Two Days in Milan

Day One

I’ll be honest.  The first day of every overseas trip is always a wipe out, which is exactly why we  try to arrive before a tour begins.  So, not too many photos from day one, but a couple of tips.

The train from the airport to Milan’s central station is an easy and inexpensive option.  Just be sure to buy your ticket in advance.  We were feeling pretty smug when we walked by the long line at the ticket window.  Although you select a particular time, fortunately you don’t have to get it right.  You can take any train within a three hour window of the time on your ticket.  Our flight arrived early (how often does THAT happen?), so we were able to board an earlier train than the one we were ticketed for.

We stayed at the Hotel Sanpi, which is within walking distance of the train station, although we opted to take a taxi.  Those €6 were well spent!  We were TIRED.  The Hotel Sanpi was recommended by one of the posters on the OAT Forum (thank you, Ted).  It was a great choice.


After a quick nap and lunch, we headed to the nearby public gardens.  We walked past an art museum,  a planetarium, and the Museum of Natural History, whose exterior reminded me of a Muslim mosque we’d seen in Spain.  We didn’t have the energy to go inside ANY of those places.  In fact, a good part of the afternoon was spent on a park bench, staring glassy eyed at I can’t remember what.  

There are lots of restaurants close to Hotel Sanpi.  We didn’t like Il Carpaccio, where we had our first bad meal in Italy  (I make better risotto), but the Azzurra Grill more than made up for our lousy lunch.  The veal chop with white wine and artichoke sauce was amazing, as were the profiteroles.

Day Two

Mike was up and out early, headed to Cremona to spend the next three days hanging out with his violin buddies.  As for me, I planned on going wild in Milano.

Step 1: purchase the €4.50 24 hour metro pass, and head for Milan’s hot spot—the Duomo.  Hey, you go wild YOUR way, and I’ll go wild mine.

My Destination

With my iPhone in hand, eyes fixed on my downloaded google map, I was able to find my way to the metro station a few blocks away.  For a normal person, it would have been an easy task, but I have always been directionally challenged. 

As I was headed toward the Duomo’s ticket window, a young woman representing Gladiator Tours, wearing killer palazzo pants (I really should have gotten a photo of them) sold me a package tour, including  “skip the line” for the terraces, the cathedral and the museum, all for €30.  E1D4D8B3-8E8B-42D7-A247-4166AF23807CWas that a good deal?  Initially I didn’t think so, after I saw the prices at the ticket window, AND learned that my ticket didn’t include the elevator.  (180 steps to the top).  BUT, I was mistakenly sent to the wrong door, so as an apology, Gladiator Tours gave me the elevator ride for free.  All good, so far.

But wait, there’s more.  “Skip the line”doesn’t mean that you actually don’t wait in ANY line.  You still have to go through security, being wanded, one by one, AND then you wait for the elevator, which fits ten people at a time (one of the ten being a staff member).  THAT took almost 20 minutes.

Here’s what I saw when I exited the elevator.  

Yep, lots of repairs.  After walking as far as I could, I encountered yet ANOTHER line.  This one was for the elevator down.  Well, I backtracked, and when I did, I discovered you could walk through a passage to get to the Duomo’s OTHER side, which was FAR more interesting. If you took the stairs up, that is the side you would have initially encountered.  

If you are so inclined, you can climb 80 more steps to get to the rooftop.  (Yes, I have a thing about counting steps.  I can’t help it.  It’s what I do.)  

Ready for the GOOD photos?

I decided to REALLY skip the line, and walk down the steps to meet the Gladiator guide for the tour of the interior of the Duomo.  She was FANTASTIC, even though she wasn’t wearing gorgeous palazzo pants. Of course, our OAT trip will include a Duomo tour, (but not the roof), so I can do an instant replay.  I’ll wait till then to share my interior photo, even if I decide to skip the tour and go to the mall for gelato and people watching.  It never gets old.

Wonder if they do your “make over” while still on skates? I wasn’t curious enough to find out.

