Week 3: Vacation in Milan and Day at Lake Como!

Ciao! I can’t believe that I am already halfway through my study abroad program! Being in Florence for such a prolonged period of time has helped me feel so connected and integrated into the city. I’ve gotten to know certain streets and areas well enough that I can navigate without having to look things up on my phone. My first class ended Thursday and we had our final exam during our last class. I won’t lie, it was a pretty rough final exam even though I had studied a lot because the questions were so specific. I still really enjoyed the class though and it is nice to be able to walk through the city and point out certain architectural features and know the history behind them. 

My friends and I decided to spend the long weekend between classes in Milan to celebrate my best friend’s birthday! We rented an AirBNB for three nights in the outer city part of Milan and arrived Friday afternoon. We decided to keep it low-key the first night and just walked around the area near the river to find some fun restaurants and bars. 

On Saturday we visited Lake Como and I think I can now easily say that it is my favorite place on Earth. We took the train from Milan to the town of Varenna and I was literally speechless when the lake and mountains came into view. Living in Florida all of my life I have never seen mountains before and, although there are plenty of hills and mountains in Florence, something about the ones in Lake Como felt more powerful. Traveling through the city and seeing the sparkling clear blue waters with the houses and villas tucked away into the mountainside was utterly gorgeous. My friends and I found a restaurant right on the water where we grabbed some food before going swimming in the lake. I have never swum in a lake before and was surprised at how refreshing the water felt, and it was interesting having to walk on rocks instead of sand in the water. There’s really no way to describe swimming in Lake Como other than it felt rejuvenating, and it was nice not to have the sting of salt water in case any water went up your nose. We spent about two hours relaxing in the lake and still couldn’t believe that we were there surrounded by such stunning scenery. After swimming, we went for a walk through town, grabbed some gelato and a Nutella Waffle on a stick as well, which was delicious but a little difficult to eat. We ventured over to Giardino Botanico located at the Hotel Villa Cipressi and I was once again left in awe at the power and beauty of nature. I highly recommend checking out this garden if you are visiting Lake Como! We got a reduced admission rate since we are students, and there is so much space to walk around and explore. The view of the water was phenomenal and it is the perfect place for a photoshoot with friends! We spent around an hour and a half there before we headed back to the train station to go home to Milan. I don’t think I have felt such a sense of peace and serenity before like I have at Lake Como.  I am absolutely obsessed with Lake Como now and I’m determined to go back there later on in my life to spend a decent amount of time there. Also, I have to go back at some point so I can finally visit the villa they used in “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones” where Padmé and Anakin got married!

Our original plan was to spend Sunday in Venice, but we decided to explore Milan more instead. Train and transportation rates have gotten exponentially more expensive throughout this program, so it didn’t make sense to us to spend so much money to get to Venice just to be there for five hours. Although we were a bit bummed about not going to Venice, it honestly worked out so perfectly for us with exploring the city of Milan instead. We slept in a bit so we felt well rested and then took the metro into the heart of the city. The outer city of Milan looks and feels very different than the inner part of Milan where the Milan Cathedral and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II are located, so it was fun to experience that contrast of almost two different cities. Our first stop in the inner city was the Starbucks Roastery Reserve location, which was such a fun experience. I don’t drink coffee at all but it was still so cool to see all the machinery and the process of coffee making up close in the store. The store is really expansive inside, with multiple areas to try different coffees and cocktails, delicious desserts and pastries, and of course plenty of merchandise to buy. I knew that I had to try at least something while we were there so I ordered one of their specialty drinks, a Chocolate Caffè Gelato Shake, and WOW was it good! It was the perfect blend of coffee and chocolate and I loved that it was something unique to that location. My friends ordered the Smoked Butterscotch Latte and one of the Cold Brew flights that had Lemon Cold Brew and Orange Cold Brew to try. That was my first time ever trying cold brew and I really enjoyed the lemon flavored one, which sort of tasted like lemonade! We went to the main square and saw the Duomo, which is a phenomenal sight to see and a prime example of Gothic architecture. The spires and detailing on the church were incredible and it is such a stark comparison to some of the architecture in Florence. We did some shopping around town, walked through the Galleria to see the lovely artwork and mosaics adorning the ceilings and floors, and made sure to take three spins on the bull mosaic for good luck! 

It was a great adventure getting to spend some time in a different region of Italy and see how unique the architecture and art is throughout Italy. It was so amazing being immersed in nature as well at Lake Como and being there with my friends made it even better. The thing I learned this weekend is that sometimes it is better to go with the flow and to be open to change because things happen for a reason. Back in Florence now, I am starting my Introduction to Art History class this week and we are supposed to be walking around the city and viewing artworks in person almost every day so that should be exciting!

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