GETTING OUT OF TOWN
I needed to get out the fuck out of Bahrain. It was late summer and I had lived here for 4 months and was started to get island fever. Never experienced it while living in Hawaii, but Bahrain is no Hawaii.
I knew I wanted to spend my time somewhere
a) by the water
b) cooler than Bahrain (not hard)
c) a place I’ve never been before.
Thanks to an invite to the 2018 International Screenwriting Research Network (SRN) Conference from my inspirational MFA Professor Rosanne Welch, knowing I was stuck 8000 miles away from LA and feeling very very far and forgotten, Italy and Antayla, Turkey topped my list. I had been itching to get out of Bahrain all summer (truthfully ever since I arrived), and because I didn’t get into the 20 in 4,000 chance Imagine Impact accelerator, I had some free time on my hands.
Usually, one of my prerequisites for international travel is going to a new place and I had been to Italy several times before. I spent a summer in Trento with MIT's MISTI program and my parents had lived in Naples for 3 years. So I've seen my fair share of the country having already hit Bologna, Venice, Verona, Florence, Lake Guarda, Pisa, Cinque Terre, Rome, the Almafi Coast (Positano, Capri, Ravello, Sorrento) but never spent time in Milan. I could easily use the conference as a jumping off point to Lake Como (also new), because dammit, I was hot and wanted to spend some relaxing time by a body of water.
I chose Italy and the lake side, wine-drenched sunsets instead.
I’ve never been on a full-blown solo trip just to explore a new place on my own. My trips always come with some kind of work attachment and this trip was no exception. The whole thing came together less than 3 weeks before my departure. I think I can say I officially love the country and would move there in a heartbeat. The pace of life, the wine, the cheese, the meats! What’s not to love? Yes, the trash strikes are smelly and the men can by pushy, but I hear you can buy a crumbling villa in Sicily for 1 Euro as long as you spend 5,000 Euro to fix it up. Anyone want to go halfsies?
I had paid for my seat selection on my flights from Bahrain - > Milan because I didn’t know there was an option not to, but it turned out to be the best choice I could have made. The gate agent in Bahrain was extremely friendly, and because it was my first time flying (and I was nice at the counter), they upgraded my seat to front of the plane, empty rows for my two flights. I flew a 4 hour overernight BAH -> SAW and then SAW -> BGY. THAT EMPTY ROW WAS CLUTCH! I took my sleeping pill and racked out for the full flight.
SAW (Istanbul) was very easy to manage with a 3 hour layover. It seemed that every Pegasus plane had to park on the tarmac and bus in, so if traveling Pegasus through SAW, factor in time for the bus and international security. I think anything less than a 2 hour layoever would be cutting it close because if there is any delay whatsoever, you're screwed. SAW is very stingy with their wifi. You have to buy a day pass or if you eat at one of the cafes/restaurants (there’s not many to choose from), you can get a unique passcode good for 1 hour of wifi. I ate an authentic Turkish breakfast for around $6 at Mado (2nd floor) and got my wifi code. They have breakfast, lunch, dinner, and amazing looking ice cream. The terminal also has Popeyes and Sbarro if that’s what floats your boat.
BGY -> MILAN CITY CENTER
I made it! Kind of. BGY airport is about a 50 minute drive from the city center. There are plenty of buses that leave directly from the airport to the central train station or you can take a bus/taxi to the Bergamo train station and then to the central station but why? I chose to book my shuttle with TERRAVISION bus and highly recommend. The bus was clean, comfortable, plenty of seats, and they let me on an earlier ride than when I had my ticket bought for. This is one you have to plan for in advance a bit – you MUST had a paper print out of your ticket. The man will tear the part he needs and give you lots of trouble if it’s a digital copy on your phone. Just print the ticket from home or your hotel before you leave. Cost: 5 Euro (9 Euro if you buy a return trip at the same time). The city bus looked fine from across the way. Perhaps it is cheaper but without as many seats, I’d be worried about getting stuck standing and that is a long-ass ride.
MILAN (4 days)
This post will just focus on the city, but I might write about the SRN conference another day.
Getting around you have so. many. options - Bike, Bus, Scooter, Metro, Tram!
The city is truly a public and green transportation haven which really makes a difference to the street traffic – there’s hardly any! I chose a 10 trip metro pass for 13-something Euros and was on my way to my Airbnb. They also sell day and two day passes but if you are here for 4 days or more, I highly recommend the 10 ride pass. Many times walking was just as fast or quicker than the metro, but sometimes your feet just need a rest! The metro goes all over the city so I never even tried the above-ground tram. I think the tickets are transferable but double check.
