An Evening in Milan and a Strange Hostel

Two days ago I went from Rome to Milan, where I had to take my flight back to Taiwan. Since the departure time of the flight was 11:30, I decided to go to Milan a day earlier and stay there for a night.

I booked a room in a hostel, called Central Station Hostel. This turned out to be the second worst hostel I’ve ever been to (the first one being in Poland, perhaps I’ll talk about that some time later).

As its name suggests, Central Station Hostel is located just five minutes walk from Milan Central Station, which is in itself a weird place. You see a lot of dangerous-looking people, some of whom ask you for money, pretending that they have “to make a phone call” and need coins or something of the sort. Some of these people are Italians, others are immigrants. I have nothing against immigrants, on the contrary (as you can see from this post). But the specific kind of immigrants who hang about in Milan Central Station look menacing. They might be people who came to Italy to find a job, but found none. I don’t know. Anyway, the whole area makes one feel quite unsafe. I even had to pretend to be a foreigner in order to escape a drunk Italian who kept on asking me if I could give him one euro.

View from the hostel’s window

Market inside Milan Central Station

The hostel apparently has adapted itself to the general atmosphere of decay. However, the entrance looks promising. There is an old-fashioned gate, which will open after ringing the bell of the hostel. Then you get inside a nice early 20th century entrance hall. When you turn left, you see another old-fashioned thing: one of those lifts from the first half of the 20th century, which look somewhat like gigantic cages in the middle of staircases (like this one). All this old-time stuff looks actually quite interesting.The trouble starts when you go into the hostel itself. 

I was welcomed at the reception by a young Chinese woman. Since I saw a lot of Chinese people in the hostel, and also Chinese decoration such as a calendar, I guess that the hostel is either run by Chinese people or owned by an Italian and co-managed by Chinese.

The hostel is pretty big. I assume that the owner bought a number of flats on the same floor and turned them into a hostel. So, you see furniture and doors as one might see in a real flat. The rooms, too, are not bad as far as the dimension is concerned. They are large and there are just four beds per room, which makes you feel more comfortable than one of those crowded 8-bed rooms that some hostels have (I even heard from an American guy that there is a hostel in Berlin which has dormitories with dozens of beds, just like military barracks!). There was also a bathroom inside the room. Another good thing was that the heating system worked 24 hours a day – a blessing in a city where the temperature was just above zero. Sometimes the room was even way too hot (but better than way too cold).

My room

Street close to the hostel

However, there were really unacceptable things. First of all, the room’s door was broken and couldn’t be closed. But at least it could be locked, so the problem wasn’t too bad. Much worse was the fact that the lock of the bathroom’s door was completely broken and could not be closed at all. I hate the idea that someone can burst in while I am taking a shower or… well … 

The lamp next to my bed didn’t work, and the only way to switch on the central light was by a button on the other side of the room, located right above one of the beds. Moreover, the internet signal was extremely weak and it was almost impossible to use it.

But the weirdest thing happened at around 23:00. I was chatting with my Mexican roommate when suddenly someone knocked at the door (which was locked). I opened it, and I saw a middle-aged Asian man. He was slim and tall, with grizzled hair, and he wore a red jacket. I looked at him inquiringly.

“Yes?” I asked.

He pointed at the bathroom’s door. “Go bathroom”, he said.

Before I could reply, he entered the room and went straight into the bathroom. I and my roommate looked at each other astonished. I became worried. Who was that man, and what was he up to?

“Excuse me,” I said to him. “There are toilets on the corridor. Why don’t you go there?” For a moment, I thought the guy had come from the street to use the toilet. If he had been a guest in the hostel, he could have used the one in his own room. Or perhaps, his room’s toilet was occupied and he had to find another one. But in this case, why didn’t he go to a toilet on the corridor, which were for common use?

The man looked at me and understood I was suspicious. Then he pointed at the broken lock and said, “Lock. Must see.”

At that point I realised that he must be working for the hostel. He just came to check the bathroom’s door. I went back to chatting with my roommate, who had been sitting on his bed all the while, following the scene from a distance.

“Who’s that?” he asked.

“That’s a guy from the hostel who came to check the bathroom’s lock. This hostel is really weird. It’s 11 pm! Why can’t he do the job tomorrow morning, or in the afternoon? He had plenty of time to fix that today when we weren’t here.”

After a few minutes, the man emerged from the bathroom. “Don’t close the door,” he said. “I’ll come back.”

He left and returned a couple of minutes later with a tool box. He began dismantling the lock, making a lot of noise. One of our roommates was already sleeping (she’d  been sleeping since the late afternoon; she must have been very tired). When he had finished, he said “thanks” and walked out of the room, leaving the door open. When I looked at the bathroom, the door’s lock was gone. He had not replaced it, but just taken it away … 

A Walk in Milan and a Few Thoughts

In the evening I took a walk in Milan. There were just around 2. During my two months in Europe I have found out that the warm and humid Taiwanese weather is not very suitable for me. I always feel uncomfortable there, and the sudden changes, from warm to cold, from sunny to rainy and so on, drive me crazy. Most people, when they go to a foreign country, first feel uncomfortable and then get used to the weather. I am exactly the opposite. First, I didn’t mind the weather, but the more I stay in Taipei the more it makes me feel weird. The European winter is a clear-cut thing. There might be some temperature variations, but you always know that it’s winter. The heating system makes the house cozy and warm, and it’s a pleasure to sleep in the warm bed when outside it’s cold. In Taiwan, you never know. Two days ago it was so hot that I had to take off my jacket; I just had a shirt on. It was like summer. The temperature just goes up and down all the time, and the air just feels kind of stuffy. 

One thing that really struck me in Milan and Rome is that the city centre is beautiful, but the public transport is shameful. The underground in Milan, for example, is so dirty and neglected that it looks as if it was still in the middle of construction. When I entered the underground, there was an unbearable stench of urine, and inside there was a mess, with illegal hawkers selling stuff all over the place. Even the trains are dirty, and you see food remains, tissues and other things lying on the floor. Oh really, Italy, you must learn something from Hong Kong and Taiwan in this respect!
Here a few pictures of Cathedral Square


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2 replies »

  1. Found this very interesting! I've just come back from a networking event with lots of Italians, mostly from Bologna and Perugia. They discussed Italian cities quite a lot (saying there were no real 'alternative' Italian cities, Turin is the nicest to live in etc) and they were unanimous about one thing: Milan is terrible. Dirty, dangerous with a bad atmosphere.

    I found it quite funny having never been to Italy whilst my wife had and had formed her impression of Italy from a visit to Milan. She went on a group tour and they said to never walk in pairs, only in groups of 10 (!) or they would be attacked. And five minutes off their coach, in a group of 40 Taiwanese students, someone tried to steal a bag off one of them, wrestling with them in full daylight in the city centre! I can't imagine that happening in anywhere I've been in Western Europe.

    So I think I might avoid Milan for a first trip to Italy, especially after this story too. Perhaps Florence or Turin would be a nice place to go?


  2. Hi David,

    well, in this case I have to disagree with my fellow countrymen : ) I actually like Milan, I think it's the most international city in Italy and perhaps the only one that could be described as a global city, though not on the same level as cities like Hong Kong, London, or New York. But that's just my personal opinion.

    Haha, I am sorry to have added another bad story to the ones you heard before. But I advise you to go to Milan and see it with your own eyes. It's true that it might not be a safe city, but I was there alone and nothing at all happened to me. Honestly, many places in Italy, for example Rome and Naples, are not very safe. Turin or small cities like Perugia, Bologna, or Verona, are better, but I think it's a pity to go to Italy without visiting the big cities.


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