"Like Vegas, but real" a Californian in Italy

So we've already established the fact that I'm crazy. And that is the sole reason why on the morning of day three, we hopped on yet another bus for Italy's fashion capital of the north, Milan.

Our bus left from Florence bright and early at 7 am. So we literally woke up at like 5:30, scrambled to pack up, threw on jackets and set off to walk back across town to the station. Needless to say, we looked like shit. When we finally made it to Milan, the first thing we did was change into better clothes...and put on our faces.

The bus dropped us off at a really random and seemingly deserted station (Lampugnano). There, we and all the other confused tourists attempted to purchase metro tickets into the city center. Since we had train tickets back to Rome from the central station, we decided to go there first, check in our stuff to the baggage storage and freshen up before setting out to explore the city. As soon as I got to the central station, I felt like I was in Paris again. The opulent architecture plastered with fashion ads made me nostalgic for the smelly Parisian stations.

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First, we looked for bathrooms. Which, unexpectedly, was a weird experience. First off, there was someone stationed at the bathrooms. Then, you had to pay €1 to go in. Inside, it was like a locker room, really big with plenty of room for us to get ready with all of our luggage in tow. We probably looked like completely different people entering and leaving the bathroom. I, for one, felt like a secret agent swapping identities in a public restroom...

After dropping off our stuff, we hopped on a very spacious metro to the center of it all.

DUOMO DI MILANO

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As soon as we stepped up from underground, I was in awe. Again, I felt like I was in Paris, but bigger. There was so much space. The square was bustling with activity, but it was huge. Europe is full of squares, piazzas and places, but this was just felt so expansive compared to the others I've been to. The sky was blue, the sun lit up the buildings perfectly, and I was practically dancing across the square. Holy shit there were a lot of pigeons though.

A lot of people told me that Milan might not be worth a visit, compared to other Italian cities. I suppose it is a lot more similar to other European cities, but I also think that's what made me love it so much. It felt like Paris, but with friendlier people. It was opulent, everyone was beautiful, it felt amazing to shop and to sit at a café and people watch. It felt more sophisticated than Rome (which, we all have to admit, is infested with tourists and smells bad...), more of a city than Florence. I felt like I could live here. I loved Florence, but I am a city girl through and through, and Milan felt like Paris, but better in a way. Maybe because it wasn't quite as touristy. Maybe it's better that people tend to skip it.

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Then I saw Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Which was when I decided I was in the "real" Vegas. I guess no matter how long I spend in Europe, I just find it so hard to believe that people actually created such ridiculously extravagant structures for reasons other than commercial tourism. Especially because it's filled with the same international brands that are in every Vegas hotel. And because it was filled with rich Chinese tourists. But seriously, the glass roof of the arcade made me internally sob. And physically trip because I obviously was not looking where I was going. It's one of the world's oldest shopping malls, but you wouldn't be able to tell. Everything was in pristine condition, the tiles on the floor practically glistened.

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It looks fake!

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I wanted to linger, but my stomach was not down to hang. Good thing the place we were heading was on the other side of the Galleria. And thank god it was Saturday, so Luini was open.

LUNCH AT LUINI

This bakery/fast food joint has been around since 1888. I have no idea what panzerotti is...but it's good. The menu outside lists a selection of sweet and savory panzerotti (they have an English menu on one side, Italian on the other). We knew we were in the right place when we saw the line - but it moved really fast. I think I got two panzerotti and some sweets (I got carried away seeing their delicious spread of carbs). All for well under €10, which is pretty amazing.

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Conveniently, one of the most popular gelato spots (yes, I did this research on the way over), was right across the street.

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This was quite the fancy dessert place. Probably felt even fancier because it was located right under a McDonalds. Definitely not the cheap <€2 gelato we had in Florence, but definitely dressed up for the price. They even had diagrams labeling the layers of chocolate goodness in each creation. Oh yeah, and they have several chocolate fountains. Again, #worthit. My sweet tooth was definitely spoiled on this trip.

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OBLIGATORY SHOPPING

We didn't feel bad, because shopping in Milan is an experience in itself.

