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I arrived in Milan around 8am after a long overnight flight from Hong Kong. Having had the luxury of a comfortable night’s sleep, thanks to the unforgettable experience of travelling in first class, I was ready to spend the day exploring rather than recovering.
This was my first trip to Italy and I had scheduled it so that I could experience the ‘Derby della Madonnina’ - the famous derby match between AC Milan and Inter.
I had yet another stay with AirBnb, booking a beautiful apartment in a residential area, right beside a metro station, for about a third the price of a decent hotel room in the city.
Before booking I contacted the host and told her I could only book if I could check in at 8am. In this scenario the host has to block out the previous night on the booking system, so they’re not always keen to do this. Thankfully, as I was booking for a whole week, the host agreed to my request.
After settling into my wonderful new home I went out exploring. It was the coldest weather I’d experienced in close to 3 years at around 10 degrees C, but still bearable wearing a hoodie - the only warm item of clothing in my whole suitcase.
My first stop was Sforza Castle - a huge 15th century fortress complex that contains several museums.
I was enjoying strolling around the castle’s courtyard for all of about 30 second before I was approached by a big African dude. He attempted to tie a string bracelet around my wrist. “It’s free my friend. Africa!”
This gentleman was part of a team of over a dozen Africans running this hustle. It’s a long running scam where they offer you a “free” bracelet, or more like just walk up to you with a distracting smile and friendly talk while physically attaching it to your wrist. They then ask for a donation and get really offended and pushy if you refuse.
I was quick enough to shake the gentleman off me, and the next one, and the next one, but I saw plenty of other tourists getting these worthless bits of string tied around their wrist, quickly followed by a confrontation.
One lady repeatedly demanded the man take it off her and he reluctantly pulled out a pair of scissors and cut it off. Another lady was walking away, visibly upset, screaming “I don’t have any money” while being followed and harassed by one of the hustlers.
I saw this scam being played out at every tourist spot in the city. There’s literally hundreds of African guys doing this exact same scam, praying on tourists. It must be a profitable business.
Maybe it’s allowed to go on because they technically aren’t breaking any laws, but since they forcibly attach these difficult to remove bracelets to people by grabbing their arm, then demand money from them, it certainly counts as a scam in my book.
Inside the buildings of Sforza Castle there were no scammers and plenty of history. Lots of art and statues. The most interesting of all having a large room all to itself.
The Rondanini Pietà, famously the last work of Michelangelo, is a marble statue of Mary holding the dead body of Jesus. Michelangelo started working on it in the 1550s and it remained a work in progress when he died in 1564.
Standing in front of the statue, I thought about how incredible it was to be so close to history. Milan is full of such opportunities.
And none better than the Duomo di Milano - a hugely magnificent cathedral that was built in the 1300’s and took centuries to complete.
Again, with it being a popular area for tourists, the ‘friendship bracelet’ scammers were out in full force.
Getting away from them was all the more reason to go inside the Duomo.
As spectacular as it looks from the outside, it is even more so on the inside. For me, the stained glass windows were the highlight.
I bought the combo ticket that combines entry to the Duomo with access to the rooftop. Opting to take the stairs rather than the lift isn’t just healthier, it also saves you a few Euros too.
I completed my day of history and culture with a visit to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, which is where Leonardo Da Vinci painted his masterpiece ‘The Last Supper’.
It was just as well that I’d spent my first day walking around seeing all the main sites as the next day the weather turned awful with constant ice cold rain.
The weather forecast for the whole week was more of the same. I considered just spending the rest of the week in my cozy AirBnb apartment, watching movies and eating my way through the massive bag of Italian cookies that the lovely Airbnb host gifted to me when i checked in.
Instead I came up with a more productive plan. Join a gym, eat lots of Italian food and make friends by playing Tinder.
The first two parts of my plan were easy to accomplish. There’s no shortage of gyms or delicious Italian food in Milan. Playing Tinder however, in a city where every guy looks like a feckin Armani model, was insanely tough. I’ve never had such a low match rate anywhere in the world.
I bought a weekly pass at a nice local gym and got in good workout before going out for dinner, sampling two Milanese specialities.
I started with a Milanese Risotto. Risotto is rice cooked in a creamy broth. Milanese style adds saffron, making it yellow and more delicious.
And next up was Veal Milanese. A tender veal chop, breaded and fried.
A superb introduction to the local food, even if I did have to eat it alone.
The next day my plan fully came together as I spent the whole afternoon in the gym before meeting a nice girl for dinner. As she lived in Milan she obviously knew where the best pizzas were.
Taking the advice of a trusted local on where to eat is always better than googling it. As I’ve said in many blogs before, if you make friends with the locals when you travel you’ll have a much better experience.
It was more of the same next day as enjoyed a plate of seafood spaghetti in a homely little restaurant.
And had the company of two wonderful girls.
We spent the night at the Martini bar, on a terrace overlooking the Duomo - which looks incredible all lit up at night.
All the Italian guys were dressed up in smart suits and there I was, just casually hanging out in my hoodie. I had no problem getting into the place dressed like that though, despite it being Saturday night in an upscale place.
They probably thought I was some baller who just doesn’t give a damn. Rather than the truth - an average dude who just doesn’t give a damn.
