Week 14 – Italy (Milan and Florence)

We are now a team of 3! Matt joined us on Monday and will be with us for 3 weeks as we make our way through Italy and into Spain. He had a delightful 27 hour journey to Milan which commenced with a 3am start in Sydney. Needless to say he was a little tired, so we arranged to meet quite late on Monday to allow for some R&R. Considering he was well rested, we decided to climb to the top of the Milan Duomo and then explore the surrounding area. Matt is a town planner and it’s evident he has a great interest in the design of cities and the buildings. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was one that particularly impressed Matt, especially when he noticed that 3 of the openings pointed towards city sights and the 4th pointed straight to McDonald’s, the marvel of the 20th century. We finished the day by heading to the canals to sample some happy hour. The Milan happy hour isn’t based around cheap cocktails, it’s where you pay about EUR8 for a drink but then there is a buffet of antipasto, simple pastas, sweets etc. We decided to visit 2 restaurants to get a good sample of food, but I ate way too much. Italian food is so good, and I have no self control.

Since Matt is now here to entertain me, Anna took the opportunity to spend some girly time with Marlena having a pedicure and then a sushi lunch. Matt and I headed to the castle for a look but discovered that the museum was free after 2pm, so we went for a panini and some lager to kill some time. After being away for 3 months there was loads to catch up on. We returned at 2pm and took a stroll through the museum looking at artworks and sculptures that were housed at the castle over the years. The most interesting part was the exhibit of weapons that showed the advancements over the ages from swords to crossbows to rifles. After so much education we decided to go have a beer at the duomo to do some people watching. We sat down at a restaurant on the piazza but realised that the beer was ridiculously overpriced. The best value for money were the 1L steins so we felt compelled to drink some of those. All in all a good way to wrap up our time in Milan.

We regrouped early Wednesday morning for our train to Florence after some confusion over our meeting point at the station. The fast trains here really are the Italian version of Shinkansen. The trains are nice and the service is great, but their time at the platform runs on Italian time. No one is in a rush and it’s not unusual to spend more than 10 mins sitting at the station. Once you’re moving they hum along at around 250kph and are quite comfortable. Far better than flying!

My first impression of Florence was cobblestones. I know that sounds a little odd but we had a half hour walk from the station to our apartment and the wheelie bags were rocking around all over the place. We did notice that Florence is the most touristy city we’ve been in since arriving in Italy and in places it was difficult to find an Italian accent. The city is just as beautiful as I remember it and it’s a fantastic place to stroll through laneways. We did the typical touristy thing of walking along the river and crossing Ponte Vecchio which is the bridge lined with jewellery stores and art galleries, and then we walked up to Piazzale Michelangelo which provides fantastic views of the city. It really puts into perspective just how grand the Cathedral is as it towers over the rest of the city. We had on-off showers on Thursday so we arranged to go to the Uffizi Galleria in the afternoon. They have an impressive collection of art, but I think I was more impressed by the buildings themselves. Matt went to see the actual David but both Anna and I have already seen it so we settled for the replica.

Matt’s parents provided a recommendation for a gelateria and we weren’t disappointed. It was beautifully creamy and the flavours were so lovely and rich that we had to try some. I’m just disappointed we didn’t make our way back there to try other flavours. Anna took to TripAdvisor to find us a nice restaurant option and came up with a very popular place that had local dishes and seafood specialties. We were lucky that we arrived right on opening because they were fully booked but managed to squeeze us in. Matt splashed out and went for fish. We went for pasta because we’re cheap.

The highlight of Florence for me was climbing the bell tower and the dome of the Cathedral. Whilst it was quite a workout at over 450 steps for each one, it provided tremendous insight into the architecture and design of the buildings. The views from both vantage points were outstanding and gave a bird’s-eye view of the maze of laneways and piazzas. Climbing the dome was particularly interesting because once we reached the upper concourse at the base of the dome, we then had to navigate our way up a series of steep staircases that make their way between the external roof and the fresco covered internal ceiling. It was a bit daunting to think of the drop below us if the roof was to fall, but I took comfort from the fact the building has lasted this long.

We were very fortunate to be able to meet up with 2 more friends on the trip. Garry and Alana are currently on their honeymoon spending a week in Cinque Terre and then heading to Greece for a further week. Alana is Anna’s longest Canadian friend and we attended their wedding in Toronto last November. We’re glad that Alana contacted us to let us know that she was going to be close and that we could meet up for lunch. They were only in Florence for the day so we appreciate them taking the time. The five of us headed to a marketplace that had a food court in the top which specialised in local cuisine. The food was really good and we got to chat about our experiences so far and what they have planned for the trip.

With Alana and Garry in Florence

For our last night in Florence we went to a nearby pizzeria and then went looking for an evening beverage. Earlier in the week Matt stumbled across a happening area when he got lost heading back to the apartment. We managed to stumble across a bar that had university students spilling out into the street drinking 3 euro glasses of wine. It’s not hard to see why Matt felt compelled to find the place, but I’m glad we did because it was a great atmosphere.

Ben and Matt enjoying cheap wine with the locals in Florence

Next week’s post should be from Amalfi Coast after 4 nights in Rome and a stop in Pompeii.



Fail of the Week
I can’t decide between 2 fails this week so I’ll list both.
1. For our farewell dinner with Tom and Marlena we headed to the other side of town for the best cheese fondue in Milan. It was a wet and cool evening so we were all really looking forward to gorging ourselves on cheesy goodness. Apparently cheese fondue is a winter meal (something I strongly disagree with) so we missed out by 2 weeks. It was still a great night out and they made a fantastic burger, but it was funny that we traveled so far for it.
2. Shortly after leaving the house on her way to the pedicure, the sole of Anna’s shoe almost came off and was hanging by a thread. With Anna being as determined as she is, she was insistent that she didn’t need to return home to change her shoes and proceeded to hobble along to make the shoe last the journey. I think Marlena must’ve been dying of embarrassment because she insisted that they return to change the shoes. Marlena’s reenactment of Anna’s caveman walk was very entertaining.

New shoes 😦


More photos


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