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After receiving several requests for a continuation of my trip to Milan, we pick up on what happened next. Ed, my much older colleague/travelling companion and I had just arrived in the city and had made our way to our hotel. We’d had to share a room, which wasn't quite what I'd envisaged, but needs must and all that.

It wasn’t too bad in the end, although the sight of my colleague sitting there in his pyjamas, writing up his daily report, is one I’d rather forget. Nothing personal, it’s just that I prefer my own space and my own company before clambering into bed.

Ed may well have snored, but I was normally comatose after too much red wine to notice. Looking back, I think he had the decency to smoke his cigarette whilst leaning out the window, but as long as he wasn’t blowing smoke in my face I wasn’t too bothered. Smoking tobacco hadn’t been demonised back then, and most people didn't give it a second thought.

These details aside, I always find it fascinating waking up in a strange city on the first morning, and seeing how different things look in daylight. This is especially so when arriving late the previous evening. There’s a slightly sinister and unfriendly feel to an unfamiliar town or city after dark; a feeling that vanishes come daylight – especially if the sun is shining. I had a similar experience on my first visit to Munich, some twenty years later.

The above is a prime example of perception differing from reality, and when I awoke on that first morning in Milan, the sun was shining and the streets below our hotel window were already bustling with life. The buzz, created by a city coming to life and getting moving, is a familiar one the world over, but this being Italy, there were cars honking their horns, and the occasional screeching of tyres. More of that later!

I hurried down to breakfast, leaving my colleague to follow on behind. He’d been busy making plans for the clients we were due to visit that day, whereas I’d already slipped into holiday mode, despite officially being there on business.

As mentioned in the first post, we’d left ourselves in the capable hands of our agent in northern Italy, a rather colourful but equally pleasant character called Pierre Spadonni. After breakfast we found Pierrewaiting in the hotel lobby; a pattern that was repeated on subsequent mornings. After the introductions, he bundled us into his car and off we went.

We hadn’t travelled far when Pierre pulled over and told us we were stopping for a coffee. He did the same thing the following morning and the one after that, much to my colleague’s annoyance, but I was more than happy with this arrangement.

Cappuccinos all round was the order, and to someone like me who though a cup of coffee was a cup of coffee, this was a real eye-opener. Don’t forget, this was the early 1980’s, before the rise of chains such as Costa or Café Nero, when a frothy coffee was considered the height of sophistication.

Apart from the field test I was due to conduct, there’s little I remember about the potential customers that Pierre had lined up for us. The tests weren’t scheduled until the following morning, so in the meantime, I was quite happy to sit back and just go with the flow.

What I do remember with some fondness, were the long lunches, lubricated with plenty of excellent local wine. I also remember my colleague’s frustration over the time these culinary experiences were taking as, in his words, we were spending more time dining than meeting with clients.

He probably had a point, as I’m sure the company directors would have viewed our trip as rather more just a goodwill visit. Having splashed out on sending the pair of us abroad, they were undoubtedly looking for an increase sales. Fortunately, that wasn’t within my remit, although my turn would come the following morning, and there was a lot riding on the results of my field tests.

Before going any further, allow me to write a bit more about our Italian host. Pierre was excellent company, being charming, suave and sophisticated and all without being overpowering. He really went out of his way to make our visit enjoyable and pleasant. My only criticism was his driving, and here he really lived up to the Italian reputation of being a menace behind the wheel.

First there were the three-lane highways, with the middle “overtaking” lane used by traffic coming in both directions. You can imagine the white knuckle ride those journeys turned out to be. I’m old enough to remember certain roads in the UK having this middle, free-for-all, “suicide lane,” but our Italian hostgave them a whole new dimension!

Then there was the parking. On the second morning Pierrepulled up outside his favourite café for the obligatory cappuccino. Unfortunately, there were no spaces next to the curb, so instead he abandoned the car, leaving it double-parked. “You can’t just leave your car there, Pierre,” I said. He shrugged his shoulders and replied “Why not? It’s no problem.”

