Julie and I took our first-ever, “plan-it-completely-on-our-own” trip this past weekend — to Milan and Verona! We kept knocking on wood the entire trip because, surprisingly, everything went according to plan. It was smooth sailin’…and we were so grateful!
After getting up at 4:20 am on Friday morning, we hailed a taxi to the airport (actually, no, we told the porter’s desk to call a taxi for us) and arrived within 30 minutes. Our taxi ride could have been the end of our trip: he was driving like a maniac. We were flying down the freeway. Granted, there were no cars at 5 in the morning, but something about going pedal-to-the-medal with a random taxi driver taking you to a random location is slightly terrifying. No mi piace!
After a brief flight (no 7+ hour flight here!) from Rome to Milan and a quick catnap while on board, we arrived in Milan safe and sound. I think we were both so excited to explore an entirely new city and full of adrenaline that our tiredness didn’t even hit us…yet, that is 🙂
We first stopped to drop our bags off in our hostel: the first hostel we had ever stayed at. On a 10-point rating system, I’d give it a 6. Ok, I may be a harsh judge (because I have absolutely nothing to compare it to and, really, there were no problems), but the owner was kind of weird. Slightly. However, they provided extra blankets (thanks to Jules, she let me take the 2 extra ones because she knows I’m always cold while I sleep; I’ve been known to sleep in my winter parka and under armour tights), so I was snug as a bug in a rug.
Here’s our “stellar” room:
The whole sharing a bathroom thing with people you don’t know wasn’t even all that weird. There was a separate bathroom for males and females, and there were really only a couple of rooms in the hostel (it was located on the 2nd floor of a building with a pretty ghetto sign; our first words when we saw it from the outside: “Ahh…that’s a little ghetto”). The strangest things? The shampoo/body wash we were given (I don’t even know if what was in those packets could be described as shampoo/body wash in the slightest sense) and the waffle-like textured towels:
This soooo reminds me of one of my Dad’s old shirts (I believe he had a navy blue and a red version…and maybe an evergreen-colored one as well?)…haha!
After dropping off our backpacks (we traveled light!), we headed straight to the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church. We were able to snag (for a slightly heftier price) tickets to see and have a guided “tour” of The Last Supper mural by Leonardo da Vinci.
I had urged Julie to do this with me, and I’m so happy she agreed to join me. For some reason, I had always wanted to visit this, and the brief, 30-minute tour completely fulfilled my expectations. First of all, I was happy it wasn’t a scam (you usually have to book these tickets months in advance). Second of all, though we were in the room for only 15 minutes (that’s all they allot you because of the need to keep the room at a consistent temperature/humidity level), I was completely in awe the entire 15 minutes.
You see, this painting has always been special to me. My grandparents have a replica hanging above their kitchen table (ok, did I really just need to say replica? Like they have the real thing in their house haha), and my family and I have often talked about it during meals…looking at the disciples’ expressions, Jesus’ actions, etc., etc. After telling my mom I had seen it (she was thrilled!), she asked if it was small. (We had both been surprised at how little the Mona Lisa was when we had seen it in Paris.) I told her that, in actuality, it’s a whole wall long & tall. It’s huge! After some years, the Friars who spent time in the church decided to make a door into the kitchen…so they cut into the painting, which is why you can no longer see Jesus’ feet (which Rick Steves’ told us were foreshadowing of the crucifixion, as they were crossed underneath the table). Those crazy Friars just needed that door, didn’t they? 🙂 What many people, including myself before this, don’t know is that on the other side of the church is a large mural of the crucifixion, completed by another artist working at the same time as da Vinci.
On the way to the metro from an astounding piece of visual history, we came across this Smart Car…which I have to say, is cooler than all the others I’ve seen thus far (and in Italy, there are A LOT of smart cars. I actually rode in my first one last week when the mom of the Italian kids I tutor picked me up!)…
Sweet, right? And I wonder why my brother got a Hyundai…
A few random tidbits about Milan:
- PDA is everywhere. (The Duomo is obviously THE place to make-out for super-cool adolescents; see the couple going at it hardcore in the above photo?)
- Puffy jackets are the jacket of choice for Milanese(?): think midnight blue, shiny vinyl jackets. And that is what you see…everywhere…
- Full-length fur jackets are the outfit of choice for elderly Milan women.
- Everybody looks good. all. the. time. (Relatively speaking.) But in comparison to other places I’ve traveled, I could definitely tell this was a fashion capital.
- The Metro is super-easy and cheap. Way easier than these crazy buses in Roma!
- One should stay away from the “foreigners” in front of the Duomo that pesker you, trying to give you birdseed to feed the annoyingly ugly pigeons. One guy stepped in while we were taking a photo. Homegirl was NOT happy about that.
Want to know what happens when you ask another “foreign” tourist to take a picture of you and a friend in front of the Duomo, one of the most beautiful churches in the entire world?
I mean, we basically could have been standing in front of a McDonald’s (featured later in this post — don’t freak out just yet ha!).
Second try from another tourist was a tad bit better. We waited until our first “photographer” cleared the scene, so he wouldn’t be offended.
I guess we were so picky with our photo because a picture like this really doesn’t do it justice. The spires at the top are such architectural masterpieces!
pushed and shoved gently made our way past an enormously large tourist group and headed inside to check it out.
