2019 European Vacation: Days Six and Seven in Milan, Italy

The weather was a bit gray when we left Levanto, an indication that the remainder of our Italian experience would likely be overcast or rainy. I was so grateful the rain held off so that we could enjoy Cinque Terre.

Before leaving our AirBNB, I snapped a photo of the neighbor’s dog who barked whenever he heard people. Just look at that face:

The drive to Milan was uneventful, particularly as we got closer to the city. (The Italian gas stations remain our favorite gas stations of all time.) The first part of the drive was breathtaking because it took us through the National Park of the Tuscan-Emilian and Parma, home to Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano. I wish we could’ve pulled off the highway a few times to take pictures, but everyone just wanted to get to Milan. It was lovely to gaze out the window and see the countryside roll by.

Our AirBNB in Milan was phenomenal. It’s run by Superhosts, so no detail is left undone. We opted for a loft with three sleeping spaces and upon arrival realized it was quite close to a supermarket and metro station. It even came with a secure parking space (i.e., not on the street).

Jackson loved the loft room!

We cut to the chase and hopped the metro for the city center, and right away we were overwhelmed. Milan was packed. As someone who doesn’t handle crowds very well, I was immediately put off. We did our best and maneuvered around the Piazza del Duomo, which was currently set up for a large concert. (That explained the massive crowd.)

The Dome Cathedral was lovely though. We decided to tour the inside of the church the following day when we knew it would be raining.

Ironically, all of the high-fashion, ultra-expensive shops are situated around the cathedral, which also contributed to the mess of people. Everyone was shopping, particularly inside the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which had everything from Louis Vuitton to Prada.

(Not my photo. There were too many people inside to take good pictures.)

Of course the only store we visited was the Mondadori Bookstore, which was three floors!

After wandering around the city center, we heard live music booming from the piazza. Chuck said, “I think that’s Sting,” to which I answered, “That’s someone who sounds like Sting. That’s not Sting.”

It was Sting.

So THAT’S WHY there were eight million people in four square blocks in Milan! We couldn’t believe it. A quick Google search told us that Sting was in town with RadioItalia to promote the local orchestra (or something to that effect). What luck!

Eventually, we went inside La Rinascente, a ten-story shopping center full of – you guessed it – the highest possible name brand stores you can imagine. On the top floor are a couple of restaurants with open-air seating, so after checking the menus, we found a few things we recognized and decided to eat outside with a great view of the Duomo.

The top floor also had an incredible dessert selection.

We were tired and still a little star-struck from seeing Sting, so we grabbed some sweets to-go and headed back to the loft.

Also, this is the best macaron I’ve ever had: vanilla and apricot. ?

By morning, the rain had definitely arrived, so I decided to leave my camera in the loft and only use my cell phone. I wish the following photos were of better quality, but oh well!

We slept in a little, made breakfast, and took the metro back to city center to buy tickets for the Duomo.

Of course, then I really wished I had my camera. The Duomo is magnificent.

The stained glass was exceptional!

After exploring the Duomo, we found a proper football shop where Jeremy bought an AC Milan jersey and had his name printed on the back. Immediately after that, we went to the three-story Ferrari store, where Chuck drove a simulated car.

It was a nice way to round out our Formula 1 experience in Europe!

The rain eased a bit, so we walked to the one place I wanted to visit in Milan: the Starbucks Reserve. There are only five places in the world where Starbucks roasts its coffee beans, and Milan is one of them. In addition to being a roastery (and supplier to European stores), the Reserve offers select drinks and treats that aren’t offered elsewhere.

When I told Jeremy we were walking to a Starbucks, he was unimpressed. Yet, when we walked in, he understood.

This is a Starbucks?” ?

Chuck and I ordered specialty coffees while the boys enjoyed gelato made right in front of them with liquid nitrogen.

We also talked to the one of the roasters who explained the process to us. He was from England, so there was no language barrier!