Anyway, after the interior tour (with “whisperers”, so we could easily hear the guide), I figured that the €30 was not such a bad deal.  I skipped the Duomo museum, opting instead to take advantage of my metro pass to cruise around Milan on the tram and underground.  

I THOUGHT I’d prefer the tram.  Nope.  You can’t really see THAT much.  It is impossible to understand what the conductor is saying, plus there are no maps on the trams, AND the stops are not clearly marked.  So yes, I got lost.  But no big deal. I hopped off, crossed the tracks, and kept walking till I found another stop.  I had MUCH better luck with the subway, which WAS clearly marked AND had maps.  

Rick Steves suggested visiting  Naviglio Grande, which he described as “Milan’s old canal port — once a working-class zone, now an atmospheric nightspot for dinner or drinks”.   Who am I to ignore a recommendation from Rick?  So, off I went.  


The canal was interesting, for about five minutes.  I admired the “love locks” that European cities seem to fancy. 


Not so sure about the nightlife.  Maybe I was too early.

Here’s the only other patron at my sidewalk cafe.   Looks like he is also drinking an aperol spritzer.  

Check out the buildings across the way.  Don’t you want to do unspeakable violence to the inventor of spray paint?  (And I’m a pacifist at heart.)  What possesses someone to mark up buildings and other random surfaces?  Makes me think of dogs,  trees, and fire hydrants.  But I digress.

Including my little jaunt to the canal, I ended up getting 5 trips out of my 24 hour pass.  That’s much better than paying  €1.5 per trip, wouldn’t you say?  Bet you didn’t expect math would be in this post.

I’ll leave you to ponder graffiti, sidewalk cafes and metro passes.  On to Tremezzo…

Northern Italy and the Dolomites

What could be better that Northern Italy in the fall?  Right now, nothing comes to mind, which is a good thing, because that’s where we will be for 19 glorious days.

We arrive in Milan 4 days before our OAT trip starts.  How in the world did it happen that one of the least fashion savvy women on this planet will be in Milan during fashion week?  I imagine the streets will be loaded with even more beautiful people than usual, wearing exquisite clothes.  Will that change my determination to travel with only a carry on and backpack?  The answer to that question is “not a chance”.   Initially the plan was for us to exit the plane and head for the train without a detour to baggage claim, but then we got a call from our trip leader.  She reminded us that although it will be warm in Milan and Tirano, temperatures will drop during our visits to the Swiss Alps and the Dolomites.  So, that means we will need bulkier items.  I was able to fit everything into my trusty Eagle Creek carry on, but Mike’s clothes are considerably larger than mine.  So, one of us will be checking luggage.  That’s okay.  I’ll get a chance to see whether international flights are as picky as domestic ones about carry on size.  On our last domestic flight, I discovered that United has changed the dimensions for allowable carry ons to 9″ x 15″ x 21″.  My trusty Eagle Creek bag is 10″ x 13″ x 22″,  or 2,860 cubic inches, versus an allowable 2,835 cubic inches.  Really?  Will the gate person play hard ball?  Because we will be waiting at baggage claim anyway, it doesn’t really matter.  I’m determined to pack light regardless, because after our first night in Milan, Mike and I will be going our separate ways, and I will be traveling solo by train, bus and boat.

Mike is heading off to Stradavari’s old stomping grounds –Cremona–to hang out with his violin making buddies.  While he’s there, I’ll be in Tremezzo, on Lake Como.  Wonder if George and Amal will need a baby sitter for the twins?  And will I have packed the proper outfit?

Ah yes, packing.  I did my usual clothes “auditioning”.  It didn’t take long for me to realize I needed to amp up my quick drying wardrobe.
For my last “one bag” trip, I  used a laundry service midway, because I spent half of the trip in just one place–Beja, Portugal.  This trip, however, I will wash as I go, because over 19 days, we will be staying in 8 different hotels.    This also took some serious retooling of my laundry aids.  The expandable clothes line I packed last time was pretty worthless when I couldn’t find two suitable attachment points that would also allow me use of the bathroom (thus the need for laundry service).

