Italy, Chapter 5: Wrapping-up Milan with a healthy dose of PTSD

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I took a little while to finish up these posts on Italy  because I had to take some time off to take care of myself and my life. Losing your computer, your camera and your wits will do that to you. I came down with a UTI and one of those super stiff necks from hell. I think it was just stress. The good news is I am FINE now! I definitely think I am coming out from the other side of this crazy adventure stronger.

I don’t want to in any way want to say that this trip was a failure or something I wish didn’t happen.  I had a really great time in spite of two really horrible things that happened. It was an adventure of a lifetime and I can’t believe I can add Italy to my list of places I’ve explored. I will go back. I might not go back to Milan right away but I am not turned off Italy just because of what happened to us.

So where was I? Oh yes. Back in Milan.

We arrived from Florence at the same train station that we left to go to Varena.  We were super dreading going back to Milan because of what happened to us there the first night and then guess what? WE GOT ROBBED AGAIN! I’m not even kidding.

This time it happened in the train station. Christine and Teresa and I were filing out of the train, down those flat moving escalators when suddenly a bunch of girls without suitcases swarmed by us. I remember thinking it was odd that they had no suitcases and they hung out at the train station like it was cool or something. It was kind of like a mall with stores and cafes so I reasoned them away with that. Then one of the girls lifted up her scarf above her head like she was going to fly off with it like a sail. I thought, that was weird. Was it raining? Was she getting ready to go outside by putting a scarf on her head to protect her hair? Later I realized this was a distraction technique.

Then as I turned a corner my stupid suitcase (that has a wonky handle problem and won’t extend all the way, leaving me to pull it half bent over and completely uncomfortable) caught on the wall and I had to stop to right it. Christine and Teresa kept going on ahead of me toward a gate that was a bit crammed up with people. I was going to follow them but I decided to go to the other side of the gate where there were less people. As I was going I suddenly noticed ahead of me that Teresa’s backpack was completely unzipped and a woman’s hand was in it pulling things out.

I went into super hero mode and ran across the sidewalk, grabbed the theif’s wrist and yelled “HEY!” as loud as I could. It mass confusion. The woman started yelling back at me in Italian and all I can remember is trying to get Teresa out of the mob before more people attacked us. There were people everywhere and we just wanted to get away. We walked as fast as we could to the taxi line and jumped in the nearest taxi.

While we drove to our hotel Teresa went through her backpack to take inventory and see what was taken. Thankfully the thief only got toiletries and a sentimental bag that her daughter gave her. But we were so shaken. Literally shaking. We tried to calm ourselves and get to the hotel safely.

I thought sure we would just stay in our hotel and sequester ourselves from the evil that is Milan for the rest of the night but Christine thought better. She forced us to go out again for dinner and she was probably right. Even though it was what our instincts wanted, staying in would have been worse. We would have festered in our fear, sealing our memories of Milan forever with a bad taste.

It wasn’t the easiest dinner. We tried to keep things light and think about the good times but it was hard. Teresa broke down a few times. Christine and I tried to fake a good time by naming the strangers that walked by our table but it was a little bit of a challenge.

Do you know that game? I guess it would be called profiling but I like to think of it as an exercise in creative writing. You just pick a stranger, make up a name, an occupation and even a story line. It’s great fun and usually a great way to get laughs and pass the time when silences can be awkward.

Thankfully, the waiters at our restaurant were amazing. I’ll always remember Gioseppe so fondly. He wasn’t really our waiter but more of a guard who stood by our table and watched out for us. Or at least it seemed like that. We ate in the Galleria so our restaurant was open to the outside and maybe he was protecting us from more theives. Who knows. But we do know that he was super kind and he took a liking to Teresa. When she was crying he called her princess and brought her tissues. Then another waiter came and talked to her in Tagalog, her native language. I think they bonded over being the only Filipinos in Italy. It was very sweet.

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Then we went back to the hotel and went to sleep early so we could wake up the crack of dawn and go home already. Teresa and I were never more ready to go home than that night. We were sad to leave Christine but we were officially stick-a-fork-in-us DONE with Italy.

It was time to pay the piper. I had to get home, buy a new computer, figure out if my manual back-up worked (it did, mostly), put my work life back together and work my head off so I could pay off all those charges I put on my credit card while in Italy.  Italy was a big financial loss for me.

