We visited two cities in Italy: Milan and Venice. I know for a fact that I am not going to give Milan a fair shake in this review because it’s based on about a 24-hour stay in which I was nearly mugged; however, there is nothing in my being that makes me ever want to go back to that city. I disliked it sooo much, I didn’t even take one picture in that city. Not one.
Last October, after I finished the Fantastic 3 Workshop with Nik Pekridis, Keda.Z, and Johnson Wee, I embarked on the vacation of a lifetime. I stayed an additional 17 days touring through six other European countries after leaving Scotland. I visited the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and France.
[I planned this whole trip on my own using Route Perfect, Ryan Air, Easy Jet and Euro Rail’s web sites.]
European Tour: Italy Review
We left Madrid late in the afternoon on a Ryan Air flight and landed in Bergamo at nearly nine o’clock. We then took what seemed like an hour-long Taxi ride to Milan where we checked into our hotel room. We were hungry, so we asked the hotel clerk to recommend a place to eat. She recommended a very popular restaurant, called Novecento, about a 20-minute walk away from our hotel. Not knowing anything about the neighborhood we were in, we proceeded to dinner. About 10 minutes into our walk, we noticed walls with graffiti and what looked to be like an abandoned hospital, but we were hungry and the restaurant came highly recommended so we blindly kept walking.
We arrived safely and enjoyed a delicious salad, a scrumptious pizza, and some local brew. When I asked for crushed red pepper for our pizza, our waiter brought me an entire plant—still in a pot! We were also introduced to the idea of paying a coperto. A coperto is basically a cover charge to be a patron in a restaurant. It’s added on top of the menu items and in addition to any tip or servizio that you are going to give the wait staff. After a confused conversation in broken English, we finally understood the concept and started our walk home without incident. We slumbered well.
The next afternoon, we were to take a train into Venice. Since the hotel staff had been so helpful the night before, we consulted with them again and asked for directions to take the subway to the train station. We were feeling really confident with our traveling skills. Not only did they give us verbal instructions, they armed us with a map of the city. Nice. We packed our rolling suitcases and headed out early. We planned to put our suitcases in a storage locker and explore the city around the train station before we departed.
Everything went well until we got to the roundabout from hell where the entry to the subway was supposed to be. This was an intersection of about eight streets, six street car tracks, five parked food trucks, four taxi wait lanes, three nature trails, and no noticeable entry to the metro… well, as best I could tell. After dragging our 40-something- pound suitcases in circles for few minutes, I finally decided to ask a local for help. She was walking away from what we would later discover to be the metro entrance. She appeared to not understand even a single word of what I was saying, so I showed her the word subway, translated to Italian, on my phone. She quickly pointed to a set of stairs, barely noticeable, on the complete opposite side of the roundabout and then proceeded to walk away from us. I was again confident in my skills at traveling abroad.
We took off to the entrance. Finally, after crossing all the streets and curbs with our itty bitty suitcase wheels, we started to descend into the metro. I turned to ask Yolanda if she needed help, and our “helper” was suddenly there behind us. I made a mental note and went on about my business of getting me and my belongings to the bottom of the 317 steps. At the bottom, I was suddenly and slightly logistically confused again. I was almost certain, but not 100%, that I needed to turn right. There was a thick, bold purple line painted on the wall to the right. The hotel staff told us that we needed to take the purple line to the train station. Painted to the left was a thick, bold red line. I assumed that indicated the way to the red line. I was 99.9% sure I was deciphering these very basic communications correctly. However, I wanted to be 100% sure. I looked for someone to ask. What do you know? This same lady was there and eager to help. She looked so innocent. She couldn’t have been more than 25-years-old. She was well-dressed. She was well-kept. She seemed trustworthy. We somehow communicated that we needed to get to the purple line by showing her our city map and telling her we were going to Venice. She told us to turn left down this corridor. What the what?
Puzzled, I looked at Yolanda and told her that I didn’t think this was correct. Yolanda told me that I wasn’t from here and to listen to this girl. Okay?! So, left we went.
