MILAN — As my taxi screamed through the roads of northern Italy on the way from the airport to my hotel in Milan’s south end, I tried to convert kilometers into miles to calculate how fast we were going, and whether I should jump out at the first opportunity.
I was never much good at math, but I sensed that 150 kph was a lot of mph (93.2, to be exact). But for my cab driver, clearly, this was normal, and that actually put me at ease.
Though I’ve been here in Italy for just over two days, that taxi ride seemed to illustrate the tenor of this lovely city. The people here live at their own pace, and they are quite comfortable with that.
One of the joys of covering the Celtics for the Globe is the opportunity to actually tour the globe. Friends often ask about the places I’ve been, so there’s a strange sense of responsibility to actually see these places rather than just sitting in my hotel room and staring at a television. Sometimes, when it’s winter and you’re in Auburn Hills, Mich., all you want to do is sit in a room and stare at a television. But this trip to cover the team’s six-day jaunt through Milan and Madrid, clearly, is different.
When I checked into my hotel the man at the front desk flashed a wide smile when he saw I was from Boston. He’d bought tickets to bring his son to Tuesday’s exhibition game against Olimpia Milano. He said it was sold out and that the Celtics’ arrival would create great buzz. This city, he explained, was increasingly a basketball city.
On Saturday afternoon, several Celtics were to attend a community event at Arco Della Pace—or “peace arch”—a stunning marble structure built in the early 1800s that sits in the city’s center, part of Porta Sempione. But there was a threat of rain, so the gathering was moved to Olimpia Milano’s practice facility.
This complex actually sits across from a McDonald’s, a view that was at once strangely comforting and sort of sad. In Milan, you can’t walk more than a block without stumbling upon a small pizzeria or patisserie, each with its own charm and satisfying smells. But I guess sometimes you just need a Big Mac.
The basketball event for local Special Olympians was a success, and credit to the Celtics in attendance — running on minimal sleep after a long flight — for being so engaging. I decided to walk back to my hotel afterward, as it was just over two miles away and I was in Italy, for goodness sake.
Milan is a fashionable city, and that fact is inescapable when you walk two miles to your hotel after a Celtics community event. People relax in street-side cafes in suits and dresses, with their glasses of wine and cups of coffee making them seem even more trendy. Even the 5-year-olds here have stylish haircuts.
Like many other parts of Europe, the street signs here are engraved on the sides of buildings. It is classy, but it is also probably miserable if you’re driving down a street looking for another street. (Via Costanza is my favorite road so far, Jerry.)
The Celtics held their first practice on Sunday afternoon. After filing my stories that night, I joined some friends from Celtics.com at an A.C. Milan soccer, er, football match at San Siro Stadium. The entry process was fascinating, if not a bit jarring.
Fans present identification when purchasing a ticket, which is then personalized. Upon entry, I was asked to once again show my passport to ensure that I was, in fact, Adam. Then the ticket was scanned again when I reached my section.
The atmosphere was just as authentic as it appears when you’re a world away. The rhythmic chants are stirring, and the intensity is very real. There were no concession stands in the stadium, just a few employees roaming the aisles with limited snacks and drinks. But the air was so thick with cigarette and marijuana smoke that no one seemed to care about not having a super pretzel.
After the game, a 4-0 Naples win, the line for the subway was massive. There were no taxis in sight, either, and my Celtics.com friends were staying at the team’s posh hotel on the other end of the city. So I walked back to my hotel. It was nearing midnight on a Sunday, but you never would have known. Restaurants were still serving and the streets were still buzzing. About halfway into my three-mile walk, I stopped in a nondescript pizzeria and ordered a pizza.
They did not grab it from under a heat lamp, though. They hand-tossed the fresh dough and put just the right amount of cheese and sauce on top, and it was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. No, it was not a Big Mac, and that made it just perfect.