Seven years ago in a lifetime far away, before I had ever been to Europe, when I still thought bruschetta was pronounced with a sh, the first native Italian came into my life. I decided to pick up the language, now having someone to practice with; I ditched French and embarked on a voyage into la bella lingua. She was from a small town near Milan, and, since then, I held a fascination for the bustling Italian metropolis. Seven years later, I finally saw the city for myself.
Many describe Milan as Italy’s most European city; it’s international, focused on business, fast paced and occasionally “snobby.” To compare it to Bologna, the medieval city I had just visited, would be like comparing apples to candied oranges drenched in Cognac; they’re both good, but one is modified greatly by modernity.
(Milan is the orange.)
The Duomo di Milano is a great starting point for understanding the city. An intero ticket gets you access to the cathedral, the Museo del Duomo and the Terrazze del Duomo (the rooftop). Nearby, Palazzo Reale is a fantastic stop for extending the museum experience, particularly if the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit is still there. It was one of the best exhibitions I had seen in my time in Italy. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is no doubt already familiar to you; the shopping arcade of impressive architectural design with loads of shopping within is photographed arguably as much as the Duomo.
Castello Sforzesco and its museums (including the final statue by Michelangelo) could take up a good half a day at least. Add to that the relaxing Parco Sempione, a park that offers a lovely stroll from the castle to the Arco della Pace, and you’ve got a day spent. Near the arch, along Corso Sempione amid its numerous shops and eateries, you’ll find Deseo, a great choice for aperitivo (drinks paired with a buffet of food items), the perfect place to spend your evening.
For deals, check out Via Paolo Sarpi in Milan’s Chinatown. You won’t find anything overpriced here. Other good locales are Signorvino, a wine shop and bistro that faces the Duomo (though still offers glasses of wine starting at 3,50€… really), and Chiringuito in Piazza Risorgimento, an outdoor bar with aperitivo and huge 5€ cocktails. During the day, pick up some panzerotti, a baked or fried stuffed bread, at the city’s most famous spot for it, Luini, by the Duomo. Expect a fast-moving queue for this institution that has been open since 1888.
To mingle with the trendsters, head to nearby neighborhoods like Navigli (popular for nightlife locales along the city’s remaining canals) and Brera (a chic area where you’ll find Giorgio Armani HQ, fancy restaurants and the Pinacoteca di Brera, a really impressive gallery of paintings).
Into shopping (and more food)? Aside from the area near the Duomo, there’s Via Torino and Corso di Porta Ticinese leading from the Duomo to Navigli. Corso Como offers plenty to see, namely bars and cool shops like 10 Corso Como, a restaurant with a design shop located above.
Of course, if you visit this year, you may even catch Expo 2015. It’s like a giant version of Disney’s Epcot (or perhaps Epcot is a mini-version of a world expo); numerous countries feature their achievements and aspirations in their respective pavilions. The theme of this year’s Expo is food and sustainability. Definitely check it out if you have the chance, at least for a day. (Scroll down to the Expo section of the photos for a few videos from the pavilions.)
My stay in Milan was a hot one, and a day trip to the beach was in order. My friend and I hopped in the car and headed to Arenzano in the Liguria region of Italy (just under two hours away) for a frivolous afternoon under the sun. It was a nice escape from the city, however much exciting and entertaining as Milan is.
As I leave Italy after one-and-a-half months of traveling from Palermo to Milan, I can’t help but think of how far I’ve come in terms of exploring the country, learning the language and meeting the locals. There’s definitely some distance between me today and the me sitting in that office seven years prior. As I head into Switzerland, I can’t help but feel a little sad at saying arrivederci… but then what is life but a series of happy hellos and heartfelt goodbyes?
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