Milan – The Unexpected

I am surprised at how much I loved spending time in Milan.  When thinking of travel in Italy, Milan is not a city that appeals to all tourists.  It does not have the historical appeal of Rome, the beauty of Venice, or the pizza of Naples.  However, I found that the people in Milan and the surrounding areas were extremely friendly and helpful, even though I didn’t have an understanding of Italian.

I visited a small pizza joint near the apartment complex where I was staying and the couple who owned the place communicated with me using hand signals because I didn’t understand Italian.  I was afraid they would be frustrated, but they were welcoming and had a cheerful attitude.  This attitude was mirrored in my visit to Panzerotti Luigi, a small but busy store selling filled pastries near the well-known Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (an expensive shopping strip).  Even though the store was packed with tourists, I was still welcomed with a cheerful “Ciao” and received patient service from the staff.  At both places, the food was reasonable and delicious (6-10 euros for pizza and 2-3 euro for a panzerotti).

Panzerotti Luigi
Panzerotti filled with peach and nuts

However, my experience was somewhat soured in the most touristy area of Milan, the square in front of the Duomo.  Prior to my trip to Europe, I had researched into common scams, so I was already wary before visiting popular attractions.  A man approached me with a string that he insisted on tying onto my wrist.  At first, I refused, assuming that it was a trick, but the man persisted with a pleasant attitude.  He explained that the string was to raise awareness for some cause in Africa and that the string bracelet was free.  After tying the string to my hand, he quickly cut the excess string and his demeanor shifted.  The scammer demanded payment for the “work” that he performed in tying the string onto my wrist.  I refused, and other men performing similar scams flocked to back up the one who approached me.  I parted with 50 cents, which greatly dissatisfied him, as he wanted a few euro.  After the experience, it wasn’t the money that I was upset about, but the fact that I fell for the scam.  Travelling alone, I had nobody to back me up, so I parted with my coins.  I stayed in the square for a while longer, warning a few people who got too close to the scammers and watching the more savvy tourists avoid this trap.  My lesson from this episode is that being paranoid or cynical about “free” things while travelling is usually the right approach.

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