As anyone who has visited Italy can attest, one trip is never enough. After my first visit in 2008, I had to return as soon as possible. I took a day off work for a four-day weekend in January 2010 to explore more of Rome.
While Rome will never fall on a list of my top 25 cities I’d want to live in due to the constant chaos of people everywhere, I must say that the second visit was more enjoyable than the first. For one, I wasn’t spending my first Christmas away from my mom back in the States. For another, I was able to focus on Rome. Thanks to Ryan Air, I had an all too-early flight, but it was worth it when the plane arrived at Roma Ciampiano. I was back in Italia for more pizza, pasta, gelato and practising Italiano.
One of the first things I did was a return visit to the Vaticano to see the St. Peter Basilica without being rushed in and out during a Midnight Mass. I was impressed with the architecture and beauty of it all. While I am in general opposed to the Church using money to build extravagant churches instead of helping the poor, I have to say that the basilica left me astonished. I may not have felt the presence of God like I do in smaller churches (I refer to the quiet stillness one feels in older cathedrals around Spain as God’s presence).
I also went to Ostia Antica, an archaeological site outside of Rome. I was wanting to visit Pompeii, but time and money wasn’t going to permit that trip this time around. (It’s on my bucket list though). It was once the seaport to Rome, but over time it now lies 3 kilometres from the sea. Seeing these ruins was an awesome thing, and I was able to learn quite a lot about Roman history here. Then a gelato on the nearby beach made the day perfect.
I also managed to find my way back to Fontanta di Trevi many times, of course. This trip was more relaxed, and I got more out of it, just roaming the cities and not having to rush from place to place, monument to monument, as I could explore the streets more than the attractions this time around. I love roaming around city streets and spend most of my travel time doing this than doing a walking tour of 5000 monuments in 20 minutes.
However, it would be my third trip to Italia in 2012 that is by far my favourite. I know I just typed a few paragraphs above that the chaos of Rome is a major deterrent to my enjoyment of the city. However, it was the Puente de diciembre of 2012 when I went to Milan and fell in love with the city. Milan is the Italian fashion and finance capital. It has over a million people and one of the world’s busiest airports. Chaos.
But for whatever reason, Milan spoke to me. The Duomo (Cathedral) of Milano is very impressive, and I had so much fun window shopping at Dolce and Gabanna, Versace and all the other shops of the big designers. In Italia, window-shopping is an art, as I get the impression that if you enter the store, they’re going to expect you to purchase something. I’m not going to buy a 300€ pair of boxer-briefs, let alone a 3000€ suit, no matter how pretty it is. However, just walking around this neighbourhood was exciting. I did make a purchase of a 15€ sweater/jumper at a shop close to the Duomo.
One of my biggest questions about Italia is that with how amazing their food is, they still have McDonalds. C’mon! And so close to the Duomo?
On a last-minute whim, I purchased a ticket to see The Last Supper, which I am glad I did. After my 2008 trip when I was like “Ok, I’m not paying money to museums like this again”, I went back on my word, thinking that I might regret being so close without ever seeing it. Il Cenacola/L’ultima cena is painted on the wall of the Santa Maria delle Grazie church, and most of the time, you have to book tickets months in advance. I lucked out. During WWII, the world almost lost this amazing painting as the refractory where it’s located was bombed. The wall in which it is painted remained standing, although there is obvious damage to the painting from being so close to the bombs.
There are constant restoration works, and there are a series of doors that open and closed to control the air allowed in. A Spanish family who was on the English tour with me (my Italian unfortunately is only at an A2 level) were quite grateful that I was able to translate the important parts they didn’t understand for them. My high school Spanish teacher was right. You never know when you’ll be able to use your español.
On Friday of this trip, I went to Verona, home of la casa de Giulietta (Juliette) and one of my favourite works, Romeo and Juliet. While there is more to see (a more impressive, more intact Colosseum than the one in Rome,
many old castles and palaces, molte piacce (many plazas) and a beautiful river), it is the mansion that the Capulets would have lived in that impressed the literature geek in me. I asked “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore thou art Romeo?” from the balcony
and touched her breast for good luck. (It is an actual tradition.)
The mansion was actually owned by the dell Capello family, but it is not such a stretch of one’s mind that it could be the Capulets.
The best part of the trip was when the snow began to fall in the late afternoon as I was breaking Italian tradition and having a cappuccino in the afternoon. (Italians don’t drink cappuccino after 11, or so they say.) It was too cold for gelato. I had missed the snow so much, and it gave the city a more romantic feeling.
Milano park Thursday
Same Park Saturday after the snow
On Saturday, my original plan was to go to Lago di Como, but I wanted to stick around Milano more to explore neighbourhoods I hadn’t been to. I went to the canals in the south part of the city and to a market in the big park. And I had more pasta and went for more window-shopping.
All in all, the third trip to Italia was the charm, and I am hoping for my fourth trip to happen in early 2015. I know I’m breaking the tradition of going every two years, but…now I just have to decide between more of Northern Italia (Cinque Citte, Turino, Genoa) or explore the charms of Sicilia or Napoli (although the mafia does frighten me a bit in Napoli!) Italia is a place I will return to time and time again.