A week in northern Italy

Northern Italy, a region of industry, intriguing history, stunning mountains and enchanting lakes. My Greek girlfriend, Tatiana and I spent a week exploring this region with no sight between us!

Two nights in Milan, two nights in Verona, a day in Padua and another night in Como, before returning to Milan for one more evening of hospitality.

We flew from Athens, Greece to Milan, Malpensa on 27th October and returned a week later. There are frequent, reasonably priced Easy Jet flights between the two cities.

Upon landing at Malpensa, a suburb city of Milan, about 30 miles, 50 km from Milan’s centre, we took the shuttle bus – EUR 7.50 to the central train station.

With help, we then caught a bus which dropped us near the hostel we’d booked. We were located about a fifteen minute journey from Milan’s centre, but since Milan has excellent transportation – bus, metro, tram, exploring the city was simple.

We had two nights in the capital of fashion. Our first evening was spent just relaxing and the second evening was spent in local company – a friend of Tatiana’s.

During the day, we explored some of the sites. Milan has several historical and notable churches-basilicas the most interesting being the Cathedral ‘Duomo’ of Milan. It is a huge Romanesque-Gothic monstrosity of a building, which we discovered by strolling around its interior and later walking passed some of its exterior. The audio guide, which is available in several languages, help provide explanation to its many famous windows, altars and other exhibits. The huge candelabra is a must see. Tatiana and I wanted to take the lift-elevator to go up on the roof to take pictures and experience the upper atmosphere, but we were denied due to the excuse of health and safety or, in my mind, discrimination! Tatiana speaks good Italian, but still, it wasn’t worth arguing about.

We explored the Piazza dei Duomo, Cathedral Square – the main square of Milan in the city’s centre. This is where the cathedral lies. The Galaria Vittorio Emannuel II – a glass roofed shopping arcade also begins at this square. Several palaces including the Reale Palazzo, Royal Palace are to be found on and around the Piazza dei Duomo. It is a lively area and the shopping mall is fascinating, full of glass fronted shops and cafes, busy with people talking, eating and wandering.

An interesting spectacle and must do when in Milan, is to take a spin on the Bull! In the centre of the Gallaria Vittorio Emannuel II, are floor tiles with printed pictures. One such tile contains an imprint of a Bull with his privates missing! If you take a spin on this bull, it is supposed to bring you good luck and fortune! After much searching, asking many people, getting lost and being sent in the wrong direction several times, a young couple from Germany, tourists like ourselves, helped us find it. Tatiana and I did our spin and then went in search of Panserotto, a delicious Milanese snack. This consists of a sweet bread filled with cheese and tomato source, folded in half and fried! It cost about EUR 2.50 and was excellent. Although, we did have to cue for what felt like forever.

We later visited Teatro ala Skala, the famous opera house, built in 1778 – two hundred years before I was born! It’s close to the main square and although the museum is not that interesting as most objects are behind glass, it is worth visiting just to enter one of the boxes and view the theatre and stage. Just standing in the tiny box, which seats about four people, you get a sense of grandeur and awe – imagine the atmosphere on an evening of great opera, everyone dressed in their finest. We met a kind Italian named Matteas on the street. He helped us enter the Skala and showed us around the museum briefly before helping us across the road and into the nearby Piazza dei Skala.

We next visited Verona with its various attractions of squares, churches and Roman ruins. We stayed in a nice guesthouse near Piazza del Brar – Verona’s largest square. This interesting square contains the Roman Arena, now used for summer concerts and events, a lovely central fountain and a historical clocktower. The square’s apex is lined with colourful cafes and restaurants. We visited one such place on our first evening in the city. It was named the Hipopottemous and had outdoor tables with heated lamps.

We spent an entire day exploring, wandering the narrow cobbled streets, packed with Saturday shoppers and market goers. Apparently, the autumn market was in full swing and we became entangled in the stalls and products later in the afternoon. We began our explorations in the Brar Square and a kind, local couple helped us find and enter the ancient Roman Arena. It was largely an open space of rough ground, which you enter through a kind of tunnel entrance, that slopes downwards into the arena. At one time, chariot races occurred in this arena. We felt a couple of enormous, stone square pillars.

