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5 to 8 July 2016

5 July

Well as you probably read by now in the previous posting Nick G became our first visitor to Europe this week. We had been talking for a a while about some place to go and finally after looking at cheap flights on both his and and mine we decided to go to Milano since he was off this week for the holiday. It actually was going to be perfect because his flight in from JFK and my flight in from Paris were actually both scheduled to arrive at exactly the same time, 08:20. Now you might be asking yourself why I said “was” going to work out perfect, well that is because this turned into one of those fun travel nightmare days for me.

Nick’s plane had no issues, took off on time before I went to sleep, and was still on time when I woke up at 05:00 to get ready to head to the airport around 05:30. When I took a look at my flight I saw something weird that it was delayed for like 2 hours, but then I went to check somewhere else and it said everything was on time. So at 05:30 I went downstairs to catch my Uber. That is where my first issue started. For some reason my app wouldn’t confirm my French cell phone number so it would not let me book an Uber, so I had to call back upstairs to Kasey and wake her back up to book one from her phone. I figured that wasn’t too bad only took an extra 5 minutes and ended up at the airport just before 06:00 for my supposed 07:00 flight. Even went through security quickly and without issue was able to grab some food then found a seat towards where I thought the gate was going to be. As flight time got closer and closer there was nothing stating the flight wasn’t going to be on time, yet there was no one at the gate to say anything. 07:00 came and past and still nothing. Finally something came up on their app that there would be a delay and they are working on getting a time for departure. To make an already long story short for a few hours we all sat there having no idea what the deal was. We even lined up ready to board once, and then we finally got notice from people that showed up at the gate that what had happened was due to the strikes (I know surprising right) with the air traffic controllers, the plane never made it to Orly airport the evening before like it was supposed to and was still stuck at CDG. Eventually around 11:15 we took off headed for Milano arriving almost exactly 4 hours after we were supposed to.

Thanks to WhatsApp and WiFi Nick wasn’t left to wonder what was going on. As he explored Milano waiting for me to arrive I thought I was finally done with my travel issues (boy I couldn’t have been more wrong on that) once I was finally in Milano itself at the airport. Since the airport is slightly outside of the city you have to take a train in order to get into the city. We had looked at this before we headed there so thought it would be very easy to get in, and it was for Nick, but as I arrived at the train to leave from the airport the train that was soonest was cancelled for guess what, yup you guessed it a STRIKE!!! That left me to figure out the next best way for me to get in and meet up with Nick. Luckily I was able to figure it all out once I downloaded an app and got a ticket. So finally, 6 hours after we originally thought, I finally met up with Nick at the hotel.

Since Nick had already had some time to explore the city a little and we were both starving we took the metro to The Duomo area and after looking around a little we found a cafe to have some pizza and beer. As you could imagine the pizza was excellent and the beer really hit the spot after what was long day so far. This gave us a chance to relax a little while we enjoyed our beers and catch up on the last 3 months since we left.

Piazza del Duomo

After we finished our beers we headed over towards The Duomo as it was one of the places we had on our list of things we wanted to do while in Milano. There was barely even a line and we were able to buy our tickets and start off on our walk up the stairs and onto the roof to take in the view of the entire city (boy was the walk worth it). After we got to the top we sat and relaxed for a little while since it was so hot out, and then made our way around checking out all the areas on the roof. Once we were done up there we walked back down and with our tickets we were able to go inside the cathedral as well (yet another thing that is definitely worth it). The pure size alone is just amazing, and then you add all of the other architecture and stained glass and you cannot help but be in awe of it all.

Making our way to the roof
Stunning architecture
Relaxing and enjoying the view on the roof
Each painting seemed the size of a car!
Beautiful stained glass everywhere

After wandering around inside for a while we decided it was time to head out and explore a little more. Both of our experiences with Europe have been that if you just find a street and walk, specially in the middle of a major city, you will eventually come upon something fun. That was our motto today for exploration, however we got about 2 blocks off of the square by The Duomo and it was so quite you could hear crickets. We couldn’t believe it so I got out my phone and behold there didn’t seem to be businesses or cafes around so time to stop exploring we guess and go someplace else on our list.

