A week ago today, I hopped on a plane with two of my roommates, Pearl and Danielle, bound for Milan, Italy. It was the most spontaneous adventure I have ever taken! We set out with almost no plans, just taking each moment in stride, finding whatever we could find and going wherever we could go. We didn’t really even know where we were going to sleep each night. But it all worked out and we made some great memories in the process. As a result, it ended up being one of the best weekends!
Our only set housing arrangement was Wednesday night, when we first landed in Milan. We had an evening flight, allowing us to go to Wednesday classes, so we got to Milan around 11:00pm. On previous trips, we have stayed in hostels to keep our housing costs down. Hostels are cheaper than hotels because they are set up like dormitories. Basically, you are only paying for a bed, which could be one of 4, 6, 8, or even 10 beds in a room. As long as you do your research, you can find nice hostels that are safe and clean, but you do not have control over who else ends up in your room. On this trip, we decided to try Couchsurfing for the first time. For those of you who are not familiar with this, Couchsurfing is when local people host tourists overnight for free. The idea is that this allows the tourists to connect with the culture more and get tips on where to go, what to see, and how to get places. It also provides the host with an opportunity to learn about the tourists’ culture and home country. The concept is really neat, but it can be tricky finding a good host. The Couchsuring website is where people set up profiles to become hosts/surfers. They also run background checks. However, this is still something I would never do if I were traveling alone. Since there were three of us this time, we gave it a try. When Danielle set up the agreement with our hosts for the first night, she and Pearl tried to convince me that they went with the nudist that sent an offer…thankfully, I have roommates who are smarter than this. They politely declined the offer from the nudist and went with another person. Anyway, or first Couchsuring experience was less than ideal, but we survived – starting our first full day in Milan as closer friends with new memories and lessons learned for choosing Couchsurfing hosts in the future.
Thursday began with our search for a coffee shop that provided free wifi. We needed to get online to respond to our other Couchsurfing requests. But, after the way the first night went, we decided to go with one of our “just in case” hostels for the middle two nights, and only Couchsurf again on the last night. Turns out, there are not very many coffee shops in Milan…and even fewer that have wifi. But, in the process of looking for one, we stumbled upon Milan’s GIANT open-air market. None of us knew about this market, but we were so glad we came across it. I don’t remember how many blocks it covered, but it was probably between one and two miles long, with booths lining both sides of the street. One side was almost entirely fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, bread, and flowers. The other side had everything else – jewelry, clothing, sunglasses, crafts, school supplies, shoes, umbrellas, even underwear. And prices were cheap! Danielle’s boot broke when she was going through security at the airport so she bought a new pair of shoes. We also got a container of strawberries to share…they were delicious! We each found a few other things, as well. After several hours perusing the market (we made it through the whole thing!), we continued our search for wifi, which we found in a gelateria! Of course…it only makes sense that Italy’s version of a coffee shop would be a gelato shop! Thus, we enjoyed our first serving of real Italian gelato and took care of our internet business.
In the evening, we walked through Milan’s high-end shopping district, filled with all kinds of brand name stores, on our way to the Duomo. We decided that no one needs those high-priced stores when you can find everything you need at the market for a fraction of the cost! :) On our way through this part of town, before arriving at the Duomo, we stumbled upon another of Milan’s hidden gems. It was a large, green, beautiful park located amidst the crowded city streets. Since we had no agenda, we took the time to walk through the park and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. Then, a little ways down from the park, we stopped in a neat little pedestrian street for an impromptu photo shoot. The best part about this is that I am pretty sure we had half of the people who passed us fooled into believing we were legitimate photographers/models. It was funny to watch them and how they reacted to us. It led to what became somewhat of a motto for this trip: just move about confidently and no one will know that we have no idea what we are doing.
When we arrived at the Duomo, I was caught a bit off guard. The setting was different than that of all the other old churches I have seen during my European travels. There we were, at the end of one of the most expensive shopping streets, surrounded by other city buildings, with this huge 14th century cathedral in the middle of it all. The contrast was incredible! What I liked about it was that it felt more real to me than many of the other cathedrals I’ve visited. It was not all blocked off from everything else. There were people siting on the front steps and crowds of people mingling all around. We even had pigeons land on us…so friendly. (Ha!)
Friday was an independent day. Danielle and Pearl took a train to Verona, the “home” of Romeo and Juliet. I took a train in the opposite direction to a tiny town called Breme. This is where I had the pleasure of spending the day with two Pioneer Bible Translator missionaries – Estel and my “Aunt” Wendy. What a great day! Estel and her husband have been working in Africa and just recently moved back to Italy. They are still working on their projects with the African people, but are doing so from Italy (for several logistical reasons). Estel actually works with orphans and the women who end up raising them when the mothers die. She has saved over 800 orphans by teaching proper feeding and medical procedures! I loved hearing about all of her work and seeing the pictures of so many sweet babies. I also talked with her about my work in the orphanage here in Lithuania. It was such a blessing to spend the day with these wonderful women, talking about God, life, and our mutual passion for the lives of God’s children. Also, Estel spoiled me with some authentic, homemade Italian food…
After a little bit of chaos with the train system, I was reunited with my traveling buddies in Milan Friday evening. We stayed again at our hostel and woke up early Saturday morning to catch another train. This time, we were headed for the beach! After a side stop in Genova – Christopher Columbus’ hometown – we found ourselves in beautiful Arenzano. And it did not take us long to fall in love with this place. Literally, we walked out of the train station, crossed the street, a walked down a path into the prettiest park I have ever seen. There were palm trees, waterfalls, colorful flowers, deep green grass, and peacocks! On the other side of this park was the Italian coast and the clear blue Ligurian Sea. We had perfect weather, too. Throughout the day, we explored the town, walked a path on the edge of the cliffs by the sea, dipped our feet in the waves, and spent several hours relaxing on the sand. We also learned a really neat fact about the culture of this town: Everyone takes lunch at the same time. All of the shops close at 12:30 and reopen between 2:00 and 3:30. During this time, the restaurants become super busy because everyone goes out to lunch together, enjoying the community. Then, they go back to work. This was so cool to me! I loved how people-focused the Italian culture is.
At the end of the day, we were reluctant to leave. But, it was time to catch our train back to Milan. It helped a little that it cooled off quite a bit when the sun set. Still, it had been such a fun day! We got back to Milan and prepared ourselves for our second Couchsurfing experience. Thankfully, this one was much better than the first! In the morning, it was off to the airport and back to Lithuania. And let me tell you…it sure felt cold during our walk from the bus station to LCC!
Start to finish, it was a superb weekend. I experienced four Italian cities, took tons of pictures, laughed a whole lot, learned how to say “Thank you” in yet another language, successfully maneuvered another system of public transportation, learned even more about God and myself, and did it all with two great friends. I couldn’t have asked for a better Italian experience.
Hi, I'm Katie... just a girl, living this adventure for the glory of God. Thanks for reading!