From Rome we headed north on Via Flaminia, an ancient Roman road, looking for Calcata, an ancient medieval hill town. This is the hill town I had been reading about during our stay in Levico Terme -- so being so close we just had to visit. We found it as it was described in the book -- overrun with hippie artists and groovy cats, beautiful in the extreme, quaint beyond measure. Little alleys, stairways clinging to the sides of stone buildings, tiny terraces tucked away behind little cafes blaring The Doors and operated by cool dudes. Calcata was condemned and due to be demolished by the government, part of a series of hill towns that were deemed unsafe after an earthquake collapsed one and killed a whole bunch of people. The ancient inhabitants were moved to a safer, more modern town that was built for them, but before the government got around to demolishing the medieval village, a bunch of artists and hippies moved in and fixed it up enough that it was pronounced habitable again. We wandered around for a bit, took in some stunning views of the valley, slurped up a cappuccino in a scenic terrace, bought some jewelry, peeped in at the church that for years and years housed the Holy Prepuce as an official relic, and then somehow peeled our car out of the strange, crowded little parking lot at the bottom of the hill and continued north.
Entering Milan, we immediately needed to find the NH Hotel so Dan could pick up his race packet. I have been trying not to compare Italy to France too much, since I compare them in my mind constantly and I imagine that would make for a pretty boring blog, with most paragraphs starting with "Whereas last year in France..." However, this day was so much like our day coming into Pau for L'Etape last year -- including the sky being overcast, the city being strangely modern, and our urgent time crush, I can't help but compare. After we'd gotten the race packet, we saw a Carrefour and decided to stop for groceries. Little did we know that this Carrefour was a titan among grocery stores, and stretched the entire length of Milanofiori, a giant shopping mall.
We parked, and I "ran in" to pick up a few things. I emerged over an hour later: haggard, despairing, having seen things no human should see. For example, a soccer game set up in the middle of the grocery store, where you could kick balls at some soccer pro. Swimming pools fully set up and on sale. A fish market that took up an acre. Yogurt for miles. Ruinously gigantic piles of baguettes. Just finding everything on my list took most of my soul and all of my energy. When I emerged, having had to cry my way into the cashier accepting my credit card without ID, I was a wreck of a person. But I had breakfast for Dan.
GPS brought us to our apartment through modern Milan, which is a fine enough city but remarkably graffiti-ridden. Everything here is tagged either by a gang or by an activist of some sort. Our hostess opened the door, showed us our elaborately baroque rooms, explained how we have our own fridge and how to turn on the stove, and then pointed to the other room on the second floor and said, "There is a boy sleeping in there, but he won't bother you." The boy turned out to be a middle aged man. Having a middle aged man sleeping in the next room from my two children, when there are no solid locks on the door and we are all sharing a bathroom... this was a little disconcerting.
We went out to eat at a restaurant that seemed friendly and was close. Dan ordered piles of pasta and I ordered actual bonafied Chinese food. As it turns out, Milan has a sizable Asian population and there are tons of "Ital-Cinese" restaurants around where you can get tortellini, hot and sour soup (zuppa agropiccante) all at the same time. I ordered the zuppa agropiccante without hesitation and it was awesome. They brought Dan heaping plates of pasta and meat which helped him stoke his fire for the big race, and Sadie actually tried grilled chicken with lemon and ate most of what they brought her.
We went home, fell into bed, and slept.