Almost every non-commuting college student has been forced to adjust to no longer living with his or her parents, but there’s a huge difference between living 2 hours away from home in the Bronx’s Little Italy and living in actual Italy’s Italy with a 6 hour time difference and a 7 hour flight separating you from your parents. Naturally, then, October 12-15 was a long weekend I had been looking forward to for the entirety of my first half abroad.
My parents landed around 8am at Malpensa, and I headed over to the (incredibly bougie) Palazzo Parigi Hotel & Grand Spa to meet them shortly after. I can’t say that my first few hours with them were particularly thrilling, as both of them passed out minutes after I arrived and I spent the 3 hour duration of their naps watching Netflix. After my mom woke up, though, we decided to check out the spa that the Palazzo Parigi boasted in its title.
While we didn’t opt for a swim or anything of that nature, we did get the chance to scope out the entire spa facility, and 10/10 would recommend visiting it yourself (read: having your parents bring you and pay for it). My mom and I chose to get manicures, and we were promptly escorted to a private room in which we were given an array of Chanel nail polishes to choose from and all the lemon water we could drink. As one would imagine, I have never felt so sophisticated in my life. When my dad finally woke up, we set off for the Duomo.
Our route took us through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which, despite having seen it countless times already since landing in Milan, took my breath away just as much as it did to my mom. We wandered around the square in front of the Duomo for a few minutes until the pigeons became too much (which was essentially the second they came near me) and made our way towards Ristorante Mercanti for lunch. My parents tried to pretend like they thought it was too early to drink with our meals, but it took little to no convincing to get them to order Aperol Spritzes with me, which quickly became my I’m Abroad and Want to Seem Cultured™ drink of choice. Our meals were, as expected, amazing, despite being relatively simple options (pizzas for my dad and I, an Italian version of a “salad” for my mom), but our bruschetta appetizer was what really caught our attention.
After spending what seemed like an eternity attempting to get our check, we began our walk towards my Milan school, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. My parents quickly fell into the local Italian stride, which is unbelievably slow, but with such pretty views of the neighborhoods we passed through it was hard to complain (not impossible, though). When we got to the exchange students’ campus, I gave my parents a super-quick walkthrough of the ground floor, and then we walked over to the main campus, weaving through clouds of cigarette smoke and students wearing the flower crowns signifying a graduation that somehow seemed to happen every single day. Our walk back to the Palazzo Parigi required a quick stop at Arnold Coffee, a relatively Americanized coffee shop that didn’t threaten to deport you if you wanted ice in your coffee like every other sane person.
We relaxed at the hotel for a little bit before heading right back to the plaza of the Duomo to find somewhere to get dinner. The roads winding between the hotel and the center of Milan were teeming with the most sophisticated people I have ever seen, which was just the quick blow to my self-esteem that I needed for a Thursday night. The restaurant we chose was situated somewhat behind the Duomo and offered a standard Milanese menu, and we opted for a plate piled high with prosciutto and a zucchini pie (which actually was amazing and for sure not as bad as it sounds, I promise), and ordered veal, pizza, and ravioli for our meals.
We ate ourselves into food comas and waddled back to the Duomo, stopping for various performers before settling down on the curb to listen to one man (Paolo Antonio on Facebook, if you’re curious) give his renditions of songs like “Imagine.” I could spend literally hours listening to street performers, but a combination of the absurd amount of aggressive light-up toy and flower peddlers in Milan and my dad’s natural curiosity about the city’s gelato sent us on our way back to the Galleria. I’m not a huge gelato person myself, but I knew enough to lead the way to Amorini for their picture-perfect gelato flowers. We took our cones on the road and meandered back to the Palazzo Parigi. All of us were exhausted, and after I showered and we set our alarms, we drifted off.
The next morning started at a ripe 8am, and we quickly made ourselves look put together and headed down to the hotel restaurant to grab a super small breakfast before our morning’s food tour throughout the Brera district (a pregame to the main event, if you will). Our tour started within walking distance of the Pallazo Parigi, so we sauntered out of the hotel a little early to soak up the morning Milanese sun. Our group for our tour was fairly small, and our guide started us off with some pastries at a local bakery, followed by a visit to a tiny restaurant for arancini, which I could eat for the rest of my life and be content. We then visited a local meat shop for tastings of different takes on prosciutto with fresh bread and Italian beer, because drinking, as you’ll see, was clearly a theme of the weekend. Our next destination was an outdoor patio for aperitivo. I went for my signature Aperol Spritz and my parents opted for wine, and we got a chance to get to know the others in our group better. This stop was followed by a quick trip to (where else) a wine and liquor store. While I was well aware of what grappa was after a month and a half of living in Milan, I had never tasted it, and the owners of the store offered it in a spray form that, after having it sprayed in my mouth, I can only imagine dentists in Italy use to numb the mouths of their patients before operations. Our final stop was at a gelato shop, which seemed the most appropriate way to conclude an Italian food walking tour.
