So this weekend I fulfilled one of my lifetime goals and finally made it to Italy! The experience was incredible, albeit extremely confusing; I went with two of my classmates, Helena and Nola. Our flight from Madrid got delayed Thursday night, so we ended up arriving in Milan shortly before midnight. On the plane they said we could take a bus downtown that was pretty cheap, but when we got to the airport, the lady behind the counter said we’d be better off taking a train from terminal 1; she was not very courteous though. To get the train we had to go another terminal, which entailed taking a bus. The airport was pretty deserted and the shuttle ride took a very long time, so it was relief when it actually took us where we thought it would. From there we had to take a train, but again, everything was deserted so there was no one around to help us out. We kind of just followed the crowd, I use that term loosely, and ended up on a platform. From there we asked a random man where to catch our train, and he was so nice! It turned out we were on the wrong platform, so he led us to the right one. The train eventually came, and after about 30 minutes we made it to the central station downtown. We had originally planned to attempt navigating the subway system to our hotel, which was another 30 minutes outside of the city, but everything was pretty much shut down at that point.
As we left the train station, I couldn’t help but be enamored by the architecture, and I guess I was just so fascinated by actually being in Italy! I honestly didn’t even mind the fact that we were stranded in downtown Milan after midnight and it was cold and rainy. We eventually walked to what looked like a main street and hailed a taxi with relative ease. Even though we knew the fare was going to somewhat hefty, I really enjoyed getting my first look around the city. The streets were made of cobblestone and there was a lot graffiti on the buildings, but the area had a really classy feel to it. Maybe it was the pedestrians we passed; everyone, particularly the young males, were dressed to the nines! I mean everyone just looked so well put together and fashionable, but not in a pretentious way. By this point I was starting to feel like Italy would fulfill all of my expectations of it and I could not be more excited.Our hotel ended up being pretty far out from the city, and our surroundings got surprisingly rural rather quickly. We were so relieved when we finally made it our hotel that we didn’t really even mind paying for the taxi. But even after we got into the hotel it was feat to find our room! Our number was 2105, so we first headed to the second floor, but that wasn’t right. It turned out we were actually on the 11th floor, but the system still doesn’t make sense to me.
Our room was incredible! It had a little kitchen/lounge area with like a full stove, sink, and a refrigerator! There was also a kitchen table, a television, a desk, and a little day bed/couch thing. We even had a balcony! Then in the bedroom there was a bunch of closet space and a king bed. Oh and the bathroom actually had a working bidet. Anyway, I thought it was great. We got settled in and it was pretty comfortable. Helena and I had plans to go Venice in the morning, and our train left from the central station at 7:30. It seemed like a reasonable enough time, but we had to take the hotel shuttle to a different station, then take the metro the right station, and it turned out that shuttle we had to take left at 5:45! As we climbed into bed after 2, Helena proposed that just thinking of it as nap instead of a night’s sleep might make it easier to get up in the morning; it didn’t. We ended up sprinting to the shuttle and boarding just in time! We weren’t entirely sure were to even get off, but the driver was pretty helpful and we made it without a problem. We asked around at that station how to get to other station, and the service people were helpful, but again, not that friendly. Anyway, we made it there so that’s all that matters. At the other station we found our platform with only minimal issues. Maybe we are just spoiled from living in Madrid, but the public transit system in Italy, at least in Milan, is super confusing!
