Monday, July 25, 2011


You may have heard the saying “Rome represents Italy’s past and Milan its future”, I never knew what that meant until I visited Milan for the first time in June. Milan like Rome and other places in Italy has its historical sites, monuments and cathedrals but it has fewer tourists, or as I heard one person say “Milanese people don’t care about tourist”. This could be the reason that there were fewer people around the sites and monuments hawking junk and begging, a welcome relief.

Milan was a couple of hours train ride from Rome, we arrived early afternoon and checked into our hotel which was near the central train station but at that time we didn’t know that so we took a taxi. Next to our hotel was a metro station which made traveling about Milan efficient. After settling in to our hotel and freshening up we took to the streets, the first stop was the Duomo. The magnificent massive Gothic cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete and it is located in the center of Milan; it is an amazing architectural structure. When you come up from the metro at the square you are confronted with this beautiful structure. Because the Duomo was in the center of town we saw it almost every day going to and from different destinations.

Juxtaposition to the Duomo was the Paladino Palazzo Reale where there was a modern sculpture of what looked like horses on a snow capped mountain. In the gallery at the Paladino Palazzo Reale we saw two exhibits, at a later date. One day we visited the Triennale Design Museum, the first museum in Italy dedicated to modern Italian design. The museum opened in 2007, it is a dynamic museum, we were able to have get close to and touch some of the pieces on display.

The Piazza Mercanti is a square near the Duomo, surrounded by very interesting historical buildings that represent Milanese culture from the middle ages to the seventeenth century. These include Palazzo della Ragione that dates back to 1200, the Loggia degli Osii, the seventeeth century Palazzo delle Scuole Palatine and Palazzo dei Giureconsulti that stands at the top of Via Mercanti. This seemed to be the spot for young people to hang out and smoke pot.

With regards to art, architecture and sites we saw the ancient and the new from the Castello Sforzesco which dates to 1450. Castello Sforzesco is a majestic building, inside it has wonderful interior courtyards, built in Gothic-Renaissance style and incredible halls, designed by Leonardo, and frescos painted by master painters such as Bramante.

The most famous opera house, La Scala Theater, built at the end of the 1700s some of the greatest names in opera have made their debuts in this theater. We toured the theater and heard a rehersal. One of the highlights for me was seeing some of the original costumes, as you can imagine for those of you that know a little about my costume design background at the Goodman Theater in Chicago.

We saw the Columns of San Lorenzo, the only monument that dates back to the Roman era, which has managed to survive up to the present day. These sixteen columns that stand opposite the Basilica of San Lorenzo are all that remains of an ancient Roman temple that probably dates back to the 2nd century. We had a very nice lunch at a café across from this site. We did not see Leonardo da Vinci painting of the Last Supper, you needed a reservation for that weeks in advance. As a child I remember vividly a cheap reproduction of the Last Supper prominently displayed in our home, this was very common in most Christian homes.

Until we were planning our trip to Milan I did not know that there were canals in Milan, the origins of the Navigli (canals) date back to about 1100, but this stretch of water was only made navigable from the Ticino to the center of Milan at the end of the 14th century, to help transport the marble that was needed to build the Duomo. The neighborhood along the Naviglio Grande and the Naviglio Pavese (that connects Milan to Pavia) make up one of the most charming places in Milan, with the old, typical “case di ringhiera” houses, antique shops and clubs standing on each side. This area was perhaps my favorite area in Milan. We were in this distract early into our trip to Milan with our friends and towards the end of a weekend. On our weekend visit galleries and shows were open all along the canal. We also stopped for lunch at Officina 12, Ristorante Con Forno A Legna were I had the best risotto, with shrimp and chicken (an unlikely combo), I have ever had in my life. My husband had octopus loaf with pesto; I think I will always remember this meal.

Our trip was filled with good food, we only had one mediocre meal and it was at our hotel one night we were too tired to go out at the end of our trip. We dined on the hotels outside Terrance at a table without an umbrella. Our waiter wasn’t happy about working that night and was not up to providing good service, towards the end of our meal a pigeon flew over and relieved itself on my plate, what a fitting end to that meal. We had a good laugh!

We had a wonderful time strolling in the Brera district, one of the most exclusive and fashionable places in Milan; that has an atmosphere vaguely reminiscent of Paris and all of the other neighborhoods. I did a little shoe shopping in Milan, I had too! One day we took the tram going nowhere in particular and discovered a part of Milan that we knew nothing about. We ran into a fashion shot for style magazine and saw a lot of pretty people.

Our time in Milan was perfect we had enough time to see the sights, experience the cuisine from street venders, specialty shops like the famous Milanese food market at Pecks, the street cafes to fine dining. Most importantly we had enough time to just get lost and to experience a place, culture and people.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


After spending our "three perfect days" in Rome we took a train to Milan where we were based for the remainder of our time in Italy. Before moving on to our Milan experience I wanted to reminisce about our day trip to Bologna and to Lake Como.

