After spending one 12-hour day working, I had two days off to wander around northern Italy. It was really nice this time, as I wasn't having withdrawal causing night sweats and crazy anxiety, plus last Wednesday in Italy was a national holiday. Liberation Day marks the anniversary of when the fascists were kicked out of Italy after WW2. The Italians are good about making sure they have plenty of vacation time to enjoy the real pleasures of life, so many places are closed for a week leading up to the Labour Day holiday on May 1st.
I went out to Lago di Garda for part of the day, and strolled around the eastern shores of this beautiful huge lake, through the towns of Bardolino and Lazise (eating gelato twice in three hours) along with about a million Italian families enjoying the spring weather. From there, I drove about 45km southwest to Mantova, a place Aldous Huxley called the most romantic city in the world. Hm. Not so sure about that, but it was another one of your ubiquitous medieval Italian towns based around a series of piazzas. Encircled by three lakes, Mantova was ruled by the Gonzaga family for 3 centuries, and retains a distinctly medieval flair in the city center. You can still see on Piazza Broletto two reminders of how criminals were treated under the Gonzaga reign: metal rings that were used to pulley up and suspend pickpockets in the air by their wrists are still embedded in a building, and the tower called Torre Della Gabbia has a cage attached on the outside where prisoners were exposed to the public and the elements for weeks on end.
Finally spent a day in Milan on Thursday, instead of just passing through Malpensa Airport. Mirelle and Stefano, who I met in Vietnam and traveled with for a few days last August (she's from Baltimore and a former model; he's Milanese), were kind enough to take me out for drinks and dinner for the evening and show me some of the city. Milan has a great custom called apertivo. Between 6-9 each evening, people unwind over cocktail hour, and the bar counters are stacked with hot and cold food selections that are included in the price of your drink. Very nice deal and almost makes it unecessary to eat dinner. Since Milan is one of the major fashion capitials of the world, people in Milan are super coiffed and well turned-out, preening throughout the day and nights. Unbelievably good-looking and slick men everywhere you look, in pinstriped suits and shiny shoes, and women in expensive sunglasses and 4-inch heels picking their way through the streets. Interesting to watch -- woudn't want to live there, but I definitely can visit for a little while.