Today I’m in Milan and I’m on my own. After two weeks of intensive sightseeing, I’m taking a down day and just going to see one thing, the Duomo, which is the main cathedral in Milan, and have a nice lunch.
The Duomo is the third largest church in Europe and took six centuries to build. It’s incredibly ornate, with 52 pillars and over 2000 statues on the sides, on the roof, and even on the tops of each pillar. The place can seat 10,000 people, but today is not that busy. There’s a security line to get in and another line inside to purchase the opportunity to take photos inside. No photos are allowed unless you are wearing the 2euro wristband. I’m not here for the photos, though, I’m here just to rest and meditate in this huge space.
http://obika.com/upload/assets/files/IT,32,-1,5187/14259-att.pdf – four different types of mozzarella served with different meat or veggies. Take the elevator to the top of the Rinascente Department Store and the restaurant is on the terrace with a view of the statues on the roof of the Duomo. It’s almost just as fun to watch the other diners as it is to contemplate the statues. One couple in business suits each pull out a tablet and ignore each other, two Italian girls with shopping bags from designer stores draped on their arms are wearing too much makeup. The German girls next to me are frustrated at the service. I just sip my wine, nibble on my mozzarella and artichokes, and smile.
The duomo is awe-inspiring and the lunch was lovely, but the best part of Milan is my Home Away from Home. I found Nic and Ale’s apartment through my now favorite accommodations website Airbnb.com. Check out the link and do some travel window-shopping. Airbnb is sort of a cross between my former favorite, VRBO.com and newcomer Couchsurfing.com. VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) still is a good place to find apartments and other types of accommodations with more space and costing less than the price of a hotel room. Once we rented a houseboat in Amsterdam using this site. With VRBO, you usually never meet the owner, you meet a representative of the organization that the owner uses to check people in and out. Couchsurfing, for the uninitiated, is a site where you can find a place to stay with a host (or hosts, depending on how many people are living there) for free in their home, whether on their couch, floor, or in a separate bedroom. When you couchsurf, you are fully expected to interact with your hosts and often they will show you around, which is a great way to tour the town, but privacy and alone-time may be an issue.
When you use Airbnb, you almost always meet the owner of the apartment, or a designated family member. Sometimes they live there and sometimes they do not. Sometimes when they live there they stay there and sometimes they do not. For instance, in Mainz, both hosts lived in the apartments that I rented through Airbnb, but they would vacate the apartment and stay with a friend or be out of town when they rented it, so I had it all to myself. In Rome, we were greeted by the owner’s sister. In Florence, the owners did not live there at all, but used the apartment only for renting to Airbnb customers. In Cinque Terre, we shared the apartment with Beppe, the host’s father.
The beauty of this program is that when you are using Airbnb, you have a local person who can help you with anything that you need, like restaurant recommendations, stores where you can buy this or that, fantastic places to go that are not in the guidebooks. It’s not expected that you necessarily hang out socially, but sometimes there are special offers, like the ride we got to the Frankfurt airport from Mainz in Stefan’s Mercedes, or his offer to show Morgan and Dominic where the best clubs were.
Another really great thing about Airbnb rentals is that most of the time you are in someone’s home with a fully furnished kitchen. When you don’t want to go out to eat, but want to stay in and cook, often you will find your kitchen staples there: coffee, olive oil, salt, pepper. You can go out and buy the main components of a meal without having to buy say, an entire bag of sugar when you just need a few tablespoons. If the host lives there, often they will include breakfast.
One thing about Airbnb you need to know, though, is that you need to be fairly accurate about your arrival time. The hosts usually are not hanging around all day or night to wait for you to show up. You need to keep in close contact with them and be sure to show up when you say you’re going to. It’s pretty easy, though, in these days of texting and cheap phone calls. You do this, as well as leave the place as clean as you found it, to garner a good review. Of course, as you are shopping for accommodations, you can see the reviews for the place (as well as the host) which will help you make a decision. However, the hosts are also making reviews of you. Most hosts will review your profile and check out your reviews before they confirm your reservation. Your good online Airbnb reputation is extremely valuable. Another great thing is that you can make a request and be confirmed for a same day arrival, if necessary.
In Milan, I’m staying in the third bedroom (office?) in Nic and Ale’s three bedroom apartment. They have also converted their living room into a place for Airbnb’ers as well. They have a dedicated bathroom just for guests, but you have to walk through the kitchen to get to it. The cost? $52/night plus $6 fee to Airbnb. Way cheaper than any hotel room. And the details! A set of towels wrapped up in a luxurious ribbon at the foot of the bed, a vase of fresh flowers, and good coffee in the morning. I was exhausted when I got there and was offered tea and cake (they always had tea and cake – what’s not to love about that!) and lots of love from their two little dogs. Just what the doctor ordered!
In the morning, I had more energy to talk to Nic and Ale – they were fascinating! Nic works at the university nearby and Ale is a marketing exec for some Italian cable tv channels. Their teenage daughter is Italian gorgeous (too bad Morgan’s not here!) I tell them about my self-defense program and Ale believes that she could connect me to the right organizations who would sponsor classes to help women live safer lives. Hmmm…. I’d have to improve my Italian, learn what specific issues are most important to cover, and adjust my program to be viable for Italian culture. A couple of days ago, while watching the news on tv, there was a funeral for a woman who was killed by her boyfriend. According to Ale, this was not an isolated incident and there is a great need for women’s self-defense training in Italy.
It’s my last night in Italy, and I’m so happy to have shared it with my new Milano family! Thanks, guys!