I started to type this post last weekend and it mysteriously deleted itself when I was almost done, so I lost the excitement to recreate it at the time – so here is attempt #2!
It has been a few weeks since the trip to Italy and I am still missing it. I spent a summer semester of college in Florence and was lucky to get to travel around the country while there, and then after college I took a European tour with one of my brothers and we got to hop our way through Italy which was fun for me to get to share with him. But I haven’t been back since, and that was in 2006, so it was a long overdue visit back to one of my very favorite places in the whole world.
My bestie and I have had the tradition for the past 6 years of traveling somewhere in the late summer/early fall. Travel to Europe is cheaper then, the weather is nice, our vacation time has accrued, etc. We also are VERY travel compatible which is crucial :) — we have similar interests in what to see or not see, tend to feel the same about how/when to spend money or when we’d rather cut costs, and after being friends since 8th grade (what is that, like 15 years now?! Eek!) we just generally enjoy each other’s company, haha. So a couple months ago we finally decided it was time to pull the trigger on figuring out where we’d go this year, and book some tickets and hotel rooms. We chose Italy. We’ve both had a lot of stress and craziness going on, so instead of a trip where we’re go-go-go every day and coming home even more exhausted than when we left, we decided on a happy medium – a little more fast-paced at the start, then leisurely and relaxing at the end. And since we both read a ton of travel blogs and sites before we left, I wanted to make sure I cover my favorite parts and pass along to knowledge to others.
We left on a Wednesday afternoon from DC and flew to Milan (with a brief layover in Paris) on AirFrance. I can’t remember if I’ve flown their airline before, but it was pretty nice. Definitely so confusing to start the trip with lots of “bonjour” and “merci” while I’d been trying to dig deep into my Italian language remnants and prepare for a week in Italy. But the flights were good, food was good, movies were good., all good. Oh except for the guy who was sitting next to Laura and was extremely smelly. Every time he moved it was asphyxiating. Laura and I looked like mysterious ladies because as the flight took off we took our Zzzquil, put on our eye masks, and wrapped our travel scarves around our faces to cover our noses from his smell and attempt to filter his coughing and nose-blowing of germs from our breathing. If you knew how bad the smell was you would understand why this was entirely necessary to survive the 8 hours.
We arrived in Milan early in the morning on Thursday, hopped on the bus at the airport and headed into town. We walked from the stop to our hotel, checked in, changed into new clothes in the lobby restrooms, left our bags, and set out for a day of fun and exploring. The only thing we had set for the day was timed tickets in the late afternoon to see The Last Supper. We went to a wine store that had been recommended to us
and picked up some gift wine, wandered around a bit, saw the castle in the middle of town in the big park, had lunch at a yummy café along the pedestrian street that runs between the castle (Castello Sforzesco)
and the Duomo, got some gelato at Shockolat (best gelato I had all trip!),
went to see The Last Supper,
walked back to the Duomo to climb to the roof and see the views,
then grabbed some food and went back to our hotel to crash.
(Pics from our lunch — that was our first coffee drink of the trip — a Shakerato! — espresso shaken in a martini shaker with ice then poured out into a glass — other variations involve whiskey or other alcohols)
Friday we were up early to snag a piece of fruit from the breakfast spread and hustle to the meet-up spot to get on the bus for our day tour to Switzerland. I love the site Viator.com for booking tours in just about any location you’re traveling to. When I was in Japan I booked a tour of Kyoto through this site, last year we booked tours in Iceland through the site. They are great, the reviews are super helpful, and essentially they’re booking tours for you through local companies. So we got to where the bus was picking up everyone, hopped on, and enjoy the ride past Lake Como and up to Tirano where we enjoyed a VERY coffee beverage that became a trip favorite – the marocchino, and then boarded the train to Switzerland. The train ride was basically 2 ½ hours of seeing every living postcard imaginable of the Alps. It was stunning. The ride ended in St. Moritz, Switzerland where we had about an hour and a half or so to wander around and shop and take more pictures, then we met the bus and were taken back to Milan.
Saturday we got up early again, hopped on the metro to the get to the train station, grabbed a quick coffee and pastry in the train station (sooooo yummy)
and boarded our 3 hour train ride to Cinque Terre. This is a place I totally fell in love with during my time in Italy during college. These 5 little towns are so charming and vibrant. Definitely a not-to-miss stop on anyone’s trip to Italy if you have a day to spare to hop on a train and get over there. I know people will stay multiple days in this area, but I think even if you have 1 day it’s definitely worth it. You can buy a train pass to take the inner city (I don’t remember exactly what it’s called) back and forth between the 5 towns. Or like we did, we took the train from Milan to Monterosso, then in the little info/travel center on the train platform we bought a ticket to go straight to the 1st town and then a ticket that allowed us to get on and off at each town going the other direction to work our way back for our evening train to Milan. The day was just a lot of walking, picture taking, browsing shops, stopping for coffee and gelato – or as the case actually was…gelato with espresso poured over it. Mmmmm….heavenly! Our train was at 6:30pm to get back to Milan and we almost wished we had picked the one an hour earlier because we were tired and could’ve been just as well headed back sooner, but we still loved the full day of exploring the towns.
Sunday we headed to Florence!! I’ll make another post about that in a bit
Let’s wrap this up with a summary:
Best Gelato: Shockolat
Best Coffee: Marocchino (pronounced marokino)
Wine Shop Recommendation:
The ladies in this store are super sweet and super helpful. Walking in here feels like walking into a great used bookstore, where everywhere you look you are so delighted and intrigued and want to look and touch
Fratelli Berlucchi s.p.a.
2 Via Castelfidardo, Milano IT
St Bernina Express to Switzerland
(Always search for coupon codes for Viator before you pay full price for any of their trips)
(Before you decide to pay $160 a person for a planned tour to Cinque Terre I would highly recommend you think about doing it on your own – the train ticktets for both of us including the tickets for the trains between towns in Cinque Terre were about $95 total – that’s a huge savings!) The fares from Milan to Monterosso were $37 for both tickets (it was a 2 for 1 fare) and it was the same headed back.
Sightseeing for a steal:
-Book your tickets in advance online for the Last Supper and you’ll pay about $11 a ticket instead of $70+ trying to book a “jump the line” type of ticket offered by many tour companies. Don’t be discouraged if your dates don’t appear on the available ticket calendar right away as it changes constantly. I think we ended up getting ours about 9 days before our trip and our date choice only appeared on like the 4th time I checked that day so I jumped right on it. The official website for booking Last Supper tickets is Vivaticket http://www.vivaticket.it/index.php?nvpg[evento]&id_evento=298097&wms_op=cenacoloVinciano&change_language=1
Hotel Romana Residence
-The hotel was helpful, clean, had free wifi internet, free breakfast (even though we were never around in the morning to have it), and with the city of Milan being so large and sprawling, this location was perfect for walking to most of the tourist sites, was a pretty safe and quiet area for the 2 of us walking back late at night from our travels, and it was right next to a metro stop that was only a few stops from the train station which was perfect. I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking to stay close to the sites and be able to have easy transport around town.