So I may or may not have planned my entire Italy trip based off one thing. Graduation photos. While I finished my classes in December, my commencement wasn't until June. And since I spent most of the time in between traveling, I figured I wouldn't have time to take grad photos on campus. As more and more people started taking them and posting them, I started getting mad FOMO. So I did the next best thing, and packed my graduation sash and went to Milan for the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio. Also known as the "OG" Royce Hall.

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Close enough.

Anyways, Sant'Ambrogio is a little ways west of Piazza del Duomo, so we decided to shop our way there. We picked the biggest street in the general direction and went for it. I believe we took Via dei Mercanti and then continued onto Via Dante. We seemed to be in the heart of the shopping district. Milan's version of Third Street Promenade, if you will. But again, much prettier and classier. But still with the slew of tourists and weird people. Oh and pickpockets! I remember when I first got to Paris, our teachers warned us of pickpockets who will pretend to sell you a bracelet by putting it on your wrist so an accomplice can sweep in while you're distracted. Right as we turned into Piazza Cordusio, I experienced this for the first time. Of course my ridiculous reaction was to just shake it off as if it were a spider and run away. Smooth. I know.

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I also at some point got stopped by a Chinese lady handing out religious fliers. It was an interesting conversation. Because she spoke to me in Chinese and then handed me a flier to read. But I said I can't read Chinese. So she gave me an Italian one, thinking I grew up in Italy. Then, I had to explain that I don't read Italian either. So basically, some Chinese lady in Milan thinks I'm illiterate.

When we got to Largo Cairoli, there was some sort of peaceful protest going on. Which I love, because it made it feel even more like a city.

Then, we turned onto quieter streets, and it felt like a different city altogether. There was a garden next to the police station on Via Sant'Agnese that felt like a hidden alcove. Eventually, we were the only tourists. Sant'Ambrogio is a quiet neighborhood for locals, though it's steps away from the bustle of Duomo.

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BASILICA SANT'AMBROGIO

It felt like home. Kind of. Ok, not really. But the familiarity of the architecture was rather disorienting. A 30 minute photo session later, we peaced out just as what seemed to be a wedding was about to begin. I'm pretty sure every single one of those well dressed Italians were judging us. But this was an important life event for us too!

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Though I must say, I think the inside of our Royce is prettier:)

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Looks a little more rustic than our campus, but it worked!

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As we made our way back towards the Piazza del Duomo, we had no time for an aperitivo, but just enough time to grab cappuccinos at a tiny café nearby and people watch.

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Then it was one last look at the beautiful duomo and then back to the central station. We grabbed our stuff, bought some food, and then boarded a fast train to Rome, covering 350 miles in under 3 hours.

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And here is the scene that comes after the credits

So we made it to Rome, yay! Then, it was time to figure out how to get from Termini to Trastevere. Long story short, we couldn't find the right train to take, and everything was closing. We had no internet, and tried going to McDonalds to get wifi, but there were too many sketchy people outside for us to get through.

We ended up taking a metro to a station where we could transfer, but it looked like a dead end. Maybe there were no more trains for the night, maybe we were in the wrong place entirely. We tried walking from one station to another, but we must have been in the middle of nowhere because there was no one around. Eventually, after wandering around outside, we saw a light and walked towards it.

It was an oasis! Actually, it was Eataly. I had gone to the Eataly in Chicago last year and loved it (but that's a story for another time). They were our saving grace. My memory is probably skewed from the anxiety, but it felt like in the middle of darkness rose a large building of light that was Eataly. Families were outside, waiting for cars. There were friendly looking people. No one spoke English, but we managed to go inside and ask the doorman to call us a taxi. I'm not even sure how we communicated that part - probably with a lot of gestures and pulling up a map. But in the end, hours after arriving back in Rome, we made it back.

Oh, and one more story: the next morning I had to catch a very early flight. Somehow I managed to lock myself out of the apartment but inside the building and scrambled to try to break out...

Again, it was a shit show, but I made it out, walked to the Trastevere station in the brisk morning, bought the right ticket boarded the right train, got stuck behind some fussy French tourists while checking in, almost missed my flight, unfortunately didn't miss it, and found myself back in good ole Split before I knew it. Two buses later, I was back in bed. It wasn't even noon yet.