It’s Friday, April 14, and I’m writing this post from Milano Porta Garibaldi, one of Milan’s train stations, while waiting for my 23:17 train to Rome. I’m sipping lukewarm Pepsi from the station’s supermarket because (surprise, surprise) all the coffee shops are closed at 9 o’clock at night—even in Italy. I’ve spent 1.10 Euros to use public bathrooms today.
(Now, it’s late on Saturday night and I’m publishing this post from Rome. Lack of internet has delayed this posting so it’s happening now. Treat the narrative as if you’re reading on Friday. 😉 )
It’s my first day of spring break and I’ve spent the day wandering through this beautiful city, my first stop in Italy. But I’ll get into that at the end of this post… First, here’s a quick catch-up of the rest of my week.
This week in pictures
Monday was stupidly beautiful. Clear, sunny, temperatures tickling 80 degrees… I wore a sundress and my new sandals…and spent much of the day at my desk at CERN, inside. 😦
On Tuesday, Pauline and I held our weekly meeting in Parc des Bastions to enjoy the warm weather. These flowers caught my eye on the walk home.
I recently discovered that our window opens on both sides (this was not obvious, I swear) so I spent some time in the warm afternoon lounging on our pseudo-balcony and reading. I may just make a nest here…
Thursday was spent finalizing my spring break plans, so I didn’t do much to enjoy the spring weather. (“Finalizing” is probably too strong of a word, I’m winging half of this trip.) My picture today is of my breakfast. Since BU provides this meal, it rarely changes throughout the week:
- 2-3 slices of grainy bread with peanut butter
- 1 slice of grainy braid (or sometimes potato bread, if I’m feeling wild) with strawberry jam (unless they’re out of strawberry, in which case I take black currant)
- 1 bowl of corn flakes and milk
- 1 cup of coffee with ½ packet of sugar and a splash of milk
- Sometimes, 1 cup of apricot yogurt (not pictured here)
- On Thursdays and Fridays: a plum, apple, or banana (also not pictured here)
Many street poles in Geneva have dog bag dispensers marked “Caninette”. They provide convenient dog-poop bags for when you’re walking your canine and need to clean up its business. It also seems customary to then leave the used bag on the side of the street…? (IDK, they’re always gone by the next day, so maybe it’s customary.)
Milano // Friday 14.04.17
I have never travelled alone before. I have flown solo many times, but then I’ve always met someone at my destination (which is usually another US city). I’ve heard that travelling alone can be thrilling, liberating! This spring break is my first real experience travelling internationally “alone”, and I’m terrified.
My bus ride was easy enough, but much longer than anticipated. I left Geneva at 7:45 and was scheduled to arrive in Milan shortly after noon. But there was a lot of traffic leading up to the French border and, for a while, we were at a standstill on tight twists of road in the French Alps. (I’ll admit, it was one of the better traffic jams I’ve experienced, being surrounded on all sides by majestic mountains and swaths of forest.) In addition to that, our bus got held up at the Italian border for at least 45 minutes as border patrol checked everyone’s passports.
As soon as our bus driver announced we were approaching the Milano bus station (at close to 2pm), another car cut him off. He responded by honking his horn and mumbling to us “Welcome to Italia.”
Upon arrival, I was definitely a bit disoriented. I bought my city bus ticket and found my way to Milano Centrale, the main train station, easily enough; there, I left my bags at the storage lockers. (My train later that night was out of Porta Garibaldi, but Centrale is the only place with luggage storage and the two stations are only a few blocks apart.) I then walked for half hour to Piazza del Duomo where most of the city’s tourist attractions are located.
My first priority was to climb to the roof of the famous Duomo di Milano (or Milan Cathedral). After some searching, I finally found the unexpectedly-crowded ticket office and grabbed a number: 743.
They had just called number 628.
I debated leaving right there and not bothering to climb the Duomo, but this was really the only thing I had come to see in Milan. So I stayed. The six ticket clerks were pretty efficient, but the long line at the single self-serve kiosk seemed to be moving faster. If I bought at the kiosk, I wouldn’t receive my student discount, but I was afraid I wouldn’t have time to climb the Duomo if I waited for a ticket agent. I decided this would be worth the full-priced 9 Euro ticket.
I ended up having plenty of time to enjoy the Duomo’s Terrazze (terrace). After experiencing Notre Dame in Paris, I expected the line to be much longer than it actually was. But I was through the gates and climbing the stairs in 60 seconds; the ascent to the roof was also much shorter than I anticipated. I suppose that shouldn’t have been so surprising—the cathedral isn’t very tall.
Still, the views from the top were lovely. The sun was just beginning to sink in the sky, casting a golden glow over the intricately-carved spires that sprouted from every surface of the cathedral. On the uppermost level of the roof, tourists lounged on the slanted stone surface, basking in the late-afternoon sunlight.
