Buongiorno! Benvenuto in Italia! Welcome to Italy!
Getting to Milan was no easy feat. In fact, if you have ever seen Goldfinger with 007, then you will recognize the road we took. The trail is called the Furka Pass. It was so scary. At one point we were almost 8,000 feet in the air. Thank goodness my dad is the American James Bond when it comes to driving because each turn was in the shape of a hairpin, and the Italians thought we were racing to the top! In spite of the crazy paths, the view was incredible.
When you look at the Swiss Alps from any angle, it is beyond what your mind could have created. At one point during our drive, my mom took a deep breath and sighed, “This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life.” The scenery almost made you want to cry. I couldn’t even begin to imagine moving one of those mountains, even if every European citizen was there to help me.
Side Story- When we were driving from Germany to Austria, we saw colorful villages, and decided to exit the autobahn. After driving for a few minutes, we found a hidden hotel restaurant and went inside. The view, again, it was indescribably beautiful. It overlooked the local farms, and wineries. When we asked what kind of currency they used in Austria, the owner replied, “Here in Switzerland, we use the Swiss Franc.” Some how, we had crossed over into A Completely Different Country. It was awesome!
When we reached the top, our adrenaline was at an all time high. On one of the last turns, everyone was preparing themselves for the worst case scenario, then all of a sudden my sister screamed and waved her arms in the air. My heart stopped. I thought we were falling off the cliff….really Madison…we are on a terrifying mountain trying not to die. Turns out, it was just a bug on her hand. You can always count on one one the Nelson’s to scare you half to death, but usually it’s my mother doing the scaring and in less stressful situations.
The Swiss Alps rewarded us with a place to pull off the main trail, which was greatly needed. There we stood in the middle of the summer, surrounded by snow that was slowly melting into a spectacular waterfall. I once heard that if you don’t take a picture, then it didn’t really happen. So we took a picture proudly with the Italian flag waving in the background, for we had triumphed over the highest peak in the Swiss Alps.
After we got to Milan, we set out to find our hotel, which was right next to the hospital I worked at for the following six weeks- Ospedale San Raffalele. It is a beautiful place fit with 217 research wards, and 58 clinical rotations. Their medical school is one of the best in the world.
Once settled in, we put on our walking shoes. Thankfully, my family was prepared to help me get passed the learning curve with getting around the hospital, and around the city. One of the things we discovered is that the ospedale has its own miniature metro. How cool is that? I also love that in the San Raffaele underground area there are colorful lines that direct you to each of the departments, which is spread over the extremely large campus. There’s even a small zoo. Who would have thought?
After we made it to the main metro station, we decided to go the Milan’s canal district, Navigli, which was crowded but absolutely worth walking around.
Milan used to be a city full of canals in the medieval ages, but now the Navigli district is the only one left. In our time of wandering around the bridges, we found a cute little restaurant next to the river. We ordered a cheese board even though we usually stay away from cheese here. It turned out to be really delightful! Then we all ordered a new type of pasta. When we looked out to the river, we ended up catching a glimpse of the men’s rowing team. (They were a little out of practice.) One thing you should know is that if you ever eat here, be prepared to be bothered by a lot of street vendors. Overall, it was a superb dinner.
The next morning we were set to explore the shopping district of Milan. Now, if you know me, you know that I am not a shopper. I do not find it interesting the majority of the time. But, I must say, the window shopping was so much fun. They had everything from Prada to Louis Vuitton to anything you can dream up, they had it. Milanese people love this area of their city so much that there is a special street stuffed with cafes open to the wealthy women of Italy and their fluffy poodles.
If you like to people watch, this is the place to be. Fun fact for the fellow traveler, if you come at the end of January or the end of July all of the stores will hold a very large sale, some up to 60 and 70 percent off. Why would this magical sale happen, you ask? Well, in Italy, and most of Europe, everyone takes off the whole month of August, so they want to sell as much as they can before they go on holiday. In January, their sales border the holiday of the saints. To put it simply, if you want an Italian leather something, or the coveted Tiffany and & Co. jewelry, come in January or August.
