For a quick update on my Milanese life, so far I’d say tutto posto. I live no more than a 5-minute walk away from school, I live with the most amazing roommate (Ciao Ari!), class rarely starts before 1 p.m., and I’ve already made long-lasting friends from all around the world (shoutout to Austria + U.K. + Holland). As I continue to settle in, I must admit there are things I could do without, such as stores closing during lunch hours or floors starting with one rather than zero, and more things I could do with, such as having air conditioning or a microwave. And yet, those minor inconveniences are completely overshadowed by feelings of complete excitement for the new adventures I’ve encountered, pure joy for the genuine relationships I’ve created and sweet moments we’ve shared together, and gratitude towards my school and family for supporting me in this experience.
As home to major financial corporations, fashion designers and industrial powerhouses, Milan is a metropolis for business, history, art and design alike. The culture is eclectic and inclusive, such that a variety of different countries from all over the world are incorporated into the culture here. The mix of Chinese, African, Milanese, Filipino, Russian, and many other cultures make Milan a truly international city where there is a place for everyone (including study abroad students).
In comparison to other Italian cities like Rome or Venice, many say Milan is a small city. I never understood how a city of more than 1.3 million people could be considered small, and yet it already feels like a home away from home. In the city center you have the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, the Duomo di Milano, the ornate glass-roofed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II decorated with mosaics and the city’s most popular luxury shops, and the world famous opera house known as the Teatro alla Scala. Surrounding these main attractions are smaller unique districts, such as the artsy, creative streets of Brera or the lively canals of nightlife in Navigli. While cars rush by and days go quickly, the environment and pace of life itself is somehow slow, such that I am able to appreciate little by little, every moment as delicately, intimately, and thoroughly cherished in the present.
Despite all the chaos that comes with moving half way around the world, the somewhat somber saying “You can sleep when you’re dead” constantly reminds me that each moment here is precious time that only comes once, and that there is no better time than now to do what I want to do, see what I want to see, and be with whom and where I want to be. That said, I am learning that good adventures are planned, but even better ones are unplanned. Barely one whole day in Milan, and I was off to Lake Como with one of my best friends Chelsea, who just so happened to be in Europe the same time as myself. Yearning to return to Lake Como for the second time, we hopped on a train from Milan to Varenna, which is one of the five main cities situated around the center of Lago di Como. After about an hour’s ride, we arrived in Varenna and booked our stay through Airbnb at Tosca B&B. Upon our evening arrival, we were greeted by Mamma Tosca, who is basically the Italian grandmother we never had. She is a little old lady full of joy and Italian-ness who treats you like you are one of her own.
The next morning we woke up to the smell of fresh, homemade croissants, a lovely breakfast and a balcony view overlooking the lake. Long story short, if you are looking for a place to stay in Varenna, stay here. Though small, Varenna is a quaint and charming town that offers great lake views and relaxing activities, like touring the gardens of Villa Cipressi or Villa Monastero. After opting for the former garden, we rented kayaks from Boats2Rent and spent the afternoon on the lake enjoying the sun and the views around us. Saying arrivederci to Varenna, we grabbed the next daily ferry to the popular yet always pleasant Bellagio. Strolling the cute-shop lined streets with gelato in hand after our lovely lunch at Far Out, our just-short-of-closing visit to I Giardini di Villa Melzi left our night ending with sunset views from La Punta and a wonderful dinner at the Ristorant Bilacus. Getting to spend a weekend with a familiar face reminded me of a few things. One, that though the world may be big, it is also so small. And two, that my sense of home is not just where I live, but the people I live with and how lucky I am to have friends, and thus a piece of home, all over the world.
Bringing out the PNW in me, one thing on my to-do list was to hike in the Dolomite mountains. The Dolomites, also known as the “Pale Mountains”, are a range of Italian mountains in the northern Italian Alps. With 18 peaks hovering higher than 3,000m, this mountains feature some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes in the world, with sheer cliffs, vertical walls and deep, narrow and long valleys that are ideal for any nature-seeker, hiking enthusiast, outdoors aficionado, or pure admirer of life.
Spontaneity at its prime, three friends and myself rented a car from Sicily by Car from the Linate Airport and drove to Campo Carlo Magno in the Brenta mountain region of Italy. From Campo Carlo Magno Pass, you can take the cable car all the way to the top (about 12 euros one way) to the Groste Pass. I thought we had beautiful mountains in Washington, but this tops them all as I have never seen anything so incredible in my life. I don’t know if if was the elevation, but I was truly speechless.
Off the cable car, we took in all the beauty around us at 2442m (8012 ft) and then decided to take the “expert” hike number 23, trail 316. Through large boulders and breathtaking panoramas, about 3.5 hours later we finally reached our memorable night stay in Rifugio Tuckett. Scattered among the mountains are rifugios and Rifugio Tuckett is one set in the most unassuming and unbelievable locations. Though our extremely spontaneous trip somehow worked out to our advantage, it is almost necessary to make reservations, pack warm clothing and bring your own sleeping bag for a quality stay.An almost celestial experience waking up among the Dolomites gave us the rest of the day to head down trail 318 through Sella del Freddolin to Rifugio Casinei, and then taking 317 to Malga Vallesinella bassa and finding base. For a more detailed description of our hike, you can find a map here. On our drive back, we stopped by the stunning Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy, which is a definite addition to any trip over this area.
Overall, the trip itself was a once in a lifetime experience, but it was not just the sights I saw, but truly the people I experienced it with that made the trip that much more special. Meeting for the first time at the car rental, getting stuck in the toll lane on the freeway, discovering waterfalls and sleeping on towels, climbing up and falling down just to get good pictures, and failing miserably at pumping gas at an Italian gas station are just a few of the ridiculous yet memorable moments to add to list of stories to tell.