Thursday, December 15, 2005

Milan receives a pretty awful press, as much from Italians as anybody else.

The purpose of the trip was to see some world class football and sample some really wworld class food.

Milan, did not disappoint on either.

The Team

My wife and best mate Tom Vick, who runs a great agency called DFGW, went to Milan. Here's Tom and Rachael at the airport.

First port of call

My dad worked in Milan in the early 1990's and have an abiding memory of coming across the Galleria Emanuelle. Europe's first ever shopping mall, it is a structure that worships the god of consumption as well as the Duomo across the square worships the other one.

Our first port of call was Bar Zucca, a beautiful belle epoque bar. Where you must stop for a Negroni. If you want to know how to make the perfect Negroni here goes . The other thing is the eponymous Zucca drink which is a dark bitter.

The Meals

That weekend we went to some classic Milanese restaurants. The first night we went to Boeucc just around the corner from our drinks on Piazza Belgioioso. It was nice but I thought it was a bit stuffy. However, here is the link

The next day we went to a restaurant that had been recommended by many friends called Trattoria Milanese. Holy, moly it was great. The food was typically Piemontese, which was heart warming and rib lining. My starter risotto all milanese. Which was a bold yellow bowl of saffron flavoured rice. Outside it was 3C, but after that I started to warm up nicely. The main course I had was veal cutlets with a marsala sauce. The desert was an alcohol charged (Marsala again) zabaione. Rachael had a comfort food classic of minestrone, while Tom had some great pumpkin pasta. They then had a hearty stew.

The Economist have a very good review for it

That evening we went to a fantastic restaurant Hostaria Borromei in the shadow of the shadowy Mediobanco. This was a favourite of my traveling companions. The service and wine was superb and Tom had a superb lemon and vodka sorbet. Throughout the day we had seen chestnuts being roasted at every street corner, so I went for chestnut and rum ice cream. It was great.

Here is another link for those that want more

That Sunday we then for lunch to the Milanese fashion institution Bice, which is just Via Spiga. It is the Italian equivalent of the Ivy. Very snug full of families who all appeared to know each other having lunch. Great atmosphere and great food. Although the menu is much more Tuscan than Piemontese.

From Food to Football

That night we made our way to Milan's sporting cathedral, the San Siro. Nothing can quite prepare you for the size of it. Even two hours before, the stadium is full and noisy. It is simply stunning. It has claustrophobic quality to it that makes noise reverberate and atmosphere intensify.

Going into the game AC were two points ahead of Inter and ten points behind league leaders Juventus. Quite simply, it was a must win game for both teams.

Essentially both teams share the Brazilian squad. Adriano, Ka'ka, and Cafu...too name just a few.

But the real stars for my money we're the fans. The banners, the chants, the flares and not to forget the blast bombs.

Inter share the stadium with AC, so you expect the crowd to be split 50/50. However, since this was a home game for Inter their fans had about 2/3rds of the tickets.

The picture opposite shows Inter fans unfurruling a giant banner, while the upper stand lifted up sparkling blue cards. This was reacted to by the AC fans at the other side. The AC fans were real "Ultras".

The Ultras had to bring their own cards. In this case they were plastic bags coloured red, white and black.

We spent so much time starring at the Ultras that we actually missed the kick off.

The other thing that surprised us that that some of the fans in the Curva, stood with their back to the game throughout while they "conducted" the chorus. These guys were precariously perched on the other side of the barriers. One false move and they would fall 80 feet. I don't know whether the fall would have killed them, but the Inter fans below would certainly have finished the job off.

Perhaps the funniest banner of the evening, was Inter's commemorating the European cup final in Instanbul. In fact, many Inter fans wore Liverpool scarves throughout the game. These fans revealed in the fact that the much more glamorous, swaggering AC had the trophy taken from them.

The game it self started edgily with each side probing. Shevchenko, who didn't have a great game, was fascinating to watch. As he was constantly dropping off and finding space. However, mid-field was being bused expertly by Inter's Cambiasso (our man of the match). Supposedly he wasn't good enough for Real. He played the same role as Makele did for Real and does for Chelsea. It would be great to see him in the premiership.

