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From NYC to Milan, Italy

Leaving on a jet plane

I’ve flown out of JFK many times, but have never flown out of their international terminal. It’s hard not to compare JFK with LAX. There were many more things to do in JFK, and the foodie that I am was surprised to see Shake Shack, a burger joint that is quite popular in NYC. I’ve seen Shake Shack every time I pass by 8th Ave, but have avoided it many times due to the crowd. After all, whenever I’m in NY, I’m not really there to try burgers. Well, now that it was right there near our gate, I figured that it’s probably the best time to try Shake Shack. I ordered the Shack Stack Cheeseburger and a ’Shroom Burger topped with lettuce, tomato and Shack Sauce….the verdict, it was alright….I thought the cheese was quite salty. Nevertheless, I can say that I’ve tried it and didn’t have to fight the crowd in NYC.

Flying with Emirates  If there was one thing I was disappointed with Emirates Airlines, or maybe it was a JFK-issue, it was the way they herded the cows (passengers). While each passenger had a group assignment (when to enter the 

plane), there simply was no sort of organization. The Process Improvement Engineer in me shook its head when the herd of cows piled in front of the airline steward just so we could all make our way inside). To put it “plane” and simple, it was a bit of a mess. But once we got in, the experience was extremely different. Since it was an evening flight, the lights were dimmed, and in no time, we found ourselves in a row of 4 seats. Weariness started to take over. I haven’t had enough sleep from all the activities from the day and night prior (studying, exploring NYC, etc.). After a couple of selfie pics with the family, I tuned everything out, and closed my eyes. Not long after, a flight attendant offered us warm to almost hot facial towels. I needed that!. While Ethan and Madison tuned in to their movie or TV show of their choice, Nancy and I decided to just close our eyes. We have close to 8 hours of journey up ahead.
Once we were up in the air, it didn’t take long for dinner to be served. All I can remember was the chunky chicken that was served. I don’t expect much from airplane food, but Emirates knew how to cook and serve meals. Shortly thereafter, we were knocked out, and I remember waking up 5 hours later. Why? I smelled food again. Hahahahahaha! Breakfast was served, and I had fritatta and sausage with orange juice. 

Our flight was scheduled to arrive after 11am, but the plane arrived at Malpensa International Airport shortly after 10am. I think I like Emirates!!! Going through customs was a breeze. 

Traveling lightly?  So you have to remember that we’re going to be in Europe close to 2 weeks. On top of that, I was already on the East Coast for 1 week. How in the world did I manage to just use 1 carry-on luggage and 1 back pack. To make it even more interesting, I advised the entire group that we should all travel lightly, and to my surprise, everyone did the same…all in all, we had 8 pieces of carry-on luggage, and 8 backpacks. Now, that’s progress! I am so proud of our families. Why travel lightly? Well, it’s not about the extra charges that the airlines will charge you, but I knew that we’d be walking a lot, hopping from planes to buses, to trains, to taxis. This was put to a test the moment we arrived in Milan (more details later).

My cousin’s cousin who is not really my cousin, but is now my cousin The moment we landed in Milan, I checked my iPhone and hopped on the free airport Wi-Fi. I called Gemma (using Facebook Messenger). Gemma is my cousin’s cousin who is not really my cousin, but is now my cousin. Gemma is from Milan, and she is a first cousin of my first cousin, Ate Lina (who is from Switzerland). So bam! I instantly gained a cousin 🙂 With the help of Facebook Messenger, Gemma and I kept in touch a few weeks ago, and from Day 1 she said not to worry and she’ll set aside time to make sure we’re taken care of. The days leading up to the trip, we talked some more, and we agreed to meet in Cadorna, a train station accessible from Malpensa Airport. I called Gemma and advised her that we arrived 1 hour early and she said she’ll be there waiting for our party.

Train Ticket woes Prior to our flight to Milan, Nancy and I made sure we had Euros with us, and that we are to only use points-earning credit cards that have no foreign transaction fees. Everything was set…until we got to Malpensa’s train ticket machines. There were 3 Trenitalia machines. From what it looked like, everyone seemed to have a hard time. There was a loooonggg line for the “cash-only” passengers. But I opted to do the self-serve. I chose all the right options, and by the time I inserted my credit card, it kept asking for a PIN code. Well, I’m not really one of those who use the credit card for cash advance so I never really had a PIN code. I tried other credit cards, still no PIN. Then I tried my debit card, and the machine did not accept debit cards. After all was said and done, we ended paying cash for our train tickets from the airport to Cadorna. The purchase wasn’t fun, but you live, and you learn.

We missed our 11:04 train, and made it to the 11:30 train instead. The ride was smooth, and took about a 1/2 hour. Most of us tried to close our eyes during this short ride. Not long after, we arrived safely in Cadorna station. Once we got off the train, I heard a voice call out my name. It was Gemma. A big hug! Even bigger surprise was to see her beautiful daughter, Sophia, who only spoke Italian. I’ll have a full section dedicated to Gemma, Sophia, Geri, and the rest of the family. 

Hey Milan, we’re here! Once we saw Gemma, we were all in business. First order of activity, purchase local train tickets. Gemma assisted with purchasing the tickets. Next up, food. Gemma, fortunately, has seen my Facebook page, so she knew that I’m not a big fan of fast food chains or franchise types of restaurants. When I’m on vacation, or anytime I’m away from home (business trip or another), it’s gotta be something with a local flair. The smaller the place, the better. The ones away from the tourist beaten path. The ones where even the locals themselves go and visit. She had the perfect one in mind…Pizza Sprontini, a 5-minute walk away from Cadorna train station. 

