a long weekend in italy

9 Jan 2024

Back in September, I took a little trip to Italy with my friend Mariana who recently started learning Italian and wanted an excuse to practice and I am never going to say no to a trip anywhere, but specifically a trip to Italy. We weren't very particular about where specifically we wanted to go - just as long as she could speak Italian, I can read it but I struggle conversationally so she did most of the communicating!

I've been before (I wrote a whole post about my Naples trip) but this time we headed north to Milan. We really just used Milan as a base because it has great transport networks so it makes it super easy to navigate and visit lots of different places which we definitely took advantage of. 

We flew into Malpensa Airport which is connected to Milan by a train that you can get from the airport itself which makes it very handy - just as long as you don't get stuck behind queues of people who don't know how to use ticket machines. We almost missed two trains in the time it took for us to buy our tickets in literally 30 seconds so I don't know what was taking the others so long!

Where We Stayed

I mentioned that we were based in Milan but we specifically stayed in an Airbnb in the NOLO region right beside the Turro metro stop. This was super handy as it was only a short distance away from both Duomo and Central Station which made getting around very easy. There was also a nice pizzeria near us which was perfect for late-night chats over pizza, cold beer, and tiramisu - a girl's trip essential. When researching accommodation we found everything in Milan to be pretty much the same price between the two of us so for choosing between a hostel, a hotel or an Airbnb we opted for an Airbnb because it gave us more flexibility and at only €94 a night it was a steal! This did mean we would have to carry our luggage around with us on the last day but that was a bridge we would cross when we came to it!

Saturday - Firenze/Florence

Was this a bit of a bold move to take on the first day of arriving - maybe but we were determined to see as much of Italy as possible in the short time we were there! We had booked a Flixbus for 8am to take us 3 hours from Milan to Firenze, we arrived in plenty of time but we ended up missing it because we were at the wrong bus stop! So top tip from me, even if you're standing at a stop that explicitly says Flixbus it may not be the actual stop which is actually the coach station across the road. Since we already had our return tickets booked we still wanted to make it to Florence so I bit the bullet and paid a bomb for a fast train that got us there at the same time we would have arrived from the bus. If you have the resources first class on the fast train is 100% the best way to travel in Italy; guaranteed seats, you get there in half the time and they even give you snacks on board -  I was sold!

Once we arrived in Florence our first stop was Mercato Centrale. This is the big food market in Florence but there are also market stalls in the streets surrounding it selling all sorts of things. I even picked up this jacket featuring the hands from The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo which is a very important motif for me (just don't ask how much I paid for it).

After hitting the markets we headed to see the main attraction of Florence, The Duomo. She is STUNNING! I've been to Florence one time before but it was raining the whole time I was there so I don't remember a whole lot about it but let me tell you I was obsessed this time - definitely my favourite place we visited. We didn't go in but it was so intricate and detailed I can only imagine what the inside must be like! There were a lot of street performers around this area and we managed to catch a guy singing 'O Sole Mio and there was a guy playing Caruso on the guitar - I was in my element. Anytime I hear Caruso I am captivated it is truly one of the most beautiful songs ever written Lucio Dalla was a genius.

I love that you can see glimpses of the Duomo from different corners of the city it's so fun just getting a little sneak peek of the spectacle that awaits you while still concealing the true nature. There are also so many cute little corners everywhere you look. I could have just walked round all day and not gotten bored.

We then headed to grab our first (of many) gelato of the trip before heading to Florence's other side towards the Ponte Vecchio. We walked past the Uffizi as well while we were on our walk and I so need to go back to Florence just to go here because it's ridiculous that as a gallery lover, I have been to the city twice and not made it to the Uffizi either time - a travesty really.

The Ponte Vecchio (which means Old Bridge) is a closed bridge that goes over the Arno River and it's the only bridge in Florence that wasn't destroyed in World War II. What was once a trading post for farmers and fishermen is now home to luxury jewellers and many souvenir sellers. It was in excess of 30ºC when we were there so we then took ourselves off to sit in the shade to cool down a little before we went to grab dinner at a pizzeria (not the best I've ever had I'll be honest) and try to find out just where the heck we were meant to get our Flixbus home from - determined not to miss it this time!

To get the the bus station you take the tram from the central station all the way out to Villa Constanza in the suburbs, where we were met by the most gorgeous sunset - photos really don't do it justice. We grabbed some snacks and then set off on our three-hour journey back to Milan. I listened to the audiobook of Begin Again by Emma Lord while I was on this bus and it was honestly so good that it made me want to get on another three-hour bus so that I could listen to more of it. So there's a ringing endorsement for you.

We successfully made it back to our Airbnb and settled in for the night ready for another adventure tomorrow.

Sunday - Lake Como

When we realised how close Lake Como was to Milan we knew it was the perfect thing to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon. We had headed to church in Milan that morning. We went to Sabaoth a big Pentecostal church in the suburbs - we actually met a couple while we were having breakfast at a nearby cafe who were also heading there so they showed us around and helped me grab an English translation of the service which was very helpful.

After the service was over we headed to Milan Centrale (a place we were becoming very familiar with) to hop on a train to Como San Giovanni. The train from Milan to Como is only around 45 minutes and there are trains travelling between the two constantly so we booked an open-ended return which allowed us to spend as little or as much time as we wanted in Como.