Bologna is roughly one hour from Milan on the Milan–Bologna high-speed railway. We purchased a round trip ticket, roughly 80 euro per person departing Milan at 10:00 am with 8:00pm return ticket. We departed Milan arrived Bologna Centrale station on time. However, our return train was delayed for about 45 minutes.

It was a short walk from the train station to the Piazza del Maggiore in the heart of Bologna. It was really hot in Bologna, thank goodness for the beautiful covered walk ways along the major streets! Our day was spent sightseeing on our own with a stop for lunch in a beautiful little square off the main road.

Bologna is well-known for its food and this little café delivered, we had a fantastic lunch and of course even though it was hot we had to have something with Bolognese sauce since it originated in this part of Italy. We had a great bottle of prosecco, my husband remarked “the prosecco over here is not the same stuff they send to the states, it’s really good". The prosecco may have been extra good because it was so hot outside and the cold drink was so refreshing. We had a lovely day in Bologna, I definitely would like to return and spend a longer time in early spring.

However, I do have one suggestion for day trip excursions. When you first arrive take one of those sightseeing tours to get a fill of the city and the sites, stop for lunch and after lunch explore more closely some of the sights you saw on the tour. We didn’t do this but nonetheless we had a great time; hind sight is 20 20, as the old saying goes.

One misty overcastted morning at 9:30 am we board a motor coach to Lake Como where we would later board a boat to see the towns along Lake Como. We would dock in Bellagio, the home of George Clooney, and return to spend the afternoon in the city Lake Como before returning to Milan. This day trip was a welcome break for the hustle and bustle of city life in Milan, there was not much walking involved or consulting maps. We just boarded the motor coach and let the tour guide, guide us. Lake Como is the third largest lake in Italy, after Lake Garda and Lake Verbano, and is ringed with scenic towns. On our cruise, we admired the lakeside villas and the magnificent scenery.

Before we docked in the beautiful little town of Bellagio we asked for a lunch suggestion from one of the tour guides, we had two tour guides to accommodate the different languages one of them from Milan and the other lived in Lake Como. The Lake Como guide was the one we asked for lunch recommendation. She not only recommended the restaurant she told us what to order. As our guide suggested we followed the steep stairs up a hill to this little restaurant with maybe 8 tables. We had a phenomenal meal of fish and rice, the boys had pizza, it was good too. The fish and rice dish was so tasty with the zesty taste from the lemon, the peppery taste from black pepper and the richness of a full body olive oil all pulled together with a little salty cheese, awesome!

The Lake Como region is known for silk production, we were told that the best places were in Bellagio, after lunch we shopped for scarf’s and peeked into as many shops as we could. I would have loved to have had more time in Bellagio.

We took a harrowing ride on the tiny hillside roads back to Lake Como on our big motor coach, that was an experience. Driving on those narrow roads is not for the faint of heart. Back in Lake Como it was suggested that we visit one of the churches in the square, we passed on that because at this time we had been in Italy for at least 8 days and had our fill of churches, we went shopping and sightseeing in the rain. What a beautiful day!

Saturday, July 2, 2011


This was our second trip to Italy, this time our trip included a return visit to Rome and a first time visit to Milan including a couple of day trips. We started with three perfect days in Rome and the beauty of second trips is that you don’t have a big agenda of site to see you have the opportunity to experience the city. There were a couple of things that we wanted to see that we somehow missed the last time we were in Rome; the Colosseum and Trevi fountain other than that we just wanted to wonder. Also, we had a couple of restaurant recommendations we wanted to check out.

We had an on time arrival in Rome Friday morning, June 9th where we eased through customs and retrieved our luggage. Our trip was off to a great start, the last time we were in Italy my husband’s luggage never ever arrived. Our good friends traveling from Chicago were scheduled to arrive in Rome on Friday however, their flight was canceled and arrival delayed for a day. This unfortunate turn of events left us on our own for our first day in Rome.

The Donatello hotel was our home base for our stay. The hotel was position in the heart of Rome, between the Colosseum and the cathedrals of San Giovanni in Laterano and Santa Maria Maggiore. The room was small and clean with marble floors with a balcony off the sleeping room; the bathroom was very nice and the shower was awesome. After checking into the hotel we took a shower and a nap before exploring the surrounding neighborhood - - we had no agenda!

Refreshed after our nap we hit the streets strolling down Via Di Porta Maggiore and stumbled across G. Fassi , Palazzo del Freddo boasting to be one of the (or possibly the) oldest gelateria in continuous operation in Rome. It was a hot day and we were on our way to nowhere so we stopped for a cone, I choose chocolate and pistachio. It took a little while in the gelateria before we figured out how to place our order. We saw the ice cream and an unorganized grown of people standing in front of the counter, after a few minutes we noticed across the room a line formed in front of a cash register. So the deal is you pay for the ice cream, you get a little piece of paper and you join the crowd in front of the ice cream counter. The gelato was worth the ordeal!

