May 1, Milan
We took a high-speed train from Florence to Milan. The train was comfortable and quiet, with space for all our luggage. I found it odd that the only time I was asked to show a ticket, the agent just glanced at the folded printout with the QR code and went on his way. Top speed observed during the two-hour trip was 300km/h (186mph).
We took a taxi to our hotel, Hotel Spadari al Duomo (there's that Duomo again!), which was pleasant. In the evening we had booked a "Pizza and Gelato Making" class across town. But when we tried to get a taxi to take us there, we were told that access to the city center was blocked due to a Labor Day parade. Indeed, stepping out into the street, we could see a parade marching by on the next block. Fortunately the Metro stop was nearby and it took us where we needed to be. I was delighted to see a sign above the ticket machines (with long lines in front of each) that you could use contactless payment at the turnstiles, so we did that. An agent who was helping us mentioned that we'd have to repeat this on exit so that the correct fare could be charged, but when we got to the other station, it was free.
I found the class to be one of the best I had taken, with lots of useful information and hands-on experience. First we made balls of pizza dough from flour, water, yeast and salt. The hand-kneading techniques were interesting. Because the dough needs to ferment for flavor we didn't make pizzas using our dough but with balls that the instructor (a former sous-chef at a Michelin-listed restaurant) had prepared the day before. He showed us how to shape the pizza in the Neopolitan way and add the desired toppings. We could then put the pizza in the oven using a long-handled peel. After a few minutes he would lift the pizza closer to the heating element to properly crisp the top. My pizza was delicious, if a bit misshapen.
We didn't make gelato ourselves, but watched as he mixed the simple ingredients (milk, cream, sugar and some vanilla), then put the mixture in the freezing machine. He commented that a lot of gelato shops use a commercial powder rather than the fresh ingredients - I had not heard of that before. (He said that what you want to look for are small cannisters of gelato, not the heaping swirls that are an indication of a powder base.) While we waited for the gelato to set, we made waffle bowls from scratch, each of us spooning the batter onto a pizzele iron, flipping the disc a few times, then draping it over a glass bowl with another bowl on top to form the bowl shape. The resulting gelato and bowls were delicious!
I "upset" the chef when he asked what our favorite pizzas were and I responded with "pineapple, walnut and Gorgonzola", which we discovered at a now-long-gone local restaurant. We make this a lot, especially in the summer - it has no sauce, but has olive oil and garlic. The chef recoiled at my mention of pineapple, saying "I don't want to talk to you anymore", and I kidded him about it later in the evening.
May 2, Milan
In the morning we visited the Milan Cathedral, also called Duomo. It was confusing about how to obtain tickets, which were to be purchased in a separate building, and inadequate signage complicated things. But we did get tickets and went in.
Leaving the cathedral, we walked through a magnificent shopping arcade and found a place for lunch. Returning to the hotel we packed for the next part of this journey.
We had asked the hotel concierge for a restaurant recommendation for dinner, one within walking distance. He called to make the reservation, warning us that it was popular, but was successful. Imagine our astonishment, then, that we arrived to find that we were the only patrons there! (One other party did arrive during our meal.) We wondered about this, but the meal and service were excellent. Even though we ate early for Europeans, and it was mid-week, nobody else had arrived during our time there.