I was having so much fun the last couple of days that I totally forgot that I was supposed to buy my e-ticket for the sold out Milan Vs Inter match on a resale site.
When I woke up the next day, in the afternoon, the day of the match, the sale of e-tickets on the site had already closed. Damn!
The match wasn’t until the evening so I had some time to try to get hold of a ticket.
I asked my friend for advice and she told me to try the Milan fan store in the centre of the city. So I took the metro there and stood in a massive queue to get in, only to realise I’d left my passport, which is needed to buy tickets, back in the apartment.
So another metro trip back and forth and another long wait in the queue, only for the staff to tell me that tickets had sold out weeks ago, but if there were any returned tickets for sale they’d be at the club’s HQ known as Casa Milan.
Casa Milan is way on the outskirts of the city, but I made the long journey there only to be told that there were no tickets available.
The only remaining option was to go to the San Siro stadium an hour before kickoff in an effort to buy someone’s spare ticket or more likely get gouged by a ticket tout / scalper.
I still had a couple of hours spare and it started to rain so I found a nice cafe to relax and eat a delicious Cannoli, ticking another item off my list of Italian food to eat in Italy.
To this day I still think about that Cannoli when I’m hungry, it was so good.
Full of sugary energy, I took yet another trip on the metro, arriving at the San Siro stadium. It was pissing down with rain but the atmosphere around the stadium was buzzing.
I walked around the stadium twice, asking if anyone had a spare ticket, but had no luck. I didn’t even see any ticket touts.
I was about to go back to my apartment, wet and disappointed, when I decided to ask one of the big African guys who were selling ponchos and knock-off merchandise if he knew anyone selling tickets.
He did, and took me to his friend - an old, sketchy looking, Italian man with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
He had tickets to sell but wanted 3x face value for them. It was almost all the money I had on me but I agreed. I’d only complete the transaction however if he’d do a ‘name change’ for the ticket on the Milan website.
There’s two stages to getting into the stadium. First security personnel check the name on your ticket against your passport, hence why I needed the name change document on my phone. Once you’re past security, you scan the QR code on the ticket at the automatic turnstiles.
The sketchy looking dude took my phone and tried to complete the name change online but the website kept throwing up an error. It looked more like the web page was broken rather than him entering the wrong details. 20 minutes later, he’d made no progress and I wasn’t too happy about him holding my new phone and his cigarette in the same hand.
I was about to take my phone and leave when he suggested that I show the ticket and the error on my phone to the security and see if they’d let me pass. I gave him the money but made him come with me so I could get the money back if I couldn’t get in.
On the way there the big African dude who introduced me to the tout asked me for €5. I had about €5 left in my wallet but needed money for the metro home and didn’t know if there was an ATM nearby, so I had to say no. Of course he got really pissed off with me.
At the stadium entrance, the security personnel wouldn’t let me pass but the ticket tout did a lot of talking in Italian and they eventually let me through. It was 10 minutes before kickoff and the electric atmosphere was pouring out off the stadium.
I excitedly approached the turnstile and scanned my ticket only to be confronted with a red cross. My heart sank. I knew right away that I was screwed.
I spent half an hour waiting to speak to a staff member who could check the validity of my ticket and it turned out that the ticket had already been used to enter the stadium. I had been well and truly scammed.
All those years. All those trips abroad. I thought I was too savvy to get scammed. But this bastard got me.
I went looking for him, the rain still pissing down, but he was probably somewhere warm and dry with his feet up counting my money.
I did find a young Singaporean guy who had the same thing happen to him. He was in tears. I wasn’t crying but I did feel absolutely awful. A sense of shock combined with a horrible sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Walking back to the metro, soaking wet and feeling miserable, I turned around to have one last look at the San Siro.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept waking up in a panic, thinking about what had happened and what I could have done differently.
I just kept beating myself up for being so stupid. It would have been a lot easier to deal with if I directed my anger towards the scammer rather than myself, but what happened was really my own idiotic fault. I had the chance to buy my ticket cheaper on a reputable resale site ahead of time but I ended up handing over a fist full of cash to a scumbag criminal for a worthless piece of paper. What an absolute fool.
I wasn’t even bothered about the lost money. Ok, I’m Scottish, so I was bothered a little bit, but I was mainly bothered by the fact that I let a scumbag get one over on me and that I missed out on the experience of watching the derby - the main reason for my trip to Milan.
The next day I consoled myself the only way I knew how - with more incredible Italian food. My first trip to Italy certainly had to include a couple of plates of pasta.
And 5 scoops of the best Gelati in town.
I’d ticked everything off my list of Italian food, and I was desperately missing Asia, so on my last day I went to eat lunch at Armani Nobu - the famous Japanese fusion restaurant in an Armani designed space.
I enjoyed a bento box of goodness that included the incredible Miso Black Cod that I loved so much at Nobu Bahamas.
And the delightful chocolate fondant cake with Matcha green tea ice cream.
It’s amazing how much a good meal can change your mood. Despite feeling miserable for the last couple of days I left Milan with a smile on my face.
The smile didn’t last long though as I boarded my easyJet flight to Edinburgh. Back to life. Back to reality.