BUT I have a feeling it is going to be a win in the long run. I already feel smarter and stronger. I am a seasoned traveler now. I have been through hard things and come out the other side. I know what to do and what not to do when traveling in high crime areas. I’m not stupid anymore.

I also have a lot of experience under my belt now. I know what PTSD is. I have dreams now about being robbed which is something I never had dreams about before. It’s not horrible. It’s not heart-tightening nightmares. It’s more of a way my brain is processing what happened.

Little things scare me that never did before, a passing shadow, a sound in the middle of the night. I’ve woken up several times thinking someone was in my house robbing me and I live in a neighborhood where a thought like that never crossed my mind before. But it’s okay. I am happy and safe. I wake up and I am relieved that I am safe.

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I am happy that I survived this. I’m proud of myself (especially the part where I grabbed the thief’s hand from Teresa’s backpack). I think I’m pretty tough.

Take that Italy! Take that. You can take my things but you can’t take me.

I think about the thieves a lot. What made them that desperate? Did they come from a long line of thieves and they don’t know any better? Is it their occupation? Why did they leave my passport, credit cards and driver’s license? Did they have compassion for me? Who were they and why did they do this? I’ll always wonder that.

 

Italy, Chapter 4: Florence!

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Ah, Florence. The last leg of our great epic girl’s trip to Italy. What do I think of Florence? I don’t even know. It was pretty. It was vast. There were a lot of churches. There was a lot of shopping. I would go again, definitely. It’s not top of my list like Varenna but it was fun. I would definitely go back to buy shoes, leather bags and belts.

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First off we stayed in a pretty hip hotel.  The San Gallo Palace .  I dug all their weird cool art and the fresh take on breakfast. It was a bit kitschy, a bit modern, a bit zany like Italy is. I loved the funky chairs in the lobby and the little tiny cacti plants at breakfast. They had a garden outside too that I wanted to explore but by the time I got around to it a storm had rolled in and it was a bit chilly!

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Before all that, we took a quick trip on the Hop-on-hop-off bus to get a lay of the land. Teresa (and me) always recommend this to weary travelers. It’s a great way to relax, see the sights, get your bearings and get around! You can sit and relax or use the ticket for 24-48 hours just to get from here to there. It’s really a great value. Don’t worry about the cheap headphones and knowing what is really going on. You’ll figure it as you go and if you don’t figure it out, no biggy! Just go around again! Florence had two hop-on-hop-off bus routes. One was about an hour and the other two. We didn’t see all of the routes but we did get around. Our first stop was the statue of David at the top of the hill over-looking Florence.

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What a view! Not of the girl, though she is pretty too but of the Duomo and the city! It was really nice to start off our tour with this view and get an idea of what was to come. We walked around, admired some water-colorists street art and ate a delicious lunch.

 

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Apperol Spritz and thinly sliced meats were on the daily. Not pictured was of course burrata caprese salad! We ate that at every meal.

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Then down the hill to do some shopping! Shopping in Florence is what everybody does.

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There are little shops everywhere! Selling everything! And most of it really really nice things, not just cheap souvenirs.

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Of course we visited Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore up close and not just afar from the hillside. At night it was the most dramatic. The black and white marble looks almost like paper when juxtaposed with the other orange and brown buildings around it. It was all very surreal.

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And of course we shopped.

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Teresa found a jaunty leather jacket and I almost bought those boots with the red elastic insert, but I didn’t.

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The next day we took off to see the church at the top of the hill that we didn’t get a chance to see the day before.

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It’s called The San Miniato al Monte and it’s very pretty. We happened to go there on a Sunday and actually got to see a Mass being performed which was crazily dramatic for me, the non-Catholic of the group. There was incense being swung back and forth, monks speaking in latin and the most dramatic and scary song being played on a loud organ. It sounded like Dracula himself was about to appear! But it wasn’t. It was just a traditional mass.

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After that excitement we wandered around the cemetery outside and soaked in the sunshine.

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We visited a little pharmacy store next to the church that the monks make essential oils for. I sampled their famous coconut ice cream. It was delicious, of course. So simple and light! Teresa was skeptical because she thinks coconuts only grow in Hawaii and the monks have no business messing with them. Either way the shop was really cute and we went home with several tinctures and potions.

