Solo travel is an amazing way to experience the world. However, it does have its drawbacks, some quite acute.
I love the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want. I love having the option to also do absolutely nothing as well. Freedom of choice might be the number one reason to travel alone.
But then there’s that word, alone … It definitely gets lonely. Even as the introvert that I am, I still find myself wishing I had someone along for the ride quite often. This is visceral when I’m experiencing something amazing … a sunset, an alpine valley or some random old thing I happen to stumble upon.
Without doubt, it's felt the strongest at meal time. There’s something about eating alone that quantifiably sucks. What's most interesting is I have no problem sitting alone having a cappuccino or cocktail. But when it comes time to dine, ugh, I want to crawl inside my shell like a turtle. So many times, I end up going for the easiest option and get a gyro or some other local fast food.
Having spent almost two weeks completely alone in Tirana, this was all put into sharp focus over the last twelve days.
Arriving in Milan, I spent a few solo days finally sorting my passport renewal. Then the best thing happened ... Eli arrived to spend 11 days with me. I cannot describe the joy and happiness he brings me. Having him along made these next days so magical.
So what did we do? Well, we did what the Flory boys always do … we wandered. Our entire week in Milan was spent meandering tiny, cobbled streets getting lost amongst it all.
Each day we would pick a neighborhood, take the Metro to it and then mosey about. We explored the old town, gazed at the epicness that is Duomo, walked the canals of Navigli and rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous on Corso Vittorio Emanuele Secondo.
Park time is always high on our list and we made sure to hit up many of the amazing parks on offer. A nice lunch at Bar Bianco in Parco Sempione, views of Bosco Verticale from Biblioteca deli Alberi Milano, and relaxing in the shade in Giardini Indro Montanelli and Piazza Leonardo da Vinci. And while maybe not a park, per se, we also wandered about in Cimitero Monumentale, famous for its over the top tombs and monuments.
We even found time for multiple workouts in Parco Lambro near our apartment. With its mix of trails and playing fields, there was the ability for both of us to do our preferred workouts.
And then there is all the food and drink. Having someone to eat with felt stupendous! No need to feel awkward or spend all my time staring at my phone. Actual conversations!
Beyond that, this is Italy and the food is AMAZING! We partook of my new favorite pastime, aperitivo. When you indulge in aperitivo, the drinks cost a couple extra euro, but includes an assortment of delicious snacks. In some cases, it's so much food that you could be forgiven for simply calling it your meal for the night.
Last point on this subject … drinks are insanely cheap in Europe. Or maybe they are just expensive in the US. The champions of aperitivo, the Aperol Spritz and the Negroni, each range from €4 - €8. You can’t get either of those in the States for less than $10, let alone as low as $4. Let’s just say that I’m in heaven here! The aperitivo life is the life for me!
Now back to the food … ohh, the food. It’s delicious.The structure of lunch and dinner here in Italy has required a bit for an adjustment. It’s a whole thing, and it takes a while. Food is, perhaps, the most loved thing in this country, and they take it very seriously. You can expect a meal to easily last up to two hours. You have antipasto, then primo and THEN secondo, the main course. This, of course, is followed by dessert, and then and only then, caffe.
And let’s talk meal times, because it’s important. Lunch is almost never before 1pm and dinner starts, STARTS, around 8pm. So if you’ve done your math correctly, dinner will be ending around 10-11pm … at which point you have a caffe (espresso)!
Quickly on the subject of coffee, it has rules too! If you order a “coffee” expect to get an espresso. Drip/filter coffee is not a thing here. You can order a cappuccino, latte or macchiato, BUT only until about 11am, and NEVER in the afternoon. The Italians believe the milk isn’t good for your stomach (even though gelato is enjoyed all day long). Lastly, espresso is a quick drink, usually consumed within minutes. Most cafes have a stand-up bar where you swing in, have your espresso and quickly move on.
Oh yeah, the food, almost forgot. We ate really well. Pasta, pizza slices the size of your head, and all the prosciutto and cheese you can handle! One of my favorites is melon wrapped in prosciutto. Perfecto!