Luckily based on where we were it was easy to get back to a metro station and we decided to make our way toward the Navigli Waterways which we had read was a great place to go in the summer and created by da Vinci. Just as we read they close the streets down and there is cafe after cafe lining the streets and the canals with tables everywhere. Each one trying to pull you into their establishment with some sort of special and great crowds. Even though it was early we were both kind of hungry already so after walking around and taking a look at the different cafes we settled on one along the canal. It ended up being very interesting. Your first drink was included in your price of the meal, and another interesting thing about these places is they all seemed to have buffets that you could get. Now when I say buffet I don’t mean your typical buffet at Golden Corral or Hoss’s, (for those of you basketball people out there you know what I mean with Hoss’s) no this was an all freshly made true Italian buffet that was surprisingly very good. After finishing our drinks we decided to go explore some more and find another cafe to have more drinks at.

As we were walking around we remembered seeing a sign on our way down the street from the metro that said 2,50 Euro for a large bottle of Peroni. We thought perfect we could get one (or a few) and hang out chat and people watch. Even though the place may have been a hole in the wall, where if we wanted we probably could have gotten one of the best kebabs we ever had, it turned out to be a very friendly place where we almost cleaned out their fridge of large Peroni’s ha.

Of course being off on our eating schedule earlier in the day we got hungry again after having those few beers so we went down the street just a little bit further towards the metro and found a place to sit down and have a little food. It hit the spot, and with that (and of course another beer) we were headed back to the hotel to call it a relatively early evening as we knew we had to be up bright and early the next morning to head out on our next adventure.

6 July

One of the nice things about where our hotel was (thanks to Nick) was that it was only a 2-3 minute walk to Milano Centrale Station where most trains and 2 of the metro lines for the city left from. Since we were going to be using both modes of transportation often during our trip it was perfect. This morning we were up bright and early for our just after 06:00 train to Tirano Italy. The reason we were headed to Tirano was because Nick had found a really cool train that headed up into the Swiss Alps winding up and down the mountains with supposedly spectacular views (more on this later).

Milano Centrale

After a relatively smooth ride (both of us slept a large portion of the way) we arrived in Tirano after about 2 and a half hours.

Our first view of Lago di Como from the train
Some beautiful towns perched on the mountains along the way

Upon arriving in Tirano we had just over an hour before our special train, the Bernina Express, left to head up into the mountains. As usually with us we said why not go exploring. We found a cafe just outside of the train station that was open and had an Italian espresso and an excellent fresh croissant. After that we just started walking around the city. In the distance we could see a church steeple so we decided why not walk down and see. Of course the setting for this church at the base of the mountains turned in some beautiful views and we could tell we were in for the start of a beautiful day. Once we looked around the church for a while we decided it was time to head back and start getting ready to get on the train.

We both said this was a view we could get used to!
Now it was time for the real reason we came up here, heading up into the Swiss Alps. The Bernina Express train is an amazing panoramic train that travels to many cities up into the mountains throughout Switzerland over hundreds of bridges, and through many tunnels as it weaves its way. For the purpose of our trip we were taking the train from Tirano to St. Mortiz (host of two Winter Olympics over the years). The train itself is actually listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and I believe one of only 2 trains in the entire world listed in their directory. As we weaved our way up higher and higher into the mountains the views just became more and more spectacular. We found ourselves jumping from one side of the train to the other just trying to take it all in. It was honestly hard because with every turn came something more spectacular. Between the two of us I am not sure how many pictures we took, but it easily numbers into the hundreds. I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking for me about the train ride.
Our panoramic train.
One of the famous bridges which went in a circle.
Moving our way up towards the larger mountains.
Still climbing
Crossing another one of the hundreds of bridges.
Such beauty everywhere you look.
Our highest point 7,400 ft.
Crystal clear glacial rivers.
After taking in about 2 and a half hours worth of never ending sites we arrived at our destination of St. Mortiz. We had a little over 2 hours to explore the town and the lake surrounding it. We took in the beauty for a little while walking around the lake and then headed towards the center of St. Moritz for some lunch. Fun fact that we discovered while walking around the lake, is that in winter the lake actually freezes hard enough that they can play polo on the lake. After eventually finding a place we had a nice meal and a nice local beer and were headed back to catch our train back towards Tirano. This area is known for its cuisine due to its relative proximity to many countries of influence from Italy to Austrian and Swiss. So of course cheese is very popular!
View of St. Moritz and the lake from the train station.

