Oh, Italy, where do I begin?  I want to recreate the strength of a fist-sized cappuccino, the gauzy gray of northern skies, the world of window displays, the melting of cheese across dimpled dough, the layers of history spilling out from arcades.

Galleria grandeur

I will remember Milan and Turin by sight and by scent. Before I arrived, I knew that Milan was known for high fashion and Turin for its industrialness. These two things are true, but they are simplifications. In our experience, Milan was full of particularly helpful individuals, big-city dwellers who were willing to help disoriented strangers. Kara, my partner-in-crime, and I had excellent exchanges with more than one Milanese.

Kara in front of our Milan hostal

Example one: our hostel owner. We met the owner as we were all exiting the building on Friday morning; Kara and I had been in Italy for less than 8 hours and were setting out for our first round of espresso and pastry. We briefly expained what we were searching for and he took the time to point us in the right direction. At that time, I didn’t even realize he was part of the hostal establishment, I just assumed he was a neighbor in the same building. When we returned later that night, and I saw the owner at the front desk, I explained that we had enjoyed his suggestion. We got to chatting, and it turns out the owner has a brother in Texas.  I’m from near there! I told him. We had several other encounters similar to this, simple exchanges where we got to begin to glimpse the person behind the face.

This isn’t to say that we didn’t hit the Milan highlights. Touristy sights seen include the arcades (known as the galleria), Castello Sforezsco, and the La Scala opera house. My favorite touristy moment was emerging from the central metro station and lifting my eyes heavenward toward the stunningly-detailed duomo. My foot wavered mid-step as my mind tried to make sense of the interlocking details on the marble facade.

The duomo interior, with its stained glass, paintings, and exquisite details

Another memorable Milan moment was that of the aperitivo. Aperitivi, which are prevalent in northern Italy, must be founded on the idea that the eyes feast just as much as the mouth. It works like this: you are hungry, or maybe you are just craving a toddy. You come upon a restaurant or bar, and find that their counter is about to collapse under a million dishes of pasta, vegetables, meats, and sweets. You run inside, peruse the drink menu, and place an order to quench your thirst. You pay a hefty price for a glass and a straw, but in the end the price seems fair much when you realize that all of these foods come included with your libation.

Fresh peach bellinis outside (smart car not included)

Thus, Kara and I made like the locals and zipped down to a specific part of the city known for  nightlife. We had our aperitivi alfresco, canalside facing a pitifully dry river bank. Although not as picturesque as the postcard photos, how could we were complain? We were in Italy, relaxing and reliving our first full Italian day.

Milan by night