SIM card – I was going to try and get buy on wifi alone but my mom would have freaked, so I popped into the first tech-y shop I saw and snagged a SIM card good for 30 days, 40GB of data for around 30 euros total including activation. Easy.
I dropped my bags and ran to see Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper. Is it worth it? Sure. If you can snag a ticket through the actual museum website, you’re already doing better than me. I honestly didn’t know The Last Supper painting was in Milan (I'm cultured but still have a ways to go I guess) but when Dr. Welch declared she was going to try to see via the waitlist line, my FOMO kicked in and I had to go. Plus I had just recently read the Time’s Science of Creativity edition which had a feature about Da Vinci. Because I hate waiting, and hate being turned away even more, I found a ticket (with English guided tour!) through GET YOUR GUIDE. I paid $50 instead of the museum’s 12 Euros, but I had a guaranteed time and a guide to tell me everything so for me, it was worth the bragging rights to say I’ve seen it. This might be my one and only time in Milan so YOLO!
I stayed in the Navigli District which feature the famous canels of Milan. For me it was the closet (and cheap) Airbnb I could find to the Sacre Coure University (i.e. within walking distance) and it just happened to have a nearby metro stop. But so does everywhere in this city. It seemed like no place was more than a 10 min walk away from a tram or station. The Navigli district is THE PLACE to be at night. Every restaurant and bar is hopping with young, beautiful Italians crowding the patios, having apertivo. And that was on a Thursday night! I didn’t have anything to guide me (actiually my phone was dead), and I just wandered, too tired to pull up a chair and have a full meal, but the people watching was worth the trip from my room.
The Duomo –Sure it’s big, sure it’s amazing architecture and it took 6 centuries to build. But for me, if I’ve seen one church I’ve seen them all. I would have liked to have gone up to the top terraces (which I didn’t know about until arriving), but daily tickets sell out early and if you show up mid-afternoon (like me) you’ll be out of luck. There are several options to see just the church, or just the terraces, or taking the lift, or not taking the lift, and even a fast-pass. Research online and save yourself some hassle because there are a ton people roaming around and if you’re like me in a crowd, you’ll already be stressed out. There are also lockers around the block from the ticket desk to store your bags (large bags like backpacks are not allowed, purses are fine), 1st hour is free, after that is 5 euros which is insane. I was turned away at the ticket desk due to the sold out-ness of the day and was informed there was no kind of wait line, but when I returned home and checked online, it appeared I could have bought a time slot for that afternoon so something might have been lost in translation. Tip: deal with computers instead of people! I took some pictures, walked around a bunch, and went home. It felt like the Times Square of Milan and besides the giant building in front of me, I was not very impressed.
On my final day to kill time between check-out and my train, I went to CASTLE SFORZESCO at the recommendation of my hosts. It was my favorite part of the whole trip! Not only was it a short metro ride from the train station, I got in for 3 Euros thanks to my Stephens College student ID, plus they had tons of lockers roomy enough for a large pack for 1 Euro for the entire day. Jackpot! I could have easily spent half a day roaming through the 5+ museums but had to run through the exhibits and never saw everything. Guess I'll have to go back to finish it.
On the way to catch my train onto Lake Como, I experienced what my mother spent the last month warning about. I've been to 24 countries and Milan is the first and only place I've personally ever had an attempted mugging. If my mom ever reads this, she'll probably freak because I never told her. I stepped onboard the most crowded subway train of my entire trip with my hands full and my 30L travel pack on my back. I was smart. I had been using a zippered tote as a purse that I could firmly hold under my arm and kept my wallet, passport, and cell phone inside. My few pieces of jewelry were deep inside my pack. A short woman taps me on my shoulder. Between her broken English and my bad Italian, I understand she's asking me if I know the man behind me, because he had opened up my pack's front zipper. I was hot, sweaty, tired from hauling all my bags, and the train station was the next stopped. I said no and she started laying into him, yelling. I checked my bag and indeed it was open, but knew there was nothing valuable in that front pocket. Just my umbrella and a pack of cheetos. He was a young, tall, smug bastard who couldn't care less about the short woman telling him off. I would have join her in English and was perfectly positioned for a sucker punch to the gut, but it all happened so fast and I at my stop. I couldn't take the time to humiliate the jerk without taking a serious risk of missing my train out of town. I stepped off, frazzled, and will forever save my pack's front pocket for the most useless, disappointing shit possible. Yes, obviously always cautious and aware of your surroundings. I was. But an even better tip: take your shit off your back when in a tight crowd.
I made it to my train in one piece but missed out on a fight.
Trip Date: September 2018
Part 2/2: LAKE COMO - To Be Continued...