Look how delightful it is! We walked around the town for a little bit first which was also delightful, with so many pretty buildings and quaint side streets. Lake Como is the third-largest lake in Italy so we barely scratched the surface of what you can see here, but as I said we were just here for a lazy Sunday afternoon wander and for that it was perfect.

We walked along the shore, taking in the views and chatting about the service earlier in the day. Sat down and took in the view for a little while. Sometimes you don't need to do a lot, just sitting and relaxing in a beautiful place is good for the soul. We then headed back into the town to grab some pasta for lunch in an osteria perfectly positioned in a courtyard and honestly where else would you rather be eating lunch! We couldn't leave without getting some more gelato so we grabbed some from a shop on the lakeshore and headed out onto the pier which stretched to the middle of the marina. It was just so nice to be surrounded by water with hills on either side.

We then headed back to Milan to rest our little legs and grab some dinner. Sundays for me are always quite busy days so it was nice to just take things slow for a change. We stayed late at a local pizza restaurant planning our adventure for the next day.

Monday - Verona

Day three was Verona! I have a friend who lives in Verona and she's lived there for probably about five years but this is the first time I've been able to visit her so I was adamant that we were going to add a trip to Verona to our itinerary. It's another place that I had been to before but I was still excited to go back because I couldn't really remember much. We again got the train from Milano Centrale to Verona Porta Nuova a journey that takes between 1 hour and 2 hours depending on your train. I luckily still had my audiobook to keep me company - I so recommend finding a good audiobook to listen to if your trip involves lots of commuting.

The first thing you come across in Verona is the famous Arena di Verona - a Roman amphitheatre built in 30AD still in use today and is one of the most prestigious venues to play in all of Italy! We went inside the last time I was here and they had the stage set for a performance of Aida that night but this time we just stayed outside and explored the rest of what Verona had to offer (more gelato).

Naturally, the first thing you probably think of when you think of Verona is Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's famous tragedy set in the fair city. That being said obviously the first thing we did was head to Juliet's balcony to pay a visit to Verona's tragic heroine. It's good luck to hold her breasts apparently hence why they're so shiny.

After we paid our visit to Juliet we went on a bit of a wander and stumbled across a bookstore which I naturally had to go in - they even had a copy of my favourite book of all time The Diviners by Libba Bray in Italian that I was so tempted to pick up but it was just a little too big for me to be able to bring back. I look for The Diviners in every single bookshop I go into and I've only ever seen it in the massive Waterstones in Picadilly so to find it in this random little bookstore in Verona was wild. It was located just beside the library where the old library and the new library stand side by side which as a notable bookworm pleased me immensely.

We then headed to grab some lunch overlooking Verona Arena before meeting up with my friend who was going to show us some of the lesser seen sights of Verona that maybe the tourists wouldn't track down themselves. Our first stop was to head up to Castel San Pietro you can reach it on foot by climbing up some steps or there is a funicular you can take to the summit - we opted for the stairs because we're young, fit and healthy, Birkenstocks be damned! It was definitely worth it though - look at the view!

Upon descent from the big hill, we headed back across the river to grab some drinks overlooking the river to cool down and catch up before crossing the city to go to see Castelvecchio a 14th-century medieval fortress. Verona is a city surrounded by ancient gates and structures, we even stumbled across Porta Leoni an ancient Roman gate that still stands in Verona today - albeit with a little restoration (but we're talking like built between the first century BC and the first century AD sorta stuff - Jesus times!) Verona is definitely a must-visit for any Roman history nerds!

We said our goodbyes and made our way back to the train station to head back to Milan for our final night in the city - definitely stopping for an afternoon espresso en route though.

Tuesday - Milan

On our last day, we opted to stay and explore a little bit of Milan. Our flight home wasn't until 9pm so we pretty much had all day to wander but we didn't want to accidentally get stranded somewhere far away and not make it to the airport at all!

The first stop was to the Duomo which is not quite as impressive as the Duomo in Firenze but definitely still worth checking out - we caught it in the morning light which added to the vibe I must say! We also met up with a friend of Mariana's for the day who did his best to show us around.

Right next to the Duomo is Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele which is basically just a fancy shopping centre with Prada and Gucci at the heart but it's got gorgeous architectural details and is definitely worth having a nosy if just to admire the building regardless of if you're doing any shopping or not! Speaking of doing shopping we walked alonVia Monte Napoleone just to browse - while I'm notorious for occasionally spending too much on clothes, this was a step too far even for me!

We then made our way over to Naviglio Grande for lunch. This is a beautiful part of the city with a canal right down the middle - it was pretty warm while we were in Italy and since we were carrying our bags around with us all day (we travelled light) it was nice to just be able to sit down and take in the view for a little while.

Our final stop was Castello Sforzesco - a 15th-century fortress which now houses several of the city's museums and art collections and importantly - a bag drop! We spent a few hours inside perusing the various different exhibits while also escaping the heat. 

I love museums and I always try to find my way to at least one whenever I'm visiting anywhere. Because we were there on the first Tuesday of the month entry was free but usually only costs €5 so it's definitely a good, low-cost thing to visit if you're in Milan. It is also very conveniently located right beside Cadorna station where we needed to get our train back to Milan Malpensa Airport so it's definitely a great option for your last day. 

And Alas our trip to Italy had come to an end - but chances are I'll find myself back here soon! Have you been to any of these places before? Let me know which section of the trip appeals to you most - Italy is such a fascinating country to visit because the culture is so rich and diverse no matter where you visit.

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