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Bologna and Milano, Italy: Memories Old And New

ITALY

Heather Markel, Best Selling Author, TEDx Speaker, Traveler, Full Time Travel and Business Coach

MANY years ago, let’s just say a long, long, time ago, like in Star Wars, rather than mention the year, (Ok it was the 90s) I studied Italian at the Centro di Cultura di Bologna. I’m now on a train from Bari to visit it for the first time…in a long time!

Arrival In Bologna

When I arrive at the train station, I don’t recognize anything. I had presumed that I’d arrive and memories would instantly flood back, but, sadly, no. I go check in at my airbnb, (I booked it only a couple days in advance so was lucky to find something not insanely expensive which took some work!) and then take a walk. Nearby, I don’t recognize anything. I’m too hungry to get upset about that, and set out to find something to eat. I end up at a neighborhood restaurant shortly before they close for lunch. I have a delicious pasta dish, and then use Google maps to get to the city center. And, of course, I stop for a shakerino on the way – I will miss these cosmo-like coffee drinks!

Durres port

At some point during my walk, memories do come in, especially at the Piazza Maggiore, where I spent so many days sitting on the steps and people watching with my classmates, and got to know Mårten from Sweden who became my boyfriend while there.

Exploring Bologna

I scout out a restaurant my friend Jessica told me about, Sfoglia Rina. I make a mental note to return there tomorrow. I also try to find my old school, but either my GPS is wonky, or I just can’t figure it out. I’m not sure whether they moved since I studied there, or I just don’t remember the area well, and sadly, I don’t get to go say hello.

bari port

An Attempt To Trip My Memory Lane

The next day, I jump on a hop-on, hop-off bus. I love using these as an inexpensive tour guide. I remember, when I studied here, how the city got magically bigger each week as our culture guide brought us someplace new each week. Once again, I see this city is much larger than I imagine. I think it’s because so much life transpires in the old part of town, near Piazza Maggiore, and the towers there.

I’m back in the city center just in time to wait on line at Sfoglia Rina for lunch. I’m not too far from the beginning of the line, and very lucky, because before they open, there is already a line down the block! About 20 minutes later, I’m shown to a seat. They make their pasta fresh each day. I was obsessed with finding lasagna. Nobody had it because it’s hot in Italy and not made by many people in the summer. I order it and quickly wish I had taken their special pasta insted. The lasagna is good, but I’m full in about three bites! I would definitely come back, but I’d order completely differently.

I enjoy seeing Bologna again and this strange sense memory experience of places I remember, and others I do not. I discover churches and old buildings  and eventually relax with an afternoon cocktail. I’m lucky to snag a table underneath some arches because it starts to pour. I invite a couple seated at an outside table to join me so they can finish their drink and keep dry. We have a lovely conversation before going our separate ways for the evening.

Bari castle
meeting Jessica
me with Bari police

I spend some time sitting at the Piazza Maggiore taking everything in, and enjoy just walking about the beautiful streets of Bologna for the evening. The beautiful colors of the buildings are what really capture my senses. I end my day by eating a sensational seafood dinner and then go home and pack my bags as I have an early train in the morning.

Last Stop In Italy – Milan

Another quick train ride, and I’m now in Milano. I’ve never been so don’t know what to expect. Unfortunately, the hotels are ungodly expensive so I have literally one afternoon to see Milan before heading to Paris tomorrow. What’s extra disappointing about my hotel is that, though I’ve paid an arm and a leg, I get put in an annex and the room is dingy and looks more like the cheap rooms I’m used to staying in, than worth the money I paid. The only good thing is that it’s near the train station, so I can walk there, and there are tons of places to eat nearby so I grab some lunch, and then grab the metro which is only steps away.

When I emerge from the Duomo metro station I literally catch my breath. It is profound to see this giant cathedral that appears mammoth, even before I reach the top step of the exit staircase. I delight in taking many, many, many photos. I then try to figure out where to get a ticket to go inside. There are lines everywhere. I see a man who looks like a guide, but he’s actually running a tour that you have to pay for. He points me to a building in the distance that I would never have found on my own. There’s hardly any line and I quickly have a ticket to go upstairs and then inside the Duomo di Milano.

view from Duomo di Milano
A view from atop the Duomo

If I could have stayed someplace for forever, or, well, a few hours, it would be on top of the Duomo di Milano. The view is spectacular, and the architecture even more impressive. I just can’t get enough of it, and am disappointed that I don’t have time to stay for hours. I love the angles and the views of the city below and across…just everything.

Eventually, I make my way down lots of stairs and am inside the cathedral. I have never seen anything like it. It is yet another place I’d like to spend hours. It’s enormous, like several churches in one, or, if someone built a city that was also a church, this would be the place. I think my jaw drops at least 12 times as I walk along and take everything in.

Inside the Duomo di Milano
meeting Jessica

There’s even an underground area, apparently found while the metro was being built. It’s quite a sight as well. One day I’ll have to return and spend more time here. I end the afternoon with a stroll through the beautiful shopping center, a coffee, and a visit to the Da Vinci museum.

meeting Jessica

I know it’s strange, but after a week in Italy, I’m pasta-d out. It’s crazy, but I want some sushi! I find the perfect place not far away. Prices are normal, and it’s like the wonderful neighborhood joint I’d go to if I lived nearby. There are only three other sets of people there, and I enjoy a fabulous meal. I end the evening by taking in the setting sun, and nightfall, on the Duomo…

meeting Jessica
meeting Jessica

Breakfast in Milan And A Near Missed Train

The next morning I grab some breakfast before my train to Paris. I find a cat cafe nearby! I’m very tempted, but I’m still scarred from the one in Paris. It still looks like lots of people are there, even at breakfast. The cats appear more active but I can’t say they look like they want a cuddle. I think they just want your breakfast. So, I decline, and grab a strange American-themed egg, bacon meal and walk to the train station.

One thing you may not know about me is that I like to be ridiculously early on travel days. This helps me build in time when, say, I arrive at the train station, and can’t figure out where my train is. And then, I have that “aha!” moment, and realize that all the trains at this station are making domestic stops in Italy. There aren’t any international trains. Now, that seems odd. And then I get curious. Could there be another train station in Milan? Am I maybe in the wrong place? Oops! And this is where I have one of those Italian experiences that makes me grateful to be both a New Yorker, and speak Italian.

By the time I realize my mistake, I’m afraid I might be late for my train, so I head out to the taxi stand. Silly me, I expect people to respect the line and go in order. Nope. Taxis attempt to reach the start of the line, and someone jumps out in front of them, climbs in, and off they go. After a few misses like this, I ask the gentlemen in front of me, who speak English, if they would mind if I grab the next taxi so I can make my train. They’re fine with this, but now begins the work. I see a taxi. He’s moving towards us, but then a couple of women stop him. I frantically wave, and mouth “I’m next!” in Italian, and point to the line. My travel angel is looking out for me, and the taxi actually disses the ladies and picks me up instead!

The driver and I have a nice chat, and I arrive at the station with about ten minutes to spare before jumping on my train for Paris. Goodbye Italy! It’s been fun.

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