Once we walked for what felt like days, we decided to check out Brera, a small region known for its art schools and relaxed night life. (PS- if you like going to hole in the wall places, but don’t know where to start, try purchasing Rick Steves books. He does a really good job at getting you around the city. But, if you’re like me, you will have more fun wandering the streets and jumping on the metro while you aimlessly explore the city. Remember, it is okay to not have a set plan. This is one of many lessons I have learned thus far.) If you want to take public transportation to Brera, you will find that there is the main stop labeled Brera, but it will dump you out in the main drag. The best place to get off? Moscovo. Here, you will find four streets that intersect. One off the four will have a line of cute little bistros, and the others will have small shops, including art studios that the students work in. Our decision to eat here was one of the best we had made. The area was calm and inviting, and we met a hilarious old man at during dinner. He worked at our restaurant, called El Beverin. It is safe to say it was one of the best dinners. They brought out the perfect dipping bread, and olive oil. I thought my dad was going to start singing praises about the bread. He had talked about it for days at that point. Our new friend’s name was Sergio. He told us he worked every evening there, and one of his favorite pass times while he worked comes during Fashion Week. He said you can see all kinds of people, and their “sense of style.” He giggled of course at the thought of them. Eating there and being with my family, was the perfect way to spend my last night with my family before I started my fellowship.
The next morning we woke up for our last breakfast together for the next six weeks. My mom scheduled a tour of Milan, so that we could conquer the city one last time before I had to go. It was so much fun. We saw the inside of the Duomo while they were hosting their mid-morning mass. ***You will want to pay attention here if you plan to visit*** Ladies, cover your knees and shoulders, or bring something with you to put on. Unless you enjoy wearing a funny, blue kimono that costs 2 euro, then you will want to heed my warning. Also, if you bring a water bottle, be aware that they will ask you to take a sip, but you are welcome to bring it in as long as you cooperate. The inside was beyond comparison to anything I have ever seen. I guess perfection is what you get after taking 600 years to build your cathedral. Good job, Milan! You did it. The cathedral is actually an active building site, but the primary building took place over the first 600 years. In Milan, the church owns the marble mine (do you mine marble?) and a specific percentage of the reserve is set aside to allow the Duomo to be restored piece by piece. The original designers decided that the cathedral itself would depict 3,400 saints by making statues of all sizes. Some of them are on the inside, but many are looking over the city as they stand on the spires. As you walk up to the front entrance, you will see a statue that looks a lot like Lady Liberty. The difference? Apart from the size and color, they statue looks the same. Instead of the books however, Lady Liberty’s long lost cousin is holding a cross. Another insider secret, (literally because this statue is inside the worship area) is that the statue of Bartholomew is anatomically correct by showcasing the intricate details of the human body. His muscles, tendons, and bones were craftily placed to tell the observer that he was skinned alive. Even the doctors here were surprised at the detail. When our time was up, we left the Duomo, and headed to Santa Maria Delle Graizie, home of the infamous Last Supper paining by Leonardo. Helpful hint number next, if you want to see this, be sure to book your tickets at least a month in advance. You’ll thank me later. The museum area only lets 30 people in every 15 minutes, and they are very strict.
Although Milan is the “least Italian” city, but certainly makes up for it in charm.
Want to check out some of the places we went? Visit the links below-
Ospedale San Raffaele: http://www.hsr.it/
Universia Vita-Salute San Raffaele: http://www.unisr.it/en/
Shopping in Milan: https://www.viator.com/Milan-tours/Shopping-and-Fashion/d512-g10?pref=02
El Beverin: http://www.elbeverin.it/en/
Milan in a Day: https://www.viator.com/Milan/d512-ttd?pref=02