ITALY (Brescia, Milan and Verona)

This weekend, all my roommates (minus Julian sadly) and I all went to Brescia, Italy to stay with Carlo’s family. My experience is easy to sum up in one word:  AAAAAMMMMMMMAAAAAAZZZZZZIIIIIIINNNNNGGGGGG!!!!!

It all started Friday night.  We weren’t leaving until Saturday morning at 6am so we all stayed in to get some sleep. Unfortunately, we are all restless like the rest of the city and we all got about 1 or 2 hours of actual sleep before our alarms went off. It was Chloe, Marta, Julia, and I, and once we hit the streets of Madrid at 4.10am, we ran into Jose Luis who had come straight from a party. I swear that guy never sleeps.

We walked to Cibeles where we caught the only bus that runs to the airport. We paid our 2 euros and climbed aboard, all extremely excited for what the weekend would bring.  We arrived at the airport about 20 minutes later and with sleep in our eyes, we did the usual measures that must be taken at airports: Me, being the only American, had to get my boarding pass stamped by showing my passport proving…something (Ryanair requires non-EU citizens to show their passports before being allowed to pass through security).  All my friends waiting, staring at me confusedly and dazedly as I stood in the short line to get my large “NON-EU” stamp. Oh, the joys of being American.

Afterward, we all passed through security, boarded our plane, half-slept, half-complained during the flight and finally, at about 8am we had arrived! MILANO!

As we were waiting for Carlo to pick us up, we ordered the typical Italian morning drink: Cappuccinos! After we finished our breakfast, we went outside to look for Carlo, but we didn’t have to wait too long. All of a sudden, someone had jumped on my back screaming. Sure enough, it was our chauffeur, Carlo! He had come with his sister and a friend of his to pick all of us up. We took two cars and within about 30 or 40 minutes, we were in Brescia.

Breschia is a smaller city in comparison to Milan, tucked away in the pre-Alps. It’s a city with a beautiful landscape of high mountains dotted with the occasional cottage and church, while the landscape was littered with vineyards, domed buildings and tall Italian homes with people riding bikes on the streets and other sipping their afternoon “aperitivo” in some sunlit terraces.

We first went to his home and unloaded our stuff. We munched on crackers and had more coffee before heading out to explore the city. Traveling in Brescia was obviously left up to Carlo’s family, but not only did either Carlo, his sister, or one of his friends drive us, we drove in Carlo’s dad’s classic car. I’m not sure what model it was, but it was some antique Peugot in the finest style of it’s age. The car was sleek and stylish and as we all climbed in and sat on those couch-like seats, we knew we in for a tremendous weekend. Carlo’s father clearly has great taste.  That was especially proven once Carlo turned on the radio and the CD was the height of the wah-wah pedal mo-town era of music: It was straight-up 1970’s car-chase movie music, which made all of us go crazy with excitement. With the windows rolled down and classic grooves ringing out of the car windows and in our spirits, not a single one of us could wipe a smile from our faces.

Our first destination was some castle up on a large hill that in itself was quite impressive. However, the best part was the incredible view we got of the entire city and countryside which was absolutely break taking (see photographs).  Next, we climbed down these ancient, winding stairs to meander through the streets of the city. We first stopped at some ancient Roman ruins (which clearly proved that the Ancient Romans, too, drank Peroni beer…what I mean is someone littered and it was ugly to see amongst the ruins). Eventually, me our way to the center where a giant domed cathedral sits with incredible Italian plazas and terraces surrounding. Unfortunately we were unable to enter, but being able to stand in front and enjoy the skinny streets and the people enjoying the wonderful weekend weather was good enough. Finally, we returned home where Carlo’s mother (professional chef, BTW), had prepared us probably one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in my 23 and a half years of existence: A complete dish of exquisite home-made lasagna, another dish of something amazing that I have no clue what it was, and of course, bottles of wine and beer.  We sat outside in their small courtyard, enjoyed the sun and the beautiful Magnolia tree that sat right next to the table, just eating, chatting, and loving life.  Later, all being incredibly satisfied and completely stuffed, we all forced ourselves to eat the dessert she had prepared, which were these tiny little chocolate and coconut balls that melted in your mouth.

Finally, we all took a nap outside, underneath the Magnolia tree. It was probably the best nap I’ve ever taken in my entire life. If someone had come to the house, it must have been a funny sight, seeing six or seven people all passed out on blankets in the courtyard.

Once we woke up, we went to Lago di Garda, which is like 40 minutes from Brescia. It’s an enormous lake that looks more like the ocean. We went and had an afternoon aperitivo, which is some drink called Aperol or something like that. It’s bright orange and really sweet. Afterwards, we went back to Breschia, ordered about 10 of some of the best pizzas I’ve ever had and returned to Carlo’s place to watch the Inter-Milan vs. AC Milano football match. All of Carlo’s friends came over because this was a huge game because both teams are from Milan and are huge rivals. Carlo and his friends are die-hard AC Milano fans so we had to cheer hard. Fortunately, they scored within the first minute (which erupted into all the boys jumping up and down, screaming in Italian at their excitement, and to Chloe’s fright).  AC Milano went on to win the match 3-0, putting everyone, especially those guys, in a great mood.

