Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Arrivederci, Milano!

Milanese Breakfast
The streets of Milan were quiet and deserted on New Year's morning. Our luck ran out with the pleasant weather on New Year's Eve and it was foggy and rainy with a biting wind. We managed to find a small cafe open for 'breakfast.' It's really too bad we overslept and missed our hotel's complimentary coffee and pastry selection because we paid 20 Euros for two coffees, a small piece of apple streudel, and some cookies. Did I mention how expensive Milan is?

Fashion District
After our 'breakfast' we strolled through the Quadrilatero della Moda, Milan's famous fashion district. I'm not obsessed with Gucci, Prada, Versace, and the like but it was still interesting to walk through and window shop. Although I imagine if I had 75,000 Euros at my disposal I probably wouldn't spend it all on an Armani dress.

Unfortunately all of the shops were closed until January 7th. I guess wealthy people need a really long New Year's vacation. I think it would be fun to visit when the shops are open and the beautiful, fabulous people are shopping. On one of the side streets we saw an older woman with perfectly coiffed hair, chic sunglasses, and wearing a snowy-white ensemble right down to her stark white shoes, which were somehow in pristine condition even though the streets were wet and grimy. She was walking purposefully toward an ornate apartment building and as she passed I got a whiff of her expensive perfume. I wanted to follow her and find out who she was but that would have been wrong. And creepy. It was like she had walked off a glamorous movie set from the 1950s.

The architecture was beautiful. Graceful mansions tower over streets that are lined with immaculately-manicured shrubbery. Even if you aren't absorbed by fashion and wealth, it's a very pleasant walk through the Quadrilatero della Moda. And who knows? Maybe you'll run into the woman in white and she'll invite you into her palatial apartment for some wine and divulge her secret about how she keeps her clothing so immaculate.

We were off to a late start on New Year's Day and we were well into the afternoon when the skies finally opened up into an earnest downpour. We decided to go back to the hotel and try again later. Later turned to evening because of the bad weather. We ended up walking several blocks to find a cafe that was open. We ate some paninis (by now our go-to food choice) and went to sleep early so we could take full advantage of our last day in Milan.

We'd heard about the 'canal district' so we decided to trek it over to Naviglio the next morning. The weather was still abysmal but at least it wasn't raining. Naviglio is an up-and-coming area that feels very local. We didn't have the opportunity to see it during the evening but it's known for its nightlife. In recent years it has also become a haven for artists due to low rent costs.

Naviglio, Canal District
The canals weren't as grand as Amsterdam's or as charming as Bruges' but I think those are pretty tall orders to fill. I wasn't too impressed but I think I need to reserve my opinion because we didn't see the district at night when the trendy cafes and pubs are bustling, and the weather certainly put a damper on our spirits. So if I went back to Milan, I would go to the Naviglio district for dinner to experience it the way it deserves.

Santa Maria delle Grazie
We still had a lot of time to waste because of our late flight so we decided to check in at the Santa Maria delle Grazie and see if there were any last-minute cancellations for tickets to view "The Last Supper." Since we ended up in Milan because of Blind Booking, we didn't have enough time to secure tickets. A limited number of tickets are sold per day and it's advisable to order them at least three months in advance. As suspected, we were out of luck.

Santa Maria delle Grazie is worth seeing on its own. The interior is dominated by breathtaking frescoes and we were still able to see some of da Vinci's work in the lunette in the portico.

Biblioteca Ambrosiana
courtyard, flanked by
Santa Maria delle Grazie
Located beside Santa Maria delle Grazie is the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, current home to the Atlantic Codex. It's the largest collection  of da Vinci's drawings, bound by a sculptor in the late sixteenth century. The content encompasses his thoughts of more than 40 years, from 1478 to 1519. It was really intriguing to see the pages in person. Leonardo da Vinci had an incredible mind, advanced far beyond his time. We saw drawings of everything from weather patterns to mythological monsters. The collection was impressive and thought-provoking, and I'm glad we happened upon it.

Our  next stop was the Sempione Park. Its origins go back to the 14th century. The land was originally used as a hunting ground for the Visconti. Today it's a pleasant retreat in the middle of urban sprawl. Sforza Castle flanks it on one side, and on the other is the Arco della Pace (Arch of Peace). It was built in the early 19th century to celebrate Napoleon's victories. The view from the park is impressive, even through the fog.

Arco della Pace
Sforza Castle was saved from demolition at the start of the 20th century. Today it houses art and history museums. The castle was originally constructed as a fortress. It's easy to see because of its layout: four walls with square towers at each corner. It was rebuilt in 1447 after a razing and eventually transformed into a residence.
Sforza Castle

Milan was nice. I think three days is more than enough time to see everything if you make some plans in advance. If I had it to do over again, I would make sure to get tickets for "The Last Supper," have dinner and drinks in the Naviglio district, and participate in Aperitivo.

Aperitivo is my biggest regret from our adventure in Milan. As I mentioned before, it's a very expensive city. We had a difficult time finding filling meals that were reasonably-priced. Aperitivo is basically a happy hour accompanied by lots of appetizers. It's a very Milanese thing to do and most neighborhood cafes host them. We accidentally happened in on one after we'd already had dinner. There were cheeses, olives, bruschetta, meats, potatoes, and vegetables. They typically begin around 6 or 7pm and last until 9. The atmosphere is jovial and energetic. And here's the best part: the only money you must spend to make your way around the buffet is for one drink. ONE! I definitely felt cheated for missing out on this wallet-friendly experience.

So, Milan. I don't know if we'll ever meet again and I don't think I will be too disappointed if this turns out to be the case. I must admit that I wasn't terribly impressed with the food. I think a different region of Italy might be on the menu for next time. People, in general, were kind. I loved hearing all of the Italians speaking. It really is how you imagine; lots of "Pregos!" and "Bonjournos!" Milan certainly feels like a lived-in city. Lots of tourists abound but there are also many people dressed in suits, carrying briefcases, and going to work in large, concrete buildings that smell like money.

Arrivederci, Milano!

Rooftops of Milan, from the Duomo


  1. I too visited Milan and wished I had gone to a different Italian city, maybe next time! :) Danica

    1. Yeah, I guess that's the price we paid for doing a Blind Booking. But I'm looking forward to visiting some other Italian cities!