On Friday, I met up with our Milan hosts, Samuel and Giovanni, at their apartment near Hyde Park. They were coincidentally leaving Milan for London on the same day as us for a wedding and wanted to hang out here as well. Mads and I somehow ended up spending 7 hours at their apartment! It’s amazing what wine, good food, chocolate, and silly games can do to an evening (albeit some awkward encounters…)
Let’s talk about Milan: We got off our train, encouraged by the great time at Bologna with Elio, and were greeted by an enthusiastic Samuel and Stefano. Neither could speak English very well, but they were so warm and welcoming. In the car, one of the first things Stefano asked was, “Do you guys eat sandwiches?” We said yes and he literally did the equivalent of jumping up and down in the passenger seat. It’s amazing how sandwiches have the power to bring the world together.
Samuel’s house was completely different from Elio’s apartment, which looked like it belonged to a college student. His house was spotless and tastefully decorated (zen gardens, fish tank, wall paintings, fully-equipped kitchen, real beds, dozens of hygiene products in the bathroom). Samuel also treated us to a home cooked meal of risotto with saffron, mozzarella&meat, wine, and sorbet with passion fruit. He lives alone, but not really because his friends come over almost every night. It was such a blast meeting all these loud and happy Italian men in their late 20’s still hanging out like they were uni students. Host success round 2.
That night, our hosts were also ready to hit the town. This was a Monday night, mind you, and my hosts were grown men with real jobs. Boy do these Italians enjoy life! They took us to an area with a lot of bars and restaurants near the river. We walked towards this church with real Roman columns, where so many Italians were just hanging out with drinks and friends. To be fair, there was a massive free concert going on that night but I was still entertained watching everyone relax on a warm Monday night.
Milan is a much more happening city for things to do. I can still remember the moment I emerged from the metro at Duomo. The grand white mass standing in the sunlight took my breath away. I’m not usually impressed by architecture (Notre Dame was just okay) but this cathedral did it. While snapping obligatory tourist photos in front of Duomo, a strange man comes up to me, grabs my hand, and shoves some corn kernels into them. I was taken by so much surprise that I didn’t even realize what was happening until I suddenly saw a giant flock of grey pigeons thunderously head towards my face and hands. I screamed (I don’t like pigeons) while these birds pecked away at the corn. Somewhere very deep inside me underneath the fear and disgust, I felt elated to have such an “Italian” encounter with these infamous birds.
Speaking of Italian experiences, I had my first aperitivo time in Milan! For those who don’t know, Italians take great pleasure in eating. When their day ends, they relax from a hard days work at aperitivo, a pre-meal drink usually accompanied with small snacks. It’s their version of an upgraded Happy Hour, now typically including a complementary buffet spread of finger sandwiches, pizza, cheese, bruschetta, rice, etc. When I first go to Italy, it was so frustrating that no restaurants were open during a typical American dinner time (5-7PM) because everyone was out drinking! When I tried aperitivo, I knew why these Italians could hold off an actual meal until 8 or so. My experience was much more humble because we were about to go out with Samuel’s friends for a real dinner, but I’ve walked through bars serving food fit for a meal!
One of my favorite purchases in Europe is from this Milan trip. A street artist named Abraham draws portraits with a pencil, brush, and charcoal for 20 euros. At first, I thought the price was a bit hefty. But as I watched him draw a woman, I knew this artist was special. He had an eye for detail and his technique was impeccable. The mixture of textures from the brush and pencil made the drawing so much more alive. I made the decision to come back the next day and get my portrait done. As vain as it sounds, I knew that my parents would love to hang somewhere. Abraham must have liked me (I guess I did take the time to find him again) because he spent over an hour on my portrait instead of the half hour he normally does. I was nervous about how it would turn out but when I saw the finished product for the first time, I knew this was money well spent.
Italy wasn’t great for my thighs thanks to the multiple gelato cones and carb-heavy meals. I couldn’t care less because I’m alive, grateful for the kind strangers in this world, and filled with great memories.
This is my last Europe trip for now. I’m so grateful that I was able to end my travels with a bang! God has been so good, blessing me with opportunities to enjoy His world.