After gelato we continued our walk through a park where Euro Pride was headquartered for the week, we strolled through the park looking at the people and the booths and felt right at home. Leaving the park we walked until we found a nice little café to sit and watch the world go by across the street from the cathedral of San Giovanni.

We ended the day with dinner at a nearby restaurant recommended by the hotel, Il Tempio di Minerva where we ordered too much food, a salad to share, the fish and octopus entrée. The fish was outstanding and really enough for two, the salad was enough for a family of 5 but good and the octopus entrée was ok, not bad for a first night. We met a lovely Dutch couple sitting at the table next to us; we struck up a conversation and had a wonderful first night in Rome. Meeting this lovely couple reinforces the joy of travel, meeting fellow travelers from around the world.

Day two, we woke up rested, had our “complimentary breakfast” consisting of coffee, bread and juice and anxious to see our friends. After breakfast we went exploring for a couple of hours in a different direction until we received a text that our friends had landed in Rome. We made our way back to the hotel to meet them; after we greeted them they checked into the hotel and took a couple of hours to refresh and to renew while we went out for another aimless walk.

We meet up with our friends after their respite and headed off on a “15 minute walk” to the Coloseum , according to the guy at the hotel. (Side bar: we later learned that everything is Rome is a “15 minute walk”, ha ha) After a little over a half hour walk in the hot sun the Colosseum revealed itself in all of its grandness, a sight to behold and better enjoyed at a distance. The closer we got to the Coloseum you soon realized you were at a major tourist trap, the beggars and the hawkers were on us from every direction. The hawkers were aggressive, they would not take no for an answer (until my Chicago roots showed itself) and they were selling junk unrelated to the site. Although the hawkers were annoying they did not spoil the experience. We were like every other tourist, we took photo after photo. We had a light lunch of pizza across from the Colosseum before we started our “15 minute walk” back to our hotel.

Day two ended with a late dinner at Gusto, the restaurant recommended by our friend Brian. We ordered the Carpaccio di Salome, ravioli di patate con calamari and the gamberoni grigliati with a nice ottle of Rosso Di Montefalco Perticaia 2006 (recommended by the waiter). The food was outstanding, the highlight was the ravioli filled with pesto served under a delicate sauce of calamari. The calamari melted in your mouth like butter. After dinner we strolled through the streets of Rome near the restaurant until we found a taxi to take us back to our hotel.

Sunday, day three we decided to be a little more focused and purposeful since it was our last day in Rome and since we were all pretty rested and adjusted to the time and rhythm of Italy. We decided to head off to Trastevere by monorail, “one of Rome’s classis neighborhoods located on the other side of the Tiber with a stopover on Tiber Island. Our plan was to end the day with a special meal, see the Spanish Steps at night and end a Trevi Fountain. It was mission accomplished, we got a little lost, walked a lot, strayed off the path, made some new discoveries and some familiar ones and had a memorable last day in Rome.

We found our self in the square in Trastevere where we lunched at Ristoranti Sabatini; we soon realized that we were in that square and that very restaurant for dinner the last time we were in Rome. It was fun to stumble upon a place we had been before and to see it in the day light. We had a lovely lunch overlooking the square and the church. The food was really good and the percesco was oh so refreshing. After lunch we found our way to Tiber Island, walked and walked seeing ruin after ruin, we had no idea where we were so when it was time to go home we need to take a taxi. It is worth noting that getting a taxi in Rome is no small feat, there are taxi stands around town and you have to find one of them and stand there in hopes that a taxi will see you and stop.

Our last night in Rome was magical we had dinner at Imago Restaurant on the 6th floor of the Hassler Hotel, at the top of the Spanish Steps. From the restaurant there is a panoramic view of the eternal city. We decided on the restaurant because of the view and because the food was supposed to be sublime. We did not know the price thankfully because had we known we may have made a different decision and missed out on this magnificent artfully presented meal in this beautiful restaurant with very attentive staff. Jazz music played softly in the background (so Charles was happy), elegant marble floors with an antique-wooden inlay, and the romantic play of light reflecting on the mirrored tables, all conspire to create a magical atmosphere, a sense of being in another time and space.

After we were seated we were served a glass of perseco and a playful amuse bush that looked like dessert but it was savory fish perpetration. We share an appetizer of zucchini stuffed with tomato jam, quail, fish and more. We were to full to order dessert which was a good thing because we were served a piece of chocolate after our meal and given a small box of confections as a token. Sometime it pays to go blindly into an experience, our meal was expensive but worth every cent!

Leaving the Hasssler, we descended the Spanish Steps and made our way to Trevi Fountain, I am happy we saw it at night. We strolled the streets for a couple of hours it seemed before returning to our hotel to rest up for our train ride to Milan in the morning. Stay tuned for more Italy but in the meantime......

arrivederci roma!