¡viva genevieve!

Embracing change through travel and culinary discovery

Where have all the people gone


Walking down the streets of Milan passing Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Louis Vuitton and other equally unattainable shops for a penniless, solo traveller like me, all I can hear is
the flopping of my jandal clad footsteps. Maybe the slight whistling of the breeze as the evening begins to cool, but nothing else, just floppy footsteps.

I arrived here with my accommodating couch surfing host for the night who studies here but has been on vacation like the rest of Italy it seems. Even he is surprised at the eerily quite Saturday evening of a usually lively and vibrant city. We even walked to a hidden garden that encompasses a beautiful apartment building and is home to several flamingoes (flamingoes?! Rich people!) just to hear them squawk and break the ghostly and unusual silence.

As I have discovered, August is the best time to visit Italy …. if you don’t like people. If however you are a people person like me and you like to people watch most of all, August is the worst time to visit Italy. It seems every single person goes on vacation during the beginning and the middle of August. And I mean every single person! Many shops and restaurants are closed, apart from the very touristy ones and in most places I have been I am able to walk down a normally busy street without seeing a soul.

Because of this I only needed one night in Milan, my host kindly took me to see the entire city and to enjoy an apertivo where for the price of 9 euro you could enjoy a cocktail and all you can eat bar snacks. This is a perfect way to have dinner and drinks for a budget traveller like me! I enjoyed pasta, olives, salads and prosciutto all for this price.

This morning I woke up and decided to leave Milan early and visit Lake Garda, a beautiful lake about 20 minutes from the romantic town of Verona, the home of Romeo and Juliet. I took the 1.5 hour train from Milan to Peschiera di Garda sitting next to a very elderly and lovely Italian woman. She fidgeted the whole way with her sagging stockings and pedantically cleaned her seat and arm rests several times. We tried to converse with my Spanish and the 10 or so words I know in Italian and her 20 or so words she knows in English. She asked me why a girl from New Zealand would want to visit Italy and I told her that I love the food culture here, the history, the flavours and of course the wine. At least that’s what I think I told her.

I figured out about 20 minutes in that from our conversation she had thought I was a student at chef school in New Zealand, travelling Italy to learn from different chefs in different regions (I wish that was how I was travelling!). I am not sure how this happened and I didn’t have the heart or the words to correct her, so she continued to ask me about what I learn at chef school and I continued with the unintentional charade, I think I told her that I learn about Italian and Mediterranean food history or something along those lines. I am fairly sure she even scolded me for coming here for the food and not the art or the churches, young people don’t appreciate these things she says.

I felt uncomfortable about lying to such a sweet woman so I was a little relieved when she departed the train a stop before me. Maybe she will go home and tell her husband about the NZ student chef she met with a passion for Italian cooking and how sad it was that she wasn’t more interested in going to church. I left the station by foot to Meet hostel, my bed for the night, where I realised where all of the people had gone. The empty streets of Milan in August open up to the bronzed body lined beaches alongside the lakes of Italy. With the water and the beach within my reach and a glass of prosecco in hand I have found a place to start my holiday from my holiday! With my Help Exchange all finished up (at least for now) I have decided that tanning by the lake is well deserved, even if just for the day, and tomorrow I can head to Verona to search for my very own Romeo. ¡viva my first day of holiday!

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