Okay, my REAL birthday was a little while ago, but this past Saturday I got my present. Thanks to a very generous friend, I was able to go with Doc Sci on a kid-free, one-day trip to Milan, Italy!
Even if all Doc Sci and I did was take the bus to and from Italy by ourselves, the day would have been a success. Nevertheless, we really did have an amazing time above and beyond just being alone together, despite an unexpected wrench in our plans. But, more on that in a minute.
For this trip report, I thought it better to give you the play-by-play rather than the High Fives and Low Blows. It’s a bit long, so feel free to just browse the pictures if you’re short on time. Here we go!
5:02am – My cell phone alarm goes off. I hardly slept last night, convinced I’d sleep in and miss the bus. After a quick shower and bag check, we head downstairs.
5:37am – Doc Sci fixes my bike light and off we go in the dark, furiously racing toward the bus station. I’m practically hyperventilating since I haven’t ridden my bike in ages, let alone uphill or at breakneck speed.
5:54am – The bus is in sight! We lock up our bikes and board the five-star coach. Promptly at 6:00am, the bus driver makes a lot of announcements in German, most of which I understand (hooray!).
6:05am – We’re on the road, headed for the Swiss border. It only takes a minute or two for Doc Sci and I to pass out.
8:11am – The stop-and-start of a traffic jam jolts me from my sleep. The early morning fog over the Alps and nearby lakes keeps me awake. Breathtaking. Moments later, we’re heading into the Gotthard Road Tunnel, the third-longest road tunnel in the world. It goes on and on. I try to focus on eating a snack to combat claustrophobia.
8:34am – On the other side of the tunnel, we stop for a Frühstückspause (breakfast break). I’m annoyed at the pay-to-pee bathrooms until I realize that you can deduct the 1 euro toilet fee from your bill at the restaurant or shop. Fair enough. Doc Sci finds an extra voucher, and we leave with two Mars bars.
9:00am – Back on the bus, Doc Sci and I break out our books. I’m reading Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah, and he is engrossed in a Robert Ludlum thriller. We read all the way to the Italian border. We’re waved through, no passport checks. Come to think of it, I guess we didn’t have any checks at the Swiss border either.
11:29am – We arrive at the Castello Sforzesco (Milan Castle), our pick-up and drop-off point. The sun is shining, and it’s a warm 60F! I can’t believe how amazing the weather is. We stuff our jackets in Doc Sci’s backpack, and find our sunglasses.
11:36am – I’m studying the map when I see two little boys dressed as Mario and Luigi from Super Mario Brothers. I naively think they are fans of the Italian characters. However, those costumes should have been my first clue that something was awry…
12:02pm – We find our way to the Fabriano Boutique, the retail shop for a paper company established in 1264. I’ve got my heart set on purchasing some Italian stationery. I settle on a set of note cards depicting an architect’s view of Tuscany.
12:43pm – I check and re-check the address on my map. I’ve marked a budget lunch spot to grab a panini. The only problem? The restaurant doesn’t exist. We settle for a to-go pizza from MezzoDay a few doors down. We’re out of water though, so we need to find a mini-mart or supermarket.
12:55pm – We wander by Shockolat, a famous Gelateria and chocolate shop. We decide we would rather eat our pizza lunch first, and then have gelato. After a pit stop at the Cadorna train station, we wander the streets looking for water.
1:11pm – Still no water. We’ve seen several restaurants, but we want to buy a few liters, not a glass. Strange that the news kiosks only sell papers and magazines, no refreshments. We’re starving, so we eat our pizza lunch on the steps overlooking the Via XX. Settembre. Doc Sci discovers that MezzoDay gave us our pizza on a Disney Princesses paper plate. Hehe.
1:20pm – Thinking that we’ll have better luck in a more popular area, we head over to the Santa Maria delle Grazie, the church adjacent to the refectory that boasts Da Vinci’s famous Last Supper. We’re in luck – a convenience store is around the corner. We quench our thirst before picking up our tickets.
1:55pm – We line up for the viewing. Tickets for the Last Supper must be booked in advance (no walk-ups). Tour companies make a killing buying up the tickets and then re-selling them as a “guided tour.” If you book far enough in advance, you can pay the standard fee of 8 euros. But, we were rather last-minute (two weeks in advance) and had to pay 23 euros. Yikes.
2:00pm – The doors open and the tour group enters a series of three climate-controlled rooms. The painting is very fragile, and must be protected from dramatic changes in temperature and humidity. When we finally see the painting, it seems dim. This could be from the lack of direct light, or just the fact that it’s REALLY old. Visitors aren’t allowed up close, but it’s painted on the wall above my head anyway. I can barely understand the guide’s heavily-accented English. She talks for at least 12 minutes.
2:15pm – An announcement at exactly 15 minutes insists that the visit is over and all guests must leave. Twenty three euros for fifteen minutes in the presence of fame.
2:30pm – After a visit to the free bathrooms and the gift shop, we make our way to the Piazza Duomo where I am anxious to see the Milan Cathedral.