As we made our way back to Tirano even though we were going the exact same way on the train we were still awed by the beauty as now the light had changed in some of the areas so you could see different things. 

We arrived back in Tirano after another just over 2 hours thinking we had about an hour and a half to kill before our train left heading back to Milano. So we picked out a cafe and had a drink and a few snacks after looking for a phone charger for me since I had taken so many pictures my phone was not likely to make it back to Milano. This is when the nightmare truly started. As we walked over to the train station I said to Nick that I just wanted to take a look at the board to check to be 100% sure on what track it was leaving from. As I walked up to the board I noticed something looked wrong, and I wish I hadn’t seen it. At that point it said that the train would be 40 minutes late which all in all isn’t that bad. So we decided to go to the grocery store we had seen when we were looking for a charger and grab a bottle of wine for the trip. We walked around a little more then back to the train station to find out the train was now 60 minutes late. Great, specially because Tirano itself is a very small town and no one was at the train station to help us understand what was happening. Needless say it was time to open the bottle of wine, however that was easier said than done. We tried the shoe method since we didn’t have a corkscrew but were unsuccessful. Thankfully after looking like crazy people for a few minutes a lovely woman with a Swiss Army knife came to our rescue and we were in business with our open bottle of wine. The unfortunate thing at that point was our train was now 80 minutes late and still not sure what was going on. We were starting to come to grips with getting comfortable and sleeping on the ground at the train station since we were the second to last train for the evening. 
Finally after waiting for a little more than an hour and a half, and trying unsuccessfully to find more wine, the train arrived to cheers from everyone waiting just like us. We were finally headed back towards Milano. Wishfully thinking our fun crazy day was over at that point we sat at the station for a while in Tirano before we actually started to make our way back, as well as having to sit at a few other stations along the way for more than a minute. All in all we arrived back about 2 hours after we were scheduled to and close to midnight. Luckily there were some lovely people outside of Milano Centrale to greet us back to the city at at time of night as well as what was construed as an attempt from a possibly homeless, and most certainly drunk, man to hit on Nick. With that being the final amount of fun we really needed it was time for bed.

7 July 

This morning (and our last full day) we were up and at it again, although we could sleep in a little bit later this time, we headed out to explore Lago di Como for the day. After taking the metro to Cadorna Station this time our train departed around 09:40 for the short hour long trip to Como. Today was a nice much more relaxing day as we didn’t make any plans for things to do just that we were going to take the train up and explore from there.

When we arrived in Como we quickly saw that the lake itself was only a few hundred meters from the train station. So we spent some time walking around the lake and taking in the sights. On the way up to Como we had read through some info on what to do and one option was possibly taking a boat to Bellagio if the times and everything worked out (thanks to Kasey for letting me borrow her prized Kindle with all of Rick Steve’s travel books). We did read that the schedule was possibly hard to figure out so it may be difficult to actually get there. While we were walking around we had found where the biglietteria, or ticket office, was located for the ferries that go all around Lago di Como. To our surprise it was actually very easy for us to figure out the schedule as we tried to decide if we wanted to head to Bellagio or not. We lucked out even more when we figured out there was a servizio rapido headed out in just under and hour. This allowed us to take half the time to get to Bellagio for only a few Euro more. That was it we decided to go.

Our arrival at Lago di Como

As we waited for the boat to arrive we saw many people walking across the street to a gelateria and coming back with what looked like amazing gelato. On a hot day what could be better right. We walked over to kill some time and it was no wonder there were people doing that earlier. As expected amazing gelato that was perfect for holding us over until we grabbed lunch. After almost getting on the wrong boat, our transport to Bellagio finally arrived. We set out onto the lake in the hydrofoil boat and quickly made our way up towards Bellagio with only 3 or 4 stops along the way. We even went past Villa del Balbianello which is better known to most of you as the place from the final scene of Casino Royale, or from Episode II where the wedding scene of Anakin and Padme is filmed.

The dock upon arrival in Bellagio

Once we arrived we saw there was no line at the biglietteria so we quickly purchased our tickets for the return trip as to not have to wait in line when we wanted to head back to Como. We then set out to explore what looked like a really cool city. We walked around for an hour or so ducking in and out of local shops and going out to the point of Bellagio where you could see all the way up to the Northern tip of the lake. After walking around we decided it was time for lunch and a few beers. We went back down towards the docks where we came in as there were cafes lining the lake and sat and relaxed for a while before it was time to head back to Como.

