Flashback: my first months in Milan

Milan's Naviglio Grande. The Navigli are hands-down my favourite area in Milan, not only because that's where I used to live.

I got a comment on my moving to London post from a reader asking for survival tips in a new city with no money:

Hi Sascha,
As a young Irish lad (20) with virtually no money, no sense (except for adventure), and flights booked to London already, I found it really relieving to hear that you survived in Milan on 200 euro.
I must say that it sounds like a very familiar tale.

I was just wondering if you could tell me a bit more about how you survived in a foreign city on that small a budget? Any more tips for we of the empty-pocket variety? I literally have about 200 pounds sterling too.

Very encouraging post, which is really nice to see.


...now, this is truly my area of expertise.

Dear Irish lad,

no money and no sense - wow, that sounds exactly like me when, at 22, I moved to Milan in 2005. I have to say, though, I wasn't really taking a leap into the unknown - I had a job lined up when my plane first touched down at Malpensa, even if it wasn't the best of jobs. I was coming to Milan to be an au pair - which is really just a fancy French word for "babysitter" - for an Italian family that were going to pay me 80€ a week (it pains me to admit I was once the kind of person who would ever say yes to something like that) and give me a place to live. 

Now, so many girls have had amazing au pair experiences (I'm still wondering why you never hear about guys doing this) and that's lovely for them, but as far as my personal experience goes, being an au pair was by far the worst job I've ever had. I've been a telemarketer, I've been a cleaner on cruise ships, I've been an extra in a TV show filming "party" scenes in a skimpy dress in a yard  in February and I'd go back to either of them today rather than being an au pair for that family again. They lived in a super-fancy Milan area (funny enough, just before we left, David and I ended up living quite near them) in a huge, luxurious, MTV Cribs-style flat. The father I believe I saw about twice during my whole experience. The mother was the stereotypical rich "housewife" (I use that term loosely, as the one thing she did around the house was her nails) who occasionally hit her daughter, which left me horrified. Having said that, meeting this particular three-year-old girl would make even my most passionately buggy-and-diaper-loving friends swear never to have kids again. This girl was - and I say this with a lot of pity - a horrible brat. Spoiled beyond belief by two constantly absent parents, numerous au pairs before me and an actual housekeeper - I KID YOU NOT, in 2005 ladies and gentlemen! A housekeeper in the new freaking millennium! - this girl had zero experience socialising with other kids, adults, human beings, dinosaurs, anything except her army of Barbie dolls. When I saw the mum slapping her in the street, I decided I'd had enough and quit. Which meant I had to leave the accommodation provided by the family in two days. 

By the time I had about 300 euro - I'd earned 160 by working with the family and spent some of my initial 200. I found a room in ONE DAY by running around like a crazy person looking at flats. My new Egyptian landlord asked me for 200 a month, no deposit, for a shared room - with the twist that at the moment no one was actually there to share, so the room was all mine. It was located in what is considered one of Milan's dodgiest areas, but I was never scared walking around there, not even at night. There were always lots of people out, which keeps me feeling (maybe falsely?) safe. What scares me is a small, quiet street with no one around. Keep in mind this was in January-February - and my landlord wanted to save cash, so the heating was almost always turned off. I wore my huge winter jacket indoors and slept with two pairs of pajama bottoms on.

Cash count: by now, I was down to 100€, having paid 200 in rent. Every day I'd leave the house at about 9 a.m and go and look for a job.  I would eat virtually nothing to save money. I'd buy a two-pack yoghurt and make it last three days. I wouldn't take the tube to save cash and walked everywhere (if you think February isn't winter just because it's Italy, think again). Sometimes I'd buy Cosmopolitan. The magazine, not the drink. I love that Carrie Bradshaw quote on how she'd buy VOGUE instead of dinner when she just moved to New York. Because it fed her more. It makes me think of my own very humble beginnings.

Looking for a job was hellish. If the recruiter was a woman, she'd hear my bad Italian and treat me like I was something that cat dragged in. If it was a man, he'd try working his Mediterranean charms on me. I've been offered a job in exchange for sex more than once and one guy made up a job in a place that didn't exist just to get me to go out with him. Once I answered an ad for a job in a nightclub, thinking it was a waitress gig. When the owner called me up and asked me how tall I was and if I could email him more pictures of myself, I started wondering what was up, so I asked him what exactly the job entailed. His answer was, "your job is to dance with the customers and you have to accept any drinks they offer you. THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH IT". He kept insisting that "nothing was wrong with it" to the point that even my gullible 22-year-old self was smart enough to see that something was wrong with it and hang up the phone.