2:44pm – We hit Via Dante, the main road leading to the Piazza Duomo. It’s filled with people in costume. What is going on?! Confetti is being thrown, masks are being sold, silly string is being hawked. Oh no… Carnival. Apparently, it lasts four more days and includes the Saturday after Ash Wednesday. Yep, that’d be today.
2:52pm – Finally in the presence of the impressive Duomo, I’m completely distracted by the sheer numbers of PEOPLE. We seem to have also come at exactly the same time as the Carnival parade. Bullocks. Luckily, we are able to get through the crowd (and cut across the parade path) to enter the Cathedral. Our mission is to get on the roof.
3:16pm – Maneuvering the crowds to get on the roof isn’t easy, but we eventually make it. Seeing as a lot of our time and energy was being wasted pushing through crowds, we splurge and pay the extra 4 euros each to ride the elevator up and down. Being on top of the Duomo and looking at all the amazing architectural features (and the view!), is definitely one of the highlights of the day.
4:02pm – We want to visit a bakery marked on my map that’s close to the Piazza Duomo, but I’m sick of dodging teenagers with silly string and shaving cream, hoping and praying my camera doesn’t get doused. We give up on the city center and take the subway to Corso Buenos Aires, a street with somewhat affordable shopping.
4:26pm – I love Zara, and we don’t have one in our city. When I find myself in the store, though, I realize how pointless it is. They don’t have a maternity section. We visit a few other shops on the street. Doc Sci and I each end up buying a shirt. We also split a small gelato – two flavors, seriously dark chocolate and yogurt.
5:41pm – We find a supermarket on Corso Buenos Aires. I purchase some genuine Pecorino Romano and gamble that it will make it home without melting. We also add some pasta, pesto, and more water to our cart.
5:59pm – I lead the way to Pizza OK, a restaurant with a rumored 280 varieties of pizza. Doc Sci loves pepperoni pizza, and Germans don’t eat pepperoni (they use salami instead). Unfortunately, the restaurant is not open for dinner yet. We walk to the nearest subway stop, and catch at least five groups of dancers practicing in the big open station.
6:17pm – The Piazza Duomo is still teeming with people. We decide to try one more time to make our way to the bread shop, Princi. We find it, and surprisingly, it’s still open. Most of the bread is gone for the day, but I select what ends up being a multi-grain sourdough baguette. Yum! Princi also has foccacia and desserts, but I don’t want to spoil my upcoming dinner.
6:50pm – We take a walk past the Teatro alla Scala (opera house). It’s rather unimpressive from the outside. In the piazza across the street, we find a statue of Da Vinci who willingly poses with Doc Sci for a photo.
7:09pm – Our feet hurt, and we decide it’s time to sit down for dinner. Luckily, Trattoria Dei Magnani al Cantinone serves traditional Italian food starting at 7pm (Italians typically eat dinner around 9pm). Doc Sci caught a glimpse of a funky hamburger joint called Mama Burger just around the corner. He (erroneously) thinks he’s going to get a burger to go, so we just order Risotto Milanese and Insalata Fresca. Both dishes are delicious. We are the only people in the restaurant.
8:11pm – It’s gelato time again! We visit Grom on Via Santa Margherita, which is located right next to another Milan gelato chain, elatoG. elatoG only has a few flavors still ready at this time of night, so we both get two scoops in a cone from Grom. Doc Sci tries Caramello (amazing, with a hint of saltiness) and Straciatella (full of big chocolate chunks). I order what ends up being the best coffee gelato I’ve ever tasted and a scoop of yogurt (a bit on the sweet side).
8:17pm – We eat ice cream and hold hands, just two kids hanging out on a Saturday night in Italy.
8:46pm – Since he didn’t end up getting a burger to go, Doc Sci decides he needs one more pizza fix. He orders a quarter pie to go for the bus ride home, but it doesn’t even make it to the bus. He downs it while we walk around the Milan Castle grounds. We are impressed at the sheer size of it.
9:03pm – The bus arrives. We dump our heavy bags on board, and then sit on the grass for a few more minutes in Milan.
9:15pm – After more German announcements (again, mostly understood), we begin the drive back home. Doc Sci and I break out our books, determined to put a dent in the pages before we fall asleep totally exhausted.
11:49pm – Back at the same rest stop we visited earlier that morning, I debate whether to pay for the bathroom (the shop isn’t open) or use the teeny toilet on the bus. As luck would have it, the bathrooms are free when the shop is closed. I don’t spend much time outside as it’s raining and chilly.
12:10pm – On the road again. I decide I should quit reading and get some sleep.
2:25am – We arrive safe and sound back in Germany. In a daze, we collect our things from the bus and walk to our bikes. I have no idea how I’m going to make it home. Doc Sci reminds me that it’s downhill, and I find the strength to give it a go.
3:01am – We collapse in bed, exhausted. What a long but amazing day spent together, just the two of us.. in Milan, Italy!