Your Vacation in Lights: Soccer pilgrimage to Milan

Inter Milan's forward Mario Balotelli, left, vies for the ball with Catania's midfielder Ezequiel Alejo Carboni, of Argentina, right, during their Serie A soccer match at Giuseppe Meazza stadium in Milan, Italy.
Inter Milan's forward Mario Balotelli, left, vies for the ball with Catania's midfielder Ezequiel Alejo Carboni, of Argentina, right, during their Serie A soccer match at Giuseppe Meazza stadium in Milan, Italy. (AP Photo/Alberto Pellaschiar)
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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Robert G. Owens of Gainesville is the latest contributor to Your Vacation in Lights, in which we invite Travel section readers to dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. You won't win a million dollars if your story is featured, in fact, you won't win anything but the thanks and admiration of your fellow readers. To file your own trip report, see the fine print below.

WHAT: An annual pilgrimage to one of the soccer capitals of the world: Milan.

WHEN: Three and a half days in April during Italian soccer season.

WHY: Next to my family, soccer and Internazionale of Milan (Inter) are my greatest passions. I love to see Inter play live and to absorb the northern Italian experience.

WHO: I've been 10 times since 1998, six by myself, the other four with various friends and family. There is a standing invitation to anyone who wants to join me. For this trip, I was joined by my best friend, Darren Sledjeski.

BEST TIME TO GO: The Italian championship runs late August to late May most seasons. I am partial to early October or late April, when the weather is best and the airfares are reasonable.

COST: We paid around $600 per person for three nights at a four-star hotel within a short walk of the city's famous Duomo, the third-largest cathedral in Europe. Airfare has averaged about $700 over the past three trips. Game tickets can be ordered over the Internet or bought on game day; they cost between $25 and $130 each.

GETTING AROUND: After arriving at Malpensa International Airport, we caught a train and were in the heart of Milan in about 40 minutes. The superb mass transit system makes getting around very easy. Milan also is a walkable city, with all of the major sights within about a five-mile radius of the Duomo piazza.

NO REST ON SUNDAY: Sunday started with a visit to local markets (a huge outdoor flea market is held on the Naviglio Grande canal area on the last Sunday of each month), followed by the Italian interpretation of the tailgate party. We then spent 90 minutes with 80,000 of my best friends cheering for an Inter win.

SEAT SELECTION: There are no bad seats in the house, but stay away from the visitors section. Being associated with the wrong side can instantly put you at odds with about half the city.

KEY ATTRACTIONS: The Duomo, which houses one of the nails from Christ's crucifixion; Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper," in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie; the Teatro alla Scala opera house; the fashion district and its designer studios (Versace, Armani, Gucci, Fendi and Prada, to name a few); Castle Sforza, the medieval fortress with a moat and drawbridge; Parco Sempione, Milan's equivalent of New York's Central Park; and, of course, Giuseppe Meazza stadium, sometimes called the La Scala of soccer and home to Inter and that other team from Milan.

BEST FOOD: Any number of small restaurants and cafes offer full traditional menus and fresh flavors at reasonable prices. The more expensive restaurants feature a more metropolitan atmosphere but are deep on the wallet and a bit shallow on the taste. The risotto Milanese topped with a thick slice of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is a local dish and one of my all-time favorites, simple but rich.

STRIKE AND SCORE: In 2002, after I persuaded my brother-in-law and neighbor to experience the adventure, we were unexpectedly treated to 10 hours in London's Heathrow Airport, waiting out an Italian labor strike that caused all flights into Italy to be canceled. After learning of my annual trek and seeing the mobs of stranded tourists blocking my way, a good Samaritan in the form of an equally soccer-mad British Airways flight coordinator got us on the first flight out of London and into Milan very late Friday night. Though we spent all weekend in the same clothes, we got to see Inter and Juventus battle it out in one of the most exciting matches I have ever seen. Wisely, I always make sure to carry the sacred game tickets in my carry-on.

MOST INTERESTING RITUAL: Before the start of a match, the 15,000 or so Ultra (read: extreme) fans who inhabit the Curva Nord (North Curve) choreograph visual displays such as simple flares, colored smoke bombs and tributes to past heroes and club trophies.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Not being in town when Inter has won the Italian League championship. I've missed it by a week or two each of the past three years. When they win, the city is bathed in the team colors (blue and black), and there is singing, dancing and celebrating into the wee hours.

PRICELESS MOMENTS: Singing "Pazza Inter, Amala!" ("Crazy Inter, Love 'Em!") while celebrating an Inter goal with the entire stadium, and watching the moon rise over the lighted spires of the Duomo at midnight. To be honest, though, the entire trip is priceless, because it produces an unbelievable euphoria that lasts for just about a year.

Want to see your own vacation in lights? We'll highlight one report each month. To submit, use the categories above as a guide (use as many as you wish, or add your own), and send your report to Your Vacation in Lights, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071; or e-mail vacationinlights@washpost.com.


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