Sunday, July 24, 2011

"When life hands you lemons, make lemonade"... My unexpected trip to Milan and Lake Como!

Italy and traveling in general, is full of lots of surprises.  
For the past 3 weeks, I had a trip planned to go see my roommates from Florence in Geneva, Switzerland.  I had been popping in and out of the travel agency on my street to get help with the planning. I was SO excited to get to see them again because I have been missing Amy and Jennifer like crazy this past week.  I went in on Friday after class in order to finish booking the train tickets for the trip.  Just to clarify everything, I asked the travel agent (who I have become good friends with) "These tickets are for GENEEEVA (emphasis on the E), SWITZERLAND... Right??" Thats when he glanced at me with a look of horror and confusion.  Great.  He responded by saying, "No, these tickets are to GENOVA, ITALY." Yes, thats with an emphasis on the "O" and is in Italy and NOT Switzerland.  I sat there in shock.  I had been planning this for at least 3 weeks now and found out it wasn't even the right place! I immediately entered a state of depression while he frantically tried to find a way for me to go. Although this is actually quite comical now, it was such a harsh reality then.  All the trains and flights to Geneva were much more than I could afford so I had to flush the plan completely. :(

BUT... I could have gone home and wallowed in my sorrows all weekend but instead took it as an opportunity to see something else in Italy. So I planned and booked my trip to Milan and Lake Como making sure he fully understood me this time and assuming there are no other Milans' on the continent. :) Since my planning was so late into the weekend already, I had to plan to make this trip on my own which I have yet to do since I have been here in Italy.  I was nervous to travel alone at first and thought "Who's going to enjoy all these great things with me? Take photos with me? Eat gelato with me?" Little did I know that I was going to have friends with me to do all of the above but I was just yet to meet them.  Traveling alone is awesome.

Saturday morning bright and early I ran (literally) to catch my train from Florence to Milan at 8:07am.  While I was on the train, I finished my book "The Power of Kindness." Its written by an Italian author and I think its something everyone should read. So empowering and true! The chapters in the book are about honesty, warmth, forgiveness, contact, sense of belonging, trust, mindfulness, empathy, humility, generosity, patience, respect, flexibility, memory, loyalty, gratitude, service, and joy.  Each chapter speaks about how being more kind in each of these areas not only has a positive benefit on the people around you but also on you, yourself. People all have a yearning to be kind, its innate. I absolutely love this fact. It was when I was reading the chapter about loyalty on the train that I started crying a little because the message rang true for me. There was an elderly man sitting across from me who noticed and gazed at me with a look of concern.  Although we didn't say anything to one another, I felt his compassion and it was something I'll never forget. He was being kind even though he had no idea what it was that was making me feel that way.

Milan train station

Trolly! Milan actually reminded me of San Fran!

The architecture is kind of like San Fran too!

I arrived in Milan just past 12 and got this wave of excitement to be in one of, if not thee, fashion capitol of the world. The train station was vastly larger than the one in Florence and I felt swallowed in all the madness. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to find the bathroom and another 40 minutes deciding whether I wanted to eat in the train station or not. After taking care of the necessities, I bought a map and went out to try and tackle my "To-See" list of Milan.  I began with Piazza Castello which is home of a 14th century castle. While I was in there I got a taste of what traveling alone was like and also what the culture in Northern Italy, that I had been so warned about, was like.  I approached 2 different men within seconds of each other politely asking "Me scuzi, can you take my photo?" One replied by saying "No, Im running late for my flight." and literally two seconds later the other said "No" and lifted a to-go bag that most likely had his lunch in it. OUCH. I decided to say screw it to a photo of myself inside the castle and wandered around taking some of it alone. I finally mustered up the courage to ask some other guy who looked like he would be nicer and was taking photos as well. He was glad to take my photo and we started talking. His name was Jose and was traveling with his cousin, Dani for a month in Spain and 2 weeks in Italy. The two of them were from Mexico City.  We decided to wander the castle together and head over to the Duomo together as well. Yay, travel buddies... I was so happy! :)

Outside Castello Castle

The Duomo (right) and part of the Neoclassical style shopping center (left)!

Dani, flexing and Jose with the camera! :)

We got to the Duomo and toured the inside and climbed to the top, which is the best view of Milan.  The Duomo in Milan is the largest Gothic styled Cathedral in Italy.  Gothic styled churches are by far my favorite, they are so ornate. Amazing. Dani (30) and Jose (32) both work in the film industry and love to travel. I had such a great day with them.  They called me "Only 22" because thats how old I told them I was. :) I love nicknames.  I learned that they went to two music festivals in Spain and I was SO jealous! We chatted about music and got to know one another.  I also learned that Dani loves doing Bikram hot yoga and does it 5 days a week in Mexico.  Of course we got along! :) The two asked me if I wanted to go out with them Saturday night, which I would have in a heart beat but wasn't staying the night in Milan. After having a late lunch with them, we exchanged information, said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.  I wanted to spare them the horror of being dragged around shopping with me. ;)

Me on top of the Duomo! :)

View from the climb up!

Top of the Duomo

Inside the Duomo

Cross-vaulted ceilings, specific to Gothic styled churches

I loved the marble flooring

Jose and Dani :)

After we parted ways, I went into the Neoclassical styled shopping area.  It was so glamorous and housed stores such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci and many other designer labels. Right up my alley and just within my price range! ;) The architecture was so amazing and walking around window shopping was a lot of fun. 

