Milan: First Impressions Can Be Deceiving

As it turns out, we were in a relatively out of the way section of Milan. As our first day was spent in the hostel avoiding the rain, we saw next to nothing of the city. That said, it was rather nice to spend a day alone, relaxing. William worked on the plot-line for a story he’s been working on. I fiddled in the community room and made an entry in our art journal. We eventually tried to make pasta. You’d think pasta would be an easy dish to make. I learned how to cook a decent dinner at about nine, so pasta is one of the things I count on the list of easy dinners. That said, it’s a heck of a lot easier to make when the stovetop actually works. Just saying. You know you’re backpacking when everything from the actual travel to even the simplest tasks like showering, laundry, or making dinner become an adventure.


We ventured into the parts of Milan everyone talks about a day later. Italian foodie, marine biologist, and blogger, Valeria Senigaglia, and her mother hosted us for a few nights. They insisted upon showing us as much of Milan as they possibly could with the time they had.


We may be the luckiest kids on earth.


I don’t think there’s a better way to see Milan than to have a local Italian grandmother and a food blogger who’re incredibly excited to take you to all the best local places and cook every imaginable Italian dish known in the region for you. It was amazing. We toured downtown Milan, saw the Duomo and enjoyed the incredible architecture in the center of the city. In our spare time alone, Will and I wandered through the parks and squares, under memorials and through busy streets. I think we discovered that our traveling style focuses mainly on taking each moment as it comes. We spent less time following a strict schedule that would take us from sight to sight, and more time seeking out the hidden treasures of the cities and regions we visited.

Will taking notes on an interesting castle feature.
Will taking notes on an interesting castle feature.

We had a list of things we wanted to see in each place, but we ended up spending more time just being in the moment. Not stressing out about where to go next, or what time museums opened. As a result, we saw things I never expected to see. Shops full of incredible antiques, beautiful old book stores, innumerable fairs that were only advertised locally, a professional pianist enchanting the crows in front of the Duomo, and even a fire dancer. Being flexible ended up showing us far more in each city than adhering to a schedule would have.

Street art of Milan
Street art of Milan


There were some parts of Milanese culture I really didn’t get. For example, there’s a mosaic floor in the center of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which is one of the world’s oldest shopping malls. The far left of the mosaic portrays a bull. Apparently, it’s considered good luck to turn on your heel on the testicles of this poor bull. WHY?! It’s completely odd, and I never did learn how the tradition got started, but every time we headed in there we saw crowds of tourists taking turns grinding a hole in the floor with their heels. Valeria told us that they have to replace that section of the floor every few years because millions of tourists wear it down.


Also, did you know that some of the world’s richest people come to shop in Milan? Will and I went into a hat shop to look around, not intending to buy anything. I found a massive purple hat that looked a bit like a silk wedding cake, with ruffles and bows and sparkling stones set into it. The price tag was in the four figure range. And this wasn’t unusual. The Galleria is full of shops where they won’t even let you in if you don’t look like you have money. Crazy, right? I’d never seen anything like it, except perhaps in Singapore.

And oh, the gelato. I had probably far too much gelato in Italy. There’s really nothing like fruit gelato on a warm summer day. We’d sit at the statue in front of the Duomo after our wandering and eat our gelato, watching people from all over the world milling in the square, and reveling in the joy of being young and in love and on an adventure. Did you know they have cinnamon as a flavor? Bliss.

In front of the Duomo!

Needless to say, Milan was amazing once we got to know it. Many thanks to Valeria and Mrs. Senigaglia for being such incredible hosts and showing us the real, local side of Milan! You made the experience unforgettable and far more meaningful than it would have been if we were seeing the city as average backpackers!

Next stop: Paris.


4 Replies to “Milan: First Impressions Can Be Deceiving”

  1. Awesome, we arrived in Paris today and head to Italy next. How fun to get a tour with a local. How do the hostels with for a family?

    1. Hi Dana,
      Sounds like a blast! Hostels actually can work really well for a family. We’ve done that a lot. There’s six of us, so we can often buy out a room for less than the two hotel rooms we usually need. It’s great to have a kitchen on hand as well, and most hostels have internet, washing machines, and occasionally even meals available. It really depends on where you stay, but so long as you’re expecting hostel level service, I’d say they’re great for families! Where in Italy are you headed?

      1. Rome for sure, then Athens. The jury is out whether we want to spend time on the back roads of Italy or an island in Greece!

  2. So cool! I lived with Maddalena for a year when I was 17 and Vale was just 10! We toured Milan so many times together. I am really glad you were able to connect and spend some time with them.

Leave a Reply