Leaving Interlaken was bittersweet, having enjoyed being in the middle of mountains for a couple of days, I would’ve happily stayed longer but I was also looking forward to the start of the Italian route of my journey and it began with 4 hours on a train to Milan. After a day here, we were heading to Rome via an overnight train (which I was kind of dreading), then for a short stop in Pisa before continuing on to Rapallo, which would be our base for a couple of nights to allow us to explore nearby Cinque Terre.
Scenery from the train window soon changed from rain-filled, cloudy skies and green mountains to sunshine breaking through and hues of sandy yellows and browns the nearer we reached Italian territory. Truthfully the journey went by fast and I could hardly remember the sadness at waking up at 5am to say goodbye to rainy Interlaken. My tiredness had faded and I was starting to think that as much as I may feel like I’m temporarily falling in love with each location on my tour, it was just as easy to let them go and move on to the next beautiful place.
The sun was finally shining for us when we arrived in Milan and my first insight was like a complete contrast. Our initial view was this extremely lavish and luxurious train station, with architecture like the interior of a royal palace or an ancient museum. It was loud, busy and I was once again battling with my suitcase amongst huge crowds. I was back to city life and it struck me instantly that this was an extremely different place than the one I’d just been in merely hours before. Was I missing the Swiss mountain’s yet? Er yeah.
Onward with the journey, we took the metro to the main tourist attractions of Milan. The first being the Cathedral, the second being The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, possibly the most luxurious shopping mall I’d ever seen, with a lot of extremely unaffordable shops for a backpacker.
The Cathedral at a glance was like a lot of others I’d visited before, the closer I was to approaching the entrance was when I became really surprised at how it differed to those I’d seen in the past. The security here was on another level. I wondered at the time whether it was more extreme due to recent terror attacks in Europe but I couldn’t be sure. The sass was real with these guards. They were searching bags and demanding that people throw away any liquids or aerosols in their belongings. In my bag was a small deodrant, a bottle of Victoria Secret’s and some sun lotion. My friend in front of me was forced to drink from their water bottle to prove that it wasn’t anything sinister. Several people around me were forced to ditch parts of their belongings in order to be allowed entry to the cathedral, with no means of getting them back. I personally binned my deodrant but pulled my best puppy-dog eyes when my Victoria Secret’s perfume faced the cut. To my surprise, my eyes won over the scary security man and I was allowed to keep it.
The inside of the cathedral was quite impressive but honestly a little bit dampened by the process we had to go through to be able to get inside. I was pretty resilient and able to move on from it quickly but some of the others in my group seemed severely pissed off. What I found bizarre was the level of security on the outside of the cathedral, yet not a single sign of one security guard inside the building. Despite the security madness, it is well worth a peruse.
After taking a swift walk through The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, taking a moment to pause and gaze up at the tiled domed ceiling, we continued our trek to find Park Sempione, where we would be having our Italian-inspired picnic. What started a somewhat sophisticated day of wandering the Duomo Square and embracing the touristic sights turned into a tipsy afternoon after our guide plied us with his home-made sangria and left us to our own devices to explore the rest of the city until meeting up later for dinner.
I’d love to say that my group continued to soak up the history of the city and made our way immediately to the closest museum, but that would be a lie. Instead we searched for a public toilet in the grounds of the Sforza Castle, took some great selfies, discovered a gelado festival and spent the remainder of the afternoon walking the shopping streets before finding shelter back in our starting point of Duomo Square. I knew the sunny weather was too good to stay with us all day.
Our rainy evening in Milan ended in Navigli, an edgy corner of the city with canals lined with restaurants, shops, market stalls and some quirky street art. We made our way to an Italian buffet restaurant, which was super cheap but this meant the quality of food was sacrificed a little. Nevertheless we ate our way through 10 euros of food per person, plus a free cocktail!
Midnight Train to Rome
The later and darker it became in Milan, the more I began to anticipate my journey to Rome on the sleeper train that night. In terms of the train, I had no idea what to really expect other than accepting that I might not sleep too well.
The train itself – as well as being nearly an hour delayed – was daunting on arrival into the station. It was sort of a grim feeling, standing on the platform with a suitcase in the dark seeing this slow sleeper train appear in front of your tired eyes. Through the cabin windows, I saw the bunks where I was about to spend the night. Once aboard, me and my three closest pals found our cabin and tried to settle in as much as we possibly could. The bunk beds were very narrow, there was a bottle of water for each of us and a tiny pillow that looked like it was stuffed with about 10 feathers.
All I remember was our guide repeatedly telling us to keep our belongings near us and to make sure our door remained locked throughout the night. As if it wasnt already a pleasant experience enough, the mystery behind what he said remained in my mind for quite some time before I could fall asleep.
Sleep was difficult and very intermittent. As far as my train knowledge goes, I can tell you this one seemed pretty ancient and was very shaky throughout. For the first hour or so, my body felt like it was moving in the opposite direction to the train. It is hard to explain, it’s one of those things you have to experience for yourself.
As uncomfortable as it was, it could’ve still been worse… as long as you find yourself some mates who are all equally as terrified as you are, keep your door locked and try to get as much sleep as possible, you should be all set! And before you know it, you’re in a new location. For us it was Rome. And what a relief it was to arrive!