The Journey’s Climax
I must admit something: I had my reservations about Italy. First of all, I’ve seen the Colosseum and the Leaning Tower a billion times over on postcards and through the bright buzzing screen. I mistakenly and naively thought that I didn’t need to see much else. Second, a threat of tower has been hanging over two of it’s major cities since the events of Paris, as well as the whispered promise of constant crime and desperation. In the end, though, I couldn’t be more glad that I took the plunge and bought that plane ticket from Budapest to Milan. As I sat in complete silence at the edge of Lake Como, I realised that money is completely secondary to life and experience. It doesn’t matter if this last trip has gouged my wallet something fierce because it gave me the chance to visit one of Earth’s many little heavens.
A Rather Mucky Guy in the Fashion Capital
Budapest was left behind in a slow and lazy blaze of glory. The sunlight had melted the cold of the previous day away and left behind a fresh and clear day. Bud’s airport called me and I accepted, the quiet and lonely little station calling me away and flinging me, via a budget flight from Ryan Air. Of course, the flight turned out to be… not exactly budget, as I’d booked it rather late in advance. Still, it was a lot cheaper than your average flight from Adelaide to, say, Brisbane. Plus, it gave me another half a day in a beautiful new country, so I was quite happy in the end to flash the cash.
I arrived in Bergamo, outside Milan, just after one in the afternoon to find a world of sunshine and golden warmth that was so at odds with snowy Austria and icy Hungary. The air felt old and comfortable. The sky was clean and bright.
After a total of three hours travelling across Europe I arrived in Milan, one of the fashion capitals of the world and the final “Jewel” in the tour. With my ankle still buggin’ me some and a heavy sack over my bag, I decided to head straight for my hostel, Ostello Bello Grande, which turned out to be my favourite of the trip by far. But more on that later. Let’s get to the meat of the situation.
I spent the first hour of the day hanging out in the hostel reception, chatting with the friendly staff and enjoying a proper Italian espresso. I then ventured out to the impressive main train station to grab a bandage for my ankle and try my luck and communicating in Italian. I ended up getting me a tube of Voltaren gel… which absolutely saved my life. I’m not the type of person to write product reviews just for the sake of it but… Thanks, kindly Italian chemist, for understanding my plight and also understanding my complete lack of English.
I really do love all the Italians I’ve met. They’ve all be so caring, thoughtful and fun. Hanging around in Italy without a proper sight-seeing plan reminded me of hanging out in Stirling, South Australia, with an Italian family friend who owned a local cafe. He was always so chipper and happy to see you. Combine the people with the great weather and Italy feels just a little bit like home.
But, like the less bustling areas of home, Milan doesn’t have a lot to offer in the way of free entertainment. I honestly don’t think I needed to spend much more than the single night there that I did. I wondered around Brera, the “artsy” side of town for a bit, before getting a cheap-o pizza from another friendly Italian and then visiting the absolutely silent and empty Pinacoteca. To walk around ancient Catholic art and beautiful classical statues among Roman pillars just felt so… Italian.
I then waddled over to the main sight that brought me to Milan: The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This shopping centre is like no other, a vast and beautiful cross with vaulted glass ceilings, colorful murals and gold, gold, gold everywhere. This was, of course, the busiest area of Milan that I visited, as it’s smack bang in the centre of the city and right next to the other major Milano sight: Duomo.
It was actually a little scary visiting the Duomo, as the terror threats that had been published recently painted it as one of the potential targets. I was looking over my shoulder at every turn, expect, somehow for something to explode and chaos to unfold. I’d been paranoid the whole week running up to this trip, feeling like something was going to happen… But no, nothing. It was another normal, beautiful day in Italy. Surely, you can’t let fear get the better of you and stop you from living a blessed and full life.
I finished off the night with a quick visit to the Sforzesco Castle, a citadel of a style I’d never visited before, and then a quick shoot down the metro line to my hostel. That night, I spent about four hours sitting and talking with the other guests and one particularly lovely American gal who I hope continues to have a great holiday. The hostel then put on some karaoke, a show which I think I stole with my Australian accented rendition of “Tribute” by Tenacious D. Though I was scared out of my mind of every taking part in karaoke, especially in front of complete strangers, I’ve never had such fun while singing… even when drunk. And that’s saying something.
In the end, it was a shame to leave Ostello Bello and the lovely people there. Apart from maybe the Galleria, the hostel was definitely my favourite part of the city. My least favourite part are the pushy scammers hanging around train station ticket machines trying to rip the money from your pocket. Be on the look out, constantly, and if possible, avoid using the English options on the machine… it makes you a bit of an obvious target.
The Exchange Highlight So-Far
Writing about Lake Como on a sunny Monday in November would spoil the serenity of this absolutely incredible place. It would be like shouting obscenities in a church. All that need be said is that I’ve never found greater peace or tranquility as when sitting on hidden hotel steps in Varenna on the shore of Lake Como. If the mountains are the house of God, then the stair-lined and rickety shores of Veranna are his holiday home.
Instead of spouting words and messing up the image of this place in my own mind I’ve put together a little slideshow of photos from the place for you. I don’t think my cheapy smartphone could ever hope to capture this place truthfully, but I hope it goes someway to doing so.
The Three Jewel Tour Wrap-Up
I’m sorry for ever doubting you, Italy. You’re beautiful and unique like nowhere else can be. Though I thought that fashionable Milan would be the final Jewel in this tour of mine, I found that the true treasure was the small lakeside town in the off-season that offered so little and gave so, so much.
I tried to think of how to wrap up this adventure on my way home through Switzerland, watching the moon hanging in the sky, all golden and serene, like a half-orb of some glowing mineral embedded in the smooth blue walls of a massive cave. Mighty snowy stalagmites shot up from all around, covered in layers of twinkling electric moss. The lakes around were like rippling sheets of black crystal. Eventually, some Earthly spirit painted over the sky scene with broad and black watercolour strokes. And so I thought, “This is it. This is my trip to Europe. I visited, I saw, I’ve conquered.” I’ve seen so much beauty, so many incredible things, conquered fears, grown as an independent person and connected with so many lovely souls. It pains me to think that it’ll soon be over (well, in about two months) and that I’ll soon be back to living and working in my lazy, flat and modern home city but I know that I’ll be back. I know that the future holds an infinite number of possible wonders and that the only thing holding me back are my own fears and doubts. I’ll see you again, Italy. Ciao for now, Hungary. Hasta lluego, Austria.