The train ride took about 2 and a half hours, but of course for whatever reason I couldn’t fall asleep. It was actually a good thing though, because we had assumed it was a direct trip, when really Venice was a just another stop. Our seats were in separate cars, so as we got closer to the time our train was supposed to arrive I started to worry about missing the stop. Or worse, one of us getting off and the other staying on because we literally had no way to communicate. When we eventually pulled in, I triple checked we were at the right station, Venice has two, then got off. Within a minute or two, the crowd on the platform started to disperse and Helena was not there. I started to get just a tad anxious at this point, so I walked along the outside of the train to try finding her car. I figured worst case scenario I should just jump back on, so at least we would be lost in Italy together. She happened to look out the window and see me as I passed by and was able to run off in time; it turns out she had enjoyed a very sound nap. So now we were in Venice without a clear idea of what to do next. I suggested that we just explore the surrounding area and that there would surely be tourist information or something, so we ventured out. We found ourselves in a quaint little town with very small shops and residences. It was honestly a cool little area, but it was nothing like I had pictured Venice. A nearby hotel said Best Western Bologne, and we began to wonder if we were even Venice after all, I mean there wasn’t even any water anywhere. I don’t know why, but I really enjoyed it there, I guess because it was pretty off the beaten path. We decided to circle back to the train station and figure something out from there. We purchased a tourist map of the city and learned that we weren’t actually there yet. The customer service people were a little bit nicer and sold us train tickets to get to the downtown station, which is where would be leaving from that evening. Per usual, it was pretty confusing finding the train, and the platform we thought we were supposed to go to seemed to be out of service. After a minute, we asked a random man if he knew where to go. He looked at our ticket and told us to follow him, then led us to the right place.
Before too long, we arrived at a large, bustling station, and we knew we were in the right place. As soon as we walked outside it was breathtaking. We were right on the grand canal, and I don’t know, the whole feel of the city was amazing. We didn’t really have a plan or anything, so we just decided to navigate to the the top five “must see” places on the map. This city was truly unique. So there aren’t any roads, just canals, most of which were relatively narrow. Besides that was a labyrinth of narrow alleyways. We did our best to follow the map, but the streets (alleys) were super confusing and hard to follow, but we a had a good time trying. It didn’t really matter anyway since we had nowhere to be, so we just soaked in the sights as we walked. We came across some pretty cool looking buildings, but I’m not sure what they were. The surprising thing was that the city seemed pretty deserted, I mean it looked like the only other people walking around were tourists. Obviously the people operating the shops and stuff had to live there, but it almost felt a little eerie. We stopped for lunch at a random cafe and ordered spaghetti and pizza. The spaghetti was honestly pretty normal, I mean it was good and all, but it wasn’t very different that what I’d normally eat. The pizza though was incredible! Maybe I was just really hungry and going through withdrawals because Madrid’s pizza is nothing special, but I can’t even begin to describe how delicious it was. It was a mixture of cheeses, and it was amazingly awesome. The only other thing that compared in deliciousness was the gelato we had later. I don’t know what it is, but I think it just richer and creamier and awesomer than regular ice cream.
We found our way to all of the places on the map which included a large bridge on the main canal, a cathedral, a central square, and one that was on another that island that we never made it to. By this point, we had walked pretty far, so we decided to take the bus for fun, which was really a double decker boat, back to the northern part. It felt great out on the water, and it was really cool getting to see the city from that vantage point. We pondered what it would be like for that to be part of your daily commute. When we got off the boat, we still had a couple of hours before the train left, so we decided to just meander around and check out the random shops and whatnot. A lot of the air smelled like leather, and there were some seriously high end shops. I happened to see at least a couple coats that were priced at over 400 euros! The day was sort of dreary with intermittent rain and a cool breeze, which I know doesn’t sound that great, but as we wondered back through the alleyways it just seemed sort of fitting and relatively perfect. We were kind of losing steam at this point, and we figured we should probably eat before making the trek back to Milan, so we grabbed a slice of pizza at a small shop; it was good, but not as great as that first one.
Our train was scheduled to leave at 7:50, so right around 7 we decided to head out. Surprisingly, it had gotten very dark while we ate, which made reading the map nearly impossible. We were soon hopelessly lost, and the alleys were now pretty sparsely populated and the darkness gave them a sort of mid evil feel. It wasn’t exactly scary, but I just keep feeling like we were bound to see a rat or something. Once again, we stopped another random man and he told us to follow him to the right alley, which was very nice of him, but by the next turn or two we were lost again. We stopped a young couple and asked them for advice (I guess there were some locals out after all). They pointed out on our map where we were, and it turned out we were all the way on the other end of a different island from where we needed to be. They suggested we just take the water bus, but we weren’t about to pay another fare. They said it was at least a solid 20 minute walk, which was nothing compared to what had already walked throughout the day. They then gave us the most helpful piece of advice; the Italian word for train station is ferrovia, and there were signs in most of plazas leading right to it! We set out with more determination than I’ve experienced in a while. We weaved in and out of people and were practically running. Every time we turned another corner we’d have to scan the dimly lit brick building to find the ferrovia sign, then we’d take off in that direction. Alas, we emerged from a narrow alley and found ourselves at the grand canal directly opposite from the train station. Helena checked her watch again, and it had taken us under seven minutes, which had to be some sort of record. We made it safely onto the train and settled in for the ride back to Milan, which turned out to be last stop so we wouldn’t have to worry about missing it. But of course, I still couldn’t sleep.
