Inspired by our wonderful Airbnb guests from around the world, especially our guests from Italy, who make up most of our European guests, I finally #bookedthetripalready and headed to Italy in May of 2023!
The seeds of my epic trip were planted several years prior when my sister and I started accommodating guests in our home as Airbnb hosts. The rich encounters with our guests led us to create a travel and hospitality brand called Urbanity Lush, where we provide cultural immersion experiences and accommodations for international and working professionals looking for a home away from home.
My first stop on my EU Airbnb tour was the magical city of Paris, France! I was only to spend the weekend in Paris, with the bulk of my 3 1/2 week spent in various cities, 7 to be exact, throughout Italy, strolling and visiting with some of my favorite guests we have hosted over the last decade! I was so geeked about this trip and reveled in the planning process up to my day of departure.
As a culture connoisseur, I knew one of the best ways to penetrate the culture of Italy was to learn the language. There’s something about speaking someone else’s language that grants you access to that person’s culture in ways you would never have otherwise.
When I thought about who to contact to help me learn Italian, I immediately thought of Luca. Luca was one of the first guests we welcomed after suspending hosting for over a year due to COVID-19. We were excited to host an Italian guest again and hoped he would love to cook unique Italian dishes that our other Italian guests often did in our home! I just loved coming home to a house smothered in the smell of pasta sauce, garlic, and onions cooking on the stove!
We learned quickly; however, Luca wasn’t a cook but had other talents that made him just as endearing! lol Along with being a classical pianist, I also learned that he taught Italian on Italki in his spare time! I was stoked to know this about Luca and tucked this information in my preverbal back pocket to whip out later.
Luca had traveled to Philadelphia, in 2021 to study under a Master pianist at Villanova University,5 miles from our Airbnb. We only knew we were hosting a prodigy once he returned to his home of Milan, Italy, three months later! Luca sent us a clip of him playing at a benefit concert he had organized upon returning. I was in tears upon hearing his mastery and insisted he host a party for us! Later that year, for Christmas, he played several classical pieces for our friends and former guests from around the world at a virtual concert entitled Christmas in Italy with Luca and Friends!
I was eager to meet Luca when I arrived in his home city of Milian to start the second half of my EU Airbnb guests tour! I arrived at one of the most beautiful train stations I had ever seen. I am talking about the beauty of the Taj Mahal! I had come in from Rome, my second city on my tour, where I spent five days immersed in Rome’s splendor! The guest we hosted five years earlier, Sabrina, had even flown in from London to join me for Pizza at the Spanish Steps, among other sightseeing adventures!
2017 Airbnb Guest, Sabrina and I at the Vatican!
Upon exiting the train, I was relieved and surprised at the same time when a young lady called my name. It turned out to be a friend of Angela’s, our Fulbright guest we had hosted almost a year ago in our Airbnb. Angela had been gracious enough to pick me up from the station and take me to the Airbnb, where I would stay for three days.
Angela, Our Fulbright 2022 Airbnb Guest with Co-hosts, Buddy and Bella!
I was surprised because her friend knew it was me, “how”? I thought. She must have read my thoughts and blurted out, “You are the only black person in the station!” We both laughed and embraced each other like old friends!
It’s true; I was the only blackface in a sea of white, and it had been like this for most of my trip around Italy. I noticed, however, that I didn’t experience the anxiety I do when the situation is the same in the US. For the most part, I was treated like just another tourist. It was refreshing, I must say, to experience this sense of freedom I don’t always feel in white spaces here in the States.
This isn’t to say that I didn’t experience some encounters that made me feel othered. In fact, before coming to Milan, I stayed in Rome with an Airbnb host who stopped talking to me three days into my five days with him! I racked my brain trying to figure out what I could have done to warrant his refusal even to greet me in the mornings! When he left a disparaging review, I knew I was dealing with a prejudiced person.