After the other tour members dispersed, my parents and I headed back towards the hotel to drop off my directionally-challenged dad, and my mom and I continued back towards the Duomo. We browsed through a few shops in the Galleria (aka we walked in one door of Prada and right out the other) and then wandered through some of the shops surrounding the plaza before reuniting with my dad for a tour of the infamous cathedral. Our guide met us in front of the Duomo and gave a brief history of the actual building of the church, which still is not fully completed, and we entered the cathedral in a state of awe at both how massive the inside is and how ornate every decoration is, despite its age. Our tour of the inside consisted of a walk throughout the interior, which was absolutely breathtaking, and a quick trip to the basement. I had assumed that the basement was essentially an Italian version of the catacombs in Paris (I blame my mom for this), so I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t a little disappointed to see that the basement was kind of like a cave. However, there are in fact bodies in the interior of the church itself, so it’s all about balance. We had been planning on exploring the roof of the Duomo, too, but due to a fully booked day we had to rush out of the church after taking in the view inside.
Our next destination was a wine tour in Navigli, which is by far my favorite area in Milan. We hustled over to the canals and managed to catch our tour just as it was departing for the first tasting. I’m not even remotely a wine person, and luckily for me my dad isn’t either, and so our strategy for making the most out of this last tour consisted of asking which wine was the strongest, pretending to consider a different wine, and eventually ordering the strongest on the menu. My mom, as you would imagine, was not a huge fan of this little routine. Fortunately, she would probably refer to herself as a wine connoisseur, so she was content swirling and drinking her fancy wine while we chugged ours. I think it was at the second stop that my dad brought up his love for Tom Brady with a couple from England, and by our last stop my dad had pulled up a picture of my younger brother playing high school soccer and asked the couple if they recognized him from any of the professional teams. Overall, our wine tasting tour consisted of 4 different stops along the Navigli canal, and we were lucky enough to be during the sunset so my parents got to experience how truly beautiful Navigli is in its best form. Despite having apperitivo at every stop, which varied from bruschetta to charcuterie platters, we (read: I) still wanted an actual meal for dinner, so we ended the night with personal pizzas and, obviously, more wine. Full enough that it’s honestly amazing that we could even move, we took advantage of the nice weather and started to back to the hotel, taking our time, before realizing we were just kidding ourselves and hopping in a cab. By the time we got back, all 3 of us were exhausted, and we took showers and passed out, anticipating another busy day.
The next morning also began early and included my first impression of Italian McDonald’s at Centrale before getting on a train to Venice. Not even 2 minutes after getting onto the train, my dad, who has been on many planes in his time and is very familiar with the fold-down tray on the back of the seat in front of him, decided that this was the day to question what the tray was, and somehow managed to knock his entire coffee into the air with it and watched the coffee cup land on the floor and completely empty its contents.
Despite a less-than-ideal start to the train ride, we arrived in Venice unscathed and met our boat captain right outside the station. We had a roughly 2 and a half hour tour of the water channels running through Venice, and I can definitely say that it was the most impressed I have ever been in a town’s transportation system. There was not a single unappealing building that we sailed by, and the sound of the water lapping at the edges of all of the buildings was the most calming sensation I could image.
We were also lucky enough to see countless red leaves on trees reminiscent of the fall in New England that I was missing, and due to the nature of the town, we were privy to essentially every single building in Venice, from the homes of local Italians to churches and a hospital (which, in true Italian fashion, was one of the prettiest buildings I’ve seen), to the open waters surrounding Venice. The coolest part of the whole time on the water was knowing that for most locals, travel by water taxi is the most common method of transportation, so what seemed like an unbelievable feat to me was just another day in the life of an Italian.