Looking back down the hill where we came from.
Panorama from the point in Bellagio.

Once back to Como both Nick and I had some shopping we needed to do for birthdays and other various things. There were a few shopping streets that we wandered around on for an hour or so where we didn’t find much (Nick had some success already in Bellagio), but we did find a few things that would get the job done. Then since we had only had a pizza earlier we decided to find a place to get a few drinks and some food before we headed back. We also decided to eat now because we knew that when we got back we were going to be somewhere watching the Euro semifinal as France was playing tonight. It took a little time, but we finally found a place. They actually ended up having a very good selection of interesting German beers which we tried out to our satisfaction. The food ended up being quite good as well although we should learn to not be surprised I mean we were in Italia! Unfortunately as we were relaxing, or at least trying to, a DJ (I use this term very loosely for Fabio) showed up and the music was blasting right by us and it was terrible. Time to head out of this place.

Before going to the train Nick remembered a wine store that we had passed while walking around shopping earlier and said we could probably get a very good bottle of wine for relatively cheap. Now although he told me it was much closer than it actually was he did get one thing right in that we were able to find some pretty good wine at this store. Now I know what you are thinking did these idiots just buy another bottle of wine and not have an opener. Nope we learned from our mistakes and got one this time so no issues opening!! We were going to go enjoy the wine sitting down by the lake until our train was scheduled to leave, however these gnat like bugs all of a sudden were swarming and annoying, so instead we decided to head to the train station to wait. Turns out we were in luck as there was a train waiting there ready to leave heading back to the exact same place our train was scheduled to. So we hopped on and made our way back about 30 minutes earlier than planned, while drinking our great wine of course. For me this was great because that allowed us to get back far enough ahead of the match to be ready and not rushed.

After discussion on the way back we both decided that since we didn’t really love any of the places we had been to within Milan, and the city was giving us vibes we weren’t sure about, the only place close that we were 100% sure on being able to watch the match was in the hotel. We arrived back about 45 minutes before the match started which was perfect because gave us a chance to relax a little then head down to the bar to watch. Funny enough it turned out that I wasn’t the only French person (yes I lumped myself into that crowd) there cheer on Les Bleus as about 10-15 French men and woman ended up at the bar watching with us. I was very excited for this match because obviously not being in Paris I wanted them to win so that we could experience the final match in Paris. Well my wish came true and they won the match moving onto the final against Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. After the match we headed upstairs did a little packing and called it a night since we had another relatively early morning headed to the airport, and for me I knew I was in for a longer day as you will read in another blog post we were off later that afternoon for Kasey’s birthday weekend trip.

8 July

Up nice and early we grabbed some breakfast and then headed towards the train station in order to get to the airport. Since Nick had booked his tickets before me I was able to take a look at his times and got very lucky that flight times were very close to each other and we were able to travel together (when things aren’t delayed of course!). As usually when you are trying to wake up early and get all your stuff together to head home sometimes you are a few minutes behind schedule. Being behind schedule allowed me to introduce Nick to arriving 1 minute before your scheduled train departure and still have no issue rushing onto the train and making it. Luckily for us this would be our only true travel issue of the day after a week full of them. We made it to the airport in no time at all and then since he was traveling International and I was just to Europe we said our good byes as we went to separate terminals. As I said luckily this time no delay, or boarding issues and within an hour of departing I was touching down in Paris.

That however wasn’t the end of the day for me. After taking the train home from Orly I quickly unpacked and threw what I needed into the laundry to hopefully give it some time to dry. Since it was hot in Italy and it was finally starting to get warm here in the Northern parts of Europe I only had so many pairs of shorts. As I waited for everything to dry and got everything else ready I needed I got a run in and a trip to the grocery store for some things we needed. Since it was warm I got lucky and everything I wanted ended up being dry by the time Kasey came home around 16:00 to get ready to head to the train station for her birthday weekend trip. Not bad for having about 4 and a half hours at home in between trips ha.

Off to Gare du Nord and more to come in the next post!

– Jeremy

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