Roof of the shopping area

Bubble man with Italian kids in the center :)

I really like this shot :)

That night I took a train into Como, which is where I was staying at a hostel.  I didn't get in until about 10 and actually ended up getting locked inside the train because I had my nose in my Croatia travel guide book. haha whoops! Once out, I wandered to my hostel for the night and settled in. It was the cheapest place I have stayed so far costing me $25.  Im living within my means... next trip to Como will be in a five star! :) Such a good deal! I was going to meet a guy I know from Florence to see some of the town and nightlife but found out I had a curfew of midnight because they lock the hostel.  I crawled into my top bunk of the dorm and caught some Z's. I felt like I was on the sleeping porch of Kappas all over again minus the fact that Jordan and Jenna weren't in the beds next to me.

Sunday I went down to the common room where they served free breakfast and cappuccinos.  That is where I met three 25 year old guys from England named Will, John and Mark. Typical ;). We acquainted ourselves and started chatting. I told them about my travels and they told me about theirs. I also told them about Melissa's wedding and they asked me if I had the "Hen-do" all planned. What the heck is a hen-do?! Thats when we realized that it was a bachelorette party and they call a bachelor party a "Stage Party". Haha crazy Britts!  After breakfast I hopped onto a ferry to go see Bellagio.  Yes, where the hotel in Las Vegas is named after! :)


Future member! ;)

And my future Villa where I will park my Yacht ;)

On the ferry I made yet another friend named, Dario.  He was quite older than me and lived in Bellagio and had another house in one of the other towns on Lake Como. He was my own personal tour guide of the lake and gave me the inside scoop. It was perfect! He told me about the Villa Balbianello which is where I decided I want to get married some day. Once I got to Italy I knew I wanted to get married here and now I have the exact spot, sorry Mom and Dad ;).  Here is a link with photos and information on the venue! Once we got off the boat, Dario treated me to an espresso, told me of a good place for lunch and I was on my way.


Villa Balbianello... My future wedding venue! :)

Beautiful Villa

I ventured around the town snapping photos and taking in the scenery. It was absolutely beautiful! By chance, I bumped into Will, John and Mark and the four of us decided to go grab some lunch together. I loved getting to know these British guys! I found out that they had just been to a music festival in Switzerland... Geneva actually. Errr, touchy subject. I had some yummy calamari and we all shared a couple bottles of wine. It was a perfect lunch! After that it was time for me to run to my boat to catch my train back to Milan. We exchanged info and said our goodbyes. Back to Milan I went, and then back to Florence.

Bellagio from the boat

Cute vintage motorcycle and sidecar 

John, Mark, Me and Will! :)

I went to Milan and Lake Como with no friends and left with 6! :D Moral of the story is, traveling alone is awesome and I met some great people from around the globe that I otherwise wouldn't have met.  Pure bliss.

PS. Sorry this is a novel! Hope I'm not boring anyone who may be reading!

Ciao Ciao!
Xoxox Ash

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lifestyle of the Rich and the Famous... The Medici Family!

Sunday afternoon my roommate Kim and I had originally planned to go wine tasting in Tuscany but realized that the vineyards were closed so I had the bright idea to visit the Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens.  The Pitti Palace was the second palace of the Medici family in Florence and is located across the Ponte Vecchio.  Something really interesting that I learned about the Ponte Vecchio was that in the time of the Medici family, they had a corridor built in the Ponte Vecchio for them to travel from the first palace, Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall and now also a museum), to the Pitti Palace.  This corridor was so that they could travel across the river without having to walk through the public streets. Pretty fancy huh!

The front of the Pitti Palace

Statue out front of the Pitti Palace. Controversial with Florentines because its a contemporary piece in front of the classical beauty of the palace.

As you can imagine, the Medici's weren't short on dough by any means so the palace was one of the most extravagant things I have ever seen.  The walls were adorned with silk brocade (very expensive fabric) and the floors generally made of marble.  Each room had many paintings and frescos covering the ceilings, so the entire palace was covered in art.  As I learned in my Art History class here, art was considered to be another symbol of wealth because only if you had enough money could you commission an artist to make a piece.  The Medici's palaces were both covered with paintings, fresco ceilings and statues. Beauutifullll!

Beautiful chandelier and fresco inside the palace

Some art inside the palace

After walking through the palace for a while, we came across the costume gallery, which was my personal favorite! :) I have always loved fashion whether its something that is in style now or has some interesting historical value so I loved this portion of the museum.  Learning the history of costume in my classes at WSU made understanding and navigating the exhibit quite easy and very enjoyable for me.  In the museum, you could see the designs of Roberto Cavalli, Emilio Pucci, Roberto Capucci, and Gianfranco Ferré among others.  The designs of Roberto Capucci and Gianfranco Ferré were some of my favorites, and Cavalli and Pucci are always good classics of course!



Blue geometric patterned dress is by Emilio Pucci next to the green one which is Roberto Cavalli.  Photo in the center is of dresses from the 1920's. I LOVED the green flapper styled one! :) Dusty rose dress on the far right is also by Roberto Cavalli circa 1976.  It had beautiful floral appliqué on the shoulders.  

Designs from the 1980's. I loved the pink and purple feathers :)... the dress was made of velvet and had a giant bow on the small of the back. 


The dress on the left had such an unusual, beautiful design. The dress in the center was a ball gown of the 1800's. Dress on the right is a design of Roberto Capucci, one of my new favorite designers.  He had beautiful designs and I had never heard of him before this exhibit.  

Once we were done going through the palace, we exited to go see the Boboli gardens.  Unfortunately the flowers weren't in bloom but the landscape was just as breathtaking.  The amount of land belonging to the Medici family is seriously out of this world. To be born into that family, would have been a real shot of luck!  Kim and I enjoyed the gardens for a few hours on a sheet writing out postcards and reading our books. It was a perfect Sunday in Firenze!

Entrance to the gardens

Outside the palace

Rose garden, photo taken just for my momsy :)

Buontalenti Grotto in the gardens

Ciao Ciao!
xoxox Ash
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