When Scott and I were invited to come and visit my folks in Switzerland we immediately set a goal to travel as far and wide during our trip as possible. Switzerland borders Germany, France, Italy, and Austria, making it a great place to travel from. Neither of us had ever been to Italy, so the country was on top of our list. I'm here for a full three weeks (working remotely kicks ass) but Scott was only going to be in Europe with me for nine days. We lost a whole two days to travel, plus one more to jet-lag recovery, which gave us six days to see (and eat) as much as we could. After visiting Montreaux, Bern, Friburg, Luzern, and Nyon Switzerland, Scott and I jumped on a train to Milan.
Traveling through the Alps between Switzerland and Italy was incredible. After we bought our train tickets my Dad had broken the sad news to us that we could have flown for half the cost. Spending too much is always a bummer, but the views from our seats on the train more than made up for the loss. Sky high mountains peaked with snow rocketed by our windows, overlooking adorable little villages and unlikely seeming towns throughout the Swiss country-side. As we crossed between the two countries the train went through a series of deep, dark tunnels. Our ears popped as the train plunged into darkness, and our eyes bulged when it emerged, sometimes just for a fleeting moment, in some of the most captivating landscapes I have ever seen.
About an hour after crossing the border the train went through Stresa, an Italian town on Lake Maggiore. Photos don't really do this place justice, and being seated in a train as it flew by, I couldn't even try. Imagine the most beautiful mural you've ever seen painted on the wall of an Italian restaurant. It was like that, but real, and about one hundred times as pretty. I did find a few shots on Flickr that come close to capturing some of the magic Stresa worked on me.
A postcard of Stresa, via Roger Wallstadt on Flickr
When we arrived in Milan I found it to be every bit as glitzy and overwhelming as I expected. The train station alone was something of a wonder. Towering over our heads, topped with giant roman horses, it was as if someone took Grand Central Station, and beefed it up on protein shakes. It was massive, but nothing compared to Milan's cathedral, the Duomo.
We worked up quite an appetite while sight-seeing. We did buy one of those silly bus tour tickets, but ended up making more use of the cartoonish tourist map than the bus itself. Score one more for Italian transit. They duped us again. With a scant day and a half of exploration time, we found it quicker to hoof it the old fashioned way. My feet were glad for the break when lunch and dinner rolled around. Pizza, of course, was on the menu more often then not.
Our first pizza experience was in a random joint across the piazza from the Arc de Milan. At 5 euro a piece, Milanese pizza was a welcome change from the expensive food in Switzerland. We ordered two pizzas, one topped with marinara and mozzarella, the other with pesto, mozzarella, and something fairly close in nature to pepperoni. In Milan, you see, pizzas are not to be shared. You get one pizza per plate, and dig in with a knife and fork. The slippery sauce and molten cheese are far too liquified for eating it by the slice. Our first pizza in Milan had a crispy, matzah-like crust.
You'll have to pardon my crumby photos. I was a little nervous about bringing my big camera to Italy. My Dad had warned us that theives there are extra spicy, so I left it at home. There were many moments when I wished I hadn't, but considering I couldn't afford to lose it, I guess it was a smart move.
On top of pizza, I really wanted to have a good dish of pasta while I was in Italy. We trekked from our hotel to a place called Pasta Madre, a hip little pasta joint with reasonable prices and really great reviews. Unfortunately, since we had no reservation, and Pasta Madre was itty bitty, we couldn't get in for dinner. This was a shame, because the smells inside had my stomach singing power ballads.
We headed back up toward the Duomo. By the time we got there we were tired, hungry, and low on patience. We picked a small ristorante that I had heard mentioned on Yelp, Belvdedere, and went inside. I ordered two standards, puttanesca, and bolognese. Neither was very good, but considering we were in a tourist infested area, we weren't too surprised. After dinner we consoled ourselves with pints of European beer in a nearby British style pub, The Football English Pub.
The next morning we had breakfast in our hotel. Italians make great coffee, by the way, although it seems that every cup there, whether coffee or cappucinno, was a little on the sweet side. Actually, that's a great way to describe all of the food we had in Milan. It seemed like everything was either a little extra sweet, or a little extra salty.
Speaking of extra sweet, we did a little snooping online and found Marchesi, one of Milan's oldest pastry shops nearby. The cakes in the window were spectacular, each an edible work of art. The glass cases inside were packed with cookies, chocolates, and tiny pastries. We picked out a few little cream puffs and pastries to enjoy later on our train ride home. As you might expect, they were wonderful.
For lunch that day we consulted Yelp and found a pizzeria with good reviews that coincided with our sight-seeing route. Sibilla is located just a short walk from Milan's Sforza Castle. Scott tried their Margherita pizza, and I ordered what I expected to be a Milanese pasta dish, but turned out to be a fried and breaded pork chop. The pizza was excellent, and as for the pork chop... Well, it was a pork chop. Apparently I'm not so lucky when it comes to ordering food in Milan.
We spent the last bits of our euro on canolis and Italian anisette cookies in a couple of random shops in Milan. You could spend an entire day shopping for food in Milan if you had the money to burn. Of course, I suppose most people with money to burn would be in the fashion district shopping for things non-edible. To each their own! If I ever return to fabulous Milan, you will find me at the gelateria.