Italy Trip 2021 Part 1: Milan

Jesse and I decided to take an out-of-country trip, our first since arriving in Spain, and we found some cheap flights to Milan so decided to go. At first we thought of driving into Switzerland, but that was way too expensive, then we thought Austria, but that was too far for the places we wanted to go; we thought more about it and finally decided to stay in Italy and visit Cinque Terre and Florence. I wrote a bit in my journal as we were leaving, and as there is a lot to show and tell, I will break up the trip into parts. Part One is from my journal.

We are on the way to the airport, our first time being in an airport and on a plane since we arrived five months ago. It is crazy to think about it, five months feels like five days that feels like five years, time has been so odd since we’ve been living in Spain. From our first experience at the (mostly) deserted Asturias airport, dropping off the rental car with some questionable “agents,” taking a cab to our first place in Gijón, directing the cabbie there using my very basic and broken Spanish, traveling down streets that were so quiet, due to covid restrictions. Now, the city is back in full swing, though still we are required to wear masks indoors and on the bus. Though summer is ending, and with that there will be cooler days, and fewer tourists. Just as we are about to be tourists at two of the biggest spots in Italy.

We have become comfortable with bus travel in Gijón and Spain, and we even attained our Ayuntunamiento cards (or city citizenship cards) and we were too excited, possibly the most excited the desk worker had seen, to receive them. Getting used to a new city can be difficult, but we’ve made Gijón feel like home. We have made a few friends (more than we made in five years in Los Angeles) and we have walked the city so much that I no longer need the map app to get where we need to go. A year ago, I did not know of Gijón or Asturias, and now I love the place.

Gijón, from way high up

We lost our Spanish teacher to an internship doing subtitles for movies in Madrid, so we wished her well with a bottle of cava (Spanish sparkling wine). She was a very good teacher, we liked her teaching style, and we will miss her. Though that also presented an opportunity to take a break from language school, though we will start different classes given by the local Red Cross next week, which will hopefully lead to some good volunteer opportunities as well.

Anyway, back to our trip. After an uneventful short flight to Madrid and a slightly longer flight into Milan, we arrived and walked right out of the airport. Which was a surprise, as every other European trip we had to wait in the long customs line, but since we are temporary EU citizens, no lines for us. We never even had to present our US passports once. It felt odd, or in some way wrong, but that’s how it is for EU citizens.

We only had the evening in Milan, so we had the cabbie take us to the Best Hotel. Yes, its name is the Best, and when the cabbie asked me to tell him the hotel name, and I said the Best, he said, “no, you can try saying it in Italian,” until I showed him my phone and that the name of the hotel was, the Best (He did think we were in Milan for fashion week, so bully for us?) It was not the Best hotel ever, rather a conveniently located place near the train station with an adequate breakfast. We dropped our bags off, found the nearest place to eat, split a pizza (the first of many), and went to bed.

In the morning, I made multiple trips to buy our train tickets for La Spieza, which was the city closest to Cinque Terre that still had reasonably priced hotel rooms, and also the port and train station nearby to explore the towns of Cinque Terre. It took me multiple times because, first, the ticket machine wouldn’t take card payment, then I didn’t have enough cash, then, when I returned with enough cash, I learned I had to present our Covid CDC vaccination cards to an actual agent. Finally the tickets were in hand, and we were on our way. This was the second time I had traveled through Milan’s train station, and it is one of the more impressive, and busy, stations I have been through. It is worth looking up, and inspecting all the cool architecture throughout.

My favorite part of Milan is walking the city, past all the fifteen foot tall gates and doors that, if you are lucky, peek inside the large courtyards of the inner buildings. Some are truly spectacular, with fancy, tall fountains, palm trees and Mercedes parked just inside, with air conditioning pumping out that can be felt, surprisingly, as one walks past. Some are more basic, with cracked cobblestones and some grass, and I wonder, does a single family own this, or do all the apartments face these impressive courtyards? Sometimes I want to know, and wonder if the residents throw coins and make wishes in these fountains, and sometimes I don’t, and just imagine that they do. Speculation in this way makes me feel like a kid again, not knowing but being content with imagining, because it does not matter what goes on inside these courtyards, behind the large doors, just that they exist is enough for me.

Milan is a big city, always people on the move, with narrow sidewalks and cafes and mini-marts and Doner kebabs and Chinese food restaurants and other foods not native to Italy, (though they all sell pizza) and hair cutting and nail salons and so many bars, and I’m reminded of the big cities, like Chicago and Bilbao and Paris and Los Angeles, and while all big cities have this buzz about them, that they never sleep but only rest for a short time, but that they are dirty and one has to be on guard, not to run into other people, or bikes, or cars, and watch out for dog poop and pickpockets and the smell of cigarettes, trash, and urine can sometimes be too much, and it reinforces in my mind that I do not want to live in a big city again, but who knows. I do know that, for this trip, I have kept my expectations low, hope for them to be exceeded, but know that getting to enjoy new places with the love of my life means I am as lucky as one could be, and I find solace in that fact.

Stay tuned for the next posts, detailing our times in La Spezia, Cinque Terre, and Florence!

Published by Phil Barrington

Currently living in Spain, Accountant by Day, Writer by Night. Lover of baseball, travel ,and spreadsheets. Check out my blog:

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