“Italia! At the mere whisper of the magic name, our whole being seems spell-bound.” Actually that was said about the Italian Renaissance painter Raphael, but it works for Italy too. There are few things not to like about the place. The train ride alone offered incredible views of what looked like a constantly changing painting.
Our first stop on a whirlwind of a weekend was Milan, the fashion capital of the world. In my mind I had visions of Milanese citizens strutting their incredibly chic clothing down the streets. Even the construction workers would be wearing capris and tailored vests. As I am sure you have guessed, the reality was much different from the dream. Construction workers simply wore V-necks and jean shorts*.
Our first and only night in Milan we decided to take it pretty easy. We set off from our hotel and found a perfect little Italian restaurant. The wine was amazing, and the rissoto was even better. After a wonderful meal we ducked into a gellateria that was so busy you had to take a number and wait in line. On our walk home we passed by an interesting sight: it was a restaurant/bar called Dixieland. What are the odds. Thousands of miles away from home in a small Milanese neighborhood and we happen to walk by probably the only American Old South themed restaurant in the country. Too bizarre not to check out, so we stepped in for a night cap. It was a pretty funny caricature of the South: lots of Jack Daniels memorabilia, pictures of cowboys, and longhorns hanging on the wall. I guess it’s true what they say–you can take the boy out the South, but the South will rise again…in Italy.
The next morning we got up and walked to San Siro, the legendary soccer stadium that’s home to both AC Milan and Inter Milan. The stadium itself was much older than I expected, having been built in 1925. It holds around 80,000 screaming fans (hey, it ain’t no Sanford Stadium). One of the craziest stats about the place is that during the regular season it gets played on so much that they have to change out the pitch (the field) six times…to the tune of 1.2 million euros. That’s some expensive grass, boy. We also got to check out both teams’ locker rooms. The two were totally different. Inter’s ownership wanted the changing room to reflect the team’s unity, so there are no separate lockers, just one big one for everybody. AC’s is just the opposite. Each player has his own individual locker with his own flat screen T.V. and his own super slick leather chair. But despite their differences, both teams have seen much success in the past few years. In the 2009-2010 season Inter won the Scudetto, the Coppa Italia, the prestigious Champions League, and then the FIFA Club World Cup. AC Milan has won the Champions League seven times, most recently in ’02-’03, eighteen league titles, most recently in ’10-’11, and four world titles, more than any other club in the world.
After the tour we hopped on a train headed for Florence. Man what an incredible city. It seemed like I was there for only a minute (the same could be said for the whole trip to Italy). Sadly the Duomo, the magnificent cathedral with a giant dome, was closed by the time we got there, but no matter—simply walking around in Florence is enough to blow you away. We did, however, manage to make it to supposedly the best gellateria in the whole city, which made up for it. Later that day I went to the Santa Maria Novella, the famous Dominican church. It was pretty neat to see all the paintings and frescos I had been studying in my Italian Renaissance class. The church is home to Massacio’s famous fresco, The Holy Trinity, and Ghirlandaio’s frescos in the Strozzi Chapel. Outside in the Green Cloister I saw Paolo Uccello’s frescos depicting the story of Noah and the Ark. Talk about some ancient history. Most of the works were completed in the 15th and 16th century. That’s old, homeslice.
Later that night a big group of us got a taste of the night life in Florence. Mad fun.
The next morning, we awoke (a little groggy) and boarded a train headed to our most anticipated destination: Cinque Terre. I’ll say this about it–if there were ever a place where “happily ever after” existed, it’s in Cinque Terre. The moment I stepped off the train was like taking a step backwards in time, to a place so magical you thought it only existed in your dreams. All five villages are nestled in the cliffs of the Italian coast and are connected by a hiking path. After we arrived we made a beeline to the beach. As I walked through the maze of umbrellas, white sand clinging to my bare feet, I seemed to be swallowed up by the crystal clear azul water of the Mediterranean.
That evening we took a train to Vernazza, the smallest of the five villages, for dinner. I will never forget the moments that followed. I strolled down the cobblestone alley, gazing with eyes that seemed to be seeing for the first time, at the multicolored apartment buildings, as old as the rocks they were built on. Suddenly the street opened up to a small protected harbor, cliffs rising on both sides, with brightly colored boats strewn about along the shore. The sun was setting, and we ate at a little outdoor restaurant overlooking the bay. It was an evening of pure contentment.
Someday I will return to that magical place, a little bit older, wiser, grayer, and a bit heavier. Until then, it will have to reside in that wonderfully perfect place called my imagination.
San Siro–MilanSan Siro, MilanFlorenceThe Duomo, FlorenceThe Green Cloister, FlorenceSanta Maria Novella, FlorenceMonterosso, Cinque TerreVernazza, Cinque TerreVernazzaVernazzaVernazzaVernazzaVernazzaVernazza