The massive size of this building cannot be expressed in words. I think my breath caught a little when I stepped inside:
We tried to purchase tickets to walk to the top, but we forgot that Rick Steves’ told us that they don’t sell them past 4:30 pm. Whoops…good thing we were going to be around the next morning because, if it was up to me, we couldn’t leave Milan without seeing the views from the top of the Duomo.
Our hunger kicked in (c’mon…we’d been up since 4:30!) and we decided to take a little siesta for lunch. After looking at the menu posted outside (with colorful pictures, which we were warned never to go to because they’re more “touristy” and not as authentic), we popped a squat (for a fee, though; everything in Italy comes with a fee!) at:
This place did not disappoint. We enjoyed our respective sandwiches and pizza outside, next to a heat lamp 🙂
Julie’s choice? A pizza margherita. After her incessant raving about it — especially the sauce — I just had to have a bite (or 2). She was so so right: the sauce was divine! Just the perfect sweetness, with hints of basil and oodles of mozzarella cheese…
I selected il panino la brera for il pranzo (lunch). Thin slices of roasted turkey mingled with velvety goat cheese, layers of fresh greens, thick slices of tomato, and char-grilled zucchini…all atop toasted sesame bread. (Their lack of the foccacia bread the sandwich was supposed to come on was actually my gain!)
I kind of fell in love with this sandwich. “Tourist trap?” What tourist trap?!
I may have to recreate this at home!
Luckily, three wasn’t a crowd for us at Bar Mercurio: our bff Rick Steves joined us for lunch (actually, he was with us the ENTIRE weekend).
The rest of our Friday included stops at the Sforza Castle:
La Scala Opera House:
where Julie had a heart-to-heart with Rick:
La Galleria Vittorio Emanuele shopping mall:
We had to spin our heels on the Bull outside of the Prada store, natch 🙂 (It brings you luck, so they say!)
And plenty of random side-streets, that provided us with the coolest views:
After shopping on Corso Vittorio Emanuele for a while (I bought a striped sweater on sale(!) at Mango), we treated ourselves to a nice, leisurely dinner at a restaurant nearby.
It had been such a long (but good) day, so we relaxed with a (small) bottle of wine…and fresh pasta. One of my all-time FAVORITE meals is lasagna and it immediately popped out at me on the menu.
(I realize this isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing plate of lasagna, but please realize that one should never judge a lasagna by its appearance on the plate: this was delicious!)
A hefty, meat-filled sauce was a treat between layers and layers of tender noodles. Parmesan cheese on top, to boot! (Italy is the shape of a boot, get it?!) Though I loved this lasagna, I still must say that my favorite ever lasagna is my mom’s. (I am NOT sucking up here: she makes a killer lasagna.)
The rolls could have been a little softer (and a little less crusty), but it’s alllllll gooodddddd (10 points for anyone not in my immediate family who can tell me who coined that phrase!).
The waiters were kind of rushing us through our meal, but seeing as we were the only people in the restaurant (and this was even around 8 o’clock), we said we’d like to take our time. Our waiter asked where we were from, and after telling him we were from the United States — “Wisconsin to be exact” — he replied, “Oh I know Wisconsin well, I have friends who live in L.A.” Hmm…okay then? We smiled and laughed (after he left).
After a scrumptious dinner full of laughter; some tears, albeit brief (haha); and lots and lots of great conversation, Julie and I headed back to the hostel and got a much-needed good night of sleep. I fell asleep with the light on — that is how tired this girl was!
After getting up in the morning and showering/drying off with our “waffle-textured” towels, we checked out of the hostel, put our backpacks on our back (because we clearly don’t wear them on our stomachs – duh!),and went to the area near the Duomo to quick grab breakfast before climbing to the top of the church. Along the way, we found the cutest bakery…and it was hopping, so we knew it had to be good!
Loaves and loaves of bread lining the wood-paneled walls…
A smattering of sandwiches underneath the pristine glass counter…
Plentiful pastries tempting us from every direction…eat me, NO eat me!
Julie and I agreed that we would never get used to the fact that we “stumble upon” gorgeous-looking and divine-smelling bakeries on almost each and every corner. We were uber enticed by these chocolate chip muffins, so we each selected one to enjoy for la colazione (breakfast):
Yes, that is a McDonald’s “cafe” cup alongside my pretty little muffin. This breakfast may actually even give me a “muffin top.” Kidding, of course 🙂 Little did we know that the McDonald’s hot chocolate was literally melted chocolate. Nothing else. We resorted to dunking our muffins (already incredibly chocolately) into the “hot chocolate” and, when that proved a little too sweet, we just let it sit…can you say chocolate overload? However, I may have to stop in a few more McDonald’s while I’m here. Before you scream out in agony, let me tell you that they have slightly different menus here (I’m pretty sure I saw “kiwi on a stick”), and cheap and great-looking cafe items, as well. Hey, I’m on a budget! And…they are “swanky.” Literally. Newspapers, REAL cups for your coffee (like washable ones that you leave at the restaurant), low lighting, classy music. This is not your retro McDonald’s, ladies & gentlemen.
Two chocolate-filled girls then went to purchase tickets to climb to the top of the Duomo.
A few stairs later…
…We knew it had been worth it:
It was like I was on top of the world (love that song from The Parent Trap!)
Can I even put this into words? How am I so lucky…