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The cemetery was beautiful. So many graves of children tugged at our heart strings.

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Then back down the hill we bussed to see the famous bridge: Ponte Vecchio. It doesn’t look like it’s a bridge because it’s covered with little buildings but it is. All the little buildings are little shops. Some of them are so small they are cupboards that lock and unlock with a series of levers and pulleys that are all interconnected. It’s quite interesting and complicated. I’d love to go back when they are opening or closing and see how all the mechanisms actually work.

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Pretty pretty postcard shots! Teresa took one from inside a shop which is a much more original idea. Too bad I didn’t think of that!

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When we were there half the shops were closed because it was Sunday, which was fine with me because I was pretty much out of spending money by that point and less shops equals less people shopping so it wasn’t so overwhelmingly crowded.

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I can only imagine what it is like on a busy tourist day. Crazy!

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Next we visited the Piazza della Signoria and admired all the violent sculptures. I’d love to go back as a history student and learn all the stories behind them.

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Christine pointed out some graffiti by Michelangelo. There are a lot of tall tales about how it got there. I’m not sure what is true but it was kind of cool to see. And nobody was really looking at it, so maybe it’s not that well known.

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Tourists, tourists, tourists. They are an amazing spectacle on their own. Sometimes it’s fun to turn around and take pictures of all the people taking pictures.

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We got a kick out of a flock of Tibetan monks that swarmed the square around us. I think the feeling was mutual.

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And the street art!

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I wonder what this chalk street art looks like when it rains.

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We putzed around poking in and out of shops. The shopping seemed like it could go on forever. Much longer than I or my budget ever could.

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But I could definitely take pictures of shops!

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We stopped by the famous Gilli restaurant from the famed American in Italy photo. Sadly we happened upon the one rude waiter in all of Italy so our experience wasn’t the best. I guess that is what we get for being American tourists. I’m sure Italy is very sick of us.

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The deserts were camera ready but not quite as tasty. Maybe our rude waiter tainted our opinions. I don’t know but I do know I am definitely NOT a cafe con panna girl. It was a little too much panna for me! It looks pretty though!

That night a storm rolled in and we were so late to get out to dinner that all the restaurants closed on us! It was Sunday after all. We were just about to stay in and order room service when we discovered the cutest little restaurant right next door to our hotel. It was very small and managed by the most capable older woman with fluffy blonde hair, probably the matriarch of the place. We huddled inside to keep warm.  In America they would have turned us away but she let us stay there in the entryway with a few other couples crowding everyone. Every table was filled but we stood there patiently until finally a few families left. They weren’t even rushed by the woman. They just finished and got up to go of their own accord. I love that about Italy. No one ever rushes you. You can stay all night until the restaurant closes! We know because we closed down a few!

I don’t have any pictures but you’ll just have to imagine it. It was called Ristorante Alfredo. It was so cozy and warm and welcoming. I love little family run restaurants! They really treat you the best. I ordered some kind of tomato zuppa (soup) (because I’m not a fan of fish and that was their specialty) and when it came, it was the heartiest thick, bready, crumb stew you have ever seen! My spoon stood up straight in it! It was a comfort food dream come true, perfect for a cold fall night AND perfect for our last dinner in Italy!

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The next morning while Teresa got her travel agent affairs in order, Christine and I did one last power walk to see Santa Maria Novella. There are so many amazing churches in Italy but this one seemed the most steeped in history. It was quite big with many rooms and courtyards. I want to go back and spend a year learning about it an all the frescos and art. A year might not even be enough time!

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Then after that power walk tour we headed across the street for my last standing cappuccino.

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Italian cappuccinos are so, so, so good. It’s very strange to me to stand and drink a cappuccino at the bar. I think we should adopt this custom. Especially the $1 part. So good and so cheap! The woman pouring my cappuccino recognized a friend who came in and shouted out “Ciao Bella!” so loudly and enthusiastically that Christine and I were quite smitten. Wouldn’t it be great to be greeted like that every day?!

So we did just that when we got back to our hotel and reunited with Teresa. Ciao Bella, Teresa!

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I think learning a new greeting is probably the best souvenir of all!

Ciao Bella, Florence!

Next up: Robbed AGAIN (!!!) in Milan