Thanks to my travel buddy Sally, I now own “clothespins” that can be looped over shower bars, and foldable hangers.

What I had never done before is something that bloggers Terri and James of Gallivance recommend: try living out of the bag for a week.  Of course, they were preparing for an around the world trip lasting several months, while I’m just going to one country for less than three weeks, so I didn’t feel the need to literally live out of my bag.  Instead, what I HAVE been doing is limiting myself to the clothes that I plan on taking and washing them out in the sink.  So far so good.  My LL Bean travel pants have been drying in less than 8 hours!

IMG_7519Some travelers swear by packing cubes.  In the past, I relied on my jumbo zip lock bags instead and they have served me well, but this time I decided to give a packing cube a try.  This cube opens on both sides, and is divided into two compartments–perfect for stashing things that  I will be using on a daily basis.  To my surprise, I was able to fit pajamas, underwear, toiletry bag and laundry supplies, plus a few small items–jewelry and scarves.  So, I can pull this out in every hotel, and I have the equivalent of two bureau drawers.  Take a look.

Best of all, it fits nicely into my carry on, leaving just enough room for everything else.  If you are interested in what I was able to jam into my bag, here’s a link to the Google spreadsheet.

Of course, this list could come in handy in the event that my luggage is lost.  (Which it was, briefly, on my trip to Portugal and Spain earlier this year.)


I suspect the reason I haven’t used packing cubes was my carry on is already divided into neat sections.  As for whether I folded or rolled, the answer is, I did both.

Okay, so enough with the packing.  Full disclosure, although I sincerely hope that what I share is helpful to others, I REALLY have recorded it to help me, because I tend to forget what I took, what worked, what didn’t, if I have’t written it down.  Yes, a mind is a terrible thing to lose, or waste, or whatever is going on with that empty space atop my shoulders.

On to the other preparations.  I got tickets for the train from the airport to our first hotel, from this very helpful website.  There are others, but I found Trainline easy to use.  Who wants to deal with unfamiliar ticket machines, in another language, while jet lagged?  Not me.  Being a bit obsessive compulsive, I also got tickets for when I’m traveling solo to lower my anxiety level.   From the Como train station, I have a choice of taking either a ferry or a bus to my hotel in Tremezzo.  Thanks to the internet, I have the schedules for both, and can decide which option is most appealing once I get there.

What a difference from my travel days in my early 20’s, when I got on a plane to Colorado without any reservations, with very little money, and only a vague idea of where I was going and what I was going to do when I arrived.   With google maps, trip advisor and the internet’s search options, I can be somewhat spontaneous, while limiting the risk of bad decisions.  (The thought that a bad decision was possible never crossed my mind in my younger days!)

Hope you’ll follow along on this next adventure.

Traveling to Iceland? These Tips Are For You

Well, full disclosure–these tips are MAINLY for OAT travelers who will be taking the Untamed Iceland trip, BUT some of the information just might be useful to everyone, even those of you who decide to “do it yourself”.

If you opt to arrive early, or you purchase airfare on your own, you will not be met at the airport by an OAT representative.  Not a problem.  It is relatively easy to get from the airport to downtown Reykjavik and to the Hilton Nordica. 

One of the many corrugated iron buildings in Reykjavik

Although you COULD take a taxi, that is an expensive option, especially given that Airport Express (the Gray Line) and Flybus offer convenient and cost effective alternatives. More importantly, you don’t really save a lot of time taking a taxi.  

We chose the Gray Line, which has buses leaving on the hour and the half hour.  Click here for their web site, if you want to purchase your ticket on line.  You can also buy your ticket when you arrive, but why add one more thing to do when you are jet lagged?  If you happen to be delayed and miss your time slot, it is not a problem.  You just get on the next bus.

When you clear customs and enter the arrival hall, look to the far left.  The Gray Line representative will be standing there, wearing a bright orange jacket.  He checks you in, asks where you are staying and directs you to the bus.  (You go out the door, follow the covered walkway ALL the way to the end, where it veers to the left.)  If you miss him, that’s not a problem either–just walk to the bus and you will get checked in there.  When you arrive at the bus terminal in Reykjavik, smaller vans are waiting for you.  The staff moves your luggage to the correct van, and off you go, directly to your lodging.  Our cost was $26 per person and the van dropped us at our hotel within minutes. 