How was I surviving then, you may wonder.Well, I made some friends. They all knew about my situation - I've never been one of those people ashamed of having no money - so they took me for dinner a lot. I soon left my landlord's icy flat and moved in with a guy from the South of Italy, a Romanian guy and a Romanian girl, where they let me live rent-free, "just until you get a job". They bought dinner and cooked for me as well, even if I hadn't paid for it. And - I'm a bit ashamed of this, but I'm still going to say it, just in case anyone else is/has been in this situation - I went out with pretty much any guy that asked me, just to get a free dinner. As soon as they showed any sign of wanting anything beyond dinner, I'd bail. I wasn't in Milan looking for love. My parents sent me cash sometimes, but their general attitude was, "come home. NOW."

I finally got offered a job, answering phones at Principe di Savoia, the most luxurious and expensive hotel in Milan and, dare I say it, one of the most luxe places in the world. I was about to accept it, when I got an email from the Tuscan resort where I'd been working as a children's entertainer the previous summer. They needed a Swedish-speaking receptionist for the upcoming summer season, from May to September. I turned down the job in Milan, went back home to Sweden for a couple of months and then headed off to Tuscany. And I'm so glad I did - I spent another four summers working in this resort, met my best friend and my fiancé there and made memories for life. I moved back to Milan in 2010 and stayed for two years, before coming to London.

You might want to ask, "why did you do this? Why didn't you just stay in Stockholm? It seems like a perfectly lovely city". And it is. Stockholm is amazingly gorgeous. But at that time I felt like I'd already seen all of it and was ready for something new. I've always been very adventurous - not the bungy-jumping kind of adventurous, or even roller-coaster adventurous, more the "get up and move to a different city with no money or friends" type. I often feel like I HAVE to try something new, I crave change. And there was also the element of wanting to beat the odds, of having Made It. I wanted to keep trying and be successful, no matter what it took.

Dear Irish lad, I suggest you do move to London. Get a really cheap hostel and just jobhunt like crazy. Go to Irish pubs, they'll give you a job and you'll meet tons of people. After a while you can get a room in a flat with some friends (just make sure they're, you know, normal and hygienic people...which reminds me, I have to do a flatmate post really soon!) and maybe start looking for - cliché alert - your dream job. And I would even dare say that your "lack of sense" is probably going to work in your advantage here. Because "sensible" people rarely have the guts that we do and you have to be a bit gutsy to get anywhere. Especially here, with the cutthroat competition in the job market, the flat market, the everything market. But with your attitude, I'm sure you'll do fine.

Piazza XXIV Maggio, very close to where I used to live.

Fun fact: one time, when living in Milan again in 2011, David and I were walking home from a party at three in the morning when, out of nowhere, I realised we were in front of my old au pair family's building. I took a look at the names on the buzzer list and sure enough they still lived there. So..we buzzed, until we woke them up. Then, of course, we proceeded to run away, laughing like teenagers. Stupid and childish, I know. Doesn't make it any less satisfying.

Pictures by me


  1. Quando leggo post tipo questo... Mi sento davvero simile.
    L'idea di essere il tipo "avventuroso di muoversi senza soldi e senza amici" per vivere in un'altra nazione, perché semplicemente mi sentivo pronta a farlo... Beh, mi sento un po' meno sola a sapere che c'è qualcuno che ci è passato prima di me :)
    Bel post, davvero! Mi ci sono immedesimata proprio, nonostante da italiana mi sia spostata al nord!

  2. I love everything about this story and of course especially that you went on dates just to get free dinners :) I did too in NY - there finally someone said it. Change is good and sometimes doing it against all odds and an empty wallet brings out the best in you and along the best adventures.

  3. Ammiro il tuo grande coraggio e la tua voglia di "avventura", davvero. Non dev'essere stato facile, ma sicuramente ti avrà fatto le "ossa" per tante esperienze!
    Un abbraccio!!
    Life, Laugh, Love And Lulu!!
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  4. Chapeau to your story Sasha. I knew you're brave, but I didn't imagine you had such adventures in your life. All I can say is that you deserve all the good things that are happening right now.
    I'm not a person like you, I don't think I'm missing something tough, but I truly enjoyed reading your story here.



  5. Wow davvero un bel post. Anch'io come te condivido la voglia di avventura e mi sono immedesimata ricordando i due mesi in cui ho vissuto a Londra.

    1. Londra ha un'atmosfera particolare, vero? Io sono qui da dieci mesi e la AMO.

  6. Hey Sascha,

    I have been following your blog from quite a time now and honestly, I had to admit that you have truly admired me a lot. Your stories takes me to a different frame of mind. It's all and all mesmerizing. Thanks a ton for sharing your experiences.

    Write more..!! Will be waiting.. :)

    1. Wow thank you so much Eesha! I appreciate that so much. This is why I blog!


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