We went out for a night on the town in the center of Brescia.  All in the same night, two people thought I was Spanish, which was really exciting because I guess my Spanish is getting good enough that non-Spanish speakers are fooled by my skills. It’s actually really surprising since I have AMERICAN written all over my typical American face, but I took it as a compliment that I fooled a number of people. I even had to show one guy my ID because he didn’t believe I was American when I told him. Also, side note, Italians DON’T speak Spanish. They speak ITALIAN. I guess I got it into my head that Spanish would make it easier to communicate than in English, but Chloe had to come and remind me that A) I was speaking incredibly fast and using lots of slang and that B) No one understood Spanish. It was one of those, “Oh. Yeah.” moments. So I tried communicating in a mix of English and Spanish. Overall, I found the night incredibly fun and hilarious.

On Sunday, we all got up, caught the train (took an hour and a half to arrive) and went into the center of Milan. Milan was PACKED with people. There were way more people than I ever expected. There were people everywhere! I mean everywhere.

We got to see the Duomo, which is some uninteresting church about the size of an American football stadium, the Galleria, which is probably the most famous icon of Milan, and later we went and saw some ancient castle. We finished the day off by lying in a park, sipping on cold icee’s, and then finishing off with the afternoon aperitivo.  Then we caught the train back home.

Interesting note: Marta tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Look! It’s Santa Clause!” I turned around and enough, there was a fat man with a long white beard that easily looked like Santa Clause. Then as he got closer to us, his shirt had a picture of Santa’s face on it. Not before long, we were talking to him, his name was Gary, and he is a professional Santa Clause from California! Jose Luis got his business card. Gary said that Santa needs a vacation too, so he lives on the beach in California and was currently on his world tour, not disguised at all as a common fellow.  Of all places in the world, we meet Santa Clause in Milan, Italy. Go figure.

That night, Carlo’s parents took us to a restaurant of a friend of theirs.  I cannot express how good Italian food is! We ate incredibly! Jose Luis and I ended up sitting next to Carlo’s father which made for one of the most interesting conversations I’ve ever had.  Carlo’s father knows some random words in English but can’t quite form a sentence, so Jose Luis and I were forced to use some strange combination of Spanish, English, and a few Italian words that we had picked up.  Carlo’s father was incredibly nice and pretty hilarious. Carlo’s mother too, is one of the sweetest women ever.

Also, as it turned out, Carlo’s sister listens to a ton of bands that I do, which made me feel so excited to finally have met someone in Europe that listens to good music! She even gave me a guitar pick from BAYSIDE that she had collected at a show! It was super nice of her. When we were riding in the car on the way from the airport to Carlo’s house on Friday, she just happened to ask me if I liked A Day to Remember, even before she knew I listened to good music. I said, YES! and asked if she did. And she said she’s seen them live a number of times and loves them too! So we got to listen to ADTR on the whole ride to Carlo’s parents’ house, which totally made my day. I looked at Chloe before Carlo’s sister, Federicca, put on ADTR and knowing that she HATES that kind of music, before I was able to say, “Sorry, but deal with it,” she says, “Don’t worry. This is your moment so take advantage of it!” And before I knew it, we were all listening to ADTR and I didn’t feel so alone in the world.  Too bad she doesn’t live in Madrid, otherwise we’d become best friends.

At the end of our fabulous dinner, we caught Carlo’s father paying for the whole meal, so we all put money together and tried to figure out a way of making him let us help pay. So, Jose Luis, being the hilarious character that he is, pretends to drop the money and says, “Oh look what I found, oh, it must be yours!” and tries to hand the money over to Carlo’s father. However, Jose Luis didn’t make it look realistic at all, in fact, it was hilarious, so we all laughed and insisted that Carlo’s dad accept the money, but he refused. Upon our leaving back to Madrid, we made sure to stop by and pick up a few bottles of wine to say thank you to Carlo’s parents for buying us dinner and for being such wonderful hosts.

Monday came too quickly; Marta and Chloe were taking to the airport at about 6am.  Later, once Jose Luis, Julia, and I woke up, Carlo and two of his friends took us to Verona, which is where Juliet’s balcony is from the infamous Romeo and Juliet.  The city was one of the neatest I’ve probably ever seen in Europe: It was quaint but lovely in it’s typical and traditional look and feel. When I think about Italy, I think about towns like this one. The buildings were all decoratively colorful and traditional.  In the middle of the town sits an old Roman coliseum (La Arena), a number of terraces, and a small plaza with a fountain in the center.  At the other end of the city is a gorgeous river tucked below some purple mountains clouded in a slight haze.  We wandered around, saw Juliet’s balcony, ate lunch by the river, took a tour through the Arena, and then finished off with, of course, another Italian afternoon aperitivo.

Completely exhausted, we came back to Carlo’s house, ate our final dinner with his wonderful family, and then we went back to the airport. Our flight was a little bit delayed and then upon landing, we had to circle around for like 20 minutes since the landing strip was full. But finally, at about 1.30 in the morning, we made it home where I practically passed out instantly.

As a whole, the weekend was wonderful, fun, exciting, and terrific. We all had a great time and it’s all thanks to Carlo and his family who were incredible. I owe them so much. They were so nice and inviting and had some of the best hospitality I’ve ever seen shown. We were all begging the family to let us live there.  I owe Carlo and his family the world, I appreciate absolutely everything they did for us this weekend and I know I’ll never forget about my stay in Italy. I know it was a completely unique experience and one that I couldn’t have gotten without Carlo.  Thanks to him and his family.

Write more later,

Graham

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