San Siro, food & shopping

Today was my last day in Milan, and since it was Monday – all of the museums were closed. I decided to drop my backpack at the luggage deposit at Milano Centrale in the morning and take the metro out to San Siro, the stadium for soccer giants AC Milan and Inter. I had heard mixed reviews about the stadium tour and museum but I decided to check it out because it is the largest soccer stadium in Italy, and the 3rd largest in Europe behind Camp Nou and Wembley. It took quite a while to get out to the stadium and the metro stop was a while 20 minute walk from there! A new San Siro station is planned to be opened next year to address this problem. But because the stadium is so gigantic, they had to build it in the middle of no where. The stadium can seat up to 85,000 fans, and for converts they can fit up to 100,000 with additional seating. I imagine that the area around the arena would be crazy on event days. For being such a prestigious “cathedral” of sport, I must say that I expected more from the tour and museum. At 12 euros, it was quite a rip off. The Europeans visit San Siro in droves, I was surrounded by teenage boys wearing their favorite teams jerseys. The reason why the tour is a rip off is because they basically herd you through the stadium in a group of about 80 people – tours leave about ever 10- 15 minutes. The fact that there’s just as many people visiting San Siro as the Duomo and likely more people than art museums in a Milan in a day gives you the idea that this is a popular spot.

So our tour of 80 people went through the stadium with our tour guide using a loud speaker to explain everything in both English and Italian. We were first lead out to the field and got to sit in the most expensive seats in the stadium, which still aren’t too close to the field. Directly above that are the box seats, where important people like the President and celebrities get to seat. The boxes are pretty shabby and worn down but out guide explained that when a match is played they are decorated with the colors of the team playing – Milan or Inter. He also explained that the upkeep on the grass in the stadium costs more than a million Euros per year just for the planting, not including the maintenance and watering! We also got to visit the locker rooms of both Inter and Milan. I was expecting a really grandiose locker for AC Milan, because, well it’s AC Milan. First I went into Inter’s locker room which was sparsely decorated and had simple chairs for all the players. It was not very big at all. I expected more for Milan, but their locker room as the same size! It was only a little bit more decorated and had slightly nicer chairs for the players. Overall, really disappointing. And annoying to cram in there with 50 other people. The guide told us where each of the players sit and of course pointed out Beckham’s old seat “for the ladies”. We saw the press area where media meets with the players before matches (also not very big) and the executive room where big wigs can drink and mingle before the game and during half time. Then the tour was over and I only spent a few minutes glancing in the museum because it was packed and I was tired of the crowds. I also looked into the store but it was outrageously expensive so I didn’t get a thing.

For lunch I wanted to go to an osteria that Matteo had recommended, but I got there and it was completely full and the staff was not very nice. So instead I walked a bit further down the street and choose another cafeteria where a lot of local Milanese businessmen and women were eating lunch. The cafeteria had no menu – a great sign. Instead, you walk up to the counter and check out what the chef has just made, you pick something out and they hear it up for you. I had the best vegetable lasagna of my life! It was so good with lots of spinach and cheese. The meat lasagna I had in Tuscany is still the best meat lasagna ever but this took the win for veggie lasagna. The owner convinced me to try some of his home made tiramisu once I had finished the lasagna and that was the best tiramisu I’ve ever had! I was super lucky to choose that spot for my last meal in Italy. Afterwards I wandered through the center of Milan noticing the old palaces and churches everywhere and then I spent an hour or so shopping – I felt as though it was a compulsory Milanese experience. I didn’t end up buying anything for myself but I got some great soccer souvenirs for my brother. Then it was time to head to the airport for my flight to Madrid. In usual cheap airfare style, Easy Jet has its own terminal at Malpensa airport which is an hour by train away from Milan. Then once you reach the airport by train you must take a bus another 10 minutes to get the terminal. Then the line to check in was about an hour long but thankfully they bumped up everyone going to Madrid because we were running out of time. Also classic was that when we landed they announced our arrival time as being 20 minutes early, when in reality we had to taxi all over the runway for the next 20 minutes until a parking spot opened up. Flying in Europe is not too fun.

When I got to Madrid, I was surprised to find that they have raised the prices for the metro yet again. I literally saves hundreds of Euros by being there the semester before the change happened! I took the Metro to Sol and walked to my hotel from there. After checking in, I got a few last minute souvenirs at a shop close by and then I looked at the map on Trip Advisor to get to a restaurant called Algarabia that only had a few reviews, but they were all spectacular. What a great choice! I got there a little before 11 and opened the door to find no one in the restaurant. O asked it it was open or closed? Isabella told me that their last customer had just left, but was I just one? I said yes and she said come on in. Isabella waits the tables and Pilar cooks the food. The two are sisters who grew up in the Rioja region, so the restaurant specializes in traditional Riojan cuisine. To start, I ordered croquettes which were stuffed with spinach, ham, and cheese. They were actually some of the best croquettes that Ive ever had – and I tried a fair share during my time in Spain. Pilar made everything fresh just for me. I got to practice my Spanish with Isabella and Pilar, when she wasn’t cooking. I enjoyed Rioja wine with my croquettes and then with my bacalao. I was indecisive about what to order after the croquettes so I asked Isabel and she told me to order the cod, I asked if that was the bacalao, she said yes, so of course I agreed. Bacalao was one of my favorite dishes in Spain as well and this one was outstanding. Pilar used fresh tomatoes for the sauce which covered the fish. Eating at Algarabia was definitely one of my best meals in Madrid because the food was amazing and Isabella and Pilar were so sweet. It was a perfect ending to my time abroad. After dinner, I went for a walk through downtown past Sol, Plaza Mayor, and Palacio Real. Tomorrow I’ll head to the airport for my flight back to Phoenix via Chicago on Iberia – thank goodness its my last European airport experience!! The line to check in is sure to be an hour long at minimum so I’ll have to get there in plenty of time.

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