And what better way to end the food section than with gelato! It’s everywhere, its cheap and my lord is it divine. I’ve lost count of the number of flavor combinations I’ve tried. Stracciatella has won over my heart though.
On our second to last day in Milan, another dream came true and a bucket list item checked off the list. After helping Eli realize his dream of seeing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, it was my turn. We were lucky enough to get tickets to the opening match of the 2022/23 Serie A season, Milan v Udinese. I’ve wanted to see Milan at the San Siro for so long, and getting to do so with Eli made it even more special.
And what an entertaining match it was! Milan went behind 0-1 in the second minute, clearly not ready to play. But then their class showed through and they were ahead 2-1 by the 18th minute. Another lapse of concentration on the stroke of halftime had the teams heading to the locker rooms tied 2-2. The team must have received quite the talking, as they came out focused and firing on all cylinders in the second half. An excellent second half performance saw the Rossoneri claim all three points ... final score 4-2! Sempre Milan!
After a chill final day in the city, we hopped a train north, up to Lake Como and the idyllic town of Varenna. I get why this is such a famous destination, it’s absolutely gorgeous. There is not a bad view anywhere and in fact, every view is stunning. We only booked in for two night, which meant we only had one full day to explore.
Upon arrival, we sauntered through town, and settled into a small cafe for a bite to eat and a few cocktails. That evening, we set out to find some dinner. By chance, we found ourselves on the patio at Ristorante La Vista in Albergo Milano. Without a reservation, we were lucky to get seats in the most beautiful spot in the whole city.
This was, hands down, the best meal we had the entire trip. A bit on the pricey side (still reasonable if you were vacationing), but the view was so stunning it made it all worth it. An amuse-bouche of fresh salmon was followed by an antipasti of pigeon terrine filled with duck foie gras and caramelized apples. We both had a pasta primi, before deciding to go full Italian and order secondi.
As we dined, we watched the sun dissolve into the mountains. Mother Nature wasn't done yet and a storm rolled in over the lake. The juxtaposition of the radiant sunset with the ominous storm was one of a kind. We capped this perfect night at the best little gelato spot, listening to the lake water lap up onto shore.
Our one full day was a nice combination of activity and relaxation. We headed to the town square for a cappuccino and a couple Nutella piadinas to start the day. A hike up the mountain behind town followed. At the top sits, Castello di Vezio and its amazing views of the town and lake. We had planned to ferry across the lake to another of the little hamlets, but instead indulged in some pizza and cocktails in the afternoon sun.
After filling up, we had a short rest in the apartment, before making our way to the edge of town. Eli found a quite little beach and we enjoyed the most perfect lake swim. The water was the most amazing temperature, cold enough to cool us off, but warm enough that you didn’t want to get out.
Because we got lucky with dinner the night before, we didn’t bother making a dinner reservation for tonight … our mistake. We spent a good 45 minutes trying every restaurant with no luck. Defeated, we resigned to standing in line for 20 minutes to eat what can only be described as an average meal. After such a wonderful day, it was a shame not to have a dinner that equaled it.
We had one final evening and morning together back in Milan, before Eli caught his flight to London to meet up with his teammates for preseason training.
As soon as he boarded the bus for the airport, I felt an emptiness inside. Much of it was him leaving, and the thought that it would be many months before we saw each other again. Part of it was the sense that I was again alone.
Oh, a final update on the passport situation. When I first arrived in Milan, I had an appointment at the consulate to apply for the new passport. That process went very smooth, as I was in and out in under an hour. The best part was being told to come back 14 days later to pick up the new one. This was way less time than the 3-5 weeks quoted when I got my emergency passport back in Madrid. So yay! Not only do I have a new full passport, but I also requested the big daddy, which means I have double the pages … more to fill up now!
After picking up the new passport, I close one final loop by booking my next destination. I would be off to Modena in the Emilia-Romagna region for the next week.
Having Eli with me for the last week was so wonderful, and turned out to be the rejuvenating energy I needed. While my social anxiety around dining alone will persist, I have a strong desire to seek the discomfort to overcome it and grow as a person.