After departing from the little boat, we strolled through the narrow streets and alleys branching out from the canals and stopped for lunch at a pizzeria. I’m a huge advocate of thick crust on pizza, and this restaurant was straight out of my dreams. My dad got a “fried pizza” which is really just a calzone and my mom ordered fried polenta and our streak of a carbs-only diet lived on for another meal.
To pretend we could possibly burn off our food, we walked around some more before getting to St. Mark’s Basilica for a (you guessed it) tour. St. Mark’s was as beautiful as one would expect, with a lot of intricate gold decorations and artwork that was hard to fathom as being real it was so impressive.
Following our tour of the Basilica, we walked around some more, taking advantage of the golden hour lighting for some quick pictures to commemorate our day.
We then started to make our way back to the train, stopping briefly for pasta and drinks before getting hopelessly lost in the maze of alleys and winding streets sprinkled throughout Venice. Fortunately, we made it to the station in time for our return train to Milan. Somehow after all of the eating we did all day, I still felt the need to get second-dinner at the hotel, so my parents and I lounged in the Palazzo Parigi bar for a while over prosecco and Caesar salads until we decided to call it a night and go to bed.
My final day with my parents felt straight out of a fairytale. We woke up and went back to Centrale to take a train to Varenna, a town on the shore of Lake Como. The views of the lake and the surrounding area just on the walk from the train station to the docks were unbelievable, and pictures cannot fully do it justice.
We had another private boat tour scheduled (huge tour guys, huge boat guys), and our captain came prepared with a bottle of prosecco (huge drinking guys, too) and little charms for us to take home. As soon as the boat pulled away from the dock, our captain started blasting Por Ti Vilaré, which, it turns out, is not just from Step Brothers. If I had to look back and decide what point in my life was its peak, I gotta believe listening to Italian opera and drinking prosecco on a private boat in the middle of Lake Como would be that moment.
Our guide took us around Lake Como for a little over an hour, pointing out all of the villas that I will never have the type of money to step foot in and the different towns along the coastline, and he pulled over for one stop. There’s an island in the lake that is home to the Villa del Balbianello, a film location for movies like Star Wars and Casino Royale. If you’re wondering what the island looks like, my mom called it “like, so pretty,” and my dad described it as “where they should film King Kong,” so do with that what you will.
We explored the island for a little bit and then hopped back on the boat for a little more coasting through the lake. After docking back in Varenna, we poked around in the little shops on the water before stopping at Café Varenna for lunch. I got a strawberry mojito, which was hands down the best drink I have ever had in my life (I’m not an alcoholic, I promise) and my parents and I split prosciutto-wrapped peaches before our meals. My dad and I ordered an open-faced breakfast sandwich, and my mom got a slightly different version of it, and by the time we left we were on the verge of exploding from all the food over the past 4 days.
When we walked back to the train station, we happened to run into our guide from our wine tour on the second night and her dog, so I got some good pup-interaction in before our train back to Milan. We relaxed in the Palazzo Parigi for a little bit before heading down to the hotel bar for apperitivo and then requesting a restaurant recommendation from the hotel’s concierge. Since literally all we do is eat, we went straight from apperitivo to Rovello 18 for dinner.
Our dinner weirdly ended up being a wild ride that ended with us being offered shots of grappa. I ordered spaghetti cacio e pepe, my mom ordered a different pasta dish, and my dad went with veal on the bone, which he somehow managed to use as a prop throughout the night. We stuffed ourselves with Italian food and wine and spent more time than your average family joking with our server and getting his backstory. By the time we managed to stand ourselves up and leave the restaurant, it was late enough that my parents didn’t want me to take the metro home alone (life hack: if you ever don’t feel like taking the metro, literally just be a girl in your 20s whose parents get concerned).
We walked back to the Palazzo Parigi, which would be my last time stepping inside the world’s fanciest building, and I packed up all of the unnecessary items that I somehow deemed necessary to bring for all of 4 days. My parents walked me down and waited until I was situated in the cab to go back inside, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sit in the back and ugly-cry to myself at the fact that my long weekend with my parents was over before pulling myself together and returning to my Milanese home away from home.
If there’s one thing I know about my family, it’s that when we do a vacation, we Do A Vacation. Special thanks to my parents for braving the 8 hour flight to visit me in Italy and for planning an unreal, jam-packed 4 days (that last part is all you, Mom).
Until next time, Italy,
Brera food tour
Navigli sunset wine tour
Venice boat tour
Lake Como boat tour