The first goals was a converted penalty by Adriano. The Inter fans arround us erupted, somewhat relieved. AC came back quickly and were awarded a penalty.

In the 39th minute Shevchenko stood up and slotted it in, in front of the adoring AC Ultras.

All hell broke loose at that point, and the Inter fans uttered several "vaffanculo's".

The AC fans used the goal as an opportunity to rain down assorted items of property on the Inter fans and then let of a stream of blast bombs and flares.

The flag waving continued all the way through half time. We couldn't wait for the game to start and were convinced the game would not end at 1:1. One team had to establish their dominance.

This time Inter were attacking the goal nearest us and we got site of the brooding figure of Figo. While he may have lost a lot of pace, he still clearly terrified the AC defence. Adriano, Inter's enormously physically powerful striker was neutralised by Stam. However, as soon as he dropped of Stam he found more space.

The second goal came quickly in the 59th minute with the Inter keeper parrying a shot from Adriano and the tiny Martins, jumping on the rebound and slotting the ball into the back of the net. The Inter fans around us went, frankly, nuts.

AC were desperate to claw back, and put the Inter defence under wave after wave of attack. Increasingly throwing more players up to the other end of the pitch. The AC fans above us were dying under the tension, which was finally relieved when Stam hung in the air like Michael Jordan and slammed his head against the ball and into the back of the net.

In this 83rd minute the Inter fans were in despair. The AC fans clearly saw a draw now as a victory, the abuse they were throwing at Inter displayed relief. This was queue for a bonfire of flares to go off.

The Inter fans come across as serial pessimists, after spending years in the shadow of Berlusconi's blinging AC. Many started to walk out of the stadium. Thankfully, the players on the pitch showed a lot more metal, and just came back relentlessly at AC. Further spice was added when the Inter traitor Vieri came on to boo's and whistles that just deafened you.

Then with the last kick of the game, a corner was whipped in and Adriano rose in almost slow motion to slam it into the back of the net. For one second, there was just silence as we realised what had happened. The Inter fans around us went bananas, we were hugged by all around us. Adriano ran over to our area and whipped his top off in ecstasy.

The ref quickly came over with a big smile on his face and booked him for the strip tease.

Within in seconds the game was all over. This then was queue for the Inter fans to heap a tonne of abuse on the AC fans who just sat their shell shocked, just like they'd been in Istanbul. As the Inter fans headed out of the stadium they would stop every now and again to scream "Vaffanculo" and give the AC fans a gesture of their affections. The picture opposite is of one such fan.

Tom and I, wandered through the tree lined residential streets to our metro. The fans streamed out joking and laughing. Some stopped off at a sausage stall to watch highlights of the game and cheer Adriano's winning goal.

Every now and again on the walk home, we would turn and look at each other and just say "unbelievable" and shake our heads. It was a night never, ever, to be forgotten.

On getting back to the hotel, we went to the bar where we ended up talking to two Londoner's who had been at the game. One of them kept shaking his head and repeating, "but boy's it was the 'atred, the 'atred between those teams"

Journey Home

The next day Rachael had to endure countless tales of the game.

We filled in the time to the flight by a quick bit of shopping a visit to Milan's famous deli, Peck.

It is just off the main square around the Duomo. The food and wine are simply fantastic.

We bought a panettone for Christmas and then quickly made our way back to the hotel to pick up bags and head to the airport.

When you fly from Milan Linate, you ascend very quickly as you are so close to the Alps. I am always struck by the sheer beauty of the Alps in winter. Looking down on them in made me pause and reflect on the great weekend we were very lucky to enjoy. The other thing that it made me realise is how much time I have spent on planes this year and the damage they cause. If you enjoyed this blog and want to check the damage we can cause the environment click on the carbon footprint link.

Do that, and whatever else you do before you die - go to the Milan derby.