What to Pack
Layers, layers, layers.  Even in the summer, it is cold (and wet) in Iceland.  

Many of the activities (ATV, horseback riding, whale watching) provide “outfits” for you to use.  The blue “jumpsuits” we wore during our ATV ride made us look like we were either auditioning for a Ghostbusters movie, or preparing for a lunar landing.  The best part is they were fleece lined.  

Still, you need to bring along warm clothes that can be layered.  Wool socks are wonderful for keeping your feet warm. 

Walking sticks are a matter of preference. I used mine on a walk behind a waterfall,

Can you see the people walking alongside the falls? Look for  dots.  They are actually colored jackets.

through a volcanic crater, and to the glacier. 

Isn’t this glacier incredible?!

They are especially helpful when you are walking through mud or on slippery surfaces.  (What isn’t obvious from the waterfall shot above is how slippery and uneven the rocks were getting to and from it, but we all did just fine and were glad to have had the experience.)
If I hadn’t brought the walking stick,  I would have been okay.  (If I pack it, then damn it, I’m USING it!)

Comfortable, waterproof hiking boots are critical.  You don’t need the real heavy duty ones.  I was happy with my Merrill boots that are slightly higher than a pair of sneakers.  I wore them every day.

At one time, OAT forum posters had recommended bringing water shoes and towels to the Blue Lagoon.  Both are no longer necessary.  What you DO need is shampoo, unless you are content using the gel that Icelanders use for hair, body, and whatever else you want to wash.  That and conditioner are the only hair products the Blue Lagoon supplies in the locker room.  

blue lagoon
No close ups. I want my friends to STAY my friends. Our hair is gooped up with conditioner and we all have the magic facial going for us.

You should also bring your credit card and leave it in your locker, because you can buy drinks while you are in the water.  You get an wrist bracelet that acts as a key to your locker, your “cash” while in the lagoon, and your way to exit…after making good on any purchases, that is, which is why you need that credit card. I LOVED the Blue Lagoon.  Fun fact: our guide told us the name was inspired by the old Brooke Shield movie.

Debby and Laurence, enjoying Icelandic beer

It is a good idea to keep your rain pants, buff, gloves, and binoculars in a zip lock bag that you either take with you every day, or leave on the bus.  The bus is big enough for everyone to have their own seat, which makes travel very pleasant and comfy, and there is plenty of room for your “stuff”. 

We enjoyed a “beer tasting” on the bus.  Surprisingly, given the composition of our group, no one started singing “ninety nine bottles of beer” on the bus.

A bug head net is useful.  I wore mine over a baseball cap, which kept the net off my face, and the net kept the bugs out of my eyes and mouth.  I wish I’d kept the net with me, in my pocket, because those bugs had a way of showing up unexpectedly, sometimes when I’d left the net on the bus.

There is something you DON’T need to bring.  All of the hotels have hair dryers.  Normally, I bring my own because I hate dryers attached to the wall (and all except the Hilton had the wall-attached dryers).  Given the weather in Iceland, it is a mistake to be concerned about hair.  Between the rain and the wind, your hair is going to go wild anyway.

Yes, it is expensive.  Take a look at what $58.80 will get you: two cups of soup, two baguettes, no drinks.  (It is very wise to carry a refillable water bottle).

As you can tell from the cutlery and the tray, this was not a chi-chi restaurant.  Nope.  This was purchased at a gas station/rest area/gift shop/snack bar.

I must admit, though, the soup was absolutely delicious, and I’m a picky eater.  No fermented shark for ME.

We were on our own for dinner the second night of our stay in Stykkisholmur.  Because we’re a group of friends traveling together, we all chose the same restaurant, Narfeyrarstofa, for the variety on the menu–not just fish entrees, they also had hamburgers.  The food was excellent.  Check out the way the scallops were presented — on a board!