I was warned before my trip that “Italians are racist” and that they had grown the more since electing their country’s first female president–Giorgia Meloni– whose Brothers of Italy party has neo-Nazi roots! This hadn’t been my experience with the Italians we hosted in our Airbnb over the years, so I blew these sentiments I heard off. I found Italians to be the most friendly and accepting people, at least the ones we hosted.
The good thing is that my Milian Airbnb host, Patriaze, made up for the bad experience with the host in Rome!
Patraize’s Airbnb is situated in a trendy, quiet section of Milan and is just a 30-minute walk to the stunning Dom0!
Initially, I wasn’t going to book Patraize’s space because, honestly, I found her home decor dated, but what sold me was that it was budget-friendly and included breakfast!
Patriaze’s Morning Breakfast for Guests!
Once Angela dropped me off at Patriaze, I quickly dropped my bags and headed to the bus station to meet Luca. I had hoped to impress him with the little Italian I had learned from the online classes I had taken with him two months leading up to my trip.
Milian is a global city, much like NYC, where English is spoken widely by the natives, so I didn’t have to rely too heavily on my preschool-level Italian to get by! Lol
Luca and I met up at a local basketball court to do what we Americans love to do: play basketball!
Luca and I on the basketball court in Sempione Park!
Yeah, that’s right, along with being a classical pianist and language teacher, Luca is also a natural at basketball! I hadn’t played basketball in years, but for some reason that was one of the first things I wanted to do when I told Luca I was coming to visit! I don’t think he thought I was serious, but there we were on the court in one of Milian’s most beautiful parks, Sempione, steps away from the medieval castle Castello Sforzesco! Talk about the old and new meeting! WOW! I pinch myself just thinking about it! “How can this be my life right now,” I thought?
The Castello Sforzesco in Sempione Park!
After getting spanked by a #whitemencanjump, I decided I better head out before losing the little dignity i had left! Lol, “Cia, Luca.” “Grazie!” These were the only words I could remember of my preschool-level Italian at the time! Not only had I failed to impress him with my Italian, but I had failed to bring my coach, Sydney Carter A game, something I will be ashamed of for the rest of my life! Lol Nonetheless, my embarrassment was replaced with awe when I officially started the tourist phase of my time in beautiful Milian!
Just in case you have been living under a rock, Milan is the fashion capital of Italy and the world! It’s a city that seamlessly blends history, art, and modernity. With its stunning architecture, world-renowned museums, and vibrant atmosphere, Milan had me at hello! Whether you are a fashion enthusiast, an art lover, or a history buff, this city has a never-ending array of things to do, see, and experience!
Among the best experiences included a little DIY photoshoot at the breathtaking Gothic cathedral–Duomo di Milano, and a stroll down the famous Via Montenapoleone, known as the fashion district, where I explored the stores of some of Italy’s most renowned fashion designers. This was only topped by a trip I took to the pristine Lake Como–known for its stunning villas and picturesque landscape— just outside of Milan. It was here where I devoured one of the freshest salads I have had while I took in the stunning views of the lake and mountain terrain just offshore!
The Stunning Lake Como! The Domo!
While these experiences captured my breath, nothing caught my heart like the curated pasta-making class former guest, Angela, arranged for me right before the close of my time there with none other than her mother, Momma Josephine! It was a true family affair as even her brother, Cosimo (a race car driver…how cool is that), jumped in to show me how to roll pasta like an authentic Italian!
Momma Josphine and Angela’s brother Cosimo I am brought to tears when I think of how magical my time in Milan was, and I can’t thank enough all of our former guests for opening up their homes and hearts to me! Thank you, Angela and Luca, for your hospitality; I will never forget! Remember, too you will always have a home with us here in our home city of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection–Philadelphia!
Now you, the reader, your turn to #purchasetheticket and create your own memories of Milan.
This city embodies the essence of Italian culture, combining history, art, fashion, and culinary delights in a heart-racing urban setting. Here’s our curated travel guide, you are invited to take with you! It lists some 40 of the lushes eats, sights and experiences to do!
Sincerely, Lola in Milan