Travel Tips for Italy – What I Learned from Experience

Milan, Italy photo by Margie MiklasYou know, you can do the same thing ten times and still learn from your experience. And this certainly holds true for travel. No matter how many times I travel to Italy I learn something new, sometimes through challenging experiences.

On my most recent trip, I flew into Milan, before heading south to Positano and Sicily. So, like any traveler, I wanted to make the most of my time in Milan. On my agenda was to try to get tickets to visit The Last Supper. Highly recommended but always requiring reservations, I decided to see what I could accomplish.

Milan, Italy photo by Margie MiklasFinally, after hours and days of research, I managed to find a tour that was offered during the tight window of  date and time I had available. Since The Last Supper can only be experienced in a group and usually combined with a tour, I was happy with whatever I found. So even though this tour began at 3:30pm, and included a walking tour of Milan, I decided to book it, figuring I could see The Last Supper, and then just leave the tour whenever I felt like it, in order to make another meetup I had arranged for  an aperitivo with a friend in the center of Milan.

First mistake – Making  arrangements which included specific times for the day of arrival in Italy. After traveling all night on a nine-hour flight (sometimes much more, depending on the departure airport in the States), the stress of making a timed event can be overwhelming.

Photo by Emirates Airline

While my flight arrived at Malpensa at noon, I had failed to take into consideration the delays at baggage claim, and also at the Milano Express train station inside the airport. It quickly became apparent to me that I would not have enough time to check into my hotel and freshen up. So I decided to opt to leave my bag at the Left Luggage area inside Milano Centrale station, and take a taxi to Piazza del Duomo, where I was to meet the tour.

Milano Centrale Milan, Italy - Photo by Margie MiklasBetween locating the luggage deposit area inside the station, waiting in line, and then hailing a taxi, the time was quickly disappearing, and I was feeling the stress of being late and missing my tour.  I also hadn’t planned on the traffic in the city, and why not? Milan is the capital of Italy, the country’s most populated city. As of  2016  the urban area of Milan boasts a population of 3.1 million in 2016, and the city proper is lists a population of around 1.7 million.

Milan photo by Margie MiklasSo naturally the 10-minute taxi ride turned into a 30-minute ride.  I don’t normally stress about too much, but being late or missing an event because of  a time constraint, definitely pushes my patience.

Milan photo by Margie MikasAt 3:29pm we  were stopped at a light at one of the corners of the piazza, and I spotted the meeting location,  told the taxi driver I was getting out, paid him and literally ran across the street, just in time to see a tour guide with a group surrounding her.

Like a crazy tourist, I was out of breath as I reached the group and announced my presence, grateful that I had made it. Forget what I must have looked like. It was a hot day, so my Italian hair was definitely not going to do what I would like. But that’s okay because I was in Piazza del Duomo and I was also finally going to see The Last Supper.

Piazza del Duomo MIlan Photo by Margie Miklas

I have no idea why I expected The Last Supper to be the first stop, but soon I realized from the tour guide’s instructions, that not only was it not going to be first, but that the tour would last 3 hours, and at 6:00 or 6:15 we would be able to view The Last Supper for exactly 15 minutes.

Milan Galleria Photo by Margie Miklas

So, on top of being tired, stressed, and exasperated, I worried about having time afterwards, to get back to the Milan train station, retrieve my bag, and check into my hotel, and freshen up, all before meeting my friend at 7:30 for our arranged aperitivo. But what else could I do? I had prepaid for the tour, and if I didn’t go, who knows when I’d get to see The Last Supper?

So now I’m on a 3-hour walking tour of Milano to sites that I have already seen more than once. Did I mention that the temperature was over 80 degrees?

tram in Milan photo by Margie MiklasTo be fair, I did learn some things I didn’t know on this city tour.

castle-sforzesco-milan Photo by Margie MiklasBut my main interest was The Last Supper, and  eventually it was time. At 6:00pm  we  finally arrived at Santa Maria delle Grazie, the church which contains the mural of The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.

Santa Maria delle Grazie Milan Photo by Margie Miklas

santa-maria-delle-grazie-dome Photo by Margie MiklasOur group had to wait until our assigned time of 6:15, where only 30 people are allowed at a time to view the masterpiece.  At exactly 6:15pm, we filed into the space, where we could experience this incredible fresco painted on the wall inside the convent.

last-supper-fresco Photo by Margie MiklasThe wait was worth it, and I will follow up with another blog post detailing my experience inside this special place.

Because of the rush and the stress,  I know that I coudn’t fully appreciate this opportunity as much as I would have liked.

