Friday, May 3, 2013

Italy: Killing a Day in Milan

Duomo cathedral in Milan, Italy

My current situation: I have been briefly detained in Micronesia, trying to catch a flight out of Guam to continue a long, complex journey home from my extended weekend in Asia.  I'll post some of the crazy stories and pics from this week's compact Asian adventure in the coming weeks!

But first, we conclude our previous Switzerland: A Protest in Lausanne, Switzerland story (link) and finish in Milan, Italy...

Avocado and eggs. Sebastien, a buddy Kathy and I met last year at Club Med in the Turks and Caicos Islands, whipped us up a quick breakfast before we left his second story flat in Lausanne, Switzerland. We walked downstairs, up the hill, past the site of the previous day's protest in front of the Church of Saint-Fran├žois (pictured below), and to Seb's bus stop.

Seb and I said our groggy goodbyes, and I continued on to the Lausanne train station.

Zurich was my planned destination, but second thoughts crept into my mind as I waited in line to buy a train ticket.  The flights out of Zurich to visit friends at my next European stop (and back to New York) were overbooked.

Plan B: I had friends in both Italy and France I could visit. And Milan was only a short train ride away from southern Switzerland!

Houtan from Bologna and Neal & Sandy from San Francisco were my seat mates on the train ride from Switzerland to Italy. They had some fascinating stories to tell.

Rail side views of Switzerland's and Italy's mountains, forests and rivers were breathtaking!

Crossing over Italy's border from Switzerland

Houtan and I talked for a while at the Milan train station before parting ways. He transferred to a train heading home, and I hopped on a couple of Metro lines to find the hostel I had booked that morning from Switzerland.

A much longer than usual roundup of my backpacking blunders from Milan: 

  • Getting into an unnecessary tussle during check-in at the Milan Hostel Emmy
  • Searching all over my Milan neighborhood for a bank that WASN'T inexplicably closed at 3:00 p.m.on a random Tuesday
  • Getting hosed by the exchange rate at the central bank, (plus a 5 Euro commission charge that exclusively applies to exchanging Swiss Francs?  Do Italian bankers hate the Swiss?)
  • Trying to view Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" at Santa Maria delle Grazie without ordering a reserved ticket weeks in advance
  • Accidentally ordering a portion of food and beverage that was big enough to feed 1/3 of my table mates
 At least my new friends got a good laugh at that last one.

Here are some of the more memorable sights from that evening:

Duomo: The 2nd largest church in the world, this is one of the most spectacular Gothic cathedrals I've ever entered; The 135 spires and nearly 3200 statues on the roof and marble facade make for an eye popping approach.  From the floor level on the inside, visitors are only 165 steps plus 4 Euros away from reaching the panoramic view of Milan on the roof!

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (also pictured above, next to Duomo): The historic "shopping mall" of Milan, filled with designer boutiques

Spinning on the bull's, um, jewels:  This PG-rated Italian superstition is so common that I saw several passersby casually take a one-heeled spin for good luck without looking down... or even breaking conversation!

Ahhh, gelato:  The Italian cuisine and espresso delighted me all day and evening, but nothing brought me to my knees like this double gelato from Grom.  How are these even legal?

Riding the jam packed evening Metro line out of the Milan tourist area to begin my night out on the town

I've also left out some truly awful pictures which don't do justice to: Via Dante (including the museums of Castello Sforzesco), Basilica di Sant' Ambrogio (Milan's oldest church), Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace), Teatro della Scala (world famous opera house), and night life in the Brera district.

Later that night, some German college students and I hit up a pizzeria near our hostel to catch the end of a (tape delayed?) soccer game. They taught me some boisterous cheers, sang some ridiculous songs, and snapped a lot of pictures. We stayed well past closing time, until the owner patiently showed us the door around 1 a.m. With a 7:15 a.m. train to catch in the morning, I resisted their pleas to drag me to their next hangout.


The next morning, I overslept my alarm. My bunk mates groaned as I attempted a silent in-room shower and hasty backpack stuffing session.

Ringing the bell at the front desk, I waited in vain for the hostel owner to appear. Not a peep from his room. Choosing between the return of my hostel deposit and catching the dead last train to make my flight, I forfeited my 20 Euro deposit. The hostel has yet to respond to my emails about overcharging me at check-in AND hoarding my deposit.

Closing advice

Reserve tickets in advance to see "The Last Supper," and do not stay at the Milan Hostel Emmy.  But definitely visit the beautiful country of Italy!

And if you're in the neighborhood, Milan isn't a bad place to kill a day.

Coming Thursday on Garth's Blog...

Photos from the journey of Lena learning to walk!!

And also in the month of May...

* A Mother's Day tribute to Kathy *
* An E.P.I.C. Student Ministry Update *
* This week's adventures in Asia and Micronesia *
[Update: Check back here on the 1st week of June for stories and pics from my Asia trip]

...And more!!!

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