day 1 – giorno uno
Phew. Traveling abroad is quite the endeavor, although this time I found the flight to be the easiest part of the whole ordeal. We left home at 8:15 am, much to Mom’s dismay, since we had to catch the Airporter shuttle at 8:50 am. It wouldn’t have been a good start to miss our very first transport of the trip. We made it with a minute to spare. Very quick goodbye to Dad (sorry Dad) and we were off!
Even though our flight to Heathrow was close to 9 hrs, it went pretty quickly for me. Mom and I both watched Rocketman to pass some time. We chatted a bit with the older gentleman sharing our row. He was traveling with his wife and was from Vashon Island and also had a large garden to wrap up before leaving home. He was also eager to share recommendations from his travels in Italy, namely to hike in the Cinque Terre (I’m excited for that). Mom was also very pleasantly surprised by the offer of alcoholic beverages during the flights, pretty much the same reaction I’d had the first time I’d flown internationally. Hah!
Upon arriving at Heathrow we were transported to the terminal by bus and then had to go through security AGAIN. Long lines this time and both our bags got pulled aside to be double checked. A short layover in Heathrow and we were on our way to Milano. We arrived around 12:30 pm Tues local time (3:30 am Tues @ home) and off-loaded the plane to a very empty corridor with signs in Italian. My brain was definitely starting to struggle. Luckily we wandered our way in the right direction, and found the ticket office to purchase a Malpensa Express (fast train) ticket to get us into the city. Being confused Americans, I offered that a young woman behind us go first to get tickets, only to find out she was new to the city too. She came from Mexico to attend a doctorate school in Milan 👏 With help from the salesman who spoke just enough English, we bought a ticket and figured out what train station we were need to get off at. Again we set off in the direction he motioned, with a general idea of where we were going… I have a feeling that is going to be a common occurrence on this trip. We bumbled along and found the entrance to the train terminal. Thanks to Rick Steves’ heads-up and the salesman’s reminder, we located the little yellow box where the train tickets have to be validated (aka time stamped) and made our way down to the trains, only to realize there was another platform on the other side of the tracks! Lucky again, we were on the correct side and only had 4 minutes to wait for our train to the Cadorna station.
The trip might have taken an hour plus, but it was a blur to my foggy brain. All I wanted to do at that point was lay down and sleep. Totally the opposite of what I kept telling Mom was the best way to deal with jet lag. My stomach didn’t seem interested in food even though we hadn’t eaten anything since the strange tomato-cream cheese croissant on the first flight and we were both out of water thanks to the security check at Heathrow. For most of the train ride all we could see through the widows was concrete walls but occasionally we’d pop up to ground level and see yards with fruit trees and a few trellised grape vines and then another train would fly by in a blur, going the other direction. Gradually our view turned into city streets and we reached our destination.
We arrived at Cadorna station and followed the flood of people off the train and then I’m sure we immediately glazed over with a confused look. The signage wasn’t quite enough to help us get where we needed to go, so Mom asked directions from a train employee and she sent us in a general direction past a row of turnstiles. Past a few shops and down into the metro station where I spotted the ticket machine. Another lost American moment… We were taking too long to get our 4€ out so an attendant who was hovering had the couple behind us take those two tickets. No time to waste clearly! With tickets in hand we wandered our way to the green line (per our Airbnb host’s instructions), entered though the turnstiles which led us down to a platform. We needed to get to Porto Genova so we packed on the metro headed for Assago/Abbiategrasso (the metro lines are labeled by the last stop on the line).
Thank goodness our Rick Steves tour only allowed us each a carry-on and no checked luggage. I have an Osprey backpack designed for traveling as well as a little one for a day pack. Even though my bag only weighed around 20#, it was a lot to be lugging around from plane to plane and train to metro. Mom has a small borrowed backpack and her extra-rolly carry-on suitcase which kept trying to escape every time the train/metro changed speed quickly. There wasn’t any room for us to sit so we were hanging on to grab bars for our short journey to Porto Genova. With my big bag on my back and my little one on my front, I felt quite at the mercy of gravity so I hung on tight!
On arrival at Porto Genova, we were again presented with a fork in the road: which way to exit the station? Our host’s directions didn’t exactly include turn by turn walking directions from here so we guessed on the exit and then asked a trio of young ladies if they could help us figure out our route. They weren’t familiar with the street we were trying to get to but looked it up on their phone and did their best to describe it to us. I felt reassured that we could make our way from there so we headed off, mom’s roller bag bouncing down the cobbled street.
Just a few more blocks!
We crossed a canal, not as picturesque as you might imagine, and wound our way around a small roundabout. And promptly got confused again. Unlike the clear road signs we’re used to at home, the street names here are on plaques on the corner buildings so we didn’t even know where to look to figure out if we were on the right street. Again, Mom asked help from a woman who didn’t speak English but when we showed her the address she motioned to the next cross street. I think I can speak for both of us and say that when we turned onto our street, we were a little surprised. There was graffiti and trash everywhere and scaffolding on the side of a building down the way a bit. Not quite what I was expecting. I could tell Mom was a bit uneasy too but I reassured her this was the right street, we just needed to keep walking another block. We finally found the right entry and buzzed our host. The large courtyard doors were open so we started in and a minute later Cristina called hello from the stairway in the corner.
Cristina led us up to the apartment and gave us a quick rundown on the facilities. I think she could tell we were wiped out because she didn’t stick around long. She herself was about to head out to the Cinque Terre for a couple days with girlfriends. We arrived accidentally promptly at 3 pm, approximately 22 hours since we’d left home. Despite my best intentions, all I wanted to do was shower and go to sleep. We agreed to getting a little settled, showered, and a quick nap and then we’d head out and find dinner.
Four hours later we woke up to the daylight waning…
Conveniently, there are many restaurants and bars/cafes just around the corner from our apartment. We didn’t want to get caught too far from home in the dark so we easily gave in when a waiter invited us to see a menu and provided recommendations. It was a very pleasant spot on the canal, under a large canopy with night lighting. Neither of our stomachs had adjusted yet so after a little wine and a split salad we were feeling full. Our waiter had recommended a mixed meat dish and we thought we had ordered it so after finishing the salad we both sat there waiting and wishing our eyes hadn’t been SO much bigger than our stomachs. After a while, Mom got our waiter’s attention and turns out he didn’t order the meat because he’d understood we were full after the salad. Happy misunderstanding in the end, despite the awkward long wait. I guess they really don’t rush you to clear your table here. We also quickly learned about the service fee added to the bill “for use of the table and dining ware”.
I couldn’t have been more ready to go back “home” and just lay down. It had been an extremely long day full of challenging experiences and I just wanted to wrap up in a cocoon forever!
Ciao for now!