I’ve mentioned several times in my posts that being abroad sometimes inspires you to do spontaneous things that you wouldn’t do normally. So imagine one of your friends who you have only known for about 2 weeks walks into the kitchen on a late September night saying she has found round-trip flights to Milan, for less than $80 a pop for a weekend in November. Traveling to Italy cheaply and making travel plans so early in the semester with new friends sounds pretty tempting, am I right?
September, October, and November flew by (the two weeklong travel breaks we had definitely made the time pass a little faster); we all were pretty drained from all the traveling we’d been doing all semester (literally traveling every two weeks); and we were over-stimulated from all the experiences we’ve had while traveling and in Copenhagen. As nice as it would have been to play the role of homebody for the weekend, I was nevertheless thrilled for our weekend trip to Milan. It would be my first time in Italy.
And for those that have never been to Italy, the thought of going there conjures up some pretty picturesque images: pigeons flying around neoclassical architecture in a grand piazza; waiters standing outside authentic Italian cafes begging passer byes to savor some vino and maybe an antipasto; gelato and coffee houses freely spreading mouth-watering aromas all around the city; regal canals providing smile-inducing views to any visitor or local. Granted, Milan isn’t Italy’s most popular city, but the affordability of the trip and the thought of getting to eat authentic Italian food was enough motivation to pack my bags and be at the Copenhagen airport on a cold, rainy night waiting patiently for my flight to Italy.
I’ve managed to have a lot of luck while traveling Europe to avoid being deceived by tourist attractions, getting ripped off, or feeling genuinely unsafe. Let’s just say the weekend in Milan provided many of the experiences I intended on avoiding. Within seconds of getting to a metro station, these men who spoke fluent English and wore jackets that gave my friends and I the slight impression they worked at the metro station showed us how to purchase metro tickets on the ticket machine. It became very obvious that they indeed did not work for said metro station after asking for a “tip” for their assistance and then attempting to steal the change I had received after buying ticket. Oh, but it gets worse…once we finally reach the metro stop by our hostel, we walk down what must have felt like the longest eerie street only to reach a run-down hostel with a bolted gate and a guard dog instead of a security guard. Granted, the walk would’ve probably been much less disconcerting had each of us not had all of our valuables with us in a single bag (unfortunately, Easy Jet only lets you take one small carry on bag onto the flight—no wonder its flights are so cheap).
After a very eye-opening first night in Milan, I was still hopeful that a day full of sightseeing would keep up our spirits. And to some degree, it was true. Saturday morning, nonetheless, was not devoid of mishaps. To avoid spending a lot of money on transportation, we planned out the day, so we’d take the metro to our first stop and then hit all the tourist attractions on the walk back to the hostel. Considering the weather was nice (at least relative to Copenhagen), we figured walking about 4 miles wouldn’t be too bad. Our first stop was the Naviglio Grande, this nice shopping area around Milan’s central canal. We must have ended up in the wrong part of the canal…because there was no canal. Well, there were remnants of a canal, but there was no water. It was all dried up. And that confused us. Instead of trying to figure out what went wrong in our planning (we all have a lot of experience figuring out European cities just from so much traveling during the semester), we just gave up and decided to head over to our next destiation—Da Vinci’s “Last Supper.”
I found it quite random that the “Last Supper” was in Milan. The painting is located inside this very pretty church a short walk from the Piazza del Duomo—right in the touristy heart of the city. There were very few people around, so we found ourselves at the front of the line to see this Da Vinci masterpiece. Upon approaching the desk for tickets, the receptionist interrupts us with a mere two words, “Reservations Required,” that couldn’t have been more a tribute to our lack of planning. But in our defense, there was literally no one in this church, but rules are rules, and they couldn’t let us in unless we had made reservations at least a week in advance. So no “Last Supper” for us. But, hey, I still got to have my pic with Leonardo’s work.
I’m making this sound like the trip from hell, but that definitely wasn’t the case. Our day ended on a great note. We eventually made it to the Duomo—the third largest church in Christendom. No matter where you go in Italy, there’s bound to be some world-famous church. After walking around this beautiful church, we decided to pay the small fee to climb to the top of the church. And that was incredibly memorable. As opposed to other churches that let you climb to the top, the path on the Duomo’s roof walks you through the architecture—letting you see the magnificent spires up close, something I had yet to see in such detail. Definitely the optimistic boost our endurance required.
From the Duomo, we walked through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy’s oldest shopping mall. Parts of the ceiling are made entirely of glass, and art works hang openly on the walls. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Though I purchased nothing during my time in Milan (it’s way too expensive), Milan is the recognized European fashion capital, so window-shopping proved entertaining.
I shouldn’t get started on the food, because I might not be able to stop talking about it. It was the best cheap food I’ve had in Europe—which is surprising, considering how expensive everything else in Milan is. But I shouldn’t question it because I have zero complaints. From traditional Italian gelato with fresh melted chocolate at the bottom of the cone to mouth-watering pastas, I never found myself roaming the streets of Milan hungry. I was also really happy I got to eat a sandwich from Bar della Crocetta, a famous Milanese café with savory sandwiches. At 10 euros a sandwich (probably the most expensive meal I had the entire weekend—and that’s on the cheap side in other cities I’ve been too), it best be the tastiest sandwich out there. And it definitely was.
What they say about Italian espresso is true. For someone who can’t go a day without coffee in the morning, exploring the country where espresso was invented guaranteed access to the best tasting coffee at a reasonable price (I paid on average one euro for cappuccinos). Coffee’s a pretty big deal in my life, so getting amazing coffee for cheap made Milan that much more memorable. I definitely recommend going to any city in Italy just to eat your way through it.
Milan also had interesting nightlife. People tend to dress up a lot more than in other cities I’ve visited. And it seems that everyone in the city goes to the same two clubs on Friday and Saturday. We ended up at this club called Alcatraz (we had heard good things about it) on Saturday night, and it felt more like a warehouse. It was easily the largest nightclub I’d ever seen. To our surprise, a Queen cover band (called Queen Mania) was playing for the first few hours we were there. And they were AWESOME. Frederico Mercury was great on vocals, and the whole experience made for a great last night in the city.
It’s difficult to look back on this weekend and call it anything else but an experience. I feared for my safety on several occasions; the tourist attractions were pretty underwhelming; and the language barrier proved to be more challenging than anticipated. However, I have nothing but praise for the many beautiful churches scattered throughout the city; eating some of the most delicious food I’ve ever had for so cheap; and sharing endless laughs with a group of people I know will stay friends for life. Milan wasn’t my favorite city, but some of my favorite memories from the semester were made during this trip—and that’s all that matters. Plus, it’s hard to call it an unsuccessful weekend after having this view of the Alps be your last memory of the trip: