It’s become something of a thing for us since moving to Europe to take a trip away for each of our birthdays, or at least have an excuse to be overseas again. Since B was turning a year older, the weekend after our trip to Zurich we headed back off to the airport – Italy again this time, for her second birthday excursion in a row. Ciao Milano!
As it was a Friday night flight after work, we arrived in Milan quite late at night. After checking into our hotel (Hotel Sanpi Milano – nice enough, though a little weird on the inside) we decided to head out for a wine. We found a great little place called Bicerìn Milano just around the corner, and spent a happy hour or so reacquainting ourselves with why we like Italy so much.
In the morning we got up early and went out to do some sightseeing in town. It was about a half hour walk into town, and once we arrived we jumped straight in line to visit and climb the Duomo di Milano, the rather imposing cathedral in centre of the city. I remember it seeming a little expensive for a church in Italy, but I think totally worth it. The interior is amazing, and of course you get to climb around all the spires up on the roof as well. While we were inside the fog rolled in, which made it all suitably moody.
Once we made it back down, we went for a stroll through the rather grandly named Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which is impressive but still essentially just a big shopping mall, before deciding that we were actually frozen. This was winter in northern Italy, remember, and after our walk into to town, queue in the line and clamber around the rooftops we were properly chilled. We found a chocolate shop with a cafe attached somewhere nearby. I got myself a coffee and B order a hot chocolate. The hot chocolate made the lady serving us a little confused – ‘are you sure? Really sure?’ – and as it turned out there was some sort of lost in translation thing with this. Rather than the milky drink we are used to, B was simply delivered a full glass of melted chocolate. Very exciting to begin with, but given it was also exceptionally rich neither of us could manage more than a couple spoonfuls. Never mind; at least we warmed up.
After that our day mostly became a big long search for something to eat. We may have taken the wrong route around town, or something, but we found it incredibly hard to find somewhere nice to have lunch in the centre of Milan. There just didn’t seem to be a lot of restaurants or trattorias anywhere, and when we did find them they were inevitably full. I resorted to Google Maps to find a place after a while, and even that didn’t help – it did point us in the right directions, but we tried three places and in each there was a line out the door. Eventually we found quite a touristy spot nearish the cathedral which had a free table and gladly went in to thaw out again. I didn’t expect much in such a place, but I must admit it was actually very nice.
Given the difficulties with lunch, we decided to book ahead for dinner somewhere near our hotel – Ristorante Piazza Repubblica, and so ended up having a much easier time of things. We both tried things which were apparently local – I had a veal cutlet and B some truffle risotto – and also a new type of wine for us called ‘lambrusco’, which is a wonderful lightly sparkling red wine. Loved it.
My favourite part of the evening was after dinner, however, where on the way home we came across a place called ‘Kilburn‘, which happens to be the name of the area where we live in London. It did seem to be linked to the London area so we went in to have a wee laugh at what might have provided the idea for the name (I like Kilburn a lot, but it’s hardly one of the more iconic areas of our home city). Kilburn, as it turned out, is actually a great place. The owner of the bar had also lived in Kilburn for a few years, and enjoyed his time there so much he decided to use it as inspiration in his new venture. All over the walls there are really cool black and white photos of some of the low-key places around our area – drycleaners, barbers, the Polish deli, a couple of the better pubs and so on. Sounds a little cheesy, but I actually found it quite touching. And after trying a few of their cocktails, I can report that as a bar the Milanese Kilburn is also excellent.
Anyway, that’s all from me. I ended up being quite sick the next day, so B gets to write about the rest of the trip because I hardly remember it at all.
By the end of Saturday, we were feeling like we were quickly running out of things to see/do in Milan (as we had been warned by many people would happen), so we asked one of the receptionists at the hotel where they would recommend going for a day trip. Bergamo was less than two hours by a frequent train so it was the winner out of his options.
In the morning, we headed back to the hectic Milano Centrale, and as you would expect from Italian public transport, it was not easy or straight forward to buy tickets. Once we finally got tickets, we were off on a very old double decker train.
Bergamo was not at all what we were expecting from a cute Italian town – the train station is in the new part which seemed to be entirely made up of banks. We thought that would be hand as we needed to get cash, but had to try at least four of the buildings before finding an ATM.
The old town of Bergamo sits atop a hill which is commonly accessed by cable car. Off to a good start already. Thankfully, getting tickets for this mode of transport was decidedly easier than earlier in the morning.
When we reached the top, we were very pleased with our decision to leave the city for the day – the town was just what we were hoping to find. Cute cobbled streets, a church with a nice tall bell tower to climb, multiple bakeries (Alex more pleased than me to find this), topped off with Christmas decorations and lights everywhere.
We climbed to the top of the bell tower first. This is one of the things we usually do when we are in a new place as the churches themselves hold little interest to us, and the views are generally awesome. We were not disappointed with this one. I was very nervous that the bells would start dinging while we were climbing as we were warned about it at the entrance – I think we were given a window of 20 minutes but still…
The views from the top were spectacular. It was a very misty day but the sun was shining so the hills in the distance looked very mysterious. I love seeing the higgledy-piggledy nature of old towns from above. The way in which buildings have been adapted, added to, squeezed in over the centuries is fascinating.
After escaping the bell tower with our hearing still intact, it was time to caffeinate at one of the cute little bakeries. The one we chose was called Cavour. The sweet treats were so perfectly presented.
We discovered another amazing church in the middle of town – Cappella Colleoni. The façade of this chapel was beautifully restored and featured intricate and gleaming marble tiles. None of the pictures I took really capture how nice this was.
Since this was Italy, it would have been rude to ignore the hint of ‘hunger’ so we found a cute pizza shop to buy a slice to tide us over until lunch. Il Fornaio was a pretty modern pizza by the weight shop which was in a dramatic arched stone building. I love the Italian pizza shops where the slices are weighed rather than having a price per slice – you will never get short changed with a tiny slice.
Since it was such a beautiful sunny day, we spent a good few hours wandering all over the village, soaking up the sun. The town was kind of split into two sections, with a small, hilly farm in the middle with the cutest little woot donkeys.
We stopped at a very traditional looking trattoria for lunch – Damimmo. I had some delicious vegetarian ravioli for lunch. I just love getting handmade pasta while in Italy as we eat such bastardised versions of it at home – it is nice to get more of an understanding of what traditional pasta should taste like.
In the afternoon, we came across one of my favourite travel surprises – live music. In one of the small squares, five cellists had set up in a semi-circle and were playing the most beautiful classical music.
We decided to call it a day around 3pm as we needed to get back to Milan and catch our flight out. Poor Alex was still not feeling 100% and slept most of the way back to the city.
It ended up being a pretty long day travel-wise, but totally worth it. Our excursion to Bergamo really made the trip as you actually felt like you were in Italy rather than a pretty grungy 80’s city, such was the feeling we got from Milan.