Just returned from Milan an hour ago. Would you believe it is only a 1 hour and 15 minute flight from London? Actually took longer to work our way through the airport than to get to Italy.
[I recommend clicking on the images in the blog to get the full details. They are super high resolution so you can see so much.]
This was my first trip to Italy and I didn't know what to expect. Milan isn't the traditional destination for first time visitors but I got a great deal on http://www.lastminute.com/ that included hotel and airfare. You never know what kind of hotel you're going to get but we certainly lucked it. It was located one block from the Duomo which is the ornate marble church seen in these images. The church is massive and breathtaking. We actually climbed the staircase to the top and looked out over the city. the good news is that I wasn't too scared - on a scale of 1 to 10 I was about a 3. From the top you can see the Alps off in the distance. Stephen went one level higher but I didn't want to chance my good luck.
Travelling on Easter weekend in a Catholic country I had no idea what to expect. Would everything be closed except for the churches? Would we be able to find the legendary giant chocolate Easter eggs? Well, we found the amazing eggs. I bought a medium sized one for Stephen (although we did consider the three foot egg). It was wrapped in fine paper with a ribbon. All the milk chocolate eggs were sold out but he seemed very happy with his dark chocolate egg. The fun was watching Stephen try to crack the egg, he finally resorted to taking a big chunk out of the top with his teeth.
Easter Saturday the city was hopping with tourists. Everything was open and we had a fantastic wander. Stephen read on the internet that it was going to be cold but it was so sunny that we only felt cool in the shade. We visited the Duomo and then made our way to the Museum of Science and Industry which is housed in an old convent (photo of Stephen in the courtyard). From there we meandered to the Castello - The Castle. Our guidebook said how ugly Milan was but believe me it wasn't. We kept finding surprises around every turn.
Easter Sunday we took the train out to Lake Como which is about an hour's ride from Milan. Again, we had no idea what to expect. The train service was running on a regular schedule and when we arrived in Como the cafes were just opening after the morning Easter services. We walked past a church and could hear a congregation singing inside its stone walls. The grandest church in the small town was just starting a service when we wandered in. Here you can see the light breaking through the incense-filled air in the church.
The lake views were mind-blowingly beautiful. I felt like we were in a picture postcard. The alps surrounding the lake were covered with snow, the sky was blue and the water crystal clear. We took a ferry to Bellagio which was at the center of this Y-shaped lake. The rocking of the boat, clean air and beautiful views were so relaxing that I fell asleep and opened my eyes when we arrived in Bellagio - it was like waking up in a dream. We had a fantastic lunch (every meal in Italy was fantastic including our last meal which was giant gelato sundaes at a sidewalk cafe). Then we we wandered the small town, bought some glass jewelry, visited a church from the 1500s, and watched the waves as we waited for the return ferry.
Our last day, today, was rather quiet. We visited the canals because our tour book said they were good - however they were not. Leave that to Venice. Flying home we went over the snow covered Alps and Stephen pointed out Lake Como and Bellagio from the air. On the way to Milan we flew directly over the Eiffel Tower at night and Stephen, with his eagle eyes, pointed that out to me too.
This was an amazing trip. I would recommend visiting Milan for a day and then immediately heading north to tour the Lakes. The hotel and airfare weren't too expensive but we did empty our packets when it came to food. I think we could have eaten cheaper but Stephen loves Italian cuisine and didn't hold back. That's okay because I also satisfied my new craving of sparkling wines.
I'm trying to see Europe during my last month here since I spent the first 20+ months only exploring London. I think the final excursion will be Brussels by Eurostar.