From the water bus!
We ended up back at the central station in Milan and were then faced with the challenge of getting back to our hotel. The last shuttle left at 10:20, and it was almost 11 so that was out. We found a route that would involve a metro, a tram, then a bus, but we were pretty sure it would take pretty close our hotel. The problem was finding the right place to go! We asked the man working at the station, and he pointed and told us go “that way”. We did and we couldn’t find anything that closely resembled what we needed. We walked around for probably at least 30 minutes trying to find where to go with no luck. Not even any of the locals knew this time. We asked the man again, but he wasn’t much more help. It was almost midnight at this point, and I was exhausted, so we decide to cut our losses and get a cab. Although paying another fare wasn’t ideal, we concluded that of all the things that could have potentially went wrong that day, this was a very minor issue. The cab driver wasn’t very friendly either, but the coolest thing happened! Unlike everyone else we encountered that day, he couldn’t speak English. I wasn’t really sure what to do, so I tried speaking to him in Spanish, to which he replied in Italian, and we actually understood each other! It was really awesome. We finally reunited with Nola at the hotel and were relieved to have made it back safely. The three of had a really good time hanging out in the room and recounting our days. Overall, I could not have asked for a better experience.
We ended up staying up pretty late, but since the hotel breakfast ended at 10, we dragged ourselves downstairs around 9:40. We were definitely looking pretty rough, but we didn’t care. It was so great to actually have a full breakfast again! They had eggs and sausage, cereal, fruit, toast, and a bunch of different croissants, which were amazing! After a very satisfying meal we ended up going back to bed and sleeping into the afternoon, but it was totally worth it. We eventually got ready and caught the next shuttle downtown. Because Nola had been there they day before, we easily navigated the metro system to the central square.
The two coolest things there were this huge cathedral and mall thing. All of the stores there were Prada or Louis Baton, and basically any other super expensive designer you can think of. We ate lunch/dinner in a nice cafe and I got lasagna. It was pretty different than normal lasagna; it was kind of creamier and made it veal, and, again maybe I was just hungry, but it was amazing.
We spent most of the evening wondering in and out different shops and cafes around the central square. It was pretty crowded, but the atmosphere was cool. It continued to rain on and off, but it wasn’t too cold so I didn’t really mind. I tried grape gelato, and it was probably one of my favorite things. We eventually asked one of the locals where the night life happened and he told us we had to take the metro. We found our way to this pretty cool area that was a basically a square lined with bars and clubs. They were pretty expensive, but I think Europe might be the only place where soda typically cost more than beer. After a while, we took the metro back to where the shuttle could pick us up and made it back to the hotel without incident around 1:30 or so.
Sunday morning was a little rough though. Our flight was supposed to leave at 11, but the only shuttle we could take didn’t leave until 7:30. It took us a little over 30 minutes to make it to the metro, then we had to take that to a different station, and from there we had to take another 45 minute train to the airport. We got to the airport right before 10 and had wait for the shuttle to take us to the right gate. We were making decent time, but, of course, the line at security was ridiculously long. It moved quickly though and none of us were accosted, so we made it to our gate in time. We shouldn’t have been worried though because once again our flight was delayed anyway.
I was sad to leave to Italy because it had been a pretty exciting experience. Here are some of the main points I took away from the trip: The food in Italy is everything you would expect and pretty much worth the trip in itself; the people in the service will tell you want you need to know, but don’t always seem happy about it; most youngish looking people seem to speak English and are more than willing to help you find your way around; the public transportation sucks and nothing ever runs on time! Overall, I would absolutely go back anytime, and I really want to explore some either cities there now. It was kind of nice leaving the airport in Madrid though and knowing exactly where I was headed and how to get there. I am not, however, looking forward to another week classes, but again, I guess its all a compromise!