Unlike Turin, Milan was the underdog. I’d been forewarned about the not-so-pretty industrial-city, so when I suddenly wandered into the shadow of a beautiful, looming gothic ivory cage known as the duomo, more of my reservations about Italy grudgingly and respectfully bowed out.
Most of the exterior was cross-hatched with scaffolding, but inside the grand, impossibly tall arches, reverent silence and vague sea-green hues brought to mind King Neptune’s palace.
Up on the roof, the sharp bone-like bars of the spires formed a barrier between historical elegance and a skyline of modern industrial practicality. Speaking of which, here’s a pair of inelegant photos from my camera:
Milan is roughly a two hour train ride from Turin and in my bid to escape I visited it several times. Once we grabbed a four star hotel deal due to renovation, meaning that although we had to step between lumps of concrete and dying 70s décor on the way to our rooms, we got the best breakfast we’d ever had. In the mornings, Hotel Berna seemed to throw an ambassador’s reception with its array of desserts, fruit, hot comfort food and melted hot chocolate on tap. What’s more, the train station was only five minutes away, ideal for exploring the north of Italy.
Bergamo was a recurrent stop, and not just because we’d flown into its airport.
This staggered hill town flaunts its mediaeval heritage in città alta with high walls and ancient stone buildings, and its more modern structures in città bassa, where we unintentionally trespassed inside a deserted art museum when its huge glass doors were left agape. Of course, a visit to a hilltop restaurant was a must, and unexpected fireworks in the evening made up for all the window seats being booked in advance.
Only the views from Lake Como could top this. On the sunny brow of the mountain the surrounding hills became watercolour-faint, and from a distance the funicular railway line was a hair grip in the green curls of the mountainside.
The shimmering lake was ringed by stalls selling over-endowed jewellery and gaggles of cafés and restaurants, and it was here we encountered a sterling feat of translation: if affected meats, a cheese and tomato nuisance, angry classical pens and a cheese growth don’t get your mouth watering, nothing will.
A particularly scorching day saw us visit Romeo and Juliet’s homestead, Verona.
I mostly remember stomping about because I was hot, tired, and got sunburnt eyelids while appeasing a survey canvasser by one of the two castles, but it was quite exciting standing on Juliet’s balcony (although it was added in the 1920s). The Verona Pass gave us free access to most of the attractions too, including the main arena, which sports spiffing views of the surrounding rooftops and gentle hills.
Our night flight back from Bergamo ended up being one of the most memorable parts of our trip. We were delayed for two hours, immersed in the delights of sour body odour and screaming children, due to three or four lightning storms rampaging around the airport. Soon after takeoff, turbulence turned our plane into a salt and pepper shaker, causing some poor soul to tumble out of the bathroom before re-adjusting himself, myself and one of my friends to cling deliriously to each other, and one of the air hostesses to cup her head in her hands and stare down the aisle as if about to recreate Munch’s famous painting.
What I did take away from this half hour of hysteria was an image I won’t soon forget. Every few seconds the black abyss outside the windows flashed and flickered like static, revealing a glimpse of ominous mountains, adulating vegetation and fleeting ghosts of heavy rain. I half expected a newly liberated Tyrannosaur to come lumbering out of the night.
One thing that did scuttle away into the darkness was my last lingering thread of resentment surrounding Italy. The beauty of the food, the warmth of the people and the nonchalantly epic vistas had been there all the time, just as people told me they were. But making a bad choice at the start forced me to appreciate and rediscover this place for myself, lending me an entirely new perspective. And isn’t that what travel is all about?