Next we followed the main pedestrian street into the centre of the city. We explored Piazzas Erbe and Signori respectfully – the latter contains a statue of Dante and has the Arco del Costo on one side. We asked several people for directions to the house of Juliette of the famed Juliette and Romeo. We were given several directions, which took us along many medieval, narrow cobbled streets, but alas, we kept hitting blocked streets. Eventually, a really kind, local man showed us the way and even helped us enter the house, ascend the two flights of steep stairs and go onto the famous balcony. There’s a statue of Juliette in the courtyard on a plinth with one breast revealed to the public. Tatiana stood on the plinth and she was able to touch her. We both rubbed Juliette’s breast for good luck!

We finished the day’s investigations by stumbling through the open market and finally, discovered the church of Santa Anastasia, which is Tatiana’s first name. We listened to the organ in practice, before wandering around the large, open church. It was quiet and cool. We found several statues and angels to feel plus an altar or two. When travelling as a blind person, finding objects to tuch and atmosphere to sense is an important part of the entire adventure.

Next we headed to Padua for a night and this is where problems began! We caught the train with assistance and on arrival in Padua, took a bus to the location of our accommodation. However, we missed the stop and had to go back. We found ourselves in a kind of residential countryside, trees and fences and few people. I had remembered the directions of the guesthouse from the bus stop, so we set off in what we hoped was the right way. Luckily, we met a lady who knew the guesthouse we wanted. We discovered that the guesthouse was located far from Padua’s centre and was surrounded by a large car park set back from the road. Thus, it made it more difficult to find. We settled in before going into the city to find food and get our bearings.

Padua has a large square called Prato della Valle, a huge piazza with a canal in its centre ringed by a balustrade containing 78 large statues of significant figures. Once in the centre, we went in search of a cafe, but since it was only 5.00 pm most places weren’t open. We did eventually find a cafe and had coffee before going exploring. We returned to the Prato della Valle, where the bus had dropped us and crossed the road intending to explore the piazza. it was at this point that we encountered some Italian gipsies. I didn’t understand what was happening, and before I was able to take in the situation, one of them had taken my camera and run off. It was an upsetting moment. It has happened to me before and was most frustrating. Nevertheless, once I had recovered from the shock, we continued walking along by the canal, attempting to feel the huge statues with our canes.

As it was getting cold and it was already dark, we returned to the guesthouse and continued our endeavours the following morning. We found Padua somewhat frustrating, partly because we didn’t know where we were going, and partly due to the expansiveness of the area. However, we did manage to meet a couple of nice locals, one who helped us find the Basilica of San Anthony, a huge church with interesting monuments. The day we visited was All Saints day in Italy and a service was in progress. We managed to visit St. Anthony’s tomb, but I was denied from taking photos. We also met another kind lady on the street who took us to the church of Santa Justina, a lovely church which faces and overlooks the Prato della Valle. We heard the bells being wrung as we approached, which was magical. Once inside, we felt the vastness and expansiveness of this wonderful historical church.

We eventually headed to the train station and discovered to reach Como, on the lake, we had to return to Milan and change trains. Therefore, we arrived at our booked guesthouse in Como around midnight. Luckily, the owner was a kind gentle individual and he even upgraded our room when he saw we were blind. We spent a relaxing day in Como, walking around by some of the lake, listening to the ducks and other birds, before briefly visiting the town’s cathedral and main square. We had lunch in a lakeside cafe before taking a bus to the train station and with some assistance, caught a train back to Milan.

We stayed with Tatiana’s friend for one night, before catching our early flight back to Athens. A delightful trip with only one unhappy incident. Verona, we certainly intend to revisit, but there are many more places and cities in northern Italy to keep us busy for a significant time to come. I’m now relaxing in Greece until December when Tatiana and I return to England for a few days.


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