The best bit came one long lunchtime, when we pulled up at a restaurant where the car park was at the rear. It looked like an old bombsite, and probably was. There were still plenty of them around in England at the time, and many of them doubled up as car parks. All have long since vanished, given the value of town and city centre building plots, but this one reminded me of a site in Tonbridge, close to the railway.

We enjoyed another excellent lunch, but when we returned to Pierre’s car, we discovered it had been boxed in. “What are you going to do, Pierre?” my colleague and I asked. We suggested asking in the restaurant, as to the owner of the offending vehicle. As per the previous morning, our host just shrugged his shoulders, uttered the words “No problem,” climbed into the car, started it up and then literally shunted the vehicle in question out of the way, be repeatedly ramming it. All in a day’s work, I suppose, but not the sort of thing you’d get away with in the UK.

So, what about the tests I conducted on the water filter installation? As mentioned previously, the unit had been installed at a railway crossing keeper's “hut” – it was more like a small house, in a remote location. My job was to prove the filtration system was capable of removing bacteria from the water supply, thereby rendering it suitable for drinking.

I’d brought several “dip-slides” along with me, as the use of these items is the most commonly used means of testing for the presence of microbial activity in water systems. Dip slides are convenient, simple to use and cost effective. The tests were relatively easy to carry out and involved taking samples from both the clean and dirty sides of the filter unit. Ideally, I then had to keep the dip-tube samples cool until we returned to the UK. Fortunately, the mini bar in our hotel room had a built-in fridge, although for some strange reason my colleague subsequently declined all drinks stored therein.

We were accompanied to the crossing keeper’s hut by a dignitary from the Italian railways, which of course meant another extended lunch! We visited a nearby, rural restaurant, and were served a dish of small birds that had been coated in breadcrumbs and then pan-fried. I’ve no idea which avian variety they were, and no-one could tell me either, despite me listing every type of game bird I could think of.

They were probably just wild birds, such as thrushes, starlings or sparrow, that had been trapped in nets, hung in the trees. Don’t tell the animal rights people, but I ate them anyway. There wasn’t much meat on them, and I’ve probably eaten far worse things in China and Japan! Once again, there was plenty of good local wine available to wash this unusual dish down, and I’m sure our local crossing keeper, enjoyed being treated to dinner by one of the bosses from Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane S.p.A.

Apart from all this wining and dining, Ed and I had at least one evening free for sight-seeing. We stood on the steps of Milan’s magnificent cathedral or Duomo, before walking round to La Scala; the city’s world-famous opera house. My colleague had promised his wife that he would take a look at La Scala, but I’d never heard of the place. After a peep inside, we both agreed that it was somewhat underwhelming. Making our way back to the hotel afterwards we passed through a luxury shopping arcade, complete with lots of big fashion names.

I also went off for a walk on my own one evening, much to Ed’sconsternation of. I don’t know what he thought might happen to me, but I felt quite safe and had an enjoyable look around neighbourhood. True to habit, l stopped off for a glass of beer which I enjoyed whilst sitting at an outside, pavement table.

One afternoon we paid a brief visit to the Milan Trade Fair, where an exhibition of packaging machinery was taking place. It’s worth mentioning that the Italians have a good reputation for light engineering and the production of medium-size industrial equipment. The country's factories specialise in filling machinery and equipment for packing lines. If proof of this were needed, my current firm has several pieces of Italian-madefilling and packaging equipment.

When it was time for us to leave, Pierre picked us up and drove us to Malpensa Airport. He’d been an excellent host and had helped make our time in Milan as enjoyable as possible. We had a smooth and relaxing flight back to the UK, and because I had a window seat, I was able to look down on the Italian Lakes far below us as we approached the Alps.

The trip was certainly a memorable one for me, and was also good from the company’s point. The dip-slide samples I’d taken, demonstrated that our filter unit had removed the microbes that had been present in the source water. Our crossing keeper friend could now enjoy a glass of water without risking a gippy tummy, and the Italian State Railways subsequently placed a large order for our filter systems.
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