(Photos coming soon! The internet in this hostel isn’t very good…)
UPDATE 17/04/17: Yay! I can finally upload!
I almost wish I had spent more time on the roof. Once on the ground, I checked the time and found that, from the initial ticket purchase to leaving the Duomo, only 30 minutes had passed. But, to be honest, I don’t know what I would have done on that rooftop, alone with my thoughts. This entire afternoon was proving to be an interesting experiment in being with myself. So far, I was just anxious.
I was also hungry. I made my first stop in Maddie’s Italian Gelato Tour 2k17 at a bustling joint called Grom. My flavors of choice today were fragola (strawberry) and limone (lemon). It was the perfect tangy combination to satisfy my sweet tooth.
I sat in the piazza, savoring my gelato and listening to a pair of street performers (they were very good). There really wasn’t much more I planned on doing here, aside from dinner and maybe some window shopping.
To tackle the former task I headed to Spontini, a pizza chain with slices of cheese pizza for 4 Euro. It probably isn’t the most authentic pizza in Milan, but it did the job. The crust was a lovely texture, soft and airy, but I still couldn’t even finish the entire piece. Sigh.
The rest of my day in Milan was uneventful. I wandered around the city, keeping mostly to the area around the Duomo until the sun began to set and I headed back to the train station.
(Again…more pictures to come….) 17/04/17: Uploaded!
I kept telling myself I’d stop at a café on my walk back so I could kick of Maddie’s Italian Coffee Tour 2k17 but I never did. Since I’d need to navigate from Milano Centrale to Porta Garibaldi, I wanted to make sure I’d have enough time to get there before it got dark. I told myself that once I got to Garibaldi, I could sit down at a nice café with wifi, have a cup of coffee and write this blog post.
And here we are. I have discovered that coffee is hard to come by, even in Italy, at this late hour. So I’ve settled for caffeinated pop to keep me awake until my train leaves. It’s a hard lesson to learn.
Initial thoughts on travelling alone
I don’t like it.
I’m not sure I can fairly say that after only 15 hours of being by myself, but that’s truthfully how I feel so far. This aloneness is different from flying solo between American cities or even travelling from Chicago to Geneva to meet up with 60 other Bostonians. Not only am I physically by myself, but I’m also alone emotionally this time. (Does that make sense? Eh.) I don’t speak Italian and I have no one familiar in my immediate vicinity. It’s disorienting. It’s uncomfortable.
I’ve done so little talking today that my mouth tastes stale from lack of movement. Many times today, I’ve felt like I’m moving through a dream, as if I need other people to notice me in order to validate my existence. Melodramatic? Perhaps. It is only the first day and I’m rather sleep deprived….
While eating my dinner at Spontini this evening, I overheard the conversation between three English-speakers eating next to me. The only female in the trio was recounting her travels that led up to her meeting them here in Milan: Brussels, Berlin, Zurich…. She had done all this travelling on her own, and this spurred a conversation about how much they they all prefer solo travel. The usual pros circulated: you don’t have to wait for anyone, you can be responsible for yourself, you don’t need to try and coordinate with others, you can do whatever you want whenever you want to do it.
This is all true, and I certainly have to agree with some of those points. It is definitely freeing to be able to do whatever I want without having to take others’ desires into account.
But one thing I’m learning about myself is that I like to share my experiences with others. I would have loved to sit on the roof of the Duomo with a close friend and talk for a while, but being by myself, I rushed through.
I enjoy travelling, but I also have quite a bit of travel anxiety. I get nervous and crabby before I leave for the airport or train station and every little hiccup plunges me into a worse mood. I can’t settle down until I’m at the airport gate or train platform. Long security lines once made me miss a flight and I cried for hours, even though the airline was able to put me on a flight a couple hours later.
Travelling solo allows my travel-anxiety to manifest itself in every way, unfortunately. I rushed through many activities in Milan because I was afraid I wouldn’t “have time” to do everything else. Mostly, I wanted to make sure I caught my train to Rome at the end of the day; for that to happen, I had to make it to Porta Garibaldi safely, and in order to do that, I’d have to get there before the sun set completely.
As a result, I put off grabbing coffee until I couldn’t get any anymore. But at least I’m at the platform.
I’m an introvert, but this half-day of travelling alone has shown me that I do desire to be around people—specifically, friends.
Fortunately for me, I’ll be meeting up with friends for most other activities on my trip. Perhaps unfortunately, this means I won’t be able to truly test how I enjoy travelling by myself. Maybe I’m just not cut out for it. Then again, maybe it’s like schoolchildren with math: saying “I’m not cut out for it” is just an excuse because we’re actually just scared of it.
We shall see how the rest of the week goes. I’ll update y’all here as often as I can!