Mike and I chose the same thing: lamb, which was absolutely delicious, and a glass of red wine.  Our total (just got our credit card bill) was $105, which I thought was reasonable for what we got.  But then, I’m used to New York/New Jersey food prices.

We had another “on our own” night in Akureyri and once again, found an excellent restaurant.  Strykid is on the 4th floor of a building, facing the water, so the view is every bit as wonderful as the food.   For about $74 per person, we got a three course dinner–delicious cauliflower soup, chicken breast and chocolate cake.  No food photos.  We were too busy laughing and talking to pull out our cameras, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Odds and Ends
My iPhone 7 took great photos when the light was tricky or when it was rainy or misty.  Unlike my Panasonic Lumix, it didn’t fog up or get raindrops on the lens. The top two photos were taken on a rainy day with my iPhone; the bottom one with my Lumix.  Of course, the iPhone doesn’t have a powerful zoom, and photos get pixilated when you enlarge them too much.  Still, I was glad I had it with me.  

It was raining during ALL of the above photos.

Hold on to your coins.  Many of the rest rooms charge 200 kroner (about $2.00). You need to insert the coins into a turnstile to access the rest room, so you can’t do what we did when we were poor college students in Boston–hold the door open for your friends.  There ARE machines where you can insert your credit card to get change at most places, but if you buy anything using Icelandic kroners, you are probably going to end up with change, and this is a good way to use it.

Trolls welcome you to the center of Akureyri

The hotel in Akureyri is at the top of a hill, but the hill is walkable if you are in reasonably good shape.  You just take your time, maybe stop off to check out the botanical garden before continuing up.  The other options are a taxi, which will cost about $26 for the .6 mile between the hotel and the center of town ( according to my fitbit) OR a free bus – number 6- which runs every hour and only travels in one direction.  For the trip back to the hotel, the bus takes the scenic route.  I missed that experience, choosing to walk up and down, but others rode the bus, and reported that it takes about 20 minutes to get back to the Icelandair Hotel.  

Horseback riding was a fantastic optional event.  We were picked up at the hotel and transported to the horse farm, which is located in a very scenic area.  The cost for transportation, an hour’s ride, and the necessary gear (Helmets, gloves, and if desired, snazzy orange or green jackets) was $90.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t take photos while we were riding, but the views were breathtaking.  The horses were very used to inexperienced riders, so there were no mishaps AND the horses are closer to the ground, which helps with mounting and dismounting.

For the flight from Akureyri to Reykjavik you might want to keep your good camera handy. Mine was packed away, so I used my iPhone to take this shot of the scenery.   My Lumix would have been a better choice.   It is a short flight, and is a great way to see the interesting topography of the countryside.

Be sure to check out Air Iceland Connect’s seat pocket.  They put a little journal in each row so travelers can add comments.  I particularly enjoyed this one.

On our departure day, most of us had flights leaving around 5 PM, so we had time to spend in Reykjavik.  What a difference it makes when you aren’t jet lagged.  We all went off in different directions.  Some took in a concert at the Harpa, others enjoyed an art museum.  Four of us took a cab to the Volcano House (2600 kroners each way) where we saw two films that chronicled Iceland’s last two big eruptions.  The films last about an hour and are very well done.

After that we walked around the town, successfully completing our quest for a Christmas store.  To me, these cute ornaments are the perfect gift–unique, representative of the country, small enough to pack and something that I know the recipients will use.  Now I’m wishing that I bought more.

For those that want to stay close to the hotel, there is a sculpture garden within two blocks, and the botanical garden is only slightly further away.  The night before, after our farewell dinner, four of us took advantage of good weather and long daylight to walk to both places.  We were still out after 10 PM, hoping to catch a sunset.  (I gave up).

Overall, this was a very interesting trip, with fascinating landscapes, and lots of memorable experiences.  The best part, for me, however, was being with an incredible group of fun people.

If you would like a day to day account of the OAT Iceland trip, including great photos,  I suggest you check out this blog by my friend, Nancy.  

Happy travels!