After I said goodbye to the group,  I walked several  blocks to the metro station, bought a ticket, and and rode to the train station, where I retrieved my bag.

metro Milan photo by margie MiklasAfterward, I took another taxi to the hotel. In the meantime I had texted my friend, who was very understanding, and we delayed the aperitivo meet until 8:30. (That’s for another blog post as well.)

baglioni-hotel-carlton photo by Margie MiklasI had just enough time to shower, and freshen up before then, and finally was able to unwind and enjoy the evening in Milan.

Margie in Milan at night photo by Margie MiklasSo the moral of the story…Although I got plenty of exercise today (walked 6 miles), I’d advise not to plan to do too much in one day, and especially on the day of travel. And for sure don’t make  plans which include specific times or deadlines on the day you arrive in Italy.

Aperitivo in Milan photo by Margie MiklasYou can be sure I won’t make this mistake again.

And for many more travel tips based on real experiences, don’t miss this 5-star travel tip guide by Victoria de Maio, available on Amazon.  Victoria’s Travel TipZ Italian Style

Photo by Victoria De MaioHave you made mistakes while traveling that you’d like to share? I’d  love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment.

Grazie and Ciao

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39 Responses

  1. So true! I’ve found that you have to schedule fairly lightly in Italy as the time to get from one place to another is always much, much longer than it would seem on paper. And this is true both in the city and in the countryside. But I can’t imagine how tired you must have been after your flight – a 3-hour walking tour – wow! Glad you got to see the Last Supper. I’ll have to enjoy it on your next post as for these very reasons I opted not to include it in my schedule when I was there for a long weekend a few years ago. (Your antipasti looked like an excellent reward, though.)

    • Thank you Karen…Yes the day did end up well and I am glad I got to see The Last Supper, even under those circumstances…Stay tuned for the blog post on it.. Thank you my friend

  2. Great tip! Although, I did enjoy reading about your adventure, and after the fact it actually sounds like an amazing day given all that you saw and accomplished! I am impressed! 🙂 Beautiful photos too! I will have to include Milan on a future trip to the bel paese!

  3. This is great advice! I don’t even book a train ticket for the day of arrival, as I can’t assume arriving on time. Glad you got to see L’ultima Cenacola- I haven’t seen it despite many visits to Milano. I really dislike prebooking things, but I’ll see it one day. Ciao, Cristina

  4. Wonderful advice, Margie, and by the way, you looked great even after all of that!

  5. Agreed! I give tours in Italy to American university students, but I don’t organize the details of the tours, and I sometimes feel bad about how tightly organized they are. So far, so good…we haven’t had any huge challenges. But here and there things do come up, and I always feel bad that I have to rush my huge groups when they are in Italy for such a short time and I want them to just be able to enjoy. My only tip for your trip – I take that Emirates flight too, and I always take the bus, never the train. There are several bus operators, so I never wait more than five minutes to leave, whereas the train doesn’t run as regularly. With the bus there’s the risk of traffic, but I’ve only encountered traffic once in all my years.

  6. Great advice Margie. I usually have nothing planned on the day I arrive. Especially if it is a late flight. However, if I am arriving in morning sometime I will be sure to keep your tips in mind and take it easy like the Italians 😀

  7. Very great advice Margie! I had been twice to Milan trying to see the Last Supper. On the second occasion even though it was booked the venue was closed for some reason. Going to Milan last year my friends and I booked a tour to see the Last Supper on the second day. However in Sydney our plane was cancelled and so we arrived in. Milan on the day of the tour. A phone call to the tour company from Dubai ascertained that we could not change the tour but that the Last Supper would be at the end of the tour. Not wanting to miss it again we took a taxi from the airport to our hotel in Milan and quickly dropped off our suitcases. Then we had to get a taxi to the tour company to find out where to meet up with the tour group. Then the taxi took us to La Scala where we met up with the group. The tour guide we had was absolutely amazing ! Her knowledge of the church and monastery and the painting was excellent and I was so glad to finally be viewing this magnificent painting that had survived centuries and even bombing in world War. I have so much admiration for you! We were stuffed having moved quickly by taxis and our tour was a bus tour. You amazed me with your confidence and your stamina! I think at the end of the day I would have fallen in a heap and cried.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience… Wow…you had a challenging day as well!! I do agree that not planning something like this even on the day after arrival is probably pushing it. I only had 2 days so not a lot of choice…You seem like you managed everything quite resourcefully. Brava to you i!f

  8. We went to Milan one August and it was definitely a lot quieter traffic wise than what you experienced, Margie. Glad you got to see the Last Supper – it definitely is worth booking it online before travelling. There is a life size bronze version in the city’s monumental cemetery which is absolutely worth a visit too!

