Both of us were so excited to travel to Milan not so much to see Milan, though we were excited about that, but more for using it as a jumping off spot to take the train up to Lake Como, Lake Maggiore as well as visiting the World Fair being held in Milan.
We left Verona, our fascinating stop on the way to Milan and hopped on the train to continue our journey from Venice to Milan. I very much enjoyed looking out the windows to see the landscape of northern Italy pass us by. Within a few hours, and after a quick nap, we arrived in the Centrale train station in Milan. Walking into the station we were struck by how beautiful the station is. I later found out that it is considered one of the most stations in all of Europe and we can certainly believe it.
We had reservations at the Hilton using the points that we had earned for our American Express Hilton Honors credit card that has no annual fee. Why I like this card is that I get 5 times points when I use this card at grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants. That is huge. I make it even better than that because I buy merchant gift cards at my grocery store and get 5 times points. If I am going shopping at TJ Maxx I will go into my grocery store and buy a TJ Maxx gift card and use it for my purchases. Let me not digress any more – we had reservations for three nights at the Hilton and then our final night in Milan at the Holiday Inn at Linate Airport to save us travel time in the morning before our too early o’clock flight! The Hilton is a short 2-3 block walk to the train station. After our nights at the B&B in Venice, this room looked like a palace to us though in reality it was fine, nothing special.
After walking outside and finding a little outdoor cafe where we had great pizza, we headed back to our room. It had been a long day that had started too early in Venice. We looked on the television and on my iPad for the weather in Milan and it was not looking good at all. They were predicting rain, heavy rain and then more rain for our entire time we would be in Milan. Our hearts sank as most of our plans needed good weather. Who wants to be on a boat in the middle of Lake Como when it is raining very hard. We “Facetimed” with our daughter, who had a baby girl three days earlier, and she gave us great advice and we wondered why we didn’t think of it. Her advice – leave; go somewhere else.
We hadn’t paid for our room and most likely we would be able to get the points back for one of the nights. Here we are – the travel planners having to make a sudden, decision to just go somewhere else. Were we up to it? Could we be spontaneous? Were we willing to try? With a resounding yes we decided the next morning (after we had slept on it) that we would leave but not check out in case we wanted to come back to our room. I quickly pulled up the radar and weather.com on my iPad and we kept looking at where we could go. Turin – nope, was going to rain there as well. Switzerland – rain there as well. San Marino – too far since we had to return for our flight and hotels too expensive. Bologna – hmm, that might be interesting. After more searching, it was Bologna home of Bolognese Sauce! We checked on Trip Advisor for a hotel that would be close to the train station and we booked a hotel that I had never heard of – Starhotels Excelsior which was across the street from the train station, had very good reviews and cost less than $100 per night and it included a breakfast. With a leap of faith we walked to the train station, purchased our tickets and made the 8:30 AM train to Bologna. Since we were being so adventurous, we decided to make another stop in a small Italian city – Parma, home of Parmesan cheese. Do you see a “food” thread running through some of the towns we are visiting?
It wasn’t long before we were in Parma. We searched the station for a luggage locker and couldn’t find one. Apparently Parma doesn’t have a Left Luggage locker. Blogger Hubby thought we would have to get back on the next train to Bologna because we couldn’t enjoy Parma pulling our luggage. I asked him to give me a minute and I walked into the hotel next to the train station – the NH Hotel Parma and asked the reception desk if we could leave our luggage with them as we were just visiting for a few hours. They had no problem with it, gave us a claim check and even gave us a map and their recommendations of where we should walk. Blogger Hubby couldn’t believe I asked and even more that they agreed. I really believe that people in the tourism business want to be helpful particularly Europeans. If you are ever in Parma, I would recommend this hotel by what I saw in the lobby – it was very nice and convenient to the train station as well.
Off we went with our map in hand. This being Saturday we weren’t sure what we would find. Saturday apparently is market day in Parma. I’m used to farmer markets with stalls or tables of fruits and vegetables. This was nothing like that. Streets were crowded and bustling with people looks for deals on clothing, kitchen wares, shoes, purses, etc. We could barely get through the crowds. I thought it was great and I was in my element wanting to be like these Italians, searching for great buys. I guess I forgot that whatever we purchased, we would have to fit in our already full and heavy luggage. I could still vicariously enjoy what they were doing. One vendor caught my eye. He was standing on a corner and had a sheet on the ground with beautiful designer purses. The cobalt blue Chanel purse caught my eye and before I could approach him and ask how much, he quickly grabbed everything in the sheet and ran down the street. I looked around the corner to see what spooked him and it was two police officers. I knew that he was selling counterfeit purses but honestly (and don’t get angry at me) I really, really liked that purse. I liked the color, the shape and it didn’t matter as much that it was a Chanel. I missed my chance. Believe it or not, I would see him a few more times as he was always looking over his shoulder or listening to the signal his spotter would give. Blogger Hubby would not let me purchase that purse. I know he was right but that purse, it was really great.
All the little stores selling meats, cheeses and pizza slices were open. We bought what we wanted to eat and went across the street to sit on a park bench and eat our lunch overlooking the river. Parma is home to one of the world’s oldest universities having been founded in the 12th century. This would be a good city if you have college age children to spend a semester abroad – lively city without being overly crowded.
As we walked back to the hotel for our luggage and subsequently to the train station to continue our travels to Bologna, we were again in awe of the beautiful architecture that was in Parma particularly the Governor’s Palace that dated back to the 13th century.
We were pleased with our stop, would welcome a return to Parma and would like to have more time so we could take a cooking lesson or a food tour of this area.