterly lost, chattering in English. I explained to her in Italian that we were looking for the metro station. She smiled and told us with a friendly wink that, on May Day every year, all public transportation stops at 7 p.m.  Of course, tourists like us, even though I speak Italian, did not get the memo that on the International Socialist Labor Day, public transportation will grind to a halt and tourists will be stranded miles away from their suburban hotels where prices are more reasonable.

Milan's largest public park Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
We backtracked through the public park, passing ponds with geese, ducks, turtles, and large fish coming to the edge to be hand-fed. A few local kids were playing soccer in the muddy grass even though a sign said clearly, “Stay off the grass.” Italians are obsessed with their city grass, no humans are allowed to pass through, rest, or play on it.

We finally hailed a spotless cab and, for nine euros, it dropped us off by the Duomo again. We were still far away from our hotel. We decided to eat dinner. For 81 euros we had very bland and non-descript pasta at Savini, a great disappointment.  The only thing I enjoyed was the complimentary grissini (bread sticks) that came with the meal and the bottled mineral water. When it came time for gelato, the gelateria had already closed for the night. The town had rolled the streets up. The metal gate entrances to the metro were locked with heavy chains and it resembled a dungeon.

Milan's Duomo at night Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
While in the Piazza del Duomo, bathed in the copious light illuminating the Milanese cathedral, we joined a huge taxi line of at least 100 people, shivering in the damp evening. A few non-taxi Arab drivers, eager to make a profit, approached several people in line and offered to take us to our hotel for 100 euros, about $120. Such an outrageous fee yet there were takers. A few Japanese tourists climbed into unmarked cars, probably so anxious to get out of the cold that they did not care whether it was safe, reasonably priced, or a good idea. We stood in line behind two girls from Boston who were studying in Nice and had taken a weekend trip to Milan. When our turn came, the taxi fare was only 25 euros, four times less than the scalpers had asked. The crabby taxi driver told us very gruffly to get out of the cab, we were too slow for her; she was in a hurry to go back and pick up more stranded tourists.
Part of the taxi line in Milan
Photo: Ileana 2016



  1. Sounds like you are enjoying the good things Italy has to offer in spite of the crabby taxi drivers:-) Tea and scones when you get back is a MUST!
    Love you and pray for you everyday.

    1. Thank you, Alice. I tried to avoid too many sweets except gelato.