I went to Italy for the first time during my inter-semester break, with some of my best friends. I’ve always associated Italy with the stereo-typical sprawling vineyards and olive fields, dirt roads and brick farmhouses, and steaming plates of spaghetti shared by large families on warm evenings. While I hope that this is what the South might be like when I get to visit this summer, Milan was far from it.
It’s a cosmopolitan city, where well dressed Italians sip tiny cups of coffee, fingers tapping away on the keyboards of their Macbooks, scarves draped effortlessly around their necks. People linger in designer stores, hop from metro to tram and eat overpriced but utterly delicious pizza, baked in wood-fire ovens, of course. Thinking about it makes me want to be back on the balcony terrace of the apartment we stayed in, footsteps away from the sunlit Duomo, with coffee, patisseries and a blank page moleskine.
We did a lot of shopping. Being in Italy with that holiday feeling made clothes seem so much more attractive and money somewhat less important… We wandered through La Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II and flicked through books whose words we pretended we could learn to decipher on the plane back. There were many “let’s stop for a photo” moments and times we couldn’t resist sitting down for a drink to gaze at passers by and revel in how cultured we felt.
The Milanese have an “in and out” attitude to café stops. Coffee shops rarely have sitting areas, and instead there are table tops that line the walls, where customers can perch on rickety stools and grab a quick latte on their lunch break. Needless to say, this didn’t deter us, and we had many of these coffee breaks, consuming endless amounts of hot chocolate as thick as ganache, miniature fruit tarts, intricate hand made chocolate and colourful macarons. In fact, much of our sightseeing was done between stops at gelato counters, tearooms and delis!
We climbed up to the top of the Duomo (Milan Catherdral) just in time to watch the sunset one evening. The detail carved into the stone is breathtaking and it was mind-boggling to think about how it was built- it took six centuries to complete. Without trying to sound cheesy and philosophical, that moment of sunset while standing high above the streets of Milan was one of inner-peace. It was cold but refreshing, and as I stood on the edge with my friends, looking down at the people going about their daily lives, oblivious of me watching, I felt amazed at the world. Just the fact that the sun that was currently going down in front of my eyes was rising on the other side of the world made me marvel at what kind of force made this planet so perfect, different parts of it working together in harmony to create something that provides everything we need to stay alive.
On the last day we discovered the city bikes, the ones you can pick up in one area and drop off in another. We cycled to a different neighbourhood for lunch, where I ate salmon rigatoni with shallots and leeks (gorgeous!) and then around a big, woodland park with views of L’Arc de la Paix. It was so peaceful (I’m not saying that because of the Arc) and the idea of cycling to and from work if I end up on placement in Milan is really quite lovely. Dreams of a cream painted bicycle with a leather seat, a basket and bell come to mind…
It was a sweet and short trip, but one which gave a good first impresson of Italy. As expected, it wasn’t perfect. We met Italians who went out of their way to point us in the right direction, who were polite and loved that we made an effort with the language, and others who literally expected us to part and make way for them as they walked by. We spent some evenings with wine, good food and interesting conversation, and others that involved missing our metro stop and finding ourselves on the abandoned outskirts of the city.
Hearing the language, fast and fluid, full of warm tones and muscial rhythm, always accompanied by hand gestures and expression, confirmed my belief that Italian is one of the most beautiful languages ever spoken. I am loving learning to speak it and cannot wait to visit Italy again!