After our midday treats, we walked away from the city center to see what else Milan had to offer. Finally, I found a part of Milan I enjoyed and there were so few people! It was great!

Green spaces!

We made one last stop, this time in a men’s shop called Gutteridge. There, I saw my two favorite flags.

It was in Gutteridge where we knew our time in Milan was over. We were all exhausted. We made a quick walk back through the galleria, which still had a mess of people in it.

We stopped by the grocery store on the way back to the loft for dinner things and spent the rest of the evening lounging. In the morning, we were headed to London.??

2019 European Vacation: Day Five in Levanto and Cinque Terre, Italy

It was hard to leave France, if I’m honest. We had just found our stride with the neighborhood and language, and we felt like we could stay for days longer with no problem. It was only the pull and appeal of Cinque Terre that made it okay to pack up and drive east.

Before we go any further, you need to know that Italian gas stations are phenomenal.

In addition to their clean and tidy bathrooms, Italian gas stations are part specialty shop, part delicatessen. Some of the boys’ favorite foods they ate in Italy were enjoyed in a gas station. Go figure.

Our AirBNB was in Levanto, a cozy seaside town on a hill in the province of La Spezia. On the drive to Levanto, tucked away in the mountainside, we saw little communities of stacked, colorful buildings.

They were little hints of what was to come later that afternoon in Riomaggiore and Manarola, the two (out of five) villages we visited that make up Cinque Terre.

In keeping with the steep terrain, our apartment in Levanto was situated on a hill and gave us an incredible view of the water.

We settled in quickly and headed to the train station. Originally, I thought walking through all five towns of Cinque Terre was doable over two days, and I still think that’s a plausible plan. However, we were already tired from the previous four days that we decided to stick with the two towns we wanted to see the most and forgo the other three. In the end it was a smart move because Riomaggiore and Manarola were swarming with tourists, and we’d heard from family members who just visited the area that the other towns were even more touristy.

Still, I wanted to see these towns with my own eyes, especially since I’d already seen them in pictures AND in a puzzle.

When we spent Christmas in Wisconsin in 2017, my family and I spend a week putting together a puzzle of the Italian coastline that Chuck and I bought from Target. We chose this puzzle for Jacob, who loves all things Italy, and it looked beautiful when it was completed.

Truth be told, I wasn’t altogether convinced this was a real place.

In December 2017, Cinque Terre, specifically Manarola, didn’t mean anything to me, but as we researched this trip and put Cinque Terre on our itinerary, I realized we’d be walking right into that puzzle.

We went to Riomaggiore first and realized that everything we heard about Cinque Terre was true – small streets, stairs everywhere, a maze of walkways. The weather was perfect, so everything sparkled.

It wasn’t long after arriving that both boys wished they’d brought their swim trunks.

We kept walking up since we had the stamina to do so!

We made a pitstop for rosΓ©, as one does in Italy.

And then my boys posed for a photo by choice, not coercion:

Love, love, love!

If I lived in Riomaggiore:

Welcome to my plants.
The Wine House, Riomaggiore

The back wall of The Wine House in Riomaggiore was an actual wall of rock. It was the literal mountainside!

We hopped the train to Manarola because that’s where I wanted to be at sunset for the best lighting, where the low sun would cast a soft glow on the building fronts.

Italian cat!

I pulled up a picture of the puzzle on my phone so we could identify WHERE in the puzzle we were standing.

We grabbed dinner near the water and rested our legs. Then it was time to walk to the other side for that evening photo with the perfect lighting. Jeremy and I headed to one side, Chuck and Jackson to the other.

This was our view:

Manarola, Cinque Terre

That’s Chuck and Jackson in the green and blue shirts.

Once the sun was tucked behind the mountainside we headed for the train station and rode back to Levanto.

Good night from Manarola

In the morning, we headed back to Milan. Little did we know that we’d run into Sting that evening.