A Milan Moment: Pausing for Perspective


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In 1999 I made an unexpected detour in Milan, originally headed to Switzerland then Rome, I explored landmarks like the Milan Cathedral but decided to fully experience the city later with friends. An awkward encounter on a train ride to Rome underscored the importance of trusting my instincts for safety. This brief, impromptu visit to Milan became a significant and educational part of my journey, emphasizing the value of shared travel experiences and personal intuition.

In the heart of Milan, I discovered more than just the city's architectural wonders; I learned the importance of shared experiences in travel and the vital need to trust one's instincts. This unplanned stop was not just a pause in my journey; it became a profound lesson in understanding the beauty of companionship and the significance of personal safety.


An Unplanned Detour to Milan

I jumped on the train in Riomagiore to La Spezia. From there I headed north to Milan. My goal was to travel into Switzerland - hopefully Interlaken - and catch a glimpse of the Swiss Alps before heading south to Rome for my friends’ arrival tomorrow.

Upon my arrival to Milan Centrale station, I quickly located a locker to securely store my large backpack. These station lockers had become invaluable assets, offering peace of mind and freedom to explore the city unencumbered during my day trips.

Lost in the Streets of Fashion and History

After a few minutes reviewing the departures board, and listening to the now familiar and hypnotic ‘clickity clack’ of the arrivals board, I realized that a trip into Switzerland for the few hours I’d have before the sun set, didn’t make sense. Instead, I noted the last train to Rome before leaving the station to grab explore Milan and grab some food.

After a quick bite to eat, and a visit to a small deli to stock up on food my overnight train ride to Rome, I began an aimless stroll through the streets of Milan. I didn’t know anything about Milan except two of the soccer clubs we wanted to visit played here: AC Milan and Inter Milan. However, I didn’t want to purposely visit the stadiums and locations my friends and I had hoped to see together. So I didn’t grab a map and just wandered around aimlessly, allowing myself to get lost in this capital of Italian fashion.

The Awe of Milan Cathedral

I wandered through the city’s streets towards Castello Sforesco - a red-bricked facade, that’s been both a fortress and a residence for Milan's ruling families and dated back to the 15th century. I window shopped along avenues with stores of Italian fashion brands I’d never be able to afford. At the end of my meandering, I popped out into a large piazza face to face with the imposing Milan Cathedral.

I was awe struck. It was so large and perfect it looked fake - like a giant version of those 3-d puzzles or a perfect lego model. This cathedral, one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the world, took nearly six centuries to complete. Its stunning white marble facade and thousands of intricately carved statues showcased a story of Milan's artistic heritage and the city's devotion to beauty and religion.

An Epiphany & Change of Plans

In that moment I decided I didn’t want to explore any more of the city without my friends. If we were going to travel together, I wanted to share these “Holy shit, that’s awesome!” moments with them. I mean what’s the point of having a trip together if you don’t share these once-in-a-lifetime moments together.

Having this epiphany, I headed back to the train station. I grabbed my backpack, confirmed my train, and tried to find an empty empty compartment to stake claim to for the six hour overnight ride to Rome. Sadly, the train was full.

An Uncomfortable Encounter on the Train

I found a seat in a compartment with 4 others. We started chatting and one Italian guy expressed how much he “enjoyed American boys”. I laughed and assumed the broken English made the comment seem more direct than it was meant. However, he persisted and I became a bit uncomfortable. I’m not sure what I thought would happen, but I didn’t feel comfortable spending the night in this compartment. I grabbed my bag and excused myself, as I went off to look for a new seat.

Thinking I had cleverly avoided an awkward night, I was surprised to look back as I walked down the outer corridor and see the same man following me smiling. As I neared the end of the car I ducked into the toilet. I thought the man would go back to his seat or continue walking to the next car. When I exited the toilet I realized I was wrong. He smiled at me and repeated how much he “enjoyed American boys”.

Trusting My Insticts

At this point, I offered a polite smile and turned to continue my search for a new seat in the next train car. As I peeked into various compartments, I finally spotted one with a single available seat. Swiftly, I stowed my backpacks in the overhead rack and settled into my newfound spot. Glancing towards the door, I noticed the Italian man realizing the lack of available seats. He gave me a brief look before closing the door and returning to his original compartment. A sense of relief washed over me.

This experience underscored a crucial lesson: even as a man traveling alone, it's vital to trust your instincts. Feeling uneasy? Don’t hesitate to change your seat or compartment, whether on a train or in any other situation. Prioritizing your comfort and safety is more important than adhering to social politeness. I closed my eyes and and when I awoke the train was jolting into Roma Termini - the central train station in Rome.

Reflections of Milan

As the train came to a stop, I thought back to my time in Milan. The amazing view of the Milan Cathedral, the unexpected adventures in the city, and the weird moment on the train – all these experiences made my solo trip really stand out. This short but meaningful visit was more than just moving from one place to another; it taught me a lot about myself. It reminded me how great it is to share special moments with friends and got me excited for the fun times coming up with my friends in Rome.

Milan wasn’t just a place I passed through; it was an important part of my travel story, a part that got me ready for the next couple weeks and the adventures I was about to have with my friends.

Read the next part of this story


In 1999, on an short stop-over in Milan, originally on my way to Switzerland before turning back to go to Rome, I explored the city's historic sites like the Milan Cathedral, realizing I'd prefer to wait for my friends to experience this city more fully. An awkward encounter on a train taught me to trust my instincts for personal safety. This brief, unplanned day in Milan became a memorable part of my journey, highlighting the value of shared experiences and self-awareness during travel.

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