The end of this hallway opened into about three or four more hallways, and one of them contained turnstiles to enter the subway, presumably. Before we entered, I wanted to consult my map one more time. Our helper, who had followed us down this hall too, passed us up and proceeded down one of the other three hallways. We looked at the map for about three or four minutes and then the mysterious helper came back and entered into a coin-operated photobooth of all places. She closed the curtain. Then we could see her using a reflective surface in the photobooth to watch what we were doing. Things were getting weird… fast.
I told Yolanda to act like she was on her phone while I continued to consult our map.
Luckily, it wasn’t too long before three men who were dressed identical came walking down the hallway. I approached them and asked if they spoke English. YES. I asked them the way to the purple line. What do you know? We should have taken a right at the bottom of the stairs. GREAT.
(In hindsight, I don’t know whether these men were metro security, metro workers or some type of policemen and why I didn’t explain to them what was going on.)
So, suitcases in tow, we backtracked. We followed the purple line to get to the purple line.
That victory was short lived. Once again, we encountered the turnstiles you couldn’t see beyond and my confidence level shriveled up again. I wanted to be sure we knew what we were doing before we actually passed through those things. While I, once again, consulted with the trusty map, things got all mucked up. We noticed our friend eyeing us from the other side of the turnstiles. However, this time she was trying to hide behind a pillar and this time she had friends. When I saw this, I told Yolanda, “Let’s just get the %#$&! out of here. No subway ride or international experience is worth getting mugged. Once we’re on a metro car, no one can help us.”
So, we found the nearest exit—just steps away, instantly resurfaced at ground level, summoned a taxi and was at the train station in about 20 minutes totally weary of nearly each person we encountered.
We later learned that there are bands of “gypsies” who prey on unsuspecting tourists like this all the time. Luckily, it was these gypsies’ first day on the job, or so it seemed. They were not very good at this. We’re pretty certain we spotted another gang of gypsies in the train station right outside the McDonalds® where we waited for our train. Luckily, so did the police.
Yolanda and I finally got on the train to Venice. We passed the time by taking pictures on our iPads of each other while sleeping and then embellishing the images with obscenities on each other’s faces. We also enjoyed looking at grape country. We met a man who worked for a company who built wood-burning stoves. He laughed out loud when we showed him the stove my father uses in his hunting cabin. He never showed us his.
I am sure there must be something pleasant about Milan. We were unsuccessful in discovering it. Venice was an entirely different ball of wax.
We arrived after dark.
It was so tricky finding our hotel because Google Maps® doesn’t work too well on this series of tiny islands. It actually routed us through an alley and to the backdoor of some business with a sign on it that indicated we were trespassing.
We found a backdoor of a restaurant open nearby and poked our heads in. We asked the worker inside if he knew where our hotel was. He gave us a series of very confusing directions that contained a lot of lefts, a lot of rights and few bridge crossings. I honestly didn’t think we’d be able to find our hotel in the dark. Visions of myself sleeping under one of the foot bridges with my head propped on my suitcase briefly flashed through my head.
We followed the directions the best we could and eventually found ourselves in the middle of a courtyard with a military guard shed. Reluctantly, I approached the military men and asked if they knew where the Kosher House Giardino Dei Melograni was. There was no flashing neon sign. In fact, there was no sign of any kind. Can you believe it was no less than 20 feet right behind them? We found our hotel in the dark without any help from Google Maps. That night, we fell asleep listening to the sounds of a very unfamiliar Jewish tradition that involved singing and dancing outside in the courtyard.
Venice was my favorite city that we visited abroad. It was so peaceful, friendly, and quaint. I would go back there in a New York minute.
We didn’t go on any excursions here, other than visiting my album maker. We basically spent each of the three days and nights here meandering through the skinny “streets,” reading all the restaurants’ menus but ultimately eating pizza at the same restaurant night after night, getting to know our waitress on a first name basis (I mean to the point that on the third night she already knew what we were going to order and brought the crushed red pepper before I asked for it), getting gelato after dinner, watching the street artists, enjoying fish pedicures, shopping for souvenirs, and walking from tiny island to tiny island unafraid of the unknown. We relaxed in this city. We actually deserved it after the ordeal we lived through in Milan. I actually regret not taking Venice more seriously and doing actual concrete, touristy stuff here.
Here are some of my favorite images and memories of Venice:
Next stop… Germany—birth place of my oldest daughter!
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