  9. Milan is the capital of Italy? Have I missed something?

    My piece of travelling advice in Italy is – Don’t hire a car!

    • Thanks Andrew…I do find public transportation like trains, metro and buses fairly reliable…In some instances though, a private driver is almost a necessity. Now a taxi may be another issue…LOL I do understand that Milan has Uber drivers now as well.

  10. You are always so deliciously honest and that’s why I trust what you say. This was fabulous. Thanks for sharing and all the tips!

    • Thanks so much, Sherry. I think it’s good to share the good and the bad…and always a lesson is in there for the next time!! I appreciate all your support, my friend1

  11. Karen La Rosa

    I am stressed just reading this!!! Even the most experienced travelers run into situations…. At least you can laugh about it now. I do know the feeling of wanting to see and do it all. 🙂

    Happy Monday! Ciao, Karen

    >

    • Thanks so much, Karen….Yes I wasn’t laughing then, but now it’s a story that hopefully can do some good as far as letting other travelers know how easy it is to get caught up in wanting to see and do it all.

  12. I, along with Karen, was a bit overwhelmed and exhausted just reading your experience! In my book and when advising my tour guests and clients,
    It’s only natural to want to see and do it all but… I always always always advise them to NOT include the “travel” day in their sightseeing planning. Your post is a perfect example.
    Grazie for mentioning my book, too! Appreciated!

    • Yes Victoria…You do mention that in your book…Hopefully I won’t be caught up in this again..Exhausting and stressful were definitely the words of the day. Thanks so much!

  13. That’s why I hate scheduling things when aim there and like to wing it so there isn’t any stress

    • margieinitaly

      That’s the bet way, Jennifer… have learned a lesson here

  14. Thanks for sharing, Margie! The artistic patterns inside Santa Maria delle Grazie are really unique and I’m looking forward to your detailed post about that. As for travel mistakes in Italy… I did indeed experience that. Naples, oh boy, getting a last minute hotel near the train station was one of the most unsafe-feeling experiences ever. And then when November hits it’s the end of the tourism season and many hotels close their doors while ferry schedules are cut way down; luckily I was prepared for that but it’s just something to be aware of 🙂

    • Thank you Suzette! Great tips and I appreciate your sharing here…We can all learn something. Yes stay tuned for that blog post…coming soon.

  15. Solo traveler.
    The day I went to see the Last Supper, I walked into the ticket office in the morning and bought a ticket for later that afternoon. I ended up with a group of Japanese tourists. Sometimes, as a solo or duo you can get a ticket to things without reservations if, for example, there was a cancellation that day or in my case, probably some room with this group. So, it never hurts to check. I had the same luck at the Uffizi. Walked up, got a ticket, walked right in past all the tour groups.

  16. My best tip for travelling in Italy would be don’t go in summer, it is far too hot and crowded. Milan is a great city to visit…so much to see.

    • Thanks Debra, I have been in Italy in June, and depending on where you go, it can be very hot, and also not too bad. Some travelers have no other options depending on their jobs, and have to travel then. I prefer the spring and fall.

  17. Tamela Robinson

    Guess where I’m going in JULY…(only time I get to travel). This time I get to go to Lake Como, Varenna, on your recommendation.

    Tammy

  18. Gladys Martoo

    Thank you Margie for sharing your experiences… I am hoping you may have some advice for me as well …Later this year, in October, we will be travelling by train to Milan from Florence….we will arrive in Milan mid morning on Saturday 21 October and leave for our flight back to Australia late at night Sunday 22 October. So we will only have the Saturday afternoon and next day (Sunday) to visit our two major highlights. We want to do a tour of the cathedral (and roof top visit) and as I believe that this is not possible on the Sunday this will need to be on the Saturday…any tips for this tour would be great. And secondly,like you, we also want to visit the Last Supper…but we are not sure if we can book a tour this far out or not…we will need to do this Last Supper tour/visit on the Sunday morning – do you have any tips and any recommendations for a tour company to use for the Last Supper visit?….and any tips for the cathedral??
    Many thanks
    Gladys

    • margieinitaly

      Thank you,Gladys…sounds like a crunched time schedule too. I’d suggest planning on at least an hour wait in line for the cathedral. I found you can book Last Supper tickets about 2 months in advance. I think Veditalia has tours.http://veditalia.com/..

  19. Girl, I cannot tell you how many times I have done this! lol And I am supposed to be an expert like you! lol We live we learn. Loved hearing that others do this too!

    • margieinitaly

      Thanks Cacinda…It makes me feel good that you’ve experieced the same thing!!

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