Week 13 – Italy (Milan and the lakes)

This week has been a good combination of relaxation and adventure. We’re still in Milan staying with Anna’s family and really enjoying the opportunity to adopt a quasi normal lifestyle. We’ve been sleeping in, going for jogs and even following a pilates DVD in the living room. It’s been 4 months since I’ve stepped foot in a gym and I’m so inflexible now. The way we see it, all of the relaxation and exercise will recharge our batteries for when we recommence our backpacker itinerary when my friend Matt arrives tomorrow. He’ll be with us for 3 weeks as we tour Italy and Spain.

Last Sunday we went for a family outing to Sestri Levante which is a sandy beach near Genoa. We all piled into a little Volkswagen and took the 2 hour drive down the motorway. On our quest to save money we’ve been avoiding the toll roads but this means that we’ve missed out on Europe’s most exciting culinary offering… Autogrill. This chain of traveller’s restaurants have great coffee, meals and sweets. I suggested to Anna that she pick out a chocolate block for the drive but I should’ve known she’d find the biggest one in the store. At the beach Tom, Gabriel and I were pretty much the only people who went in the water. The water was pretty chilly but I felt it was my duty as an Australian to man-up and take a dip. The weather was a little overcast but at least we had no rain. It was worth driving a little extra for the sandy beach and I can see why the area would be so popular in summer.

Ever since we went to both the Ferrari and Ducati factories in successive days, Anna has been worried that she’s becoming an uncultured redneck like me. To fix this she requested that we go see an opera at Teatro alla Scala which is often cited as Italy’s best opera theatre. We decided to see Puccini’s La Fanciulla Del West, and Tom knew how to score EUR15 tickets which can only be purchased on the day. Much better than paying over EUR100 each, however to avoid scalping there’s a complex system where you have to line up at 1pm to register your name and collect a number, then return at 5pm to buy the ticket and then return at 8pm for the show. It doesn’t sound difficult but when the theatre is 30 mins walk away and we have duties like collecting Gabriel from school it turned into an all day affair. The 1pm queue was quite funny because we arrived at 12:15pm to get a good spot in line and we were all there except Tom because he had to come from work. He arrived just before 1pm but 2 grumpy Italian women took objection to him joining us in the queue and started shouting out things about us being rude and how we need to be taught a lesson. I had no idea what they were saying because my grasp on Italian is nonexistent, but Marlena knew exactly what they were saying, but she was the one who did the schooling promptly sorting out the woman in Italian. The best part was when the Italian women wanted Tom to go to the back of the line, he just shrugged and said “she’s my wife… I have to listen to her” – smart man! We let the grumpy ladies go in front of us and everyone else in the line was fine with that. The opera was great with the orchestra being the highlight for me. The theatre was beautiful but not the best designed in terms of viewing angles. In the top gallery you can’t see the stage from most seats, but they do allow you to stand around the back.

Tom also knew how to score EUR8 tickets to see DaVinci’s The Last Supper which is much cheaper than all the city tour companies offer tickets for. Not surprisingly they don’t make it easy with a website that doesn’t work and a phone number that’s either busy or no one answers. Tom persisted for us and finally got through. For people who have gone to see the Mona Lisa and have been underwhelmed, then they’d be more impressed with The Last Supper. Even though the artwork has had a difficult existence with botched restorations and WWII bombings almost destroying the whole building, the artwork is very grand and impressive. I’m glad we went to see it.

We thought we’d give Anna’s family a break from us and arranged another rental car for 3 days so we could head to the lakes district. We were delighted when the lady at Avis gave us a free upgrade but then we found out it was a Nissan Micra with a whopping 1.2L engine. It makes you wonder just how crappy the original car was going to be. On the first day we went to Como but unfortunately it was raining. We still enjoyed the stroll around the old town and the walk along the lake but the persistent rain definitely dampened the atmosphere. It’s easy to see why Como is so popular and I can imagine how nice it would be in summer. Some of the houses that lined the surrounding hills were very impressive and I’m sure that’s where the rich and famous hide away. Just in case you’re wondering we didn’t see George Clooney. Don’t worry, Anna was just as disappointed.

Since Lake Garda is the largest of the lakes, Greta suggested that we base ourselves at Peschiera del Garda which put us in a good position to explore the area. We spent a day driving around Lake Garda stopping at various towns along the way to check out the old town centres and to browse through the local markets. The weather wasn’t complying at first with passing showers but by the time we reached Riva del Garda the rain had passed and allowed us to make the hike along Strada del Ponale. This was the original access road that connected the valley to the lakeside town. It snakes its way along the edge of the lake as it climbs the steep countryside and is very popular with hikers and mountain bikers. Anna really enjoyed the aerial perspective and took some fantastic shots of the lake. Before leaving the lakes district we visited Lake Iseo for one last lakeside stroll before heading back to Milan. Of course the weather improved the day we headed back to Milan.

Anna is really enjoying spending time with her family, especially her nephew Gabriel, which isn’t surprising because it has been almost 2 years since she last saw them. I think Anna was worried at first because Gabriel chose me to take him to school on our first day, but Anna has been a clear favourite from that point. It’s great watching her play games with him and she is very patient with him. Even when he repeatedly knocked over the Jenga tower like any 10 year old boy does, she kept rebuilding the tower waiting for him to play properly. And speaking of games, we played  Monopoly the other night which was great fun. I haven’t played it in years. We didn’t have time to finish but Marlena took Anna out of the game and was building quite an empire. Considering the jewel of my empire was a hotel set on “Old Kent Rd” (“Mediterranean Ave” on the American board) I don’t think I was going very well. With Tom flying out for Canada this morning, we had a farewell dinner last night where we each made a dish. After searching the local supermarket for Kangaroo sausages, crocodile burger patties and tins of beetroot I decided that preparing an Australian dish was too difficult. Therefore I opted for Ravioli with tomato pasta sauce, which is a pretty good reflection of my culinary skills.

Next week we’ll be in Florence. Until then…



Fail of the Week
Teatro alla Scala has a no denim dress code which is problematic when you’re a backpacker. Tom gave me a pair of slim fit chinos to try on, but they were a tad too slim. Essentially with my super-sexy legs I made them look like a pair of stretch tights. Thankfully Tom had another pair that were a more relaxed fit.



More photos


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