Back to the luggage, why the need to travel lightly  The moment we started to work our way toward Pizza Sprontini, we all dragged our luggage from escalators, to stairs to the streets…you get the picture. Once we arrived at Pizza Sprontini, everyone got their taste of dragging their own luggage through all of the crazy terrains of being in the city. I saw that coming, and I’m glad that I was able to warn everyone about keeping it all light. Ok, back to our first Italian pizza. According to Gemma, Pizza Sprontini does not boast of many different pizza choices. Instead, it only serves 1-2 different types of pizza. The one that we ordered is a margherita pizza. Not the margherita with cheese and basil, but just good ol’ gob of cheese. We had a couple of choices, one was for a smaller slice, and other one was “abundante” which was served 1.5 slices. The pizza slices were served within 5 minutes. We worked up an appetite by then. What was different? It was a thick crust, typically not my favorite style. I like New York pizzas – the kind that you can fold in 1/2 and eat. But, Sprontini’s was thick – perfectly thick. It was uber cheesy. It was purely all about the cheese. In fact, there were some toasted cheese or burnt cheese that tasted even better. That was a great first lunch.

Finding our apartment on Via Brocchosi

We followed Gemma and caught a tram, We had to walk a few more blocks to finally find our apartment. Massimo, the apartment manager, was there waiting for us. I was a bit skeptical. This was our first apartment in Italy, and I wanted to make sure it had the things we needed. We rang the bell, and Massimo buzzed back and let us in. We were on the 3rd floor, but really, it was on the 4th floor (the first floor being Floor Zero). To get upstairs, we had 2 choices, walk up, or take the elevator (it was big enough to fit 2-3 people). We all made it upstairs, met Massimo, and found our home for 2.5 days. A hallway, a huge living room/dining room, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2 showers, 1 bath tub, a kitchen. It was perfect for our needs. The windows overlooked the main road. Right outside of our apartment was a cafe, a bakery, and a pizza joint. We were at home, finally!

A short nap, then Duomo  Jet lag took over. Once we saw the beds, and the comfy chairs, we took about an hour nap, but decided to get ready and head out. We took a tram and found ourselves in Piazza Duomo. I’ve seen this in pictures many, many times – but nothing compares to seeing it in person. It really looked like a tower of melting candles. Of course, we took lots of pictures with the Duomo in the back drop. After Duomo, Gemma took us to Anema e Cozze, known for it’s seafood pasta. Aaaahhhh we ordered quite a few pasta dishes including pizzas. It was good to relax, talk about our crazy day, and our plans for the next day. We made it back to our apartment around 10pm. Thanks to Gemma and Sophia for guiding us that day.

More ticketing business We planned on meeting Gemma near the Duomo at 9am. We tried, we really tried. Well, we were jet lag victims to begin with, and to top it all of, Milan had its Daily Savings Time change (where we lost another hour of sleep). At 7:30am, I called Gemma and asked her if we could meet her at 10am instead. We finally got out of our apartment before 9:30 which should give us enough time to take to tram rides to Duomo. We had it all planned. Gemma gave us specific details which trams to take and where to get on and off. Murphy’s Law (anything that can go wrong, will go wrong) – while we had everything planned, well, something else happened. We got on a tram, and we were told to get off after 2 stops! What???HELP!!! Where do we go? 

Running with the bulls 
We had no idea why until we saw a herd of people running the marathon. Aaahhhh (light bulb), that’s why traffic was diverted. Ok so Plan B – call/text Gemma. We ended up meeting Gemma at a nearby stop that I remembered seeing from the day before. Victory! We finally met Gemma’s husband, Geri, and along with them is precious little Sophia. By this 2nd day, Sophia and the whole gang were already enamored by her innocent charm, and lovely looks. 

Back to more ticketing business
After meeting up with Gemma and family, we headed for Milano Centrale train station to purchase ALL of our European train tickets. This in itself was a test of our American patience. This process took over an hour. We had to take a stub, and waited for our turn. Fortunately again, we had Gemma and Geri translating for us. After 15 minutes of transaction, we were able to purchase our Euro tickets. Yes!!!

Shortly after, we also met my cousin, Lina, and her husband, Rainier. They came all the way from Switzerland. They spent the rest of the afternoon with us, first by going to Ristorante Xier (an all-you-can-eat buffet), then back to Duomo and the surrounding areas, such as Montenapoleone. At this time, it wasn’t so much about the tourist attractions, but watching all of us talk and exchange stories between each other. The last time I saw Ate Lina and Rainer was back in the late 90’s when they both visited us in California. It was a great way to catch-up, and a great way for us to also get to know Gemma and her family. Thank you for visiting us, Ate Lina and Rainier  🙂

After they left, we walked more, and more, ate this and that, gelato here and there. People watched left and right – that was all part of the rest of the afternoon. Of course, all good things can’t end without a great Italian dinner. Gemma and Geri gave us more tips how to get around on Monday morning. We will be alone, and we needed to get from our apartment to the train station. Their instructions were so specific, so we successfully made it to Milano Centrale to catch our train to Florence on the next day. Gemma, Geri, Sophia – thank you for your hospitality. What a great way to start our European vacation!!!

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